Prostitutes, A Pigsty And A Petulant Older Brother

“A certain man had two sons, and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ And he divided his wealth between them.”

What is up with this boy?  This brash, insensitive, selfish boy?

Treating his father like he’s already dead by demanding his inheritance long before it’s due.

Gimme what I’ve got coming to me, old man. 

So his father does and watches his boy gather his things and leave. Many prostitutes and pigsties later, the boy, penniless, comes to his senses and wonders if his father will take him back as a hired hand.

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Isn’t this what we do when we’ve royally messed up…reach for the lowest possible expectation? We’re willing to hire ourselves out for what was freely given in the first place. It’s almost like it is hard-wired into us to think we have to earn our way back to the smallest grace.

This is something that must be remedied.

So the father is always watching and even when the boy is very far away, his father sees him and runs all awkward and undignified, the long grass scratching against his shins until the two of them clash in an embrace of hugs and kisses, over and over and over again.

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Suddenly a robe, a ring, some sandals and a crazy BBQ party is ordered for this scoundrel.  “…for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again… he was lost, and has been found.”

Perhaps this is when the uptight upright begin to think…”Okay, we get it, Jesus. You’ve said this three times. God loves everybody.”

See, there is this thing called the Rule of Threes in storytelling.

The teller or the writer of a story will repeat an important point or rhyme three times to help the hearer or the reader to remember what is most important.  In this case, it is God loves everybody.

All good storytellers use the Rule of Threes. The best ones will add a twist.

Therefore Jesus, looking beyond his scandalous friends to those standing a safe distance away, continues with his story.

“Now, his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.” When he was told why this was happening, “he became angry, and was not willing to go in, and his father came out and began entreating him.”

Out comes The List.

Many rule-keeping good deed do-ers keep lists of their lists and accounts of their accounts.
They chart their graphs and graph their charts.
They keep balanced accounts written upon their balanced sheets.
It’s a veritable rule-keeping circus.

One. It’s been all work and no play for me.
Two. I’ve had no girls, no parties, no frills, no squandering.
Three. I’ve never asked for anything and I’ve never been given anything.
And four. Not once, not one single time was there any BBQ!

By now, the uptight upright are probably seeing a pattern in the stories. First God is portrayed as a shepherd and his scoundrel friends are the lost sheep. Next, God is the woman and again, his so-called friends are the precious coin. Clearly,  the younger brother in this last story is a convincing representation of these cling-ons Jesus keeps allowing to follow Him.  Clearly, God is seen in the forgiving father.

But this older brother… is Jesus implying this pious, rigid, venomous older brother is one of us do-gooders?

As Jesus delivers the story’s twist into the twisted hearts of the religious, perhaps they felt for the first time the magnetic pull of grace and mercy when they heard the father’s response to his son’s good-deed do-er list these words…“My child.”

My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.

In that moment, did they sense the Holy Spirit entreating them, washing them, enveloping them with what must be remembered.

Jesus said it three times.
He loves prostitutes and
boys stuck in pigsties and
petulant older brothers.

God loves everybody.

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“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.”– Benjamin Franklin

The Scandal Of Being A Woman

“Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

Jesus is a master storyteller. There is a place for everyone in the weaving of it.

In His story of the lost sheep he invites his audience to step into the sandals of a shepherd.

How absurd.

Every upstanding citizen knows that a shepherd barely has a high school education which is probably why he had to take the job of shepherd in the first place. Every upstanding citizen knows no ambition equals low position.

In the second chapter, Jesus invites his audience to step into the sandals of a woman.

This is downright scandalous.

No righteous man wants to step into the sandals of a woman, especially one who has lost a precious coin. A coin that may have slipped off the cord that threaded it to the other nine coins she was saving for her dowry, her only security and provision for the rest of her natural born life. A coin that must be found at all costs, lest she lose all prospects of a stable future…relationship, children, a home.

It is not enough for this woman to light a lamp and crawl on all fours to look with her eye. She needs a tool, a broom, to get into every corner, crack and crevice. To sweep away dirt and debris to find what is most precious. To rejoice over what was once lost.

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Arguably men are not as persistent when it comes to looking for certain things. But a woman…especially if it has deep sentimental value, will pull apart the couch, the junk drawer, the last box at the very end of the attic and shake her purse upside down and sideways until she finds what she is looking for. Perhaps it was the same in ancient times.

In the first chapter, Jesus had compared God to a shepherd.

But now…now he’s comparing God to a woman.

God who, like a woman on a recovery mission, gets down into the scum of humanity’s floor and sweeps away sin’s dirt and debris to find what is most precious to Him. Us scoundrels.

Perhaps this is the part of the story where sweat begins to form under the priestly garment. Perhaps this is where the upright become uptight.
Perhaps the realization is beginning to sink in that everyone is invited into God’s kingdom.

Even shepherds. Even women. Scandalous indeed.

This cannot be possible.
Too much grace is just too much.
Something must be done. A plan must be nailed down.
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In the broiling and simmering and sweating of the uptight upright, Jesus hits them with his tagline once more.

“In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”

Despite knowing His time on earth is short, and perhaps sensing the lips grimacing and the eyebrows furrowing, Jesus plays the joy card again.

This time He brings the angels into it.

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All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost.– J.R.R. Tolkien

Eating With God

“Now all the tax-gatherers and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.”

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Sluts and mutts and stealers and concealers,
Tricksters and fixers and schemers and dreamers,
Mobs and slobs and rabbles and rousers,
Push past the ones in ivory towers
to get close to Holiest of Holy.

“And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying,
“This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Yes. Jesus does.
Then He tells a story.

About a lost sheep and how a man leaves the rest of his flock behind to get the one that wandered into the thistles and brambles and how he won’t let it walk back, most likely because it’s beat up pretty badly.  Then the man drapes the sheep’s body over his shoulders and now the man is grinning.  Rejoicing, even, which means his laughter is probably echoing like crazy throughout the canyon.

When the man gets home, he tells all his friends and neighbors that he found his precious sheep because he wants them to have as much joy and face-hurting grinning as he is having in that moment.

Then Jesus dares to say this sort of thing happens in heaven, this gut-busting joy, when one…ONE!… scoundrel turns towards Him and repents.

There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Who says God is not happy?

This is how it is with us.

When we are lost and Jesus finds us, we are lifted up and carried, broken, beaten, forgiven.
And when we’ve been set on our feet again, there is joy and laughing…so much laughing.

Amazing grace, indeed.

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“Joy is the serious business of heaven.” -C.S. Lewis

Barns And Beaches

The journey into self-examination can feel like the cleaning out of an old barn.

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We know it’s going to be a really big job and there are questions.
Are we even up to the task?
What if it proves to be too painful?

Some of us may have to cut through bit of barbed wire we’ve put up for our own protection just to get on the premises.

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In self-examination, it’s one thing to acknowledge our annoying habits and maybe even a sin or two. But like the contents of an old barn, we may not even know what is inside. We may have forgotten what has been stored there given over to moth and rust.

In this element of the process we really do need God to guide us, because often our inner wounds, character deficiencies and sin patterns are unknown to us and we need God to reveal them.The final move is confession.- Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms

The final move is confession…

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Not a one and done, but confession bourne out of the discovery and revelation that God, in his grace and mercy, does not want to leave me a rusted pipe.

So, with God’s help, I’ve begun the process of purgation. A stripping away of all that is not my truest self. A purging of what I have allowed myself to cling to instead of Jesus.

I’m purging the barn.

I’m putting myself under the loving gaze of God to be stripped of the darkness I didn’t even know was there.

So what if, instead of this purgation and confession looking like a broken down shell of my busted up self…,

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It looks more like this…

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Me made clean, refreshed, renewed and leaving a new footprint.

 

The Good Stuff Of Blood And Guts

“For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

When you bring your whole self to God, it’s not always about the dark stuff. The dark stuff is acknowledged and confessed and dealt with so you can get to the good stuff.

The stuff you are made of and the stuff you are made for.

It’s the blood and guts stuff, your inward parts, all knitted and twined together. It is a Fearful, meaning AWE-FULL, WONDER-FULL thing.

It’s like when you look at that ugly snowbank on your front lawn that is covered in mud and salt,and you see in your mind’s eye what you know is underneath that mess…beautiful day lillies just waiting for the sun.  It’s not just the dirty snowbank that is true about your front yard, it’s what is growing green and good underneath it that is true as well.

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The inward parts, the good stuff of blood and guts, is what makes some of us poets.
It’s what makes some of us count all the numbers and number all the counters.
It’s what makes some of us builders and planters, teachers and healers.
It’s what makes some of us drummers and dancers and tellers of stories.

It’s what makes some of us love bees and some of us love seashells.
Why some of us run fast and some of us walk slow.
It’s the reason some of us want to climb the highest tree and others of us love to plumb the deepest depths.

Some of us laugh the loudest and some of us cry in our cars.
Some of us think and dream like children and some of us just plain think.

God knows who we really are. Perhaps He is the only one who does. What is astounding is that this knowing who we really are is a delight to Him. And He has plans for us.

Ruth Haley Barton in her book Sacred Rhythms asks, “How many people do you know are effective at being themselves and letting God use that? This Psalm (139) invites us to do just that-to become really effective at being ourselves and letting God use that for his glory.

To embrace our created self is a gift that gives glory to the one who Created us, says Barton. When we are truly effective at being ourselves, it’s Jesus who is made famous.

So as the next part of my Lenten journey and as a writer, I have added this prayer-
“O Lord, help me to be my most effective self.”

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“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”– Ernest Hemingway.

When A Harsh Wind Blows

On day two into self-examination I make a discovery.

I discover that am a self-preservationist and a solitude seeker.

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I’m all about staying alive. Especially in a vehicle of any kind. Car, plane, rollercoaster.

I also have a deep need for alone-ness. I have a deep need for my own place.

The first is birthed out of trauma, the other is just plain hard-wiring.
I would scarcely know myself without them.

This is the examen of consciousness.

It is discovering what is most true about you and recognizing that God is there with you in the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Just yesterday I discovered that my demand for self-preservation and alone-ness hurt someone I loved. My not wanting to be infringed upon infringed upon someone else. I didn’t know it at the time. Because God comes into the abyss with me, now I do.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

Pretty much nowhere. There is nowhere I can go that God does not go with me.

“Through the faithful practice of the discipline of self-examination we begin to discover, as the psalmist did, that even those places within us that feel very dark and uninhabitable are places where God’s presence is real.” Ruth Haley Barton in Sacred Rhythms

It can be a harsh wind sometimes, this business of self-discovery.

When these dark and unhabitable places, these desert places of my soul become all I that can see, I must remember this… Jesus always goes into the desert.

I must remember a March wind always precedes an April Spring.

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