I Won’t Go In

the-return-of-the-prodigal-son-1669.jpg!BlogI thought I smelled something coming up the road. Reeking of pig, that wretch looks like he’s been rolling in the mud with the swine he’s been feeding.

Day after day, for years, Father has looked for him. Every morning and every evening, He scanned the horizon as if the little pig would come back at any moment. I’ll tell you this: I’ve never wasted a second looking for that son of His. I never wanted him back. Good riddance.

He mocked us and ran away, and he left me holding the bag. Somebody had to be responsible around here, somebody had to do the right thing, so I did. I worked the farm. I was loyal and faithful and servant-hearted and moral. I did it because I know that righteousness deserves a reward. I saw Father’s pain when that other son left and I promised myself that I would be the child Father wanted, the son He really needed. I knew that eventually He’d notice my hard work and pay me back in kind.

But He wanted the lost boy back. For some inexplicable reason, He wanted that son.

So now he’s back, and Father is ecstatic to the point of insanity. It’s heartbreaking and pathetic to see an old man run, to see him pick up his robe and fly toward that swine, to embrace him as if he’d done nothing wrong.

“Father, I have sinned,” he says. “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

That’s the truest thing I’ve heard that scoundrel say. It’s also the only thing Father won’t hear. He closes his ears to his rebellious son’s confession and give the servants some instructions.

“Bring the best robe, and a ring for his finger! New shoes! Slaughter the fattened calf, because tonight we feast!” Father’s words are ridiculous and offensive. Why don’t we just give all the pigs pretty clothes and gold rings? They’re more trustworthy than that boy, and more deserving. At least they stay in the pen where they belong.

The robe sticks to his filthy skin and the Swine King smiles with delight. He deserves to be a slave and Father makes him a prince. 

On the other hand, I deserve to be a prince, but I’ve worked like a slave. Every day I’ve served without complaint, or at least I haven’t complained out loud. So where’s my robe? Where’s my ring? Where’s my feast?

While Father stood by the road looking for his other son, I kept this place going. I planted the seed and harvested the crops and fed the cows. Now Father has invited everybody to feast on the fruits of my labor so we can celebrate the boy who did nothing but make us look like fools.

I won’t go in. I won’t go to any party where guests like that are welcome. I won’t accept this kind of world, where the wicked are welcomed like heroes.

Here comes Father. I’ll tell him myself.

“Come to the party, son,” Father pleads. “Your brother is back!”

I tell him I won’t go in. “This son of yours used up your money on prostitutes. I won’t eat in his presence. The stench alone would ruin my appetite. He doesn’t deserve your mercy. Where’s my fattened calf? Where’s my party? I never disobeyed, I never ran away. I’ve earned your love. All he’s earned is your scorn.”

“Son,” He says,”you haven’t earned anything. It’s always been yours for the asking. Everything I have belongs to you, just like it belongs to your brother. Didn’t you know that? Is it really possible you’ve been trying to earn what you already own? Your brother (like him or not, he’s still your brother) was dead and is alive again. He was lost, and now he’s found. We have to celebrate. Please come in.”

I won’t go in. I’ll keep my pride. I want no part of this upside-down world, where my Father’s mercy mocks my righteousness. It’s one thing to forgive, but this outrageous grace is way out of balance. This feast isn’t for me.

I won’t go in. That son of his deserves death.

I won’t go in.

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Praying the Fruit of the Spirit for Our Kids

One of the toughest things about being a parent is knowing precisely what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you training your children for a particular career? Do you want them to be athletic, intelligent, kind, emotionally strong, Christ-like?

During a recent conversation, my wife and I were talking about our parenting goals. We agreed that there are probably many skills and qualities we want them to possess. In the final analysis, though, we want them to be like Jesus. We discovered that the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 is a good target for us to aim toward. While we can’t make them learn these qualities (they are, after all, fruit of the Spirit), we can pray for them. 

With that in mind, here are some specific ways to pray for the Fruit of the Spirit for our kids:

Love

“Father, I pray that my children will learn to love You, because You have loved them first (1 John 4:19). Teach them to love others and to put the needs of other people above their own (Phil 2:1-4). Protect them from narcissism and self-promotion, and instead lead them toward humility and compassion.”

Joy

“Lord, teach these little ones to seek the joy that comes from knowing You, rather than the temporary happiness of the world (Phil 4:4). Teach them (and their parents) to joyfully serve without grumbling or complaining (Phil 2:14).”

Peace

“Father, help them to become peacemakers, who seek reconciliation and forgiveness. Remind them that peacemakers will be called sons of God (Mt 5:9). Protect them from unnecessary arguments. Keep them from being easily offended. Remind them of how much they’ve been forgiven in Jesus, and give them the strength to extend forgiveness to others.”

Patience

“God, give my children the strength to wait for You (Is 40:31). Help them resist the temptation to take shortcuts in life, to grasp for good things at the wrong times. When it comes to their careers, their relationships, their families, and their prayer life, remind them that Your timing doesn’t look like ours. Remind them that You are never slow, but patient and gracious (2 Peter 3:8).”

Kindness

“Lord, please teach them to care about the needs of other people, and to proactively meet those needs when possible. Teach them to treat people generously, even when they don’t deserve it (Eph 4:32).”

Goodness

“Father, I pray they would be upright in their character, hating sin and loving righteousness. I pray they would seek good things for other people. Teach them to live with honest and integrity, always telling the truth and encouraging others to do so. I pray they would not merely be known as moral people, but as godly people who reflect Your good and perfect character.”

Faithfulness

“God, help my kids to persevere in the midst of trial (James 1:12). Remind them not to grow weary in doing good (Gal 6:9). Teach them to work hard and not to give up until the job is done. Cultivate in them the type of loyalty that You show toward us, the loyalty that never gives up on people, but instead keeps praying for them and pursuing them. I pray they will cross the finish line well, that they would maintain their faith in Jesus for a lifetime.”

Gentleness

“Lord, remind them not to use their strength and their talents to hurt people or to amass power for themselves. Instead, help them correct others with patience and humility when necessary, always remembering that they are sinners too (Gal 6:1). May their words be filled with encouragement and gentle truth. Gentleness comes from a heart of humility, so give them an appropriate sense of Your greatness, in order to keep from thinking too highly of themselves.”

Self-Control

“Father, please train these little ones to exercise self-control with their bodies and their mouths. Give them the discipline to pray first and to consider the consequences of their actions. Don’t let them speak or act rashly in ways that are destructive to them or to those around them. Keep them from lies, theft, violence, sexual immorality, and verbal abuse.”

There you have it. Just a few ways to pray for the Fruit of the Spirit for our kids. I’m sure there are many other specifics I could add to this list, so I’d love to hear them! 

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Heaven is (at Least) as Important as Noah

After the firestorm surrounding the Noah film, I’ve been surprised to see no online discussion about the upcoming film version of Heaven is for Real. Is it possible that people care more about the Noah story than they do about heaven? It seems to me that our eternal destiny is more important than whether or not rock people helped Noah build the ark.

I haven’t seen Heaven is for Real, but I have read the book. I’m guessing that, like Noah, the upcoming film will have its strengths and weaknesses. I’m going to suggest one of each, just as I did for NoahKeep in mind that my thoughts are based on the book, so it’s possible the movie could move in a different direction altogether.

One strength of the book is its clear testimony to the biblical idea that death is not the end of life for those who trust in Christ (e.g. Phil 1:22-23; Luke 16:19-31). That’s why the story has generated hope for so many people. The book also affirms the deep love that Jesus has for children, something we adults often forget or minimize (Matthew 19:13-15).

One weakness is that the book minimized (or omitted) the reality of future, bodily resurrection. In other words, our ultimate hope as Christians is not a disembodied existence, floating around like angels with wings. Instead, we look forward to a new body on a new earth (1 Corinthians 15:35-49). The intermediate state, where our souls are separated from our bodies after death, is called “nakedness” by the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 5:3). Everybody knows that it’s not OK to be naked all the time! Instead, we seek to be clothed with an eternal, resurrected body. That won’t happen fully until Jesus returns and we rise from the grave. Heaven is for Real focuses exclusively on the intermediate state and places all of our hope there, rather than pointing us ahead to the final resurrection.

Here’s what I’m recommending for those who want to see Heaven is for Real: Spend as much time comparing it to the Bible as you did with Noah. Don’t assume that because the book issued from a Christian publisher that every concept in the movie is biblically accurate.

I’m not suggesting that we cynically doubt the Burpos’ claims. I’ve no reason to believe they are lying or making up their story. On the other hand, this movie (like Noah) is a great opportunity to revisit what the Bible says about heaven and hell and death and resurrection. Go to the movie with an open but critical mind. (By critical, I don’t mean “negative,” but thoughtful).

Ask questions like these: 

-Does this movie accurately reflect the Bible’s testimony about heaven? Why or why not?

-How do we reconcile this story with passages like Luke 16:19-31, in which Jesus says that Scripture itself ought to be sufficient testimony for us to believe in heaven?

-How can we appropriately discuss this movie and its story with our non-Christian friends and neighbors? Should we whole-heartedly endorse its picture of heaven, or should we be cautious?

As with any media, take this story back to the Bible and consider its claims in light of God’s Word.

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