Monday, November 09, 2015

Surprised by God . . . again!

God still has the capacity to surprise me. I don't know why. His capacity to astonish me is certainly nothing new.

But the way I saw God show up this last week is too exciting to keep to myself.

At last month’s elders’ meeting our mission team proposed that our church become ministry partners with Sidd and Sangheetha, two former South Lansing Christian Church members who returned home last year to India. They were a huge part of our church, with Sidd serving as a deacon and Sangs being involved in our women’s small groups. I was sad to see them leave, but was inspired for their chief reason for returning to India.

Their families are not Christians, and Sidd and Sangs wanted to share the gospel with them. Thats all you need to know about them to know how much they love God and want to serve Him.

As they've followed God's leading, He has moved in the hearts of their siblings and parents. We continue to pray for them as the Holy Spirit convicts them that Jesus is the Christ.

In addition to reaching their families, Sangs has also become active in reaching out to battered women. Domestic violence is common where they live, and Sangs has had lots of opportunities to share Jesus with women who are in really bad situations. With this in mind, our mission team has been trying to figure out a way to financially partner with them.

It is there – at the intersection of need and resource – that I saw God at work.

I happened to have lunch with a group of ministers last week and connected with an old friend who works for a mission agency that is has ministries in India. As I told him about Sidd and Sangs he asked what city they are in. When I told him he said, “Frank, I have been looking for someone that I can partner with in their city. In order for our mission to expand there we have to have a local representative. Give me their email so I can contact them.” Now, I don’t know if it will all work out for that partnership to develop, but isn’t it just like God to orchestrate something like that?

But God wasn’t finished amazing me! As you know, we gathered Sunday to pray for the persecuted church. I specifically mentioned Sidd and Sangs and the work that they do. Wally asked you to pray for them during our prayer time. Afterward Jeff Badgero, the father of Brenda Glinke, approached me. Jeff asked where Sidd and Sangs live and I told him.

“I’ve been there twice,” he said, “In fact, I was there for five weeks last year and know dozens of Christians in their city. Give me their email and I will connect with them.”

There are no coincidences in the Kingdom of God, only divine connections. That is what God did yesterday, and I just wanted you to know.

With that in mind, what divine connection is God going to make for you this week? Maybe he has someone he wants you to invite to church. Maybe there is a struggling couple that could use a night away from their kids to reconnect. Maybe God is going to put you in the worst checkout lane ever so you can be a bright light of hope to a cashier that is in a dark place.

Its funny what happens when God shows up where you don’t expect Him.

You start to find yourself looking for him a little more frequently.

And it turns out He is pretty easy to find.

Friday, November 06, 2015

A lawyer's take on the prodigal son

A woman from our church brought a guest with her to our recent Friend Day at South Lansing Christian Church. I preached from Luke 15 about the lost son. You might remember the parable.

The younger of two sons asks his father to divide his estate and give him his share. This was shocking as he was basically telling his father, “I wish you were dead!” The father gave him what he asked for and, shortly thereafter, the son set off for a distant land and squandered all of his wealth in wild living. When a severe famine broke out in that distant country, the son determined to go home and beg his father to take him back, not as a son, but as a household servant. He journeyed home, and when he crested the horizon and his father saw him, the family patriarch ran to his son and showered him with kisses. He put a robe on his back, a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet – all signs that he was completely accepted and forgiven.

The older son, meanwhile, heard the commotion from the party that his father threw to celebrate his son’s return. When he inquired about the noise he learned that his wayward brother was back, and he reacted with bitterness.
The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, "Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!"
"My son," the father said, "you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."
The guest my friend brought had an interesting and thoughtful reaction that I have never considered. She is an attorney as it happens, and she noticed the father’s words, “everything I have is yours.” She noted that the older brother had every right to be angry. After all, the robe the father gave his younger son? It belonged to the elder. The ring? The shoes? Each was part of the older son’s inheritance. The fattened calf roasting on the spit? It was the older son’s bullock.

I’ve never noticed that before. I have always thought the older brother’s objection was rooted, primarily, in his father’s failure to recognize his faithfulness and hard work. And certainly that must have played a part in his anger. But his frustration must have also been economic. How dare the father give away what belonged to him? That’s just not right!

The older brother’s biggest problem was that he felt entitled. He didn’t view his inheritance as a gift, but rather as something he had earned. If you earn something, it isn’t a gift; it’s a wage. Naturally, the brother was upset because he saw the father’s generosity cutting into his wages. He couldn’t accept that the father would grace his wayward sibling with such extravagance. It was unjust.

But then grace is always unjust.

One of Jesus’ earliest followers, Paul, made clear the distinction between what is earned and what is gifted in Romans 6:23 – “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The big difference between the younger brother and the older brother was their understanding of grace. One embraced it and was awed by the father’s incredible love. The other rejected it and wallowed in bitterness.

Grace is never fair, and it’s never just.

It’s just grace.

An undeserved gift given to people who have wandered far from the Father and are amazed that he takes them back.