This life changing look at the parable of the father with two sons, one a prodigal, the other faithful but bitter, will change your understanding of that story forever and your relationship with the Father who loves you and welcomes you home, especially if you have struggled with believing you could ever deserve His love. John Sheasby had to overcome a lifetime of shame and doubt because he believed his best would never be good enough for God. God finally broke through, and Sheasby realized he had always had a room in the Father s house and a seat at the table. God was just waiting for him to sit down.
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About the Author
John Sheasby is an evangelist and teacher from South Africa who now resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he leads Liberated Living Ministries. He is an in-demand international speaker and a frequent guest at Michael W. Smith events throughout the year. Ken Gire is the author of more than 20 books, including the bestsellers The Divine Embrace and Intimate Moments with the Savior. A graduate of Texas Christian University and Dallas Theological Seminary, he lives in Colorado.
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At Home in the Father's House
Where You Belong as a Child of the King
By John Sheasby, Ken Gire
Worthy Publishing GroupCopyright © 2016 John Sheasby
All rights reserved.
THE MOTIVATION OF THE SERVANT
Jesus answered them, "Most assuredly, I say to you ... a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."
Daddy was a preacher. A blowtorch of a preacher. He made Jonathan Edwards' sermon on the fires of hell — "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" — sound like a feel-good, flannel-board talk for preschoolers.
Two of his sermons, in particular, singed my childhood conscience.
One of them was on the Second Coming. He taught that between the travail leading up to the Second Coming and the tribulation following it came the Rapture — a doctrine that said the faithful would be caught up in the air to meet Christ, missing the wrath of God that would be poured out on all the earth. Seething cauldrons of wrath. Bowl after bowl of it. Spilling onto everyone and everything. Burning away flesh from bones. Reducing entire cities to cinders.
Not exactly the type of message that endears an eleven-year-old to religion.
The Rapture was the way out of all that. And so, as a kid not wanting to end up like the unsuspecting residents of Pompeii when Vesuvius erupted — belching plumes of smoke into the air, burying the city in ash, and sealing it over with a burning lake of lava — I prayed my knees off. Cringing before the Almighty. Confessing every sin, however small. Vowing to do better the next day. Doing everything I could to prove myself faithful.
After all, who wants to be left behind?
Those were the thoughts I carried with me day after day, a backpack of guilt and condemnation slumping the narrow shoulders of my spirit. On one such day, I took the short, four-hundred-yard walk from Orange Grove Primary School to my home on Settlers Way in Greenfields, a suburb of East London, South Africa. I loved coming home. Loved swinging open the front door. Loved the smells coming from the kitchen, a simmering pot of something on the stove. Loved the sight of my parents, the sound of their voices as they greeted me. It was such a secure feeling.
On this particular day, though, when I called to my parents, announcing that I was home, no one answered. The house was empty and still. I darted from room to room. My dad wasn't there. My mom wasn't there. My sisters weren't there.
Suddenly it hit me. Jesus had returned. Had caught up all the faithful to meet him in the air. And I ...
I had been left behind.
Flashbacks of unfaithfulness flickered before my eyes — sins of commission and omission, things I had done, things I had left un done. The sassy words I had said. The loose change I hadn't put in the offering plate, spending it instead on penny candy. The unread Bible. The unsaid prayers. Nickel and dime stuff, mostly. But, as I suddenly realized, it added up.
As it turned out, this kid was cut a break. Jesus hadn't returned. I wasn't left behind to burn on the barbecue of the Antichrist. Eventually I found my family, ate my dinner, and, as I lay me down to sleep ... prayed the Lord my soul to keep ... I peacefully rested the night away.
Only to wake up the next morning to face the fear of another day.
The other sermon that struck fear into me was one that Daddy preached periodically to those slouching from grace in the back pews. Their nodding attention was wakened with a raised voice and the stern words from Hebrews: "Holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (12:14). He would pause, peer across the pews to the back row, then punctuate the verse with a sweeping gesture, a glare so intense it could peel paint off a wall, and the words: "No one!"
"No one" would echo within me, reverberating through the rest of the week. No one. And that means you, little boy! You, there, the preacher's kid. Who do you think you're fooling? You're not holy. Not even close. So what makes you think you'll see the Lord?
Being eleven years old, on the cusp of puberty, is reason enough for a kid to feel insecure. Add in the threat of losing your salvation, and it's not only a recipe for a fearful childhood but a failed adulthood.
So what was a kid to do?
I walked the aisle, of course, altar call after altar call, to wash away my sins. Like the instructions "Wash, rinse, repeat" on a bottle of shampoo, the instructions for my spiritual cleansing were "Repent, recommit, repeat." I wanted to be holy, to be ready, to be sure. But I never really knew I was saved, was never sure of it, never secure in it.
If the Sunday sermons didn't do me in, the weekday incriminations did. "You're not acting like a Christian," Daddy would tell me when I stepped out of line. Whenever I stepped out of line. I put a freshly sharpened number 2 pencil to my life and did the math. If my assurance of salvation was based on my acting like a Christian — which I interpreted as living an exemplary life of holiness — I had no hope, either of being saved or of seeing the Lord.
An eleven-year-old without hope is a sadness waiting to mature into a fullgrown tragedy. Where there should have been joy, there was fear. Where there should have been affirmation, there was condemnation. Where there should have been a free spirit, full of play and flights of imagination, there was an enslaved spirit, full of guilt and feelings of insecurity.
How about your childhood?
"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" is a lie we were all told in our youth. The truth is we get over the sticks and stones and hurt bones; we don't get over the words. We don't get over the barrage of criticisms and sarcasms. We don't get over the verbal jabs, the put-downs, the smack-downs. And we don't get over the Sunday sermons or the weekday incriminations.
The hurt that those words inflict stays with us. My hurt did. I suspect yours did too. The fears, the insecurities, the guilt, the shame, the hopelessness — they're all still with us. They followed us from our childhoods into our adulthoods. Into our families. Into our Christian lives. Into our ministries.
A life full of insecurity, fear, and condemnation.
And I was only eleven.
Along the way to growing up, I passed through a fearful adolescence into a fearful adulthood, entered a fearful academic institution and ended up in a fearful ministerial vocation. No matter how old I got, where I went, what I did, fear was my constant traveling companion. I never felt good enough, obedient enough, holy enough. Never felt I did enough. And never felt that what I had done was good enough.
In 1978, after reflecting on a seminar I'd attended in Johannesburg taught by Arthur Glasser of Fuller Theological Seminary, I felt enough was enough. That is when I first considered resigning from pastoral ministry. We got an invitation to pastor a church in Zimbabwe, though, and I thought perhaps the change might be good for me, for Bev, for our kids.
I was wrong. After three years there, I still had the same fears, the same insecurities, the same feelings of shame. Frustrated, I admitted my defeat and decided to resign.
As if I needed further evidence of my failure, the treasurer of our church came by one day and told me he wasn't getting anything from my ministry. Later that day, my fiercest critic hand delivered a scathing letter, telling me off and informing me that my ministry was over. The next day, an elder and his wife came to me, distraught, telling me that they were no longer being fed through my ministry.
After that, I couldn't have stayed if I'd wanted to.
In September of 1981, I resigned. Bev knew I was unhappy and had been for years; she knew it was the right decision. But she was afraid. Afraid for our future, mostly, fearing how we would provide for our two children — Tracy, who was six, and Brad, who was now four.
When I told the church, I'm certain a few were relieved. Far more were resentful. Resigning at a time when many were leaving Zimbabwe because of the political upheaval, I was looked at as a captain who was deserting a sinking ship, leaving the men, women, and children on board to fend for themselves in the shark-infested waters.
In December of 1981, Bev, the kids, and I moved back to South Africa and went to live with her parents. January 2, 1982, I drove our car, pulling a small travel trailer, to the mouth of the Igoda River, where I parked under a spreading mimosa tree. From the trailer I could see the river meandering to the ocean. And from there I began a month-long struggle to find out who I was, who God was, and what the Christian life was really about.
At the time I was reading the story of Jacob, with whom I identified, hoping against hope that Igoda would be my Bethel, the place of my encounter with God and the place of my transformation. God knows I needed it. On the sixth of January, I read Isaiah 65:13–14: "My servants will eat ... my servants will drink ... my servants will rejoice ... My servants will sing out of the joy of their hearts" (NIV).
After reading those words, I wrote in my journal, Lord, at this moment I have no real joy in Jesus. The song is missing in my life! O Lord, restore to me the joy of my salvation.
Along with my journal, I had brought my Bible, some reference books, and a commentary by Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones titled Romans: The Sons of God. I read, I studied, I prayed, I fasted. I would wake up at seven a.m., have some tea, read my devotions, then take a break and jog for three miles along the beach. I would come back drenched in sweat, eager to grab hold of the biblical text and wrestle with it the way Jacob wrestled with the angel.
The first week was an exhausting ordeal. A lot of confusion and crying during the day. A lot of tossing and turning at night. There were moments I felt I was getting somewhere, only to be thrown on the ground, my face in the dirt, pinned by some muscular moment from my past, its mouth pressed to my ear, taunting me with guilt and shame.
And then, after dislocating a hip in my theology, God brought a dawn of understanding. It came while I was studying John, chapter 8: "A slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever" (v. 35).
In that passage Jesus was speaking to new believers, showing them the difference between their relationship to God under the old covenant and under the new. Under the old covenant they were subject to the Law of Moses, which was designed to reveal their inability to be approved by God through their works. Because of the new covenant, they had a new position, Jesus said, and, by implication, a new motivation. The old position — that of a servant — was an inferior relationship. The new position — that of a son — was superior in every way, including motivation.
The motivation of a son serving his father was love, while the motivation of a slave serving his master was fear. The consequences of failing to do his master's will motivated the servant to fulfill that will meticulously. As a result, he lived in a constant state of insecurity, fearing the hour of reckoning, dreading his master would find fault with him and punish him.
Regardless, though, of whether the servant succeeded at his tasks or failed at them, at the end of the day he had to leave the master's house and retreat to the servants' quarters. No matter how well he performed his duties, at the end of the day it was his status, not his service, that distinguished him, determining not only where he stayed but how long he stayed there.
In contrast to the tenuous nature of the servant-master relationship, Jesus declared that a son "abides forever." He had a room in his father's house, a place at his table, a share in his business. His position was permanent. His place was secure. And he never had to fear losing any of those things, because all of those things were his by virtue of his birth. His status distinguished him, determining not only how near he was to the father but how dear he was to the father's heart.
* * *
Jesus came to liberate us, not only from our enslavement to sin but also from our employment as servants, loosing us from servitude under a covenant of law and leading us to freedom under a covenant of grace: "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed" ( John 8:36).
If Jesus came to free us from fear-motivated servitude and bring us into the enjoyment of our position as sons, why do so many believers still see themselves as servants, living in fear of displeasing God and incurring his wrath?
The answer to that question came to me at Igoda, from a passage in Romans 8:15: "For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.'"
The verse puzzled me. Why did Paul use the word "again"? I wondered. I thought a long time about it, and then the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to all that one little word meant. Think with me through Paul's logic.
When Paul became a Christian, the law of the Spirit did not condemn him for his failure to measure up. "There is therefore now no condemnation," he declared (8:1). Instead of pointing out Paul's sin, the Spirit pointed him to his "life in Christ Jesus" (8:2). The Holy Spirit imparts life to us in place of the death that comes through the Mosaic Law. He will never minister law and condemnation to us because that always produces death: "The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6).
Instead, the Spirit's ministry to the believer is to show us the fullness of life that is ours in Christ Jesus. This revelation acts as a mirror in which we see the ways that we fall short of the life in Jesus. Then, as we come into agreement with that, he guides us out of the bondage of sin and into the freedom of life in Christ Jesus.
However, anyone who has been a Christian for any time at all will have discovered that there are people who desire to put you back under law. Some do this intentionally, as did the false teachers that Paul talked about in Galatians 3:1. Others do this unintentionally. It is possible that the person who prayed with you when you received Jesus as Savior encouraged you with words such as these: "Now that you are a Christian, you need to read the Bible, pray, attend church, witness, and give." That is not bad advice because those are ways in which your new life should be expressed. The problem is that "you need" is often taken as "you must." When that happens, we are brought into bondage ... "again." We receive a "spirit of bondage" the moment we go back to trying to gain God's approval on the basis of what we do rather than on the basis of who we are. That well-intentioned advice, given to us when we first became believers and later turned into a commandment, leads to motivation by fear.
Paul said, "You did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear." We can correctly translate the last phrase as "leading to fear." What fear was Paul talking about? The fear of punishment that comes with not keeping the law.
"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18). John makes a bold statement: "There is no fear in love." Why is that? "Because," he said, "fear involves torment" — or, more accurately, fear involves punishment. The only one who fears is the one who doesn't understand the finished work of Jesus in paying the penalty of our sin. That means that since he took the punishment for our sin, we need not fear being punished.
"Perfect love casts out fear." The presence of fear indicates the absence of love. Therefore, if I have fear, that is the surest sign that I do not understand my position as a son and am still in bondage to performance by trying to please God and be accepted through my obedience to commandments. Fear enters when I feel that I am not reaching the acceptable standard of performance and consequently might be punished.
As an heir of the new covenant, you are no longer a servant. You are a son or a daughter, the apple of your Father's eye. As his child, you have nothing to fear. The punishment for your shortcomings and your sins, for your frailties and your failures, for the bad things you have done and for the good things you have left undone — all those debts were paid for at the cross.
Though our heavenly Father will not punish us, he will discipline us. His discipline is proof of his love for us and not to be feared by us, for it is redemptive, not punitive. It does not look back in anger at what we have done but looks forward in anticipation of who we will become.
Which is like Jesus.
As the writer to the Hebrews said:
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
"My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the LORD loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives."
Excerpted from At Home in the Father's House by John Sheasby, Ken Gire. Copyright © 2016 John Sheasby. Excerpted by permission of Worthy Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
PART I The Servant,
1.The Motivation of the Servant,
2.The Mind-Set of the Servant — Task Oriented,
3.The Mind-Set of the Servant — Reward Focused,
4.The Living Quarters of the Servant,
PART II The Father,
5.The Picture of the Father,
6.The Acceptance of the Father,
7.The Joy of the Father,
PART III The Son,
8.The Position of the Son,
9.The Possessions of the Son,
PART IV The Father's House,
10. The Journey to the Father's House,