Wrecked by the Prodigal God

[This may be the longest post in the history of my blogging]

This is the best visual I’ve ever seen on this story. It’s a painting by Rembrandt.

Prodigal: one who spends lavishly or recklessly; wastefully extravagant.

[PART 1]
If you’ve never met the prodigal within, you will. I promise. It’s lurking within and it is bound to spend everything recklessly… Maybe not money, but it will spend nonetheless. I’ve recently been introduced to the impostor within. Well, that’s not completely true. There was no formal introduction.

The down-side to the surfacing of the prodigal within is that you will find much has been spent lavishly, recklessly, and wastefully extravagantly. You won’t even really know you’ve been had until you’re spent.

The up-side of becoming acquainted with the prodigal within is that we soon find out how much of a ragamuffin we really are. The prodigal, in a round-about way, leads us to the hard reality of who we really are when we’re left standing in nothing but rags and… Well, just me. It’s probably the most difficult thing to face. Atleast, it has been for me. Because there’s no one to blame… but yourself. And you can’t run from yourself.

Some of us have already met the prodigal within. All of us know someone who has. And still, some of us vehemently deny the reality of any sort of prodigal within because we’ve had fairly good behavior our entire lives. Yep, that’s me. The problem with the ‘prodigal in hiding’ is that only a prodigal can be the recipient of the prodigal God who recklessly lavishes His grace, mercy, and love. And He spends it on prodigals. It seems so irrational and wasteful. Not only does He spend it (all of it) on us who have done nothing to deserve it; but on the contrary, we’ve done everything to NOT deserve it. He has every right to withhold His prodigal-ness from me.

God is a prodigal God. He spends Himself for us… Lavishly, recklessly, wastefully, extravagantly. I thought I knew what that meant. I could write papers on it, explain it, be thankful for it. But I didn’t ‘get it’. The prodigal within has been in hiding my entire life. Only recently has the prodigal in me come face to face with the prodigal God. And it’s mind-blowing. It’s unexplainable, really. Grace has to be experienced at a time when it’s most needed in order to understand it. I’m in the grace process as I begin the broken journey of knowing my prodigal God.

[PART 2]
Today I had an experience that meant more to me now than it ever could have before. I’ve encountered the prodigal Father today. I’m recording it for my own benefit of remembrance, but you’re welcome to come into the living room of my heart and hear about it…

I had just completed one of the most difficult experiences of my life (reference back to my recent informal introduction to the former prodigal in hiding). I won’t get into the details of the trip itself. It was just hard, draining, exhausting, and closing a chapter of my life that I thought would be much, much longer and productive. Anyhow, I was with my dad in the airport preparing for a very, very long trip back home. I was trying to hold it all together. I really just wanted to go crawl into a hole and hide there for a while until life felt better. You know how exhaustion causes you to feel irate and angry? I hit that wall.

We went to the ticket counter to collect our tickets… Tickets that put us on separate rows in between people on either side for the 14 hour flight. Dread. I was less than polite with the ticket lady. I gave her every reason to put me in the worst seat on the plane. Immediately, the ticket lady picked up the phone and talked for about 5 minutes. During those minutes, all the events of the past week raced through my mind. I had been pushing non-stop to ‘right my wrongs’ for days. I was totally spent, emotionally and physically. I had just closed the door on what was behind and trying to turn my mind toward what is ahead. Still looking for that switch in my brain.

Then the lady at the counter tells us there has been a ‘flight interruption’… But that it’s ok because it gets us home faster and she bumped us up to “Prestige Class” (first class) on the 14 hour flight. I felt like the president of Korean Airlines had just asked her to give the best seat to the most undeserving ragamuffin that came to the counter. Now, I had never sat anywhere except “Economy Class” (which sounds much better than ‘cheap seats’ for low income ragamuffins) on a plane (and I’ve been on over 70 flights). I had no idea what went on up ahead in the royal first class. I had walked by them before… On the mile trek to the back of the plane). Looked like something only royalty could afford or deserve. I just knew I never had the resources to find out. So this lady upgrades us but apologizes that she cannot get us into the Prestige lounge area for VIP’s. That was fine with me. I was just glad to be allowed a seat on the plane to get home with my dad.

We get to the gate and glance up to the glassed-in lounge up above… You know, where all the important and rich travelers get to relax between flights. I had never been there. I held the ticket in my hand, looked up to the VIP lounge, and decided this may be my only chance to ‘get in’ and see what it’s like for myself, even though the lady told me it wouldn’t get us in. We go up to the 2nd level and walk in as if we belonged there (prodigals are really good at pretending), though anyone with half a brain would know that ragamuffin-dressed travelers don’t belong there with the fancy-dressed business class. I gave my ticket to the security lady guarding the lounge. Somehow, our names were on her list and she waved us in! Once we got in, there’s no way we could act like we belonged there… We knew we didn’t. None of them looked like us… After all, it was free for us, a gift we didn’t even ask for. We were greeted with a wonderful buffet of snacks and endless supplies of drinks and specialty coffee drinks (my personal favorite). We spent 4 hours there… Enjoying the plush life of first class travelers. I’ve never experienced this. I won’t even write about how the “bidet” toilet attacked me (I just wanted to know what the buttons did… Piece of advice, don’t stand in front of it while you push buttons). What surprised me was how everyone there seemed to feel at home… As if they deserved to be there, had the right to be there, and owned the place. Well, they did, I guess, because they paid big money for it. It was no big deal for them. I felt like someone important paid my ticket to get in… Because there’s no way I could have gotten in on my own accord.

For the flight, we were allowed to board first in a separate line from economy passengers with a blue carpet. We were treated like royalty. The seats are unbelievably plush. Ridiculous, really. Wastefully extravagant. We had much more room than we needed with seats that fully reclined into beds. We had about 3 feet in front of us for space, as opposed to the three inches I had always experienced. With grace comes untouched freedom! The stewardess came around and greeted us as if we owned them for the 14 hour flight. They got on their knees to give us a menu and take our orders. Not just a meal… A seven course meal with fancy stuff I’d never seen! Everything served with white cloth napkins, stainless steel, and fancy plates. They brought us a 7 course meal and endless drinks over the following hour and a half. Fresh seafood and sushi from the coast of South Korea! Expensive cheeses that I’ve never bought because it was ‘for the rich’. It felt like a dream! I couldn’t believe it was real! We didn’t pay for any of this, nor did we ask for it! The feeling of ‘shock’ doesn’t even come close to what I felt when I actually experienced all I had been missing on every flight before! I had no idea how wastefully extravagant first class was! Insane.

I noticed something significant during those hours of luxury first class flight. My dad and I were the only ones excited about being there! We were shocked at the luxury! Why? Because we’d never experienced it! No one else smiled when they were served magnificent and exquisite food! No one seemed the least bit impressed at the royal treatment! Mind you, on the morning flight, in economy, we received a hot dog for breakfast. And last week, the steward came around and asked rudely, “What ‘chu wanna drink?” as if I was inconveniencing him.

So here’s what I learned…
In regard to experiencing authentic grace and reckless blessing by the prodigal God… I had no clue what it was like! Never before could I appreciate it for the immense value. So I guess, in a cliché kind of way, the gift of a $9000 first class seat (as opposed to a $1600 cheap seat) represents the position the Father bestows upon the returning prodigal. Because only in THAT seat can you receive (with joy) all that the prodigal Father anxiously waits to pour upon His own. He is the prodigal Father who loves to be reckless in pouring His endless supply of grace (undeserved favor) upon us… Extravagant with his blessings when we’ve done everything to NOT deserve it… And pouring Himself out to meet us where we are… One prodigal child coming face to face with one prodigal Father.

I am overwhelmed by the endless waves of grace crashing over me, sweeping me further and deeper into His heart in ways I’d never known before. For that 14 hour flight in first class, He was just giving me a taste of His prodigal-ness… Just a taste of how the returning prodigal felt when the Father literally ran to him, embraced him, kissed him, and called for (seemingly) wasteful extravagant gifts of royalty to be lavished on his son JUST because he was still the beloved son.

I’ve recently read The Prodigal God by Keller. I highly recommend it!

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Out and About.

I’m currently out of the country. Well, I guess that depends on what country you live in. I’m out of my home country.

Thank you to all who have loved me through this journey of grace.

I will be saying goodbye to (what has been my life and future in) Thailand this week.

I don’t know what’s next, but I know God is in it with me. He is holding me so tight; I know He won’t let me go. It’s certainly not my grip on Him that keeps me in the race, but rather, His strong yet tender grip on me.

I’m thinking back to a journal entry last year. You can view it HERE

This is exactly where I find myself again. At a loss for words. Just knowing I am broken… and hoping with all that is within me that these broken places can be used to allow the Light within to burst forth with more power and glory… somehow… someday.

In the meantime, in the words of Audrey Assad,

“I empty out the pieces
And I put them where they go…

But where do they go?
Where do they go?
Does anything in me know?
Where do they go?”

New thought from Psalm 139

“17How precious and weighty also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
18If I could count them, they would be more in number than the sand. When I awoke, [could I count to the end] I would still be with You.”

I’ve always thought these verses were so amazing. Every time I heard a speaker mention these words, it was to remind us of how often God thinks of us. Very true. But tonight it hit me on a different side of my heart I guess.

I imagined me sitting alone on a seashore on some deserted island (hence feeling alone I suppose), scooping up a handful of white sand and watching it slowly fall through my fingers. I figured there were atleast one million grains of sand in my hands. Then my eyes scanned around me, beside me, down the breadth of the shore on my right, then down the breadth of the shore to my left.

This isn’t just a nice little bedtime reminder that God has a few thoughts toward us. We’re talking millions of millions…. No, wait… billions of billions. That many thoughts that God has toward me. And I know that He knows everything about me; Nothing is hidden from His sight. Every good and bad word I’ve spoken, thought I’ve had, action and behavior… everything about me!

That’s really amazing… it really is.

But it hit me a different way tonight. It became all the more amazing to me. You know why? Because, if it were even possible for me to count all the grains of sand on that deserted island I imagined myself sitting on… after the months and years of counting… knowing that each one represented His thoughts about and toward me… knowing that He knows all about my weaknesses, frailties, failures, screw ups, and the like… the amazingly miraculous thing is that when I’m done counting them all, He is STILL with me.

He didn’t walk away. Even after knowing everything about me. He’s still here with me. That’s truly precious and weighty, as the Psalmist writes. His love never fails, even when we’ve given Him every reason to turn and walk away.

Hear a sweet song about this HERE

Mistaken Identity.

Last week I came to a realization of how I’ve been living in a vortex of confusion regarding my own identity. Not that I have it all figured out (not in the least), but atleast its floated to the surface.

I was listening to a sermon on youtube by Henri Nourwen about “Being the Beloved”. It’s all about identity. That man has been anointed with the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so I listen.

We often believe that we are:
1) What we do
2) What we have
3) What others say we are

You can’t get around it. Atleast, I can’t. For as long as I can remember, my identity has been wrapped up in ‘The Calling’. It’s like, if I didn’t have that, I wasn’t me.

God loves me too much to let me remain in that vortex of confusion. He loves me too much to let me keep finding my value in what I do or my identity in a vocation… or even a calling. He loves me too much to remain confused about who I am. And He’s the least bit hesitant about quaking my world so all the lies will fall off me like leaves falling off a tree in autumn.

Jesus had a radical experience at His baptism. I’m trying to place myself in this experience… what if, as a young adult, the Spirit descended (literally) upon me in the form of a white dove… if I could see the heavens opened revealing the eternal Divine behind them… if I could see the dove swoop down in bodily form… hear the feathers wisp above me… feel it gently land on my shoulder? And what if I could hear the voice of my Father tell me exactly who I am by thundering mightily, “This is my daughter, whom I love, with her I am well pleased”?

And what if all this happened before I did anything for the Father? Before I proved my love for him… or that I even belonged to Him? What if it had everything to do with who I was (based on his declaration and pleasure) and nothing at all to do with anything I could do to earn it? Just as he determined my skin to be white, my eyes to be green, my hair to be blonde… just because it pleased Him… He determined me to be His.

Jesus.. then he was ‘led’ into the desert. It wasn’t his choice. He may not have even known where he was going. I know I’ve been led to a place I had no idea what awaited me there… The trial, attack, struggle for survival, and temptation as never before experienced and in fact, could not even be fathomed?

He was tempted in the same way we are. The temptation struck at the very core of who he was, tempting him to believe the same things as we are:

-We are what we do… “Go ahead… Do something… Turn these stones to bread.”
-We are what we have… “Just kneel before me. I’ll give you the world as your own possession and then you’ll be somebody.”
-We are what others say of us… “Jump from the temple and survive. Everyone will see it, take notice of you, and speak well of you. Then you’ll be somebody.”

Tempted to find his identity in something other than what the Father spoke over him. Just like me.

When I feel like I’ve lost it all,
will I still believe who He says I am?
When I fail and cannot do the very thing I’ve found my identity in,
will I still believe who He says I am?
When others speak evil about me and stop speaking well of me,
will I still believe who He says I am?

I have to. For I’m finding that I can’t find who I am in what I do, what I have, or the way people have spoken well of me before.

I have a blog?

Wow. My life has been such a whirlwind that I have totally forgotten I have a blog.

Life transitions. Hardly ever something we expect. Certainly something I never expect. I find myself in a place I’ve never been before. A place where I realize my total and utter dependence upon the mercy (not getting what I deserve), grace (getting what I don’t deserve), and covenant loving kindness of the Lord. I’m a wretch with it, but I’m a damned wretch without it.

Honestly, I never liked the passage where God told Paul that His grace was sufficient for him. I never understood it because I’ve never been so dependent upon it. I mean, there were times where I thought I was. But I guess when you’re broken enough from the depths of your being over your sin and the sin of others… well, there’s no where else to go but to fall onto the rock of His grace and be shattered.

God promises to save those who are crushed in spirit. It’s the same word used in Isaiah 53 where God was pleased to have Jesus crushed for us. The word provides a picture of something being pulverized… ground to a powder. Not just broken. Utterly destroyed. Crushed back to the dust we were created from.

God makes beautiful things out of dust. He’s the only One who can. I’ve never felt so much like dust.