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South Fellowship Church

Freeway | Freedom | Luke 15:25-32 | Week 6

Over the last few weeks we’ve been living in the parable of the Prodigal Son that’s found in Luke 15.  We’re in our last message of this series that we’ve been doing.  Remember, a parable literally means ‘to throw alongside of.’  In this parable, it’s Jesus taking the story of a father and his two sons and he throws it alongside of the reality of the world we live in and the kingdom that Jesus came to inaugurate.  We said earlier that a parable presents a picture for us to climb up inside of and explore.  For us to ask questions about ourselves and about God.  It’s a way for us to ask the question are we living in the way that Jesus created us to live and designed us live? Are there maybe some things that God would press on us to say, “You’ve pictured me in one way, but I’m different than you’ve ever imagined?”

Over the last four weeks, we’ve been exploring this through the angle of the younger son.  The son who says to his father, “Give me all of my share of the inheritance, my share of your property.”  He takes it and goes away.  He blows it all in reckless living.  A few weeks ago, we talked about the younger son coming to his senses, having this ah-ha moment, realizing what he’s done, and he decides to go home.  He’s got this whole speech prepared:  Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you.  I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.  If I could just be a day-laborer in your household, take me back, please. You’ll remember, if you were here last week, that the father doesn’t just forgive, and doesn’t just welcome him home, he does so with exuberance, open arms, and with grace abundant.

Then there’s the older brother.  I don’t know about you, but the older brother reminds me a little bit of……me!  A few weeks ago, I had the chance to teach at a church in California.  I flew in Saturday to teach that evening and decided I’d fly home Monday, because I figured I could write a sermon as easily in a coffee shop on the beach as I can in my office.  Monday, I got up early and had breakfast with a friend.  Then I drove down to the coast.  I found this cool little coffee shop and for the first few hours of the morning, I was just working away, but I could almost hear the ocean calling me.  It knows my name!  I decided to walk on the beach and eat lunch down there.  Then I thought, “Well, I’ve got my running stuff in the car and it’s a beautiful day.”  So I changed and went for a long run on the beach.  I got back to where I parked and thought, “I’m already all sweaty.  I should probably go for a swim.”  So…..I did!!!  Here’s the thing about me—I am what some people refer to as a ‘Type A’ personality.  I just call it responsible.  When I have a plan, I execute my plan.  My plan was to study in the morning, eat lunch, and study in the afternoon.  But the ocean was calling me!  I was already sweaty!  I decided to throw my plan out the window.  {Is that hard for anybody else?}   Monday night, I was getting ready to fly home, and I was sitting in the airport in San Diego, and I had sand in between my toes, and I thought, “Yeah, this feels good!”  Then I thought, “But I almost missed it!”  I almost did the “responsible” thing and went back and said ‘no’ to the invitation of the warm, crashing waves, and just got all my work done.

An older brother would just execute.  Just get it done!  I don’t know if that’s in you at all, but I know it’s in me.  When I read this part of the story of the prodigal, I just sense Jesus saying, “Hey, Paulson, this one’s for you.” Luke 15:24-32.  {The father says…} For this my son was dead, and is alive again, he was lost, and is found. And they began to celebrate.  Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.  And he said to him, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.”  But he was angry and refused to go in.  His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of your came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!  And he said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”  

A festival or party is a significant theme in Luke 14 and 15.  There’s a wedding celebration that ends with a  party.  There’s a great celebration that ends with a party.  There’s a shepherd who goes to look for his sheep.  He finds it and throws a party.  There’s a woman who loses a coin, finds it, and throws a party.  This is an image that we have of what God is like.  God is a party-throwing, festival-going, kind of guy!

The story of the prodigal son comes to a peak, culminates, at the very end.  It’s like Jesus isn’t following the normal story arc.  He ends with a question.  He ends with a proposition.  Remember, he’s teaching to two groups of people at the same time.  He’s teaching to tax collectors and sinners.  He’s teaching to the ‘younger brothers,’ if you will.  Also in the crowd, the people he wants to respond to and press on, are the ‘older brothers.’ It’s the Pharisees.  The people who look at him and say, “Jesus, these are the people you should be demonstrating your holiness by NOT being around them.  What in the world are you doing?”  In this story, the story ends with dancing.  The story ends with a festival and with a party.  The story ends with the older brother outside.

It’s interesting, if you look at Luke 15:28, you start to see the heart of God.  His son is angry, he refused to go in, but the father came out.  It’s this humiliating action of a father, because as a patriarch in this society, your kids should just DO what you ask them to do.  You’re in charge.  He came out, and it says….entreated him.  In the Greek, it’s this word that means not condemnation and not punishment, but he’s pulling on his heart strings.  He’s saying, “Well, come on!  The waves are crashing!  The sun is shining!  The water’s warm!”  Like, jump in!  It’s this affection-driven pleading.  I love you!  Why are you content to be outside of the party?

It’s interesting that all throughout the pages of Scripture, the authors that recount for us the oracles of God have this anthem, this drum that they beat, this…..don’t miss it!!  Don’t miss His love.  Don’t just go right by it.  The Apostle Paul, in writing to the church at Ephesus, says:  {I bend my knee and bow before God, our Father, and ask Him this.  My prayer is..} that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:17-19)   As if to say, that when you’re filled with the fullness of his love, you’re free to live in his world, you’re free to operate as his children.  You’re free to be the people that Jesus intends and designed you to be.  Here’s what we find out from the younger brother and from the older:  When we’re found in love, we’re free to live.

I had somebody say to me the other day, “Oh, I get it!  FREEway!  That’s why the series is called Freeway.  It’s the WAY to be FREE!”  Yeah!  And we’ve been talking the last few weeks about what it means to be free and the culmination, the fulcrum of freedom, is life with the Father.  You can’t have it any other way.  When you have it, there’s no other way to live other than free.  Here’s the way I’d say it this morning—Love is the context of freedom.  When we know we’re loved, the freedom that God brings into our life goes beyond our circumstances.  It goes beyond our limitations and our fears.  It grounds us in something more beautiful, something more transcendent than our own accomplishments.  Love is the context of freedom.  The invitation this morning is to step into that.  We know that this is true—-When we’re found in love, we’re free to live.  We know this is true if we had parents that really showed the love of God to us.  They freed us to live.  They freed us to be able to live without the feeling that we would be cast out if we made a mistake.  They freed us to live by knowing that if—maybe better, WHEN—we fell, there would be somebody there to catch us.  We know this is true in relationships, in a marriage.  When a marriage is grounded in love, it frees both people to say, “Yeah, this is who God has designed me to be.”  Love is the thing that causes the human heart, the human soul, to open up, to flourish, and to be what God intended for it to be.

We also know the opposite side of that, don’t we?  That when we doubt that we’re loved, we know we have to perform.  When we doubt that we’re loved, we get a little bit anxious, don’t we?  Self-conscious.  We get a little bit crazy!   It’s in us, from a real early age.  We were designed for love.   I saw a video this summer that just stuck with me.  It was this study done by a number of professors.  They called it the Still-Faced Mom study.  It was a mom playing with her child and then all of a sudden going still-faced, no emotions at all.  {Video played.  The child reacted confused, scared, threatened, and cried when the mother did not respond to the child’s attempts to interact.}   {Just lean in for a second.}  My conviction is that a lot of us think God is like the still-faced mom.  And we act out of that feeling, like, alright, if I don’t perform well, then I’m not loved.  If I don’t produce well, then I’m not loved.  What Jesus does in telling this parable, this story, is completely reframes what God is like.  God is not the stoic God in the sky, unmoved mover (as Plato suggested).  No, he is the compassionate, affectionate Father.  He runs to us when he sees us coming on the road.

The older son does not get it.  He doesn’t get that freedom is found in love.  He thinks freedom is found in some other ways, and we’re going to talk about those in just a second.  He views God like that still-faced mom, that he SHOULD respond to the younger brother—-Oh, you blew it.   ‘This son of yours’ blew all your money.  He forfeits the ability to believe that he’s loved.  The story ends.  The party goes.  He’s on the outside, listening to the music.  I love the way that Robert Farrar Capon puts it:  “Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world.  It is a floating, cosmic bash shouting its way through the streets of the universe, flinging the sweetness of its cassations to every window, pounding at every door in a hilarity beyond all liking and happening, until the prodigals come out at last and dance, and the elder brothers finally take their fingers out of their ears.”   That’s awesome!!  Here’s the invitation this morning—Take your fingers out of your ears.  The water’s warm.  The waves are crashing.  Jump in.

Let’s unpack what it looks like.  Verse 25.   There’s three movements that happen in this section of the parable. We’re going to look at each movement and it’s opposite, which actually leads us to freedom and love.  Now his older son was in the field,  {Notice where he’s at.  All of this has happened with his brother—-that he’s come home, the servants have gone to get the coat and the ring.  They’ve killed the fattened calf already.  It’s on the grill.  The music has started…..where is he?  He’s in the field.  He’s working.  You can’t come in because there’s stuff to get done.}  ….and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.  It’s an interesting indictment on the older son’s relationship with his father that he calls, not the father, but one of the servants.  He doesn’t have the kind of relationship with his dad where he can say, “Dad, what in the world is going on?  What’s the music?”  He calls someone who is working for him and his dad.  Hey, what’s the deal?  We start to see that there’s a lack of freedom and love because the older son is close to his dad….only in geography.  He’s only close spatially.  He’s not close in his heart.  He’s not close in a relationship.  We all know it is possible to be sitting across from somebody that you’re having dinner with, that you’re having a cup of coffee with, that you’re having a conversation with……to be close in proximity, but to have miles between you relationally.  We see that he’s close to his father, he lives on his property, but he doesn’t actually enjoy the relationship that he has with him.  He’s working.  He’s a hired hand and he’s got to get it done before he ever sets foot in the celebration.

Here’s the truth of the matter, friends, you and I were designed for intimacy with God, not just proximity to him.  {Slide: Proximity is replaced with intimacy.}  Here’s the way Jesus says it in the High Priestly Prayer in John 17: 22— The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me…   That’s Jesus’s prayer for us as his followers.  Not that we would be within shouting distance of God, but that we would be in an intimate close relationship with Him.   {Would you look up at me a second?}  If you’ve been around church for a long time like I have, I think one of the greatest dangers for us is that we can be in close proximity to God, but be distant from Him relationally.  We can be around the story ALL the time.  We can be around the conversations ALL the time.  But we don’t know his heart and we don’t hear his voice.

Here’s two distinctives of people who are intimate with God, who are close to God, not just spatially, but relationally.  David writes in Psalm 73:28 — But for me it is good to be near God;  {He’s talking about relationally.  It’s good to be in relationship with God.}  I have made the Lord God my refuge.    Here’s the first test — If we’re intimate with God (not just close), when it feels like the bottom is falling out of life, He’s the first place we turn.  He’s my refuge, David says.  When it feels like the sky is falling, that’s where I go, and that’s where I call on to, and that’s where I climb up.  Here’s the second thing we see, and it’s the words of Jesus from John 10:27 — My sheep hear my voice…  Not just hear people talking about what I say, but they hear me say it.  A distinctive of someone who’s intimate with God (not just close in proximity) is that they hear the overtures of love that flow from his heart.  The invitation to come and to dance, to come and to swim, to come and to hear the music and get involved.  They hear his voice.  They hear his tender rebuke.  They hear his lovingkindness.  They hear his invitation….come in deeper, come for more.  There’s more to be had here.  The key question we’ve got to wrestle with is, just like the older brother, are there things that we feel like we have to go to a mediator for in order to get to God, or can we tell him anything?  Can we ask him anything?  Maybe this morning it’s just a step in this direction — Okay, God, I’m living in proximity, but you designed me for intimacy.  There is no freedom from God where there is no intimacy with God.  There’s no freedom from God……you don’t get freedom from God second-hand.  There’s no freedom from God where there is no intimacy with God.

Look at the way this continues.  That’s the first movement — from proximity to intimacy.  Second, verse 28 — But he was angry and refused to go in.  If you have children, you’ve seen this happen only every single day.  I am NOT doing that!  I am NOT going there!  This is a full-on, pouty melt-down.  Uh-uh!  He isn’t playing by the rules, there’s no way I’m going to his party.  If I went to his party, I’d be going along with what you’re saying we do as a family, and that’s not the way we operate.  That’s not the way we do things.

One of my favorite stories of all-time is Les Miserables, written by Victor Hugo in 1862.  It’s the story of grace and mercy.  It’s the story of a man named Jean Valjean who is imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s seven kids.  When he’s finally released, he goes and steals again.  He steals from a bishop who meets him in his lowest spot and showers grace down on him.  It’s this grace that completely changes his life.  It’s the epitome of being found in love and free to live.  But the police inspector, Javert, is unable to accept it.  He can’t take that grace has been offered, because justice must be executed.  The entire story revolves around this cat-and-mouse game.  Will grace win out or will law win out?  Will it be mercy or will it be justice?  Eventually, Valjean has the chance to take Javert’s life and he lets him go.  Javert is haunted to the very core of his being that he has been showered with grace.  He can’t accept it and he ends up taking his own life.

It’s this picture of push back that you see. The older brother was angry and he refused to go in.  Do you know why he refuses to go in?  Because there’s only one way you enter.  It’s through death.  That’s the way you get into the party.  Everybody there is dead!  The father dies when he divides his bios, his life, his property.  He dies again when he picks up his robe and he runs in humiliation towards his son to offer grace.  The younger son dies when he comes to end of himself and realizes, “I’ve got to go home.  It’s my only hope.”  The cow dies to be the centerpiece of the party!  Everybody there is dead….and they’re loving it.  But’s it’s the older brother who refuses to die.  He’s saying no, no, no, no, no, I’ll get into the party, but I’ll get in there with my good deeds, and I’ll get in there with my accomplishments, and I’ll get in there because I’m perfect.  The father says no, no, no, no, no, in order to get in, you’ve got to let go.

I can remember taking my youth group water skiing (when I was a youth pastor).  I wanted to show off.  By that, I mean I just wanted to actually get up on a ski!  I can remember trying so hard and telling myself, “Don’t be an idiot! Don’t be a moron!”  I’m holding on, just white-knuckling it.  The boat starts to go and I start to get up and start to do that slow tilt and I thought, “This is not going well.”  I am roughly a foot under the water and I am like, “Oh no!  I am not letting go!”  Soon my legs pop out right behind me and I’m just holding on.  My thought is I refuse to let go.  My second thought is what do I expect to happen?  Right??  Like I’m going to pop up on bare feet and go, “Now you see me!”  It wasn’t happening!  I think it’s the father saying to his older son, “Let go!”  Maybe he’s saying it to you today.  Let go!

He’s going, “I’ve got to control it.”  If it’s going to work out in my favor, I’ve got to control.  The invitation, though, is to surrender.

Here’s the other thing—If we believe that our goodness is the way that we come into relationship/are rewarded by God, criticism from others will devastate us…..because they’re questioning the very ground we believe we stand on.  We’ll feel inconsolable guilt when we do something wrong.  Because that’s the way we step into love and we know we need love in order to live in freedom.  Everybody knows that.  The question is how are we trying to get it?  Control?  God, here’s the hoops I’m jumping through.  Will you turn off the still-face and start engaging with me?  God, here’s all the things I’ve done for you.  Can we have relationship now?  God says no, no, no, no, no, you don’t get it.  You don’t come through your good deeds, you come through my sacrifice, and you only receive my sacrifice when you die.  To quote the Apostle Paul–Your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  (Col. 3:3-4) 

One of the greatest inhibitors to freedom is the need to control.  When we say we’ve got to control, we cannot surrender to God’s grace. {Slide:  Control is traded for surrender.}  I love the way our worship pastor, Aaron Bjorklund, said it in our writing team meeting: “Hitching your wagon to grace is a wild ride.”  It is!  Here’s the thing, you don’t get to control where it goes.  That’s the hardest thing for older brothers.  The anthem of surrender is I am at the beautiful, mysterious, abundant, breath-taking mercy of God.  That’s all I have and I’m alive because of it.

Here’s the way the parable ends.  (Verse 29)  But he answered his father, “Look, these many years I have served you, {The Greek root word is ‘doulos,’ which is a bond-servant or a slave.}  and I never disobeyed your command,  {Notice, he’s just putting forth….I’ve served you, I’ve been good, I’ve done everything right, all of the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted.}  yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours… {Notice, have you disliked somebody so much it was hard to say their name?  Has somebody ever hurt you so bad that it was hard to say their name?  That’s what’s going on here.  This son of yours….  I’m not going to call him by name and I’m not even going to admit that he is my brother.}  ….son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!”   It’s interesting that this word ‘serve’ is doulos.  There’s a number of times in the Scriptures that Paul will say, “I am a bond-servant of Christ.”  If this is to be taken negatively, why so?  Here’s what Paul says in Roman 7:6 — But now we are released from the law, having died {This is the ‘how do we enter?’  By death.} to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

What’s he saying?  There’s been a transition in Paul’s life from duty-driven obedience to delight-driven obedience.  {Slide:  Duty is exchanged for delight.}  There are miles between the two.  The more I interact with people, the more I’m convinced that most followers of Jesus fall into the category of duty.  Here’s the word that epitomizes the life of duty — We should do this.   We should do that.  As if to say, we don’t really want to, but we should.   I have a friend who said to me, “Don’t should on me!”  I love that!  That’s the anthem of delight.  It’s not that we SHOULD do these things because we’re held captive by the law and if we don’t we get still-faced God.  No, it’s the invitation to come and to take his yoke upon you because his burden is light.  That’s the invitation of the gospel.

The life that is controlled by duty believes two things.  First, the older brother says to him, “I never disobeyed your command.”  I’ve done this.  Look at my record.  Look at all the things I’ve produced for you, God.  Look at all the things I’ve done, and then {clears throat}, if you’ll step away from my body of work and look at him.  Duty-driven people are under the weight of comparison.  I’ve done this, they’ve done that.  I’ve produced this, they’ve produced that.  It stirs up pride.  It causes us to dehumanize people, like you see in this parable.  This son of yours.  He can’t mention his name because he’s competing with him.  If you’re operating on duty, you cannot find yourself in the place of love.  As Tim Keller poignantly states:  “It is impossible to forgive someone if you feel superior to him or her.”  Then we become judgmental.  If you’re taking notes, write down Matthew 20.  Jesus tells a parable about workers in a vineyard.  He tells a parable about a vineyard owner who hires people to come and work.  He hires some at the beginning of the day and some at the end of the day.  He decides he wants to pay them all the same.  The people who begin working in the morning are so distraught because they got paid the same as somebody who came in at the very last second.  Jesus responds to their push back by saying:  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or do you begrudge my generosity?  (Matthew 20:15)  Oh, man!  I think we start to understand the goodness of the gospel when we think in the back of our minds, “It can’t be this good.”

Here’s the other thing he believes.  He believes he lives in a world of scarcity.  Duty leads us not only to comparison, but it leads us to scarcity.  Where’s all my stuff?  You’ve never given me ANYTHING!  Not even a goat to celebrate with my friends.   The father’s response is brilliant.  He looks at him and goes, “What in the world are you talking about?”   Just look around!  All of this is yours.  All of it.  If we operate based on duty, we take upon ourselves a posture of bond-servant, of day-laborer, and we are unable to enjoy the reality that everything that’s God’s is ours in Him.

Here’s the beautiful thing about walking with Jesus — it satisfies the deepest places of our soul.  The father says, “Son…”   Which in the Greek is teknon.  It’s not the word for son he’s used in the entire rest of the parable.  It’s new and introduced here.  It means son, not just by blood, but son by affection and son by love.  He’s entreating him again.  He doesn’t want him to miss swimming in the ocean.  He doesn’t want him to miss coming into the party.  He’s going, “Son, you’re always with me and all that is mine is yours.”

So, here’s this pathway to love and freedom.   It’s a movement from proximity to intimacy.  It’s a movement of feeling like we have to control everything, to resting in the grace of God.  It’s a movement from believing that God has things for us to accomplish because he’s sort of the slave master and we’re under his control, as opposed to disciplined delight.  Every command that comes from God is ultimately for your joy.  Every one of them.

When Rembrandt painted this masterful picture {slide of “Return of the Prodigal”}, he pictured the older brother in the back, in the shadows, looking on.  It’s as though Rembrandt echoes the question Jesus ends his parable with — So what are you going to do?  What are you going to do?  Are you going to just walk along the beach and go, “I really should jump in?”   Are you going to hear the music and go, “Yeah, but I don’t deserve to be in there,” or “Yeah, but that’s for other people, that’s not for me,” or “Yeah, but THEY don’t deserve to be in there so I’m not going in?”  Or, will we respond to the embrace of God our Father, respond to his love, and come into his party?  The embrace of love is the ultimate emancipation.

Friends, the story ends.  The story of Scripture ends with another feast.  You can read about it in Revelation 19.  It’s the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  Where He is celebrated and we are loved.  Not only is love our greatest freedom, but it is our eternal destiny.  I pray…..I pray….I pray that you and I would not push back against his grace and his love, but would firmly plant our lives in it and upon it.  Because it’s those arms that do not confine, but they actually free us to live.  If you don’t know King Jesus this morning, my hope and prayer is that your heart would be stirred to surrender to his love.  That you would just lay your life down and say, “God, I’m in.”

So Lord, we come this morning and we worship.  We come this morning believing that when we’re found in your love, we’re free to live in your world.  So we believe that we’re no longer slaves to fear but we’re children of God.  That we’re founded and grounded in the cross, in the blood that you shed, in the love that you displayed, in the welcome that you’ve given and that you’re running in humiliation to meet us along the road, in the forgiveness that you’ve lavished on us, in the acceptance that you’ve given us, and the love that you’ve grounded us in.  May we live in that freedom, we pray.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Freeway | Freedom | Luke 15:25-32 | Week 62020-08-19T15:28:57-06:00

Freeway | Acceptance | Luke 15:19-24 | Week 5

Open up to Luke 15, that’s where we’ll be camping out this morning. We’re on message four on a series that we’re doing on Jesus’s parable of the Prodigal Son and the Prodigal Father. Prodigal simply means ‘recklessly lavish.’ There are sons that are acting that way in the story, and then there’s a father who, in many ways, epitomizes a recklessly lavish approach to life.

If you haven’t been with us, the story begins with a younger son saying to his father, “Father, give me my share of the inheritance.” He goes away and squanders it. {It was depicted in the song that was just sung—The Prodigal.} He comes to his senses and eventually starts to make his way home, and that’s where we’re picking up the story today in Luke 15:17-24. But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 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. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘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.

What’s fascinating about this story is that if you were to hear it for the first time, as Jesus was telling it, you would never have expected the ending that Jesus puts on this story. We’ve been around it enough and have heard it enough that now we EXPECT the father to run, we EXPECT the father’s embrace. But every original listener to this story would have expected a different ending and they would have been uniform in the ending they anticipated. There was a ceremony, there was a tradition, that they would have enacted if somebody like this younger son said to his dad, “Dad, I want my share of this stuff. I wish you were dead. You’re better off to me dead than you are alive,” and taken it and squandered it. There was a way they handled things like that. It was a ceremony called ‘Kezazah.’ It literally means, in the Hebrews, ‘a cutting off.’ Here’s what they would do. If, hypothetically, this situation would have taken place in a first century Jewish household, and the younger son started to come back, somebody from the village would take a clay pot and they would go and meet this returner on the road. They would take the pot and they would break it at the feet of the person coming back. It was a picture of you don’t mess with the patriarch of our village in that way. You don’t disgrace the father and then think you can come home. It was a picture—as the fractured pot would lie on the ground—of the covenant, of the relationship, that had been irreparably broken and irreparably damaged and was beyond repair. It was their way of saying, “What’s done is done. You’ve made your bed, you’ve got to lie in it. You are not welcome here anymore.”

The brilliant scholar, Kenneth Bailey, who’s taught and studied in Lebanon for forty years, says this about the Kezazah ceremony: “Any Jew who loses his money among foreigners and then tries to return was ceremonially banished, where a clay pot filled with burnt beans was broken at the feet of the offender as a visual symbol that the community rejects him forever.” This is done. THIS. IS. FINISHED. Village societies were notorious for being ruthless about people who shamed the name of their village. In an honor-shamed society, what the younger son does in throwing the father’s money in his face and in saying I love your stuff more than I love you and I’m going to go live outside of your provision, outside of your care……for a son to do that in a patriarchal culture was one of the worst offenses that could have been perpetrated against the father. So that was how it was handled.

So, could it be that this father, in Jesus’s story, sits and anticipates and watches that road not just to go and shower his son with love and affection, but to cut off anybody who might be running towards him with a clay pot? To prevent somebody from his village—-somebody well-intentioned, somebody who wanted to defend the honor of the patriarch of the village, as if to say, “If you do this in our town, you get treated this way.” I mean, people, certainly, would have been waiting to do that. It’s what they did. Is it possible the father runs, pulls up his coat and runs toward his son, not with a clay pot in hand, but with open arms, because he doesn’t want anyone to get there before him? He doesn’t want anybody to break the pot at his son’s feet, and to say this is irreparably damaged and irreparably broken.

This story turns the preconceived or general notions of the way that we think about God on its head. Our typical view of God is that he’s the vindictive father, the vindictive God, that if you wrong him, you’ve got to pay. If you sin, you’ve gotta pay for your sins. So people wrestled….what do we do with this story? What do we do with a story that welcomes the son back and there’s no penance to be paid, there’s no penalty, there’s just welcome. Where is the “atonement” in the story? That’s a great question. The nation of Islam would say that this is a story that cannot talk about how to come into relationship with God because there’s no sins to be paid for. Here’s where they’re wrong. There ARE sins that are paid for. They’re paid for when the father divides, literally, his life or his property and give them to his son, but more than that, when the father lifts up his robe, humiliating himself, runs towards his son, what he’s doing is carrying the weight of the son’s sin. He’s accepting the shards of the fractured relationship and the rejected love….he’s taking it fully and completely on himself and saying, “I’ll pay for that.” He runs to his son, not with a clay pot in hand to break at his feet, but with open arms as if to say, “You are welcomed home.”

He echoes what the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, what many have said is the great exchange: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, {He accepted the weight of the fractured relationship. He accepted the weight of all the wrong.} …so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. He’s just saying in theological terms what Jesus told the story about. That you and I are welcomed home. That God himself takes upon him the sin of fractured relationship in order to invite us back. {Friends, will you look up at me a second.} This is the ground that we fundamentally stand on as followers of the way of Jesus. That we are welcomed back because of the grace of God. We’ll say it like this this morning: Our approach to God—the way that we run home, the way that we interact with him, the way that we walk with him on a daily basis—is grounded in his already acceptance of us because he carried the weight of the fractured relationship. There is absolutely nothing that stands between you and God this morning. God does not look at you with a clay pot in hand and think about all the things you’ve done wrong and is ready to go it’s DONE, it’s gone too far. It’s over! Away!

As I’ve thought about my life and I’ve thought about this idea of being accepted by God, I have two tapes that sometimes play in the back of my head. Tape #1—God’s going to accept me when I’m acceptable. When I clean up my act enough then I can go home. This is the narrative that plays in the back of our mind that says we’ve got to earn it. We’ve got to do enough so that we don’t hear the sound of that clay pot hitting the ground that declares we are not enough. Tape #2—If I try to be back in relationship with God, or as a follower of Jesus, after I wandered, if I try to come back, I know I’m going to be rejected. So one tape says if God’s going to accept me I’ve got to be acceptable. The other tape says I’ll never be acceptable. The narrative is one of guilt and shame and condemnation that we heap down on ourselves. So we go, accepted by God? Maybe someday. And then there’s a lot of people I get the chance to interact with and they’re going, uh, I don’t need to be accepted by God, I’ll make my own way, I’ll do my own thing. Acceptance? I don’t need it. Acceptance? I’ll earn it. Acceptance? Never me.

These are the three narratives that play in our mind. Jesus dispels all of them when the father runs, picks up his robe, disgracing himself. That’s exactly what he did in the first century culture when he lifts up his robe to run. Men did not run back in the day. It was a humiliation. Here’s what we see—the father humiliates himself, disgraces himself to offer his son grace, to offer his son mercy. Here’s the ground that you stand on: By grace, you are accepted by the King of kings and the Lord of lords. You are welcomed home. It’s the fundamentally, most true thing about us as followers of Jesus.

I want to give you four pictures today that I think might help tease out what that means to be accepted by God. I want to paint a picture of a coat, a ring, a shoe, and a cow. My hope is that as we talk about these things they will make this picture all the more clear. There the things that Jesus uses to invite us more and more into this welcome—the open arms rather than the shattered clay pot—that the King of kings and Lord of Lords extends to us. There are found pictures of the acceptance that this younger son gets that are ours as well.

Here’s the way it reads (Luke 15:22): But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe…’ In a patriarchal society, who owned the best robe? The father. Absolutely. The father was second to no one in this culture, so the best robe in the village would have only been owned by the upper echelon, the top, the peak of the village and that was the father. So, when he says go get the best robe, he’s saying, “Go get MY robe.” Go get it out of my closet. You know the one. The one that I wear when we have the BIG festivals, the BIG parties…..go get THAT one….and put it on him. I’m constantly fascinated by the fact that God is completely unlike me. The younger son was spending time in pigpens. The younger son was caring for pigs. Here’s the thing, if you start caring for pigs, if you work in a pigpen, what do you smell like? Pigs! For a Jewish father, there would have been no smell as repulsive as the smell of a pig. Here’s what the father does not do….he doesn’t do what I would do, which is “Hey, if you could go grab a quick shower….” If you could clean up a little bit. My kids (especially my older son) loves to snuggle with me while he’s eating a bag of Cheetos or chips. Eventually, everything that I’m wearing turns into his napkin! I’m like, “We’ve got to have a bubble here….I don’t want you to get your junk all over me. I don’t want to get dirty.”

The father in this story does the exact opposite. He sees him in his mess and he runs towards him in embrace. The coat teaches us that as the son comes home he gets to carry the respect of his father. Can you think of him walking into the festival that is about to commence in his honor wearing his dad’s coat? It would have been a very clear message to everybody in the village—This is my son, this is my coat; he is carrying the weight of what it means to be my son once again. He’s got this respect and he’s restored. He’s brought back. It’s what the picture teaches us. I think Jesus is pulling an image from the prophet Isaiah (61:10) — I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. It’s a phenomenal picture that if you are in Christ, by faith, you are dressed in the King’s robe. Dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before his throne.

There are two approaches we can have to gaining acceptance from God. One is that we earn it. Here’s the way we think about that: Once I get clean enough, I’ll be accepted. Once I clean my act up, once I stop doing THAT (whatever THAT is, fill in the blank), then God will say to me, “Alright, Paulson, I’ll be waiting for you. Finally, you’ve come around. You’ve gotten up one more level on the ladder. Congratulations!” This just in: That is NOT the gospel. That is not, as followers of Jesus, what we believe. As followers of Jesus, what we believe is that we receive the robe from the King of kings and the Lord of lords and that as we walk in that, we become more and more clean. It doesn’t work the other way around. It’s not clean up to GET the robe. It’s live in light of the reality that you wear it. And that it’s yours. And that it’s yours by grace alone. It turns out that it’s this grace that when it gets inside of us, it actually starts to change us, it starts to transform us. The way that theologians would say it is that we are sanctified. We become more and more like Jesus on a daily basis, in the exact same way that we’re justified. By grace. Here’s the way the Apostle Paul says it: For sin will have no dominion over you, {It won’t have power over you in a way that controls your life.} since you are not under law but under grace. (Rom. 6:14) Your life is going to start to reflect the freedom of Jesus because you wear the robe of the King. You don’t get the robe as you become more clean. It’s the thing that changes you. In the story, God’s acceptance does not excuse the son’s sin. It eradicates it! It fundamentally changes his approach to life.

That’s a coat. Second picture is of a ring. But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand…. In our culture, rings have a metaphorical power or weight. They paint a picture. They communicate a covenant. If you take a ring off, you’re still married, right? They’re just a picture of something that’s true. In the first century, rings carried both the metaphorical weight—it was a picture of something—but it also carried a literal weight. Most likely this was a signet ring, it was a ring that had the family emblem or crest on it. It was the way that people entered into covenants. It was the way marriages were solemnized. It was the way that wills were enacted. It was the family seal. The son comes home and the father immediately says get my robe and get the ring, as if to say, he’s a part of this family again. He’s fully reinstated and he represents us.

Somebody should have pulled this dad aside. We talked about the father not understanding the principles of “Dare to Discipline” to well, right? He just let his son wander away with all of his wealth and property, and he didn’t create any sort of hedges around how he’d spend it and he just blew it. We have this picture of the son who crashes the family car, comes home, and the dad gives him the keys again. We’re going, “Shouldn’t there be a time period of proving yourself?” Shouldn’t there be some testing that would go on to see if it’s genuine—this repentance, this coming home, this speech? Shouldn’t we at least make sure that he’s telling us the truth? What’s fascinating is that from day one, there’s no penance, there’s no time of proving himself, there’s no time of testing, there’s only welcome, and there’s only arms wide open, without the clay pot in hand. So it is with us, friends. We think that when we approach God we’re going to have to work off all of these things that have gone on in our life. All of those past regrets; those things that we wish we could undo, the things we wish we could redo. That somehow God’s going to lay those out in front of us and go, “Alright, Paulson, let’s get to work.” It’s just not the case. From day one, he’s reinstated into the family, and from day two, he carries the name of the family. Here’s the way the book of Acts says it about the Apostle Paul (Acts 9:15). This is after Paul’s confronted with a light on the road to Damascus and he’s called to Jesus. This is Jesus speaking to Ananias. But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” No time of testing. Paul, you are invited back into the family. You’ve got the ring on your finger. And so do you. There are no second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. That is what Jesus is telling us. Regardless of how far gone you’ve been, regardless of how much pain is in your life, there are no second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. The irony of that is that when we hand over our weakness, when we hand over our brokenness, Jesus uses that to shine through to the world around us.

A coat. A ring. And shoes. But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.’ One of the most poignant parts of Rembrandt’s portrait, The Return of the Prodigal, the younger son’s shoes are tattered and torn. He probably didn’t have a second pair. The distinguishing mark of the shoe is a slave, in this culture, a servant, a day laborer….which is what the younger son wanted to be upon returning to his father’s household. That was what his hope was….just put me to work and pay me by the day. It’s the lowest level. Day laborers did not get shoes. Sons get shoes. Day laborers have bare feet. It’s a picture of….I’m not going to make that kind of investment in you.

When I first heard Dr. Jeff Brodsky’s story about why he goes barefoot…. He goes barefoot because of the girls that he met on the trash heap outside of a city of Cambodia. They were girls who were captured and put to work as slaves. Their owners took their shoes so they couldn’t run away. It’s fascinating that when the father gives the son back his shoes, he’s saying, “I don’t keep you here by restraint. I keep you hear by relationship.” If you want to run away again, that’s on you, but you run from my ferocious, reckless love. It’s intended to be the defining characteristic of your life. Here’s what we see in the shoe. He’s a son and it’s a marker of his identity.

Upon returning, the son mostly like thought he’d just be a paid craftsman or, like I said, a day laborer. He’d been working for the father. I think a lot of us have this same view of God. We become a follower of Jesus and he puts us to work. Or he calls us to himself because he needs some things done. On my Friday off, my youngest son is off with me. There was a toilet in our house that we needed to replace. I told Reid, “Let’s go. We’re going to replace this toilet together.” We walk into Home Depot and pick it out together. We start to install it and I give him some “jobs.” “Can you hand me those bolts?” He’s like, “Absolutely, yes!” When we’re done, he’s like, “Look what WE did!” I had this moment of I think that’s the way my Father feels about me. He doesn’t need me! He invites me along with Him. He invites me to be part of what He’s doing. You do not work FOR God, you work WITH God, as He is in the process of restoring and redeeming. He is not the slavedriver putting you to work. He’s the loving Father saying, “Join me in the work that I am doing.” It’s the picture of the shoes on his feet.

We are not slaves. We’re sons. Listen to the way Paul says it in the book of Romans (8:15-17) — For you did not receive the spirit of slavery {That’s not from Jesus.} to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, {Brothers and sisters with the Messiah, the King of kings and the Lord of Lords. That’s remarkable, is it not? It’s amazing!} provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. We walk with him in the valleys, in the shadows, on the mountaintops, and the celebration, and He’s with us in it all. Why? {Look up at me!} Because you are not a slave. You’re a son or daughter of the King.

A coat. A ring. Shoes. A cow. And bring the fattened calf…. {Most villages would only have had one. It was the prize, the culinary prize of the entire village.} ..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. Here’s the thing—a goat would have been completely sufficient for a family. But the father does not want to throw a party for his family. He’s throwing the party for his village. He’s throwing a party for anybody who would want to come. In the very first parable in Luke 15, a shepherd loses a sheep, goes and finds it, and then calls together his friends and neighbors saying, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. In the second parable, a woman loses a coin and when she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” And when the father loses his son and his son comes home, he kills the fattened calf and says, “Rejoice with me! My son was dead and now he alive. He was lost and now he is found.” It’s a picture of celebration. It’s a picture of gift. I don’t know about you, but the celebratory father is one of my favorite images of God in all of Scripture. Of a father who looks at his kids and says, “I long for them to be home. I long for them to be found. And when they’re found, I celebrate.” Because he loves us.

Every time it’s one of our kids’ birthdays, my wife and I sneak in their room, after they’ve gone to bed the night before their birthday, and we decorate it with streamers and with balloons and…. I can remember the first time we did this with Avery. After we went to bed that night, we were both woken up by her going, “Ooohhh! Oh my goodness!” Kelly and I were lying in bed listening to her say, “Oh my goodness!” Over and over and over. I’m like, “That was worth all that work the night before.”

When our God looks at us, He says, “I have blessed you with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (Eph.1:3) There is nothing that I’ve held back from you. I’m not withholding anything, not one ounce, I’m giving it to you. His hope is that we would look back at him and go, “Oh my gosh!” I should have been greeted on the road with the clay pot, but you welcomed me with open arms. Not only did you welcome me, but you reinstated me. Not only did you reinstate me, but now I get to represent you. Not only do I get to represent you, but you call me a son or daughter. Not only do you call me a son or daughter, but you celebrate me! Are you kidding me?! This is so good you could even call it Gospel!! You could call it Good News! It’s unbelievable. Friends, your name is engraved in the palms of his hands. He sings over you. He rejoices over you. He is a good Father who loves to hear you say, “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! I can’t believe you’ve been that good to me!” This is the gospel. God does not wait to bless us until we prove ourselves faithful. He blesses us in order to prove himself faithful. And he is. And you are blessed.

If you’re going, “Ryan, what do I do with a coat, a ring, a shoe, a cow, and a pot? What am I suppose to do with that?” Let me give you a few ways that this is working itself in me. The first step into acceptance is to trust that by faith we’ve been accepted and embraced by the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Regardless of where you’ve been, and regardless of what you’ve done, and regardless of what tape plays in your mind about who God is and what God is like, can I tell you who God is and what God is like? He is the father who pulls up his robe and runs, not with a clay pot in hand to throw at your feet and to say that you’re a sinner and he’s done, but with open arms to say, “My grace covers you.” You gotta trust that, you guys. We’ve got to build our foundation on the foundation of grace.

Here’s the second thing. If that’s true, you’ve got to know that guilt and shame have absolutely no place in the life of one who is in Christ. Because as the Scriptures clearly say: There is therefore now no condemnation {I love the word NOW—right NOW, TOday and NO—zero, zip, zilch…are in there.} Here’s the thing: If Jesus isn’t holding any condemnation against you, YOU shouldn’t hold any against yourself either! This is the pathway to freedom. You’re accepted. You’re loved. Guilt and shame have no place.

Three — Will you understand that the way God grows us is through understanding His grace. The gospel is both the anchor that holds us and the engine that moves us. We don’t grow outside of it. We don’t grow farther than it. Just more and more and more. We grow as we realize we’re accepted, that we’re loved, that our names are engraved in the palms of His hands, that He sings over us. That is the method of growth in the Christian life.

Fourth — I think the story asks us a question. What are we going to do with our pot? What are we going to do with the clay pot we hold? Do we throw it at the feet of people who’ve wronged us? You’ve gone too far! {Crash!} I’ve got to defend my honor! {Crash!} Or, is it….grace is sufficient and grace is enough. As a Church corporate, capital C Church, it breaks my heart that I think the way people picture the Church is hey, give me another one of those clay pots! {Crash!} You’re outside! You can’t come in! {Crash!} Unclean! You’ve done too much! That is NOT the disposition of our Father, so let’s let it not be the disposition of our church, too. Instead of looking for clay pots, let’s say, “Our arms are open, because the King of kings and the Lord of lords has welcomed me, so who the heck am I to think I can throw a pot at somebody’s feet?”

Finally, let’s be people who rest and enjoy the embrace of our Father. Friends, when we believe we’re accepted—a coat, a ring, a shoe, a cow—we can finally stop earning and we can start enjoying. This is the picture of the gospel. The father leaves his home to meet his estranged son on the road—-Incarnation. He humiliates himself and absorbs the wrong of his son’s betrayal—-Atonement. So that he can bring us home and once again make us part of his family—-Salvation. That we would be raised from death to life—-Resurrection. Friends, this is our story. Let’s receive it and let it be the story we give.

Jesus, I thank you for the welcome that you extend to us. May it fill our souls, may we rest in it, and may it shape us. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.

Freeway | Acceptance | Luke 15:19-24 | Week 52020-08-21T08:38:10-06:00

Freeway | Forgiveness | Luke 15:19-24 | Week 4

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PASTOR’S NOTES:

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Funny story… but the truth is, so many of us carry around the weight of things that have happened to us and it often makes us feel stuck …

Or the weight of something we did to cause others pain…

And it keeps us from stepping forward into the freedom God has for us.

FREEWAY

We’ve been in this series called Freeway for the last several weeks

Exploring those hurts and pain points that rob us all of taking steps towards becoming who God created us to be.

Today I want to dive back into this story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 and look at it through the perspective of something that often is the main stumbling block that keeps us from experiencing FREEDOM, and that has to do with this word, FORGIVENESS

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For many of us, the word FORGIVENESS is a difficult word…

A lot of baggage…

Carrying around the pain of something someone did to us a long time ago, and we’re just not sure we’re ready to forgive or how to forgive… and the thought of having to face this head on for many of us is terrifying.

Or carrying the pain of having hurt someone else and being trapped in a cycle of guilt and shame at the pain we’ve caused, and not really knowing what to do about it.

But as we continue in our journey towards FREEDOM, it’s really important that we understand that experiencing and extending FORGIVENESS is an important step towards FREEDOM.

As a matter of fact, I want to share the BIG idea that we’re going to dive into together today:

To the degree we learn to experience forgiveness for ourselves and extend forgiveness to others is the degree we will experience freedom for ourselves and extend freedom to others.

Would you say that with me?

To the degree we learn to experience forgiveness for ourselves and extend forgiveness to others is the degree we will experience freedom for ourselves and extend freedom to others.

Another way to say it is this:

If we don’t learn to experience and extend FORGIVENESS we’ll never truly experience and extend FREEDOM.

I want to dive into this story today together with fresh eyes and explore it through the lens of someone who needed to experience forgiveness, which is the younger son, and through the lens of someone who extended forgiveness to others, which is the Father.

And I know that this is true:

Some of us need to experience forgiveness like the son experienced forgiveness

Some of us need to extend forgiveness like the father extended forgiveness.

And my hope is that as we look at their story, we’d learn something about ourself and what God might want to do to use FORGIVENESS to help us take a step towards FREEDOM in a powerful way.

RECAP OF THE STORY

Just by way of reminder or in case you haven’t been with us, we’ve been journeying through the Parable of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15.

  • There was a man with 2 sons, and we see the youngest son demand his share of the father’s inheritance, liquidate it, take it to a foreign country and squander it on careless living, and then end up working in the LAST place a Jewish audience would expect him to work: feeding PIGS
  • He then comes to his senses and essentially asks himself, “Why am I living here working with the pigs, starving to death? Why not try to make this right?”
  • He knows he messed up royally, and his expectation is that his father might let him get a job as a day worker (but never expected that his father would let him back into the family)…
  • And the surprise is that he not only gets welcomed back, his father throws a huge party in celebration and reinstates him into the family.

THE LENS OF THE SON

Let’s take a look at this story through the lens of the son:

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

Luke 15:17-20

His father comes out and meets him, greets him, etc – we’ll look at that in a minute…

In the middle of this, the son launches into his rehearsed speech…

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

Luke 15:21

We see the son take steps towards experiencing forgiveness – I think all of us can relate to having messed something up and needing to try to step towards forgiveness.

There are 3 observations about what the son experiences that I think we can all relate to.

It can take a long time to be ready to pursue forgiveness.

We enter this part with him “coming to himself” – literally coming to his senses

But as I was reading this I found myself asking, “Why did it take so long?”

You’d think he would have realized while he was sleeping with a prostitute that maybe he was making a misstep – or when he saw his pile of cash dwindling down… You’d think he’d come to his senses…

But for some reason he didn’t.

And what about us? How often does it take us a long time to come to our senses?

You’d think while we were in the middle of yelling at our kids, or cheating on our spouse, or judging someone else, that we’d come to our senses. But often it takes us a long time.

And more often than not – we aren’t even aware yet that we have wounded someone else and desperately need forgiveness.

Ex. Diana Green STORY

Traveling, tired, ignored, wounded, distance…

Here’s the truth: Often we have to experience a great deal of pain in order to wake up and see the need for forgiveness…

And in this story, the SON had to experience the pain of losing everything to wake him up and prepare him to take the next right step…

And even when we do sort of come to our senses, it often takes a long time to take a step towards experiencing forgiveness…

Sometimes we are trapped in a cycle of guilt and shame and literally are stuck and don’t know what to do…

Sometimes we need time to process it and come to the place of being kind to ourselves and remembering that we still matter before we can take a step towards other people and experience forgiveness.

My hope is that for some of us, we’d survey the landscape of our lives to see if we’ve unintentionally hurt someone.

And for others of us, we’d stop the cycle of guilt and shame…

… So we can take steps towards experiencing forgiveness and ultimately so we can be free…

So we see that it can take awhile before we’re ready to step into forgiveness.

Another thing we can see from this story is that…

We often have many faulty assumptions that keep us from pursuing forgiveness in a healthy way.

Let’s look at the passage again:

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

Luke 15:17-20

He has all of these assumptions that drove how he thought about taking a next step, didn’t he?

    • lost place in family
    • Dead to his father
    • Not worthy to be his father’s son
    • His sin defines him and excludes him from favor.
    • A real lack of understanding at just how lavish the grace of the father could be…

I mean, we can’t we really can’t blame him. After all, we do the same thing…

We tell ourselves all kinds of stories that keep us from moving forward in a healthy way…

Things like:

  • I have to get it all together before I pursue forgiveness with others
  • What I’ve done is so bad it can’t be forgiven
  • I don’t deserve forgiveness…
  • I’m not lovable anymore
  • That person could NEVER forgive me for what I did…
  • God is angry and ready to stick it to me

And on and on it goes…

Some of us have had a bad experience – maybe you’ve gotten the courage to go to someone to ask forgiveness, and it backfired somehow…

But I think the main reason we struggle with how we see ourselves

I mean, we see all throughout the Scriptures the cycle of people messing up and then hanging their heads in shame…

Shame is real and it often renders us unable to move forward.

Shame is seeing ourselves as bad, instead of the thing we did as not good…

I remember in elementary school when someone in class would get in trouble – I’d feel shame in my body as if I was the one who did something wrong…

We often start with the assumption that there is nothing good in us at all and that we have to get it all together before we can go to God…

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met in over 20 years of ministry that are convinced that they are worthless because of the things they do, and that God (and everyone else) is mad at them.

We’re so good at looking at the things we’ve done and letting guilt and shame fill our heads and convince us that God or others want nothing to do with us…

Honestly, I think we HAVE to start with our assumptions about how God sees us, because it impacts every area of our lives…

Many of us have real trouble accepting forgiveness and even forgiving ourselves because of the bogus theology some well-meaning person shared with us at some point.

It’s a theology of an ANGRY GOD…

  • God created everything
  • We sinned, and therefore sin came and made us all bad, and there was nothing good in us at all…
  • God was so holy and pure that He couldn’t even be near us because we were nothing but filthy rags…
  • So He sent Jesus to die on the cross, and if we’d say the right combination of words in a prayer, we’d receive a get-out-of-hell-free ticket and get to go to heaven
  • God wouldn’t be mad at us anymore

I’m being a little overly simplistic, but that’s not too far from what a lot of us grew up and were told… and it left us seeing God as a vengeful monster apart from Jesus.

And I believe that type of theology has harmed a lot of people and made them live a life of fear and self-doubt, and I don’t think that’s what God intends for us at all.

Ex. was once a part of a church

kids’ baptisms

Little kids testimony: so Jesus can take all of my badness away

My heart broke… do we not tell these kids that God created us in God’s image? and that while we are broken and fractured in so many ways, God’s image is still there, and God fiercely loves us…

So when we tell ourselves we have to get it together before we can go to God, or go to someone we’ve hurt, we’re telling ourselves an untruth.

Here’s the truth:

God doesn’t forgive us so that He can love us

he forgives us because He loves us.

See, we tell ourselves these lies that God doesn’t want to forgive us for that mistake we made, and that He waits until we get our act together and come to Him before he makes a move…

But that’s not the pattern of Grace we see reflected in the scriptures…

Ex. Looking way back at the very first book of the Bible…

6 The woman approached the tree, eyed its fruit, and coveted its mouth-watering, wisdom-granting beauty. She plucked a fruit from the tree and ate. She then offered the fruit to her husband who was close by, and he ate as well. 7 Suddenly their eyes were opened to a reality previously unknown. For the first time, they sensed their vulnerability and rushed to hide their naked bodies, stitching fig leaves into crude loincloths.

8 Then they heard the sound of the Eternal God walking in the cool misting shadows of the garden. The man and his wife took cover among the trees and hid from the Eternal God…

21 The Eternal God pieced together the skins of animals and made clothes for Adam and Eve to wear.

Genesis 3:6:8, 21

Remember, this comes after the Fall, and Adam & Eve are trapped in that shame and guilt cycle, and they are sewing fig leaves together to clothe themselves…

And when they hear God coming, they do what?

They Hide…

And the Bible teaches that God’s anger burned towards them and He couldn’t be in their presence because of their sin, and He sent a messenger to tell them as much, right?

NO!

The Scriptures say that God came to them and clothed them and cared for them.

Some scholars believe it literally means he rushed in to the garden to meet them…

“Adam, where are you?”

It’s almost like we can hear the pain in His voice…

See, we often lie to ourselves and believe God doesn’t want anything to do with us because of all we’ve done…

But the truth is, God pursues us. And that’s the TRUE message of the Gospel…

Truth: Loving God gospel.

  • God created everything and called it good
  • We sinned, and sin infected us like a horrible disease, and left us and our world broken
  • It was terminal and the result was brokenness and death
  • We by default try to go our own way
  • God continued to chase us
  • God wasn’t content to allow us to continue to languish in our brokenness, and He willingly sent Jesus to die on the cross and put an end to death once and for all
  • And the work of Jesus on the cross began the good work of the renewal of all things – of God reconciling us to Himself – because He loves us…
  • And we now get to work with him as partners in the renewal of all things…

That’s a far more compelling narrative, and I think the story of the Prodigal reveals that in such a beautiful and compelling way, and reminds us that we CAN get the courage to step into forgiveness because GRACE abounds much!

So for those of us that afraid to go to God and just come clean with what we’ve done because we’re afraid He’s out to get us… let’s spend some time reframing our theology and seeing the pattern we see in Jesus – which is telling us to stop wallowing it, take up our mat, and go and sin no more…

And because I think we’ve listened to the lies that say we don’t deserve forgiveness, the last thing we want to do is go to another HUMAN and ask forgiveness…

…because it’s scary… I mean, the idea of going to someone and saying, “I was wrong and I’m sorry” is terrifying because it’s vulnerable and we’re not sure what the other person will do… or the cycle of shame kicks in and this narrative starts up in our heads, and forces us to retreat…

I get it… sometimes we take steps to try to make things right with those who we hurt, and they aren’t willing or ready to hear it… and I know that can be incredibly frustrating…

But part of moving towards wholeness is taking the next right step… even when it’s hard, and even when it’s not met enthusiastically.

Sometimes people need time. Or sometimes their brokenness keeps us from getting a verbal “I forgive you…”

But I believe God honors us for taking that step, and God is in the middle of the situation, and will help us take steps towards wholeness, even if the other person isn’t willing to help.

And we can’t let our fear of how the other person might respond keep us from doing our part to bring restoration to our relationship, and sometimes we have to trust God is up to good in the middle of it, even when we don’t see it.

You might be thinking, “Yeah, that’s great when it comes to God, but have you met my family? (Or fill in the blank with whoever you need to go to for forgiveness?”

I get it. It’s important to remember that those we hurt are broken too, and they might not always respond exactly how we wish. But God might just use them to model the rhythm of grace towards you through forgiveness, if you’ll just step into it.

//

Sometimes we don’t take a step towards forgiveness and healing because of some faulty assumptions about God, ourselves, and others…

Maybe for you, it would be good for you to take an honest assessment of your view of yourself, of God, and others, and ask God to replace faulty assumptions with true assumptions, so you can step towards forgiveness, and ultimately freedom.

//

The third thing I think we see from this story that is true about us also is this:

Often we don’t step towards experiencing forgiveness in a healthy way because we don’t really know how

Because of the son’s faulty assumptions, he told himself a lot of things about how he should move forward, but he didn’t bother to consult with the ONE he had offended.

See – he assumed he had lost all of his status with his father… so he made this plan on how to tell his father he acknowledged the consequences of his sin…

But as we’ll see in a few minutes, when he went to follow through with his “plan”, his father didn’t want to hear it, and had other ideas on what it would take to make things right.

I think we often don’t take a step forward towards experiencing forgiveness from those we’ve hurt because we simply don’t know how or we haven’t seen it modeled for us in a healthy way.

We’ve all seen a lame attempt at an apology:

  • I’m sorry you were offended by what I did (instead of saying, I”m sorry I offended you)
  • I’m sorry you weren’t able to handle your emotions…

So for those of us who don’t know a healthy way to apologize, I’m going to give you 3 simple steps towards saying I’m SORRY and stepping into forgiveness…

I’d encourage all of us to write this down.

3 Steps to a Healthy Apology:

  1. Name It

It’s really important that we come to a place where we can name specifically what we did to hurt someone else. Saying “I’m sorry” alone isn’t enough.

Think about how little kids apologize… they walk up to the other person, not making eye contact, kicking the ground, and mumble out an “I’m sorry”…

Our kids probably hate us for this, but since they were little, when we made them apologize to the other, they’d say, “I’m sorry…” and we’d say, “For…?”

See, it’s a cop out to simply say, “I’m sorry…”…

A better way is to say, “I’m sorry for ________________.” (Fill in the blank)

  • Yelling at you yesterday
  • Telling you I think you’re an idiot
  • Hurting you by ______________
  • Rooting for the Raiders instead of the Broncos…

Ok, I’m joking about that last one (kinda)… my point is that when we say sorry, it’s important to NAME what we did so the other person knows we know exactly how we’ve hurt them.

So, we start with, “I’m sorry for ______________.” The next thing we need to do is to…

  1. Own It

Owning it is all about acknowledging how this action (or actions) has hurt this person.

It might be something like:

“I’m sorry for yelling at you in front of the kids last night. I know I embarrassed you and it was a bad example for the kids, and I just want you to know I’m sorry.”

Owning it lets the other person know that you know the thing you did and the consequences of that thing, and goes a long way towards them understanding that you get it and care that it hurt them.

So we say we are sorry by naming what we did and owning how it has hurt them. The 3rd step is to do our best to…

  1. Fix It

This element is so incredibly important because it involves partnering together for healing.

This is really all about asking the question, “What can I do to make things right again?”

So maybe it’s:

“I’m sorry for yelling at you in front of the kids last night. I know I embarrassed you and it was a bad example for the kids, and I just want you to know I’m sorry. What can I do to make it right with you and the kids?”

Do you see that? It’s simple but super powerful. Instead of a cheap, “I’m sorry”, you have the power to say what you’re sorry for, acknowledging the pain it has caused, and asking what can be done to make it right.

My hope is that all of us, as we process this, would take those three steps of Name It, Own It, and Fix It and practice it, and take a real step towards experiencing forgiveness.

The bottom line is this:

Some of us need to experience forgiveness like the son experienced forgiveness.

Why?

Because to the degree we learn to experience and extend forgiveness is the degree we experience and extend freedom.

And I don’t think we can extend forgiveness without taking steps to learn to experience it well…

//

Now let’s take a look at this story through the lens of someone who extended forgiveness… to see what we can learn… and that’s through:

THE LENS OF THE FATHER

20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.

24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Luke 15:20-24,31

I love the picture we see here…

Think about the perspective of the Father:

  • His son essentially said, “You’re dead to me”
  • His son wasted a large share of all that he had worked to accumulate

A lot of reason to be mad and carry that, huh?

We might be (rightfully) asking ourselves,

“How could the Father possibly forgive this?”

What’s remarkable is that though the Father heard, “You are dead to me…”, he was more concerned about his son being dead to him… and his joy at his son’s return proves this.

I think the response here is absolutely beautiful, and we can learn a lot about HOW to extend forgiveness through the actions of the Father here…

Let’s walk through the Father’s response and we’ll see FIVE parts to this process that are a fantastic model for those of us who need to extend forgiveness to others…

He saw him…

Think about the last time someone did something to you that required you to forgive them…

Was it easy?

I’m gonna guess you’ll say NO!

Why?

Well, because they might have caused us a lot of pain…

Because the thought of being around them triggers something deep in us…

And because we’re human, it’s so hard for us to see past what this person did to the person they truly are…

And because in order to move towards forgiving someone, we have to do the hard work of grieving well…

Listen to the words of Brene Brown:

Forgiveness is so difficult because it involves death and grief.  I had been looking for patterns in people extending generosity and love, but not in people feeling grief.  At that moment it struck me:  Given the dark fears we feel when we experience loss, nothing is more generous and loving than the willingness to embrace grief in order to forgive.  To be forgiven is to be loved.

The death or ending that forgiveness necessitates comes in many shapes and forms.  We may need to bury our expectations or dreams.  We may need to relinquish the power that comes with “being right” or put to rest the idea that we can do what’s in our hearts and still retain the support or approval of others.  Joe explained, “Whatever it is, it all has to go.  It isn’t good enough to box it up and set it aside.  It has to die.  It has to be grieved.  That is a high price indeed.  Sometimes it’s just too much.”

This is so hard for us because in order to be able to move towards forgiving this person that hurt us, something has to die –

our expectations, our need to be right, our need for restitution – but it’s what living in the way of Jesus is all about…

Sometimes the grief of what happened causes us to build a wall and not even be able to see the person on the other side…

The father in this story had every right to be angry and to build up a wall and not at all look out with eyes of grace to see the person on the other side…

But we see that he was looking for his son…

What sticks out to me is that he was looking with an eye towards LIFE and RESTORATION, and that’s unusual when someone has been hurt, isn’t it?

I know for me, when someone hurts me, my first thought isn’t, “well God bless that person and give them a really nice day…”

Is it you?

Liars!

No! Our first thought often is, “someone has to pay…”

And left unchecked, we can sink into a really tough place with eyes that are looking for vengeance and death instead of life.

But the father here modeled for us what eyes towards life looked like:

The son was worried about getting all the little details right – really, he was thinking transactionally – get this formula down and I have a place to sleep tonight and a hot meal…

The dad wasn’t thinking that at all – he was thinking relationally – about restoring his relationship with his son…

Why? Because instead of thinking, “My son wished me dead”, he was thinking, “My son is still alive!”

He had an eye for life, not death…

And it’s easy to do when we’re hurting…

Death calls for more death, but life calls for life

Death says shame & guilt, life says FREEDOM

Death says TRANSACTION, Life says CELEBRATION

Death says you have to earn my forgiveness, Life says you’ve already been forgiven

Death says RESTITUTION, Life says RESTORATION

I’ve experienced my fair share of pain in my life – believe me – and sometimes when someone has hurt me, the last thing I want to do is put on an eye towards life –

But I’m convinced that this is what we’re called to do as followers of Jesus…

16 Because of all that God has done, we now have a new perspective. We used to show regard for people based on worldly standards and interests. No longer. We used to think of the Anointed the same way. No longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is united with the Anointed One, that person is a new creation. The old life is gone—and see—a new life has begun! 18 All of this is a gift from our Creator God, who has pursued us and brought us into a restored and healthy relationship with Him through the Anointed. And He has given us the same mission, the ministry of reconciliation, to bring others back to Him.

19 It is central to our good news that God was in the Anointed making things right between Himself and the world. This means He does not hold their sins against them. But it also means He charges us to proclaim the message that heals and restores our broken relationships with God and each other.

2 Cor 5:11-21

I think an important part of growing as a follower of Jesus is realizing that God uses us, even in the midst of our pain, to bring others to Him, and our efforts to live out the ministry of reconciliation means seeing others with a new perspective – not just as the person who hurt us, but as the person God loves and desires to do something unique in their lives…

So sometimes we have to grieve before we can truly “see” the person, and sometimes we have to adjust our perspective to one of looking for life and not death… and as being partners with God in reconciling all things to Himself…

When we can do that, we can move on to the next step the father modeled for us…

He had compassion upon him…

The Father saw him and did work to understand the perspective of his son…

He probably realized what a burden the son was carrying…

I’ve been chewing a lot on this verse:

Jesus: Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.

Luke 23:34

I once heard someone tell me about this concept in Buddhist psychology that essentially says, “If they could have done it differently, they would have done it differently…”

It’s this idea that given their unique worldview at the time, their upbringing, their pain, the weight that entangled them, etc, they couldn’t possibly have chosen a different path than they did at the time.

I don’t know anyone who seriously caused pain in another that, when they came to their senses, didn’t look back and say, “What was I thinking?” Their thinking was off. The way they saw things was off, and it led them to doing things they shouldn’t have done.

It’s kind of like when someone says, “I didn’t mean to say that.” Really, given their level of anger and their emotions, they did mean to say that at that moment… but that was a mistake, and it didn’t come from the best part of them, and they wish they hadn’t said it.

I think the real work for us is to look towards those who sinned against us and try to understand their pain and the reasons they did what they did… and to see them as a beloved child of God who is broken just like we are.

It’s not that we excuse it… but we seek to understand, so that we can develop compassion towards them.

A healthy process of extending forgiveness towards others HAS to include having compassion towards them.

This father looked out and SAW his son – and he was able to look beyond the thing that his son did to the person that his son was, and saw him as loved by God and worthy of compassion…

The next thing he did that we can learn from is that:

He ran towards him…

This is one of the most striking details in this story.

In our eyes, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal…

But in Middle Eastern culture, it was considered shameful for a patriarch to run. Almost like it was undignified, lower than him, etc.

What typically happened was the older brother would play the role of reconciler, and the father would wait for the one who offended him to come to him, so he could retain his dignity.

But because the father had an eye towards life and reconciliation, he didn’t really care what the naysayers said…

Because he SAW his son and HAD COMPASSION toward him, he wasn’t content to let his son wallow in his guilt and his shame.

How often do we allow others who have hurt us to languish in the pain?

Honestly, sometimes it feels good and justified to let them “feel and sit in what they’ve done…”

But what I think Jesus is showing us through this parable is that we are ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS in the cycle of grace, and it’s not ok to let those who’ve sinned against us languish in the pain over it.

If it were me, I’d probably stay seated and let him come with a heavy heart the whole way, sweating about what my response would be…

But – this father ran out to meet the son…

He INTERRUPTED THE PATTERN in order to display an extraordinary measure of grace.

I wonder how many of us know we need to forgive someone who hurt us, but we have a posture that says, “I’ll work towards healing only when they come to me.

As followers of Jesus, it’s important that we do the work to SEE those who have hurt us, to have COMPASSION upon them, and to RUN TO THEM and interrupt their pain and shame in order to move towards reconciliation, and to live out the healthy model of Forgiveness Jesus asks us to live out.

The next thing the father did…

He embraced him…

This is about accepting the son, flaws and all..

Remember, the son had this speech all prepared, and he launched into it… but the father INTERRUPTED him.

This was him reminding his son that HE WAS ACCEPTED and that WHAT HE DID didn’t define WHO HE WAS…

All of us need to hear that.

I once read that accepting someone and forgiving them is the first real act of love we can show someone.

You see, when we chase after someone even though their sin hurt us dearly, and remind them that yes, it hurt us dearly, but their sin is NOT who they are, it is one of the most compelling expressions of the true character and grace of God we can make.

Have you ever thought that God might want to use your pain to show others just how much God loves them despite their sin and shame? That God might want to use you to model a healthy cycle of forgiveness?

And finally:

He celebrated him…

The dad interrupted the cycle of guilt and shame and welcomed the son back into the family and threw a giant party.

Imagine how it would feel for someone you’ve hurt to welcome you back with open arms and celebrate the restoration of your relationship!

Now imagine how it would feel to someone who has hurt you if you embraced them and celebrated the restoration of your relationship.

//

So we’ve learned a lot about how we can take some steps towards extending forgiveness by looking at the example of the Father…

If we really want to take steps towards FREEDOM, we have to learn to experience FORGIVENESS, and like the Father in this story, we have to learn to EXTEND forgiveness.

Why?

Because to the degree in which we learn to experience forgiveness for ourselves and extend forgiveness to others is the degree in which we experience FREEDOM for ourselves and extend FREEDOM to others…

//

SO WHAT ABOUT YOU?

The question is, how much freedom do you want?

Not much? Then don’t do the work to come to terms with your need to experience forgiveness.

Don’t examine your heart and life to see if you’ve wounded anyone else or if there is anything within you holding you hostage and keeping you from experiencing forgiveness.

Don’t want much freedom? Then let those who’ve hurt you languish in their guilt and shame, and don’t take steps towards extending forgiveness to them and setting you both free.

It’s up to you – you get to decide…

But let us all remember the words of Scripture:

13 Put up with one another. Forgive. Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind.

– Colossians 3:13 (The Voice)

Forgiveness is ESSENTIAL to living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus…

It’s thinking of the other and loving them well…

And it’s a reminder that despite God’s extravagant love towards us, sometimes we focus on US and completely forget Him – yet he still sees us, has compassion towards us, runs towards us, embraces us, and celebrates us and reminds us that NOTHING will ever separate us from the love of God.

And just like the son in this story, we all make mistakes that hurt other people … but the FATHER always is waiting with an eye towards life and reconciliation…

And like the FATHER in this story – we all have been hurt by others…

But my guess is, we’re tired of holding onto the shame and the guilt and the pain and the “holding it over someone else”… and we just want to be free…

//

I think there is something for ALL of us in this parable when it comes to forgiveness…

Some of us need to experience forgiveness like the son experienced forgiveness.

Some of us need to pause this morning and ask ourselves if we’ve unintentionally hurt someone else, and make a plan to go to them and make it right.

Some of us need to do some work around having healthy assumptions about ourselves, God, and others…

Some of us need to interrupt the cycle of guilt and shame that’s hung over us for years, and remind ourselves that God loves us as we are, not as we should be.

Some of us need to extend forgiveness like the father extended forgiveness.

Maybe we need to shift how we see others… and see them as God’s children too… and that God desires to bring them towards wholeness…

Maybe we need to have compassion towards them, and remind ourselves that “they know not what they do…”

Maybe we need to run towards those who have wounded us, and show them the UNEXPECTED grace of God…

Maybe we need to embrace them and welcome them back into the family…

And maybe we need to celebrate God’s healing and restoration…

Whatever it is for you, I want us to take a few moments asking God to show us the next right step, and to give us the courage to DO IT.

TAKE A MOMENT…

LORD’S PRAYER SETUP

I want us to close together by praying a prayer Jesus modeled for us 2,000 years ago.

There’s this line: Forgive us our trespasses (sins), as we forgive those who trespass (sin) against us.

It’s all too easy to pray something like this and let it just be a rote exercise.

My hope is that, as we approach this prayer together, this line would JUMP out at us as one of the clearest expressions of God’s love we get to be a part of…

and that we’d be provoked to ACTION, to do our part towards healing and restoration and living out the Gospel in a practical way.

And let us NOT go to God asking for our daily bread without remembering our part in the cycle of forgiveness…

Let’s Pray:

Our Father, who art in heaven,

Hallowed be your name

Your kingdom come, Your will be done,

On Earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread,

And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever, amen.

////

Amen…

Have a great Sunday!

Freeway | Forgiveness | Luke 15:19-24 | Week 42021-03-15T09:35:38-06:00

Freeway | Ownership | Luke 15:17-20 | Week 3

Certainly we can relate to the feeling of pursuing freedom and finding ourself in cages. That song (Cages) by NeedtoBreathe poignantly points that picture of the place we often find ourselves in. It’s the place that the prodigal son found himself in. He believed he was on the pathway to freedom, but he found that he was actually on his way to confinement. We’re going to pick up that story again today. If you have your Bible, turn with me to Luke 15.

My wife and I were living in California and we were going to sleep; both our heads on the pillow and typically, my head hits the pillow and I’m asleep within one to two minutes. Right before I fell asleep, my wife leans over and she says, “Is our pool pump running?” We had a pool in the backyard. I listened for a moment and I heard a sound going, “Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.” I looked at her and said, “No, I don’t hear anything!” We proceeded to go to bed. The next day we were lying in bed again; she didn’t say anything this time, but she didn’t have to because the sound of the pool pump seemed to grow louder over the course of the evening….whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. I thought, “I could get up, but I’m already in bed.” I forgot….day after day after day, and eventually, I grew accustomed to the sound of my pool pump running all night and all day, every night and every day. I learned a valuable lesson through this: 1) My wife is typically right. Secondly, it’s never cost me so much to say those roads. When SDG&E delivered our electric bill the next month, it was $1200.00! Turns out it costs a lot of money to run your pool pump over and over, around the clock, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I tell this story because I think some of us have some pool pumps in our life. Some things that we’ve just grown accustomed to, some things that we ignore. The sound of that whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. It may be a past that we’re on the run from. It may be a fear of intimacy that we can’t quite seem to get over. Some decisions that we’ve made, some things that we’re not quite proud of. Instead of actually addressing it, instead of going out and taking a look at it to figure out what you’re actually dealing with, a lot of the times what we do as people, not necessarily as followers of Jesus, just as people in general, is we have a unique ability to ignore the things in our life that are off, don’t we? It takes an act of God, sometimes, to wake us up. Sometimes it takes pain, sometimes it takes more hurt, sometimes it takes us getting to the place where we don’t feel like we have anywhere else to go for us to actually address the things in our life that are off.

It’s exactly where the prodigal got to. If you have a Bible, we’re going to start in Luke 15:11 this morning, and I want to give us some context and lead us up to where we’re going to land. Remember, Jesus is sitting with a group of people who are really divided in half. He’s sitting with tax collectors and sinners, who were sort of the lowest of the low in the societal rankings in the first century. People who religious folks prove their devotion to God by having nothing to do with. You have the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law, the people who have crossed all the “t’s” and dotted all the “i’s” and they’ve got it together. The teachers of the Law ask Jesus, “Why in the world are you eating with tax collectors and sinners?” Don’t you know our ranking system? Don’t you know that in order to be holy you’ve got to avoid things and people like that? In light of that, Jesus tells three stories. We’re focusing in on the third—the parable of the Prodigal…the prodigal son, the prodigal father. Verse 11 — And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!

But when he came to himself…. It’s an interesting phrase. It would be akin to us saying, “I came to my senses.” It was this ‘ah ha’ moment for the younger son, this looking back in the rearview mirror of all the travels that he’s had, and all the things that he’s done, and the experiences that he’s engaged in, and he has this clouds-parting ‘what have I done with myself’ moment. Have you ever had one of those? One of these where the clouds part, where with clarity you can see the way that the decisions you’ve made maybe have harmed yourself, or maybe they’ve harmed others, where you can see that the pathway your on is not leading you to the place that you eventually want to get to. You wake up the morning after and you go, “How did I become this kind of person?” He came to himself.

It’s been said that before we come to God we must come to ourself. Any journey towards our heavenly Father, begins with us coming to terms with who we are and what we’ve done and who we’ve been. {Will you look up at me for a moment?} There’s not a person in this room, whether you’re a follower of Jesus or not….. If you’re not a follower of Jesus, let me say that I’m so glad that you’re here today, because I think you’re going to get a picture of who we are as people and of who God is as the creator and maker of us all. My hope is that picture resonates with your soul in a deep and powerful way. There’s something that unites us all as people. We all have regrets. We all have things in our life that we would do differently if we could go back and do them again. There’s not a person in this room that goes, “No, I’ve pretty much stuck the dismount every single time.” If you say that we have a word for it….it’s called lying. Or a lack of self-awareness. One of the two. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the church at Rome, says it like this. He talks about his “condition” or the reality of his life — For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Rom. 7:15) And I do it over and over and sometimes I get to this place where I’m just going, “I don’t understand why I do what I do.” We’ve all been there. That’s not unique to the apostle Paul. That’s not unique to any person in this room. We’ve ALL been there. And we’ll stay there……unless we can come to ourself. Because we never come to God until we come to ourself.

The pathway to freedom that you and I long for is through the junk and the pain of life. It’s not around it. If we never get honest enough to say this is who I’ve been, and this is where I’ve been, and this is what I’ve done, and if we never come to ourself, we never genuinely, honestly, and in a way that emancipates us, come to God. It’s the story of the prodigal son. He never returns to the father, if he doesn’t first have a ‘clouds-parting’ moment. Here’s the truth about you and I—If we don’t get honest about our brokenness, we will never step into His wholeness. Ever. There’s a lot on the line for us today! There’s a lot on the line for us in this story. The truth of the matter is, friends, honestly facing our past (or we could say facing reality–it could be our present) frees us to move towards the future. If we never get honest, we never get healing. If we’re unwilling to deal with reality, we’ll be unable to move toward the destiny that God has, by his grace, provided for us.

Reality is one of our greatest and most elusive friends. It’s hard to see reality, isn’t it? It’s hard to come to terms with (if you’re the younger son) I’ve blown all my money. The freedom that I was chasing only provided the cages that I now live in. I’m looking at the pods that the pigs are eating, thinking, “That doesn’t look that bad.” Now, I’ve never been around too many pigs, just that one massive one at the Littleton Kids’ Museum. Anyone seen that guy? That guy is eating well, it just doesn’t smell too good. If you’ve been around pigs, you’ll go, you’ve got to be pretty low if you’re looking at the pigs and going, man…. It takes that moment. It takes that clouds-parting ‘oh my goodness, what have I done with my life’ moment for the younger son to say, “I’m going to return and go back to my father.”

We have a unique ability to keep things hidden. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes series, wrote a short, little note, put it in the mail and mailed it to five of the most prominent men in all of England. It said, short and sweet, “All is found out. Flee immediately.” He was just messing with them. Within 24 hours, all five men were gone. Can you imagine the weight you’re living with? If you’re willing to leave at that ambiguous of a note, can you imagine the weight of waking up every day, wondering if somebody’s going to find you out? Wow! It takes a lot to keep things hidden, but here’s the beauty of this story. If we’re willing to step out of hiding, there’s amazing beauty that comes from our brokenness. There’s amazing beauty that comes from this ‘ah ha,’ honestly facing, this is what I’ve done, this is who I’ve been moment that frees us, free you and me, to move into the future. Here’s my question for you—What are the pool pumps in your life? The things that whoosh, whoosh, whoosh….the things you’re just ignoring, hoping they’ll go away, that you’re on the run from? Can I just tell you that in the end it’s going to cost you? There’s a better way. Let me show you from the Scriptures this morning.

There’s some challenges that you and I face with getting honest and the younger son is no different. He’s going to face those challenges too, and he’s going to step into honesty because he knows that honesty is the very first step in any sort of healing, in any sort of redemption, in breaking forth from any sort of cage. It’s admitting we’re in it. Here’s what he says (Luke 15:17-18) — But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father….{I encountered this famine and it took all my money. Or, Father, I was taken advantage of and I got a bad deal. Father, the stock market took a little bit of a downturn and everything that I’d saved up is gone. No. What he says is….} I have sinned against heaven and before you. It’s this ‘I.’ One little word. It’s the ‘I’ of ownership. I’ve done this…. This is where I have been… It’s that ‘I’ that says I’m not going to make excuses anymore, and I’m not going to blame the famine, and I’m not going to blame the stock market, and I’m not going to blame the person that took advantage of me, it’s just this is on ME!

Here’s what he does — He confronts his numerous excuses. I love the way that the sort of mother of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, said it: “I attribute my success to this — I never gave or took an excuse.” You can do one of two things in your life—You can either make progress or you can make excuses, but you can’t do both. The people that move towards freedom in their life and address that “pool pump” as it were, are people that go, listen, I’m not going to make excuses about why things are the way that they are, I’m going to confront reality, and I’m going to confront my excuses, and I’m actually going to say, “This is on me! I. HAVE. SINNED.” This is the younger son’s coming to his senses. We’re the king of excuses, as DC Talk said: “We’ve got one for every selfish thing we do.” Right?

One of my favorite scenes in any movie is from “What About Bob?” He’s talking about excuses, reasons that he does not want to leave his apartment and things that could potentially happen if he does. He says, “I have trouble moving.” (He says this to Dr. Leo Marvin.) Leo Marvin asks him what could happen? Here’s what he says: Well, dizzy spells; nausea; fever blisters; hot sweats; cold sweats; difficulty breathing; difficulty swallowing; blurred vision; involuntary trembling; dead hands; numb lips; and fingernail sensitivity. (I love that scene!) We’re pretty good at coming up with excuses, aren’t we? This is why this thing happened, and this is why that thing happened….

If you read through the gospels, Jesus is passionately and ruthlessly confronting people’s excuses. John 5:6-8, he encounters a man who’s paralyzed by a pool, Pool of Bethesda. The story goes that an angel would sort of dip down and dip their finger in the water and stir it, the first person to the water would be healed. Jesus comes to this man and asks him an interesting question — Do you want to be healed? {Do you want to get better?} The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up…” His answer is the same answer we often give — Yes, BUT… Yes, but. Yeah, but I have all these challenges, and I have all these things in my past, and I have all these regrets, and I have all these things, and… Let’s just cut through the excuses. Jesus’s question is really simple this morning—Do you want to be healed? Do you want to be free? Do you want to be whole?

As I’ve looked at my life, there’s three ways I find myself making excuses. 1) Denial. If you read through the Scriptures, King David is an example of denial. 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan comes to him and says, David, let me tell you a little story about this king who went and stole a little lamb from a peasant—the only lamb that this guy had. David listens to the entire story and he just can’t see that the story Nathan is telling is about him. Until he says to him, David, you are the man! Our ability to create reasons why this isn’t a problem is vast, endless. It may sound something like—-There’s no issue with the car. You just turn up the radio and it’s gone. Or put a post-it note over the ‘check engine’ light. There’s nothing wrong with the marriage. All marriages go through cold spells. The text message exchange is normal. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s totally platonic. I don’t have a fear of intimacy. It’s just that other people have continually wronged me. Yeah, I can continue to spend money this way. Eventually we’ll pay it off. DENIAL. It’s a human condition. I thought this was poignant—Lucille Clifton, a poet, writes a poem and she pictures herself trying to keep her eyes closed, ignoring the truth. When she finishes the poem, she finishes with this voice telling her, “You might as well answer the door, my child, the truth is furiously knocking.” You might as well answer the door….that whoosh, whoosh, whoosh is not going to go away and it’s going to cost you.

Here’s the second thing we do. If it’s not denial, it’s comparison. And not the good kind of comparison, but the kind where it says, I’m not as bad as them. I haven’t done what they’ve done. As if life grades on a curve, right? If we can be in the top X%, we’re going to be okay. Comparison.

Finally, blame. It’s their fault. This isn’t on me. It’s their fault. If we can get the onus off of ourselves….they sinned, I didn’t sin, it’s on them! It’s the thrust the Taylor Swift’s new song, “Look What You Made Me Do.” But, it’s as old as humanity. It happened in the Garden, it doesn’t just happen in pop music 2017. It’s Adam and Eve in the garden. It’s God coming to Adam and saying: Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat? The man said, “The woman who you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree… (Gen. 3:11-12) So God, let’s talk for a second. I have some questions for you too! Why in the world would you put such a person in my life? Right? It’s not just blaming the woman, Adam will throw God under the bus if he can. YOU gave her to me! We have to stop and at least admire, that for the woman to be deceived, it has to be a personification of evil that comes into the picture and presents something that looks delicious. For a man to be deceived, all he needs is a naked woman! That’s all he needed! Blame is in our spiritual bloodstream. It’s part of our heritage. It’s part of our spiritual DNA, and as you can in the Adam and Eve narrative, it’s typically the people closest to us that we throw under the bus first.

What does it look like this morning for you to confront excuses? It may be in the department of denial, or comparison, or blame, but here’s what ownership requires. {Will you look up at me for just a second?} Ownership requires that we name whatever it is specifically and that we step into it as ours. This is who I am. This is where I’ve been. You and I cannot excuse ourselves to freedom. It is a never-ending cycle—denial, blame, comparison—that just keeps us in those same cages. Friends, if we’re going to move towards this freedom that God has for us, we have got to be more passionate about that freedom than we are about avoiding pain. It’s hard to raise our hand up in the air and say, this is where I’ve been, this is what I’ve done, and this is the reality of what I deserve. That’s hard! But there’s no freedom without it.

I just want to make a special note. My guess is there are some in this room who have suffered some form of abuse. Maybe sexually, physically, spiritually. If you read those three things—denial, comparison, blame—my guess is the Enemy wants to turn those in your life to say that was your fault. I just want to speak into that lie….if you’re hearing that lie this morning, I just want you to know, it was not your fault. Whatever happened….it was not your fault. Don’t listen to the Enemy’s lie of ‘I need to blame myself.’ No you don’t. That’s if there’s something that we’ve stepped into….going against the flow of who God’s created us to be, in His wisdom and goodness and design. But if you’ve been abused, that’s a different category.

Luke 15:18-19. He says this: I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants. Here’s what he does — He admits his prevailing brokenness. First he confronts his numerous excuses, next, he admits his prevailing brokenness, his sinfulness, his darkness, his fractured-ness. Now, there’s a lot of talk about what sin is. A lot of people want to avoid the topic all-together. The only problem with that is the Bible. It doesn’t avoid it. We could do a number of different messages trying to answer and wrestle with the question–what is sin? Like a gem, you could turn it and look at it in different ways. Here’s the way this narrative, this parable, talks about sin. I think we can relate to this because it’s in story-form. What is sin according to the Prodigal Son narrative? It’s three things. First, it’s a posture towards God of ‘give me mine.’ We talked about this last week. It’s part of this process of stepping outside of the Father’s favor when we say to him, listen, I think I can do this better on my own.

Remember, there’s two postures we can take towards God—either ‘give me mine’ or ‘I am yours.’ That’s the first posture, this ‘give me mine.’ It’s selfishness. As the Reformers would say, it’s the curving in of one’s self on one’s self. If we’re a radio station, we’re “All Ryan, All the Time.” This is about me. Many have argued that sin, at it’s core, is selfishness. It’s a turn into ourselves. That’s the way it starts. That’s the way the narrative begins with this ‘give me mine.’ The second thing sin is is he leaves and goes to a far-off country. Before sin is ever a breach in law, it’s a break in relationship. I’ll say it again. Before sin is EVER a breach in law—you’ve done these things wrong—it’s a break in relationship—you’ve left the Father’s house. You’ve stepped out of relationship with the Father. Which is why the Scriptures will say….and it sounds so strong, but if you understand the background, it makes sense. For whatever does not proceed from faith {Which is trust or relationship with God} is sin. (Rom. 14:23) So anything outside of relationship with God is anti-design, it’s against the way He created us to live, because living in relationship with Him is at the core of why humanity even exists.

So, it’s ‘give me mine,’ it’s selfish—it’s curved in on self, and it’s ‘I’m going off on my own,’ it’s relationship or life apart from the Author of Life. Then, and only then, it’s “reckless” living. When we talk about sin, we typically jump to the third thing that the narrative points out—reckless living. I’ve done all these things. But that doesn’t happen if we don’t turn in ourself and step out of relationship with the Father. Those things follow, certainly. They always do. But they only follow, they don’t lead the way. There’s a difference between sin and sins. Sin is being outside of relationship with the Father, being curved in on ourself. Sins are what we DO because we’re outside of relationship with the Father. What we do, as Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. said (I think brilliantly): “Sin is the culpable disturbance of shalom.” It’s the fracturing of peace that God designed you and I to live in. It happens in his creation and it happens in the created beings.The backwards narrative says “To sin is to be human.” It couldn’t be further from the truth. Actually, sin MARS our humanity and distances us from the Author of life.

So, ‘give me mine’—curve in on self. Leave to a far-off country—apart from relationship with the Father. He embraces a different lifestyle—“reckless” living. He says something else, though, doesn’t he? He says I’ve sinned, and then he says….he makes this really interesting statement….he says, “I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.” I wrestled with that this week. I wanted to try to answer the question—Is he right? Is he no longer worthy to be called the son? Yes and no. No, he’s not right if he means ‘I’m no longer your son.’ How do you become a son? Well, you’re born into a family. You’ve got blood running through your veins that carries a name. What he doesn’t say is I’m no longer your son. I think he gets it right. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. The word ‘worthy’ is ‘akso’ in the Greek. It literally means a 1:1 ratio or a 1:1 correspondence. It means if you were to put what he’s been given as a son on a scale, and what he’s lived up to as the son, that what he’s lived up to has failed miserably.

I think what he’s getting at is that there’s a fractured relationship between his good father and self. Please hear me on this. We’ve got to come to this place. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. It doesn’t mean you don’t have worth. It doesn’t mean you don’t carry value. It means that the life that we’ve lived has not honored the gift that we’ve been given. If we can’t go there, if we can’t come there, if we can’t come to our senses, as it were…..this Isaiahic moment of woe is me, I’ve sinned, I live amongst a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the glory of the king. If we never get to this woe is me, come to our senses moment, we will NEVER take the journey back to our Father. I want that to sit on us a little bit this morning. It’s against this darkness, this ‘I’m no longer worthy,’ I haven’t added up, I’ve marred the gift that you’ve given me…..it’s against the backdrop of THAT darkness that the beauty of the gospel shines! It’s putting a diamond on black velvet and letting it go…..POW! That’s what he’s doing. The picture for you and I is I am in an absolutely terrible position, I’m in the far-off country with absolutely no resources, and I’m deeply loved by the Father.

There’s a false narrative that floats around. It’s in one little pithy statement. It says this: God cannot be around sin. You know what the problem with that is? The Bible. He’s around sin, you know that, right? He actually pursues you in your sinfulness. We get it backwards. We get it wrong. It’s not that God can’t be around sin, it’s that sin can’t be around God. In His presence, it’s refined, extinguished, taken away. He’s not Mr. Clean up in heaven going, “Eeeww!” He’s the passionate Father saying, “Come home.” Jesus’s life is demonstration of this. In 1 Peter 3:18, it says: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God… {We are the outsiders who have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph. 2)} ..being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.

Here’s the beautiful truth of the gospel, friends, and you see it all throughout this narrative. Luke 15:24 — For this my son was dead, and is alive again. Notice what the father did NOT say—-My son was BAD and now he’s good. That is not the gospel. The gospel is not about God making bad people good. It’s about God making dead people alive! It’s about Him bringing those who were far off near to God. It’s not like he created a pathway for you to walk. It’s He might bring us to God. We’re not invited to be moralists as followers of Christ. We’re invited to be worshippers, people captivated with the goodness of our Father. So he says, I will rise and I will go. He does, in this picture of resurrection. Friends, I want to say as clearly as I can to you this morning, since grace is available, returning is possible. You can address that pool pump in your life and you can risk (and it is a risk) coming home. You can risk honesty. You can risk ownership. You can risk because grace is available to you.

I want you to hear the story of my friend Nicole. Her story is a beautiful one because God’s gotten ahold of it. Because she was willing to say this is really who I am, God took it and He turned it for the glory of his name.

{Video}

Hi, my name is Nicole and I’m a grateful believer. I never felt that I mattered anyway, so what would it matter if I made this decision? So it was a secret….and another secret….and another secret….and then the decision. I had to come to terms with myself. I was between relationships when it happened…when I did become pregnant. One of my major secrets was having an abortion. I lied about it for so many years. I was in college at the time and graduated with a degree. I was just able to play those masks and survive it. My voice doesn’t matter anyway, nobody’s going to listen. That can go back to when I was thirteen years old and the situation that I had with my mom. I had to admit to her that I was raped by her best friend’s son, and it was my fault. That just caused this switch, this light switch to come into my life that I could either turn on or turn off. I lived in the turn off mode for so long and just internalized it. For an additional sixteen years. Caused more resentment, more lies, more hurt, more hurting of people. Until May 24, 2012, when God brought me to my ownership of life. I just cried and I said, “Okay, God, what is it? Help me!”

He had been pulling at me for so many years. That one lost sheep….that’s not just a story. He leaves his 99 and He goes for that one lost. But until I realized that I was like that one lost sheep that mattered….because I was lost for so many years and the people that were suppose to love me and who I was suppose to matter to, didn’t do that for me. So I didn’t trust that God would do that for me either. Until I wrote my suicidal letter and my intentions. God said, “It’s not happening.” {Aaron’s voice — So it’s like writing a resignation letter and the boss says I decline your resignation?} Yeah! He completely declined my resignation letter! I never thought I’d be more grateful for that, because I lived in so much fear that my life didn’t matter. When I heard Him say, “You matter. You’re mine,” it was like WHAT??? I’m whose?? It was actually in 2013 that I was able to say those things out loud. What my life looked like from MY story.

We can all talk about grace. We can all talk about unconditional love. We can all speak those words. But we don’t know what they feel like. When everything that you have played in your head and your heart, that hamster wheel of stories and lies, and know that if I tell somebody my deepest, darkest secret they’re not going to accept me. When you say that out loud and people are embracing you and loving you and really truly feeling that genuine-ness from someone. Every time I get to speak about it, it reminds me of how beautiful He is. Because I forget! We all forget what unconditional love looks like, what unconditional grace looks like, what unconditional forgiveness looks like. So when I get to share and I get to do something like Celebrate Recovery or sharing here, it reminds me of that. I’m like, “Okay. I know I’m having a bad day and thank you for reminding me I’m yours.”

But I never thought ownership would be freeing. I never did. I thought ownership would be discipline and ownership would have to be condemning. But taking that ownership of life and the mistakes and choices that I made just opened up God’s pathways to create this. And that’s His beautiful glory and His beautiful daughter, that I never knew I was. You’ve gotta give it back. You can’t keep it in. You HAVE to give it back. You HAVE to be fearless in saying things out loud. FEARLESS! {End of video}

Friends, the truth of the matter is is that when we have this coming to our senses, this is who I am moment, that moment doesn’t define us. It actually frees us. It frees us into life with God. It frees us to walk back, to journey home where we see Him running towards us. It doesn’t define us, it refines us. The risk of vulnerability….I know it’s hard to say this is who I am and this is what I’ve done. The risk of vulnerability results in the fruit of freedom. It does. That’s what hangs in the balance today. Will we have these moments with God and with each other where we say this is really who I am? And risk that He’ll love us anyway? I pray that you will. Otherwise, we’re on that hamster wheel of life, but by His blood, we have been brought near. We’re the outsiders brought in to His family.

{Ryan invites congregation to stand and sing benediction.}

Freeway | Ownership | Luke 15:17-20 | Week 32020-08-19T15:25:47-06:00

Freeway | Discovery | Luke 15:11-16 | Week 2

There was a baby camel who looked up at his mom and said, “Mom, why do we have these big furry paws for feet?”  She looked at him and said, “So that we don’t sink into the sand as we walk across the desert.”  He looked back at his mom and said, “Oh, okay.  Mom, why do we have these big eye lashes?”  She said, “Son, it’s so the sand, as it blows across the desert, doesn’t blow into our eyes.”  He looked up at her and said, “Oh, okay.  Mom what’s the deal with this really big, strange hump on our backs?”  She said, “Son, that’s so that we can take long journeys across the desert and we don’t need water and are able to keep going and going and going.”  He said, “Oh, okay.  Mom, if I’m tracking with you….we have these big paws so that we don’t sink into the sand.” “Yeah.” “We have these eye lashes so that the sand won’t blow into our eyes.”  “You’ve got it, son.”  “We have this big hump for those long journeys across the desert.”   “You’ve got it.”  He looked up at his mom and said, “If that’s the case, why in the world are we in the Denver Zoo?!”

I think that maybe we can relate on some level.  We have all of the DNA of freedom, yet we often find ourselves in confinement.  Everything in us cries out that we were designed for something more and something bigger and something better, and yet, we look at our lives sometimes, and our lives defined by a fear that we can’t get over, a guilt that we can’t shake free of, and a despair that seems so prevalent that it defines our everyday reality.  We look at ourselves, we look at our own hearts and our own souls and the desire is in us to go, yeah, I was made for freedom.  All of us know it.  It’s a transcendent, human reality.  We know that we were designed for freedom and yet, we also know that there’s things in our life that keep us enslaved.  There’s things in our life that confine us. There’s even decisions that we’ve made that turn that more and more into a reality.  Yeah, we look and we go, huh, I’ve got these feet and I’ve got this hump and I’ve got these eyelashes, then why in the world am I in the zoo?!

I’m glad you asked that question.  Would you open with me to Luke 15.  Jesus, in a story form, in a parable form, is going to, in a sense, answer that question.  Last week we started a series we’re calling “Freeway” where we’re journeying through one of the greatest stories ever told by one of the greatest storytellers to ever walk the face of the planet.  It’s the story of the Prodigal Son or the Prodigal Father. Prodigal simply means “recklessly lavish.”  Jesus tells this story to a diversified group.  There’s some Pharisees that are teachers of the Law, and they’re prominent theologians of the day, and they’re looking at Jesus and asking him, Jesus, why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?  Why are you spending intimate and intentional time with people that we all know you should avoid…and we should avoid?  Jesus, if you’re the Holy One, the Teacher, you of all people should keep your distance from people like that.  Instead of unpacking didactically ‘twelve reasons that Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners,’ he tells three stories.  Remember, Kenneth Bailey, a great New Testament scholar who spent forty years teaching in Lebanon, suggests that parables are intended to be stories that we sort of climb up inside of and explore.  They’re ways for us to try on a new reality.  As we read this story this morning, I want to invite you in…not just to hear it, but to see yourself in it.

Luke 15:11-16 — And he said, “There was a man who had two sons.  And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’  And he divided his property between them.  Not many days later, the younger son gather all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.  And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.  And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.  We’re going to dive deep into this section of Scripture this morning, and as we do that, I want to point out the beginning of the story because it’s really, really important to set the stage for all that goes on over the next few weeks.

Here’s how the story begins:  There’s two sons, and the younger son says to his father, “Give me the share of the property.”  As Jesus tells this story, there’s a number of words he could have chosen to use for the younger son’s desire.  In fact, the best word to depict what’s going on is actually avoided.  Most scholars would say “intentionally” avoided.  It would be the word “inheritance.”  That’s what he’s asking for.  He’s asking for that which is his, the inheritance.  The house that his father has built, he wants, but he doesn’t use that word.  In the Greek it would be the word ‘kleronomia,’ but he uses the word ‘ousia,’ which means wealth or riches or money.  Here’s the deal….the younger son knows that along with inheritance comes responsibility.  The desire to step into the stream that your father has started and continue the work that your father is doing.  The younger son wants wealth or riches without responsibility.  We have a word for it.  It’s called ‘entitlement.’  We want the stuff without any strings attached.  It’s exactly where he’s at.  If you continue to read, there’s this word play going on where they’re intentionally avoided this word inheritance, so he says give me my share of the ousia or of the wealth that’s coming to me.  It says that the father divided his property…..only it’s not what it says.  It’s not the same word.  In the Greek, in the original text, it’s actually the word ‘bios,’ which is where we get our word biology, or the study of life.  Biography — it’s a story of a life, right?  So, I want my share of the wealth, and the father says, I’ll give you your share of my life.  And even in the beginning, we start to see this tension.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a lot of questions about a lot of things in this text.   My first thought that came to me, as I was jotting down thoughts in my notebook, was that each of us has a share.  That’s a true thing about you and about me.  Because of the Father’s goodness, we are born with a “share.”  We’re given the gift of life; it has value.  It has the most value when it’s attached to the Father, but you have the choice of what you’re going to do with your “share.”  Are you going to use it in the Father’s presence, in the Father’s house, or are you going to like the younger son, like many of us do, like all of us have at some point, say, I’ll take my share, I’ll take my wealth, I’ll take my life, my section of your bios, and I’ll go to the far off land.  We all have a share.

We see something more poignant and interesting about the father.  He didn’t take too many parenting classes, did he?  At some you’ve got to put your foot down with your kids, don’t you?  You should draw some parameters around what your kids can do with the property that you’re going to give them.  I mean, if he’s taking any courses on writing a will, he should know that you can decide to put certain in place so that your kids don’t blow all your money.  He doesn’t.  He just says, yes, I’ll divide my life.  I’ll give you the money.  This is your choice to make.  What are you going to do with this life that you have, with the shares that are yours?  When the younger son says to his father, give me my share of the inheritance…..   Kenneth Bailey went around to all these different villages in the Middle East.  Villages that haven’t changed in thousands of years.  He read them this story and asked, “What do you think?”  These tribes people almost tore their clothes and said that the younger son can’t do that.  We don’t have space in our society to say to the father, the owner of the estate, give me mine.  It’s saying I wish you were dead!  It’s saying that you’re better off to me dead, you’re worth more to me dead than you are to me alive.  It’s saying, “Hey, dad, I want your stuff, but I don’t want anything to do with you.”  Which makes it all the more interesting that the father responds and says, “Okay, I’ll give you your share of my life.”

We’re going to take a quick aside, a theological segue, for a few moments.  In theological circles, it’s the debate over “free will.”  Do you and I have the ability to make choices in life?  Choices that really actually matter? Choices that make a difference?  In the first part of the 16th century, one of the fathers of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, wrote a book Bondage of the Will.  In that book, he argued that we don’t have free will.  Many people have taken that and run with it in the sense to say that the choices that we make don’t matter; in fact, there’s no choices to be made.  The only problem with that is that you and I both know that’s not true.  I would argue that the problem with that is that’s not what he was actually saying.  J.I. Packer, in his foreward to that great book, says this: “It was man’s total inability to save himself and the sovereignty of Divine grace in his salvation, that Luther was affirming when he denied free will.”  That’s what Luther’s getting after when he wrote that book.  We cannot save ourselves!  To that I say yes and amen!  If not for the grace of God and the work of Jesus, we are doomed!  But please hear me…..free will does not mean we have zero choices in life and it does not mean that our choices do not matter.

In fact, you can’t get too far in the Scriptures before you recognize that people play a significant role in the story of God.  In fact, you can’t get to chapter three in the first book without recognizing that God has given us the ability to make choices.  He says to Adam and Eve, “Hi, my name is God.  Welcome to my world.  I created it.  You’re in it.  I put you in Paradise and you have one job—just don’t eat one tree.”  What do they do?  They eat of the tree!  This is not an anomaly.  This happens all throughout Scriptures.  If you fast forward to 1 Samuel 8, you see the nation of Israel—God has risen them up, God’s called them out, God’s formed them and shaped them.  God says listen, I’ve designed you that I would be your king.  You don’t need to be like all the other kingdoms, you don’t need to be like all the other nations—-I’m your king.  They say to him, that’s a good idea, but we want an actual king that we can see, that we can touch, and that we can be ruled by.  So, in 1 Samuel 8:7 we see…..And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people {He said to Samuel that this is my will, this is my desire, this is my command, that I would be there king. Now he’s saying obey the voice of the people…} in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.  You hear these haunting words of Jesus as he’s marching toward his death, and as he’s looking over Jerusalem, he turns to his disciples and he says:  O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (Matt. 23:37 NIV) 

Does God always get everything he wants?  Well, it depends on what we mean by that question.  In THIS case, Jesus wanted to do something that people were unwilling to do.  Could God have reached down and, like a divine puppet-master, pulled a few strings and made so that the people of O Jerusalem, Jerusalem did NOT kill the prophets and did NOT reject their Messiah?  Well, sure.  Turns out that he wants something more than control.  He wants something more than to just get everything that he wants every moment of the time.  He wants…LOVE.  He wants a people who would respond to him.  It’s why the greatest commandment is just that. Not an obligation, but a command that we would love the Lord our God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our strength, with all of our mind.  The question is…are we willing?  Will we go there with God?

Last week we asked the question, why in the world, if God is so good, do really, really terrible things happen? It’s because he’s given human beings choices, and sometimes we make choices that go against what His desires are. That’s why we have things like abuse, and addiction, and affairs.  It’s not because those things are God’s will.  It’s because God’s will is that you and I would, by the power of His Spirit, step into a relation with Him and love Him with our whole beings, and sometimes people say no, thank you, I want nothing to do with that.  When a driver gets in a car and drives drunk and kills somebody, we do not go back to the government that issued the driver’s license and say that it’s your fault.  In the same way, evil—because God gives us the choice to love Him and step into relationship with Him—is not the fault of God, it’s the fault of humanity.

It’s what we see when the father says, I’ll give you your share.  I’ll let you use it as you see fit.  I would love for you to use it here, but if you’re going to go, then you’re going to go.  It’s what he does.  He goes to the “far country.”  Here’s the big idea that we’ve been circling our hearts and our minds around this morning—Our fight for freedom often leads us outside of our Father’s favor.   That desire….and that’s what’s in this younger son. I want the adventure.  I want things my way.  I don’t want the confinement of being in my father’s house and having my father’s expectations and my father’s rules….   Does this sound familiar to any parent in the room? This desire to say I’m free that often leads us to the place of….this didn’t turn out the way I thought it would. This didn’t turn out the way I hoped it would.

When you and I think about freedom, there’s two things that primarily come to mind.  The first is I’m going to pursue pleasure.  It’s this longing to fill our lives with good things, with bright things, with shiny things, things that will make us happy.  How many of you have ever said I’m going to make the decisions that will make me happy?  No one’s heard somebody say that?!  Yeah.  I’m going to do what makes me happy.  This is desire for freedom.  This is chasing after the greener pasture.  The other freedom that we long for is the aversion from pain.  We’ll chase things that either lead us towards pleasure or away from pain.  In our mind, those things are freedom.

If you flip over to John 8:31&36, here’s what Jesus says:  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide {Literally, abide means ‘to make your home within.’  If we lay that over the story of the son that’s leaving home, Jesus says if you make your home in my word, you are truly my disciples.  In my truth, in my reality, in my way, and then you will know the truth.  As you practice this, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.}  in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.   Jesus goes on to say in verse 36:  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.   {Will you look up at for a second.}  The freedom that you and I are looking for is not found in the pursuit of pleasure or an aversion to pain; the freedom that you and I are looking is not found in a lack of accountability or a desire to do whatever we please.  The freedom that you and I are looking for is found in the good-given, grace-driven ability to love things that God has called us to love.  That’s the freedom that every single human soul is looking for. Ironically, the younger son—because the father gives him choices—says I will choose to take my share and I’ll go to the far country.  It’s this picture of rejection of everything his father says is good.  It’s a picture of saying I know that this is the DNA on your estate, but I’m flowing against that stream.

Hey, before we start thinking of all the people we can picture who have done this, can we just recognize that we are they.  None of us….  This is the story not of just a younger son, it’s the story of Israel.  It’s the story of humanity.  We’ve all said at one point in time to the Father, give me my share.  I’m going to go and I’m going to blaze my own trail, and I’m going to do my own thing, and I’m going to be captain of my own ship, and I’m going to be master of my own domain, and I’m going to get mine.  How’d that work out for you?  When we go against the design that God has woven into our beings, we end up in pain.  The younger son epitomizes this perfectly. It’s this picture that’s all too familiar and that many of us know all too well.

I’m going to invite you into three characteristics of the far-off country. Here’s what it looks like.  Luke 15:13 — Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, {Not only physically away from his father, but spiritually away from his father.  It’s a rejection.  It’s cutting himself off at the roots and everything his father ingrained into him….I’m going a different direction.}  …and there he squandered…  Diaskorpizó in the Greek is two words put together.   One means to thoroughly do something, and the other means to scatter.  Like a farmer would scatter a seed.  Only he’s doing it with wealth.  He’s doing it with his money.  You get this picture in the younger son’s squandering in the far-off land that there’s this sense of desperation within him.  There’s this picture of I’ve got to do something to make my life worth living. It’s life in the far-off country.  It begins with squandering.

This feels pretty good for a time!  Sometimes Christians sound really dumb, when they’re like, that type of a lifestyle is just…..there’s no pleasure in that.  The people living it are going really?  Because it feels pretty good.  I think we need to acknowledge that, for a time, this type of a lifestyle can feel pretty good.  It’s just the morning after it feels a little bit empty, doesn’t it?  It’s the week after week, after month after month, after year after year, that we start to go, I think I was designed for something more.  This isn’t getting the job done. This isn’t filling me up.  Here’s the big distinction—inside of the Father’s house, we get to use the Father’s stuff, the shares that we have, to enjoy.  In fact, that’s the way God designed you, that you would enjoy this world, this life that He’s given you.  In 1 Timothy 6:17, Paul, writing to his protégé Timothy, says:  As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  See, inside the Father’s house you can enjoy the things that you have; outside of the Father’s house—here’s the big distinction—you have to use them.  They will be worshipped.  This idea of squandering is searching for something for the younger son to fill his life up.  So, inside, love can be enjoyed.  Outside, love will be worshipped.  Tell me if this isn’t the society we live in. Inside of the Father’s house, wealth can be enjoyed; outside of the Father’s house, wealth will be worshipped.  Inside of the Father’s house, marriage can be enjoyed; outside of the Father’s house, marriage will be worshipped. Inside the Father’s house, a family can be enjoyed; outside of the Father’s house, a family will be worshipped. Eventually, it will lead us wanting, that we’re trying to use our stuff to fill our souls and it turns out, our souls are eternal…so no amount of stuff ever fills it.  The pressure we put on these things that were intended to be enjoyed and end up being used actually crushes them and eventually crushes us.  The only love that can sustain you is the love of the Father who created you.  When we leave the provision, the favor, the goodness, of our Father, we are stepping away from the very thing that our souls were created for, that our souls long for, and that nothing can fill.  Nothing!  So he enters into this place of squandering.

Here’s the second thing that happens to him.  Luke 15:14 — And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.  Here’s the picture—he moves from this place of squandering to a place of scarcity.  He’s using all of his stuff in order to fill his life, in order to try to get the things he thinks he wants.  His soul knows that his life can’t be that vacant, and eventually he comes to this place of realizing my stuff is wearing out.  My pocketbook is running thin.  My resources are starting to dwindle. Have you ever been there?  I saw the pictures on the news of the people in Florida lining up at a gas station that was slowly running out of gas…thinking, “How in the world are we getting out of here?”  How is our life going to be sustained.  You can go to a similar picture of a grocery store before the hurricane was going to hit….the funniest picture I saw was that the entire grocery store was cleaned out, EXCEPT the vegan aisle!!!  That was full of food!    It’s this picture, right, of our stuff is running out, our resources are running low, what are we going to do with it?  In the Father’s house, the shares go a lot farther than they do outside of it.  Turns out the Father’s estate is sort of an all-inclusive type of situation.  He cares for the people underneath his provision.  He gives good things continually.  When we try to take what he’s given and use it outside of his provision, it turns out, we don’t have enough to sustain the life we know we were designed to live.  Scarcity—it leads us all to this place of desperation, to this place of fear.  My resources are dwindling.  My hope is dwindling.  My fear is rising! I need people to tell me that I’m loved.  I need my stuff to earn the approval of others.  I’ve left the place of eternal love, and I’ve moved to the far-off country where I need to be filled up by finite people who can never give me what an eternal God designed me to get from him.  So we start to scramble.  Any guy or any girl who will show us some attention will do, even if they don’t care for us.  Even if they don’t have our best in mind.  We need that and in our moment of scarcity, we’ll go ANYWHERE to get it.  We’ll do ANYTHING.

The son goes listen, I haven’t eaten a pig in my entire life, but I’ll eat what they’re eating, I’ll care for them, I’ll become unclean.  I will go into their pigpen.  I will go to the nth degree in order to get something that will fill me up.  Some of you are in that place this morning.  You’re in this place of scrambling.  You’re in this place of scarcity. {Will you look up at me?}  Here’s why—you were created by an eternal God who loves you ruthlessly and beautifully and passionately, and when you walked away from Him, you walked away with a void that only He can fill.  When you’ve run out of resources, it’s an invitation to us to turn our eyes back to His design, to His goodness, to His creation, and to go, the reason I’m living in a place of scarcity is because I was designed by a God who has every resource and I was meant to be in relationship with Him.  So he gets frantic and fear sets in….will I be enough?  Will I have enough?

He’s running out of resources and there’s nothing he can do.  What does he do?  So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.  And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. (Luke 15:15-16)   Here’s the story of humanity, friends.  Designed to be in relationship with a loving, good, eternal God; we walk away out of his estate, out of his favor with the resources he’s given us, but, as we said, we squander them, they start to run out, and we move into a place of slavery.  Squandering.  Scarcity.  Slavery.

The Scriptures are going to be really clear with us that every single person is a slave to something.  All of us are!  In Romans 6:16, Paul, writing his magnum opus of the Christian faith, says:  Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey…  None of us get off the hook in this!  We all are found “enslaved” or “hired out,” if you will, to something or someone.  Last week we said that lostness is relational.  It’s being outside of the Father’s care, outside of the Father’s provision, outside of the Father’s house, before it’s judicial.  It’s you’re out of relationship with God before you’ve done a number of things wrong.  The same thing is true of slavery.  It’s..you’re outside of the provision of your Father and you’re under the thumb of something that can never fill you and never give you life.  You need to prove your worth. You need to earn your value.  Isn’t it true, if we don’t know the arms of our Father, we’ll settle for the arms of anyone?  We’ll find ourselves—just like the younger son does—in this place of struggling to believe, of living in fear of going is there a way out?

Where are you at in the story?  Where are you at?  We’re all slaves to something.  We’re all slaves to someone. The apostle Paul, when he writes about his life, doesn’t say I’m free, with no attachments and no accountability and no responsibility.  That’s not his view of freedom.  In fact, his view of freedom is I’m DEAD, and it’s awesome!  He says this:   I have been crucified {I’ve died to the far-off country.} with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith…. (Gal. 2:20)    I love this!  I’ve been crucified and I live by faith.  That’s the Christian life.  That’s the invitation.  Die to the dream of the far-off country.  Sometimes for the future to come alive, a dream needs to die.  The dream of the far-off country—that that might be enough—needs to die, in order for us to come alive, by faith, in the Son of God, who loved you and who loved me enough to give himself for us.  {Look up at me for a moment.}  Is the posture of your life either ‘give me mine’ or is it ‘I am yours?’   Is it ‘give me mine’ or ‘I am yours?’

Here’s what’s true about every single person in this space—-the freedom we are really looking for is found i the God that we’re often running from!  The resources that God’s given you might be enough to sustain you for a time, but the only thing that can sustain you eternally is the love of a Father who says, “You are my son.”  Or, you are my daughter.  Sometimes God brings us to the end to bring us back to our God.  He does it out of love and he does it because he cares for us.

I just want to walk you through some time to process.  Here’s my question for you:  What have you done with your shares?  What have you done with this life, this gift, that God has given you?  Is your posture ‘give me mine,’ or ‘I am yours?’  We’ll talk about this a little bit next week, but some of the hardest journey in life that you and I will walk through is really coming to a place of owning what we’ve done with some of our shares, and then, walking through shame.  God, I’ve blown it.  I’ve absolutely run away from your estate, run away from your way.  I’ve cut myself off at the root from You, my good Father, who loves me.  Oftentimes—these are diagnostic—this leads us to this place of what scares me?  What am I afraid of?  Man, inside the Father’s house the famine will hurt you, but it won’t kill you.  Outside, the famine has every ability to take you down.  That’s a scary place to be.  What have you done with your shares?  Where are you going to go with your shame?  What scares are you carrying?

One of my favorite movies is the Shawshank Redemption.  It came out in 1994.  In this movie, Andy Duphrene is wrongfully imprisoned and spends a number of years digging a tunnel to finally get out.  His journey out is through 500 yards of sewage.  Until he finally steps in to freedom.  Until he finally steps in to the open.  You know what, I think Shawshank gets it right, because the quest for freedom, the quest that we’re all on for freedom, only goes one direction.  It only goes through our pain.  It only goes through our brokenness.  It only goes through our shame into the light of His grace.  There’s no shortcuts.  Nobody gets around it.  Nobody goes a different direction.  This is not a ‘choose your own adventure.’  This is through your sin, through your brokenness, through your shame, through your pain, through your regret, and into His grace.  Friends, this is the journey that God is inviting you to go on.  Will you go with Him?

Father, like the younger son, we’ve squandered, we’ve lived in scarcity.  Some of us in this place, in this room, right now, are still enslaved to thoughts…things that we think will satisfy….to desires we think that if we can fulfill them will be enough.  Some of us in this place are still in slavery.  Lord, I pray that today you’ll break those chains.  Would you invite us THROUGH the junk of our lives INTO the glory of your grace?  We pray it as sons and daughters of the Most High God.  It’s in your name we pray.  Amen.

Freeway | Discovery | Luke 15:11-16 | Week 22020-08-19T15:24:12-06:00

Freeway | Awareness | Matthew 13:10-17 | Week 1

I always get excited about a new series beginning and this one is no different. As I’ve had the chance to study over the last few weeks and look through, hopefully a fresh lens, the story of the Prodigal from Luke 15, it’s once again captured my heart and reminded me of the story that we find ourselves in as human beings. Specifically, and uniquely, as followers of the way of Jesus. My hope is that over the next six weeks this story would be an invitation to you back into the greatest story ever told. Sometimes we need that invitation and we need that reigniting of our faith, so when we sing “awaken my soul,” it’s not because we’ve never been awake before, it’s because sometimes we get caught in the monotony of life, don’t we? And the every day. And the pain and the hurt. Sometimes we need that invitation from God. That’s my intention and hope over the next six weeks.

In 2015, there was a startup company called Lucera Labs. They launched their kickstarter campaign. Over the few weeks that the campaign ran, they raised $164,375. Backed by 712, some of whom may be in this room right now; in hopes of sleeping a little bit better. That was the invitation. It was a new twist on an old invention. A new way of looking at something we all have in our rooms in some way, shape, or form. Lucera Labs invented a different kind of alarm clock. It senses your body heat to try to figure out where exactly the target is. The person that it’s tasked with waking up. Then, through a series of either strong beams of light that are designed to simulate the sunlight coming up through the window, or, if that doesn’t work, a high tech beam of sound that’s designed to only hit the person it’s trying to wake up and let the other person keep sleeping.

If you were to look at this parable that Jesus tells in Luke 15, I think this is a good picture of what he’s doing. A lot of humanity (you may be included in this) walks around in busyness and the noise of life to the extent that we can’t hear, we can’t see, we can’t respond to the goodness of God. Jesus told these stories….there’s three of them in Luke 15 and we’re going to do sort of an overview of those three today. Jesus told these stories specifically for the purpose of awakening people to the grand story that they were living in. He wanted to be like Lucera Labs in waking people up. Jesus was a master teacher and doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being brilliant. We talk about Jesus in a lot of different realms, but he was brilliant. But you can only teach somebody who’s awake. I can remember when I was in college and was in a psychology class. They were talking about sleep deprivation and I fell asleep in the very front row of that class. I woke up and the irony hit me! I just slept through an entire lecture about sleep deprivation! I should have listened, I think I have…..

Jesus’s intention is to tell stories that awaken humanity. In fact, after telling one of his parables, his disciples pulled him aside and said, “Jesus, can you explain to us why in the world you tell stories? Why do you tell parables?” If you have your Bible, open to Matthew 13:10-17. That’s where we’re going to start today and then flip to Luke 15. But we need to set the stage. We need to ask the question why would, arguably, the greatest teacher to ever walk the face of the planet, spend the majority of his public ministry telling stories? What was his intention? Why would he do that? What can we learn from the stories that he told? Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Jesus, you talk to us one way, but you talk to the crowds in a different way. Why do you speak to them in parables?

Parables is an interesting Greek word. It’s two words put together. Para – to come alongside of. Bollo – to cast or to throw. It’s this picture of bringing a story alongside of a reality in order to illuminate the truth that is before their very eyes. Jesus, when you’re with us and we’re sort of alone, in private, you talk one way, but when you’re in front of the crowds, in front of people who don’t yet know you, you speak in a different fashion. You throw these stories alongside of these ever-present realities. Why do you do that? Here’s Jesus’s answer; I’d argue it’s one of the most misinterpreted passages in all Scriptures. Here’s what he says: And he answered them, {The disciples are with Jesus after he’s told the parable of the sower or the parable of the seeds.} “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, {You’re with me. You’re asking me questions. We’re living together. Every waking, breathing moment we’re walking together. You’ve started to grasp the secrets of what I’m doing. Literally in the Greek, it’s “the mystery that I’m revealing” that God is way better than you think.} …but to them {To people who don’t have this access. To people who haven’t yet come to this acknowledgement of this faith.} …it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

In verse 12, Jesus is saying that all of humanity finds itself on one of two paths. They’re either moving towards God or they’re moving away from God. We never stay in one place, Jesus says. We’re either growing in our faith or we’re drifting. We’re either walking with God, in more passion and more vigor and more life, or we’re growing more and more cold. That’s what Jesus says. So he sets up this “us” and “them.” I’ve been with you, teaching you, but the other people haven’t gotten that. Then he tells you why he tells parables. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

Now, here’s the way I’ve heard this passage taught. Jesus says to the disciples, listen, I tell parables in order to confuse people. I tell parables so that people have no clue what I’m talking about. I tell parables because I want people to walk away knowing less about God than they did when they first got here. Now, if you were to just look at the passage and read it, you could get there given the language, because this word “because” could be taken in one of two ways. You could get there. Let me just ask a question, though. Does that interpretation of this passage make sense? Given who Jesus was and given what Jesus’s intentions were. If you wanted to confuse people, if you wanted to leave people in the dark, just leave them in the dark. Don’t come at all. Don’t say anything. Just let them be. They’ll be in the dark.

You could also read this passage, I think more accurately, in this is why I speak to them in parables. I’m telling them stories because they’re walking around in the world that’s God-bathed and they don’t see it. They’re hearing the anthem of heaven all around them, but they don’t hear it and they don’t understand it. So, Jesus says, I tell them parables. I tell them stories…to wake them up. To rattle their cages a little bit. Author William Taylor, at the end of the 1800s wrote a book entitled The Parables of Our Lord. He said: “The purpose of parabolic teaching is clear; its aim is to elucidate truth, not to obscure it, still less to conceal and issue or to serve as a punishment.” He goes no, no, no. Jesus is teaching in order to paint a picture, to throw something alongside of something else and go, do you get it? do you see it? wake up! Wake up!

That was his intention in sharing the parables. I think Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrase The Message, nails it! Here’s what he says in the same passage we just read. He (Jesus) replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been give to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. So I tell them a story, so that maybe, just maybe, they’ll get it.

Indeed, if Jesus’s intention was to conceal things rather than to reveal things, I beg you to study the end and the goal of the parables. In the Parable of the Sower, he says listen, my kingdom is going to increase one-hundredfold! Which means that he was highly unsuccessful….if his goal was to conceal. Here’s the awakening that these stories invite us to: Jesus consistently, in his ministry, used parabolic storytelling to create spiritual awakening. Certainly there were some who couldn’t receive it. Parables had this winnowing effect, this dividing effect, that some people could just not get it. But others heard the stories and maybe they didn’t understand all the details, but they were drawn to Jesus. They were drawn in to the stories he was telling.

Jesus knew something that we’ve now discovered through social sciences. He knows that if you teach somebody didactically, if you walk them through a series of truths, there’s one little part of your brain that’s triggered when you read a book or when you understand a truth. But when you hear a story, it’s as though your brain just starts to light up. All the receptors in your brain (when you hear a story) actually think that you’re there. It’s this fascinating discovery they’ve made through social sciences. When you hear a story, it’s as though you enter into it. There’s one part of your brain that processes pain. It processes both physical pain and emotional pain. When you watch a movie, when you read a book, and your favorite character passes away or the story takes a turn that you were hoping it wouldn’t take….the same part of your brain is triggered as when you stub your toe and go “oh whatever-you-fill-in-the-blank-with-there.” The same part of your brain. Our brains are wired for story. We enter into them and it feels as though we’re there. According to Uri Hasson, a Princeton social psychologist: “A story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and their own experience.”

So if you ask why would Jesus spend his time telling stories? One answer: because he’s brilliant. Because it works. Because we can listen to somebody teach didactically, but when they tell us a story…when he tells us a story about a shepherd who’s lost his sheep….he has 99 in the pen, but he lost that one and goes after it, we can resonate with that story. We hear a story about a woman who’s lost one of her ten coins and goes to look for it, we can remember that story. We hear a story about a father who has two sons and one of them goes away, it pricks a part of our heart, doesn’t it? Either as that parent or as that child. We put ourselves in that story.

It’s why stories are such big business. You think about how much money the movie industry makes. Because we love stories. Have you seen the movie, or the musical, or read the book by Victor Hugo, the great work Les Miserables? This question of will grace win out or will law win out? Will Valjean come around or will he not? We love the story of To Kill a Mockingbird where Harper Lee paints this picture of justice and it presses on us to ask questions about our own life, about our own soul, about our own perspective. We love the story….the longest running Broadway performance of all time is Phantom of the Opera. It tells the story about love. It tells the story about worth. It asks through song and picture and story the question of what does real love look like and is beauty just skin deep?

Stories get inside of our heads, don’t they? They get inside of our hearts and they mess with us a little bit. Here’s what they do….they create awakening. They cause us to go man, are the values that I’m holding, the values that I want to hold; is the story that I’m living, the story that I want to live; are the truths that I’m believing actually true. Over the next few weeks we’re going to look at the story of the Prodigal Son or the Prodigal God—however, you want to look at it. Prodigal just means recklessly lavish. Both the son and the father are pretty lavish in the story. Jesus wants to tell the story not just so you go isn’t that awesome, but I never saw that before, I’ve never thought of it like that before, I’ve never seen myself like that before. He wants to create an awakening. He wants to wake us up. Why does he tell this story specifically? These stories in Luke 15. Let me give you just a few reasons today, and I want to ground us in this. My hope is that it’s a launching pad for moving forward into the next few weeks.

Flip over to Luke 15:1-2. Here’s the way that the stories that Jesus tells….this triad of parables….a parable of a shepherd, a parable of a woman looking for a coin, and a parable of a father. Here’s the way the parable starts. Here’s the setting….it’s really important. Now the tax collectors and sinners {Quick timeout. That’s a category of people. People who all the religious folks thought were really far from God. People who were on the outskirts of society. Tax collectors had betrayed their own people in order to collect taxes for Rome, but they got to keep whatever was extra, whatever they charged that was over what Rome asked them to get per head. And the sinners were typically prostitutes. They were people who were just on the outskirts that nobody wanted anything to do with. All these people are crowding around Jesus.} ..were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes {Read….the church people.} grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Opening your table was akin to opening your life. He welcomes them in to the deepest parts of his soul and his life. He sits down and has a meal with him. The church people are like, Jesus, don’t you know the rules? You’re not allowed to do that! You’re supposed to…. Holiness means keeping a safe distance from people who might taint you, who might make you unclean, who might tarnish your reputation. Jesus, you should have known. You should stay at a distance. So Jesus says, “Let me give you twelve reasons why I eat with tax collectors and sinners.” No, he doesn’t. He says, let me give you three stories. Let me build for you through story, a structure for you to get inside of and climb around in. For you to explore your own heart and your own soul. Let me tell you three stories that are going to prick your heart, challenge your values, create some tension and leave you going I’m not sure I like that. Three stories.

The first one is about a shepherd who loses his sheep. What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? The second story is about a woman who loses a coin. Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? Jesus ends this triad of parables by telling a story about a lost son. You could deduce the same question—who wouldn’t go find their lost son? It’s this picture Jesus is painting of what it really, actually means to be lost. To be lost, in these parables, doesn’t mean that you failed to achieve some moral, idealistic expectation that God’s laid on you. That’s not what it means to be lost. Jesus is repainting lostness completely. What it means to be lost in every single one of these parables is to be outside of the care and the protection of the owner, the guardian. The sheep is away from his shepherd. The coin is outside of the coin purse that is with the owner. The son is outside of the protection of the father. Jesus wants to shake us a little bit. To cause us to scratch our head and think, we’ve always thought of lostness in categories of sinners and tax collectors. But he goes no, no, no, no, no. All being lost means is that you’re not home. That’s what it means.

He wants to create a new attentiveness to lostness. Lostness in each of these parables {Look up at me a moment.} is relational, it’s not judicial. It’s not ‘you’ve done a whole bunch of really bad stuff, therefore you’re lost,’ it’s ‘you’re not in contact with your father.’ You’ve seen the green grass that’s away from your shepherd, you went over there, and now your shepherd’s protection is removed from you. That’s what it means to be lost. If you’re a coin, you’re not in the coin bag. That’s what it means to be lost. It’s not a list of judicial ‘you’ve done this wrong, that wrong, this wrong, that wrong,’ it’s you’re outside of the arms and care of your loving father or guardian or shepherd. That’s what it means to be lost.

So for Jesus in the story he tells about the sons, you can be lost in rebellion. Certainly the younger son was. He tells dad listen, I want to go, and I want my money, and I’m going to spend it on all the stuff in your kingdom and your house that you think is wrong….I’m going that direction. It’s simply saying to God, God, I think my way’s better than your way and I think I know better than you know. I’m going to take my stuff and I’m going to go. It’s lost in rebellion. The older son is lost in religion. He’s lost, but he’s near the father, but he refuses to go into the house.

You can be lost in rebellion. You can be lost in religion. Part of how we know we’re lost is by seeing the fruit that comes out of our life. If we’re lost in rebellion, typically we have this deep sense in our hearts that life is just off. That there’s something missing. We try to medicate that pain. We try to chase after a bunch of other things to fill us up. We try our best to reconcile and solve the reality that because we’re out of our Father’s care the wages for our sin, our rebellion, is death. We feel it! We can’t live with it so we try to cover it. We try to put stuff into that vacuum that can never fill it up. It’s the lostness through rebellion. If you look at Luke 15:24—The father, upon his son’s return home, says, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again….” He was away from home and now he’s home. He was dead and now he’s alive.

So we medicate. We become addicts. We become co-dependent. There’s a lot of different things that we do when rebellion is the way we’re lost. When religion is the way we’re lost it looks like being judgmental of the people around us. It looks like being fairly angry and contentious; that people aren’t playing our game. That people don’t add up to what we think they should add up to. It means that we have the confidence, the unshakable confidence, that we are RIGHT! And we’re on an island there, because everybody else is wrong. That’s typically what it looks like. If Jesus were telling this parable today, I don’t know how he would describe our lostness. Certainly he’d hit rebellion and certainly he’d hit religion, because we haven’t grown beyond these things. He might add in being lost in busyness. Maybe you’re lost in your bitterness. Or you’re lost in your amusement. Or you’re lost in your achievement. For a second, would you just give yourself over to assuming that in some way, shape, or form you’re lost. How?

The stories don’t end in lostness. Look at the way the story of the woman with her coin continues. (Luke 15:8-9) Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? {In the Greek, it’s this picture of I’m going to go until I have nothing left.} And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Jesus paints a new picture of lostness; are you within the home, are you within the care, are you within the protection of your God. Secondly, he wants to repaint the way we view God and the way that we view ourselves. It’s a new attentiveness to lostness, and it’s a new appreciation of God’s goodness. Everybody who heard Jesus tell this original story—all the tax collectors, and all the sinners, and all the Pharisees alike—would have left scratching their heads, thinking to themselves, “Our God could not possibly be that good.”

If you’ve never thought that, may I propose to you that you’ve never really heard the gospel. The gospel presses on us to the point, to cause us to ask the question, God couldn’t really be that good, could he? He really couldn’t love someone like me, could he? I don’t know about you, but I turn on the news at night and this question just bubbles up in me, especially right now, where it seems like our whole country is either on fire or under water. I’m going, God, in your goodness, couldn’t you just sort of spread some of that out? Or maybe you were questioning God’s goodness when after 9/11 two prominent Christian leaders came on the news and said, “This is God’s judgment on sinful United States.” Maybe you had a visceral response to that, like I did, and thought, “I’m not sure if that’s the picture of our great God. I don’t know.” Or maybe you question God’s goodness because of things that have happened closer in your home, closer in your heart. God, I don’t understand how you could allow that death. God, I don’t understand how you could allow that trial. God, I don’t know how to hear your voice when I’m walking through this valley. God, I don’t know. Maybe you’re in this place this morning and you’ve walked away from faith, you’ve walked away from Jesus, and this is the reason—You can’t reconcile how a good God could allow really, really difficult things.

While Jesus doesn’t answer the question ‘How could God allow that?’ he does answer the question ‘What is God like?’ Here’s how he describes what God is like—God is like one who seeks. Who seeks you out, who in that valley finds you and calls your name and invites you home. He’s that kind of God. Who refuses to let you just wander off, if you’re the sheep that thought you found some green grass somewhere and strayed away. What is God like? God is like a shepherd who goes after the one. God is like a woman who seeks to find and sweeps her whole house until she finds that one coin. This is a picture of the way God reacts to “lost” humanity. I wanted to shake us this morning. First, to walk away and go, I don’t know the answers to all the questions about pain, trials, and all the things that happen in world that we would change if we could. I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I do know the answer to this….Is God good? Yes! Does God love us? Yes! Is God for us? Yes! Unequivocally, passionately, diligently for us.

In fact, the apostle Paul, in writing to his friend Titus, will say this: But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured ot on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7) That’s the invitation. That’s the picture that the story of the shepherd and the coin and the father points out to you. You may think that you are far from God this morning, and you may be far from God this morning, but I want to assure you, He is not far from you. He is chasing you down. He’s the ‘Hound of Heaven,’ as the great poem says. Refusing to let you go.

As a side note, let me add that sometimes our narrative about humanity is pretty negative as followers of Jesus. Our view of humanity is we are just simply unworthy. To that I would say yes….depending on how you define that. If we mean by unworthy, we haven’t earned our way to God, I’d say yes and amen. That’s what unworthy means. We’ve confused being unworthy with having no worth. I want to say that that’s a lie from the absolute pit of hell! According to the Scriptures, you have great worth. According to the Scriptures, you have great value. So much value that the shepherd would leave ninety-nine to go find the one….and this just in….YOU’RE the one! That she’d leave the nine coins to go and find the one….and we’re the one. You may be unworthy in that you cannot get there on your own, but rest in the fact today, friend, that you have great worth. So much worth that the King of heaven left his throne to come and to bring you home.

The woman seeks diligently and then she celebrates lavishly. I mean, almost ridiculously so. The picture that Jesus paints through the story, it jars the Pharisees because they go why in world would someone throw such a strong party after finding just one little, stupid coin? I mean, it would be like Kelly and I throwing a celebration after find the Lego we were missing under our couch. Praise Jesus!! We’ve got twelve billion in our house somewhere, but we got the one! Yeah, we go it’s absolutely ridiculous! You know what’s ridiculous? His goodness. That’s what’s ridiculous! Jesus wants the story to wake you up. He wants it to wreck us a little bit. When I don’t believe God is good, I resort to control, I resort to manipulation, I resort to medication, I resort to addiction, I resort to judgment. When I don’t believe that God is good, I resort to control. But when I believe God is good, I can let him be in control. It turns out, he’s not that bad at that. As Martin Luther aptly put it: “This is true faith, a living confidence in the goodness of God.”

If you flip back over to Matthew 13:14-15, here’s how Jesus ends this section of Scripture. He quotes from the book of Isaiah, and this will wrap up our initial….God give us awareness of what you’re doing here. After saying he tells parable to wake people up, to stir receptivity (according to Peterson’s paraphrase) — Indeed, in their case {The people who have not yet responded.} the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed… {He says the reality is that apart from me coming, and apart from me telling stories, and apart from me awakening humanity, they’re just going to go on with the monotony of life. Their hearts are cold. Then he uses the word “lest.” If you were to go and look it up in the Greek, it’s most commonly translated “when.” But when… } ….lest (when) they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn… {Oh, this is the story we’re living in. I’m lost and God’s good….that’s the story. And then…and then…} …and I would heal them.

If we think that Jesus does not want to heal people, or invite people into what he’s doing in the world, we haven’t read the Bible. He says it really clearly, and we should always interpret less clear passages in light of more clear passages. Here’s what Jesus says in Mark 2:17 — Those who are well have no need physician,but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. He’s going I am the Great Physician and I long to and love to heal the broken, bind up the broken-hearted, set free the captive. That the blind may see and the deaf may hear. That’s what he says he came to do. One of his most common methods is story. One of his most common invitations is to wholeness. To peace. It turns out that wholeness = Home-ness….which isn’t a word, until today.

Let me ask you a question — Do you like the direction your life is heading? Are you pleased with where you’re going? If so, my hope is that the next few weeks would just reinforce the ground that you’re standing on. But if not, can I encourage you that Jesus’s invitation to turn and be healed is on the table, and it’s that freedom that we’re going to be pursuing over the next few weeks. If you don’t like the way your life is heading, then this invitation to wholeness and goodness is for you, because we’re all, in some way, lost. The invitation over the next few weeks, is going to be to come home. To come home.

There’s this story about a boy named John. John grew up in this pious Christian home in the early 1700s. His mom trained in the catechisms of the church and taught him how to follow the way of God. When he was seven years old, his mother passed away and he went to go be with his dad. His dad was a captain of a ship. From the age of eleven to the age of seventeen, he did five voyages on ship. Back in that day, they would have been tumultuous, to say the least. He grew up to me a ship captain himself, and drifted from that faith that was a part of his early upbringing and a big part of his heart. It was March 21, 1748, that a huge storm came up. He was holding on so that he didn’t get swept away into the open sea, off the ship. As he did so, the words of his mother came back to his mind, the words of Thomas a Kempis, in his great little work Imitation of Christ, came to his heart. He wanted to believe, but he had these doubts….all the things that he had done, all the evils he had perpetrated, all the things he’d been a part of as a slave-trader captain of ships….that God would never ever welcome him home. If you were to ask John, he would tell you that THAT was “the hour he first believed.” He went on not only give his life to Jesus and trust that God’s grace would be sufficient for him, but he had this awakening in his life where he went on to be a pastor. He partnered with William Wilberforce in confronting the evils of the slave-trade. He was one of the greatest advocates of Great Britain coming to the point where they said we don’t want this as a part of our society anymore. It was this awakening on that ship that changed his entire life. Out of that awakening, he wrote this great hymn. A great hymn about lostness, about goodness, and about wholeness. It’s a hymn that’s our invitation throughout the course of this series. Friends, welcome to the freeway, welcome to God’s amazing grace. Will you stand and we’ll close our time singing together.

Freeway | Awareness | Matthew 13:10-17 | Week 12020-08-19T15:20:26-06:00
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