The Prodigal

If you have been a part of a church, or went to Sunday School as a child, you are probably familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son. In the book of Luke, Yeshua (Jesus) is telling the story to people who have gathered to listen to Him speak.

The story was about 2 sons of a wealthy man; the younger wanted his portion of the inheritance to spend as he chose. He was not unlike many young people intent on partying and having fun, giving little consideration to the consequences of his actions. As the story goes he is given his share, he leaves home for the big city, and there he squanders his inheritance. He had “sinned” big time, lost everything, so going home was not an option, and even if it was, he may have chosen to stay in the far off land so that he wouldn’t have to tell his father what he had done. There was every possibility that he would be disowned if he hadn’t been already.

The young man got a job slopping the pigs, and for a Jew this was hitting rock bottom; he had become the lowest of the low. This young man had come to the end of himself, he was starving, penniless, and lonely.

He reasoned that even his father’s servants had it better than he did; at least they had food to eat, had a roof over their heads, and were not slopping pigs to squeak by in life. His solution was to head for home and offer to be a slave in his father’s house. He had sinned against his father and against God: why would either even consider taking him back into the fold? And so, off he went toward home. With me so far??

Here’s what happened: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran and threw his arms around him and kissed him warmly. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against Heaven and against you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son — ’ 22 but his father said to his slaves, ‘Quick, bring out a robe, the best one, and put it on him; and put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet; 23 and bring the calf that has been fattened up, and kill it. Let’s eat and have a celebration! 24 For this son of mine was dead, but now he’s alive again! He was lost, but now he has been found!’ And they began celebrating.” (Luke 15:20-24 The Complete Jewish Bible)

The moral of the story most are familiar with is that the lost son had returned, it’s all good now, we get to party. That’s what it’s like when we come to our senses, quit “sinning” and return to the church……at least that’s what I was taught.

But a lot of people miss the coolest part! The father was scanning the horizon every day that his son was gone hoping for the return of his beloved child. And I know that because the father would have no way of knowing when his son was going to return – remember there were no cell phones, facebook or email! The father kept watch daily, hoping beyond hope….. “But while he (the son) was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He (the father) ran and threw his arms around him (the son) and kissed him warmly.” Awesome word picture!! Let that sink in for a moment.

Before the son could even get a word of explanation or apology out of his mouth, his father nestled his son against his chest and smothered him with kisses. Wouldn’t we do the same for a child of ours? The father was overcome with joy and relief; his lost son was home. He really wasn’t focused on his son’s explanation or apology; he was ready to celebrate the son’s return and called for the best he had – a robe to clothe him, shoes for his feet, the family signet ring, effectively reinstating him as a family member, and the killing of the best calf for a celebration.

In my mind the reaction of the father is more significant than that of the son. I’d give heading toward home a shot if I had been the one starving, penniless, and lonely in the hopes my dad would let me sleep in the servant’s quarters. I’ve said it before, we know when we have screwed up; we really don’t need someone to point it out. Can I get a “heck ya”? What couldn’t be counted on was the father’s response, and respond he did. He ran toward his son and wrapped his son in his arms.

So the moral of the story is no matter what you have done in your life, no matter how far away from God you have run, He is scanning the horizon for you every moment of every day, hoping beyond hope, that you will want to have a relationship with Him. We don’t need to be afraid to go to Him, He loves us; He LOVES YOU!

Relationship is important to God. Life can be hard, scary sometimes, lonely. God knows us intimately, and He loves us…..no matter what.

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An Attitude of Gratitude

What if I told you that you would only have the things you thanked God for today? What would you have thanked God for? Spouse? Kids? Things? Freedom? That simple statement has changed what I thank God for on a daily basis.

The Bible tells us to give thanks to God in all circumstances. Sometimes that is a whole lot easier said than done! Ever tried it when the chips are down? If you’re able to truly be thankful in all circumstances you’re a much better person than I! But I’m learning. If I’ve learned anything about God in my life, it is that He is more than willing to give us opportunities to trust Him in all circumstances, and we are to be thankful while He is working out the details.

There was a time in my life when I decided that I was done trusting God to work out the details, and consequently my attitude of gratitude took a nosedive. I stopped talking to Him, reading scriptures; basically checked out of my relationship with God.

Several things had happened in my life, most of which were not positive or pleasant, and I contributed to the mess that had become my life by making some pretty bad decisions.

Then one day while I was driving to work I decided to give the whole “attitude of gratitude” thing a whirl. Couldn’t hurt, might help, I reasoned. I grudgingly told God that I was going to start talking to Him again, and that I would ONLY be thanking Him; this was a test for the Almighty! I had read that blessings started with gratitude. Fortunately He is a patient God and didn’t strike me dead in my car seat!

Over time I noticed that my attitude was changing toward the negatives in my life, toward people, toward God. I saw the blessings in my life, the provisions God had provided in the midst of difficult situations. And the negativity was losing its grip on me.

Gratitude is a choice that only we can make. Isn’t everything? The Bible aside, science has proven that an attitude of gratitude has multiple benefits. Gratitude affects every aspect of our being and lives. We live longer, sleep better, are more optimistic, are more likely to exercise, manage our time better, are less materialistic, lessens physical pain, deepens our relationships, lowers our blood pressure, makes us less self-centered, increases our spirituality, and generally makes us a kinder, gentler human being. And it’s so simple, doesn’t cost us a cent! The only thing required of us is to start a list of everything we are grateful for.

Not into prayer? Start a Gratitude Journal. Each day on my way to work I just start thanking God; it usually starts with my car. That’s right, I thank God that my car starts, that it runs well, the tires are good, that it gets me where I am going, and then I go on from there. The sunrise, the beauty of the day, our kids, my husband, our family and friends, our pets, our jobs, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, our house, heat in winter and cool in the summer, that our bills are paid, health, whatever comes to mind.

And it makes me think about all the people and things we take for granted. What if we woke up one day and none of the people or things we take for granted were here?

What are you grateful for today?

The Bible: Fact or Allegory

I have a tendency to walk where angels fear to tread! So I am going to open up a can of worms that will get some out there in cyberspace so upset they may never visit this site again……but I am going to take that risk. Here’s why; we should know why we believe the way that we do, and if you believe something because that is what you have been told all of your life, I challenge you to be open to new ideas for a moment, if only for the sake of discussion.

Talk to 5 people and you will get 5 varying opinions on any given subject. The “church” world is no different. Some people will tell you that the entire Bible start to finish is fact; every word is fact, God breathed truth on each and every page. Others will tell you that the Bible is a book of allegory; stories that never really happened designed to teach.

I remember one day a long while back when my kids were young and I was a member of a group of homeschooling moms. Homeschool families choose to homeschool for a number of different reasons, but many do for religious reasons. Well, on that particular day the mommies were preparing a snack for the little ones and we got on the subject of creation. (One of many reasons some choose to homeschool!) A mommy in the group had read a controversy on creation occurring in 7 – 24 hour days vs the 7 day theory being representative of the stages of creation, or whatever. The discussion became quite heated. You would have thought the entire existence of mankind hinged on the outcome of that discussion!

Several decided they could not associate with anyone who bought into any theory other than the Biblical narrative in Genesis. The Bible was NOT allegorical, some demanded, it was FACT. My momma didn’t raise no fools, so I chose to keep my mouth shut and listen. Wisdom dictates that God gave us 2 ears and 1 mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we talk! Others said they could consider that as long as God was at the center of creation and not some “big bang”theory (not the television series!), they would concede the 7 days may not be literal. Eyes widened, chests puffed out, voices got louder. Future gatherings of our group would be forever tainted by “the creation discussion”.

Humans have opinions and love to share those opinions. Our God-given intellect affords us the opportunity to come up with our own ideas. As long as we don’t open our mouths we are usually ok to have those ideas and maintain friendships!

The Bible authors and the church at large had and have opinions, too. It is my personal belief that the Bible is both fact and allegory. I am an avid reader, and do like to keep an open mind as much as possible. There are historical writings out there describing the existing culture and events of Biblical times prior to Yeshua (Jesus) walking the earth and following His crucifixion. Based upon archaeological finds and writings that corroborate the culture at any given time in history, historians can draw conclusions that paint a fairly accurate picture.

The essence of the Bible message is God breathed. I believe that. God has watched over His message so that generations can hear and choose to believe or not. God works through people, His creation, and we are woefully human, fallible and flawed. He knows that. The Bible is a compilation of writings by many different writers through the centuries; some written at the time of the event, and other events written years after the fact. Much of what is written began as oral history passed from generation to generation. We have all played “telephone” as children so we know the end message is not the same as the original message.

Scribes, those who transcribed the written words at various times in history, have occasionally added personal opinion, or popular/accepted practice at the time of the writing. Fun fact: it is widely believed that William Shakespeare was one of the translators of the King James Bible and left evidence in Psalm 46. Do you think Yeshua really spoke with all the “thee’s and thou’s” ?

Many find the Bible to be contradictory in places, and I have found that as well. Bible historians and professors of ancient history have noted that many of the Bible authors added their personal opinions resulting in the contradictions; but the central message remains the same. God is, was and ever will be, and loves each of us to the point that He sent His only Son to us clothed in the flesh of humanity to experience life from our perspective, and then sacrifice Himself for all mankind for all eternity.

Let us remember, too, that the common folk were not literate, did not attend school, and had only those in positions of authority to interpret oral history, The Law, and the writings. Mankind, if you haven’t noticed already, can be power hungry, and will find ways to exploit others for personal gain. Many in authority have done just that, and so many of our accepted thoughts, practices, etc are a result of interpretations and exploitation that we now consider God breathed, and their intent was to control the masses.

Remember I said that I walk where angels fear to tread? I don’t recommend it; it doesn’t aid you in making or keeping friends!! But on occasion I have asked people, staunch in their belief system, why they believe what they do. The answer invariably is that is what they learned as a child, whether at the feet of their families, in the church, or both, and they believe it without question. I don’t have a problem with that in the least; I would, however, challenge you to find out why you believe what you do. Establish your own, personal relationship with God; not the God someone else told you about.

Living the Intent Part 2

In my adult life I have studied scripture in context, from a Jewish perspective, and from the vantage point of the society and culture at the time Yeshua taught. I have concluded that I, and anyone else who has done the same, are now more knowledgeable about any given scripture. Big deal. It makes for interesting conversation at times but it doesn’t necessarily deepen me as a person. If I can hold my own with any Bible scholar out there or impress others with my obvious intelligence – tongue in cheek here folks – but I cannot live the intent of the words Yeshua (Jesus) taught, what possible good am I?? Some of the wisest people I know are those who have a very basic and simple understanding of the scriptures, and yet live out those principles every day of their lives. That is my goal….to live the intent of Yeshua’s words.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only and unique Son, so that everyone who trusts in him may have eternal life, instead of being utterly destroyed. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but rather so that through him, the world might be saved. 18 Those who trust in him are not judged; those who do not trust have been judged already, in that they have not trusted in the one who is God’s only and unique Son.” (The Complete Jewish Bible) If you know any scripture at all it is my bet this is the one you know. And, in my opinion, this one scripture is the summary of the entire Bible.

In no way am I suggesting that we can ignore the rest of scripture, but for a moment let’s consider that if we truly believed, if we who choose to trust in Him lived out this truth, the rest of scripture will fall into place. We would have faith, love, hope, joy, would treat others as we would like to be treated, would seek Him first, be thankful, prayerful, merciful, slow to anger and quick to repent and so on.

Why do I say this? Verse 18 states that we who trust are not judged…..meaning we have been forgiven our sins, pardoned as it were. Prisoners who have been pardoned of their crimes and embrace that pardon will change their lives, their way of thinking to live as if they had never committed the crime, and will be thankful of heart and ever mindful that going back to their crime and that way of life is not an option. Our “crime” may not be in the traditional sense of the word, but have we not committed crimes against the Holy One if we have chosen to live outside the boundaries of his Word?

God’s Word was not designed to stifle us as people, to stop us from having fun, to keep us from exercising our own free will and ability to decide for ourselves. Quite the contrary. The Word, or “rules” were designed for our protection, to give us the opportunity to live life to it’s fullest.

Whoa! Am I backing up my spiritual dump truck about to release a load of “do’s and don’ts”? Nope! Don’t believe in it myself and here’s why: because the spiritual dump truck has never worked for one person in the history of man. Well, that may be overstating a bit, but the point is that many people stay away from church for that very reason. Humans don’t like to be told what we can and cannot do.

Consider the woman caught in adultery from John Chapter 8. Maybe you’re familiar with the story of the woman being dragged from the bed of ill repute, naked and thrown onto the ground by the religious leaders of the day. They were trying to trap Yeshua (Jesus) hoping he would contradict the law which said that she needed to be stoned to death. His response? Yeshua wrote in the dirt. No one knows exactly what He was writing but many have speculated. When the leaders kept questioning Yeshua He said, “The one of you who is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (The Complete Jewish Bible) One by one the leaders began to leave. What could they say? “I will stay, cuz I’m not a sinner”. Don’t think so.

Let’s be real for a moment, we know when we are doing or saying something wrong, don’t we? Do we really need the church or anyone else pointing out the obvious? Not really unless you’re just not sure. When I teach classes I always say there is no such thing as a dumb question because if we don’t know the answer the question isn’t dumb.

Back to the woman and Yeshua. Once everyone had left, Yeshua asked the woman who remained to accuse her. She answered that there was no one. Yeshua said, “Neither do I condemn you. Now go, and don’t sin any more.” (John 8:11 The Complete Jewish Bible) Yeshua was telling her that He wasn’t going to condemn her for her actions and to stop doing it. Nothing more, no lectures, no need to beat her over the head with the letter of the law. Yeshua forgave her with a simple statement.

Here’s what I believe. I believe that if we are willing to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit He will tell us what we need to do, to hear, quit doing, whatever. When we hear that still small voice in our spirits we have a choice to make; respond or ignore it. If we choose to respond we will begin to make changes in our lives that will reflect what the Holy Spirit has spoken to us. It’s part of the journey we are on with God.

So what if we ignore that voice? I don’t know; that’s between you and God. I do know that all of our decisions have consequences – good or not so good.

The woman chose to turn away from the adultery; we meet up with her again later on and her gratitude for Yeshua’s forgiveness is played out in a rather dramatic way.

Well, that was a really long winded way of saying that when we trust that God loved us so very much that He was willing to allow His own Son to die a horrid and cruel death, we will experience love like we have never known. That is a fierce, deep, ferocious love. When we truly get hold of that reality and embrace it we will want to live the intent of the Bible. To love others, be cognizant of our humanness with all of its faults and frailties, and do our best to stay within His boundaries of love, to walk in relationship with God.