Wednesday, May 12, 2010

With the Scent of Pigs

So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).

Have you ever wondered at the arrival of the prodigal son? To refresh your memory, let me give you a bit of the back story. This youngest son of his father demanded his inheritance, squandered it in wild living and found himself feeding pigs in a foreign land. As he longs to feed himself with the pigs’ food he comes to his senses. He remembers his father’s house, that his father’s servants are better off than he, and determines to return home that very moment.

Now, several miles down the road we find this son walking in humility toward home. The father has been waiting for him all that time and runs to meet his returning child. With such grace and love, the father receives his son and takes him back into the home.

There are two things I want you to see, and they are conspicuous by their absence.

The first is this: the son never mentions cleaning himself up before he heads for home. Think about it. The son of a wealthy, Jewish landowner returns home with the scent of pigs lingering like a malevolent cloud all about him. The scent of that unclean creature to the Jewish life permeated the son’s clothing, his hair. He had pig dirt under his finger nails. But the son had “come to his senses” (verse 17). That’s the key. It didn’t matter the external reality of his life any longer—his heart was changed. He longed for home and for his father and though he carried the scent of pigs on his body, it would not hinder him from returning.

That is the humility of faith—that God will receive me and I can return to Him even though I still have the scent of pigs. How many have refused God because they thought they needed to “clean up” before they came back? How many have stayed away from God because they thought they were “unacceptable?” Of course you’re unacceptable! If you were acceptable you wouldn’t need grace. All of humanity is unacceptable to God—we all have the scent of pigs on us. But God loves you and is watching for your return—all you have to do is come to your senses and come back to the Father.

The second is this: the father never demanded his son clean up to be received. Again, think about it. This Jewish man, whose son squandered his wealth, sees his son returning on the road. Anger and resentment might be the normal reaction. But, before the son could protest, the father rushes him and throws his arms around him and kisses him—despite the fact that there remains the scent of pigs. Remember, the father was “filled with compassion.” That’s the key. Compassion—true compassion—receives and embraces anyone who humbly comes.

This is the nature of grace—that God watches and longs for His creation to return so that He can embrace them and be a Father to all who come. God does not hold people off at “arm’s length” until they clean themselves up from all their past and remove the scent of pigs from their lives. God rushes to receive any who come to Him by faith and He casts His mantle upon them, blesses and kisses them with His unending love, and celebrates with great joy when one sinner returns. Jesus touched the lepers and ate with sinners and spoke with prostitutes and walked with the rabble of this world. He never cast them off because He knew that the only means of expressing God’s love is to embrace—going so far as to stretch His own arms on the cross and cry out, “Father, forgive them.”

The cleaning up will happen. The longer the son remains in the presence of his father the less he will carry the scent of pigs. The longer we remain in the company of God, living in humble faithfulness, the more we lose the odor of this world, eventually to never again radiate with the scent of pigs.

Rev. Michael Duncan

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wake Up from the Dream

I woke up early one morning with a startling dream still hanging in my head. The hazy afterimages danced through my thoughts like a parade. It all seemed so real and so intellectually sound that I began to relate the dream to my wife. The longer I talked the more awake I became. When I was fully cognizant, the dream sounded so foolish that we both simply laughed at its audacity. It’s wonderfully amazing how the clarity of being fully awake dispels the phantasms of foolish dreams.

Do you recognize how real the things of Christ are in comparison to the things of this world? In relationship to the eternal, this world is nothing more than hazy, dream-like thoughts that will be dispelled when we are fully awake. Paul told the Corinthians, “So we fix our eyes on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). Why, then, do some believers in Christ hang onto the things of this world with such tenacity? It’s as if the world, which is temporary, has more power over our thoughts than the world that is eternal—not unlike how a dream controls the thoughts of the dreamer until they are fully awake.

So what can you do?

The first thing to do is to wake up. Ephesians 5:14b, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” As long as you’re spiritually asleep, you will never have any greater awareness than a man who is stuck in a dream. It was only when I woke from my dream that I had the opportunity to increase in clarity.

The second thing to do is to draw near to Christ. “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:16). Just as I talked with my wife about my dream, and became more aware of how ludicrous the dream was, so when you speak with Christ about this world, the more you find clarity about how things really are. You need to speak to one who is fully awake to find clarity for yourself—and that is, ultimately, Christ.

The third thing to do is to live in reality rather than the dream. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above and not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2). If the greater reality is Christ and eternity then it stands to reason that the greater life is to live for Christ and that which is eternal.

How do you know the difference? It all comes back to God’s word. The Bible is God’s conversation to lead you out of the twilight of the world and into perfect clarity, and total wakefulness, in Christ.

Rev. Michael Duncan

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Two Different Laws

As I followed the Amanda Knox trial, I was captivated at the intrigue that filled her circumstances. One news commentator (And I don’t remember who it was) pointed out that if the circumstances occurred in the United States, then Ms. Knox would never have faced a trial, let alone a conviction. However, because she came up against Italian law and not U.S. law she was condemned. I don’t want to debate her guilt or innocence in this article. What I want to do is to point out a spiritual reality illustrated in her predicament.

There is a judgment that all people must face, it is the unquestioned judgment of Almighty God. God is the ultimate “Lawgiver” and has the right to bring all humanity to trial. 1 John 3:4 states, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Therefore, if everyone has sinned and sin is the violation of God’s law, then the entire world stands condemned.

What if you had the opportunity to escape such condemnation? What if, unlike Amanda Knox, you could find yourself under the authority of another law—a law that does not condemn you but provides a pardon for all sin and freedom from judgment? Is that a law you want to live under?

Romans 8:1-2 reads, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

God has provided, in Christ Jesus, an opportunity for anyone to escape the judgment that will fall upon the entire world. The Bible says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Are you holding out hope that you will be able to defend yourself before God when the time of judgment comes? Do you think you will be able to overcome the “law of sin and death” on your own? God provides you the opportunity to escape judgment and condemnation. All you must do is surrender to Jesus Christ, yield to Him and live in the law of the Spirit of life.

Amanda did not get the chance to be judged by another law. You have that chance when it comes to the judgment of God. Will you take it?

Rev. Michael Duncan

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Church, Business or Body?

It seems that there has developed an epidemic in the church, a situation that is proving to be dangerous. The epidemic is nothing less than a consumer-based conception of church attendance. This plague is fueled by a misconception of the nature and reality of the church.

The first misconception of many Christians who have grown up in this modern era of self-satisfaction is built on a cultural rather than a Biblical view. For them the church is nothing more than a service organization, a business that dispenses a spiritual product for a consumer-minded audience. They attend, looking for something to satisfy themselves, and when their satisfaction is not attained they will “shop around” for another organization that will “meet their needs.” It’s like going to McDonald’s and not being pleased with the level of service. Without any difficulty, they will seek out another fast-food source that will satisfy their demands.

Another misconception is built out of a modern idiom that states: “The church is a hospital for sinners not a hotel for saints.” This saying implies that the church is nothing more than a place for the lost, sinful world to find healing (spiritual, emotional, etc.). This is a good thought and a necessary function, but when a person is healed they have no need to remain at the hospital and leave to find more pleasant surroundings. So, though this is an understandable expression it lacks a Biblical point of view.

Both these current conceptions of the church center upon a need-based paradigm that focuses on the interests of the “client” whose only reason for coming is to satisfy their desires. Many ministries and ministers are currently functioning along that same paradigm, striving to make the church something that will keep people around, with their needs met and their self-interests fulfilled. The Apostle Paul may have experienced this same issue when he wrote to the Philippians concerning church members: “For everyone looks out for his own interests, not the interests of Christ” (Philippians 2:21).

But what does the Bible say about the church? There are many titles associated with the church, many references and images that the Word of God uses to describe the nature and function of the people of God. Words such as: Bride of Christ, House of God, Temple of the Holy Spirit, Pillar and Foundation of the Truth, Assembly of Believers, Holy City, Royal Priesthood and a host of others are used, bringing a stirring and remarkable understanding of what the church is meant to be. It is imperative for all believers to abandon the notion that the church is simply the spiritual version of a fast-food restaurant, organized to dispense a product, made to cater to the whims of personal preference. Christians must return to a Biblical understanding of what the church is and what it means to belong to the Body of Christ. “So in Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5).

The church, ultimately, must first be identified with the Lord Jesus. As Romans 12:5 states, the church must be “in Christ.” It is impossible for a lost person to be considered, even remotely, as a part of the church because they fail the first qualification: being “in Christ.” Second, the church must be united in their association with one another. The church is: “we who are many.” There is a definite reality of the church being an amalgam of personalities. Yet, the “many” form “one body.” That is, though different in personalities, the church is united in nature—forming a cohesive organism that is singularly devoted to one another. It is difficult to believe that a person is a member of the church who has no desire to be collectively associated with the rest of the body. And for believers who are associated in spirit as well as function, it is delightful to recognize them as belonging to the body even if they have no “formal” declaration of membership.

Escaping the mindset of consumerism church attendance and returning to a Biblical view of belonging to the church is the only way to stave off the epidemic that has found its way from our culture to our congregations.

Rev. Michael Duncan