Two Sons, by Stephanie Nelson

The parable of the prodigal son is a familiar passage of scripture.  It is the story of a profligate black sheep of a family, who demands his inheritance and strikes out on his own to be the master of his destiny.  A young man who doesn’t seek counsel, or heed the wisdom of elders.  One who, in his youth and inexperience, nevertheless knows...well, everything...and wishes to throw off the restraints imposed by those who love him to suffocation and who don’t understand just how ready he is to take on the world.

There are many incredible lessons to be learned through the study of this parable, including the pursuing, merciful love of Father God who is watching for the return of His child, forgiving and forgetting dishonor, rebellion and transgressions in the same unbelievable moment, and celebrating renewed sonship.  As a proclaimed child of this Father since the age of four, however, I have most often related to the oldest son.  Yes, that’s right, I admit it.  I have often felt a twinge of sympathy for the bitter, unbending brother of the redeemed black sheep.

The earthly father of the parable divided his estate and gave both of his sons their inheritances.  The word “prodigal” actually means “wastefully extravagant; spending resources recklessly”.  The oldest son, dutiful and prudent, took seriously the responsibility of cultivating and prospering the estate assets that were left. He was a man who stewarded his inheritance to bring honor to his father and ensure his own future security.  I can imagine his reaction when he, trudging up from the field after a long day’s work, hears the music and laughter of a party already in progress, and finds out what’s going on.  

“Why didn’t anyone come and get me?  This wheat-fattened calf that’s been slaughtered...who’s paying for that? What in the world is the best ceremonial robe doing on that pig-stinking fellow?  We’ve only got one of those, you know, and I was going to wear it on my wedding day. Who gave you permission to haul out wineskins enough for the entire neighborhood while I was out on the back forty? Who? DAD?

 I can see him now, standing stubbornly outside, thinking oldest-brother, anti-prodigal thoughts.  “Restored to sonship, that’s what’s happened.  That know-it-all punk kid is back, and he wasn’t content to cut this estate in half; he’s going to do it again, because he is wearing the family ring and is once again a joint heir. Wonderful.”

During a recent Woman’s Encounter session, I was reminded of what that earthly father said to his understandably irate older son: “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.” This is the position of a son of the household, an heir.  The youngest brother did not ask for a celebration, a fattened calf, or a ring.  In fact, they were given to him, not because of what he’d done, but in spite of it.  Even though he saw himself as a servant, Father saw him as a son.  The eldest wanted to know why he was never given even a young goat and a party, particularly when he had worked so diligently? Didn’t he deserve reward...payment, even? Payment for service; this is the mindset of a servant of the household.

I so often approach God from a position of servanthood rather than sonship.  If I pray with enough faith, if I confess enough scripture, if I give up the idols in my life, if I fast...then Father will bless me.  He will give me good things, approve of me, celebrate me; it will be a reward, or a payment, for my effort. Even though it was by grace, through faith, that I became His daughter, somehow that process doesn’t apply to everyday life after adoption.    

I can admit to an elder-brother twinge in my gut sometimes when I hear a praise report on Sunday morning; when a brother has received a resource from heaven that I need or long for. It’s a deep-seated, human fear of being overlooked in a family with limited resources, but thank God, I do not need to stand outside the party, worrying about my future or asking “What about me?” I can celebrate, knowing that I’m a joint heir with Jesus, my warrior King and the Lord of all, and my inheritance is a kingdom of limitless resources and unconditional love without end, including approval in spite of, not because of, any works—good or bad—that I lay on the altar.

 “You are always with me, child.  I am always with you.  Everything I have is yours.  Everything.”

Zeal of the Heavens, by Savina Elias

As Christians, we often imagine the grand moment when we are at the gates of heaven. The overwhelming zeal is almost too grand to even put into words. We are ready to be in the dwelling place of the Father. We long for the final destination, to be with him intimately. 
But, being saved, isn't the Father with us always? Shouldn't we walk our lives out as a reflection of how it is in heaven? The Word says that His dwelling place is IN US! 

In Isaiah 66:1, God asks, "Where is the house you will build me? And where is the place of my rest?" What can be created that is worthy enough to house His presence? In 1 Corinthians 3:16, He answers this question by declaring “Do you know that you are the temple of God and that the spirit of God dwells in you?” His dwelling is in us. He is the ultimate Creator and we are His craftsmanship. He built His house in us. The kingdom of heaven resides in us. As heirs to the Kingdom we can enter the heavens and release it. His Spirit is our spirit. 

Imagine the zeal we can live our life with if we could just accept and live our life with this knowledge. There is no hurt, anger, stress or any other negative emotion in heaven. Let's strive for that beautiful rest we have in Him. We are not bound to flesh. Walk down the street like you're walking through the castle of heaven. Live every day like you're at heaven’s gates. Live every day in intimacy with the Father. The joy we have for heaven is attainable now if we would just grasp onto it. 

Choose every day to be happy. Choose every day to be zealous for the life God has given us and willingly gives to us for eternity. Feel the presence of heaven with you and reflect it, every day!

Bring heaven down!
 

Blessing In Receiving, by Jesi Shiffer

Life Lessons, Spiritual Growth
 

As Christians we are taught to give.  Give to that person, give to that missions trip, and give everything and follow Him.  Learning to give like this is amazing because we are blessing people with God’s never-ending love in the process.  In learning how to give, however, we don’t really learn how to receive or to accept the idea of receiving. Receiving is just as important as giving.  When we accept someone else’s gift to us we not only receive God’s love through that gift but we are allowing that person to give God’s blessing. When we deny someone’s gift we are robbing them of their ability to bless others and you are robbing yourself of being blessed.

A few weeks ago Pastor Bob said, “one of the most difficult things we will ever do is give and receive the love of God.” As Christians, not only do we need to give but we need to be able to receive as well.  How are we supposed to give the Father’s love when we are not receiving it ourselves? We can try our hardest to give that love, but we will be giving out of an empty cup. To truly give the Father’s blessing and love we must allow that blessing and love to enter our lives.  We can’t give what we don’t have.

Sometimes we aren’t as fast to accept someone else’s blessing because it will make us vulnerable.  Vulnerability is a terrifying thing. If we get vulnerable people will see that we really aren’t these perfect Christians.  This thought stems from the fear of rejection. If we aren’t perfect then people might reject us. As Mike Lankford said a few weeks ago “We, as humans, have a desire for approval and a fear of rejection.” Rather than concerning ourselves with the approval of those around us, we should be concerning ourselves with God’s approval.  When this fear keeps us from accepting someone’s gift we disqualify ourselves from what blessings God does have. If we disqualify ourselves, we limit how much love we receive from the Father. Pastor Bob said, “God sends you 100% of His love, how much you receive is up to you.” When we disqualify ourselves, we are limiting God’s love for us.

Despite what season you are either starting or walking through I pray that you fully allow God to love you and that you are allowing God to use you for his blessings.

A Qualified Opinion, by Paul McGuire

Recently, while recording Papa's words to me, He remarked,"Before Me, none are qualified to have an opinion."  (Papa’s Listening Book, 3/18)

"Ooo! Harsh!" No. True. Giving an accurate opinion requires a proper perspective, good information, some foresight and a dose of Wisdom. Man, in his natural state, draws up short in all these qualifications

The Way of Trust, by Greg Fischer

I recently came across a story about the brilliant ethicist, John Kavanaugh. While he was at a point in his life where he was trying to decide how to spend the rest of it, he took a trip to Calcutta to visit Mother Teresa. During one of their times talking together, he asked the aging nun if she would pray for him, that he would have clarity to make this decision. Her answer surprised him when she said it and surprised me when I read it.

Too Tired To Fight, by Charissa Barnett

One minute everything can feel in control and in an instant all inner calm can be gone. My 2-year-old really tests the strength of my inner calm. One very early morning, I was feeding my infant while my toddler was playing independently. All was fine and everyone was in a good headspace that morning. Then silence…

Can't Order God, by Jacob Barnett

“I’ll just order it online…”
“Let’s order some coffee from Amazon…”
“If I don’t like it, I can always send it back…”

I’m willing to bet that we’ve all said something along these lines recently when we want/need something. At one point, we just had the world at our fingertips with our smartphones, but now we can have to world delivered straight to our door!

The Sweetness of Suffering, by Kylie Machacek

If you are old enough to read this post, it is no news to you that trials are inevitable in our lives on this side of heaven.  Although we will encounter much distress and discomfort during our earthly lives, throughout the Bible we see God painting a picture of hope with broad brushstrokes of bright pigment. 

The Secret, by Karen Neu

Have you ever had someone in your life that you loved, BUT you just didn't feel like you could quite jive with them? You really genuinely wanted to get along and live peaceably with them, but there were just these certain things about them, these certain little (or maybe even big) annoyances that just about drove you up a wall, or maybe even began to BUILD a wall between the two of you. . .

Therefore I Intercede

I have been thinking about my original experience of becoming a Christian lately. Especially on the days when my heart is squeezing with painful yearning to see the people I love delivered from the destructive paths they seem determined to walk. Those times make me think there is a lone howling wolf caged inside of me. The longing, the yearning, the desperate cry for their lives to be spared comes out in this keening, mournful cry from the very depths of my soul.

Warrior Stance: Fighting with Worship, by Jennifer Braddy

Too often, we as believers feel the weight of attack and fear on our spirits, and assume that it’s just the way it is. We’ve been told that there’s a war going on in the spiritual realms, and we as followers of Christ are simply called to withstand it—take blow after blow in the fight against evil.

We are taught that being in a constant state of attack is expected, even inevitable.

And that’s a lie.