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Our Father

“ In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:11-12

Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen

Awhile back I was listening to a podcast that broke down how and what to pray.  They started with what we call “The Lord’s Prayer,” (Luke 6:9-16) the beginning of which was my prayer for today.  They looked at the use of the word “Father.”  Our Christian faith is so unique in this view of our most Holy God.  We don’t pray to some mysterious, unattached, non-relational being.  In fact, one of Jesus’ missions while on earth was to show believers this new relationship – that of a loving father.  

I have read other people change the word “Father” to “Daddy,” and that seems to go a bit far as the pastors on the podcast also agreed.  It’s almost too familiar, without the reverence God deserves.  While others who have been terribly hurt by fathers or father figures may go to great lengths to dismiss even using a father reference at all.  But God is always seeking to realign us with His kingdom – not the world of sin.  Jesus draws us into this new relationship showing us what God’s glorious Eden will look like when we arrive.  And it is full of love, kindness, grace and forgiveness.

20 “So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20

I’m not sure if there’s any better story in the Bible to describe God’s role as “father” to His adopted children than the one told of the prodigal son in Luke 15.  When I heard a pastor speak on it, especially verse 20, it transformed me.  You see, the father didn’t meet his son halfway, he didn’t make him come all the way to the house.  He didn’t even first require repentance or repayment.  “While he (the son) was a long way off…”  When word came, probably from people on the outskirts of town, that this wayward son was coming home, his father lifted up his tunic so he could run. He ran to his son – filled with compassion and love.  

God seeks us.  He yearns for us to believe – without needing us at all.  How beautiful and glorious is that?  I recently read in a study that we aren’t all God’s children.  Yes, you read that right.  We are all made in the image of God; but can’t all call Him “Father.”   We must at least start that journey back to Him as the prodigal son did.  He realized he needed the protection and blessings of his father. 

Friend, the day we told God, “I believe in you and I believe you sent your Son to free me of my sins” we received our adoption papers.  He wrote us into the will for the inheritance.  Whatever type of father you’ve had on the earth pales in comparison to the one who has adopted you into His heavenly kingdom.  I, for one, count that the most glorious blessing of all.

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The Heart of the Matter

“And I am so angry I wish I were dead.”  Jonah 4:9

I’ve shared before about the miraculous year I had doing God’s will during our 100 Lunches project.  When Jesus first spoke to me, directing me to make 100 lunches and deliver them to the homeless in downtown San Diego I had no idea the lessons He had in store for me.  Initially, I thought it was just a need that He directed me to fill.  My spiritual gifts were perfect to complete this task – or so I thought.  What began as a one-time submission to God became a year-long lesson in trust, compassion, faithfulness and humility.  Definitely not traits I would’ve confidently listed amongst my gifts.

With each passing day that year, God placed new trials and new opportunities for me to finally grasp what He really wanted of me.  I could administer any program at my church, work or other organization.  I’m organized, comfortable with leadership, a successful multitasker, and can teach readily.  As long as I was in charge life was good, so it seemed.  Until someone was unhappy with me or disagreed with me.  Or I hurt someone’s feelings.  Or I felt overlooked and unappreciated.  Praying came after the fall, if at all.

But the Spirit of God came upon me that fateful day.  I like to think of God seeing my potential.  My new beginning.  And He knew with some pruning and care I could shake off many of my old ways and start working on new ones.  Starting with praying to Him to help me make the change.  And learning that God wants our heart first, above all, so that it’s our heart that pours out to the world.

“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. Jonah 1:2-3

The story of Jonah and the whale rank up there with Noah and his ark as being widely known by Christians and non-Christians alike.  Jonah tried to get away from God, jumped overboard, was swallowed by a giant fish, prayed to God and God spit him out onto the shore.  A nice story of turning back to God in faith, right?  But in these four little chapters there’s so much more!  There are lessons on being a “I’m fine, it’s fine” sleepy Christian.  Lessons like Moses experienced when he told God he wasn’t up for the job.  Lessons on how one person can help save so many.  

Jonah was actually a man of great faith.  He knew that if he went to Nineveh, a sworn enemy of the Jews and well-known for its evil ways, God would most likely use him to rescue the people there.  But Jonah’s patriotism got in the way of his faith.  So, he resigned as God’s prophet.  He didn’t want his new beginning to look like betrayal back home.  But God gets His way no matter how hard we try to thwart Him!  

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah 3:3

So yes, Jonah sees how amazing His God is while sitting in the mouth of a giant fish and prays, remembering how God saved him before and asking for him to do it again.  And Jonah finds himself once more pressed on toward Nineveh.

While there he spreads God’s message that in 40 days the city would be destroyed because of their wicked ways.  But there’s something missing.  Within this story you will not find a message from Jonah on how to stop this destruction.  You won’t find compassion and love for these 1,000s of people.  He states the fact, does it efficiently and without pause.  In three days this one man had reached the ears of every citizen, including the king.  Pretty impressive right?  And although God loved the fact that they believed and turned from their evil ways you can’t help but think the real target of this lesson was just one man – Jonah.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. Jonah 3:10-4:1

Jonah had the gifts of prophecy, faith, evangelism and apparently administration.  And he begrudgingly used them.  Where God saw an amazing new beginning as a man who could help bring so many to faith, Jonah saw embarrassment and shame.  He didn’t want to go home to face his people who hated the Nineveh citizens and be known as a traitor.  He stopped remembering that God loves everyone and God can work miracles in all our lives, even our enemies.

In chapter 4, Jonah is like the Prodigal Son’s elder brother – critical, selfish, sullen, angry and unhappy with what was going on.  It isn’t enough for God’s servants simply to do their Master’s will; they must do “the will of God from the heart.” Eph 6:6

Warren Wiersbe

So as Jonah sits on the hill outside town in the last chapter of this amazing story God takes another shot at softening Jonah’s heart.  He provides another lesson for him to experience and learn.  Because God is love He doesn’t give up on us.  He wants our new beginnings to be filled with love and compassion.  I love this quote from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon on Jonah:

“The deeper your trouble, the greater are your possibilities of adoration.”

When I first went into our 100 Lunches project, I was certain I could complete this simple task with efficiency and ease like Jonah.  But God put me on the hill, overlooking all that I had done that first week and said, “You have much more to learn.”  

With each distribution of lunches He said, “do it again, this time like this.”  He showed me how to be ok with people turning me down when I asked for help.  And how to be grateful when people came out of nowhere to help. He taught me how to slow down and look the hurting in the eye and offer a kind word or even a gentle touch.  He reminded me to trust in Him, to love Him.  He answered prayers which encouraged me to pray even more.  He allowed me to be loved by society’s “unwashed”, giving me the opportunity to tell them of God’s glory and provision. 

Jonah’s story ends without a word from him letting us know he “got it.”  His last lines are the first in this look at Jonah – “I wish I were dead.”  God’s last words are about His love and care for all people – no matter their nationality, financial status, religion, or sins.  Think of the amazing new life Jonah could’ve had when he left Nineveh.  Not just knowing about God, not just having faith that God is in charge.  But loving God and loving the fact that He wants us to live like Him, in love.  

Jonah’s faith was a divided one.  He held onto his patriotism and pride with a vengeance.  It caused him to withhold his love and compassion.  When we think of the Bible’s greatest lessons about love, 1 Corinthians 13 probably comes to mind. In verses 4-13 Paul tells us what love is. So many think these passages are about romantic love but in the context of the entire letter it’s about how we serve out God’s will with our gifts. In a way, the more important lessons are in verses 1-3. The lesson God was trying to teach Jonah. The lesson which can help us all in our new beginnings as God’s servants.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Cor 13: 1-3

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Tears

But while he was still a long way off his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.  Luke 15:20

I know the text doesn’t say it but I can only imagine the tears flowing from the father and mother in the story of the prodigal son.  In fact, the King James version says “he fell on his son’s neck” in a dramatic display of joy and love.  Awhile ago, my family brought me to tears of joy with a surprise visit from my daughter, whom I hadn’t seen in months.  I heard the front door open and thinking it was my older daughter I made my way toward the front of the house to tell her hello.  When I realized it was my younger daughter I was overcome with tears and unable to speak.  I stood there sobbing in her arms.

It may seem strange to be thankful to God for tears but without them our world would be so vanilla.  I’ve laughed until I have cried with friends and family.  I’ve cried out to God, thankful for His grace and salvation.  I’ve wept at the birth of my daughters.  And yes, I’ve cried those tears of sorrow, of loss, of anger, of desperation.

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Psalm 126:5

So often we must weep, live in hard times before we can experience the full glory and blessing of God.  It’s why James tells us we should consider it joy to experience trials.  Because those trials produce good fruit in us.  And that fruit becomes something for us to share.

I have a friend whose 90 year old mother confesses to not remembering the last time, if ever, that she has cried.  What that means is she hasn’t participated fully in the gifts of life.  With each winter season in our lives we are so often rewarded with the spring, a time to bring  us great joys.  I want to go from this life knowing I have cried many tears from laughter, thankfulness, joyous surprise, beautiful surroundings and more.  I heard a Christian teacher say, “If you want the joy of Sunday’s resurrection you must first have the tears of Friday’s crucifixion.”

I’m so very grateful to God for giving us the outward ability to show our emotions.  To show those we love how much we love them, even after they are gone.  I’m looking forward to the day I can cry tears of joy when I see Jesus’ face watching for me from a long way off.  I know that when I get close enough, I will fall into His arms weeping, filled with joy.

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Unburdened Your Heart

Lesson #7: Forgiveness of others brings us the blessings of Christ

It is as none other than Paul—an old 
man and now also a prisoner of Christ 
Jesus— that I appeal to you for my son 
Onesimus, who became my son while I was 
in chains. 
Philemon 1:9-10

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness.  It keeps popping up in various Bible studies and readings.  And when that happens, I realize God is trying to tell me something.  So, the other day while in my “She Shed” – where I do my Bible reading and mediation – I just sat and did an inventory of the people in my life and those no longer in it.  My question for each face that popped in my head was “Is there something I haven’t forgiven in this relationship?”

There are people whom I actively must work at forgiving.  There’s one person in my neighborhood that, each time I see him I need to remind myself I no longer harbor ill feelings toward him.  It’s fascinating however, to pay attention to my whole body and mind when he enters my sphere.  I remind myself I have forgiven him yet my body wants to remember the hurt feelings.  It’s a brief little battle that, thankfully Jesus and the Holy Spirit help me to win.   In fact, the last time I saw him I thought it was a different neighbor and I waved.  When I realized who it was, I did a mental flip – “Ugh, why did you wave to him of all people?  You’re just not supposed to think anything and move along!”  But waving gave the impression I was happy to see him.  I suddenly realized in my mini battle that it was again the Holy Spirit forcing me to step out of my comfort zone and not just be “neutral” but be kind.

That individual aside, I came to an even greater realization about my need to forgive.  These days I can’t think of a greater forgiveness need in me than to forgive my church.  Actually, just about all churches who have shuttered their doors during such desperate times.  

But let me back up a bit.  Today, we jump into the little book of Philemon.  Paul, currently imprisoned in Rome, writes to a wealthy Christian friend in Colosse concerning the slave Onesimus.  Onesimus took off from Philemon’s household having stolen from him.  Onesimus found himself in the company of Paul and was converted.  And now Paul humbly asks Philemon to forgive his slave and allow him to return.

I remember as a child my mom talking about converted prisoners.  She scoffed at the idea that murderers and thieves could “find Jesus” and change their lives.  She thought it was all just a ploy to get out of jail earlier or to garner forgiveness without truly repenting.  And she may be right in some cases.  Who is to know the heart of a sinner but God?   

I wonder if Philemon thought the same?  To Onesimus’ benefit he had the great apostle Paul standing up for him.   How often have we held out forgiving someone because they didn’t meet our list of requirements for forgiveness?  The person in my neighborhood that I must remind myself to forgive frequently?  He hasn’t ever asked me for forgiveness.  He’s never acted in a way that showed he even knows he needs my forgiveness.

My church, who locked their doors and turned me away from praying at the outdoor steps of the sanctuary, doesn’t see any need for me to forgive them.  The elders and pastor who either ignored my pleas for help or worse, said hurtful things, have not asked for forgiveness.  So why should I forgive them?  Why should Philemon forgive a man to whom he gave so much and then stole from him?

I once was in a discussion about forgiveness during a Bible study.  The leader, who also was an elder in the church, said to the group, “You can’t forgive someone unless they have paid a price or asked for forgiveness.” (There’s that Biblical truth issue popping up!) Now, I’m working on my path from being a “baby Christian” to a mature one but even I know that’s just not sound Jesus teaching.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 
“Lord, how many times shall I forgive 
my brother or sister who sins against 
me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, 
“I tell you, not seven times, but 
seventy-seven times."
Matthew 18:21-22

The thing I like about this conversation in Matthew is he deals with a real world situation.  So many of us keep doing things that need forgiveness from others.  And Jesus says to keep on forgiving – each and every time.

I was reading about forgiveness and came across this list of spiritual characteristics of someone who forgives:

  1. Concern for his place with God
  2. Concern for people
  3. Concern for fellowship
  4. Concern for knowledge
  5. Concern for glory
  6. Concern for blessing

My response to the Bible study leader was that if her “rules” about forgiveness were true then how can we forgive people who have already died but negatively impacted our lives?  Or how can we forgive people that either don’t have anything to do with us anymore or have no idea they did something wrong?  Under her idea so many of us would live with a horrible burden of pain and hurt and anger.  And Jesus doesn’t want that for us.  He wants to shower us with that glory and those blessings listed in the “forgiver characteristics.”

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
Mark 11:25

Against anyone – for any reason.  But the most important part of the forgiveness lesson?  “So that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”  I want to be forgiven because I know I have a lot for which I need to be forgiven.  Therefore, I need to search my heart and truly forgive our churches.

I’ve learned a lot this last year about compassion and our human tendency to live in fear.  And although our pastors preach to have faith rather than fear, we fall back into the flesh so easily.  I do it, you do it and our church leaders (who are just humans too) do it.  It doesn’t make me feel good to see our churches closed but I also don’t want to have the burden of unforgiveness on my heart and soul.  I realized I can be sad and still forgive.

I like that in this letter to Philemon, Paul doesn’t demand that the slave Onesimus be taken back into the household.  Paul wields a lot of authority.  He could’ve just said, “Take him back and don’t be mean to him.”  But God wants our hearts.  Jesus and the Holy Spirit work on our transformation.  That’s why each time I see what was previously my “nemesis” in the neighborhood I know the Holy Spirit is working in me.  My hand was purposely lifted up to wave at him – not the mistaken neighbor.  To help my heart be free of any last morsels of unforgiveness.

Friends, I have seen the miracle healing of forgiveness in others.  I have felt it in myself.  It’s there for the taking for you.  Let’s be like the father of the prodigal son – from a long way off he saw his son returning.  He didn’t know why his son was coming back.  It could’ve been to ask for more money.  Instead of looking out the window and thinking every bad thought, he ran to him. (Luke 15:20) He tucked his tunic between his legs and ran to hug him in front of the townspeople.  He might’ve needed to forgive him a few more times in the course of their lives, we don’t know.  But the joy he had with that one action has given us the lesson for the ages.