It is an amazing picture that is painted of the misadventure of the prodigal son (Luke 15). He was totally entangled in selfishness. He wanted pop’s stuff right now. He had things on his mind other than family loyalties, and he needed financing to indulge those fantasies. So, he asked for it and surprisingly got it (We better be careful what we ask for!). His vision never extended beyond himself or the moment. He never anticipated where his journey would take him.
He apparently never met a party he didn’t like. He experienced the “fun” he sought and blew all the loot. He had lots of good-timing friends until then. An old country song had the lyrics, “Heartaches are heroes when their pockets are full,” and he was the hero…for a while. Pockets never stay full for long when expenditures outpace income, and his friends disappeared with his bankroll. Welcome to the pigpen. He never planned for that.
A careful look at his surroundings clarified his thinking. An empty, growling stomach will do that. Home wasn’t so bad after all, even if he had to return with his prodigal tail between his legs. He rehearsed his speech in his mind and headed home. The rehearsal was unnecessary. This is where his tale takes an unexpected turn.
His father (Read: God) did not reject him (Read: every sinner ever!), did not scold him, didn’t even raise his voice. He had been looking for him. His wandering child had come home, and nothing else mattered. He was so happy that he RAN to meet him. It was party time. The boy had been out in the world of the dead and had become one of them. Now, he was alive again. The lost was found, and his father was ecstatic.
Big brother was not. The grace of his father was more than he could handle. He did not share in the joy of repentance and resurrection of his brother. He was consumed by his anger and frustration. He had always been good and faithful. The little brat had run through a pile of money and been welcomed back home with a party. He would not join in. Instead, he pouted.
Squandering all that our Father gives us is not unique to this parable. It is our story. We took all that He has to give and wasted it. The far country of sin not only robs us of our blessings but also of our innocence. Like Adam and Eve, we come to know not only good but evil. Some never escape that pigpen.
It is an ugly place to live, but it has a benefit. That is where we come to our senses and realize how much we need our Father. Will He accept us back when we have strayed so far away? Definitely! Heaven rejoices, and He comes running when His prodigals come home.
A new year means a fresh start, and that is one of God’s specialties. God the Son took on flesh and blood so that everyone has a chance to start all over. It does not matter how dramatic our past sins are, where we come from or who we are; we can begin again. “Born again” are the words of our Lord (John 3:3) which confused Nicodemus. It seems impossible.
God is able to do the incomprehensible. We think from a human perspective, and He is much grander than that. His abilities exceed our thoughts. We cannot even begin to imagine what He is able to do (Ephesians 3:20), and it becomes clear with even a superficial trip through history that Our Lord is an amazingly powerful God.
Go all the way to the opening words of His great revelation, “In the beginning God…” No space, matter, life nor time…just Him. Then He spoke, and creation exploded into existence. No one else could do that. Who can speak light into shining with the only source being his will? Or form sky and earth; plants and animals? And take dirt, formulate a human and breathe life into him. Fresh starts? Where else could we possibly go?
“In the beginning was the Word…” Sin crept into His pristine world and the war between good and evil began. Paradise was lost as temptation won its initial battle, and the whole world was affected. The first family was expelled from the garden of perfection, but hope did not die that day. God is not just all-powerful; He has a plan. Remember: Fresh starts are His specialty.
It was a rocky road from promise to fulfillment. It would wind through evil’s spread to epic proportions. It included a flood, slavery, liberation, successes, failures, joys, sorrows, obedience and rebellion. The Lord used the good, the bad, the ugly, the famous and the anonymous. He is king of them all. His unimaginable strategy included all kinds of people and all conceivable circumstances. A new start was no small task. Only a God of infinite power could work it out…and He did.
As amazing as the new beginning is, it is exactly that: a beginning. It is not the end but the start of something totally different. No longer slaves of sin, we have been liberated for something far better. We are united with Christ in baptism in order to have a new way of walking and talking (Romans 6:1-7); a fresh start.
It takes us in the direction of the promised land, a paradise that is much grander and more perfect than the Garden of Eden. Our ultimate destination is in the presence of God. Jesus made that possible. No New Year is needed. The offer is extended to everyone every second of every day. Need a fresh start? It is possible right now with the Lord.
Year’s end is always a time of both reflection and anticipation. We look back on the year that is winding down and look forward to the one that is beginning. For some, it is a time to make resolutions for self-improvement. It is a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of a fresh start with a clean slate. 2022 is a blank page. How shall we fill it in?
The past twelve month have offered their challenges. Covid continues to morph from variant to variant. To mask or not to mask is just one of many questions. Vaccine once, twice, booster? All three? None of them? Social distance or normal interaction? One expert says this and the next one says that. What we believe is largely determined by which news channel we watch. Uncertainty hangs in the air like dense fog.
December has been like an exclamation point at the end of a tough year. It brought brutal tornadoes that devastated a significant part of our population. The twisters indiscriminately attacked rich and poor alike. Neither the influential nor the insignificant were spared. Homeowners became homeless overnight. The sheer force of the storms stymied an entire nation. Trusting in our material possessions was exposed for the fraud that it is. Anything and everything can be wiped out in the twinkling of an eye.
Throw in the crime statistics, and it has been a very troubling year. Smash and grab is a daily occurrence. Big cities have become warzones, and all of the bad news is pumped into our homes day and night. It is easy to let all of the negativity get us down. Has it? Will that be the way that we remember 2021, and will 2022 be any better?
Have we allowed the state of the world to control our state of mind? If so, then the new year is just what we need for a new mindset. If we could crack open the door of heaven and peek inside, we would see that God is still on His throne with all of His glory and power (Revelation 4). Circumstances all around the globe appear to be out of control. Now is the time to stop and remember: God is still Lord.
Bad news may dominate the headlines, but it doesn’t have to dominate our heads. If the last twelve months left us dazed and discouraged, we must change our focus. It’s time to decide that we will think more on God and less on the world. It’s not our home. We’re just passing through.
Look beyond this creation, and we will discover that the Son is still shining. Clouds of pessimism and worldly troubles can obscure our spiritual vision. God still reigns, and Jesus still saves. Let’s resolve to spend more time in 2022 looking up to the Lord and less time staring at the world. Happy New Year.
Christmas always brings us together with the ones we love. It may only be in our hearts, but they are with us in spirit if not in person. It is a joyful time as the world turns its attention to the birth of Jesus. Although there is no mention of the time of year, nor is there any biblical suggestion that it should be commemorated; it is celebrated around the globe.
God became flesh. He entered into the human experience in obscurity. A few shepherds received an unforgettable birth announcement, but the happy human mom and dad were in a quiet village among the animals. It is hard to imagine the Lord of the universe having such a humble beginning, but it fits. He came to serve. Could anyone in Bethlehem imagine what happened that night? Can we?
Inspired writers put it into understandable language, but it is such an incomprehensible fact. The infinite God subjected Himself to a flesh-and-blood experience. He knows first-hand the limitations of that kind of life. Temptation is not a foreign concept to Him. Neither are hunger, thirst, pain, sorrow nor death. He lived. He died. All for you and me.
He embodied a love that we struggle to understand. His own people rejected Him. Commoners and kings did, too. The religious elite were furious with Him. Secular forces rose up against Him. It seems those on the fringes of society were most attracted to Him. The ragged and rugged. The downcast and the worn out. Those who didn’t fit in found a listening ear and compassionate touch.
Thirty-three short years after the manger came the cross. Most of the time in between was spent out of the spotlight, but the three years in the public eye were certainly a revelation. He confronted the hypocrites and embraced the untouchables. He stepped not only into creation but across the tracks. He was nothing expected and everything hoped for. He was a Savior for all.
His closing hours were spent among His apostles. One was in the process of betraying Him for a handful of silver just after the Lord had washed his feet. Meanwhile, Jesus busied Himself encouraging and preparing the rest. Difficult times lay ahead. The coming hours would be confusing and discouraging. Heartbreaking, no doubt. They were about to witness the full brunt of sin falling on His shoulders. It would be ugly, very brutal. He did not want them blindsided by the brutality of it all.
Then He prayed. His earthly task drew to an earth-shaking climax, and He talked with His Father. The forces closed in, took Him prisoner and crucified Him. It all seems so far removed from the innocent baby born just over three decades before. God’s love, His Son’s death and our salvation. His grace truly is amazing. Now, we are brought together with the one who loves us most of all.
We come together on the first day of each week. Why? What is the motive for us to get out of our warm beds, drive from our comfy homes and gather with other believers? There are a variety of reasons that people identify, but which is the biblical one? And how do we go about choosing where to go and what to do?
I like the music. The preacher holds my attention. It’s where my family took me, and I grew up in this church. My friends come here. It’s convenient. They teach what I believe. The reasons go on and on, but the purpose of corporate worship must come out of the word of God and not my preferences.
Questions about worship are nothing new. The Samaritan woman at the well asked Jesus about it (John 4). Here or there? Your people say one thing, and mine say another. Who is right? Jesus dove right into the essence of her problem. She was concerned about location, and He took her to a time when geography would be irrelevant. She did not know the object. That is a problem.
Do we know who we worship? We focus on worshipping in spirit and truth which is totally appropriate, but He took her mind to another question. Ours must go there as well. We have an accurate way to assess and answer that question. How do we handle His word (1 John 2:3)? Do we obey His commands? We cannot claim to know Him if we do not.
Our assembly has a vertical component in recognizing and honoring the great God of heaven. We come together to remember the ultimate sacrifice of our Lord and Savior. It motivated the first century Christians (Acts 20:7), and it should serve the same purpose for us. Commemorating the body and blood of Jesus, His resurrection, ascension and return are central as we reflect on the covenant and our loyalty to it. Our week begins by focusing our thoughts on God the Son and salvation, on remembering.
There is also the horizontal component to our gathering. The world takes a harsh toll on all of us each week. Discouragement threatens. Encouragement is needed. The responsibility to nudge one another along the journey belongs to each of us on a weekly basis (Hebrews 10:23-25, if not on a daily basis-Hebrews 3:13!) God is faithful to us, and we should be faithful to one another. Someone’s spirits are probably sagging at this moment and an encouraging word would mean a lot. Yours might be just the one that will keep them from giving up. Both the vertical and horizontal dimensions make for a biblical assembly. What does God want? For His Son to be remembered and honored as we honor Him, and for us to encourage one another to love and good deeds. Maybe, that’s exactly what He wants for Christmas.