Sunday, July 21 2024 - 5:25 AM
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Coming to the Father

Several years ago, Marine Major Brian Dennis befriended a dog during his patrols in Iraq. The dog, whom he named Nubs, had been purposefully abused in hopes of making him into a tough fighting dog. His ears had been cut off (hence the name) and at one point, Brian found him bleeding from a wound where he had been attacked and stabbed with a screwdriver. Brian treated these wounds and cared for the dog as best as he could. Then his unit was moved…70 miles away.

Miraculously, in 18-degree weather Nubs tracked his friend and arrived at the new camp looking like he’d been through a war zone. Which, of course, he had. But just days later, Brian was told it was against regulations to keep the dog in the camp and was told to get rid of it or the dog would be shot. At that point, a plan began to formulate in Brian’s head. Was there any way to get this dog out of Iraq and home with him to San Diego? He emailed his friends, who emailed their friends, who emailed theirs… and within weeks, $3,000 had been raised to cover the expenses that such a trip would entail.

The Good Life

Brian said, “Nubs is going to America. This dog has been through a lifetime of fighting, war abuse, and tracked our team over 70 miles of harsh desert. He’s going to live the good life now.”

Nubs arrived in San Diego in February and was cared for by friends until Brian’s deployment ended. When he arrived in March, Brian was greeted at Camp Pendleton by Nubs who drenched his face with doggie kisses and said hello with excited whimpers.

When first reading this story, it appears to be a wonderful story of redemption and salvation. Because he was loved by this man, Nubs was taken from hell on earth and moved to heaven on earth. His new owner spent tons of money and made huge sacrifices to save him from the life he was living. A nice allegory of Christian theology.

Or is it?

In this story, Nubs (playing the part of each of us) is loved by Brian (standing in for Christ). Brian loves him and cares for him when he’s hurt. Our parallels are all right so far. But then the problems begin because Brian leaves. And Nubs has to run after Brian. He has to track him down and find him. He has to bring himself to Brian.

Satan’s Lie

I truly believe that this is a lie that Satan desperately wants us to believe. That we must bring ourselves to God. That we have to get it together and travel down some rough and rocky road to be welcomed by the Father. That our salvation is dependent on whether we’ve worked hard enough on ourselves, whether we’ve become enough like him.

Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t some work to be done in our hearts and minds. But all that comes after. All of that comes after the saving. The saving is first. Righteousness is given to us at the start when we allow ourselves to be captured by the Father who is, in fact, running after us.

The Prodigal Son

The story of the prodigal son is told in Luke 15. It begins with a father agreeing to give his youngest son his inheritance. The son then takes off to a distant land, spends the money on wild living, and ends up slaving away on a pig farm just to survive. Finally, he comes to his senses and realizes even his father’s workers have it better. So he turns toward home.

He had finally seen his father clearly. If he had decided to return without truly understanding the father, he would have said to himself, “Look at what I’ve done. I don’t dare show up until I can earn all this money back to show I’m a man that can do it, and I can’t let him see how much shame I have for what I’ve done.” But that would be a self-righteous son who felt he had to prove himself to his father. (The term “Righteousness by Works” is just a nice way to say self-righteousness). But this son understood his father’s heart and so takes a step toward the 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.”

Who ran? Did the son have to run? No, because the father was already in mid-stride. Had the father moved away? Found nice property in Palm Springs? Become hard to find or hidden? No. In fact, I’m sure the father had left the lights on every night since the son left in case he should decide to take that first step in the dark hours of the night. The father is not hard to find. He does not put himself away from us. The father simply waits for us to turn his way. And once we have turned, he knows he can begin to run… throw his arms around us, kiss us, and call for a celebration.

The “Good Kid”

Then the story turns to the part that always makes me squirm a bit in my seat: The reaction of the older brother. Why do I squirm? Because I am him. I’m the goodie-goodie who stayed home. Who didn’t run off and get all wild and crazy. I’m the good kid. And yet, how does the “good kid” react?

“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!”  (Luke 15:28-30).

Do you hear the judgment in his voice? “My father doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s lost his mind.” We see that though the older son had stayed with the father—had breakfast each morning with the Father, worked next to him in the fields, spent evenings in front of the fire together—he still did not know his father. He does not know that the actions and the hard work are nothing to the father when compared with love. He does not understand that though the Father is thankful for all the son has done, it is irrelevant without love.

The Right Perspective

And I guess that’s my fear for us. That we will miss it and that we will fail to see the deception that Satan is hoping we’ll buy into. That we will fail to see the Father as he really is. Also, that we will continue to try to work to earn his favor—not realizing all we have to do is turn to him, and we will see that we already have it.

The Father answers his angry son and says, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours” (Luke 15:31).

It’s like he’s saying: “Don’t you understand? Everything I have is already yours. But you’ve been so focused on the work you’re doing for me that you’ve missed that you’re already swimming in my favor and my acceptance and my grace.”

I want for us to see the Father for who he truly is. I want us to understand that it’s not righteousness by faith versus righteousness by works. There is no competition here. There is only truth and error.

Nubs was saved. There is no question about that. He was saved from hell and brought to live with his loving master. That is what our Master and Savior has set out for us as well. We thank God that we don’t have to come to Him wounded across a freezing wasteland. All we have to do is turn to Him and accept His love and His righteousness by faith.

If you liked this, you might also like Let Go and Trust God | God’s Generous Return Policy 

Joelle Yamada writes from Arizona.

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About Joelle Yamada

Joelle Yamada

write from the Pacific Southwest.

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