Remembering the Love of God (The Parable of the Prodigal Son)

The Return of the Prodigal Son by: Liz Lemon Swindle (Used with Permission) If you are interested in her paintings her webpage is: www.lizlemonswindle.org
The Hope of Every Parent. Painting by Liz Lemon Swindle (Used with Permission) If you are interested in her paintings, her webpage is: http://www.lizlemonswindle.org

“When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)

One of the most beautiful stories in the Word of God is the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  We enjoy reading this parable because it is a great reminder of God’s unfailing love. We may say in our hearts: “I would never do what this son did with his life.” However, on further investigation, we may see a bit of ourselves in the Prodigal Son.

In the beginning of this parable, we see the younger son asking his father for his inheritance. This seems like a very strange request because the father is still alive. However, it shows that the son is insensitive to the feelings of his father.  He is basically saying; “I don’t want to have anything to do with you. I wish you were dead.”

In our lives there are times, when we also act as though we don’t want to have anything to with God. We make plans without consulting God. We seek to please ourselves above all else. We are happy to have a place in heaven, but we are reluctant to allow the Lord to rule our hearts.

After the son receives his money, he leaves his father and family and goes his own way.  He spends his money on all sorts of sinful activities. He has no interest in the things of heaven. His focus is purely on sinful pleasure. He has no thoughts of his father.

Like the Prodigal Son, we find it easy to have an earthly focus in this life. The world becomes all important to us. The getting of money becomes more important than seeking the true riches of God’s Word. Seeking our comfort becomes more important than seeking the glory of God. Paul tells the believers at Colossae. “Set your affections on things above, not on things of the earth.” (Colossians 3:2)

After the Prodigal Son loses all of his money, he makes another drastic error. This is the time that he should immediately return to his father; however, he tries to get out of his mess by his own effort.  He soon takes the lowest of all jobs. He tends to the pigs. His humiliation is complete. He finds that the his downward spiral has hit the end.

When we find ourselves at the end of our rope. How do we respond? Do we try to resolve the situation with our own effort? Do we just quit on life and become filled with despair? Yes, we have sinned.  Yes, we have failed God, but must we go to the very bottom? Do we know that our loving Heavenly Father is waiting for us to return?

The parable takes a sudden turn when Jesus says: “And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.” (Luke 15:17-19)

The Prodigal Son has finally seen the reality of his situation. He sees that his only hope is to return to his father and confess his sin. His past flashes through his eyes. His regrets are real; yet he moves from despair to hope as travels the long distance back to his father.

Have we travelled a great distance from our Father? Have we turned our back on God’s love, mercy, peace and grace. Is our present situation filled with despair? Like the Prodigal Son, we can return to our Father. We know He loves us in spite of our sins and failures. He is waiting for us to repent of our sin.

As the son approaches his father, we see one of the most touching scenes in the Word of God. Jesus says: “And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20) The father pours out his love upon his son. The father’s love is greater than his son’s sin. He instantly forgives his son. The relationship is restored.

Our Heavenly Father also waits for us to return to Him. His arms are open. His heart is ready to receive us again. Yes, we don’t deserve this love, but God’s love, like all of His attributes, is infinite. Will we, like the Prodigal Son, “come to ourself” and return to our Father?

“Dear Father, like the Prodigal Son, I often neglect you and do things that don’t please. When I try to deal with my problems, I fail. I have the tendency to have an earthly focus and I don’t concentrate on my relationship with you. I do want to return to you. Please break my pride; so that I will flee back into you loving arms.”

The Reasons Why We Deserve God’s Love

Winter Sunset in Wyoming (Photo by: Deanna Maston)
Winter Sunset in Wyoming (Photo by: Deanna Maston)

“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

When I was young, I remember a song that had the following words: “What the world needs now is love sweet love, It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” This song expresses the search for love that is part of each person’s life.

Where do we find love? What can we do to receive love? The Word of God makes it clear that love begins with God, continues with God, and ends with God. He is the source of love. He demonstrated His love by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins.

The love of God is real. We see that His love is a perfect love that desires to see change in our lives. He wants us to go from being dead in our trespasses and sins to having eternal life. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,  Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ,” (Ephesians 2:4-5)

Deep down, we feel that we deserve God’s love. We demonstrate this when we complain during the difficult times in our lives. We may say of God: “If God is a God of love why did He allow this.” We feel we are deserving of God’s love and he has failed to love us. Do we deserve God’s love?  Here are several reasons why we deserve God’s love.

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“Dear Lord, I come before you in all brokenness and humility because I know that I don’t deserve your love. Your love for me is based on all that you are. I deserve nothing but your wrath because of my sin before you. Yet, you have loved me with an everlasting love. I don’t understand your love, but I thank you for it. I thank you that I can call you “Father” because you brought me to a saving knowledge of your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Please help me never take your love for granted. Amen”

Have we accepted God’s love? Have we come to Him realizing we don’t deserve His love? He has His hands of love outstretched towards us. Will we accept His offer of love today? This love is expressed in an old hymn. The words abound with the sacrificial nature of God’s love for us.

“WHY SHOULD HE LOVE ME SO?” By Robert Harkness

1.Love sent my savior to die in my stead;
Why should He love me so?
Meekly to Calvary’s cross He was led;
Why should He love me so?

2.Nails pierced His hands and His feet for my sin;
Why should He love me so?
He suffered sore my salvation to win;
Why should He love me so?

3.O how He agonized there in my place;
Why should He love me so?
Nothing withholding my sin to efface;
Why should He love me so?

Chorus: Why should He love me so?
               Why should He love me so?
               Why should my Savior to Calvary go?
               Why should He love me so?

The Preciousness of Christ

Sunset over Lake Michigan (Photo by Mark J Booth)
Sunset over Lake Michigan (Photo by Mark J Booth)

“Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner.”
(1 Peter 2:7)

The word “precious” means of great value or of high price. It also means to be dear or beloved in the eyes of the beholder. Peter makes it clear that believers in Jesus Christ should naturally have a great passion for Christ. He should be pursued with all of our hearts, because there is nothing more precious than he.

Is Jesus Christ precious in our eyes today? Perhaps, the world no longer sees Christ as being important, because believers have slowly lost sight of the preciousness of Jesus Christ. When Peter wrote the words: “Unto you therefore which believe he is precious.”
(1 Peter 2:7), he was writing to believers who were facing great persecution. These believers had a great passion for Christ, in spite of the great persecution they faced. They understood there was nothing of greater value in this life than having Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

The Bible clearly shows us the preciousness of Christ in many ways.

1. Jesus Christ is precious because He is God in the flesh.  The Book of John  shows Christ’s deity in his works, his words, and his holiness. John wrote:
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) His Deity means that He has all the attributes of God the Father.  Our worship, our words, our attitudes and actions should reflect our love and submission to Christ, who is God in the flesh.

2. Jesus Christ is precious because He is the only way of salvation. Mankind is under God’s condemnation. We are all born in sin and in rebellion to the Holy, Righteous God. However, God the Son came to earth to satisfy the Father’s justice. He took our sins upon Himself when He died upon the cross. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) Jesus is the object of our love because He took the punishment of our sin upon Himself.

3. Jesus Christ is precious because His love never ends. As Jesus was preparing to leave the earth, his disciples felt lonely. Despair had overcome them; yet Christ encourages them with words concerning His eternal love. Christ’s love for us isn’t based upon our performance, it is a love that never ends. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Romans 8:35)

4. Jesus Christ is precious because He is the Good Shepherd. Life presents many challenges. We face important decisions, immovable obstacles, sicknesses, and loneliness. Do people really care? Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.” (John 10:14) Jesus knows our hearts. He leads us in the way we should go. He carries us with tenderness when the path seems impossible. He takes away our fears. He walks with us even in the valley of the shadow of death. “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11)

5. Jesus Christ is precious because of His great promises. Christ not only gives us promises to encourage and exhort us, but He also keeps all of His promises. “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (2 Peter 1:4) Reflect upon His promises and know that Christ is more precious than anything else in this life. Here are just a few samples of His promises.

  • “He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.” (Psalm 91:15)
  • “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)
  • “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
  • “And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.” (Isaiah 46:4)
  • “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” (Isaiah 26:3)

With our finite minds, it is impossible to completely comprehend the preciousness of Christ.  He is precious in all of His attributes, words and deeds. The more we know Him, the more precious He will become to us. When others see how precious Christ is to us, perhaps, they will start to take the claims of Christ seriously in their own lives.

“Dear Lord, I often take you for granted. I know that you are my Lord and Savior; yet, I don’t treasure my relationship with you. You are precious beyond all of my understanding. Help me to gaze upon you and see how precious you are to me. Amen.”

 

Perry Mayton: A Faithful Pastor (My Father-in-Law)

Perry Mayton (1919-2003)
Perry Mayton (1919-2003)

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

(1 Corinthians 15:58) Every time I read this verse, I can’t help but think of my Father-in-Law, Perry Mayton.  He lived out this verse in his daily life before his family, and every person who knew him.

Perry Mayton was born January 3, 1919 in the small city of Harriman, Tennessee.  God was preparing Perry’s heart to serve Him through two tragic events in his childhood.  His dad died when he was six years old and his mom died when he was a teen.  These tragic events would help give Perry a compassionate heart as he ministered to people throughout his life.

Harriman was a city filled with gospel preaching churches.  As a result, Perry accepted the Lord as his Savior during his teenage years.  For a few years he didn’t grow in his faith, but God was preparing him for future ministry.  After leaving the army, Perry began working in one of the mills in Harriman.   During that time, he met his future bride Iva Olmstead.  In 1948, they married.  Soon after the wedding, Perry believed that the Lord had called him into the ministry.  He demonstrated this calling by his faithfulness in serving the Lord for over fifty years.

There are several things that stand out in Perry’s life and ministry.  One thing that always impressed me was his tireless service for the Lord.  During most of the years of his ministry, Perry also had to work a day job.  This meant that he would work all day and then take on the demands of a pastor during the evening and Sunday.  I never heard him complain because he found great joy and peace in serving the Lord.

I was also impressed with Perry’s knowledge of the Word of God.  He never had much formal Bible training, but he knew the Word of God.  He understood the doctrines of the Bible as well as any person who had formal training.  He loved to study His Bible.  His passion for God’s Word is expressed by the Psalmist in Psalm 119:16: “I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.”

Perry also had a compassionate heart towards others.  He showed concern for any person in need.  He had a special compassion for the lost.  A few times, I would go with Perry when he did his weekly radio broadcast.  His passion for the lost was clearly seen as he would plead for the lost to repent of their sin and turn to the Lord as their Savior.  He had the unique gift of having both the heart of an evangelist and a pastor.

The fourth thing that impressed me about Perry was his great spirit of humility before God and others.  I never heard him talk about any of his accomplishments.  He did God’s work and didn’t think about the praise of men.  He sought to please God alone.  This humility was obvious to any person who had Perry as their pastor.

The greatest impact that Perry had upon my life was through his daughter, Sharon. Perry did a great job of preparing his daughter for being a wife and mother.  Sharon understands to this day what it means to minister in a local church.  Her father also taught her how to love the Word of God and minister to people with a heart of compassion.

Our Wedding (June 22, 1979)
Our Wedding (June 22, 1979)

Perry was quite well-known in the Harriman area because he had been the pastor of several local churches.  I never heard anybody say a bad thing about “Brother Perry”.  He was beloved by the people in his churches and he loved them.  He would continue to minister via the radio and preaching in churches until his health kept him from doing what he always loved.

On September 1, 2003, Perry would enter into the presence of His Savior.  The funeral visitation was a great testimony to his over fifty years of ministry.  The line to greet Perry’s widow, Iva, went outside of the doors of the funeral home. Many people told us how God had used Perry in their lives.  The outpouring of love was a testimony to Perry’s faithfulness in his service to the Lord.

Yes, Perry is missed by his family, friends and many of those to whom he ministered; however, his testimony lives on in the lives of many people.  The words of Matthew 25:23 apply to the life of Perry Mayton.  “His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant;”  Perry has finished his labors here on earth, but his legacy lives on through his family and many others who were blessed by his ministry.

A Heart to Walk with God

Sleepy Hollow State Park-Michigan USA-Photo by: Mark J. Booth

Imagine taking a walk with God. One of the most unusual people in the Bible is Enoch.  He is one of two Old Testament characters who never died.  What is it that makes Enoch unique?  The Bible says:  “And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” (Genesis 5:24)  Enoch loved listening to God.  He enjoyed sharing his heart with God. He made his relationship with God the number one priority in his life.  Enoch’s walk with God meant that he had an intimate relationship with God.

We often find ourselves too busy to take time to walk with God.  Our culture focuses on  instant gratification.  We don’t like to slow down.  We have fast food, fast cars, instant photos, instant communication and microwave ovens.  We think that we can also have a microwave relationship with God.  We  read a few verses, and say a quick prayer and think that we have a close relationship with God.  We have lost the joy and the benefit of slowing down and learning to walk with God.

How can we develop a heart that longs to walk with God?  Here are five ways that we can cultivate a heart that desires to walk with God.

1. We need to develop a heart that agrees with God.  Agreeing with God enables us to view our life from His perspective.  We enjoy our time with God because we aren’t arguing with Him. We are learning from Him.  The nation of Israel had a problem of agreeing with God.  They wanted to go their own way.  The prophet Amos said: “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3) Do we agree with God concerning our goals, our future, our family, our time, our money and other areas of our lives? We can’t walk in our own way and walk with God at the same time. 

2. We need to develop a heart that is humble before God.  Pride causes us to think that we don’t need to walk with God.  We are able to handle our life without God.  The prophet Micah says:  “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?(Micah 6:8) A humble spirit is a dependent spirit.  A dependent believer sees their great need to walk very close with God.

3. We need to develop heart that is pure before God.  Because God is holy, sin keeps us from walking with God.  The Apostle John says: “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.(1 John 1:6-7) Sin is choosing to walk in darkness, instead of walking in God’s light.  However, God has provided the way of restoration in our walk with Him. “If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) A pure heart is a heart that enjoys walking with God, who is Light. 

4. We need to develop a heart that loves as God loves.  When our hearts are full of anger, bitterness, hatred, and selfishness, we are unable to walk with God, who is love.
And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.” A believer that loves God and others feels very comfortable walking with God.  They look for opportunities to pour out the love they receive from God unto others. 

5. We need to develop a heart that is quiet before God.  God’s Word encourages us to slow down and be still.  We need to learn the art of waiting upon God. “Be still, and know that I am God:” (Psalm 46:10) A patient and quiet heart is saying to God: “I am ready to walk with you with my undivided attention.” 

Woldumar Nature Center-Lansing, Michigan (Photo by: Mark J. Booth)

Enoch made a choice that he would walk with God.  This meant the sacrifice of his time.  It meant that he would be misunderstood by others.  However, he desired a close walk with His God. God took pleasure in His time Enoch. As a result, He just took Enoch right up to heaven to be with Him.  What about us?  How is our walk with God?

“Dear Lord, I am tempted to hurry my time with you.  I find myself walking this life without you.  Then something happens and I wonder where are you.  Help me, to see my need to walk close with you.  I know that the greatest enjoyment in life is when I take the time to walk with you.  Thank you for always being available to walk side by side with me.  I love you, Lord. Amen”

 

 

Moving Beyond Selfishness to Love

New York City-Photo by: Mark J. Booth

True love has many enemies.  Some of these enemies are hatred, lust, ignorance, and jealousy; however, the greatest enemy of love is selfishness.  Love gives.  Selfishness takes.  Love thinks of others.  Selfishness thinks of self.  Selfishness is: “The desire for one’s own gain without regard for God and others.”  Selfishness has destroyed marriages, families, work relationships, individual lives and even churches.

Do I show evidence of selfishness in my life?

  • Am I a lover of self?  “For men shall be lovers of their own selves.” (2 Timothy 3:2) The last days will be a time when people’s self-love will reach new heights; however, selfishness is rampant even today.
  • Do I seek to please self? “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” (Romans 15:1) Selfishness says: “I will please myself.  I don’t care what God and others think.”
  • Do I seek my way? “For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” (Philippians 2:21) Selfishness says: “It’s my way or the highway”  Frank Sinatra sang a song glorifying selfishness: “I Did it My Way”. Is this our life theme as well?
  • Do I seek my gain?  “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17)  Selfishness says: “What is mine is mine.”  This was the philosophy of the scribe and Levite that passed by the man who was dying in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
  • Do I seek first place?  “They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.” (Mark 10:37) James and John, ignoring the other disciples, sought the most important places in Christ’s kingdom. Selfishness runs over others; so that we can be first.  Our goal becomes not the success of others, but our success. 

People dismiss selfishness as something that exists in our lives.  We may try to control it a bit, but we love to satisfy ourselves; however, this selfish spirit destroys our relationship with others, including God. Are we prepared to replace selfishness with love?

How can I move beyond selfishness to love?

  1. Have an intimate relationship with God, the source of love.  “God is love.”  He is the author of love.  He showed his love toward us by sending His Son to die on the cross for our sins.  John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  When we place our faith in Christ as Savior, we become a child of God.  This loving relationship enables us to share the love we receive from the Father towards others.  We are like a water hose.  A hose doesn’t produce the water, but it disperses the water.  We don’t produce love, but we disperse God’s love to those He brings into our lives.
  2. Learn and apply the qualities of love in your life.  1 Corinthians 13:4-7 show the qualities of love.  Take the time to meditate upon each quality.  Think about how Christ demonstrated each of these qualities.  Also, think about how you can demonstrate these qualities in your life. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”  (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
  3. Look unto Christ as your example of love. “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)  Christ demonstrated love in spite of the hatred that was demonstrated against Him. How does Christ show His perfect love towards us?
  • The sacrifice of His love.  Christ gave his life for us.  How about our love for others?  Are we willing to sacrifice for those God places into our lives.  “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16)
  • The permanence of His love.  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Romans 8:35)  Nothing stops Christ from loving us.  What about our love for others?
  • The edification of His love.  When Christ walked upon the earth, he was always encouraging people.  His teaching helped people to grow and understand the truth.  When we love others, we want to build them up and not tear them down.
  • The forgiveness of His love.  Christ said of those who were mocking him: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Christ forgave even in His darkest hour.  Forgiveness is a great act of love.

Love is more than a feeling, It is a choice.  We can live a life of love.  Selfishness doesn’t have to rule in our relationships.  We can look up to the God of love and seek to apply His love to others.

“Lord, thank you for your great love towards me.  Thank you for your Son who died on the cross for my sins.  Thank you for adopting me into your family.  Lord, I still struggle with selfishness in my life.  Help me, to apply your love to those you bring into my life.  Amen.”

Note: This is the third article in the “Moving Beyond” series.