A Kingdom Parable

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I’ve been a closeted fan of Key Life’s Steve Brown for years, knowing if I let the cat out of the bag I’d be branded a heretic and “die of the mange” (as he says).

So it’ll be our little secret, capisce?

::cough, cough::

Alas, since the bag is ripping and little kitten claws are showing through I may as well share this memorable parable I heard the Greatest Preacher Voice Ever share in a Ligonier Conference I attended years ago.

It made a valuable impression as I trust it will for you. Of course reading it is not near as exhilarating as it would be if you were listening to it in his pipe-tobacco-marinated, basement-deep (if the basement was the coolest old school, cozy billiard room ever), Sinai-like, kettle-drummed voice.

Or so to speak.

But, I digress. So, yes, the parable:

“Once upon a time there lived a King who loved being King. He loved overseeing the affairs of His Kingdom and loved walking out on His balcony and looking over His vast, fertile land. But the King had a son whom He loved above all.

They would walk together each evening in the gardens, but one night His son wandered too far. The King called, but there was no answer. The son had wandered into the forest and soon became lost. After all, he was so little and the world was so big. He fell into a mud puddle and tore his princely robe on branches…

The King was beside Himself. He sent out search parties and armies, but to no avail.

After a long night of wandering, the little boy happened upon a village. He was so excited to see people! He ran up to a man and tugged at his trousers.

“I’m the King’s son!” he exclaimed.

“Sure, kid,” the man scoffed.

“I tell you, I’m the prince!” the tattered boy insisted.

“No prince looks like that!” the man replied disdainfully.

Well, he was just a little boy and adults knew more than he did, so, in time, he began to believe them. The days became weeks, and the weeks blended into years, and the Prince soon forgot about his Father, being prince, the castle, the walks in the gardens, everything.

He soon began running with the wrong crowd where he participated in murder, rape, and extortion. When he passed the castle, he would spit on the ground because the King lived there and He represented authority.

One day, the King found out that the most wanted criminal in His land was His son. He was soon caught, arrested, brought before the Kingdom’s bar of justice, found guilty, and condemned to die. The King was over the law of His realm, but if He let His son go free, then all criminals would have to be released. On the night before his son’s execution, the King went to the prison cell where His son was held.

“I loved you with a great love,” He said after a long pause. Tears were in His eyes.

He halted, then continued: “But you became lost and I couldn’t find you. I sent My armies and search parties, but you couldn’t be found.”

The son in the cell sneered.

The King rose and added: “I’ve decided to give you freedom.” And then left.

The son went to the cell door and was surprised to find it unlocked.

“Stupid old man!” he laughed. “He’s more senile than I thought!”

He grabbed his pack and with a sarcastic salute, left his cell, then the prison, and disappeared into the woods.

It wasn’t until some weeks later that the son learned the price for his freedom: the King was executed in his place.

What did the son do when he found out?

How did this unforgettable act of mercy affect him?

Well…you’re the King’s child. What will you do?”

Thank you, Steve. You’re one of my favorites.

But just don’t tell anyone.

Selah, King’s kids.

Over to you: What say ye?

A Mismatch, A Crooked Kiss and A Toyroom Exchange

What do a well-tanned farm girl, a palsied mouth and a stuffed toy rabbit have in common?

They each tell us how mysteriously, radically and marvelously loved we are in the Grace Story.

In the Song of All Songs, Shulammite scarce believes she is marriage material – especially to one of highest royalty. She says “I’m dark!” but the Lover King quickly enjoins, “– but lovely!” (the insertion of his voice suggested by Hudson Taylor). It’s not hard to believe he could’ve interjected those words instead of the poor shepherdess, for elsewhere he calls her

“Flawless”

“Altogether lovely”

It’s a mismatch made in Heaven.

The following is a tender excerpt from the book by Richard Selzer, MD, Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery.

In order to remove a tumor from a young woman’s cheek, Dr. Selzer was forced to cut a nerve that left her mouth twisted and palsied. As he ventures to her hospital room for a post-operative visit, he encounters a near-ethereal scene as young woman and her doting husband offer a most endearing exchange.

I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of her facial nerve, the one to the muscles in her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. As a surgeon, I had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh, I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.

Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated form me, private. “Who are they,” I ask myself, “he with his wry mouth who gaze and touch each other so generously?”

The woman speaks:

“Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say. “It is because the nerve was cut.”

She nods, is silent. But the young man smiles.

“I like it,” he says. “It’s kind of cute.”

All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful of my presence, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I’m so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers, to show her that their kiss still works.

I remember that the gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and I hold my breath and let the wonder in.”
– (pp34-45).

This reminds me of a conversation between Skin Horse and the Velveteen Rabbit:

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but Really loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get all loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams

What unimaginable grace!

What inexplicable love!

What God-soaked condescension!

  • He chooses, not on whim but mercy…
  • He makes us fit Him for Himself
  • His love cannot reject that which He’s chosen to restore...

I believe a Pauline hymn, excerpted from his letter to the believers in Rome, is a fitting way to frame our emotions about now:

Romans 11:33-36 (ASV)
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?

For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen.

Thoughts?

Sunday Podcast: Thanksgiving Table Etiquette

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Podcast Running Time: 21m, 12s

What will be at your table this Thursday? Like 90% of Americans, you’ll likely go traditional, serving turkey, mashed and sweet potatoes, dressing, cranberry sauce, perhaps a casserole of either beans, squash, sweet potatoes – or all three! Then, of course, topping it all off with the famous pumpkin and/or pecan pies.

It’s not likely your table will resemble the first thanksgiving meal in 1621…

Let’s zero in on 10 things that could elevate your dinner to an even higher, more memorable, event…biblically speaking.

These are a few of the Scriptures we’ll be considering on this week’s podcast as we look at our metaphorical table from every angle:

Matthew 23:6,11 (BBE)
And the things desired by them are the first places at feasts…But let the greatest among you be your servant.

Romans 12:13 (ESV)
Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Luke 14:23 (The Voice Bible)
And the host said, “Well then, go out to the highways and hedges and bring in the complete strangers you find there, until my house is completely full.”

2 Corinthians 4:7 (ESV)
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

Romans 5:9-17 (ESV)
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation…For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many…For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

All is Well

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Robert Louis Stevenson often told the vivid story of a harrowing storm at sea and a passenger ship that rode upon it.

One passenger, against orders, climbed the stairway to the main deck and found the pilot of the ship strapped to the wheel, fighting against the waves, unflinching and unyielding.

The pilot looked to the terror-stricken man and offered a reassuring smile. In the face of such grave danger, it was the oddest, yet most comforting display.

The lone passenger, whose own countenance had changed, returned below and immediately comforted the other passengers:

I have seen the face of the pilot and he smiled. All is well!”

All is indeed well, o soul tossed about and fearful. You’re focused on the high waves that lash against your vessel, but the One who pilots you along is smiling assuredly…

and the waves and wind still know His Name!

I’m adding a fitting benediction to this quick, encouraging post. Enjoy Kristene Dimarco’s soulful melody, “It Is Well” and rest safe in the belly of your storm-tossed ark today.

Selah.

Heaven Is For Real For The Broken

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In my years of ministry I’ve met and rubbed shoulders with some of our generation’s strongest influencers in evangelicalism.

I’ve shared a meaningful conversation with Joe Stowell, Moody’s president from 1987-2005, in a bathroom, just the two of us. I’ve bumped into Chuck Colson in a deserted foyer during a conference, away from the crowds. And I’ve also shared an empty hallway with D. James Kennedy.

Each of these encounters were unplanned, quick conversations, but intimate in their respective settings, and such brief episodes I’ll always hold dear.

For a season, a number of years ago, I had repeated ministry with Joni Tada, a personal hero and one whom I could call ‘friend’ in all the best ways. I led some of her family conferences for families with members having various disabilities, took phone calls from her, was a guest on her radio show, sang with her numerous times onstage and once even had the blessed privilege of feeding her lunch.

Over the course of years, my path led me to other ministry callings and, thus, out of touch with my friend, but I remain fully touched by her imprint on my life. Being in her presence was like sitting with one of the apostles, for me. Or what it might seem like to be in a room with Teresa of Avila or Madam Guyon. I’d never known such a devoted saint and heavenly-oriented soul.

Joni’s reflection on heaven is indicative of just how real it can be for the really broken. In Heaven: Your Real Home she writes:

I can scarcely believe it; I, with shrivelled, bent fingers, atrophied muscles, gnarled knees, and no feeling from the shoulders down, will one day have a new body, light, bright, and clothed in righteousness—powerful and dazzling.

Can you imagine the hope this gives someone spinal cord-injured like me? Or someone who is cerebral palsied, brain-injured, or who has multiple sclerosis? Imagine the hope this gives someone who is manic depressive.

No other religion, no other philosophy promises new bodies, hearts and minds. Only in the Gospel of Christ do hurting people find such incredible hope.
– Joni Earekson Tada, Heaven: Your Real Home

She tells of a Christian convention during which the speaker, at the close of the message, asked his audience to kneel for prayer. She looked on as each made the sacred gesture, but, of course she, being a quadriplegic, couldn’t do it herself. It was all too overwhelming and she couldn’t stop the tears from flowing.

Being brought up in a Reformed Episcopal Church, it was particularly hard as she’d been accustomed to kneeling for prayer.

Ah, but then her heart warmed as she remembered the promise of resurrection and restoration of all things, including bodies:

Sitting there, I was reminded that in heaven I will be free to jump, dance, kick and do aerobatics. And although I’m sure Jesus will be delighted to watch me rise on tiptoe, there’s something I plan to do that may please him more.

If possible, somewhere, sometime before the party gets going, sometime before the guests are called to the banquet table at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, the first thing I plan to do on resurrection legs is to drop on grateful, glorified knees. I will quietly kneel at the feet of Jesus.

To not move will be my chance to demonstrate heartfelt thanks to the Lord for the grace He dispensed year after year when my hands and legs were limp and motionless. To not move will be my last chance to present a sacrifice of praise – paralyzed praise!
- Ibid.

My innermost being, broken and touched by the healing hands of Jesus, cries amen. This, too, is my strongest desire, oh Lord. I want to lie still before your Majesty on that day, just as my sister, that the Lamb would receive the reward of His suffering.

Selah, beloved, and Maranatha!

Oh, This Scripture! Smh…

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I read this passage today and found myself weeping in stunned disbelief for the mystery of God’s forgiving Love.

This is the wail of One who is on the verge of finally giving up on a relentlessly cheating spouse – when they’ve exhausted seemingly every avenue of restoring their broken relationship…

Except, not every avenue…

Hosea 11:8-9
How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah*?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.

I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath
.”

Smh…

It was like reading about it again, for the first time ever.

How can this be?

The Meta-Story:

How can God excuse the sinner…and still remain just and holy?

And the micro-story
How can a man or woman, with serially promiscuous spouse, keep forgiving and receiving their unfaithful mate back again, thus preserving the sacredness of their vows?

Which is the background of Hosea…

  • God loves nation.
  • Nation accepts His proposal.
  • Nation betrays covenant…again and again.
  • God forgives them…again and again.
  • Nation rebuffs love and prostitutes itself to more wicked nations.
  • God’s anger is aroused.
  • God intends to divorce His own.
  • Nation will lose everything in divorce.
  • God’s mercy is aroused.
  • God raises up a prophet to warn nation.
  • God tells prophet to marry a prostitute.
  • Hosea and Gomer are wed.
  • At first, there is bliss.
  • Gomer longs for other lovers.
  • She runs after them.
  • Hosea finds and forgives her.
  • Gomer runs off in time and enslaves herself to wicked lovers.
  • Hosea finds her in slave market.
  • He buys her back, though she is his bride.
  • God uses their story to show how His heart is broken again and again by His unfaithful people – and to what illogical lengths He’ll go to rescue them…

I invite you to read an equally befuddled scholar’s take on this passage. He makes a brave and insightful attempt at explaining the mystery by which sinner is excused and Divine holiness is still intact.

You can tell it leaves him shaking his head in wonderment also:

When God, in spite of sin, says, How can I give you up? My heart is stirred, My compassions are stirred, but I am holy; how can I give you up? and yet says, I will not give you up, I will not, I will not, we are in the presence of some possibility wholly of God. It must have been a great word for trembling and troubled hearts even then.

 “But our Bible does not end in Hosea. The name Hosea meant salvation. I do not know who named him. The father or mother, or both, in all probability; but they called that boy Hosea, a sob and sigh and song merging in a name. There came one in the fullness of time whose name was Jehovah and Hosea: Jesus. So in the fulness of time the gleams and glints of glory broke out into full manifestation; and we find out at last in Jesus, how God can be just and the justifier of the sinning soul.

“The way of accomplishment Hosea did not see. In communion with God he had learned facts about the divine nature which seemed to be conflicting, and he delivered his message and uttered the words; but at last he came, who is the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of his person, and in him I see how righteousness and peace meet together, and God can be just and the justifier. Through him the claims of justice which are against my soul are all met. Through him the glory of holiness is maintained; for his redemption of the human soul is not a pity that agrees to ignore sin; but a power that cancels it and sets it free from its dominion. Through him the loved one is regained, restored, renewed, and all the lights that flash and gleam upon the prophetic page, astonishing my soul, come into focused unity in Jesus. God says of you, of me, ‘How can I give thee up? I will not … I will not … I will not.’

“But how? ‘I am God and not man, I am the Holy One.’ Through Christ he has made the way by which sinning souls can be conformed to his image, his likeness, his will. The gospel is gleaming in Hosea. It is shining in full radiance in Christ.”

G. Campbell Morgan, Hosea: The Heart and Holiness of God, pp105–6.

Give thanks today, beloved. His love will discipline you when you stray, but His wrath will never find you. That’s because your Sinless Substitute – God Himself – took every ounce of the wrath meant for you, to its full and final dregs.

*Admah and Zeboiim were two cities destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah. They picture swift and final destruction.

The Gospel: Hidden In Plain Sight

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Can you preach the Gospel from Old Testament scriptures? If you have eyes to see, you most certainly can!

Some months ago I was making my way through the poetic books when it suddenly dawned on me:

Together, they tell the Story!

When I wrote out the theme of each book – and stitched them together – this is the generous fabric it wove:

  • Ecclesiastes

  • – The Kingdom of this World

  • Song of Songs

  • – A Called-out Bride

  • Proverbs

  • – The Wisdom and Ways of God in the Kingdom of darkness

  • Psalms

  • – Finding Intimacy with God in the Wilderness

  • Job

  • – Blessed are the Overcomers

I’m baffled when I hear people say you can’t find the gospel in the Old Testament. One of the earliest places you can find the Gospel’s most prominent feature is way back in the frontleaf of Genesis’ record:

Genesis 3:15
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

This is the Good News that sits high and gleaming, all alone, atop the manure-pile of man’s reckoning due to his Fall.

Where else does the Gospel pose surreptitiously in the oldest record?

When Abraham offered up his son Isaac to Yahweh, he assured the ‘lad’ – who was actually around Jesus’ age when He was laid atop the wood – the LORD would provide a Sacrifice for their worship.

And then, just before the knife plunged into flesh, God stopped the ceremony and provided a Substitute: a male lamb “caught in the thorns.” The phrase reveals that the ram was ‘stretched out’ and pierced with thorns.

Sound familiar?

If you have eyes to see, the Gospel is riddled throughout the ancient record, hidden in plain sight.

Jesus said it was so:

Matthew 13:52 (JBP)
“…every one who knows the Law and becomes a disciple of the kingdom of Heaven is like a householder who can produce from his store both the new and the old.”

In laymen’s terms, the Savior said it is the Old that points to the greater revelation of Himself in the New.

“You can find pictures of Me back there,” He says, “and they’ll make you hunger to find the Real Me in the present.”

A few weeks ago, I shared with our ‘kids’ another place where the Divine Story is hidden in plain sight. It was so absolutely delightful watching their eyes light up when they began to see it!

The riddle was found, of all places, in a genealogy. This particular record can be located in Genesis 5.

Can you spot the Story of stories?

Let’s pick through the names…

…You know Adam, of course. His name means “Man”. More specifically, “mud-man.” Yup.

Then comes Cain and Abel. Well, Abel was murdered and Cain is a wash. But next in line comes “Seth” whose name means “Appointed”. Then Enosh (“mortal”). Following in line comes Kenan (“sorrow”) and Mahalalel (“the blessed God”).

Still with me?

Okay, who’s next? Oh yes: Jared, meaning “shall come down.”

Even though the previous names don’t ring a bell, you likely remember the next guy: Enoch. His name means “Teach” or “teaching”. The line is rounded out by Methuselah, Lamech and Noah (“his death shall bring”, “the despairing” and “rest”, respectively).

Some of you caught it, didn’t you? If you haven’t seen it yet, let me try it with this approach and then perhaps you can solve the puzzle:

Adam–Man
Seth–Appointed
Enosh–Mortal
Kenan–Sorrow
Mahalalel–The blessed God
Jared–Shall come down
Enoch–Teaching
Methuselah–His death shall bring
Lamech–The despairing
Noah–Rest

See it?

Yes you do.

The names. The Story is hidden among the names:

Man [was] appointed mortal sorrow but the Blessed God shall come down teaching and His death shall bring the despairing [His] Rest.

The story of stories, to be sure. And that’s not all…

Isn’t it wonderful that he put YOUR name in His story?

Comment cue:

Where else can you find the Gospel hidden among the ancient passages?