ELDER BROTHERS NEED GRACE, TOO!

 

I don’t identify with the prodigal. I never left home. I find more in common with the elder brother, which make me a little uncomfortable. The parable has powerful truths for people with elder-brother issues.

 

HONESTY IS HARD FOR ELDER BROTHERS.

 

The body of Christ should be the place where people can tell their story and find a safe place. It is often the place where people pretend it is good when it isn’t.

 

Enter the elder brother. He’s respectable, conscientious, hard-working. It’s a sham. He hates a father who makes him work for every penny. When the father asks him to quit working and join the celebration he resist. Yet he says, “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.” Hey, Charlie, how about the one you just refused? He tried to control his brother, and he attempted to control his father’s response to his brother, all the while out of control with anger. Think Pharisee.

 

The prodigal had nothing to lose by being honest. He confessed, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (21). Not a bad prayer for starters. Prodigals can teach us truckloads about honesty. Elder brothers who can take off their mask long enough to be weak will discover how weak they are–and how great God is. Not easy.

 

GRACE IS HARD FOR ELDER BROTHERS.

 

You’d think they were talking about different dads. The prodigal tells you how much he was forgiven. His brother says, “You never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends” (29). Why? Because he was a servant, not a son. He worked for a boss, not a father.

 

Elder brothers are more comfortable with law than grace, with performance than promise. Grace sometimes makes them angry: “When this son of yours (not too accepting) who has squandered your property (wrong–it was his own) with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him” (30).

 

Elder brothers need to take their cue from the prodigal. He embraces grace, he wears it. Grace is related to truth. When we embrace truth, we receive grace. People who feel they deserve grace cannot lay hold on it.

 

CELEBRATION IS HARD FOR ELDER BROTHERS

 

There’s no time for fun when there’s work to be done. Too many deadlines. The boss expects too much of me. And yet “the boss” tried to get him to loosen up: “My son (look what he called him), you are always with me, and everything I have is yours (generosity). We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours (point) was dead and is alive again” (31,32).

 

The Christian life is not primarily doing something for God. It is knowing God, being known by him, letting him love and enjoy His family. The prodigal’s dad HAD to celebrate. Not the brother. Servants get a paycheck, sons get an inheritance.

 

We need to ask ourselves, “Have I turned delight into duty?” May we repent of our self-righteousness that has driven younger ones into the far country. May we be gracious enough to embrace the prodigals—and the elder brothers who need the same grace.

 

 

 

WHO GETS JUDGED IN JONAH?

 

The wickedness of Nineveh caused God to send Jonah to preach against it (Jonah 1:1). He was prepared to judge it. But Jonah’s disobedience and anger got more attention than the sins of Nineveh. They repented; Jonah did not. At the end of the story, we don’t know if the reluctant prophet came around. It was the anger of James and John that impacted Jesus and brought the rebuke, not the resistance of the Samaritans. The brothers were ready to torch the place, and they thought Jesus would be pleased (Luke 9:54). Wrong!

 

The confession of the Assyrian king and his people is one of the most impressive signs of turning ever. They honestly acknowledged what they were known and hated for—unspeakable atrocities. The king had an astounding revelation of the righteous anger of God and their impending death. Remarkable. That is what the Holy Spirit can do—anywhere, anytime! The repentant king exhorted the people to “call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” (3:8,9). They knew that God was angry, but in the book of Jonah we do not see the anger of God as much as the anger of a self-centered prophet.

 

Christians who have a knee-jerk reaction to wickedness and call down judgment are probably closer to Jonah than to God. What we see in his book is what Jonah did not want to see—heaven’s love: “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened” (3:10). According to James, “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful” (2:13). Then he adds the powerful statement, “Mercy triumphs over judgment!” Jonah wanted judgment to triumph over mercy, and that meant he got judged.

 

It triumphed in the case of the Ninevites, and we will meet them in heaven (Matthew 12:41). It did not win with Jonah. The letter began with a word aimed at Nineveh. At the end the word of judgment was aimed at an intolerant prophet uncomfortable with compassion.

 

To Jonah’s credit, he did three things right: 1) he obeyed and went (the second time around). 2) He boldly preached to people who could have easily killed him. Call it courage. 3) He gives God the final word in the letter he wrote, a strong word indeed, phrased as a question: “Should I not be concerned about that great city?” God was attempting to reason with his messenger who wanted them wiped out. He was saying to them in effect, “Go to hell,” when God already had plans for them in heaven.

 

We can take God’s closing words and apply it to any city on the globe. Hear the Lover God ask, “Should I not be concerned about Moscow, about Mexico City, about San Francisco?” How fortunate we are that a holy God declares, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (Ezekiel 33:11).

WHEN YOU CAN’T SLEEP

 

…and that includes many. Sleeplessness isn’t close to fun. What do you do? I get up and walk. David found another solution. “Answer me when I call, O God of my right. You have given me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer” (Psalm 4:1).

 

Good decision—try praying. More effective to talk to God about people than talking to people about God. Sounds like he really wants an answer. It is hard twisting and turning when the mind is not distracted by duty. Need to remind ourselves when swallowed by anxiety that prayer worked in the past.

 

After addressing God, David takes on his opponents. Night terrors are robbers, stealing away sleep. “O men, how long will my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? (2).

 

People who oppose us keep us awake. David was angry and was letting them have it—in bed. Then he added “But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him” (3).

 

He reaffirmed his position in God. He was loved and cared for. Attacks mess with our identity. Don’t let them mess with yours. You are who God says you are, not what an irate adversary or overbearing boss says you are. You are “set apart,” and choice implies worth! Take confidence in your election. God is awake and active even if you wish you weren’t.

 

“Be angry, but sin not; commune with your own hearts on your beds, and be silent” (4). Anger can work if not the aggressive and hostile type, which then escalates into bitterness and latches itself to our souls. Controlled anger facilitates sleep. Don’t suppress it—talk to God about it. Don’t sleep on it or by morning it morphs into resentment. Control it; don’t let it control you. Do it with silence, not an explosion. Learn from your pillow—be quiet. But you need an outlet—God! Try speaking in tongues—or worshiping.

 

“Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord” (5). Inner fights dislodge trust. Not good. Offering sacrifices (worship) reminds us that our center is found in the cross, the place of greatest sacrifice. Say yes to God many more times than you say no to obstacles and enemies.

 

“There are many who say, ‘Oh that we might see some good!’ Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord!” This line from the Aaronic benediction promises an impartation of peace, needful when the mind refuses to relax. “The fruit of the Spirit is…peace.” Take it now; it’s yours!

 

“You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. In peace [see] I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (7, 8). It’s working; joy is replacing worry and peace has overtaken restlessness. Harvest joy is explosive, and yet for the psalmist refreshing sleep under the canopy of God’s love tops even that. Good night!

HOW LONG?

 

Waiting is difficult. We are often in a hurry—and often late. What comes to mind when you think of: traffic jams, long lines in the grocery store, the waiting room of a busy doctor? (What do we call that room?)

 

People in Bible days had problems with waiting too. David wrote a Psalm with the phrase “how long” appearing four times in two verses:

 

“How long; O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ and my foes will rejoice when I fall” (Psalm 13:1-4).

 

David helps us understand the battle of waiting, and especially what it means to wait on God.

 

Have you forgotten me? Waiting is especially hard when it appears that we have been forgotten, like those who were supposed to come won’t. It’s happened to me a few times at the airport. I worry! Hardest when the forgetter is God. David had been anointed, but it sure didn’t look that way now, being chased by a mad monarch.

 

Why are you not looking at me? Is God looking the other way? He’s blessing people. I just don’t happen to be one of them. A parent’s look helps a struggling child. David interpreted his trial as the absence of God. When worry mounts and panic sets in, it is often hard for our eyes to meet God’s.

 

Why must I fight with my thoughts? I get some crazy thoughts when I think I won’t be picked up at the airport—in another country! What are David’s thoughts? I’m a dead man. I’ll never be king. Maybe I did something wrong. Even God can’t get me out of this one. The mind easily jumps the fence into the field of doubt.

 

Why can’t I be a victor instead of a victim? It sure looks like the enemy is winning.

Why doesn’t God do something? I’m a wimp.’’

 

So what is God doing? He designs delays, His timing is perfect, and He is waiting for us. Our character is being strengthened, and our skills are being honed. Really! And a delay is not a denial. Listen to the way David ends this Psalm after four how longs: “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me” (5,6).

 

Doesn’t sound like the same person. Even in the questioning, God moved in his heart and gave him confidence that God could see him, that His love was personal and unfailing, that He was good after all. Rather than feeling abandoned, David felt protected and even happy enough to sing. Depressed David was singing again. It is not a dirge; it is a song of gratitude.

 

If you are waiting, be encouraged that God is wonderfully at work—and He sees you. If you could see what He sees, you would sing too! “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14). (Sorry for inconsistency. Pls pray for recovery of hard drive).

THE SOURCE OF SORCERY

 

Simon the sorcerer amazed people with magic (Acts 8). He boasted that he was great; people believed him, and he enjoyed the attention. Too bad; they were fooled. So was Simon.

 

Since the Garden, Satan’s major focus has been to divert humans away from worship of God (Genesis 3:1). He entices with suggestions of power, self-realization, and enlightenment. Witchcraft is one branch of that enticement. To become involved in the occult is to enter Satan’s realm. Seemingly harmless modern entanglements with the occult include Harry Potter, horoscopes, Ouija boards, Eastern meditation rituals, and some video and role-playing games. Any practice that dabbles in a power source other than Jesus Christ is witchcraft. Revelation 22:15 includes witches in a list of those who will not inherit eternal life. Sad.
Satan is clever. He draws attention to himself without people knowing it. When Philip came to Samaria and did miracles, however, Simon could not copy them. Think Egyptian magicians (Exodus 7, 8). Now the people are really impressed. God doesn’t lose power contests. Surprise: Simon himself believes instead of resisting. Good for him. Now he is following Philip, astonished at what he sees: “Hey, how did you do that?”

 

Sorcery: influencing people through demon spirits. Sorcerers were common in ancient Egypt (Exodus 7:11) and in Babylon, especially with King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:2). Black magic: influence through using curses, spells and alliance with the powers of darkness. White magic tries to undo curses and spells, using occult forces supposedly for good. Wrong! Sometimes magic is trickery, and sometimes it uses the power of the underworld to produce something supernatural, like levitation or casting a spell to make someone sick. It’s real. And it’s real bad. People want influence so others will look at them, like Simon. They also want to know the future by illegitimate means and control events not theirs (or ours) to control.

 

Occult: Latin “occultus”, “hidden, secret.” Refers to the realm beyond the human. Natural: “of nature, physical, observable with the senses.” Supernatural: “super”—above. The supernatural is above or beyond the natural.

 

God is supernatural. So is Satan. Some only believe in the natural realm. Others believe in the supernatural realm but are unable to discern between good and evil, and they end up hanging around demons. People in the occult are intrigued by the supernatural (like Simon), some because it is fun to delve into the mysterious, others because they want information (like about their future or a financial investment) or contact with departed spirits (like a spouse who died). A séance (fr. “sitting”) is a meetings with the spirits of the dead. Think King Saul and the witch of Endor. Actually it is a meeting with demons impersonating the departed, and people are deceived.

 

 

God says that we can make contact with Him but not with the dead (Luke 16). It is both impossible and ungodly. The occult invites people to make contact with dead spirits (spiritism). If you want help, contact a medium. Some want information from the dead or comfort that the dead are doing all right, and a séance is meant to give that kind of comfort.

 

All activity related to the occult is condemned in the Bible, because it means going to the supernatural power of darkness rather than to God. The apostle Paul says: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife . . . and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). (Normal length stops here. This one is longer.)

 

Sorcery was listed among the sinful practices of the nations surrounding Israel in the Promised Land: “There shall not be found among you . . . anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD” (Deut. 18:10,11).

 

A Christian was asked at a party if he wanted his fortune told. He liked the idea, not knowing the Scripture. “When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (Isaiah 8:19). He was intrigued by what he heard. He should have known better.

 

“We wrestle not against flesh and blood,” so we do not come against sorcerers and witches. We are going after the source, Satan and his demons. When Paul cast a demon out of the servant girl who had followed him around for three days and had correctly identified him as a servant of the most high God, he was coming against the powers of darkness, not the girl, who could have been identified as a witch, a person with occult powers.

 

A witch is a supposed expert in the supernatural. Usually a woman (not always), she can work for “good” or for evil, casting spells (curses), foretelling the future (divination), often using potions or drugs. Some witches have good hearts and want to help people, like an occult friend I met last week. They tap into the supernatural, but it is the wrong world, and they are deceived—and maybe deceivers. They have access to information that normal people don’t, because they are receiving help from the world of darkness. Some worship Satan; many believe in God and think they are His tools. Those who come to understand their deception may well be open to the Good News! That’s where you come in. Love is convincing!