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Why would God go to all the trouble to endure our bad choices and our flagrant sinning in order to have relationship with us? Hear the story of the lost son from the modern setting as told by Philip Yancey in his book What’s so Amazing about Grace.
Yancey tells the story of a prodigal daughter who grows up in Traverse City, Michigan. Disgusted with her old fashioned parents who overreact to her nose ring, the music she listens to, the length of her skirts, she runs away. She ends up in Detroit where she meets a man who drives the biggest car she’s ever seen. The man with the big car – she calls him “Boss” – recognizes that since she’s underage, men would pay premium for her. So she goes to work for him. Things are good for a while. Life is good. But she gets sick for a few days, and it amazes her how quickly the boss turns mean. Before she knows it, she’s out on the street without a penny to her name. She still turns a couple of tricks a night, and all the money goes to support her drug habit.
One night while sleeping on the metal grates of the city, she began to feel less like a woman of the world and more like a little girl. She begins to whimper. “God, why did I leave. My dog back home eats better than I do now.” She knows that more than anything in the world, she wants to go home. Three straight calls home get three straight connections with the answering machine. Finally she leaves a message. “Mom, dad, its me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I’m catching a bus up your way, and it’ll get there about midnight tomorrow. If you’re not there, I‘ll understand.” During the seven hour bus ride, she’s preparing a speech for her father. And when the bus comes to a stop in the Traverse City station, the driver announces the fifteen-minute stop. Fifteen minutes to decide her life.
She walks into the terminal not knowing what to expect. But not one of the thousand scenes that have played out in her mind prepares her for what she sees. There in the bus terminal in Traverse City, Michigan, stands a group of forty brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandmother and a great-grandmother to boot. They’re all wearing goofy party hats and blowing noise-makers, and taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a computer-generated banner that reads – Welcome Home!
Out of the crowd of well-wishers breaks her dad. She stares out through the tears quivering in her eyes and begins her memorized speech. He interrupts her. “Hush, child. We’ve got no time for that. No time for apologies. We’ll be late. A big party is waiting for you at home.”
A. Todd Coget
[Parable of Christ’s Sacrifice, Citation: Brad Walden, senior minister with the Tates Creek Christian Church, Lexington, KY; true story told by Mark’s grandfather at Westwood Cheviot Church of Christ, Cincinnati, OH]
The mother of a nine-year-old boy named Mark received a phone call in the middle of the afternoon.
It was the teacher from her son’s school.
"Mrs. Smith, something unusual happened today in your son’s third grade class. Your son did something that surprised me so much that I thought you should know about immediately."
The mother began to grow worried.
The teacher continued, "Nothing like this has happened in all my years of teaching. This morning I was teaching a lesson on creative writing. And as I always do, I tell the story of the ant and the grasshopper:
"The ant works hard all summer and stores up plenty of food. But the grasshopper plays all summer and does no work.
"Then winter comes. The grasshopper begins to starve because he has no food. So he begins to beg, ’Please Mr. Ant, you have much food. Please let me eat, too.’" Then I said, "Boys and girls, your job is to write the ending to the story."
"Your son, Mark, raised his hand. ’Teacher, may I draw a picture?’
"’Well, yes, Mark, if you like, you may draw a picture. But first you must write the ending to the story.’
"As in all the years past, most of the students said the ant shared his food through the winter, and both the ant and the grasshopper lived.
A few children wrote, ’No, Mr. Grasshopper. You should have worked in the summer. Now, I have just enough food for myself.’ So the ant lived and the grasshopper died.
"But your son ended the story in a way different from any other child, ever. He wrote, ’So the ant gave all of his food to the grasshopper; the grasshopper lived through the winter. But the ant died.’
"And the picture? At the bottom of the page, Mark had drawn three crosses."
1 John 4:11, Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
Bryan Chapell tells this story that happened in his hometown: Two brothers were playing on the sandbanks by the river. One ran after another up a large mound of sand. Unfortunately, the mound was not solid, and their weight caused them to sink in quickly.
When the boys did not return home for dinner, the family and neighbors organized a search. They found the younger brother unconscious, with his head and shoulders sticking out above the sand. When they cleared the sand to his waist, he awakened. The searchers asked, "Where is your brother?"
The child replied, "I’m standing on his shoulders"
With the sacrifice of his own life, the older brother lifted the younger to safety. The tangible and sacrificial love of the older brother literally served as a foundation for the younger brother’s life.
Hebrews 2:10-12 and 14-16 describes Jesus Christ’s willingness to be like the older brother to us: "In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy [Jesus] and those who are made holy [Christians] are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers....
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he (Jesus) might destroy him (Satan) who holds the power of death and [that Jesus might] free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.... For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people."
THE CONCEPT OF GRACE
There is a great article that illustrates the concept of grace written by Charles Stanley.
“One of my more memorable seminary professors had a practical way of illustrating to his students the concept of grace. At the end of his evangelism course he would distribute the exam with the caution to read it all the way through before beginning to answer it. This caution was written on the exam as well. As we read the test, it became unquestionably clear to each of us that we had not studied nearly enough.
The further we read, the worse it became. About halfway through, audible groans could be heard through out the lecture hall. On the last page, however, was a note that read, "You have a choice. You can either complete the exam as given or sign your name at the bottom and in so doing receive an A for this assignment."
Wow? We sat there stunned. "Was he serious? Just sign it and get an A?" Slowly, the point dawned on us, and one by one we turned in our tests and silently filed out of the room.
When I talked with the professor about it afterward, he shared some of the reactions he had received through the years. Some students began to take the exam without reading it all the way through, and they would sweat it out for the entire two hours of class time before reaching the last page.
Others read the first two pages, became angry, turned the test in blank, and stormed out of the room without signing it. They never realized what was available, and as a result, they lost out totally.
One fellow, however, read the entire test, including the note at the end, but decided to take the exam anyway. He did not want any gifts; he wanted to earn his grade. And he did. He made a C+, but he could easily have had an A.
This story illustrates many people’s reaction to God’s solution to sin. Some people look at God’s standard--moral and et...
Illus.: “Scarred Hands” (James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited, pp.
A small orphaned boy lived with his grandmother. One night their house caught fire. The grandmother, trying to rescue the little boy asleep upstairs, perished in the smoke and flames. A crowd gathered around the burning house. The boy’s cries for help were heard above the crackling of the blaze. No one seemed to know what to do, for the front of the house was a mass of flames.
Suddenly a stranger rushed from the crowd and circled to the back where he spotted an iron pipe that reached an upstairs window. He disappeared for a minute, then reappeared with the boy in his arms. Amid the cheers of the crowd, he climbed down the hot pipe as the boy hung around his neck.
Weeks later a public hearing was held in the town hall to determine in whose custody the boy would be placed. Each person wanting the boy was allowed to speak briefly. The first man said, "I have a big farm. Everybody needs the out-of-doors." The second man told of the advantages he could provide. "I’m a teacher. I have a large library. He would get a good education." Others spoke. Finally the richest man in the community said, "I’m wealthy. I could give the boy everything mentioned tonight: farm, education, and more, including money and travel. I’d like him in my home."
The chairman asked, "Anyone else like to say a word?" From the backseat rose a stranger who had slipped in unnoticed. As he walked toward the front, deep suffering showed on his face. Reaching the front of the room, he stood directly in front of the little boy. Slowly the stranger removed his hands from his pockets. A gasp went up from the crowd. The little boy, whose eyes had been focused on the floor until now, looked up. The man’s hands were terribly scarred. Suddenly the boy emitted a cry of recognition. Here was the man who had saved his life. His hands were scarred from climbing up and down the hot pipe. With a leap the boy threw himself around the stranger’s neck and held on for life. The farmer rose and left. The teacher, too. Then the rich man. Everyone departed, leaving the boy and his rescuer who had won him without a word. Those marred hands spoke more effectively than any words.
TALE OF TWO KINGS
Two of the greatest love stories ever told. The one, at Camelot; the other, at Calvary. Two of the noblest kings ever to live. The one, King Arthur; the other, King of the Jews. The one is adorned with a jeweled crown; the other, with a crown of thorns.
The comparisons and contrasts between Camelot and Calvary are many, but one scene from Camelot illustrates a great theological dilemma that only the cross could resolve.
Prior to His appointment with destiny on the brow of that fateful hill, Jesus agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done" (Lk. 22:42).
Understand, on an emotional level, that this is the pleading of a son to his father. If your child came to you in such agony, wouldn’t you do everything within your power to grant the request?
But this Father, this time, didn’t respond as expected. And that’s the theological rub. He denied the request of His Son, His only Son, His beloved Son. In Gethsemane, that Son was asking:
"Is there no other way?"
The Son is betrayed, arrested, deserted, denied, beaten, tried, mocked, and finally crucified. Tacitly, the Father answers:
"No, there is no other way."
But why? Why was there no other way?
We find the answer to that question in a scene from Camelot, where the adulterous relationship between Queen Guenevere and Arthur’s most trusted knight, Sir Lancelot, has divided the Round Table. When the scheming Mordred catches them in a clandestine encounter, Lancelot escapes. Guenevere is not so fortunate. She faces a trial. The jury finds her guilty and sentences her to the flame.
As the day of execution nears, people come from miles around with one question in their minds: Would the king let her die?
Mordred gleefully captures the complexity of Arthur’s predicament:
Arthur! What a magnificent dilemma!
Let her die, your life is over;
Let her live, your life’s a fraud.
Which will it be, Arthur?
Do you kill the queen or kill the law?
Tragically but resolutely, Arthur decides: "Treason has been committed! The jury has ruled! Let justice be done!"
High from the castle window stands Arthur, as Guenevere enters the courtyard. She walks to her unlit stake, where the executioner stands with waiting torch. Arthur turns away, emotion brimming in his eyes.
A herald mounts the tower where Arthur has withdrawn: "The queen is at the stake, Your Majesty. Shall I signal the torch?"
But the king cannot answer.
Arthur’s love for Jenny spills from his broken heart: "I can’t! I can’t! I can’t let her die!"
Seeing Arthur crumble, Mordred relishes the moment: "Well, you’re human after all, aren’t you, Arthur? Human and helpless."
Tragically, Arthur realizes the truth of Mordred’s remark. Being only human, he is indeed helpless. But where this story ends, the greatest story ever told just begins.
Another Execution Scene.
Another time. Another place. Another king.
The setting: A world lies estranged from the God who loves it. Like Genevere, an unfaithful humanity stands guilty and in bondage, awaiting judgment’s torch.
Could God turn His head from the righteous demands of the law and simply excuse the world’s sin? If not, then could He turn His head from the world He loved? Would the king burn Guenevere?
Like the wicked Mordred, Satan must have looked on in delight:
God! What a magnificent dilemma!
Let them die, Your life is over;
Let them live, Your life’s a fraud;
Which will it be, God?
Do You kill Your world or do You kill the law?
Without even waiting for His Guenevere to look up in repentance, the King stepped down from His throne, took off His crown, laid aside His royal robes, and descended His castle’s polished steps into humanity’s pockmarked streets. Paul’s words in Philippians are thought by some scholars to be the lyrics of an ancient hymn, singing about the King of kings.
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross! Phil. 2:6-8
That scene in the movie was an epiphany of understanding. Suddenly, it all made sense. We know now why He had to die, why there was no other way.
When love and justice collide, only the cross offers a happy ending.
Source: Abridged excerpt from Ken Gire’s book Windows of the Soul. Copyright © 1996 by Ken Gire, Jr. Zondervan Publishing Houses.
While I was working in the V Corps Chaplain’s office in Frankfurt, Germany; I came in contact with many wonderful Christian individuals. One of the most inspiring was a German by the name of Carl Scholz. In speaking to him one day, he related to me of how that during the Second World War he served as a Nazi soldier, but not believing fully in what they were doing, he tried to desert, but failing in his attempt, was captured and thrown into prison. He was accused as a deserter, and thus was sentenced to die before a firing squad along with another of his conrades.
When the day came they were both marched to the outskirts of the town, and the spot where they were supposted to be executed. Not hearing the change of orders, Carl didn’t realize that all rifles were to be turned to his conrade instead, letting him live. Rifles fired, and in shock, he also fell to the ground. They picked him up and again was placed in prison. The months passed, and finally Carl was set free. The war had also ended, and not having any place to go to, he went from war-torn village to the next. One last hope was his only living relative, his mother...and by the time that he found her, he realized that she was entombed in the communist side of Berlin. Again lossing all hope, he made his dwellings in the bomb stricken buildings, drinking more and more with each passing day.
Finally receiving word that his mother had been killed while trying to escape the communist, he felt his last hope fly out of his body. He said to himself, "Now, what’s the use of living!" So, he went down to a near-by river hoping to drown his sorrows by throwing himself into the river. As he was about to jump he heard soft singing coming from a near-by wooden building. He could well remember the words...
"When Jesus comes the tempter’s Pow’r is broken,
When Jesus comes, the tears are wiped away;
He takes the gloom and fills the life with glory,
For all is changed when Jesus comes to stay."
Hearing such sweet words, he came closer to the building wanting to hear more about this Jesus. As he approached the door, he read those gentle words which have meant so much to millions of individuals throughout the ages...
"Gott Ist Liebe - God is Love;
Gott Ist Leben - God is Life!"
He went inside, and there for the first time he heard the wonderous love that God had for him. And how He send his only Begotten Son to die on the cross so that he could have life - and have it more abundantly! Eternal Life! Praise God! Carl found Christ at that moment! The young missionary said, "Christ says, ’Come unto me all ye that are heavy laden, and I will give ye rest’" Carl said to himself, "If there is anyone here burdened down it’s me! I am tired of this life I am living." And that night, Carl went to the altar and said, "Lord, if it’s true that you can change the worst sinner like this missionary says, change me! If it’s true that you can give rest...give it to me! If it’s true that you can straighten out the most twisted life...straighten out mine!" And that night the Christ that had saved Carl from the firing squad also broke the chains of bondage of sin that had his life captive, and he got up from that altar a new person. Christ had saved him...he had forgiven his many sins.
And now, Carl has been preaching and helping in the Berean Missionary Fellowship in Erzhausen, Germany, and bringing others to Christ with his wonderous testimony of salvation.
THE MAN WHO’D DIE FOR HER-- COMMUNION MEDITATION
On the southern border of the empire of Cyrus, there lived a great chieftain named Cagular who tore to shreds and completely defeated the various detachments of Cyrus’ army sent to subdue him. Finally the emperor, amassing his whole army, marched down, surrounded Cagular, captured him, and brought him to the capital for execution. On the day of the trial, he and his family were brought to the judgment chamber - Cagular, a fine looking man of more than 6 feet, with a noble manner about him - a magnificent specimen of a man. So impressed was Cyrus with his appearance, that he said to Cagular: "What would you do should I spare your life?"
"Your Majesty, if you spared my life, I would return to my home and remain your obedient servant as long as I lived."
"What would you do if I spared the life of your wife?"
"Your Majesty, if you spared the life of my wife, I would die for you."
So moved was the emperor that he freed them both and returned Cagular to his province to act as governor thereof. Upon arriving at home, Cagular reminisced about the trip with his wife. "Did you notice," he said to his wife, "the marble at the entrance of the palace? Did you notice the tapestry on the wall as we went down the corridor into the throne room? And did you see the chair on which the emperor sat? It must have been carved from one lump of pure gold."
His wife could appreciate his excitement and how impressed he was with it all, but she only replied: "I really didn’t notice any of that."
"Well," said Cagular in amazement, "What did you see?"
His wife looked seriously into his eyes and said, "I beheld only the face of the man who sai...
As Vice President, George Bush represented the U.S. at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev’s widow. She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev’s wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed: She reached down and made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest. There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all hoped that her husband was wrong. She hoped that there was another life, and that that life was best represented by Jesus who died on the cross, and that the same Jesus might yet have mercy on her husband.
Gary Thomas, Christianity Today, October 3, 1994, p. 26.
WHAT DOES "ALL" MEAN?
I know people who are carrying around a load of guilt over the past and they're loaded down with this extra weight God doesn't want them to have.
I remember a lady in my church in Wiesbaden I'll call Jill. Jill had rebelled against her parents, had been on drugs, had had three abortions, had cheated on her previous husband resulting in their divorce, and before they had gotten saved had cheated on the husband she was now married to then. She was carrying a lot of guilt, and though she was now saved, she felt she had to atone for her past somehow by works and deeds for God. We all should work for God, but our motive should be to serve Him out of love, not out of guilt.
One day her husband asked me over to talk to her and him because they were having a lot of marital strife. I did and she told me about this awful load of guilt for past sins she was carrying around which had produced a lot of tension in her life that spread to her family.
We looked at scripture after scripture about God's forgiveness of our sins. But she just couldn't seem to feel forgiveness for her abortions. It wasn't until I quoted over and over to her 1 John 1:7, "...and the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses us from ALL sin." I said, "Jill, what does the word 'ALL' mean?" Suddenly the light of God's Word broke through and the tears of joy flowed, and her life was forever transformed. She learned how to serve out of joy and love, not out of guilt and shame.
If you're carrying a load of guilt, claim 1 John 1:9 and ask forgiveness of the Lord and if you've offended any person, go and make it right. Then you can experience the joy of forgiveness and peace and drop your burden! But never take up the burden of yesterday again, for it will just weigh you down from doing your duties today.