Sister to Sister: Another Chance (part 4)

11902329_10153223400334069_4584303358887639646_n11934957_10153223401374069_98564377511046029_n(Digging Deep t-shirts! Five more days to order at www.thecolleyhouse.org. (Sale ends at noon on Friday. We will also have a limited quantity on hand for the seminar at West Huntsville.) Also, we still have room for several more at the Living with Purpose seminar on September 25th and 26th. So clear your calendar and do something healthy for your soul! It’ll be worth the time. All registration and meal fees will be refunded if not completely satisfied (since there are no fees!) Register here: seminar.westhuntsville.org/.)

And about Maria…The question that had surfaced several times was the  topic I had reserved for the very last characteristic we’d study about how we identify the first century church in the chaotic 21st century religious world. What does a person need to do to become a member of the New Testament church? Was it indeed what most religious organizations in “Christendom” today believe and teach about what a woman must do to become part of the church?

We went, once again, to the book of Acts. That’s where you go if you want to know about the origins and firsts of the church. We read again what 3000 people did on the day of Pentecost to get into the original church. There were many who did not choose to accept the overwhelming evidence presented by the apostles on that day that Jesus was, indeed, the Son of God. But those who were convicted of His deity, asked  what they “must do to be saved’ (Acts 2:37) and were told in simple terms: “Repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins.”

Repentance was a big part of our discussion that day. Maria was unclear about exactly what repentance entails. We defined it from scripture as being more than a feeling of remorse. Repentance has to involve both changing your mind about sin and resigning from sinful actions.  We talked about how repentance is really a change in direction. A woman is walking in one direction and decides to go in the opposite direction, turns around and walks the other way.  But Maria was seeing the sorrowful results of sin all around her and did not need convincing that her life needed repentance.

As in all studies, though, I parked right there at repentance for a while. I told Maria that this was because I am convicted that repentance is the most challenging and difficult part of God’s salvation plan.  The world argues most about baptism (the most overwhelmingly obvious part of the plan, from scripture). But the part of the plan that takes the most humility, introspection, fortitude, courage, resolve, determination… well, it’s easily repentance. Baptism requires a moment with the right heart. Repentance takes a lifetime of assessing, deciding, re-assessing, choosing, standing firm, submitting and figuring out how to be true to the promise you made when you went under the water.  It means that the will of the One who took your place at the cross is forever more important to you than your own. Repentance is  a change of the affections finding reflection in your future direction.

We looked at Galatians five and how that repentance means that the works of the flesh are replaced in your life by the fruit of the spirit. We spoke of the eternal fulfillment that the difficult challenges of repentance brings. Maria was a penitent spirit. But I still wanted to walk through some key chapters in Acts about conversion with her…

Sister to Sister: I Just Love this Story!

Unknown-4I hope you are enjoying the week as much as we are at the West Huntsville church. It’s Family Bible Week and the excitement is over the top. Kids are learning and adults are, too. My skit this year is a re-enactment of the parable we call “The Prodigal Son” so I’ve been thinking lots about that boy who chose the money over the security and about how we, enamored by the world’s cheap glitter, often do the same. I’ve thought about how you could never have talked him out of going to that far country when the silver was jingling in his pockets and how that you could never have talked him out of returning home when it was gone. The difference, of course, was all in that moment when he “came to himself”—you know, the pig pen moment. The pig pen moment is a moment of the heart (called repentance) and we all have to have it before we can come to (or come back to) the Father. I hope you have had your pig pen moment. I have had several.

I’ve thought about the Father, too—how he released the son to go and waste his substance. I’ve pondered how many people I know who are in the faraway country today because God never makes anyone serve him. He never keeps you against your will. I’ve thought about how you can be a prodigal even on the church pew every Sunday. If your heart is in the pig pen, then sitting on the pew doesn’t make you any less filthy. Teens get to choose between the Father’s house and the pig pen even if parents are forcing them to be in the worship assemblies, because the pig pen is all about the heart. God releases us. He allows us to choose. It’s free moral agency and it’s what sets us apart from any other creatures He made way back on the sixth day of history.

I picture Him as he rested on the porch. I do not believe it was an accident that he saw His son “a great way off.” He was watching and anxiously waiting for him. But His work was done. He had a place—a home—ready and waiting for the homecoming of the one that was astray. He did not go looking for the Son. It was the “seventh day” for this Father. Everything he had done for the son was good. It was all up to the boy now. Of course, I am the boy in the spiritual analogy. There is nothing more God can do to bring me home. The choices and faith’s response of obedience are all up to me.

The best part is that the Father ran. That’s right. When the boy came down the path, haggard, dirty, lean and lost, the Father ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. God runs. When a prodigal turns his heart from subversion to servanthood, God runs to forgive.

He rejoiced, too. My Father makes merry. What a tragedy when all things are ready for a feast, but I keep the long-suffering One waiting on the porch.

He reclaimed. Notice that the son asked to be a servant. That position is much more than he deserved. But the Father restored him to the position he claimed before he ever left the house. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!”

He reconciled. You have to love the way the Father approached the elder brother whose body was in the back yard, but whose heart was in the pig pen. The Father wanted the elder brother to be pure, not only in practice but in his heart. He wanted the love of the Father to be in that boy. It’s interesting that John tells us that if we love the world (like the prodigal was doing in the faraway country), the love of the Father is not in us. (I John 2:15). But the same passage tells us that if we fail to love our brethren, we are still stumbling in the darkness (I John 2:9). How many nights did the prodigal spend stumbling around in the world without the love of the Father in his heart? How many nights did the elder brother spend stumbling around in the Father’s house of light because he failed to love his brother?

I just love this story. It is my favorite parable of the Lord. I have been the prodigal. I have been the elder brother. It’s interesting that our Lord left the “jury out” on the heart of the elder brother. Perhaps the “pig pen moment” is harder if you’ve never physically left the Father’s house. But may I always remember that I can stumble in the darkness even in His house. I can be in dire need of “coming to myself” even when I am physically in the presence of the family of God.

I just love this story.