The Party’s Over

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Dad had just thrown the biggest party the neighbors had seen. No expense had been spared in the days long celebration of his son’s return.

Yes, this party was for the prodigal son. You know, the wayward one who had chosen to live a wild life, squandering his still-living father’s money – his own inheritance – until he had no more to spend. He decided to return home to offer himself as a servant to his father to put good food into his starving belly. From what we’re told, we can’t be sure his thinking had changed about anything else. But none of that mattered to the father who ran to embrace him.

That’s one of the things that draws us repeatedly to this story. That father didn’t wait for evidence of repentance or a transformed life before welcoming him or throwing him a lavish party. He wanted everyone to celebrate with him because his son had returned. Period. As great as that is, I think there’s more to this story.

Think about it. The party ended at some point. What happened when it was over? The prodigal son didn’t become suddenly perfect, making only good decisions going forward. For that matter, his jealous brother, the obedient son who did as he was told with a bad attitude, was in the same imperfect category.

Consider this, though. Dad put no post-celebration stipulations on the son before throwing a gala in his honor. It wasn’t due to the son’s righteousness, either before demanding his inheritance or after his return. Nor was it because of the bitter son’s outward obedience. Their righteousness would never be more than filthy rags1! No, the party always and only flowed from the dad’s perfect love for his children, and his joy at having them together with him. His goodness and his righteousness, not theirs, covered them before the party and after it ended.

Fast forward to 2016. As sons and daughters, we try to be obedient, to make the right choices and have the right attitude – all to please our Daddy. But we fail repeatedly. Luke 15:10 says there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Sounds like a party to me – held each time one of us receives Christ Jesus into our hearts. That rejoicing isn’t because of our perfect character when we were born again, but because of Christ’s righteousness. He still rejoices over us2 today, no matter how many years have passed and no matter how many wayward actions we’ve taken.

Earning Daddy’s celebration now is as impossible as it was in the beginning – our good works still counting for nothing. It’s all and only about our Father, the One Who is in us, loving us, simply because we belong to Him. And it’s all about our Christ, Who made the way for us.

The party may be over, but the joy of celebrating our Daddy’s righteousness, love, and mercy in Christ continues for us through eternity!

1 Isaiah 64:6 NKJV But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;

2 Zephaniah 3:17 AMP The Lord your God is in the midst of you, a Mighty One, a Savior [Who saves]! He will rejoice over you with joy; He will rest [in silent satisfaction] and in His love He will be silent and make no mention [of past sins, or even recall them]; He will exult over you with singing.

He Can’t Help It!

When I re-read this journal entry from more than twenty years ago, it encouraged me anew.  And words with that much staying power must be shared with other believers!

I recorded the following thoughts after realizing I was less than thankful for my family and my non-Christian upbringing.  Perhaps you can relate in some way, as well.

. . . There was a subconscious thought that I would have been so much better off if I had been raised in a Christian home.  Today, God made it clear that He wouldn’t have loved me any more this day even if I had been a Christian and truly seeking Him all my life.  He loves me, and there are no degrees of His love.  He does love me.  Had I been a Christian with a Christian upbringing, really desiring that walk with and growing in Him from the beginning, He would still have loved me exactly the same today.  On top of that, life wouldn’t be easier.  I’d just be going through different experiences in which to trust Him.

father daughterReading this all these years later only brings it home so much more vividly.  God can’t help it.  He loves me.  It’s not based on how many years I’ve known Him, or how I was raised.  And His love for me doesn’t grow.  His love for me is.  Period.  It’s the same for you.  May this truth become even more real for you each coming day.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  1 John 4:16  NIV

Look at Them

It happened again, as it has more times than I can remember.  I stopped for a red light at a corner where one of those people were.  You know, the ones who are a bit disheveled, maybe gaunt, quite often looking much older than their chronological years, due to a hard life.  There is always a sign made from a broken box that says something like, “Down on luck.”  “Brain tumor.”  “Help my kids.”  “Anything helps.”  Without fail, though, the final words on the sign are, “God bless.”

My reaction this time came straight from the same pool (cesspool) as previously.  *I looked away.  *I felt guilty for having a car and home, with food on the table.  *I felt guilty for not wanting to give them anything.  *I felt manipulated.  *I felt condemned because I didn’t hear Holy Spirit telling me what to do.  *I added this person into the category of those who make a tax-free living from handouts on a street corner rather than getting a real job.  *I distrusted them and their sign completely.  *I felt sorry for them.  *I resented them for making me feel guilty for having what they don’t have.  *I resented them for trying to manipulate me with “God bless.”  *I heard that hated word should hammering at me in various statements.  “I should give them some of the cash I keep for just such possibilities.”  “As a follower of Christ, I should just give every time, no matter what.”  You get the picture.

Frustrated by the conflict recurring in my mind, I asked, “What do You want me to do, Daddy?  Not just with this one person, but from here on.”  I did not ask for a give / don’t give answer to apply every time, because I know He will lead me with each one – when I hear Him.  I was missing something, though, and it turned out to be an across-the-board answer after all, though it wasn’t financial.  It was an issue with my heart revealed as He spoke these words to me, “Look at them.”

“Look at them.”  So simple.  So clear.  “Look at them” through Daddy’s eyes instead of my own natural ones.  When I really look at them, it’s not hard to know what He would have me do for each person I encounter.  Look at them as He looks at them, in their current condition.  Without looking away.  Without looking askance.  Look at them as human beings, regardless of their reason for being on that street corner.   Look past the protective façade of hardness to see the sadness or pain or anger.  Look at them as Daddy does, with absolute love.  Just look at them.

In the short term, it seems much easier to look away, because nothing is required when I don’t look, when I don’t know.  Yet those are the very times I miss Jesus.  To look at their faces as Daddy does means I see them not as the enemy, but as one Jesus died for who is being hammered by the enemy.  When I look at a younger man begging for money as Daddy looks at him, my heart breaks at the shame he feels.  Or when I look with His eyes at the older ones – those who don’t remember much of life other than this – and I see them as babies and young children so full of life and hope.  Is this what their mothers and fathers envisioned for them as adults, a life seemingly without hope?  Again He says, “Look at them.”

“Look at them.” These words have changed my heart, but I still need reminding.  How thankful I am that Daddy keeps looking at me even when I turn away from those unlike me.  How thankful I am that He continues to work those words more deeply into my heart.  The actions that result from looking at people with His eyes vary.  That’s part of the joy of following His Spirit.  But the beginning point is always the same, for it is in my heart.  “Look at them.”

Then the World Will See. Then the World Will Know.

The entire prayer of Jesus in John 17 is so rich that I taste a slightly new, always delicious, flavor every time I read it.  Most recently, the tasty morsel was the simple conclusion of Jesus after part of His request for those who didn’t yet know Him.  Effectively, He said to His Father, “If You will do these things I ask of You, the world will believe You have sent me, and will know that you love them just like You love me.”

John 17:20-23 NIV  My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.  Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus’ heartbeat reflects that of His Father – that everyone knows, not merely acknowledges, the life-changing truth of their heavenly Father’s love for them.  The only thing it requires, according to His request, is unity of believers, all of whom have been given His glory.

Though much is written, spoken, and prayed concerning unity in the church, division seems to abound.  For too long, believers have looked more diligently for areas of disagreement and separation than for the Holy Spirit of Jesus in each other.  It cannot remain this way forever, though, because of Jesus’ prayers.  If we chew just a little longer on the simple words found in the last sentence of the passage, we uncover the beginning point of unity in the Spirit, the kind in which we are one just like Jesus and our Father are one.

Then the world will know that you . . . have loved them even as you have loved me. 

The world will see Jesus in His body when we live in His love toward one another.  Yet, how can we so live unless we know beyond verbal acknowledgment the unalterable truth that God loves us as He loves Jesus?

Jesus’ love is the beginning of life in Christ and also its fullness – that life which the world needs to see in action.  Yet, what we understand of His love when we are born again is infinitesimal, giving us opportunity to discover – together – His infinite love in all its aspects.  This is His plan, His heartbeat, His expectation.  That we, believers in Jesus Christ, live day in and day out in true fellowship with all our brothers and sisters – in His love.

Oh, Daddy!  Help us grasp the life-changing revelation of Your love for us in Jesus Christ.  May it be what compels us, rather than doctrine, dogma, or preferred style of worship.  May we no longer resist Your love’s radical life-transforming work in us.  May we allow, instead, all religious barriers between us to be exposed, dismantled, and completely destroyed.  Receiving the continual flooding of Your love, may we freely release it to all our brothers and sisters! 

This is unity, just as Jesus and the Father are One.  Genuine love for one another in Christ.  This is when the world will believe God sent Jesus.  This is when the world will believe He has loved them as He loves Jesus. When our lives express His love in us and for us to one another.

Then the world will believe.  Then the world will know.

So Loved?

Most of us are very familiar with John 3:16For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son . . .  We’ve always been taught (rightfully so) that this refers to God loving every human being, even the ones who will never believe and receive what He did for us all.  But another verse made me consider this love in an additional way.

Hebrews 12:2 NIV  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

As I read these words more carefully than normal, I pondered in a different way the joy that was set before Jesus.  Jesus had great joy in doing His Father’s will1, regardless of the personal cost to Him.  In the case of the Hebrews verse, was it because He so loved us?  Certainly He did.  In addition, however, I believe that Jesus so loved His Father – our Father – and wanted to complete His joy.  Knowing how much His Father loves us all, and His joy in our unbroken fellowship with Him, Jesus willingly endured the cross to complete His Father’s joy.

Yes, we were definitely an integral part of the joy set before Jesus.  But I believe the other component was the much greater.  The Father’s joy at our reconciliation and restoration to Him was the joy Jesus could see.  His Father’s joy.  Jesus so loved His Father!  His Father so loved us . . .

So loved!

 

1 Remember the story of the woman at the well.  When the disciples came back with much-needed food, Jesus was no longer hungry . . . because He was full from doing the Father’s will.