What Grace Looks Like (Prodigal Pilates, Part 4)

It looks like the bishop scene in the movie version of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables (Columbia/TriStar Pictures, 1998).  The bishop in that scene demonstrates what Christ, "the true elder brother" did for you and me.  (The Prodigal God, chapter 5).  Just google "Grace-Les Miserables" and check it out for yourself.
Then get the movie to see it in its entirety! 


Considering Culture (Prodigal Pilates, Part 3)

I just realized the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal sonS is an even bigger jerk than I thought a week ago.

Notice how the presence of the elder brother is confirmed right at the beginning of the parable (Luke 15:11, 12):  "There was a man who had TWO sons . . . So he divided his property between THEM."   Though the elder brother says nothing, he is as present here as when he explodes in conversation with his father outside the banquet hall at the end of the parable.

What would you say if you knew it was the duty of elder brothers in Middle Eastern society to keep the peace at  home, particularly if there was a problem between a younger sibling and the father?  The elder brother, who would have been the person closest to both the father and the problematic sibling, should have protested violently when his younger brother essentially wished their father dead by asking for his inheritance while the father was still alive.   

But the elder brother doesn't do that.

What's more, under these circumstances, the elder brother should have refused his own portion of the father's inheritance so as to honor the patriarch. 

But the elder brother doesn't do that either.

What does this reveal to you about the elder brother's heart and motive(s)?

(Reference:  Finding the Lost Cultural Keys to Luke 15  by Kenneth Bailey, Concordia, 1992)      


What's So Good About Friday? (Prodigal Pilates, Part 2)

Good Friday.  Besides the redemptive act of the just dying for the unjust (that is, Jesus Christ dying for YOU and ME), there is something that distinguishes this Friday from all others, and secures its place among those things called excellent.  It is the appeal of a man who will give no place to pity, who will go beyond himself to do that which calls attention to somebody else, and who will do whatever it takes to save your butt and mine without regard to his own.  In case we all missed it in Sunday school, that's what Christ did.

In chapter 4 of The Prodigal God, Keller gives an illustration of this which hits most of us right between the eyes.  A woman married to an alcoholic is caught up in a cycle of disappointment with her husband, covering for her husband, and of feeling sorry for herself.

I immediately felt pretty sympathetic for the wife--wouldn't you?  After all, she probably didn't sign up for Alanon at the altar.  And she probably is keeping her end of the bargain.  At the very least, she deserves the validation afforded someone who might stand on the rooftop and shout, "Somebody hear me--Anybody!  I am right, and HE is wrong!" 

Then Keller paints the red and white target and sticks it squarely on my forehead.  He compares the behavior of the wife to that of relentless do-gooders/professing Christians who feel "their spotless record gives them the right to be highly offended and to perpetually remind the wrongdoer of his or her failure." (Keller, p. 56). 

In the illustration, when the wife continues to beat her husband over the head with his sin, and continues to cry foul because she's so right and he's so wrong, the alcoholic husband feels increasingly awful about himself and consequently, drinks even more.  Initially, I wanted to scream when I read this.  So HE sleeps with Johnny Walker Red, SHE helps him maintain a job and a family, and SHE'S in the wrong?

That initial fury however, was quickly squelched when the fact of her sin jumped off the page at me.  Why?  Because it flies in the face of the goodness of Friday.

What happens when a woman who has been "done wrong" solicits the pity of others?  She gets it, because everyone feels she deserves it.  Who gets the attention when an alcoholic fails to take care of his wife and family?  The wife and family of course, because they have a right to a husband and father who knows what day of the week it is, don't they?  And for crying out loud--who is it that stands to gain when a wife beats up on an already defeated man in an effort to bolster her own self-image?  The pitied wife and family who have sin issues of their own come out smelling like roses, while God is scarecely even found in the narrative.

Who needs God in order to do what comes naturally?    

It's when what is done can only be done supernaturally that peoples' attention is drawn to God  (Matthew 5:16).

So, I wonder what in the world made Jesus take the ridicule, the false accusations, the beatings, and the shameful death of the cross.

IT is what's so good about Friday.   


The Prodigal God Pilates

This spring some friends and I are stretching ourselves through the parable of the prodigal son (or more correctly, the parable of the two lost sons) as we simultaneously read Timothy Keller's, The Prodigal God.  Want to join us?

First, read through the text (Luke 15:1-3;  11-32), then go through The Prodigal God (a short, yet profound read).  After that, you'll be able to jump in and join us wherever we are . . .

Right now we're on chapter 4:  Redefining lostness.  Here's my synopsis of this chapter:  We who say we are Christians are just as lost as anyone living in wild, licentious, or illegal behavior if in our Christian-ness we are toeing the line, and doing good works as a means to obligate God to give us whatever we want, or to hold Him hostage if He does not.

Don't I deserve a relatively good life if I do God's work?  If I take my kids to church every Sunday, shouldn't they turn out well?  If I marry a Christian, don't I deserve to live happily ever after?  What's more, if this is true of us, we, the compliant, "i"-dotting, "t"-crossing professors of Christ are in a much more dangerous state than our counterparts, because we are likely blind to our condition, whereas they are not.  As Keller says, if you know you're sick, you know to get help, but if you don't know you're sick, you don't do anything.

In our parable, the younger brother realizes his sin, is broken, returns to his father who honors him, and celebrates with a great feast.  The elder brother however, resents the merry-making and refuses to join in.  He feels it is unfair to honor his sinful sibling in this way, and that he is much more deserving of the honor himself.  Why?  Because he thinks he has earned it, and he does not know his own heart.

Is he (the elder brother) wrong?  Where are we in our elder brother-ness?  What good is it for anyone to live a compliant life if we can't earn God's favor?