Don’t Judge the Prodigal – You Don’t Know Where He has Been

barrelContinued from here.

As God revealed this version of the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard to me, I thought about the parallels in this story to the Prodigal Son. I heard a great sermon on that parable in which the pastor said, “Don’t judge the prodigal because you don’t know where he’s been.” The workers who had been in the fields all day assumed that the time that James was not in the field was spent doing something more pleasant, such as playing video games or sleeping in. However, James would have done anything to have been in that field working all day. Those workers had no idea what James’ day had actually been like. They were correct that James didn’t deserve the denarius, and James fully agreed. The difference is that the unmerited favor of God’s grace elicited thanksgiving from James – who suffered more – but grumbling from the other workers – who suffered less.

Whenever I hear someone say he wants to be treated as he deserves, I respond that I am immensely grateful that God DOES NOT treat me like I deserve. I relate much more to James than I do to the other workers because I know how hard my life journey has been. I know how much I suffered as I tried to make my own way while others labored under the protection of their heavenly Father. No one is more aware than I am of how far I fall short and how undeserving I am of the grace that God has given me … and I am so immensely grateful for that grace that I could never earn or attain on my own.

PRAISE GOD for His “unfairness.” THANK GOD that “he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10). PRAISE GOD that He is generous … that He sees the pain we suffer outside his vineyard … and that He loves us enough to keep coming back and looking for us, inviting us to join Him in his vineyard of grace.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace wearing a barrel. Courtesy Bitmoji.]


The Landowner’s “Unfairness”

thank_you1Continued from here.

James was unable to find any more work so late in the day, and he faced the reality that he would likely have to bury his sister in the morning. He no longer had the will to go on and decided that if she was going to die, then he would join her. He had nothing left to live for. At 4:45 p.m., he headed back to the marketplace looking for the drug dealer. He planned to offer his body in payment for enough drugs to take the lives of both his sister and himself. Whether they went to heaven or hell, they would go together.

The drug dealer agreed to the terms and began to lead James to a secluded area for his “payment.” At that moment, the landowner’s bus pulled up, and the landowner invited James, along with others in the area, to come work in his vineyard. Although James knew that one hour’s work would not be enough, something inside told him to go with the landowner, so he did. For one glorious hour, he focused on the work and drove all other thoughts out of his mind. The time passed too quickly, and then the foreman called him over, along with the 5:00 p.m crew, to receive his wages.

When the foreman placed a denarius into James’ hand, he thought it was a mistake and tried to return the money. However, the foreman assured him there was no mistake: the landowner had instructed him to pay James a denarius for a job well done. James dropped to his knees and sobbed, praising God for saving not only his sister’s life but his as well. He knew he didn’t deserve a denarius. James was so overcome with joy and astonishment and was too busy thanking and praising God to notice the grumblings of the other workers as they judged James as unworthy of receiving the denarius. If he had heard their complaints, James would have fully agreed with them: the denarius was his solely because of grace.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace flat on her face at someone’s feet saying, “Thank you!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]


What the 5:00 p.m. Worker Did while the Others Labored

helpContinued from here.

James tripled-checked his alarm clock to make sure it was set so he could be the first to arrive in the marketplace in the morning. He was unable to sleep because of his sister’s persistent coughing. He did everything he could to help her breathe and finally fell asleep at 3:00 a.m. next to his sister. He mother awoke at 3:30 a.m. and saw her children sleeping peacefully together. She decided her son needed his rest and turned off the alarm clock.

James awoke to sunlight flooding the room as terror swept over him. “No! No! No!” he screamed as he saw how pale his sister looked as she coughed and slept. She wouldn’t survive another night without the antibiotics, but how could he afford them now?

He ran to the marketplace, but the place for the day laborers was empty. He heard that the landowner had needed more workers and had come at 9:00 a.m. looking for more, but James had just missed the bus. James held back tears and pushed back the panic, determined to figure out some way to earn a denarius by evening. He went store to store and door to door, begging for any type of job – no matter how small – and did several short, unpleasant odd jobs for half what they were worth, from unclogging toilets to scooping manure out of a barn. Around 11:30 a.m., he returned to the day laborers’ spot at the marketplace and saw others milling about, hoping for a half-day job.

A man rolled up his hotdog stand, and the day laborers formed a line to purchase lunch. James had not eaten in two days and was tempted to use the little money he had earned to buy himself a modest lunch. But what if that would have been the exact amount needed to pay for the antibiotics by the end of the day? To avoid the temptation, he left the marketplace to look for more work and never saw or heard the landowner’s bus drive up looking for more workers at noon.

By 2:30 p.m., James had earned a little more cash, but it was far from enough, and he was growing desperate. He returned to the marketplace, hoping for even a few hours’ work, and sat among others waiting for the same thing. A drug dealer sat beside him and offered to sell him drugs to ease his pain. James declined, telling him he didn’t need drugs – he needed money for antibiotics for his dying sister. The drug dealer offered to sell him enough drugs to put his sister out of her misery so she wouldn’t have to suffer. In return, he wanted no money but rather to use James as a prostitute. James stormed off and again looked for more work. He never saw or heard the landowner’s bus drive up looking for more workers at 3:00 p.m.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sinking in quicksand and yelling, “Help!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Perspective of a 5:00 p.m. Worker

life_is_hardContinued from here.

The parable of the Workers in the Vineyard is unpopular because we identify with the early morning workers. Why should they get paid the same amount as the 5:00 p.m. workers who only put in one hour? Let’s take a look at the story from the perspective of James, a 5:00 p.m. worker.

At age 15, James’ life had been hard. His mother was mentally ill, and he never knew which version of her would walk through the door. Some days, she would have irrational rages and present a physical threat. Other days, she was so disoriented that she didn’t know who he was. But once a week or so, the mother who loved him would surface, and she was exceedingly kind. James frequently thought it would be easier for his mother always to behave as a monster so he could hate her. Her shifting personas was very disorienting.

James’ father was the only one who could “manage” his mother. His parents had known each other since they were children, so his father always knew the right things to say to calm her. His father was a hard worker but uneducated, so he didn’t make much money, and the family lived paycheck to paycheck. That paycheck ended a year ago when his father was tragically killed by faulty equipment at his job, and the employer accused his father of negligence to avoid having to pay for his wrongful death. Thus, James had to drop out of school at age 14 and go to work as a day laborer, where his large body could pass for age 16. He would go to the marketplace where other day laborers congregated and seek employment by the day.

The one bright spot in James’ life was his eight-year-old sister, but she had become ill. She coughed constantly, and James worried when she did not recover after weeks of rest. He scraped together enough cash to pay for a doctor’s visit and lost a day of work taking her to the appointment. The doctor diagnosed her with pneumonia and said she needed to start antibiotics immediately, or she would die. Unfortunately, the doctor was out of free samples, but he wrote a prescription that would cost one denarius to fill. While walking her home from the doctor’s office, James ran into another day laborer who told him of a rumor that a landowner was hiring day laborers for one denarius, so be sure to arrive in the marketplace in the morning before daybreak. James saw this opportunity as an answer to his prayers.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace reclining on a couch with her hand to her head saying, “Life is Hard.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

judgeMy pastor recently gave a sermon on an unpopular parable: “The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.” Here’s the parable from Matt. 20:1-16:

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Seems pretty unfair, right? Praise God for his “unfairness!”

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace scowling from a judge’s chair above the word, “Judging.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Reflections about the Grace

godspeedContinued from here.

While I have paid heavy costs over the past year for following God, His grace has abounded. The day after I was fired, I learned that I was inheriting a sum that came to exactly one year of net pay plus 10% for the tithe. I called this my divine severance package.

I was only unemployed for two months, and I had my initial interview the next business day after being fired. I had never interviewed for a ministry position before and did not know what to expect, but God guided me through the process. I wasn’t sure how to address questions about my former employer, but those questions never arose. My current employer is aware of my having been fired from my previous position and does not appear to care at all. When looking for grace, one cannot find someone with more grace in their hearts than people who invest their time in extending grace to those in prison.

I have never enjoyed a position as much as I do leading this prison ministry. Most of my professional experience has been in Corporate America, where I was trying to make rich people richer. As the executive director for a statewide Christian prison ministry, my focus is leading others – volunteers and inmates alike – to God. I have the blessing of working with people who love God and others – and particularly inmates. We spur one another on toward growing in our faith. We open our meetings with prayers and devotions. I cannot put into words the blessing of spending my days at work glorifying God and accomplishing His purposes.

One aspect of professional ministry I did not anticipate is the level of spiritual warfare I would have to deal with. Pray daily for everyone you know in professional ministry because you have no idea what they go through on a daily basis. Tasks that were easy for decades in Corporate America suddenly became onerous, not because I suddenly “forgot” how to do them but because the enemy had no reason to interfere with me making rich people richer. God’s grace even covers this dynamic because every day, I must lean on Him and trust Him to move the ongoing stream of barriers that arise so frequently that it’s almost comical.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling by the word, “Godspeed.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]