Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Big Brother

Jesus' parable about the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 beautifully describes the character of God as forgiving and receptive to those who chose to dishonor him with their lives and then recognize the error of their ways. It also seems to paint a picture of the Pharisees as a bitter, jealous, exacting big brother. While I do believe Jesus meant to reflect the attitudes of the Pharisees in the character of the older brother, I think there's room for grace, too.

Jesus says the older son was in the fields working (vs. 25) when the younger brother returned and the party began. He was where he should be, doing what he should. That's commendable, and the father later recognizes that. Then, after a hard day of labor, the older son arrives at the house and finds a party going on (vs. 25 still). If it were me, I'd certainly have felt unloved and forgotten: "They didn't even remember to come invite me to a party at my own home?" And he had to find out from a servant, not a family member (vs. 26,27).

No wonder he was angry and didn't want to share in the festivities. But, here's where I think he made his first mistake. When his father came out to him, leaving behind the party for a personal interview and connection with him, the older son defended his faithful service and loyalty while comparing himself to his foolish younger brother (vs. 29-30). Neither the Pharisees nor we should judge or evaluate someone else's relationship with God. Only God holds the measuring tape; he doesn't need us to point out the mistakes of others, as though he might overlook them were it not for our powers of observation. And there the big brother made his second mistake. It wasn't the younger brother's behavior being celebrated. It was his life, his mere existence and safety. The father says "this son of mine/your brother was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found" (vs. 24 and 32).

I think too often we get in our minds that God is unfair when good things happen to bad people (and vice versa, but that's for another day). But the father in the story never condones or approves of his younger son's behavior. It's the life he celebrates. It's the repentance he rejoices over. This story doesn't necessarily indicate the younger son will be reestablished with all the rights and privileges he had before; he may have to live with consequences. In fact, the father tells the older son "everything I have is yours" (vs. 31). But that's not for the brothers to decide; it's at the discretion of the giver, the father.

And here's where Jesus' grace is reflected most clearly, I think: there's no ending to the story. We don't know if the older brother joined the party. Jesus left room for the Pharisees to participate; he didn't assume they'd run away in (perceived) self-righteousness. After the father's explanation and affirmation of relationship (vs. 31), Jesus leaves a cliffhanger for us to decide: Did the older brother accept the father's reasoning or did he turn and walk away? Will the Pharisees imagine themselves joining in the celebration? Will I?

Father, help me to see the value of all people, including myself, not for what they do or don't do, but for the image in which they were created--Yours.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I Think It's True, Anyway.

Anonymous praise is philanthropic;
Anonymous criticism is cowardice.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What A Little Bird Told Me

Sometimes the lessons you're learning are difficult to see in the midst of the circumstances you're living, but this one, I got. I've read about it in books, seen it on television, even talked to people who've had the experience, but today I felt it firsthand.

I've been commissioned to write two more BaptistWay Sunday School lessons for publication next Summer. One of the lessons is on forgiveness, the other on hospitality. I had no idea while sitting at my kitchen table I'd get to practice the compassion of Christ so personally.

Just before 3 pm, I was intently engrossed, typing away when a sudden "bang!" hit the window beside me. My heart skipped a beat, and my hands froze; I was a little afraid to look. Peeking over, a beautiful cardinal lay floundering on our porch, desperately trying to gather his footing. Tiny feathers remained stuck to the window where he'd flown at full-speed, ramming himself into the glass. He was clearly shaken, and my poor heart broke. I began to pray, asking God to help the poor creature. It was so obvious he was terrified and stunned. Exerting every ounce of energy, he tried to fly away, but flapping his wings furiously, he still could not get off the ground.

Then I looked back at the passage of Scripture that lay before me: "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me'" (Matthew 25:40). (I know Jesus wasn't a bird - just hang with me!)

"OK, Lord," I thought, "I'll do what I can, but that bird will be so afraid. He won't know that he can trust me. He might even try to run away or bite me in defense." Stepping outside, I slowly approached the bird, reached down and picked up the delicate creature. His eyes were wide with terror, and he practically trembled in my palm. I gently stroked his soft back, whispered assurances, and walked across the porch to gather some birdseed for him as a token of friendship and compassion. He wouldn't move. He couldn't move.

I carried him to our propane tank in the back yard, set him down with the seed, and turned to walk away, praying that God would either give me wisdom to know how to help, or heal him so he might once again fly. Since it was now 3 pm, I had to leave the defenseless creature for a few minutes while I went to get Lil' D from school. He was high enough our community cats wouldn't notice him immediately and might not be able to get to him without slipping.

When we returned from school, I invited Lil' D to come out with me to see the bird and pray with me God would heal it. As we cautiously walked toward the propane tank, we watched as a flock of various birds scattered from the tree in the backyard. Still our little cardinal sat helplessly perched. When I got within two feet of him and stretched out my hand, he suddenly lifted up and flew away! A prayer answered.

Then I realized, with tears in my eyes, that's what it's like with God and me. Each time I ram my head against the struggles of life, he steps out to meet me, slowly approaches me in my pain, reaches down and picks up my delicate heart. My eyes are wide with terror, and I practically tremble in his hand. He strokes me, whispers assurances, and walks across time and space to offer his friendship and compassion. And yet after all he's done, I'm still afraid. I still doubt that he can be trusted. Sometimes, broken as I am, I even try to fly away or bite back in defense. How foolish I am.

And since I've been shown such compassion and grace, how can I even think of withholding mercy and hospitality to others who have needs and ache, too? Matthew 6:26 says, "Look at the birds of the air... Are you [and others] not worth much more than they?" I think, I hope that I will forever read this passage differently, and remember what a little bird told me.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Personal Politician

It's pretty rare that I'll address anything political on my blog, but this time, it's personal. Real personal.

Best Man in our wedding, and Darin's dear friend for 20 years, James Lankford is running for Congress. I can't vote for him because I don't live in Oklahoma, but I'm proud to spread the word about him! Here's a couple of links about him on Blogspot and Facebook for those of you who are interested.

(Is it too early to go shopping for a dress to wear to his inauguration?!)