Thursday, July 17, 2014

Of older brothers and anguish

Tonight, we had the second week of our home-based discipleship studies. This week we were reviewing the parable of the Prodigal Son. We are all familiar with the story, but most people have never really taken the time to dive into the deep implications of what Jesus is telling the people.

As we were discussing the response of the older brother in the parable, a hypothetical came up: What would this story look like if the older brother would have reacted with the same grace, mercy, and love as the father did when the younger brother returned home?

The thought that ran through my head were the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 9:2-5 "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen."

The anguish of Paul over the desire to see his brothers come to saving knowledge of Christ is such that he would give up his own salvation for them. This is the heart of a believer who has been affected by the unfathomable grace of God through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The full atonement of Jesus' blood and the imputation of His total righteousness should change our hearts. If the older brother had a regenerated heart within him, his response to the return of his younger brother would have been completely different. I picture a scene where the older brother runs out with his father to embrace the younger. When the father declares to the servants to fetch a robe and ring, the brother would have responded, "Father, if you'll permit me, I will let him have my robe, and my ring. Let him have these that are mine, and sit in my place at your table." He would have then turned to his brother, embraced him, lead him to his seat at the table, and washed the dirt off his feet. He would have been willing to give up everything he had that marked him as a son of this same father, so that his formerly lost brother would be recognized as being back in the sonship.
The father would have turned to his elder son, embraced him, be pleased by the willing heart of his son, and told this son that it was not necessary for him to give up his own sonship for his brother, that there was enough room at the table for them all to sit together. They would have then walked together, into the dining hall, embracing one another, and celebrated the return of a lost brother. All those in attendance would have rejoiced, and the father would have received the glory for the reunion of this family.

We should do the same, as children adopted into the family of our Father, and welcomed to His table. When we see our Father rise up, eyes on the horizon, as His endless pursuit of His lost child continues, when we see Him begin to move toward one who is still far off... we too should rise, and run in the steps of our Father and embrace the returned. Our heart should be one of love, and a love that would sacrifice all we have in order to bring our brother back to the table. Because of the degree to which grace has been lavished upon us, we too should lavish grace of those who approach the table.

Be willing to give up everything for the sake of one... be willing to humble yourself that you would not reject one whom God has called to Himself through Christ.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Advance the line

Life is war

You don't have to believe that for it to be true. Even more so, I suppose I should say that the Christian Life is war. But that isn't really what I mean, being a Christian does not suddenly create a war within our life nearly as much as it just makes us acutely aware of the war that already is existing within our life. Accepting Christ and entering into a relationship with Him doesn't start the war, it just transports us to the front lines of the battle.

Think back to DDay, or (since most of us were not physically present for that particular landing) think back to the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. For most of us, or lives have been spent in the transports, approaching the beach. We know that our lives will be a series of battles, and we are willing to fight in order to live another day in peace. But something begins to change as we approach the shores, the tensions of the war start to grow thick. As Jesus starts to call us to Himself, the hatch begins to drop before us and we are confronted, faster than we ever expected, with the reality of what this war is. As a new Christian, all we know for sure is that we have to move ahead, off of the transport, because to stay there assures our immediate destruction from the guns that are tearing down so many of those around us. So, out of the compulsion to move ahead on this journey, we make a massive leap of faith and enter the beach.

For most us,  the start of our journey of faith looks a lot like this beach landing. All we know is that we need to advance the line, but when we look up, all we see is this massive obstacle in our way, and we see it tearing apart so many people around us. We think that if we can just remove that obstacle, then we can move forward. For some of us there are multiple entrenched guns, battlements on the beachhead that we feel are all that stand between us and victory. These are those massive sins in our lives. This is the mindset that says, if only I could defeat the porn addiction, defeat alcohol, defeat laziness, whatever our particular gun is, if I could just take it out, then the war is won. So, at the compulsion of our spirit, renewed with the call upon us, we advance on the gun. We take the beach...

The problem is, as soon as we  take the beach, we see before us, an entangled web... a root system, supply chains, fortifications, reinforcements, enemy camps, and a seemingly unending sea of relentless death and destruction. Taking the beach wasn't the victory. We are faced with a new (albeit similar problem), stay on the beach, resting in the vacated, vanquished foothold of the enemy, and wait for the forces of our enemy to fall upon us... or, take up our weapon, fall in line, and begin the grueling work of warfare. We must choose what we will do, await our death and destruction, or advance the line at the command of a great general. We never realized that the massive obstacles of the beach would be the easy part of the war. Just like removing those large sins in our life, we have revealed the network of smaller entanglements within our lives that have been feeding those sins. In the end, we know that our only chance of advancing through this life and ultimately claiming our victory is to begin to move forward and put to death each foothold of the enemy that we come across. We know, now, that the path from the beach to our ultimate victory is not a straight-line walk, it is a battlefield. We come to understand that in order to make this march, we will confront the enemy, engage in battle, and we much come to accept that we will likely be wounded, beaten down, at times crushed in these fights, but we will find that we are never truly defeated. We wake up, day after day, and we advance the line.

But how?

In hindsight, history has come to realize that the moment that troops landed on the beaches of DDay, victory in Europe was ensured. Not because it was going to be easy to take the beach, and not because upon taking the beach, the enemy would surrender, but because by taking the beach, we had plugged into the bloodlines of the Axis' beating heart. It was an arterial blow, and the unrelenting advancement was an aneurysm, dissecting its way toward the destruction of evil. The battles were still fiercely fought, and many were wounded, and killed along the way, but the victory was sure. This is the truth in our metaphor as well. As soon as Christ's calling on our life dropped the hatch on our transport, and we entered into the reality of our sins, as soon as we landed on the beach, victory was already assured. The battlements of our massive sins would be defeated, the revelation of the network of the enemies bloodlines would be unfurled, and the advancement of righteousness in our lives was assured. The pursuit of Christlikeness within us is assurance of victory, not assurance of never being in battle, being wounded, scarred, hurt... but assurance that as we continue to put to death the sins that are so deeply rooted in us, Christ will see us through to victory.

The war is won the moment He calls us into battle. But we are not expected to just sit on the beach and await the victory to be delivered to us, we are called to stand, advance the line, and actively pursue the victory that was once for all delivered. When the thrill of taking the beach wavers into the unbelief at the revealed network of sin that is woven throughout the very fabric of our being, and the path seems insurmountable, in that moment, we are called to advance the line, put to death the sins that ensnare us, and begin to sever the supply lines of our enemy.

In Christ, it goes further, to realize that victory was won before the war was declared. Victory would be delivered to all whom Christ would call onto the beach and into the battle. Our Great General has said that all that the Father has given to Him, He would not lose one...