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… 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’’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.