Monday, December 24, 2007

An Advent Story

I grew up a privileged youth. My father’s wealth was unparalleled in our town. His flocks and herds were vast beyond all measure. All looked upon us as the richest and most blessed of families. My father was also known to be a righteous man and kind to a fault. As far as fathers go, he was the best quick to correct me and quick to show me the depths of his love. Our hired servants loved working for him. There were many occasions when he blessed them with uncommon kindness.

As I grew past my early youth I found in myself a yearning to venture you beyond the gates of our home and explore the unknown world. Tales of pleasure beyond anything I had imagined lay just beyond the borders of our country.

As these passions grew, it dawned upon me that one day I would control half of all my father’s wealth. Although I loved my father the thought of his death and my inheritance churned through my mind and I found I was beginning to wish that he could peacefully pass into death so that I could leave and pursue my dream of exploring the world beyond.

It dawned upon me one morning that I could ask for an advance on my inheritance! This was not something we did in our country because it was, in effect, wishing your father dead but it was the only way I could pursue my dream.

That same day I found my father and asked if we could talk. He readily welcomed me into his presence and inquired, “Come my son whom I love! What can I do for you this fine day?” His face dropped when I asked him for my half of the inheritance. I could see that he felt the sting of what I said. This kind and generous father deserved better from me. He deserved a son who recognized his kind and generous heart.

After a few moments silence, this faithful father looked up to me with sadness in his eyes and granted my wish. My heart was filled with the excitement of knowing I was now rich and in full control of my life. I could do anything I wished. There were no limits on my anymore. I was to become a free man able to make my own decisions and pursue the pleasures I had been dwelling on so much.

I hastily thanked my father and kissed him before making a quick exit to prepare myself for my new found life of freedom.

It was the next day that father came to me with the money. His reputation in our town allowed for a quick sale of half of all his lands and livestock. His eyes were red and tired looking. He gently handed the money over to me as a tear began to run down his cheek. He embraced me. Even in the midst of his warm embrace, I longed for release so I could pursue my new life. He didn’t say anything, turned and left the room with his head hung low. Still my heart was unmoved, unaffected by what I had done. Such was the intensity of my passion for this new life. Nothing stood in my way now. I left the next day. My father waved to me as I walked away from him, perhaps for the last time. His eyes were still red and tired looking.

I made my way to a neighboring country that did not put limits on a man. In this country a man could pursue any passion; any desire. With my new wealth I found ample opportunities to explore and embrace their culture to the full. New friends were quickly made who helped me further explore the delights of this new world. Nothing was off limits. I felt no guilt. This was the life I wanted to live. My youth was filled with careful restrictions and sensibilities quite at odds with my new life. I cannot speak of these with too much detail but I am sure you know what I speak of.

It didn’t take long before half of my father’s wealth was gone. The inheritance that he worked a lifetime to hand down to me was gone in a matter of months. Can you imagine the kind of living that can burn through that much money? It was a whirlwind of pleasure but it was now grinding to a halt and I found myself in an inhospitable and strange land. There was no family here. There was no one who cared about me especially now that my wealth had been expended.

Oh how I had fallen. Without money I had no way to feed myself. I was now in survival mode. Because I was a foreigner I was looked down upon in this place. The only job that was available was working for a very difficult and unkind man feeding his pigs. In my country pigs were considered filthy, unclean animals. Even so, I was faced with either taking this job or starving. This man did feed me but it was of a quality so poor that I envied the pig’s food.

One morning as I was feeding the pigs, my nostrils filled with a stench beyond telling, my stomach crying out for food, I remembered my father. It was the first time since leaving home that I gave him a thought. He would never treat his servants like this. He would never force his servants to eat food that wasn’t fit for pigs if he ever had pigs, which he didn’t. His servants always spoke kindly of him grateful for his treatment of them and their families. What a stark contrast I was seeing between my employer and my father. What if I just went home? What if I went home and pleaded for my father to take me back as a servant? There was certainly no way he would take me back as a son, this I knew. It was not done. A son who wishes his father dead and squanders his inheritance like this is not worthy to be received as a son. This much was clear but a servant in my father’s house lives a much better life than this. As I thought about this and my father’s kind nature the decision was easy. I would return to my father and fling myself upon his mercy knowing that he is kind and good and completely at odds with this place I was now living.

The journey home was an uneasy one as I was filled with thoughts of my unworthiness. Surely I will be humiliated and scolded but that is what I deserve. When I was still a long way off one of my father’s servants crossed my path on his way back from an errand. His face reflected alarm when he recognized who I was. You can’t blame him. The life I had led left me looking aged and tired. Pig effluence effervesced from my clothes and skin. Not knowing how to respond, he left me without saying a word. Doubt filled my thoughts. “How could my father receive me like this? I am dirty, filthy, humiliated. I had broken his heart and wished him dead and now I return to him empty-handed having squandered everything.” Even so, I reflected on his nature. He was always good, always kind, always faithful and righteous. My confidence was stirred as I reflected on this and I continued my journey home with resolve.

My father’s servant returned to him and dutifully reported what he had seen. His eyes had cried many tears since I walked away that day but now he brightened. All the time I was gone he had did not come looking for me but held out hope that I would come to my senses and now word had come that this wayward son who had wished him dead was making his way home. The servant commented on the condition I was in but still my father’s face was filled with the joy of this news.

Without thinking he left the house and began walking in the direction he knew I would be coming from. As I approached I saw a figure in the distance that began to sharpen as I walked. An elderly man on foot still a great distance from my old home. This elderly man quickened his pace then broke into a full run. I was struck with both fear and anticipation as I realized this was my father! It was him who I so terribly wronged running. Never before had I witnessed my father run. A dignified landowner like him never ran. Others ran for him but he always maintained his dignity.

The gap between us was quickly closed and he threw his arms around me with the same warm embrace I had know as a child. He held me and wept tears of joy loudly proclaiming that his son was home! His servants now catching up to us stood around us amazed at the scandal unfolding before them. They knew of their master’s kind heart but this was well beyond all they even fathomed possible.

As he held his filthy, smelly wayward son, he began shouting tearful commands. “Bring me some descent clothes for my son! Bring a ring and put it on his finger! Prepare a feast in his honor!” With tears he shouted, “My lost son has come home! He was lost but now he is found!”

This was not what I expected. I was being received back not as a servant but as a son! My father had forgiven me for all I had done to him. He didn’t scold me or bring up anything I had done and much to my amazement he didn’t mention the money then and never since.

My older brother was not pleased when he heard of all this. He had seethed with anger when I left and he wanted justice now. He felt my father should punish me and send me away. Shocked by this, father took him aside and plead with him to see things in another way. He couldn’t. All he knew was that he had always been a faithful son doing as he had been told and yet never had this kind of reception been offered to him. Father wanted him to understand that his lost son and been found and that he should rejoice with him but he couldn’t failing to understand the depths of our father’s kind heart.

I now dwell in the house of my father and will all the days of my life. I rest in his goodness and kindness amazed that I ever saw things any other way.

Concluding thoughts

I wrote this at advent for a few reasons:

I can’t get this off my mind.

Advent is really about God running to a lost world that has gone a-whoring. God is breaking in on our world to rescue it and receive it back through the gift of his son. This parable is such a poetic way of speaking of advent. My prayer is that we all see the kindness of God in advent. To know the spectacular the scandal of a righteous God becoming one of us in order to receive us back.

Book news

I recently finished off the book on sonship by Sinclaire Ferguson. A great read and one that will be of great benefit all my life. What a privilege to be called a son of God and to be a part of his family.

As I looked over my library in search of a new book, I took up a previous read, Don Carson's "The Cross and Christian Ministry." It has been couple of years since I read it last but it is the kind of paradigmatic book that should be re-read every so often. It is not a large volume but very tightly packed with exegetical thoughts from I Corinthians. The hub for all Christian service and ministry is rooted in the cross of Christ according to Paul. In our day the evangelical church is pursuing techniques all various and sundry but drifting farther and farther from the center of our faith, the cross of Christ. Carson simply amplifies Paul in calling us back to humble orthodoxy.

A book like this is not just for pastors. A book like this is important for small group leaders, ministers, mothers, fathers and everyone else in the church. We are all called to serve. We cannot conveniently leave the service to pastors and others we might be tempted to see as professionals in the church.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Gospel At Work

Check out this video from the New York Times.

I was amazed that such a thing could be found on their website.