What About the Prodigal Son’s Brother?

By Allen J. Huth, President of the Ezra Project |

Luke 15 contains three famous parables. The parable of a lost sheep, a
lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son, but the theme for this chapter
is the heart of Jesus for lost people. Certainly, He loves the ninety-nine
sheep, but He loves the lost one, and He goes and seeks after him. Aren’t you
glad He loves you and He seeks after you even when you are lost? Verse 7, “Just
so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner
who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no
repentance.”
Jesus still cares
about lost sheep. 

His next illustration is about the woman
with the ten coins. She loses one coin and she searches her whole house for
that coin. It is the same principle as the lost sheep. Verse 10, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy
before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Jesus still
cares about lost coins.

Then, to deepen the illustration even more,
He follows with the parable of the prodigal son. How many of us have been given
much by God but squandered it in reckless living? How many of us have gone the
way of the world and not the way of the Word? How many of us have hit rock
bottom because of our reckless lives? 

How many of us have come to our senses and
understand we were given everything by our Father and we need to go and seek
His forgiveness. How many of us have recognized, like the prodigal son, “Father, I have sinned
against heaven and before you”
(verse 18)? How many of us realize we
are not worthy to be called His sons?

But how many of us realize that our Father
is waiting for us?  Verse 20, “And he arose and came to his father. But
while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion,
and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”
Yes, the father
was standing out there longing for his son, just like God longs for us.

That prodigal son confessed his sin before
his father like we have done. And look at the father’s response. Verses 22-24: 

“Bring quickly the best robe, and put
it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his
feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat
and celebrate.For
this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” And
they began to celebrate.

Yes, there is joy in heaven over one lost sheep,
one lost coin, one lost son! 

The prodigal son is a great story, but I
always had trouble with it. I share from my personal Bible journal back in
1996, when I was forty-one years old:

The
prodigal son. I’ve always had a hard time with this parable. I understand the
forgiveness of the young son. Praise God, it may not matter how low we fall,
God has a deeper forgiveness. But the older son gets the short-end of the deal.
It almost appears that sinful, fun living is worth a try because the
celebration is greater upon the return. The older son stayed the course,
righteous living, and that life is not celebrated. Yes, the end result is
the same, heaven, but why not recognize those who long to live right all the days
of their lives? 

Do you feel that way about this parable? Oh
yes, we are thankful God forgives all of us prodigal sons. But what about the
point I made in my journal? 

Perhaps you have stayed the course. You did
not run off and squander what God has blessed you with in reckless living. You
don’t have one of those down and out testimonies that become glorious. You
might even consider yourself to be a boring, straight-arrow Christian. You
lived a life like the older son in this parable. 

I feel this way because I have been a
Christian since I was fifteen. I tried hard to live a righteous life for the
Lord. I have not squandered what God has blessed me with by reckless living.
You may feel the same, so may we gain great understanding from this parable
today. 

What the father said to the older son,
Jesus says to us today. “Son, you
are always with me, and all that is mine is yours”
(verse 31). That is
the balance of the blessing. It’s been true in my life. I hope it’s been true
in yours. 

As we stay the course, as we walk the path
God has set before us, He is always with us. He has been with me my whole
journey and everything that is His is mine. Yes, yes, yes, I have
experienced the blessings of God in my life. I didn’t need to turn south to
find north again. 

For those who have, praise God, He restores us as prodigal sons. 
For those of us who lived the life as the older brother, praise God, for all He
has is ours. We have enjoyed the fatted calf over a lifetime! To God be the
glory for the lessons of life in Luke 15. 

PRAYER

Thank You, Lord, that You go after the lost sheep, the lost coin, and
the prodigal son. Thank You that You are a God of restoration. But also thank
You for offering to the rest of us everything You have. Thank You that You are
always with us. Thank You for celebrating both the prodigal son and the
older son. In Jesus’ name, amen.


Truth

By Allen J. Huth, President of the Ezra Project |

We may all remember
the slogan from the movie A Few Good Men (Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise), “You
can’t handle the truth”.
In our world today, I might change that to “You
can’t find the truth!”

We are in an era
where truth is hard to find. Whether you care more to watch Fox News of CNN,
truth on major news networks is hard to find. We just went through one of the
most astounding Supreme Court Justice confirmations in our history, and
regardless of what side you were on, truth was hard to find, affirm, or agree
on.

I am not sure where
truth went, or when it left the public discourse, but for me it’s hard to find
in our day and age. It may be just as evasive in business, in school, in
relationships, or even in church. Where has truth gone? Can we find it again?

And, how are we doing with truth as Christians? For
years, George Barna has studied our faith. 
He has reported findings like:

  • Being a Christian, or associating with the Christian
    faith is not as attractive to Americans as it used to be. Besides the battering
    Christianity takes in the media, another reason is it is relatively rare to
    find someone who exemplifies the Christian faith. 

    • Most self-identified Christians are comfortable with
      the idea that the Bible and the sacred books from non-Christian religions all
      teach the same truths and principles.
    • Faith in America is now individual and customized.
      We are comfortable with the idea of being spiritual as opposed to devoutly
      Christian.We become our own unchallenged spiritual authorities,
      defining truth and reality as we see fit. 
      Only 34% of adults believe in absolute moral truth.

The Study continues, and I believe the reason for all
the above trends:

  • Biblical literacy is neither a current reality nor a
    goal in the United States. Little, if any, progress is being made toward
    assisting people to become more Biblically literate

    • Bible reading has become the religious equivalent of
      sound-bite journalism. When people read from the Bible they typically open it,
      read a brief passage without much regard for its context…if they are
      comfortable with it, they accept it, otherwise they deem it interesting but
      irrelevant to their life, and move on. 
    • Only about half of self-identified Christians firmly
      believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches.

The Study concludes, “We
cannot really call the faith of American Christians a Bible-base
faith…Christians today have accepted and combined so many ideas from other
worldviews and religions that they have created their own faith system.”

I believe the challenges facing our nation and our
churches, are directly related to our neglect of God’s Word.  Hosea 4:1, “Hear the word of the LORD, You
children of Israel, for the LORD brings a charge against the inhabitants of the
land:  There is no truth or mercy or
knowledge of God in the land.”
 Verse
6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.  Because you have rejected knowledge…Because
you have forgotten the law of your God.”

This is not the first time in history this has been
the case.  Go with me back to a day when
the children of Israel had lost their way. They too stopped reading and obeying
the truth of God’s Word. 

In 2 Kings 22:1, “Josiah was eight years old when
he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem.”
  They were rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem,
when in verse 8, the high priest “found the Book of the Law in the house of
the LORD."
 And they read it
before King Josiah.

Continuing in 2 Kings 22:11-13, “Now it happened,
when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his
clothes….Go, inquire of the LORD for me, for the people and for all Judah,
concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath
of the LORD that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the
words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us."

And in verses 16-20,
"Thus says the LORD: 'Behold, I will bring calamity on this place and on
its inhabitants -- all the words of the book which the king of Judah has
read--because they have forsaken Me and burned incense to other gods, that they
might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands. Therefore My wrath
shall be aroused against this place and shall not be quenched. But as for the
king of Judah (Josiah), who sent you to inquire of the LORD, in this manner you
shall speak to him, 'Thus says the LORD God of Israel: "Concerning the
words which you have heard--because your heart was tender, and you humbled
yourself before the LORD when you heard what I spoke against this place and
against its inhabitants, that they would become a desolation and a curse, and
you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you," says the
LORD. Surely, therefore, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be
gathered to your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the calamity
which I will bring on this place.”

Chapter 23:3 is Josiah’s response to hearing God’s
Word: “Then the king stood by a pillar and made a covenant before the LORD,
to follow the LORD and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His
statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this
covenant that were written in this book. And all the people took a stand for
the covenant.”

I believe God is searching for Josiahs today, those
who will read their Bibles and obey what it says. It was no easier for Josiah
in his day than it will be for us. He faced tremendous obstacles like we do,
but he heard the Word of God, sold out to God and His Word, and decided to act
accordingly, regardless of the price. 

We will return to the text later in this article to
see what bold steps he took to obey God’s Word, but take a moment to see what
the Bible says about truth. Where do we find truth, what happens when we are
truth-less, and what happens when we are truthful? Rather than my words, here
are 12 verses on truth:

Where is truth found?

John 14:6

Jesus said to
him, “I am the way, and the truth,
and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. The truth is found in Jesus.

John 16:13

When the Spirit of
truth comes, he will guide you
into all the truth, for he will
not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he
will declare to you the things that are to come. The truth is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

John 17:17

Sanctify them in
the truth; your word is truth. The truth is found in God’s Word
.

When we ignore Jesus,
we ignore truth. When we deny the Holy Spirit, we deny truth, and when we avoid
God’s Word, we avoid truth. No wonder the world is truth-less today!

The next 3 verses are
on truthlessness:

Romans 2:8

but for those who
are self-seeking and do not obey the truth,
but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.

Isaiah 59:14

Justice is turned
back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares...

Jeremiah 7:28

And you shall say
to them, ‘This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept
discipline; truth has perished;
it is cut off from their lips.

Truthlessness
results in wrath, fury, unrighteousness, and lies.

The next 3 verses are
on the pursuit of truth:

2 Corinthians 4:2

But we have
renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to
tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to
everyone's conscience in the sight of God.

Psalm 86:11

Teach me your
way, O Lord, that I may walk in
your truth; unite my heart to
fear your name.

2 Timothy 2:15

Do your best to
present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be
ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

To pursue truth, we need to renounce disgraceful, underhanded ways, refuse to tamper with God’s Word, seek the Lord, present ourselves to him, and rightly handle the Word of truth

The last 3 are on the benefits of truth:

John 8:32

and you will know
the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Psalm 51:6

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Zechariah 8:16

These are the
things that you shall do: Speak the truth
to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for
peace;

The benefits
of truth are freedom, delight, wisdom, good judgment, and peace.

Where
is the most reliable source of truth today? The Bible! What’s contained within its pages?

A.         
Basic Instructions Before Life Everyday

B.         
66 books
written by 40 authors over 1600 years. 1,189 chapters, 31,102 verses; and can
be read at pulpit speed in 72 hours.

Yet among Bible readers, the average total time per week of Bible reading
is 52 minutes, or 7.4 minutes per day. The average time in front of the
television is 3 hours! 

Yet...surveys show we don't read it! Be honest with yourself and see
where you stand when it comes to you Bible reading. Which one defines you? 1. I have not read my Bible at all since
last ________. 2. I have read my Bible some, 3-4 times a week, but not
everyday. 3. I have read my bible everyday since last
________.

The top five reasons why people don’t read the Bible:

  • I am
    overextended
  • Bad time
    management
  • My own
    laziness
  • Church-related
    activities
  • Lack of a meaningful
    plan

Why read the Bible? I have asked this question in audiences
since 2002.  Here are some of the answers
I have heard:

  • To know God better—John 5:39,
    “You search the Scriptures, for in
    them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”
  • To learn how to live like God
    wants me to live
    —the Word of God instructs us in Godly living! “0
    My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings.  Do not let them depart from your eyes; keep
    them in the midst of your heart; for they are life to those who find them, and
    health to all their flesh."
    (Proverbs 4:20-22)
  • To find answers to problems I am
    having in my life
    —the Bible addresses the problems we face in life! “The
    entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”
    (Psalm 119:130)

If you are confused about life and want real
answers, give the truth of the Word of God a chance in your life! He loves you!
He wants a truthful relationship with you and me! He has so much to show
you…and He chose to put His thoughts, His truth, His instructions to us in a
Book! 

How do you read the Bible? Research tells us you need a
plan!  Our goal at the Ezra Project is to
connect God’s people to God’s Word. We have several resources to help you stay
in God’s Word each and every day:

  • Bible
    reading journals are for purchase at www.ezraproject.net
  • Download
    the free ADDBIBLE® app from your app store and listen to an audio
    daily devotion.
  • Consider
    joining Club 365 on the ADDBIBLE® app to get all of the ADDBIBLE®
    recordings on each and every book of the Bible. Study the book you want, when
    you want.

Let’s go back to our text and see what happened
after Josiah read the Word of God and made a covenant to obey the truth what he
had heard.

He eliminated idols from the temple. (2
Kings 23:4) “And the king commanded
Hilkiah the high priest, the priests of the second order, and the doorkeepers,
to bring out of the temple of the LORD all the articles that were made for
Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them outside
Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel.”

What idols have crept into your life? Work,
entertainment, selfish ambition, sports, shopping, listening to the voices of
men rather than the voice of God? What needs to be eliminated so you can get
back to pursuing truth?

He removed the idolatrous priests. (2 Kings 23:5) “Then he removed the idolatrous priests whom the kings
of Judah had ordained to burn incense on the high places in the cities of Judah
and in the places all around Jerusalem, and those who burned incense to Baal,
to the sun, to the moon, to the constellations, and to all the host of heaven.”

Where are your eyes? Are they on the things of this world,
rather than the things of the Word? What distractions needs to be removed, so
you can clearly seek and find truth again in your life?

He destroyed
the high places, altars, wooden images, and sacred pillars to the false gods of
the neighboring nations (2 Kings 23:10-16) and he executed the false priests
(20).

What worldly
influences have infiltrated your Christian life? TV, music, movies, the
internet? What needs to be controlled, or even destroyed so you can have time
for unhurried prayer and Bible reading again?

Once all the idolatry and false gods
were destroyed, he reinstituted Passover (2 Kings 23:21-23).

What spiritual activities have you left aside? Bible
reading, prayer, Christian fellowship? What needs to be reinstituted so you can
know the truth and the truth can set you free?

What
is our challenge? Matthew 21:42, Jesus asks the chief priests and Pharisees, "Did you never read in the
Scriptures?"

Josiah
read the Word of God. He got a Biblical perspective and it changed his life!
Because he became tender and humble before God, in the midst of calamity all
around, God blessed him! 

“But as for the king of Judah (Josiah), who sent you
to inquire of the LORD, in this manner you shall speak to him, 'Thus says the
LORD God of Israel: "Concerning the words which you have heard--because
your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard
what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they would
become a desolation and a curse, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me,
I also have heard you," says the LORD. Surely, therefore, I will gather you
to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your
eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring on this place.”
(2 Kings 22:18-20)

Like Josiah, turn to the Lord with all your heart,
all your soul, and with all your might. Rediscover the truth of God’s Word! As
you read God’s Word, it will set you free! 

Will you accept the challenge to find truth? I
invite you to read with me every day. 
Will you seek and find, will you knock and see if God will open His
truth to you? 

In Josiah’s day, all the people took a stand for the
covenant.
I invite you to make a covenant before the LORD,
to follow the LORD and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His
statutes, with all your heart and all your soul, to perform the words of this
covenant that were written in this book.

You can find the truth!
You can handle the truth!

Father, thank You for Your Word. We confess
our lack of attention to Your Word. Holy Spirit bring us back to Your truth by
giving us passion for Your Word. In Jesus’ name, amen.


Esther: Strong, Prepared Risk Taker

By Allen J. Huth, President of the Ezra Project |

Risk. In Esther 5, Esther takes a risk that could have cost her life. She went unsummoned to the king, but in verse 2 it says, “she won favor in his sight”. Well, it could have gone the other way, remember. The previous queen, Vashti, acted boldly by not coming when summoned and she was dethroned and banished. Esther also was acting boldly as well, and easily could have suffered similar or even more drastic consequences. She took the risk and God allowed her to find favor with the king.

Let’s remember, too, that this is after Esther honors her word and fasts and prays for three days. I suspect during those three days, as she prayed and fasted, she tried to figure out what God would have as a course of action. Although it’s not disclosed in this chapter yet, we’re going to see that she’s going to prepare a feast for the king and for Haman. But even at the feast when the king is asking her what her request is, she doesn’t make it yet. I wonder if it’s because she doesn’t know or because she wants more time. Not sure, but we’re watching the sovereignty of God again, acting behind the scenes.

Part of the sovereignty of God is after the feast Haman takes a stroll on the way home and runs into Mordecai. And even with all the pressure that Mordecai and the Jews are under, he still does not cave in. He does not bow down to Haman. And though he had a great feast with the queen, it just enrages Haman that Mordecai, the Jew, will not bow down to him.

So he gets home. He gathers all his friends. And he is so arrogant with his wife and friends, bragging about his position in the kingdom and his promotion he’s had. And yet, with all that, he is so frustrated because of one guy, one Jew named Mordecai.

I wonder if his friends and his wife sort of had enough of this and said, “Okay, if you’re so powerful, if you’re so strong, why don’t you do something about it? Why don’t you build a gallows and hang the guy tomorrow morning?” He thinks a pretty good idea, so he has the gallows made, but he still needs permission from the king.

Now let’s think about the circumstances. Mordecai doesn’t know Haman plans to hang him. Esther doesn’t know. The king doesn’t know. Nobody knows. Again, God’s sovereignty at work in and through people and around the scenes of our lives.

There are some powerful lessons that we learn in Esther 5. Lessons we may need as challenges come our way and we’re going to need to be strong, prepared, and be able to take risks, knowing that God is working with us and for us.

Father, though I make plans, your plans are better. Thy will be done in my life. And may I find favor in your sight. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.