“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” Luke 15:31
I heard someone on the radio the other day talking about the story of the Prodigal Son so I decided to give it another read and do some thinking on it. Every time I read the story I get angry with the first son. According to the customs of his time, asking for his inheritance was the same as saying his father was dead to him. As a parent I just can’t imagine what it must have felt like to be so bitterly betrayed by my own son. As I read on, I sometimes find myself cheering for the second son…the one who was obedient, hardworking respectful and never asked for anything. He seems like the good son for sure…or does he? Surely the first son is the bad son…or is he? As I prayed on this passage from Luke’s Gospel I began to see myself in both sons. I’m not gonna lie…I didn’t like that idea very much!
I saw myself in the second son but not for good reasons. Yes I try to be obedient to God’s will and yes I try to be grateful and conservative and not demanding but this wasn’t what was stirring in my heart. The second son was all about entitlement. He wasn’t concerned about his brother, he was concerned about himself. He didn’t stop for 2 seconds to see the relief or joy in his father’s eyes. He didn’t stop for 2 seconds to realize what a tremendous act of “pride swallowing” his brother had just demonstrated. And he certainly didn’t stop long enough to think about how extravagantly his father would shower him with love if given the chance. It was a gigantic open and shut case of “that’s not fair!” Why is it we have such a hard time being genuinely happy for others when good fortune comes their way and not ours? I guess I need to think more about the blessing of generosity and less about keeping score. I heard a story not long ago about a wealthy couple who had attended a fundraising event and won the big cash prize. The audience was full of second sons who whispered among themselves about how that couple certainly didn’t deserve to win. What all those whisperers didn’t know is that the couple humbly accepted the cash prize and used every penny of it to buy groceries, diapers and gas cards for two struggling young family in their church.
The first son…what could he possibly have to teach me? I smugly thought I would never be so bold, wasteful, irresponsible and disrespectful. God wouldn’t let it off my heart so I stayed a while longer and thought about that lousy first son and as I sat and prayed, he began to sprout some redeeming qualities. I began to consider things like his courage, humility and desire to reconcile. He knew he had hurt his father but something deep inside him wanted to make that right. He wasn’t asking to have everything back to normal; he was willing to be a hired man not a son. True, his return might have been motivated by selfish reasons like hunger and pride but I can’t even imagine being brave enough to take the risk. He had to be willing to own up to every one of his mistakes and face the judgment and consequences that might come. He left home prideful and arrogant and he returned broken and weak and a complete failure, but yet he returned. As he walked down that road to his father’s house every weakness was on full display. I’m not sure I could muster that kind of honesty. I can go to all sorts of lengths to conceal my weaknesses and failures; it must have been quite a task to lay it all on the line like he did. I noticed that not once did the son offer any kind of excuse or rationale for his behavior. He just told it like it was and hoped to be accepted in spite of the brokenness he brought with him; I don’t know about you but I could take a lesson there!
I spent so much time thinking about the sons, I forgot the star of the story…the father. The father in this story is our father too. Our Heavenly Father loves us with the same unconditional love as the father in the story. He will always welcome us back no matter what we’ve done or where we’ve been and he will be so happy to see us there will be great rejoicing. He loves us even when we’re too busy keeping score to realize only he knows the perfect reason blessings are bestowed as they are. I realized he wants us to know his forgiveness and his generosity. He wants us to remember our job isn’t to focus on the behavior of his children; our job is to focus on the love of the Father.
A Seed To Plant: Pick a favorite Gospel story and give it a read with fresh eyes, asking God to put you right into the story so he can reveal his truth and love to your heart.
Blessings on your day!
…take up your cross and follow me. Luke 9:23
At about 3 o’clock each afternoon everyone at St. Mary’s school will hear the voice of Melanie or Sue, the “angels in the office” say over the intercom, “Would the following students please report to the office.” That means there is a message for them; usually a change in after school routine or a note that needs to be delivered to a parent. A hush falls over the building as the names are read and the young ones listen with great anticipation. Earlier this week one of my students was nearly in tears as she proclaimed her great sadness about not yet being chosen as a FOLLOWING student. She announced that she had no idea who she’d follow but she was quite sure she could follow carefully. I giggled and then remembered a student a few years ago who was so excited to be a “following student” he wandered out into the hall and just started following a random group of boys walking down the hall. As I peeked out into the hallway, I noticed that he had wound up outside the 6th grade classroom so I asked him what he was doing and he just shrugged his shoulders and said “I’m just following I guess.” It made me realize how easy it is to wander off and just follow without a clear sense of direction!
I suppose every now and then it’s a good practice to stop and take a long hard look at who we’re following and just where they’re leading us. As we inch our way closer to the November elections, there certainly is no shortage of people inviting us to follow them! It’s easy to lose our way if our compass isn’t pointing straight up! Following the right path isn’t always the smooth and easy path for sure but the blessing at the end of the right path is a dandy one indeed!
The words from Luke’s Gospel remind us that Jesus didn’t just say follow me; He said pick up your cross and follow me. There is a duty assigned, not just some random wandering along behind. Sometimes that cross we need to drag along as we follow Him is one we’d just rather drop alongside the path and go on without! That’s not how it works is it!
In the last week, my husband Dave and I have gone to three wakes and visited with families as they mourned and celebrated the life of a loved one. As we listened to the stories of their lives; the struggles and ultimately their triumphs, I was very aware of the crosses they carried and the Lord they followed. One of the lives we celebrated this week was an absolutely lovely woman who was the mother of 15 children. She was a lady who knew who she needed to follow. One of her sons is a Catholic Priest. Another son is a Catholic Brother who serves as a missionary in Jamaica. Also among the 15 is a son who was born with Down’s Syndrome and is loved throughout the community and is hailed as our local high school’s biggest sports fan. The others are hard-working, cheerful, faithful, friendly loving men and women. I would imagine she bore her share of crosses through the years and her faithful following is evident in her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.Her family all shared that she was so ready to“go be with Jesus.” That kind of peace and blessed assurance doesn’t come unless you’ve been following the right leader!
I’d love to be called to God’s office and recognized as a “following student” one of these days! When it all boils down to the bottom of the pot, I suppose what really matters is making sure those you follow are going to lead you closer to heaven. If their words and actions show you otherwise, they just might lead you somewhere you aren’t interested in going. It’s a choice, and yes, actually choosing who you’ll follow might be a cross to bear all in itself because we live in a society that seems to lead us in a direction contrary to the one Jesus pointed out. The last time I checked, popular opinion and majority rule didn’t dictate eternal life, picking up a cross and following Jesus did!
A seed to plant: Give some serious thought to who you’re following. Are there things in your life that might influence your ability to follow Jesus? Go ahead...pick up your cross and be one of Jesus' following students this week…I’ll bet He’s got a special place to lead you!
Blessings on your day!
For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost. Luke 19:10
When I was in college, I had my life all mapped out! I was very careful to organize each and every detail. I had everything written out in a notebook including how many children I wanted, what color my house would be and what kind of job I would have. According to my plan, I was to be married by 23 and be finished having babies by 30. I even had their names picked out, of course with alternates in case my future husband didn’t like my first choice. It was fool proof ... my happily ever after was all right there written in the notebook! I was so organized…what could possibly go wrong. Before I knew it I was 25 and absolutely nothing written in my notebook was happening, in fact, there were quite a few things that had happened that I would have never considered putting in the notebook…things like the death of my brother, and losing my Mom to cancer…those were not in my plan! I was melting inside and I remember feeling a little lost!
During this “lost season”, I went to visit my Grandma. A visit with Grandma Thelma always made things better! As we were sitting on her porch swing and she was trying once again to teach me how to crochet, tears started to fall down my cheeks into the yarn on my lap and Grandma gently took the things from my hands, knowing completely well that the tears were not due to my miserable attempt at crocheting. A couple questions later, there I sat blubbering like a baby spilling the whole tale of the stupid notebook and all my foolish plans. I distinctly remember telling her in the middle of my hissy fit that according to my plan, I was supposed to be half way done having babies by now but instead I was sitting on the front porch with her on a Friday night. I also told her that in the meantime I was quite sure all my eggs were rotting! I told her I’d been so careful in my planning, I just didn’t understand what had gone so terribly wrong!
When I had finished, Grandma sweetly said, “I know the problem!" She always did, but her explanation wasn’t what I expected. She didn’t mess around with her words…she cut right to the heart of the problem. She said, “You need to throw that darn notebook of yours in the trash.” I looked at her in shock and she went on to say, “The problem with your notebook is that it’s your plan and that’s never going to work.” She went on to lovingly remind me that everything happens for a reason, both the good and the bad, it’s all part of God’s plan whether we like it or not. She told me to ask God to write the plan for me, she also assured me that He was a better planner than me and that I would indeed have a few good eggs left when I needed them! Thank you Grandma!
That visit on the porch was like Jesus rounding up a lost lamb! I had gotten so tangled up in trying to take care of myself I had forgotten that really was Gods job. I still keep a notebook, but it’s a prayer journal. I still write my lists and organize my plans in the notebook, but the big difference between the first notebook and the ones I write in now…these are the plans I ask God to bless if they are according to His will and strike down if they are not. I often remind Him I’m pretty thick-headed so please be very clear with the directions because I don’t have Grandma to clear it up for me anymore.
How could we possibly think that a God who loved us so much He would send His only Son to save us wouldn’t know better the plans for our life!
Let Him take over your plans…you won’t be disappointed!
A seed to plant: Grab a piece of paper right now, and write down your plans for the week…then ask God to bless the list…invite Him to take charge of the list… and then stand back and see what He does with your week!
Blessings on your day!
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. Luke 24:45
One spring afternoon, my students were taking a bathroom break and one of the boys came running back into the classroom and announced in a very loud voice, “Hey Mrs. Wohlfert, Johnny (name changed to protect the innocent) got his thing stuck in the thing.” My dumbfounded, “What?” was met with a grin and a “you better get in there quick!” After making sure my first trip into a boys bathroom was safe and clear, and it was established that the “stuck thing” was a commonly visible body part, I wiggled open the stall door and I was greeted by the sight of one of my most curious minded first grade boys kneeling on the floor with his arm stuck, clear past the elbow, in the double roll toilet paper dispenser. The harder he tried to pull it back out, the more tightly it became wedged by the paper divider. He was pinched, frightened and crying. Once I freed his arm, he crawled on my lap and sobbed. When he settled down a little, I asked, “So, what exactly were you trying to do?” He sniffed and said,“Well I think I just wanted to figure it out.”
I don’t know about you,but I spend a lot of time trying to figure things out myself. How many times have you heard people say,“Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual.”? I think we get busy trying to figure out how life works on our own, and like Johnny, we get stuck! The truth is, life does come with an instruction manual, and the wise Christian, spends time with it each and every day they wake up and draw breath. All the answers are there, all the wisdom is there, all the comfort, hope, peace and direction we could ever need lies right there in the Bible between Genesis and Revelations. God has spelled it all out for us, clearly and lovingly.
I remember the first time I picked up Scripture and cried out to God to get me out of a pickle. I closed my eyes, opened up my Bible to find the answer and landed right in Matthew’s Gospel, reading about the genealogy of Jesus. “How is this supposed to help?” I screamed. It turned out His help was there in that long list of names I couldn’t pronounce. He was pointing me to my family; my faithful Mom and my wise Dad were just waiting for me to ask for help and guidance. Even when we don’t know quite what we’re asking for, God is there, ready to use His“instruction manual” to guide us. He loves us too much to make us figure it out on our own.
Many will say they don’t often read Scripture because they don’t always understand it. The key to understanding Scripture is to ask God to reveal its meaning to you. Each time you pick up His word, ask Him to open your heart and your mind so you will be ready to absorb a word or a phrase. I think we’re much better off focusing on a small passage rather than a page or whole chapter. Once you ask God to guide your understanding, read the passage slowly and carefully and then just sit and let it percolate in your mind and your heart. Sometimes He uses Scripture to help us figure something out on the spot, other times He intends for us to save that instruction for later. Either way, He’s using His word to inspire, guide and instruct.
A seed to plant: Make a promise right now to carve out 15 minutes each day for the next week. Commit to using that time to sit quietly with Scripture. Begin by asking God to open your heart and mind to understand the words He would have you read. If you aren’t sure where to begin, pick one of the four Gospels, the stories and instructions within those pages are amazing! I guarantee, these will be the best minutes of your week!
Blessings on your day!
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