Silhouettes of the Heavenly Father (Part 3)

How should God’s mercy and love impact your prayer life?

Earlier this week I started a three-part mini-series of posts exploring the intersection of our views of God as our Heavenly Father and our practice of prayer. This is important because the things we think about God (either good or bad, biblical or unbiblical, consistent or inconsistent) have a huge impact on how we approach Him in prayer. This is the third and final post in that series.

One of the most descriptive passages of God in the New Testament is the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. This parable is more than a story, it’s a picture of the Heavenly Father.

A loving father of two sons experienced great heartbreak. The youngest son demanded his inheritance early so that he could waste it all on himself. After his money was gone, the younger son got a job feeding pig and dreamed about the comforts of home.

Every day, the loving father would go out to the road and look for his son’s return. As soon as he saw him, the father ran to meet his son, greeted him, and embraced him. Instead of punishing the son, he called for a celebration.

This vivid parable teaches us that the Heavenly Father is loving and merciful which means He will forgive you. Love includes a group of virtues like benevolence, graciousness, mercy, and persistence. When we read that “God is love” in 1 John 4:7, it means that He is all of those things.

Jesus included this character quality in His model prayer along with the holiness and trustworthiness of the Heavenly Father. In Matthew 6:12, Jesus urges us to call out to God to “forgive us our debts.”

Here are three tips for receiving God’s forgives through prayer

1. Cultivate a healthy view of your sin. We have a tendency to go to extremes in our understanding of sin. On one hand, we can blow sin out of proportion, making it impossible to to deal with. On the other hand, we can minimize sin to such an extent that it doesn’t really matter.

2. Take Him at His Word – He will forgive. 1 John 1:9 states that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (NASB)” This is a promise.

3. Confess your sin audibly if possible, to make it more definite. We can pray silently to ourselves or out loud for others to hear. Sometimes, praying out loud makes our prayer more focused and more definite.

The Heavenly Father is loving and merciful which means He will forgive you We can receive that forgiveness and make it our own through prayer. Thanks for join for this three-part mini-series on the intersection of our views of God as our Heavenly Father and our practice of prayer. Feel free to add one of your own tips for receiving God’s forgiveness in prayer in the comment section below.

Are You a Stray Sheep?

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Yesterday, I published a post about how to tell the difference between a good shepherd-leader in the church and bad-shepherd. You can check that our here.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus described the final judgment as a time when the sheep are separated from the goats. The sheep are those whose faith in Jesus Christ produced a caring lifestyle. They are welcomed into God’s presence for eternity. The goats are those whose lack of faith produced the opposite – a selfish and uncaring lifestyle. Eternal punishment in the final destination for goats.

Once someone becomes a sheep in God’s flock they cannot be lost, but they can stray. In John 10, Jesus shared the parable of the Good Shepherd. The parable applications for shepherds, but it also has applications for sheep. How can you tell if you are stray sheep according to this chapter?

1. How familiar are you with God’s voice?

God’s sheep know Him by His voice and follow accordingly (v. 27). Today, God speaks primarily through the Bible. If you don’t read the Bible or you rarely read the Bible it could mean you are not hearing from God.

2. Do you follow God’s direction?

Shepherds lead their sheep from the sheepfold to the pasture and back again. This journey requires guidance and direction. If you haven’t changed the direction of your life in a while at God’s request it could mean you are not following very closely.

3. Do you “flock” with other sheep?

Sheep are herd animals by nature. They gather in groups for encouragement, companionship, and protection. It’s no surprise that Jesus told His followers to gather believers together in churches for the same reasons. If you are meeting with Gospel-centered church on a regular it could mean you are trouble.

Jesus gave us the parable of the Good Shepherd to help us find our place in His flock. If you have truly become one of His sheep you can never go back, but you can miss out on His best for you. God loves you too much to let you stray.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Good Shepherd, Bad Shepherd

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If you’ve seen any number of cop movies you’ve inevitably seen the good cop/bad cop routine. The “bad cop” takes an aggressive and accusatory tone with the subject while the “good cop” positions him or herself more sympathetically. The subject is encouraged to cooperate with the “good cop” either out of trust or out of fear of the “bad cop.”

Jesus introduces a similar dichotomy during the Jewish Feast of Hanukkah with a parable about the Good Shepherd in John 10. “Shepherd” is a common designation for a leader in the Bible. Hannukkah celebrates a transition in leadership when true leaders took back control from their corrupt counterparts.

How can you tell the difference between a good shepherd and a bad shepherd in the church today?

Good shepherds act like the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Jesus has a personal attachment to his sheep (v. 2-4). He loves you and knows your name. Like the prophet Jeremiah, God knew you before He formed you in your mother’s womb;  He consecrated you before you were born (Jeremiah 1:5). God knew Peter’s name and changed it to fits His work in Peter’s life (John 1:29). Your name is so important to God that it must be written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life in order to get into heaven. Revelation 20:15 says, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (NASB).

Jesus also provides for his sheep. The 23rd Psalm can be applied to our physical as well as our spiritual needs. He provides spiritual nutrition and refreshment. He provides rest and restores our souls. He also provides a path to righteousness when we don’t know the way.

The Good Shepherd, Jesus, also He protects his sheep. He laid down His life for his sheep. He laid down His life, so He could take it up again. (v. 17). He laid down his life voluntarily, it was not taken (v. 18).

Bad shepherds act like greedy charlatans.

Bad shepherds frighten the sheep. Bad shepherds are called all kinds of things in this passage: thieves and robbers, strangers, and hired hands. Instead of coming to the sheep through the doorway, they climb over the wall and scare the sheep.

Fear is one of the tools of a bad shepherd. They use their power to threaten or intimidate their followers. They scare people with stories of what may or may not happen. Fear is a good motivator, but a bad master.

Bad shepherds also feed themselves first. Bad shepherds only care about themselves. They steal or hurt the sheep for their own benefit. As far as I know, Simon Sinek is not a believer, but he has discovered the reverse of this biblical principle in his book, Leaders Eat Last.

Bad shepherds flee at the first sign of danger. The hired hand runs away when he sees the wolf coming because he doesn’t care about the sheep (v. 12-13), In the end, bad shepherds are really imposter and charlatans and it’s the onset of hard times that reveals them for who they really are.

According to Jesus, you can tell the difference between a good shepherd and a bad shepherd by the way they take care of the sheep.

I want to encourage you to only follow godly leaders in the Church. There are all kinds of influences and influencers in the local church and the church-at-large – some good and some not-so-good.  bad. Don’t be cynical, just be discerning.

I want also want you to evaluate your leadership in light of Christ’s example. You may not have an official position of leadership, but you have influence over others. Allow God to lead you so that you can lead others in His church.

The parable of the Good Shepherd is about sheep as well as shepherds. Check back tomorrow for a post about how you can tell if you are a sheep that has gone astray.