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Posts Tagged ‘the Prodigal Son’

‘We want to go the long way—we’ll still beat you to the car!’ our two youngest grandkids informed us, as we went to drive them home after a happy day together during the school holidays.  

We thought they meant their usual trick of heading upstairs in our unit block and down again, while we walked the normal way—but this time, they went further afield. And to their dismay and ours, they soon became lost in our big retirement village.

We waited and waited—but no grandkids showed up. I ran around our unit block several times, calling their names. Nothing. I raced up to the village centre. Nothing. I asked others along the way and, while one lady had seen them dash past, there was now no sign of them. My husband drove around looking. Again nothing.

What to do? I stood on a corner, hoping they would see me, and thought of calling the police. But at last, a lady I know came walking towards me, holding Zain and Maxine’s hands. At that point, she seemed like an angel to me!

‘Would you like two grandchildren?’ she asked, as I tried not to burst into tears.

Zain and Maxine looked even more sober and scared when they saw they had upset me. They did their best to explain how they tried to find their way back but had become completely confused, and their rescuer also explained how Zain had been very sensible and asked her nicely where our unit was. But what a fright for them—and us! The next time they were with us, they willingly made thankyou cards and some chocolate brownies for their rescuing angel—and their thanks were indeed heartfelt.

I wonder if you have had a similar heart-in-mouth experience of losing someone or of being lost yourself? Once when travelling in Turkey with a friend, I went to find a bank, while she waited at the bus station. On the way back, I took a wrong turn—and there I was, lost in the middle of Turkey with minimal Turkish at my disposal. To my relief, however, after managing to ask directions in a shop and then having a stern Turkish policeman come to my aid, I was reunited with my friend, just before our bus arrived. Phew!

We can feel so helpless in such situations, can’t we?  But I have discovered that such experiences can also teach us something more about God. By being lost in Turkey, I realised again my deep need of a rescuer, both then and in my life in general. Without God, we truly are lost, without hope and without purpose in life. And by losing our grandchildren, even for only a while, I sensed again God’s deep grief when we lose our way in life or reject God’s offer of rescue and reconciliation. Yet how eagerly our loving Father waits to welcome us home, just as the father in the story in Luke 15 welcomed his lost son home.

Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Luke 15:23-24.

It is not pleasant to be lost. But it is the most wonderful experience ever when we find our way back into the loving arms of God.

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‘My tomato bushes have started blooming again!’ our daughter announced recently with glee.

‘Well, I don’t think my one poor plant’s going to do anything more,’ I told her. ‘I’ll pull it out soon.’

IMG_20200207_093825904Somehow, that ‘soon’ of mine did not happen—and just as well, because last week, when I went to check how my other pot plants had fared in the recent heat, I discovered that tomato plant had taken on a new lease of life. There it was, standing tall and proud again, its new green leaves reaching high and with several yellow flowers on display as well!

As I looked closer, I saw how some of the dead branches that had already borne juicy, little tomatoes were still there, but had shrivelled up and given way to new, strong, green ones that had emerged from the main stem. Could this be possible? I checked online—and, sure enough, I discovered there actually are tomato bushes that produce more than one crop a season. I remembered buying my plant at a nearby market, with no idea what I was actually getting, except that it was some dwarf tomato. Now I discovered I must have bought what is called an ‘indeterminate’ variety, as opposed to a ‘determinate’ one that is programmed to bloom and fruit in abundance just once a season. So it seems I can look forward again to walking out onto our balcony and picking even more of those flavoursome, little tomatoes to add to our salads from time to time!

As I thought about my rejuvenated plant, however, it seemed to me that God wanted to show me something more through it. How many times in my own life, when I felt as if I had died inside after some bad experience or deep disappointment or loss, has God drawn me close, comforted me and given me strength to go on and keep being fruitful? How many times in my life, when I felt so disgusted with myself at making some sinful choice and ignoring the Spirit’s voice within, has God picked me up, forgiven me and set my feet on solid ground again? How many times even now, each day, does God lovingly continue to encourage and inspire me when I feel I have nothing much more to give?

I love the story of the lost son Jesus told to the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ who had gathered around him, as well as the critical Pharisees and teachers of the law listening in (Luke 15). The story ends on a gently rebuking but joyous note, as the father reasons with his older son:

‘My son,’ the father said, you are always with me and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ Luke 15:31-32

Yes, when I too was dead, God gave me new life, as I was born anew through the Spirit. And now, each day, God continues with such love and grace to restore and renew me, as I seek to bear more fruit. I am so grateful for that second chance in my life—but also for that third and fourth and fifth and …

Is that how you feel too?

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Jo 12I wonder if you have ever discovered you misunderstood the words of a song you heard as a child. Years ago, one of our children asked me, ‘Mummy, why does God put the kettle on a thousand hills?’ Eventually, I worked out they had kind of melded together in their mind an old Sunday School chorus ‘He owns the cattle on a thousand hills’ with a nursery rhyme song, ‘Polly put the kettle on’!

On another occasion, this same child asked me, ‘Mummy, is God a lady?’ What a profound question, I thought—I wonder where that came from?’ Then I realised they must have been listening to one of the old Scripture in Song choruses popular in the seventies, ‘God is not a man that he should lie’. Now those words are from Numbers 23:19, where ‘man’ obviously means ‘human’ rather than the opposite of ‘lady’! Certainly tricky for a child to understand.

But I too made similar mistakes when I was around that age.  I well remember listening to my mother singing the 23rd Psalm to the old ‘Crimond’ tune, where the first two lines went as follows:

The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want,

He makes me down to lie

I was unaware of that comma between ‘Shepherd’ and ‘I’ll’, however. The words were sung in one smooth line—which led me to wonder why on earth anyone would sing about a shepherd they did not want! And why would they not want the Lord as their Shepherd? Furthermore, why would he make people lie? That didn’t sound good. But eventually I realised that the Lord wasn’t about to make us tell untruths. Instead he was inviting us to lie down in those green pastures he provides and be restored deep in our spirit. Then in my teens, I discovered I did in fact very much want the Lord as my Shepherd leading and watching over me for the rest of my life.

Sadly even now, when I sometimes think I know better, I still choose to go my own way and turn a deaf ear to the Shepherd, as he urges me to stay close to him and head for a safe place where I can rest. How much these wilful choices of mine must grieve the Lord! Yet he still keeps following me and calling out to me in love, ‘Come this way, Jo-Anne! Here I am—I haven’t left you!’ How much I need to turn then, listen carefully to his voice—and do what he says.

Recently, I finished reading a wonderful novel by Charles Martin, Long Way Gone, a kind of modern-day telling of the story of the prodigal son. The son in the story walked away from his loving father, causing so much pain and heartache for all. He resented his father’s control over his life and decided to go his own way. But the father kept following him and watching over him, finally rescuing him from certain death. And that is what our Shepherd faithfully does for us his sheep too, year in and year out—forever. How amazing is that?

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6

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IMG_20171202_160825689I could not believe it. I had just finished carefully parcelling up two books of mine a customer had purchased through my website. I checked my laptop to find out her address and wrote it clearly on the front of the parcel. I started writing my own address on the back—then stopped, horrified. Without thinking, I had begun to write our old home address. Oops!

To put a positive spin on this sad event, we have been at our new address for only around five months—which isn’t long, compared with the thirty-two years we spent at our old address! Obviously, five months is not long enough for such key pieces of information to embed themselves in my brain, ready for automatic recall.

Now I had a dilemma. Should I tear up all that good wrapping paper I had used and start over? Or should I simply cross out my silly mistake, eat humble pie, risk my new customer’s raised eyebrows and write the correct address underneath?

In the end, I chose the latter, after ruefully telling my husband what I had done.

‘Ah well,’ he said, ‘the other day, for the first time since we moved, I headed home to our old house after I finished shopping, instead of our new one!’

Hmm. I wonder what would have happened if he had tried to put his key in the door?

Yet when we still lived at our old house, I too did something similar once. As I drove home late one night along Victoria Road, thinking about all sorts of things, I suddenly realised I had gone straight past our street and was heading for Parramatta! Eventually, I managed to get back on track, but all the while, I found myself thinking, ‘How could have done that? How could I have forgotten where I was heading after all these years?’

In the natural, it’s not ideal to forget where I live or drive right past my own street. But it’s a much more serious matter when I begin to do the same in the spiritual. How often, in the busyness of life, have I failed to remember where my real home is? How often do I wander around, looking for peace and comfort in the wrong places? How often have I lost sight of who I am and where I truly belong? How often do I head in the wrong direction, oblivious to those promptings of the Spirit and so preoccupied with my own thoughts and ideas rather than God’s? Yet God is always there, arms open wide, offering us the most wonderful homecoming of all, just as Jesus showed us in the story of the lost son (Luke 15). Each day, God longs to provide the rest, peace, shelter, safety, strengthening and restoration we need—yet all too often I seem to have lost God’s address.

I wonder if, this Christmas, we all need to make it a priority to find our way back home to God, to that place where we truly belong?

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-29

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Recently, I had reason to think more about the great power one particular little word in our English language can wield. Yet this word seems to stick in our throats so often or is too much even to think about saying because the stakes may be too high for us.

Yes, it’s that one little word ‘sorry’.

IMG_20140614_152459Now it appears this is a hard word even for two-year-olds like—well, like our beautiful, little grandson Zain to say. Recently, while visiting us, he did something naughty and, as a result, his dad took him on his knee and decided Zain needed to say sorry. But no—that was not an option for our Zain. Not at all. Time after time, he sat there, shaking his head and refusing to say that one little word that would resolve the situation. Yet how could he, a two-year-old, know how to be so stubborn? What might cause him to decide he was not prepared to stoop so low as to apologise?

Now at that point, his conflict-avoidance grandmother decided to resort to bribery and offered him a lollipop if he would say sorry. But even that did not change his mind. When his dad began to eat that lollipop instead, there were great cries of anguish—but still no sorry. That lollipop began getting smaller and smaller until it had almost disappeared. Yet that little word was never said.

A few days later, out of the blue, Zain apparently said to his mum:

‘Lollipops at Nanna’s house. But I didn’t get one. I didn’t say sorry.’

Even at two, he understood what the issue was and how high the stakes were. After all, a lollipop is a big deal to a two-year-old.

But what about us when it comes to saying that little word? How mature are we about this?  In particular, what happens when we know we need to tell God we’re sorry? There’s much more than a lollipop at stake, in this case. Yet I for one, just like my grandson, so often seem to have too much pride and stubbornness to admit my faults, even to such a loving, forgiving God. On top of that, I seem to have an endless, inbuilt supply of excuses ready as to why I don’t want or need to admit to those ways I have fallen so far short of how God would want me to behave.

It doesn’t matter.

God will forgive me anyway.

It wasn’t so bad, after all.

Others have done much worse than I have.

I’m too ashamed—I don’t even want to think about.

I hope, like Zain, I will grow up one day.  I hope I wake up to myself soon and remember how important it is to keep short accounts with God. I hope I never forget the freedom God’s amazing forgiveness brings when we come before our loving Father with contrite hearts just as that prodigal son did.

How about you? Is sorry a hard word for you to say too—especially to God?

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 Jn 1:9

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