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How to be poor even if you are rich.

Brotherly affection is one of those qualities that Peter tells us that we need to add to our faith. He promises to us that if we have it and increase in it that we will receive a valuable benefit. First, we will not be ineffective as a Christian; second, we will not be unfruitful as a Christian; third, we will not stumble and finally, we will be given entrance into the Kingdom of Jesus.  But what happens when we do not have brotherly affection? To answer this question, let’s look at the Prodigal son’s brother.

After the Prodigal had returned and his father was celebrating this return, the brother came in from the field and found out “there was a party goin’ on.”

But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”  (Luk 15:28-32 ESV)

He shows us how to be poor even if you are rich because…

He had no compassion on his brother.

Really, one might say that he didn’t even consider him to be his brother. “This son of yours” is a clear indication that he had separated from his the prodigal. Rather than rejoicing at the return of this prodigal to his good senses and to the family,  the brother is more concerned about the party that is being thrown. Perhaps he considered it  a  further waste of his inheritance since the prodigal had wasted his portion.

He was short sighted.

He focused on the service he had given his father and yet, never had received such a party for his friends as his father was throwing for the prodigal.  I rather doubt that this is completely true. In my own life, I know that I have exaggerated in order to justify my position. The use of the word “never” is key. What’s this? The father who is so generous to the returning prodigal NEVER(?) did anything nice for his son, never (?) threw a party for him, never(?) lavished him with gifts or some other present?

It may also be that the son had never asked. The father indicates that the son has access to what the Father had, could it be that he never asked for a party?

He bore a grudge.

There are many reasons why he could be upset with the Prodigal brother but he directs his anger at the party and the father. Why are you being so nice to him? In the parable, we see the Prodigal returning to the father to ask forgiveness. Perhaps this Prodigal needed to do the same thing to his brother. It was, after all, a sudden departure that robbed the family not just of physical wealth but relational wealth.  However, the brother would rather hold the grudge than confront his Prodigal brother (who, if I read the story correctly, would have begged forgiveness). This grudge would keep them separated longer now and it was not longer the Prodigal who was missing but the brother who is leaving (not physically but relationally).

He may have been envious.

In many contexts I have heard a sentiment expressed that says in so many words: If I had not been a Christian, I would have been able to enjoy this or that pleasure of life before getting saved. That is an expression of envy and unworthy of those who are called by the name of Christ. We envy those who are enjoying the pleasures of this world because we see ourselves restricted by the “rules” of being God’s sons.  Would we also envy their fate if they do not return?

The Prodigal’s brother was rich but he was really poor. Until his brother’s return, this poverty was not so easily noticed. Perhaps his father had realized this, maybe the father felt like he had lost two sons the day the prodigal left.

The application of this should be easy: If we are the brother who is still at home in the household of God, let us not fail to realize and recognize the benefits we have by serving our Heavenly Father. Let us also realize that we have a brother (or sister) who has left and needs to be welcomed back with open arms if they return.  We should not envy them, bear a grudge, or feel that their return will in any way diminish our reward.

Question: Are there other undesirable qualities that the brother showed in this parable?

photo credit: Martin Young 42

Grace and Forgiveness

To me the word Grace has had a kind of mysterious flavor. Something that belongs in the ‘better felt than told’ category. However, the Bible, at least the New Testament, uses the word many times. There is a lot to be said on the topic of Grace and this morning’s sermon does not touch on everything ( how could it?) but it does make a start into an area that I think many Christians do not understand.

Using Matthew 18:21-25 and the parable of the unforgiving servant, we will see at least three things that we should note about Grace. One is God’s grace for us, its enormity and magnitude. Trying to understand that will give you a headache and send goosebumps up and down your spine like standing in a glass floored elevator on the 98th floor. Second is our reaction to God’s grace and how we let it affect our lifes–or don’t, as the case may be. Third is the grace that we show to others.

Grace is a word that, in most cases, can be translated ‘favor’;  “unmerited favor’ is a favorite substitute also. It appears about 123 times in the Bible (depending on versions) and about 117 of those are in the NT. Grace is not always called grace in the scriptures but the concept of it is found in things like mercy, forgiveness, compassion, leniency and the like.

Paul uses it in every one of his epistles (unless you include Hebrews in that list) at the beginning, he wishes God’s grace and at the end he does the same. Amazing!

The point of the parable, if you don’t want to take the 30 minutes for the sermon, is that when we are forgiven so very much by a Holy God, the small offenses that our brother give to us should be easily and gladly overlooked.

I think it is worth noting that the text seems to imply this is for our brothers. However, the concept of this being for our brothers should not lead us to the extreme of being cruel with those who are not. It should, instead, emphasize the absolute idea that in relationship to fellow Christians, forgiveness is an over riding principle and must be practiced.

In other words, we too must show Grace if we wish to have Grace shown to us.

the lesson is linked here



The Parable of the Sower

The parable of the sower is an agricultural analogy. It uses something that we, with our limited spiritual perceptions,  can easily understand in order to offer us an insight into the spiritual truths that Jesus understood perfectly well.  Unless you are like the kid in the city who thinks that apples come from the store, not tying the apple to an apple tree, you understand that seeds need to have a good environment in which to grow.

The seed in this parable is the word of God.  It is spread everywhere as the sower goes through the field. The different types of soil represent those that hear the word and how they respond to it, how the word grows in their life, and ultimately tells us what kind of soil they are. In this lesson, one of the most interesting of the soils is the thorny soil.

It would be understandable to listen to this parable and conclude that only 25% of the soils (the good soil) produces anything. However, that is not quite true. The thorny soil also produced something…thorns. In fact, it may be concluded that if the thorny soil did not have the thorns that the seed also would have produce good fruit. In other words, the only reason for being unproductive is the thorns.

This makes it imperative that we understand what these thorns are. Understanding them helps us take a measure of our life and remove them if we find them. These thorns will choke the word of God and make it unfruitful if we do not remove them.

The thorns are the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things. These three items pretty much cover it all:

  • the cares of the world are those things that the world cares about. What does the world care about? See Luke 12:30 Food, drink and clothing.  Yet we are reminded not to be like them. Our Father knows what we need and we should be content if we have food and clothing. I Tim 6:8
  • The deceitfulness of riches are seen in those who think that wealth is going to provide everything that they need. This is not the case. Luke 12:16-21
  • The desires for other things include anything which God has not authorized. Desire that goes beyond what God has provided to us is wrong. Ahaz wanted Naboth’s field, Korah wanted the leadership position of Moses, Ananias and Sapphira wanted praise of man.

We get these thorns from the world and from our upbringing. Some who serve the Lord have been called out of the world others have been raised in the church but the influences of the world have crept in. Some of the thorns that have been brought into Christian families are these:

  • Getting an education. This can be an important thing but families should never put so much emphasis on the grades a student gets in school while neglecting the spiritual education. The job will not save their soul.
  • Buying a house because renting is bad. I don’t know who thought of this but it seems pretty common knowledge. If you rent for to long, you have ‘nothing to show for it’. Unfortunately, people rush others into buying and it becomes a burden. I could refer to the statistics of foreclosures going on right now but simply consider that the Bible says with ‘food and clothing’ we will be content…it does not say ‘shelter’.
  • Debt is ok. There is really something wrong here and especially when you are buying something that is a ‘want’ rather than a ‘need’. When you do this, you are in effect saying that God is not able to provide for me so I will borrow from the future and promise to pay it back  later. When you don’t even know if you have a tomorrow…

To get rid of these thorns one needs to keep his eyes on Jesus (Heb 12:1-2), add characteristics that allow us to see what is truly important (2 peter 1:9) and learn to be content with things you may consider to be less than you should have. (I Tim. 6:3-11)

Happy weeding!

Here’s the sermon:

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