Archives for July 2013

The Calf, the Caretaker, and the Prodigal Brother

Prodigal Son Parable-New Born Calf by Van Gogh 500

My retelling of Jesus’ Prodigal Son parable is told from the elder brother’s point of view. I have titled it, The Calf, the Caretaker, and the Prodigal Brother.

New Born Calf Lying on Straw by Vincent Van Gogh

 

The cattle lowed as Abihu entered the shed. Piggy was the loudest.

Abihu groaned, “You have no idea how much trouble you are.”

Piggy mooed again.

“So you don’t care. Is that it?” Abihu went to the hay bin. He filled his arms with hay, and set it in front of Piggy. “Eat your fill.”

Abihu fed the other animals, but even the older cows got less than Piggy. He had to reach deep into the bin. “The bin’s gettin’ low, Piggy!”

Abihu sat and watched the cows. He thought about where he could find more fodder. “It’s your fault,” he told Piggy. Even when the grass had begun to dry up for lack of rainfall, he had blamed it on Piggy.

Abihu liked to complain about Piggy, especially in front of his father. Secretly, however, he liked the calf. Abihu thought Piggy had been a perfect specimen from the day he was born. Now he wondered whether it had been a mistake to mention this to his father. He had hoped that his father would give him the calf. Instead, father had told Abihu to keep that same calf fattened up.

Abihu had replied, “If you plan to give the calf to the priests as a sacrifice, there’s no need to fatten him.”

“No Abihu,” said his father. “We must fatten this calf for a family celebration.”

“What celebration, father?” Inwardly, Abihu also wondered, “What family?”

His father had simply replied, “We never know when the Lord might give us cause to celebrate.”

Abihu knew that if anyone needed to celebrate, it was his father. He had been hopelessly morose ever since Matthias had left.

Abihu still resented that day. His younger brother Matthias had never done his share of the work. He’d had a wanderlust, but never had an opportunity to leave the farm until… until he arrogantly made one for himself. Unable to wait for his father to die, Matthias had brazenly demanded his full share of the inheritance! The worst part of it was that everyone knew he only wanted to spend the money on beer and whores.

Even though father must have been deeply hurt, he raised little protest. He had calculated the value of the estate, and given Matthias a bag full of silver.

Abihu’s mind briefly went back to his work. He got up and said to Piggy, “I know where I can get you some more grass.”

Abihu recalled that Piggy had been born not long after Matthias left home. He wondered what special occasion would call for the calf to be slain so that everyone could feast on his tender meat. It had better be a good one, he thought.

An entire year had passed, but his father still hadn’t slain the calf for a feast day. Abihu was most disappointed that his own birthday had passed with little notice. What did an elder son have to do to gain respect in this household? And who in his right mind fattens a calf for an entire year?

Occasionally, Abihu got a sinking feeling in his stomach when he thought about why his father might want to slay the calf. “No, never,” he thought. “That will never happen!”

Abihu realized he had said this out loud, and that he was petting Piggy’s neck. He thought, “What if my father were to see me? I’m not supposed to care about a slaughter animal, especially one that I always complain about.”

Abihu glanced at the cracks in the shed to make sure nobody was looking in. He then stepped outside.

He was surprised to see two people coming up the road toward the house. One of them was surely his father. Father’s arm was wrapped tightly around the neck of a derelict in tattered clothing. His father stopped repeatedly to hug the other man and speak to him. Again, Abihu found himself speaking out loud, “No, it can’t be!”

Abihu couldn’t retreat now. He stood by the shed as the two figures approached. As he feared, the man his father had embraced was his brother, Matthias. Even though Matthias was nothing but skin and bones, Abihu felt no pity whatsoever.

Father was ecstatic—completely oblivious to the fact that Matthias had treated him like dirt and wasted his money. He ran to Abihu and said, “What a joyous occasion this is! Your brother has returned. Aren’t you happy? Let’s slay the fatted calf and celebrate!”

Abihu began to object, “But father…”

His father read his thoughts, and interrupted him. “My son, your brother is sorry for what he did. You must forgive whatever wrong you feel he has done you.” Then, father smiled broadly and hugged both sons while proclaiming, “We’re a family again!”

Abihu looked at Matthias, who glanced down at the ground. “He should be ashamed to look at me,” he thought. Abihu wasn’t about to foolishly hug and kiss him the way his crazy father had. The quickest way to get away from his brother would be to immediately comply with his father’s wishes.

“I’ll take care of it,” was all he said as he retreated back into the barn.

Abihu peered through a crack in the wall until his father and brother had gone into the house. He turned to Piggy and said, “It’s time. This is what your life has been about all along.”

Abihu grabbed a rope and led the still-hungry calf out of the shed. He took Piggy to a big tree. He had previously rehearsed in his mind how he would hoist the calf’s rear end into the air to drain the blood from his neck.

After removing his knife from under his belt, he held it against Piggy’s neck. The calf stood there dumbly, looking straight ahead.

Abihu could already hear music and sounds of celebration coming from the house. He thought about the injustice. “Why should this poor, innocent calf have to die for my guilty brother? It isn’t right!”

He withdrew the knife, steered the calf toward freedom, and slapped him hard on the behind. He shooed Piggy away with loud shouting.

Abihu then headed for the road. At that moment, he had no idea where he was going. All he knew was that he had to get away from there.


My Comments on the Parable of the Prodigal Brother

This story doesn’t match some details of Jesus’ parable, but any differences are minor. In the parable, the older brother came in from the field after the celebration had already started, and the calf had already been slain.

The Hebrew name Abihu means “he is my father.” Matthias means “gift of God.” I had no other reason for choosing these names.

One thing that makes this one of the greatest stories ever is that it’s incredibly easy to identify with either brother.

In the parable, the elder brother had some friends. He was envious, and was surely tempted to party the way his brother had. So I assume that if this had been a true story, that son would have considered leaving home, at least temporarily. However, to remain faithful to the spirit of Jesus’ parable, nothing is revealed about what the older brother will do next. His walk down the road will at least give him time to think about it.

What will we do in similar situations? I hope we’ll always be willing to forgive, and to join in God’s celebration.


How to Respond to Haters as a Christian

Anger_by_Dosso_Dossi

Since all Christians are called to be God’s witnesses at all times, we must know how to respond to haters when they question or ridicule us for our beliefs. Christians are being marginalized and viewed as extremists on many important social and political issues simply because we believe in the Bible and accept its teachings. As America is increasingly becoming less Christian, more people are becoming openly anti-Christian.

None of us likes to be despised or rejected for our beliefs. Still, we must not compromise on biblical truth, nor neglect to tell people about our Lord and Savior.

The Tussle by Dosso Dossi

(This is not how to handle conflicts).

Since God calls us to be His witnesses, we can’t simply go into defensive mode and ignore those who disagree with us. Instead, we all must know how to respond to haters when they question us and ridicule us for what we believe.

I will explain in this post how we can often avoid being attacked in the first place. I’ll also tell you what kind of people we can safely ignore; and how we can quickly defuse tense situations. The information in this post can not only help you on the Internet and social media, but also when talking with people face-to-face.

Though it’s unfortunate that Christians are becoming a persecuted minority in the West, there’s a silver lining when unbelievers go on the offensive. They give us the opportunity to show Christ’s love by responding with compassion and kindness. Even while they accuse us of being intolerant, they show by their words and actions who are the real haters.

Paul’s admonishment to Timothy describes the attitude we should display toward all people:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth…
2 Timothy 2:24-25

I’ve come up with four steps which cover both keeping the peace by avoiding arguments, and dealing with any conflict that may occur.

1. Try Not to Provoke People

Even if you only intend to address other Christians, you should assume that non-Christians will also be reading or watching your public posts in forums such as Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, and YouTube.

Many Christians don’t seem to appreciate the fact that Jesus called us to be peacemakers (Mt. 5:9). Peace must begin on a personal level, in our hearts and in our relationships (Jas. 4:1). Paul wrote, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Rom. 12:18).

In the interests of keeping the peace, I would suggest that we shouldn’t write or link to something that might appear to stereotype, disrespect, or show intolerance toward homosexuals, liberals, Muslims, or any other group of people. We need to be sensitive toward all unbelievers. We don’t know what bad experiences they may have had with Christians in the past. Don’t add to the perception they may have of Christians as judgmental people who don’t have the love of God in us.

We should also be careful when mentioning controversial topics such as:

  • Hell (an inflammatory topic, no pun intended)
  • Young-earth creationism (especially if you believe in this)
  • Evolution (if you don’t believe in this)
  • America having been a “Christian nation”
  • Christian dominion, or taking back America for Christ
  • Other religions
  • Feminism (whichever side you’re on)
  • Politics

I’m only suggesting that we be careful, not that we refuse to discuss these topics. People on the other side of the issues, even if they’re mistaken, feel as strongly as we do. We can’t lead people to Christ by offending them in matters that aren’t directly related to the cross of Christ. I explained the need to not abandon the offense of the gospel in How to Witness Without Compromise.

2. Don’t Take Offenses Personally

If you’ve done your best not to offend people, but someone still reacts in a discourteous manner, don’t get upset. The person probably has nothing against you, even if appears that way. Think about it…

  • Do you stereotype and hate people such as gays or Muslims?
  • Do you want anyone to be arrested, enslaved, or killed because of their group identity?
  • Do you want to subjugate women and make them obey men?
  • Are you anti-science?
  • Do you think the government should enforce Old Testament criminal laws in our time?
    You surely don’t support any despicable position such as the ones above. They’re based on extreme examples and outdated stereotypes. The demagogues who spread hatred depend on caricatures like these to dehumanize and demonize us.
    To be fair, there are also Christians, as well as people with large Christian audiences who spread hatred. Please keep your distance from them. Guard your heart (Prov. 4:23).
    If you find it difficult to care about some people because of their beliefs or practices, repent and ask God to change your heart (Mt. 6:15). It’s not our job to judge people who don’t know Christ (1 Cor. 5:12-13).
    Every Bible-believing Christian accepts some truths that are not politically correct. For example, we confess that whatever the Bible calls sin is sin; that Christ is the only way to God; and that unbelievers will face an eternity apart from God. Even though this isn’t what everyone wants to hear, it doesn’t mean we “hate” anyone.
    Some people will be offended by any Christian who upholds the Bible’s teachings, worships God, and isn’t ashamed to discuss their faith. So, again, try not to take it personally.

3. Assess Who You’re Dealing With

Before you can know how to respond to criticism, you should try to assess what kind of person you’re dealing with. There are two kinds of people who may go on the offensive in this way. The first are people who may be having a bad day, or may have misunderstood you. Generally, we should try to engage these people in conversation because they’re “real” people.

The Princess and the Trolls

The second type of person is what’s known on the Internet as a “troll.” A troll is often an anonymous individual who, in this case, may only want to criticize Christians, the Bible, and God Himself. Trolls may pretend that they want to better understand us. In reality, they only want to provoke us, twist our words, ignore our best points, discredit us, change the topic as they please, make their own points, waste our time, and slander us. That’s their idea of fun, but I’m sure it’s not yours.

The Princess and the Trolls by John Bauer

That’s how Satan works, but we’ll succeed as Christ’s witnesses by doing the opposite.

Atheists can often be seen trolling the Internet and social media. However, anyone who has a problem with Christianity could be a troll. Even a fellow Christian may act like a troll if they have doctrinal differences, and only want to attack your beliefs.

Again, try to find out as quickly as possible what kind of person you’re dealing with. Non-trolls may appear to be trolls when you first meet them, and vice versa. Even so, if the person’s first remark appears trollish, you may want to proceed directly to “B” below. This will depend on your available time, your priorities, and your mood or temperament.

A. Ease the Tension

Don’t assume that everyone who appears to be a hater is actually a troll. If you’re uncertain, the Bible gives us a way to quickly defuse a tense situation. It works better and quicker than any medicine.

I must warn you that this will seldom be easy. For me, this can easily be the last idea that comes to mind unless I make a deliberate effort to remember this verse:

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

A gentle answer is effective because it disarms the antagonist. It confounds them when you don’t respond to their harsh words with harsh words of your own.

Here’s a word picture to help you remember this. Imagine that someone is trying to take you on an up escalator. In this case, up is not the way to heaven! It’s the way to escalated anger, tensions, and stress.

Troll on an escalator

Troll on Escalator

If you reply to a rude person with harsh words, you’ll join them on their “up escalator.” But if you respond with gentle words, you’ll deescalate the situation. In effect, you’ll be inviting them to join you on the “down escalator.”

The best way I’ve found to give a gentle answer is to assume that the other person has somehow misunderstood me. Even though this may feel like lying, how can we be certain that we weren’t misunderstood? Let’s try not to assume the worst about other people.

The method of responding with a gentle answer almost always works. However, if the other person still wants to be argumentative, go to “B”. Otherwise, proceed to #4.

B. Don’t Respond to Trolls

If another person is being disrespectful and only trying to goad you, don’t bother responding any further. Nearly everyone will understand, and anyone who supports a troll may well be like-minded.

You’ll be following the standard rules of “netiquette,” which say the best way to deal with trolls is to not feed them. Proverbs 26:4 also tells us, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him.”

Instead of going away quietly, the troll may accuse you of being unable to defend yourself. Be confident in who you are, and don’t take the bait.

4. Follow Up As You’re Able

If you defused the situation by responding with a gentle answer (“A” above), you’re now in a position to engage in a meaningful, productive conversation. The purpose of this blog post has been to get you to this point so that you know how to respond to haters.

I can’t advise you on what to say next since that would depend on the situation. From my experience, however, a web link to a sensitively written article or blog post can speak volumes and save me the time I might have spent trying to convey the same message.

Perhaps you could write one or more articles yourself to explain the issues that you feel most strongly about. Be sure to tactfully address a broad audience, not only the people who already agree with you. You can post that article to your blog if you have one, or submit it to an article directory.

Non-fiction writing is a discipline that forces us to do research, think carefully, and clarify our thoughts about issues. This can benefit you, not only your readers.

Closing Thoughts

When someone offends you, a Christian response almost certainly won’t come easily. As I’ve explained, your best choice will be either to ignore the offense or to respond with a gentle answer. The sin nature doesn’t want to do either. Therefore, unless you have saintly conversation skills, you should probably take a few moments to relax and think before saying anything. Submit to God; ask Him for wisdom; and He will help you with the situation.

It may seem like I oversimplified the situation by giving you only two possible ways to respond. However, the “gentle” response allows for an infinite number of options. Do you have any suggestions for how to respond gently? Feel free to comment and/or share this post.

All My Prayers Are Answered… #JustNotNow

 

Prayer warrior

Whatever you may be praying for, please read this if you need to believe your prayers are answered, even if you haven’t yet seen any outward signs of it.

Finances are a major source of stress for many people in this economy. As someone who is trying to start my own business, I know it can require a long stretch of spending money while seeing little or no income. I was thinking about this while spending money at the grocery store a few days ago.

Prayer is the language by lel4nd on Flickr

I’m working to build a writing ministry, and trusting that one day, God will grant me a sustainable income through it. My heart’s desire is that God will bless many people through His revelation and my feeble attempts to express it in writing.

We often become frustrated when God doesn’t choose to answer our prayers right away. God wants to fill our lives with blessings, but He often asks that we be patient. We must wait to receive His gifts in His timing.

These thoughts inspired me to create a new Twitter hashtag, #JNN or #JustNotNow. In case you didn’t know, a hashtag is a word or phrase prefixed with the hash ( # ) symbol.

After I got home, I tweeted about #JNN. Two people (whom I’m calling “tweeter1” and “tweeter2”) replied. Here’s the dialog:

@Genesis_Guy I believe God will give me nearly everything I ask of Him, #JNN. (Just not now). What do you think of my new hashtag? :)
@Genesis_Guy If I was a parent, I think I’d tell my kid, “Sure thing, #JNN.” (Just not now). This sounds better than “No,” and teaches patience. :)
@Genesis_Guy What’s going on in your life #JNN?
@Genesis_Guy I have a really successful business #JNN. 😀
@tweeter1: @Genesis_Guy God responds three ways in scripture to request(prayers) yes, no, and #JNN..it’s ok to just say no…yes…or JNN
@Genesis_Guy Too often, I think we may take the #JNN as if it’s a “no” – due to our own impatience.
@tweeter1: @Genesis_Guy very true…look at Sarah and Abraham!..to give one example. Many others I am sure!
@tweeter2: @Genesis_Guy I also think we don’t get what we desire because we never ask
@Genesis_Guy: @tweeter2 Also, we don’t always ask persistently. I know I don’t.

I feel it’s important that we take seriously God’s common response: “Yes, I plan to do that for you, but not now.” We take it seriously by expectantly clinging to that hope; not forgetting His promise; and continuing to remind the Lord of our need.

We should never take God’s “Not now” answer as a “No.” As “tweeter1” pointed out, Abraham and Sarah become frustrated by God’s delay. They decided to “help” God answer their prayers.

Parents, especially fathers, represent God to their children in many ways. A “not now” answer can help children understand that God will often delay His answers to their prayers. In the process, parents must not provoke a child to anger or exasperation (Eph. 6:4, Col. 3:21). They should also keep in mind that a “not now” answer is a kind of promise that should be fulfilled if possible.

Whether a parent is intentional about it or not, the “not now” answer is part of every human life. It teaches children to be patient, to accept a temporary state of “poverty” (such as not getting ice cream), and to respect the parents’ wisdom and wishes. Similarly, it’s for our own good that God often delays His answers to our prayers.

What have you asked God for in the past? You might think He answered “No” to some of your prayers. Did He really, or did you just lose patience? If you’re not sure, why not go to God in prayer and ask Him again? In the comments below, feel free to respond to my question, “What’s going on in your life, #JustNotNow?”

May you always live in faith, and never lose hope.

Note: My Twitter name is now @Genesis_Guy. At the time this discussion occurred, the same account went by the name @RTGbook. By the way, I no longer suggest the use of JNN as a hashtag since nobody would understand it.