Category Archives: restore

Family Reunion

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Racing, shameless, breathless, the old man never took his eyes off the ghost as he ran. It must be … but it couldn’t be. His son? A bewildering tangle of relief and horror, of joy and fear, muddled his mind. The face, though sunken and empty, unmistakably belonged to his son; yet the unfamiliar silk rags hung limply from an unrecognizable frame gaunt with starvation—not the chiseled proportions of a youth born to the hard work of a rancher.

He nearly fell over reaching for his son, but the boy had collapsed at the old man’s dusty feet. From a throat parched and dry came the word he’d longed for months to hear: “Father….” Like sweet, cool water pouring over his head, the word refreshed his heart, bringing life where death had dwelt.

Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

If he heard the words, he paid them no mind. Lifting the boy to his feet, he held him tightly, fearful of letting go, of once again losing his son, of waking from this dream at the end of a nightmare. “Father….” His son lived!

With arms around each others’ waists, father and son walked slowly home. No more words passed between them. Both choked back tears, the thoughts of each absorbing the past months, wondering what the next would bring. A servant, in wide-eyed wonder, emerged from the house. “Quick!”, the master commanded. “Bring sandals and my best robe! My son has returned! My son is alive!

As the boy bathed, washing off months of deceit and despair, the father barked orders to other servants: “Butcher the calf! Set the tables! Assemble the musicians! Tonight we celebrate!

And so they did. And no funeral, no memorial, no celebration of life, before or since, was ever such a party. Life had returned to the valley of death.


This is Part IV in a series looking at the story of the Prodigal Son. Find the earlier installments here:
Part I: It Wasn’t Hard to Leave That Day
Part II: Alone with the Pigs
Part III: The Prodigal Father

Spiritual Rhythms: The Word, Part II—Soaking it In

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Hot tubA couple weeks ago I said different ways of reading the Bible could be compared to taking a walk, driving a car, or flying across the country. Just as different modes of travel will give different perspectives on the land, so each way of reading the Bible offers unique insights.

Today I want to talk about one way, but I’m going to change the metaphor—from taking a walk to soaking in a hot tub. Some might call this meditation; but because that word can scare some people away, I prefer to use the hot tub image: we soak in the Word (the Bible) so that we can soak the Word in.

Soaking in the Word means sitting quietly with a short passage for a long time. Maybe it’s a dozen verses; maybe only one or two. Read it. Read it again. Read it aloud. Read it in different translations.

Then sit quietly. Does one word or thought penetrate your mind? Look again at the text and find that word or phrase. Turn it over in your mind. Chew on it, as it were.

Read the passage again, slowly. What’s happening in your heart? …your mind? …your soul? Do the words encourage you? Do they bring refreshment or peace in the midst of chaos? Or is there a challenge in them—a behavior to change, a sin to confess, a relationship to mend? Talk with God about what you are sensing. Ask for forgiveness, courage, or strength; or say thank you for the encouragement. Praise Him for reaching into your soul.

Finally, sit quietly with God. Sometimes I imagine Jesus sitting on the couch with me, or across the table, just being quiet and enjoying each other’s company. Other times I imagine myself curling up in Abba’s—the Father’s—lap and resting my head on His shoulder. Enjoy God’s presence.


Further thoughts: I’ve been spending some time soaking in Colossians 3 over the past few weeks. It is a rich, challenging, and encouraging passage. Let’s look at the first few verses.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-3, English Standard Version)

If then: Sometimes if means, maybe you have, maybe you haven’t; and sometimes it means, since or because. That’s the sense here—Because you have been raised with Christ…. There is a confidence here, a certainty about our relationship.

So what? So, seek…[and] set your minds on things that are above, not … on the earth. It’s a matter of perspective. Am I seeking only what’s on earth—job, security, home…? What does it look like to seek what’s above—the things of God? What does He want me to seek?

Take some time today to soak in this passage. See what God does in you.

Restoring the Fortunes

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Grace_wordleAs I continue, slowly, to work my way through the prophetic book of Jeremiah, I’ve come to a section of prophecies against Israel’s neighbors: Egypt, Philistia, Moab, and many others. It doesn’t make for nice, cheery reading! Words like woe, disaster, and desolation pepper the text. Shame, slaughter, calamity. Clearly, Yahweh—the personal, jealous, almighty God of Israel—is not happy with these nations that have waged centuries of war against his chosen people.

But then something else caught my eye: a familiar phrase that I’ve often read in reference to Israel’s own misfortune; a promise God has made to his people in the midst of their distress:

I will restore the fortunes….

What grabbed me this time, though, was the object of that promise: Moab, one of Israel’s perennial antagonists. Tucked in at the very end of a lengthy series of judgments against Moab is this promise to restore the very one against whom the judgments are made!

Wow! That’s grace. And it reveals God’s heart. The “chosenness” of Israel has troubled many people throughout history. Why Israel? Why is this tiny nation so special? Why—over some 8,000 years—has this people been so resilient? The “chosenness” of Israel drives politics even today, such that some believe any nation at enmity with Israel will bear the curse of God.

But these words—I will restore the fortunes—reveal God’s true heart, his true purpose in choosing Israel: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

God’s purpose in choosing Israel was so that everyone on earth—all nations, all peoples, all people—might ultimately receive God’s blessing.

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (what we Christians call the “Old Testament”), God judges those nations that fight against Israel because he wants Israel to bless those nations. And he judges Israel when she walks away from him because all peoples cannot be blessed through an adulterous Israel.

God promises to restore the fortunes of Israel because he wants to bless her. And he promises to restore the fortunes of Moab—and Elam, and other nations—because he wants to bless them.

God’s heart, his great desire, is to bless all nations, and to welcome people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” into his kingdom (Revelation 7:9). That’s grace.

What Is God Forming In You?

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The Hebrew Scriptures (aka the “Old Testament”) include the story of a man named Jōb. In a matter of moments on one fateful day, he lost everything he had: flocks and herds, servants, sons and daughters. Lest someone offer the hopeless condolence, “well, at least you have your health,” that was taken from him, too, as painful, oozing sores broke out over his entire body. Even Jōb’s wife (who, let’s remember, had also lost all) considered death better than living with the loss.

Today we use Jōb as an example of patience and perseverance through suffering, the epitome of faith in the face of injustice. Ask the man in the midst, though, and you may get a different story.

Sure, Jōb may have been unwilling to “curse God and die,” but other curses weren’t far from his lips. He complained about the injustice. He cried out to face his accuser, knowing full well that none can win an argument with God. For unnumbered hours—days, perhaps—Jōb argues with his friends. He protests his innocence.

In a hundred ways, Job asks the single, simple question we all ask: “Why?”

But perhaps there is a different question. A better question. A question, perhaps, whose answer may even be more palatable than “why?”. (I’ve often wondered how Job would have responded had he known how his suffering came about.)

What is God forming in you?

It’s not an easy question to answer in the midst of the struggles; perhaps as difficult as the why question. But it is a question of anticipation, not despair; it looks forward, not back. It offers hope: the hope of transformation, of a butterfly’s metamorphosis.

The new green growth of spring follows the grey dormancy of winter—a grey, dismal season during which old leaves die and decompose, providing nutrients for the iris and tulips and lilies soon to come.

The miracle of healing shows God’s love and power—but healing can only happen when our bodies have first been ravaged by disease.

And the ultimate healing—resurrection—can only follow the most harrowing, hopeless winter of all: we can only be raised to new life after we have died. And in the resurrection we find ourselves seeing with new eyes, running with new legs, flying with new wings, loving with a new heart…trusting with new faith.

What is God forming in you this winter?

Vacation

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Vacation, all I ever wanted

Vacation, had to get away

Vacation, meant to be spent alone.

-The Go-Go’s, Vacation (1982)

Did you know that the Hebrew word “sabbath” means “vacation”? Okay, not really. It actually means “cease, rest, complete rest, or desist,” according to the Lexham Bible Dictionary. That ought to be a good definition for vacation, though, shouldn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s not. Too often when Americans go on vacation, we really GO on vacation, seldom stopping – ceasing, resting, desisting. (How often have you gotten back home after vacation, only to flop on the couch and bemoan, “I need a vacation to recover from my vacation”?!)

I’m on vacation this week and it’s been good so far. Definitely not all rest – there’s a lot I need to think about and process through, and that takes energy; I’m not turning my mind off. But I’m being intentional about not going too much or too fast, not doing too much, and getting that thinking time in. Still, this is one of those “vacations” that, in hindsight, won’t have seemed particularly restful. Enjoyable, yes; restful, no.

I had lunch with a good friend and mentor the other day. He’s a police chaplain and gave me a couple books he uses in his work: Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement and Spiritual Survival for Law Enforcement. He talked with me about “The Hypervigilance Biological Rollercoaster”® that cops experience: in essence, it’s a cycle that swings from a hypervigilance that views everything as a threat or potential threat – and keeps cops alive on the streets – to the complete opposite when they’re at home, the essence of detached couch potato. Neither state (hypervigilance or couch potato) is biologically normal, and it takes 18-24 hours to move from one state into the normal range where we live like a normal human being. (I have a lot of friends in law enforcement; if any of you are reading this and haven’t seen these books, then I recommend you get your hands on them. Come on, you can read 250 pages – that’s both books combined – that might save your marriage and even your life, right?)

So what do vacation, hypervigilance, and couch potatoes all have in common? Sabbath. Or rather, the need for sabbath. God said we need a sabbath day each week; one day out of seven when we “cease, rest, complete rest, or desist,” – when we “shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:10). God even says the land needs a sabbath (see Leviticus 25:4) every seventh year (ask any good farmer if this makes sense!). My friend says we need sabbath every day; time to unwind, relax, put the concerns of the day behind us.

So there you have it: Sabbath. Rest. Vacation. Daily. Weekly. Annually. Sept-annually (I just made up that word; it means “every seven years”!).

“Vacation, all I ever wanted; vacation, had to get away; vacation, meant to be spent alone.” Maybe those Go-Go’s were pretty smart.