The Parable of the Prodigal Sons (Luke 15:11-32, NRSV)

Then Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up 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 like one of your hired hands."’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then 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 slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe‐the best one‐and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

"Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’"

Jesus begins by saying, "There was a man who had two sons." Each son represents a way that people choose to live. Both are ultimately self-destructive.

Maybe you will identify with the younger son. The younger son chooses the "irreligious" way of life which says to God, "I don't need you, I'll justify myself by self-discovery and self-indulgence." Eventually, a person realizes that trying to justify ourselves by seeking things, and not seeking the God who is the source of all things, will ultimately be unsatisfying. It's like clutching at shadows but never grasping the true object. We were created by God and for eternity with Him, not for temporary things.

Younger sons & daughters, read: A Father's Love (excerpted from Max Lucado's book He Chose the Nails)
A modern retelling of the younger son's story.

Or maybe you will identify more with the older son. The older son chooses the "religious" way of life which says to God, "I don't need you, I'll justify myself by my works and by moral conformity." But how good is good enough? We are all in danger of falling into this kind of self-justifying works-based mindset. The "religious" way is just as misguided as the irreligious way because it is like trying to pull ourselves out of quicksand; the more you struggle, the worse it gets.

Older sons & daughters, read: How Good is Good Enough?
The whole idea of earning your way into God's favor is totally common-sense … and totally, tragically wrong.

Each son in the parable had a strategy to get things: One was trying to be really independent the other was trying to be really good. Neither is necessarily a bad thing, but they made it their main thing, and so these both become merely different forms of self-justification. Both ways are sinful because they dishonor God, making Him second, when He alone deserves glory.

Thankfully there is a "third way" to the irreligious and religious ways: The gospel way. Only God can justify us (make us right with Him and restore the relationship between us). Grace is God loving us enough to send His son, Jesus Christ, fully man and fully God, to die as atonement for our sins. (Atonement means "at-one-ment", paying the penalty on our behalf.) He was then raised from the dead, conquering even death, so that we too may have eternal life if we accept God's gift of His grace and follow Him. This is why the Bible describes life without Jesus as being "lost"; when we follow our own ways, we end up astray.

The parable of the sons ends without telling us the older son's response: Will he continue in his steadfastly untenable way, or will he choose the gospel way? More importantly, which way will you choose?

Further reading:
Jesus Christ: Who is He?
Watch the Jesus Film online, free
What is the "gospel", aka "good news"?

With thanks to Tim Keller's writing & speaking re the Prodigal Sons.

Fun topic for a blog post eh?

Last Sunday my pastor's sermon topic was mercy, (Oct 24, Mercy – The Capping of the Tree mp3) and how God's justice and God's mercy are flipsides of the same coin. They are both intrinsically part of Him and inseparable from His nature. It's His merciful love that saves some from the just punishment that we deserve by the gracious giving of Himself in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus. To quote a Relient K song, "And this life sentence that I’m serving, I admit that I’m every bit deserving, but the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair"

At this point, I begin talking to myself, asking questions and attempting to answer them as they come up in my mind …

But how can people be punished eternally for finite sins?

The traditional argument in defense of eternal punishment is that sins against an infinite God necessitate an infinite punishment. In our society, we consider the death penalty to be more severe than life imprisonment; if that's the case, an "afterlife sentence" (so to speak) in hell would be a lesser punishment than annihilation.

But there is another option to the (as far as I know) more traditional conception of hell … Dr Shepherd (author of the quote in the "God's Love is Not Tame" post) defends conditional immortality (see page 3 of PDF, these are his cursory notes from his systematic theology class) as at least a scripturally defensible position (following Clark Pinnock et al). I don't know if he personally holds that position but he sees it as a viable option.

But what about …
1) infants
2) kids
3) mentally disabled people
4) those who've never heard
5) people who call themselves Christian but act like jerks

1) I don't know for sure
2) I don't know for sure
3) I don't know for sure
4) I don't know for sure
5) According to Matthew 7:21-23 (et al), these "Christians" have more to worry about than anyone fitting into categories 1-4.

Re 1-4 above, since scripture doesn't definitively give clear answers, I don't feel as though I need to be concerned about it. If God is truly both perfectly just and perfectly merciful, then whatever He chooses to do will be both merciful and just. To quote a certain famous president, it's "beyond my pay grade" to speak too definitively about 1-4 where scripture is silent.

That said, it's currently my opinion (held loosely in my hand; an opinion being differentiated from a conviction or persuasion) that for 1-3 there is at least a decent case that they will not be in hell. (See for example Ron Rhodes, The Wonder of Heaven, 159-171. Most of those pages are available for viewing for free via Google Books.)

But how come there will be so few in heaven? Jesus said "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it." (Matthew 7:13)

Jesus did say that, but this doesn't necessarily mean the majority of people who live throughout history will be in hell. If it is true that people who are in categories 1-3 above go to heaven when they die, the number in heaven becomes larger. And when you consider that the population of the world is higher than it has ever been and nearly 1/3 of it is Christian, that number increases further.

Now, even if the "many" in this case is a relatively small number (percentage-wise), still, to God who wills that all be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) any at all who end up otherwise will seem like "many"; God laments even one who chooses to live apart from Him and the purpose and destiny that He planned for us.

But if this is what God is like then I don't want any part of him.

Sadly then it may be the case that you will be given your wish. What else could God do in that circumstance?

Disclaimer: As always, my opinions (musings) here are subject to change as I learn more and grow deeper in my faith. Also some thoughts may be poorly phrased, or just plain erroneous. Hopefully not … but please try to interpret me charitably. Oh, and as I tell my Sunday school class, whenever I make a mistake, it's on purpose just to test you. 😉

I came across this on the website of one of my old profs today and thought I'd share it with you:

Evangelicals [Christians] know that while God is  love (1st John 4:8) and can therefore do nothing but love, when God’s love encounters human sin his love “burns hot”, as Luther liked to say.  God’s anger or wrath, then, is never the contradiction or denial of his love.  (Indifference is always the antithesis of love.  After all, the people with whom we are angry we at least take seriously; the people to whom we are indifferent we’ve already dismissed as insignificant.)

God’s anger “heats up” only because He loves us so very much and so very relentlessly that He can’t remain indifferent to us and won’t abandon us.  Profoundly He loves sinners more (or at least more truly, more realistically) than we love ourselves, since our self-love, perverted by sin, issues only in self-destruction.  And as the cross on which He “did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all” (Romans  8:32) makes plain, He longs to spare us torment more than He longs to spare Himself.

Rev Dr Victor Shepherd, "What's an Evangelical?"

God's love is not tame. It's powerful and true!

Be My Escape truncated song lyrics are below (by Relient K … full lyrics here)

Also check out a beautiful acoustic piano version of Be My Escape

I’ve given up on giving up slowly, I’m blending in so
You won’t even know me apart from this whole world that shares my fate

And I’ve been housing all this doubt and insecurity and
I’ve been locked inside that house all the while You hold the key
And I’ve been dying to get out and that might be the death of me
And even though, there’s no way in knowing where to go, promise I’m going because

I gotta get outta here
I’m stuck inside this rut that I fell into by mistake
I gotta get outta here
And I’m begging You, I’m begging You, I’m begging You to be my escape.

I’m giving up on doing this alone now
Cause I’ve failed and I’m ready to be shown how
He’s told me the way and I’m trying to get there
And this life sentence that I’m serving
I admit that I’m every bit deserving
But the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair

I am a hostage to my own humanity
Self detained and forced to live in this mess I’ve made
And all I’m asking is for You to do what You can with me
But I can’t ask You to give what You already gave

I fought You for so long
I should have let You in
Oh how we regret those things we do
And all I was trying to do was save my own skin
But so were You
So were You

Next Page »