All or Nothing- Luke 15:11-14, 17-20, 22-24

And he said, A certain man had two sons:
And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

COMMENTARY

Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.
And not many days after the younger son wasted his substance with riotous living.
Each one of us can relate with the story of the Prodigal Son to some degree. Like the son, each of us began life with wonderful gifts from our Father. Whether we grew up in a religious home or not, our common inheritance at birth included a divine soul, the ability to feel God’s spirit in our hearts, and a desire to be connected with Him.
Like the son, though, so many of us (all of us?) undervalue the significance of such things. We take the greatest gifts that we have in life and squander them, vainly pursuing entertainment or medication in all the wrong places.

And when he had spent all, he began to be in want.
And when he came to himself, he said, How many servants of my father’s have bread enough, and I perish with hunger!

One cannot sever the soul from the body. One can try to muffle it, suppress it, and outright deny it. But it is there, and it does ache us when we fail to care for it. We cannot squander our birthright and not feel bad about it. Sooner or later, we “come to ourselves,” and realize that where once we had everything, now we have nothing.

I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
We had everything, we traded it all for nothing, and now we’ll gladly take anything. From one extreme to the next to the next, we learn to finally give proper value to that which was taken for granted. We are all in now, willing to do whatever it takes to receive whatever God is still willing to give us.

But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
And bring the fatted calf, and let us eat, and be merry
.
And then, of course, the ending which turns would-be followers into full-blown evangelists. Grace and mercy that seem ridiculously over-the-top and totally undeserved. Complete forgiveness and restoration. Not because we’ve earned it, but because God just wants to and no one can tell Him that He can’t! From everything to nothing, to all in, to even more “everything” than we had at the beginning.
This is not some pretty fairy tale that describes an unreal hypothetical. It is not a limited allegory, that will only apply to one or two of God’s most special followers. It is the story that was meant for me, and meant for you, and meant for us all.

Seeking Spiritual Witnesses- Matthew 7:7, Malachi 3:10, 1 Corinthians 14: 1 (ESV)

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.

COMMENTARY

Ask, and it shall be given you
Prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing
When it comes to spiritual witnesses, some might feel that it is inappropriate to ask for them. “Do not test the Lord” we are frequently reminded. Yes, there certainly are things that are inappropriate for us to ask, such as for God to grant our every passing fancy. But when it comes to spiritual blessings, we are not only sanctioned to pursue these, we are encouraged to!

Evolving Your Beliefs- Summary

At the outset I was concerned that this study might be taken the wrong way. I never meant to suggest that we need to “evolve our beliefs” in the sense of calling certain commandments outmoded. I never meant to suggest that we try to blur the lines or call truth relative. I absolutely maintain that there is still right and wrong, that there is still good and evil, and that God has a specific path that we need to follow.

And that’s what this study was really meant to be about: learning God’s way better, and how we block our progress when we assume that we already know it perfectly. Perhaps the most important prerequisite to being teachable, is admitting that there are things one still needs to learn.

In this study I’ve tried to show how the need for rebirth is universal, and how it is no heresy to change one’s mind on spiritual matters, when one is sincerely deepening their faith. Let’s review a few of the key points that came up along the way.

We Are All Still Learning

We examined the stories of Nicodemus and Jonah, two men that were presumably very spiritual and very sincere seekers of the truth. Yet both of them were yet lacking. If they hadn’t been, these scriptural passages wouldn’t even exist!
Jonah’s case is particularly interesting, because he has the audacity to argue with God about what is right! It seems ridiculously arrogant, to reprimand the author of rightness for not doing the right thing…yet I think more of us do this than we realize. I’ve woken up to the realization that I was so arrogant myself.
None of us thinks that we’re perfect, but we do tend to think that we know perfectly. We feel that we aren’t wrong in our convictions, only that we don’t follow through on them. While yes, we probably do know better than we behave, perhaps we should also consider that if we actually did know better, our behavior would follow suit.
John 3:3- Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God
Jonah 3:10, 4:1And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.

We Have Emotional Blockers to Our Growth

Which is worse, to admit that one was wrong, or to remain being wrong? Obviously the latter, yet I think all of us can readily recall moments where we refused to admit that we were in error, even though in our heart of hears we knew that we were.
And each of us probably knows what the root cause of our stubbornness is pride, pure and simple. The solution is also simple: to let go of that pride.
Or perhaps I should say, the solution is simple to write, not necessarily to do! Indeed, I wish to maintain utmost respect for just how difficult an undertaking it is to admit that one was wrong.
When we recognize this wall of pride in another person, or even in our own selves, we should be very sensitive about it. There could very well be a wound that is tucked behind that wall. The mind often has a very good reason for not wanting to admit its faults. Perhaps one was made to feel great shame as a child, and a part of them is afraid that confessing an error will subject them to that horrible pain once more.
Yes, one still needs to let go of their pride, one still needs to let go of misconceptions to embrace higher truth, but let us be gentle as we invite the refiner’s fire.
Isaiah 1:25- And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin.

Releasing Misconceptions is Not Letting Go of God

Many of us might be afraid to sin against the God of our childhood. We might feel that if we say we believed something incorrectly, than we are saying that all our beliefs were incorrect.
I think of the man who was blind from birth, whom Jesus sent to wash in the pool of Siloam and then received his sight. His entire perspective was literally changed in an instant! However when the Pharisees heard of it, and how the man maintained that it was Christ who had healed him, they cast him out of the synagogue. He was no longer welcome in the worship of his youth. Isn’t that what we’re afraid of as well?
It is a very understandable hesitation, but the answer to it is found in the rest of that blind man’s story.
John 9:35-38- Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?
He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?
And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.
And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.

Evolving Your Beliefs- John 6:60-61, 65-66

Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?
When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?
And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

COMMENTARY

This is an hard saying; who can hear it?
From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
We learn from this passage that Jesus lost many of his followers after teaching a controversial principle of the gospel. The offending doctrine was that of the sacrament. He had just taught the need to partake of his flesh and blood, so that his disciples could live through him.
Interestingly, the ancient Jews had been being prepared to receive this doctrine for millennia, as the consumption of sacrificial animals was a core element of temple worship. Perhaps they were too attached to this shadow of the true principle, to then accept the fully embodied version when it came to them.

No man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
One day, like these disciples, we will each realize that we have misunderstood one principle of the gospel or another. Which principle you stumble over will probably be different from the one that challenges me. Perhaps I have not correctly perceived grace, or repentance, or tithing. Perhaps you have misunderstood faith, or the Holy Spirit, or sacrifice.
Proper understanding of these, and all other principles, can only come from one source. As Jesus explained, God Himself must enlighten our minds and hearts to receive pure truth.
The question is how we will respond when that greater understanding is presented to us. Everyone thinks that they will accept truth when they find it, but it turns out that many of us are more attached to what we thought was right, than what is actually right.

Evolving Your Beliefs- Question

We come to God to be refashioned by Him. He promises us “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you” (Ezekiel 36:26). I think most of us have a pretty basic expectation of how this refashioning is going to go. He’s going to take away our craving for sin, make our hearts kinder, and give us a deeper appreciation for the sacred. And at first, this might be exactly how things proceed.

At some point, though, there usually come changes that are unexpected. You see, each of us is an imperfect mortal, and invariably have misconceptions about God. At some point He is going to try and correct those, to show us who He is more truly. Beautiful as these moments are, they can also be disconcerting. We can have strong, emotional ties to our misconceptions, and letting go of them can feel like heresy.

Even more troubling, sometimes people struggle to let go of their misconceptions of God without letting go of Him entirely. They recognize a legitimate flaw in their previous belief system, but let go of the belief instead of the flaw.

With this study I would like to explore how we can safely navigate doubt, questions, and evolving perspectives. Have you experienced any of these in your life? Did you ever find it difficult to separate misguided periphery from the actual core of the gospel? In what ways did your spiritual life change after being enlightened?

Making Time for God- Matthew 9:16-17

No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.
Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.

COMMENTARY

No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for the rent is made worse
Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out
Jesus was here describing two everyday phenomena in the ancient Jewish world. Patches of new clothing then, as now, would shrink after getting wet. Therefore, if one patched an old garment with unshrunken cloth, then after the first washing it would shrink and the original hole would be made even worse.
Also, new wine expands during the fermentation process. Bottles were made from animal skins, and old ones were not elastic enough to handle the expansion of the wine and would burst. Bottles made from new skins would be able to flex and stay preserved.
I never understood these passages until I decided to finally make time for God in my life. As I looked at my daily schedule I found that I had filled it to the brim with other things. There wasn’t any room for God. I tried to shove Him in anyway and things started to tear and burst. Important things on my to-do list were being left undone, I wasn’t maintaining a healthy balance, and my life was unsustainable.
Eventually I realized that I had get myself some new bottles. I went to my calendar and took everything out, brought it back to a clean slate. Then I added things back in one-at-a-time, this time starting with God. In the end not everything was able to get back into my schedule, some things had to be let go.
Make no mistake about it, choosing to prioritize God is going to disrupt your life. Not everything that you do now is going to carry through. But I do promise you that the change will be worth it. You will be filled with new wine and clothed in new robes, and they will feel right to you.

Sacrifice and Consecration- Acts 9:1-2, 19-22

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.

And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests
But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.

COMMENTARY

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord
But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ
Saul was a very committed, very motivated man. He seems to have been a being of great power and capability, and one that struck fear into the hearts of the saints. Indeed he had a gift, but he put it to a terrible use.
When Saul was converted, two changes occurred in him, and I think it is important to note the difference between those changes.
First, he no longer breathed out “threatening and slaughter.” Indeed, some of the most beautiful messages of love and peace come from the epistles he later wrote.

  • 1 Corinthians 13:2- If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:13- And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.


It would seem that Paul sacrificed, or forever gave up, all of his hate and violence. He did not, however, become some meek simpleton. He was still just as committed, motivated, and powerful. Therefore it would not be appropriate to say that he “sacrificed” his gifts and talents. What he did do, though, was channel them to a new purpose. He consecrated, or set apart, these skills for the building up of God’s kingdom.
Coming to God entails sacrifice and consecration. Our evil parts are given away, but the good parts are repurposed for something higher.