NOWHERE TO HIDE

Ps.139:7 – Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?

It’s not like David wanted to flee God’s presence, he is just exploring the majesty of the omnipresence of God and the manifest presence of God. From his early years as a teenager David had experienced God’s powerful presence. From that first day when the prophet Samuel poured the anointing oil upon David, David became stunningly aware of the presence of the Lord. Worshipping in His presence and building a temple for His presence had become his lifelong dream. He had discovered his “one thing” worth living his life for. Here are some thoughts from Charles Spurgeon on today’s verse.

“Where shall I go?” It were well if we all thus applied truth to our own cases. It were wise for each one to say—The spirit of the Lord is ever around me: Jehovah is omnipresent to me. Or where can I flee from thy presence? If, full of dread, I hastened to escape from that nearness of God which had become my terror, which way could I turn? “Where?” “Where?” He repeats his cry. No answer comes back to him. The reply to his first “Where?” is its echo,—a second “Where?” From the sight of God he cannot be hidden, but that is not all,—from the immediate, actual, constant presence of God he cannot be withdrawn. We must be, whether we will it or not, as near to God as our soul is to our body. This makes it dreadful work to sin; for we offend the Almighty to his face, and commit acts of treason at the very foot of his throne. Go from him, or flee from him we cannot: neither by patient travel nor by hasty flight can we withdraw from the all surrounding Deity.”

It’s really impossible for our created, limited brains, to understand the Presence of the Lord. How could He be in Beijing and Fiji at the same time? How could He be touching someone in the Philippines and also someone in Africa in the same moment? Our God is the creator of time and space. Even the greatness of this universe cannot hold all of Him. His glory is spilling out of creation itself. Today, whether you feel Him or not, He is all around you. He is before you and behind you, He is literally in your face, eye to eye. One glimpse of David’s God and you too will spend the rest of your days pursuing that “one thing”.

THE OTHER SON

Lk.15:32 – But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.

The story of the Prodigal Son can hit us on so many levels. At first glance we see the story of rebellion, repentance, and restoration. All of us can see ourselves as restored sons and daughters. But just like all of Jesus’s parables, they can hit us on multiple levels. I think I have been both sons in this story as well as the father in various seasons of my life. The prodigal is obvious, that’s how I was introduced to this family, tackled by the Father’s love on the lakefront of Lake Ponchartrain in 1973. The Father loved me, accepted me into His family, and began the process of rebuilding my broken life.

Over the years I have also seen myself in the Father’s role, looking down the road in prayer for my biological as well as rebellious spiritual sons to come home. There is no greater joy for a Father to see that familiar gait of one you love making their way back home. That’s when the celebration starts reverberating throughout your whole being.

If we are honest, we all tend to slip into the role of the elder brother from time to time. This elder brother stayed faithfully at work in his father’s home, but everything wasn’t all right deep inside. It probably started when his younger brother got his inheritance early. If things were up to him, his younger brother would have been sent packing without his dad’s money. Then there were the rumors of parties and women that made their way to the older son’s ears. When word got back to him about the poverty and homeless lifestyle his younger brother fell into, he probably felt rectified and could only think, “my brother finally got what he deserved”.

When his brother came back his worst fears were realized. Not only did his father take the prodigal back in, he gave him expensive gifts and threw a party. The dancing and singing were too much for him to bare.

Jesus told this story as a rebuke to the Pharisees. They were the older brothers, indignant that sinners were following Jesus. I had similar feelings in 1994 when rumors of revival were in the air. Who do these people think they are, dancing and laughing in church? Thankfully the self righteous pride that was strangling life from me was blown away. This elder brother found himself jumping into the celebration, dancing and laughing welcoming the prodigals back home. Do it again Lord !!!

CURSE OF PROSPERITY

Lk.15:14-16 – But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.

I often think of the last time I had a private conversation with Dr. David Cho, founder of the great Yoido Full Gospel Christian Church in Seoul, Korea. It was in April of 1994 and Dr. Cho had seen major change in his nation and his church since he pioneered his tent church in 1958. There had been a huge spiritual awakening accompanied by a shocking economic explosion in Korea. What he told me at that breakfast meeting caught me by surprise. He said that prosperity had become a great curse on the Korean Church. What could he possibly mean? Dr. Cho built his church on 3 John 2, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers”. Prosperity had always been a major part of his message. What he had seen in the Korean church was this, their poverty had caused many to call upon the Lord. Their prosperity had masked their need for the Lord and the results was a new spiritual poverty that grew as they prospered financially. This is not new, John Trappe made these same observations in the 1600’s about the curse of prosperity in his comments on the parable of the Prodigal Son.

“And when he had spent everything, and left himself nothing at all except for air to breathe and earth on which to tread, he made his own hands his executors and his own eyes his overseers, swallowing much of his patrimony through his throat and spending the rest on harlots, who left him as bare as crows leave a dead carcass. Ruin follows riot at the heels.”

William Cowper made similar observations in the 1700’s.

“This is seen daily in our unfortunate experience, for human hearts are most empty of thankfulness and their mouths are most filled with blasphemies of God’s name when their stomachs are most filled with God’s benefits. Thus this forlorn son went away from his father just when his father was most beneficial to him and had given him his portion.”

It doesn’t have to be that way. If you are experiencing lack, look to the Lord the source of all our provision. If you are experiencing financial abundance, look to the Lord and acknowledge your total dependence on Him.

MERCY

Lk. 15:20 – So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

One of the great parables of Jesus is the Prodigal Son, a great display of the Father’s love of fallen man. I remember looking at some pencil sketches a number of years ago from the famous artist Rembrandt. He had painted his own face as the face of the prodigal in his depiction of this parable. This pretty much tells the story, we are all the prodigal son in need of the Father’s mercy and love. In the story we see the mercy of the Father displayed in His actions. First we see the eyes of mercy, The Father is looking down the road on purpose, gazing the horizon hoping to see His son’s familiar gate. When He saw him, he was moved with compassion. The original greek for ‘felt compassion’ describes your intestines being moved with emotion. You could describe this as bowels of mercy, the Father being moved with compassion for you. Suddenly the Father could not keep still, His feet of compassion began to run, who could ever forget this picture that Jesus painted, God running toward you. Matthew Henry speaks about the arms and the lips of mercy. Here are his thoughts.

“Here were arms of mercy, and those arms stretched out to embrace him: He fell on his neck. Though guilty and deserving to be beaten, though dirty and newly come from feeding swine, so that any one who had not the strongest and tenderest compassions of a father would have loathed to touch him, yet he thus takes him in his arms, and lays him in his bosom. Thus dear are true penitents to God, thus welcome to the Lord Jesus. Here were lips of mercy, and those lips dropping as a honey-comb: He kissed him. This kiss not only assured him of his welcome, but sealed his pardon; his former follies shall be all forgiven, and not mentioned against him, nor is one word said by way of upbraiding.”

What a picture Jesus painted of our Heavenly Father. He loves us, He loved us when we were away, He welcomed us with joy when we returned. Maybe its time to bring out the fatted calf and let the party begin.

TACKLED BY LOVE

Lk.15:20 – So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

This has to be one of the most moving passages in the Bible, the Father embracing His prodigal son. It’s hard to grasp the power of the story with just a casual reading, it has to be pondered. It starts with the rebellious son demanding his portion of his inheritance. Can you imagine the awkwardness of the moment? Inheritances are for when somebody dies. The son was so blinded by his sin that he would rather see his Father die, if that isn’t possible just give me mine now anyway. Of course we all know where that would go; one party and buying spree after another until every cent is gone. From there he becomes a hired laborer at the point of fighting the pigs for pig food. Anything familiar about this story? Maybe you didn’t act out the drama (or maybe you did) but we all have the nature of prodigals deep within us.

Finally the young man returned to his senses, turned toward home, and began to rehearse his lines of repentance. That’s when the story gets good. The Father was watching down the road, hoping to see His son. How many hours the Father must have spent, looking down that road until the day came when He saw His son. The Father ran to meet His son, tears in His eyes and compassion pounding in His chest. Without a lecture or even a moment for the son to explain the Father ‘fell on’ him in the middle of the road.

We need to stop here for a moment, the KJV Bible says the Father fell on the son’s neck. The word in greek is epipipto. It means to seize or fall upon with an embrace. The Father literally tackled His son. This word is used one other time in the New Testament. It was when Peter was trying to explain to the Jewish elders in Jerusalem what had happened when he preached to the gentiles. Peter said the Holy Spirit fell upon (epipipto) the gentiles just like He had fallen on them in the upper room. The gentiles had been tackled by the love of God, the Holy Spirit had fallen upon them too.

So maybe you feel a little stinky today. Maybe you got mixed up fighting with the pigs for their food. Take a turn toward home and you too will be tackled by love.

KISSED BY THE FATHER

LK.15:20 – And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.

I think many people get the wrong idea about religious people, especially the Puritans from long, long ago. They were often quite expressive about their love for the Lord and experienced spiritual intimacy rather than just an austere form of legalism. It was their passion for the Lord and their evangelistic zeal that brought seasons of persecution leading many of them to make their way to the New World. Our country is indebted to the legacy of these spiritual pioneers. In the 1600’s there was a member of the parliament in England by the name of Edward Leigh who had an evangelistic zeal and a passion for the Lord. Here are some of his comments on the parable of the Prodigal Son.

“Among all the parables of Christ, this is most excellent, full of affection and set forth in lively colors. The old father sees a long way off, for dim eyes can see a long distance when the son is the object. His heart moves within him, and he has compassion on him. “He runs.” It would have been sufficient for him to have stood, because he was old, and a father, and even more so an offended father. But love descends rather than ascends: the son goes to the father; the father runs to the son. Then, he does not stop and embrace him or take him by the hand, but rather he falls on him and incorporates himself into him. He speaks not a single word- his joy was too great to be uttered—but he puts his whole mouth forward and kisses him, giving him the badge of peace, love and reconciliation. Through this example is declared that great goodness of God, who most mercifully pardons the sins of the truly penitent.”

This parable touches on something that is basic to our need as a human. We need forgiveness, acceptance, and real love. Jesus pointed us to the Heavenly Father for all of that. The Heavenly Father has also been painted by many as demanding and harsh. Jesus set the record straight when He shared about the rebellious son smelling of pigs embraced in the Father’s love. There is a place in His arms for you too.

LETS GET THIS PARTY STARTED

Lk.15:22-24 – But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.

What an amazing description of God’s love for fallen man. We went out and wasted our Father’s gifts on sinful living. Rather than judging us and banishing us from His home, He embraces us, kisses us and showers us with gifts, and throws us a party. Here are some thoughts from the People’s New Testament Commentary on the Father’s response in this parable of the prodigal son.

“Bring forth the best robe. He had returned in rags. The best robe is the white robe of the righteousness of Christ. A ring on his hand. A ring with a seal was a symbol of authority, of sonship. Shoes on his feet. Servants went barefoot, but the shoes were a symbol of freedom. Bring the fatted calf. For a feast of welcome. To make such preparations was common in the simple life of the East. For my son was dead, and is alive. It was a spiritual resurrection. They began to be merry. Gladness should be manifested by all saints at the repentance of sinners.”

What an amazing welcome, He took off our filthy rags marked with the stains of our sins, He put on us a beautiful robe welcoming us back home. The Lord clothes each of His returning prodigals with a beautiful robe, we are clothed in the righteous garments of Christ, justified by grace through faith. Next, He places the family ring on our finger. We are not outcast, we are welcomed into the very privileges and authority of Sonship. We are sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ. Then there were the shoes. Our previous shoes were long gone from the hard road we had chosen to walk. Now, our feet are covered with the shoes of the promises of God. We are freed from our life of slavery, God’s promises are now ours. He also killed the fatted calf reserved for the greatest of occasions. This calf also reminds us of the sin offering that made all of this possible, the blood of Jesus has washed away our sin. The joy finally began to break out into singing and dancing, “My son who was lost has now returned home”. Let’s get this party started.

ADMIRING THE INVISIBLE GOD

Jn.6:11-13 – Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted. When they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.” So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.

This miracle has been a huge part of our church for many years now. The Lord used this miracle to get our eyes off of our problems and get our eyes back on Him. As a congregation we were going through tough times in 1990. Many people had lost their jobs in NOLA, the oil companies moved to Houston, our regional economy was in the dumper. Many people had lost their trust in the Lord being stumbled by compromising ministers and ministries. The results for us, we were facing bankruptcy (I even had members mad at me over not claiming bankruptcy). The Lord provided a very unusual way out of our dilemma. He led us to start Feed the Multitudes, a giant free food festival. Through the years we have seen the Lord meet us as a congregation again and again as we have reached out to the hurting people in our city through this event. We have seen the invisible God in the midst of this miracle. Here are some thoughts from Augustine on the miracle of the loaves and the fish.

“For certainly the government of the whole world is a greater miracle than the satisfying of five thousand men with five loaves; and yet no man wonders at the former; but the latter men wonder at, not because it is greater, but because it is rare. For who even now feeds the whole world, but He who creates the cornfield from a few grains? He therefore created as God creates. For, whence He multiplies the produce of the fields from a few grains, from the same source He multiplied in His hands the five loaves. The power, indeed, was in the hands of Christ; but those five loaves were as seeds, not indeed committed to the earth, but multiplied by Him who made the earth. In this miracle, then, there is that brought near to the senses, whereby the mind should be roused to attention, there is exhibited to the eyes, whereon the understanding should be exercised, that we might admire the invisible God through His visible works…”

The people who ate the bread and the fish in the gospel story were astonished. To those who had eyes to see they were beholding the glory of the Lord in the miracles of Jesus.

MULTIPLY

Mk.6:41-44 – And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all. So they all ate and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish. Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men.

You ever think about what this miracle looked like? I have, actually I have thought a lot about this miracle. First it started with the new surge of crowds following Jesus. John the Baptist had recently been beheaded for preaching against Herod’s immorality. The crowds that had been following John began to follow Jesus. This particular season started out with Jesus seeing the hurting people in the mass of humanity that was trying to get near Him. The estimates of the crowd size was 15,000 to 20,000. Think about it, 5000 men plus women and children. There are always more women in services and who knows how many children were there. In a crowd like this you had the blind, the deaf, the lame, the maimed, and any other malady you could imagine. Matthew said that Jesus felt compassion for them and began to heal their sick. Miracles were happening everywhere. Mark said the people in the crowd were like sheep without a shepherd; Jesus began to teach them.

These events were going on over a series of three days. Obviously none of this was planned, people stayed longer than they thought, and supplies had run out. That’s when the great miracle happened, Jesus saw their hunger and decided to feed this massive crowd. The disciples were quite scared, “You give them something to eat”, Jesus challenged them. Andrew chimed in, “All we have is a little boy with his lunch”.

“That’s good, have the people sit down”, the Lord responded.

Jesus looked to heaven, blessed the bread and fish, and handed pieces to His disciples. This is what grabbed my attention, the way Mark said it, Jesus kept giving bread and fish to His disciples. Each time He gave bread and fish to one disciple, there was more in His hands. The miracle was happening in His hand, that’s where miracles always happen, in the hand of the Lord.

Jesus is still a miracle worker, miracles are always streaming from His hands. Maybe you are in a place where what you possess is not sufficient, put what you have; better yet, put your life in His hand. Before you know it your bread and fish will begin to multiply.

NOT JUST FISH AND BREAD

JOHN 6:12,13 – When they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.” So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.

The miracles of Jesus always display aspects of the glory of God. What started as a little boy’s meager lunch turned into a full on banquet. There were 5000 hungry men plus women and children. The best estimate of the size of the whole crowd was 15-20 thousand hungry bellies. How far would 5 loaves and 2 fish go? Apparently much further than anyone imagined. Not only did everyone eat until they were satisfied, there were 12 baskets of leftover fish and bread. Here is how the Lutheran theologian from the 1500’s, Hunnius, describes this miracle.

“Now all of them don’t just eat, but even greater than this, they all are completely satisfied. And not only are they satisfied, but- and this is even more astonishing- there is still some left over. And there are not a small amount of leftovers, but – this goes beyond the comprehension of human intelligence, – there is more left over than was first placed before the crowd. Just before the beginning of the banquet there had been at hand only fives loaves of bread and two fish, which could hardly even fill one basket. Now, afterwards, when so many thousands of human beings had been filled, the leftover pieces are gathered at the Lord’s command, and twelve baskets are filled. A careful consideration of all these circumstances magnifies the glory of this miracle to a considerable degree.”

The glory of God is what this miracle is all about, its what His miracles are always about. The glory of God shines the brightest when it is darkest. Think about it, 20,000 people wondering where their next meal would come from. In the next moment, they were sitting in groups eating bread and fish to their heart’s desire. Not only did everyone have a full belly, there was actually 12 baskets of bread and fish left over. As Hunnius pointed out, there was more bread and fish left over than what they started with. When there is no shot, when circumstances are more than hard, when success is impossible; that is when God’s glory shines the brightest.