The Parable of the Forgiving Father

The parable of the prodigal son was told by Jesus as a response to Pharisees and the scribes who grumbled that he was receiving sinners and eating with them. It is a fascinating story with unexpected forgiveness of a lost son.

The immoral son who needs forgiveness

The parable is about a father who had two sons, with the young one asking for his share of the property. He goes in a far country and there he squanders everything in reckless living. He began to be in need. He hired himself out and is sent to the fields to feed pigs. The Bible says that no one gave him anything and he longed to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate. What a sad story!

Jesus said that the man came to his senses, and decided to go back to his father. This young man fell at the mercy of his father, is ready to be treated as one of his father’s servants.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ (Luke 15:17-19)

The forgiving Father

The second half of the Parable is more intriguing. What will his father do? If I was the father, how would I have reacted? Is such sin forgivable? What is expected here is anger, punishment and possibly rejection from his father. The parable at this point takes a different twist as we see from the father reaction towards the lost son;

The lost son arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:20-24)

Is this how sinners are rewarded or celebrated? What is the point of all the father is doing here? It is surprising that the father shows extraordinary compassion, affection and acceptance to his younger son. Worth noting is that the father does not bring up the past, he is simply overwhelmed by the joy that his son has returned. There is a celebration. Not only is this father forgiving, but he wants his son to have joy and fulfilment in him.

The ‘moral’ son who needs forgiveness

The older son after hearing all that the father has done to his ‘lost but found’ brother, he became very angry and would not join in the celebration. This older brother thinks of himself a very good person who always obeys his father. His thinking of being ‘good and moral’ turns him into an angry, stubborn, entitled, bitter and resentful son. It is sad to note here that this son feels entitled to more than his lost brother, and that his father owes him a lot.

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.’” (Luke 15:28-32)

This parable concludes by noting that both brothers needed the fathers’ forgiveness: one for his immorality and one for his ‘morality’. I love how Life Explored Course summarizes the lesson from this parable;

The younger brother comes back to his father humbly, knowing he deserves nothing. Like the young brother, whatever we have done wrong, we ought to ‘go back’ to the father, acknowledge what we have done and throw ourselves on his mercy.

The older brother is a warning, particularly to people who think of themselves as very good, moral or religious people, that we should beware of coming to God with a sense of entitlement. God doesn’t owe us anything; we owe him everything.

 

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Praising God for the Protestant Reformation

Dear God, thank you for the Protestant Reformation we are celebrating this year. We thank you for the great truths from your Word that were contained in the 95 theses nailed by Martin Luther at the door of the Castle church in Wittenberg 500 years ago. We praise you that the Reformation brought to life many gospel truths from the Holy Scriptures that church leaders and church traditions had ignored. Thank you for many who stood for truth, most of whom choose to die rather than deny the good news of the gospel. We pray that you will equip us today to be ready to suffer for the gospel and you will give us joy to endure, as you helped the apostles and the many reformers who were killed for standing for the gospel.

Thank you that you gave us your Word, the Bible, as our supreme authority. We pray that you will help us in this age where preference and experience are highly esteemed, that we will find Scripture alone as the highest and final authority in our churches and even in our lives. Help us that in our pulpits your Word will be proclaimed since when your Word is preached, you speak. Help us that we will grope where the Word is to find Christ. We pray that you will remind and equip preachers of your Word to proclaim it faithfully, remembering that Christ still reigns through his Word, read and preached. We acknowledge that when the Word is faithfully preached, truly the Word will do everything as it was in the times of the early church and even during the Reformation.

We are grateful that we can access your inspired Word in different languages, remembering many who gave up their lives to see Bible translated into common man’s language. We pray that you will continue equipping many Bible translators who by your grace are translating your Holy Scriptures to make them accessible to many local languages all over the world. Dear God, we pray that many will come to the knowledge of you and of our Saviour Jesus Christ through the reading and preaching of the Bible in their own local language.

Almighty Father, we thank you for the good news of Jesus and what his death on the Cross accomplished for us. Thank you that through the gospel, your righteousness was revealed. We acknowledge that you have saved us by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We pray that you will help us to see grace alone as the only hope for resurrecting spiritually dead sinners.

Lord, please help us to have faith in Jesus and to see faith alone as the only instrument by which we are joined to Christ and justified by the imputation of his righteousness. Save us from trying to earn your salvation through our good works. Help us that because of our justification in Christ, we will bear fruits and do good works, loving one another and keeping the hope for eternal life.

We pray that at this age of scepticism, we will see Christ alone as the only atoning sacrifice for sin, and you alone God as the ultimate object of our worship. We thank you and celebrate the wonders you have done for us in Christ Jesus. We pray that our churches will treasure the holiest gospel of the glory and grace of God and that we will gather every week to hear your Word preached and to exercise our faith in you in prayer. Help us to remember that you are highly glorified in us when we are most satisfied in you.

We pray like Luther, that you will help us to remember that you’re not angry with us anymore when we believe and put our faith in Jesus, and thus we can stand on our head for joy! Thank you that the gospel is the source of comfort and hope for us who believe in the midst of the struggles of life.

Now to you who is able to keep us from stumbling and to present us blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever.

Amen.

 

 

If Only I…

Often, we feel our lives would be complete if only we had someone or something. We find ourselves wishing ‘If only I had a good family…, If only I had a good house…, If only I had a good car…, If only I had a good phone…, If only…’

Thousands of years ago, the Bible tells us that God delivered Israelites from their slavery in Egypt to the promised land. On their way to the promised land, they craved for the things they left in Egypt. “If only we had meat to eat. We were better off in Egypt. Why did we ever leave Egypt and come to die here?”

Just like the Israelites, we crave for things that give us satisfaction. We are always on the lookout for the things that will make us complete. Be it material possessions, people, career, education, sex, power and influence, among many others.

In this century, technology is always seeking our attention on what is the ‘latest’ or ‘new’ in the market. We are always trying our best to own as much as we can. We go to bed with a kind of satisfaction to have it all only to wake up the following morning and realize what we have is no longer in the top of the game. No wonder the preacher said;

All things are full of weariness;
    a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
    nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done,
    and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
    “See, this is new”?
It has been already
    in the ages before us.’ (Ecclesiastes 1:8-10)

The writer of Ecclesiastes seems to be frustrated with life. He starts his writing with saying ‘All is vanity.’ He then notes as we see in the passage above, that all things are full of weariness and there is nothing new under the sun. When we let what we own define us, put them at the center of our lives, instead of our loving Creator.

Apostle Paul writing to Romans noted that the wrath of God is coming to the wickedness of man, who has exchanged the glory of God with created things. “…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Romans 1:25)

Worship of other things besides God is a slavery to sin. Nobody thinks they are a slave until they start to get the chains off. When you try to walk off it, you find you can’t. The more we sin, the more we become desensitized to it and thus the need of a greater liberation. Like Israelites, we need a greater lamb to deliver us from slavery to sin.

In later chapters of his letter to Romans, Paul asks the same question we keep asking ourselves, ‘Who can deliver me from this body of death?’ The answer is only Jesus! Knowing this, Paul offers praise to God, ‘Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ It is only through Jesus, the perfect lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world that our ‘If only…’ is transformed and becomes ‘If only I could serve Christ better, and serve others well as He did.’

Stand in the promise Jesus gives us;

“Everyone who sins is a slave to sin…but if I set you free, you will be free indeed”
(John 8:34-36)

Death has been Swallowed up!

Few days ago, I attended a memorial service of a long serving missionary to Africa. During the service, I was greatly impacted by a life well lived as people narrated their interactions with her. The service helped me to ponder greatly about death.

Death is always a reminder of the brevity of this life and our mortality. It is one of the most devastating issue and especially for the unbelievers who live life on this earth as if it is all we have got. During the service, I was held by the joy and comfort believers have even in death! We had a reflection from Apostle Paul’s letter to Corinthians;

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

(1 Cor 15:50-58)

It was such comforting passage for all of us as we celebrated Ruth’s life and her commitment to the gospel. Our minister started us off by pointing out that in this life, death seems to be winning. “Death seems to stare each one of us and shout,’I’ll get you soon,” he noted.

He continued to help us see that through Jesus, death has lost its sting! It was such an encouraging message that there’s life after death, when we who believe in Jesus will be transformed during resurrection: mortal into immortality, perishable into imperishable! What a joy, death is not the end. Death has been swallowed up!

‘Death thou shalt die!’ the preacher noted. We were all encouraged to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus whether in life or in death. We were all called to reflect on our comfort in life and in death as one of the catechism puts it:

“….with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil…”

In conclusion of his encouragement, Paul in his letter to Corinthians noted that the glorious victory over death would make them to live differently in this present age. “Be immovable! Let nothing move you from the gospel. Abound with the work of the Lord, fill your mind with things that will count for eternity.” Surely, a life lived for Christ and his labour is not in vain! It is a life not wasted.

We all need to imitate Paul’s resurrection hope and live for the Lord in this present life until He comes back. If our attention is for the next world, death does not stop it for dying is gain for we will be with Christ days without end. Our prayer now is to be heavenly minded so as to be of more earthly use.

Join me in thinking over C. S. Lewis words in his book Mere Christianity on how thinking about heaven changes how we live our lives today;

“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

May the Lord help us!

Prosperity Gospel: A distorted View of Man’s Greatest Need

What is Man’s biggest need? Is it food, shelter and clothing? Or is it good health, wealth and prosperity?

This is a tricky question to start with, but can I challenge you to think of people who have every access of these basic needs and yet they are unsatisfied? I remember sharing with a brother who worked in a hospital, seeing and interacting with people in their deathbeds, and how the experiences made him to be convinced that man’s greatest need is far greater than the daily felt needs.

Our daily basic needs always scream for our responsiveness, with most of us falling prey to the consumerism and materialistic modern world as we seek for comfort and pleasure in this life. The reality of materialism becomes not only a dragon but also a god that demands our attention and loyalty.

There are countless delusions of prosperity in our modern materialistic world. Technology is playing a major role in dispensation of prosperity messages with every screen screaming for our attention on the ‘How To’ guides of a good life.  Sadly, pastors instead of exalting Christ by preaching the true saving gospel of the Bible, they preach prosperity messages with some grains of biblical truth and appealing to our natural human desire. This kind of preaching has wealth and health messages at the core, neglecting to point out the sinfulness of man’s heart and our need for a savior.

Just as doctors need to identify a patient’s disease to be able to diagnose it well, preachers of the Word too need to get the right diagnosis of man’s greatest need to offer the right solution to the man’s greatest problem.

And what is this problem? It is a problem that made God to send Jesus into the world, which was not to deal with our physical, financial, and relational struggles, to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21). We need to identify our biggest problem that although we know God, as Paul notes in his letter to Romans, we do not glorify him as we should and in fact, end up giving the glory of the Creator to what he has created (creature). This idolatry is the heart of sin and our greatest need is to fix the problem of sin.

One of the authors of a book against Prosperity Gospel notes that,

“My biggest problem is far worse than being hungry or broke! If I understand that the Almighty and Holy God is angry with me, then my financial struggles, relationship stresses and career ambitions can no longer be my first priority. My sin problem becomes the priority. ” (Quoted from Prosperity? Seeking the True Gospel,)

If we come to Jesus and follow Him for the material and prosperity blessings, then we are not any different from thousands who followed him after the miracle of feeding of the 5,000 men. True and faithful followers of Jesus are not after material advantage, but believe on him to receive eternal life (John 20:30-31).

We need to grasp that all the pains of life are symptoms of our real disease; our God-defying sin. Knowing sin is our biggest problem will help us seek a gospel that addresses not just the symptoms but the root cause. We need to be aware of any gospel that downplays human sinfulness and the eternal benefits of the gospel. The true gospel calls us to believe in Christ for forgiveness of our sins and hence escape God’s wrath.

Prosperity gospel: Trades God to a ‘God’ man can Use and Command

“A Christian is strong or weak depending upon how closely he has 
cultivated the knowledge of God.    (Quote by A.W. Tozer)

Prosperity gospel is a false teaching and a dangerous heresy that has erroneous concepts that are found in its theology. As noted in an earlier post, Prosperity Gospel: A dangerous lie wrapped in a covering of a religion , this gospel has crucial distortions of biblical gospel in that it proclaims a small God, fails to identify man’s greatest need, empties the gospel of its power and robs God of his glory.

Prosperity preaching turns Christianity into idolatry and trades the glory of God for a cheap substitute by making health and wealth the goal of our salvation. This gospel deviates from the true gospel which is about an infinitely great God, an eternal King who reigns in all the earth as the Psalmist notes (Ps 47:8, 93:1, 97:1) who offers Himself to us sinners so that we can know Him and enjoy him forever. Christ suffered so that He might bring us to God as Peter notes (1 Pet 3:18). There can be nothing better than knowing God!

Sadly, prosperity gospel waters down and destroys such Good News, making many to pursue false and unsatisfied god of material prosperity. This new gospel, as Ken Mbugua notes in the book Prosperity? Seeking the True Gospel, reduces God to a sugar daddy by treating material gifts as the purpose of the gospel. He adds that this gospel emphasizes temporary benefits of material prosperity as the reason Jesus died to win for us forgetting that these are inferior gifts compared to fellowship with Almighty God.  

In his book, Preachers of a Different Gospel, Femi Adeleye notes that Prosperity gospel has a counterfeit faith that abuses faith from God, to having faith in faith or faith in the ‘Man of God’ who is the commander of ‘God the slave’ who should provide all demanded from him.  He quotes Oswald J. Smith who wrote in his book The God Man Uses;

“In the days we live in and within the church, the ‘modern’ Christian has invented a God he can use. This ‘God’ is supposedly the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but He is also a being whom people, and particularly some preachers, can use and manipulate for their own ends. This God has mass appeal and followership since he can be ordered, instructed or commanded to do whatever we want.”

It is sad to note that Prosperity teachers preach an easily manipulated ‘God’. Femi notes that this gospel ensures that God has no glory left, for after the miracle, the focus of attention and awe is not God, but the ‘Man of God’ who has made God do what the audience wanted. Femi adds;

“God’s holiness and sovereignty matters not for this ‘God’ hardly cares how his followers live.He winks at ungodliness or double standards in lives of followers and promoters. Most of the worshipers can live in sin and seen in worship services hours later ‘commanding’ God to do what they want. ”

David Jones and Rusell Woodbridge  in their book Health, Wealth and Happiness noted that Prosperity preachers demote God, stripping Him of His sovereignty, and place humans at the center of their theological system. They conclude,

“Prosperity gospel has a distorted view of God with some teachers making outrageous and irresponsible statements about God. They make the gospel man-centered due to their faulty view of the relationship between God and humanity reducing God to a ‘cosmic bellhop’ attending to the needs and desires of his creation.”

Prosperity gospel is offering us a little ‘God’ who is no God at all.  It is sad that most of us Christians have lost our art of reverence and awe before God through this new preaching that makes God irrelevant and we become the measure and center of all things.

May God help us to recover the lost ground by rejecting all falsehood of prosperity gospel and return to Biblical truth and knowledge of God of the Bible… the Isaiah 6 God worshiped by the Seraphs,

Holy, Holy Holy is the LORD Almighty,
the whole earth is full of his glory.