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.


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.}