My Review of Ryan Coughlin’s Right Handed Lefty

Ellis Sayre has lived quite a life when we meet in him 1983 Wisconsin. At the age of twelve he has endured a failed adoption as well as facing the possibility that his current parents may be divorcing.

Of Native American descent, Ellis is a outsider in the southwestern town of Boscobel, Wisconsin and forms a relationship with George Stigerwald a local native of Norwegian descent, and Mason Neng, of Hmong descent in the midst of the teenage angst that seems to be deeper because of their outsider status.

As they struggle to survive, especially Mason and his family, they find themselves in the fight of their lives as they witness the murder of a man at the hands of a local crime boss, whose connection runs deep in the community and…law enforcement.

Ryan Coughlin has given us a collection of characters who can, and does, draw on the sympathy of the reader, as they struggle to prove that what they saw and heard was true, though they are not believed, especially by local law enforcement.

Right Hand Lefty is a novel about overcoming the challenges of growing up not just as a teen but as a teen who is considered an outsider whose word is doubted. It is also a novel about claiming one’s heritage and living in that heritage with dignity and pride.

I really enjoyed this novel. It has characters that reminds me of SE Hinton’s The Outsiders and the current TV hit series Stranger Things. 

This novel would be a great addition to High School and College contemporary literature courses.

I rated this novel four stars on Goodreads.

Note: I received an ebook copy of this book via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

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My Review of John C Nugent’s Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church

What is the purpose of the church?

It is a question that has been asked and is being asked in clergy offices, in denomination meetings, in seminaries, in homes around the dinner table, in small groups, and in the quiet of clergy minds on a daily basis.

It is a question that is being answered through many books, conferences, seminars, podcasts, scholarly society papers, and in sermons from pulpits in churches large and small.

Asking it generates considerable (and intense) discussion, anxiety, argument, writing, and, if we are honest, revenue.

What about this answer to the question, What is the purpose of the church?

“the church’s role is to be the better place that God has already made in this world…”

It is a response to the question, John C Nugent has made in his book Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church (Cascade Books, 2016)

Laying out the case for what he calls, a “kingdom centered view” Nugent challenges what he considers the three major views of engagement in which the Christian Church operates today:

The Heaven-Centered View which focuses on going to a better place one day

The Human-Centered View which focuses on making this world a better place now

The World-Centered View which focuses on making this world a better place by working to make it so

and then lays out his view, The Kingdom-Centered view that is based on “two fundamental truths”

  • “Jesus has already made a better place in this world
  • The role of God’s people is to embrace, display, and proclaim this better place.”

To support his belief,  Nugent begins at the beginning of scripture and from there walks the reader through his argument of how God, ultimately through Christ, has already made a better place in the world. This journey takes up the second of three main sections of the book where he lays out an Ecclesiology rooted, this reviewer believes, in the Restorationist or Stone-Campbell movement of American Christianity.

In the third section of the book, A Better Place in Action, Nugent addresses the issue of discipleship, leadership, followership, vocation, missions, and the key issue of witnessing to the powers of society, as well as others,  as it relates to the Kingdom-Centered view. And a very helpful appendix, in which the numerous questions which come as you read are answered, is included.

This book was hard to engage at first for two reasons. First, it is a book that requires a slower read, because of the depth of writing which is essential in discussing the nature and mission of the church. Second, it has challenged many of my assumptions regarding the role and place of the church in relation to society.

But it turned out to be a very important read because in this day the Church is pressured to do and be many things. And such pressure, demands, even, wear on both members and clergy as they attempt to navigate their mission and ministry through competing claims and suggestions on how to do and be the church.

This book was a breath of fresh air to this reviewer, also a member of the clergy, as it gave me some very serious pause on how the Church is to be the Church in this day and age of programming hype, political activism, and cultural relevance.

It isn’t. It is to be the good news now, in the midst of society, as part of the Kingdom that is here and now and is to come.

I liked this book because it provided me with an in depth reflection of my own assumptions regarding the Church and its ministry. It would be a great addition to undergraduate, graduate, and seminary classes as well as for church leaders.

I gave this book a four-star rating on Goodreads.

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

My Review of Scott Eyman’s Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart

Scott Eyman has done us a favor with the writing of his book Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart (Simon Schuster, 2017).

First, he has chronicled through interviews with their family members and friends and archival sources, that two individuals, especially two well-known celebrities who hold well-defined and differening political perspectives, can be friends, work together, raise their families together, still care and support one another when one is riding the crest of success and the other is not, and do so over the course of fifty years!

Second, Eyman has given us a very human view of two public men who were celebrities in their hey-day and, for a while after, who were also very private men, troubled at times, and two men who, even though they were becoming leading men in the motion picture industry, entered military service and served America during World War 2.

What a gift for us is Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart! Thank you Scott Eyman!

Well researched and written from a sympathetic and yet honest point of view, Eyman chronicles the rise and the decline of Fonda and Stewart’s careers and lives in a manner which drew this reader/reviewer in. He goes behind the scenes of stardom and gets into the personal lives of both men, in an alterating narrative as the story develops.

And the stories told are priceless…

for they reveal two men who enjoyed one another’s company…

and who delighted in the everyday things of life…

This reviewer’s interest was caught and held by two things Fonda and Stewart loved: model planes and cats!

The story of the model Martin Bomber that they bought as a Christmas present for themselves in New York resonated with this reviewer who built model plans, plastic not balsa wood as theirs was, as a kid.  As did their love of cats, including a group of feral cats that grew to over 30 despite their best efforts to domesticate them. With their LA rental house AND yard becoming flea infested the two decided to get rid of the cats by digging a hole in the fence of their next-door neighbor…an actress named Greta Garbo, with disatrous results, (and who eventually moved).

And as Eyman tells their stories, he also speaks of their films, with the mind and persepective of the art and movie critic that he is, talking about their performances and which films were their best and which were not. (It reminded me of Carl Rollysons’ biography on Dana Andrews, Hollywood Engima, written several years ago.)

Hank and Jim.

It is great biography…and a fresh telling of Hollywood history in its golden years.

It is a great biography…of two well-known stars and their trials and successes on screen and in real life.

I rated this biography five stars on Goodreads.

Note: I recieved a e-copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

(One last thing…my favorite films in which Fonda and Stewart starred both have airplanes in them… for Fonda it was Midway and for Stewart it was Strategic Air Command.)

“Now this is living!”

Awakening to Life “Now this is living!”

Sermon for Sunday, October 8, 2017

Our text for this morning is Luke 15:23-24

We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

We are concluding our journey of the past six weeks, that I have called Awakening to God, Awakening to Life with one last look at the prodigal son, whose story is told by Jesus in Luke 15:11-32 and I would have us consider the question, “Have you found what you are looking for?” as we begin our final time in this series.

We began the series with a statement, a declaration, Coming to our senses, and in the time since then we have walked through a list of awakenings which Pastors Dave and Jon Ferguson discovered as they talked with members of their church about how they came to Christ or came back home to Christ.

They wrote a book about it that I highly recommend:

 

 

Finding Your Way Back to God

 

 

 

 

 

Here are the awakenings they discovered in the stories of the persons they talked to:

Awakening to Longing “There’s got to be more”

Awakening to Regret “I wish I could start over”

Awakening to Help “I can’t do this on my own”

Awakening to Love “God, loves me deeply after all!”

Awakening to Life “Now this is living!”

We conclude today with the final awakening – the awakening to life and I again repeat the question that I asked a moment ago:

“Have you found what you are looking for?”

I am reminded of the U2 song that says in part,

I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you.

I have run, I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.

Have you found what you’re looking for?

The journey of the prodigal began with an instance that “I want what is mine…and what is coming to me…” “The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate…”

He was looking for something…something better. What was it?

Fun? Could have had it at home! He was probably among the wealthiest kids in the town!

Adventure? He could have had an entire desert nearby to go adventuring in!

Purpose?

Or was he bored? And boredom I remind us today is a dangerous thing.

Was he like many young men and women today who are ready to strike out on their own.

Or was there conflict with the older brother? Or even with his father?

“I hate you! You make me sick!”

“Oh yeah, well you’re lazy and stupid and don’t do your chores. And besides mom always likes me best!”

“You are so out of date, old man. You don’t know anything! Everybody else has a new camel but me!”

Whatever it was, he wasn’t finding it at home!

So, he decided to strike out on his own.

“…the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living….”

But it all came, eventually, crashing down,

“After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”

And now he was looking for something else to satisfy him…

Food

And then came the moment, the moment, when he came to his senses and realized that home did not look so square and boring and out of date…

“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! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.”

He went home expecting not to be welcomed as a son but hoping to find work, and food and a comfortable place to live as a servant, not as a son.

But the father had other plans…

“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.

As a son…

“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. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

The son admitted what he had done…

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

And the father loved on him deeply

Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

The son finally found what he was looking for…

But the life he was now living, in a familiar place, was not the same life he had left with. Remember these words?

“Most of us when we are ready to start over, simply want to go back to the life we had before everything went south. But God has other ideas. He doesn’t just want to help us get back to that better life as we imagine it when we’re surrounded by pigs. He wants us to experience a different kind of a life altogether.” Dave and Jon Ferguson

Now the son is home and he is loved and he is at peace. I also think he was overwhelmed. But I cannot help think (and others, I believe, think the same thing) he said, “Now this is living!”

Do you remember when you first came to Christ? Do you remember the joy, the peace, the celebration of life you experienced?

Do you still have joy, peace, and celebration?

If we are really honest with ourselves… No.

Life has dinged us. We are dented, bruised, cracked.

We cannot live off the emotional high of those first wonderful experiences.

We have “mountain top” experiences from time to time that we need to have. But we cannot stay there. Life is lived in the valleys and the paths we all tread…together.

However, there are ways we can continue to live victoriously, to celebrate our life in Christ, and be at peace with God, ourselves, and others.

The first way is that we don’t celebrate, we don’t live life alone.

The father threw a party! Not a funeral service!

It was not a private dinner!

It was a party and I don’t it was just the family, I think that the dad invited the neighborhood if not the entire village!

We don’t celebrate alone the life we have in Christ! We celebrated it with others who walk this path of faith alongside us!

And one of the ways we celebrate our life in Christ is through worship. We come as we are to worship. Some days we come full of joy. Other days we come to worship full of grief. Other days we come to worship experiencing conflicting emotions. But we don’t worship alone…we worship together!

But we also celebrate alone…in our private moments with gratitude, grief, frustration, joy. We spend time in prayer seeking God’s direction and strength. We read the Psalms and we are reminded that just as the Psalmist cried out to the Lord, we too can cry out to the Lord. We go quiet for a while seeking the presence of God and listening for the soft, still voice of the Spirit.

Now, what happened to this young man, after the story ended?

“Pastor, it was a story that Jesus told to make a point about the great love of God and that’s it!”

Well you’re right…but what has to happen to a person who has lived life in a wild and dangerous manner? What has to happen to a person who has stopped using drugs, alcohol, porn, or stopped raging? What has to happen to them? What has to happen to help the prodigal keep from becoming a prodigal once again?

Here’s a hint:

A group of researchers from Harvard Medical School discovered a few years ago that two of the most powerful and meaningful life experiences we must, I believe, have is the ability to achieve, that is accomplishing something worthwhile, and connecting, which is meaningfully connecting with someone else. The leader of the study, Dr Edward Hallowell, who calls connecting “the Other Vitamin C” indicated that our society has become more obsessed with accomplishment than with connecting. And there are reports which suggest that people who have developed meaningful connections with people, report greater life satisfaction than those who are more focused on achievement.

The point of this is that for us to celebrate life we need to connect with people. (Pastor, you’re right…but how? Do you know what my work schedule is?)

I get it, I really do.

One of the things that I have learned about myself this year is that I have been long on achievement and short on connection. I was told a few years ago by a leader in our county that I am one of the most understated and overachieving persons they have known. And last year one of the boys’ professors said to me, “Do any of the Kane’s know how to say ‘no?’”

As I processed these thoughts I realized that my then deepening isolation goes back nearly 7 years now, after a significant conflict with a ministry I was involved in, caused that ministry, and the relationships within that ministry, to unravel. And, as I wrote these words, I realized in a deeper and clearer way, that I had really isolated myself from meaningful and healthy connections with men who would hold me accountable while at the same time, help me reconnect with my family, my own self, others, and God in a very human and relational way…not to meet and organize the next event or task but to really start living again!

I have this year, started meeting with a group of Christian men that I have known for a while and it has made a difference in my life.

What does this have to do the prodigal?

To more fully experience the life that his father had for him, the prodigal needed to be meaningfully connected so that he could process life better because I think that one of the reasons he took off was that he was disconnected to his father, his older brother (who had some serious problems as well), and to others. He was looking for meaning and connection and he choose to find them in other ways.

I suggest at this point that we consider the prodigal an addict.

You might think that is a bit strong, but I don’t and here is why.

When you hear stories from people who are in recovery from whatever, drugs, alcohol, sex, porn, greed, work, power, relationships, whatever, a common thread as I recall my conversations with them, is that they were seeking meaning, love, a meaningful relationship in all of the wrong ways.

And once they got ‘sober,’ they needed to make meaningful connections not just to stay sober, but to live! So that means what?

They go to meetings, they work their program, and they get a sponsor and they make new friends…for how long?

For the rest of their lives.

Really pastor? Even someone who has had 50 years of sobriety from alcoholism still needs to go to AA meetings?

from http://www.mid-day.com/articles/message-in-a-bottle/195114

(a photo from a celebration in AA in India 7 years ago)

Yes because the pull of addiction, in my opinion, is never fully gone.

The pull of sin is never gone, is it?

No matter how long we have been a Christian, the temptation to sin never leaves us.

So it is important that we have a small group of trustworthy people to whom we tell everything so that the power of temptation is reduced. Remember this verse from last week? James 5:16

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (NIV)

Admit your faults to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous man has great power and wonderful results. (TLB)

Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. (Message)

Just as the prodigal needed to be connected, and reconnected, so do you and I if we are to live out the last of the five awakenings we have been considering in this series: Awakening to Life “Now this is living!”

And speaking of these awakenings, here they are one last time…

Awakening to Longing “There’s got to be more”

Awakening to Regret “I wish I could start over”

Awakening to Help “I can’t do this on my own”

Awakening to Love “God, loves me deeply after all!”

Awakening to Life “Now this is living!”

I conclude this morning with three distinct threads with a common theme of coming home to Christ.

First, Where are you at in this journey? At the beginning? Perhaps you need to consider the need for connecting – to God and one or two others to help you come home to Christ.

Maybe you are in the middle, you realize you cannot make the changes on your own that you need to make. Perhaps you need to consider the need for connecting – to God and one or two others to help you come home to Christ.

Second, I said at the beginning of this series that I have been praying for revival in the church and a spiritual awakening in our community and country. And I think that this story of the prodigal is a key story to be aware of where people are at in relationship to the Lord. I cannot help but feel that as we have considered the prodigal and his journey of awakenings, there are people we love who are prodigals and who we desperately wish and hope to see come home to us and more important to the Lord.

We keep praying for them. We keep praying, “God if you are real, be real to them.”

We keep the door open for them to return. We pray that they will start to process their longings and regrets so that God begins to speak through them to them and that they will see their need for God.

Finally, I want to invite you to Christ this morning.

The father in the story of the prodigal is who? God the Father.

We are the prodigals.

And until we are safely in the arms and presence of Jesus, we are not truly home.

Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Would you like to have one? Would you like to have Christ come into your life and soul and forgive you of your sins?

He does that very well.

Then I am inviting you to come to the altar this morning and we will pray for you.

Maybe you’re the prodigal and your headed home…you know where you need to be…with God the Father, with Jesus the Son, with Holy Spirit, God’s presence to and for us today…come on home, today.

Come to the altar and we will pray for you as well.

Maybe you are the prodigal and you realize that the changes you need to make, you cannot make on your own…come home… come to the altar and we will pray for you.

I have been praying and I continue to pray for revival for the church and a spiritual awakening for our community and I pray that no matter where we are and our community is in this journey of awakenings, that we will come to our senses and come home to God.

Thanks be to God for welcoming us home with open arms!

Amen.

 

My Review of Mohana Rajakumar’s Pearls of the Past

Over five years ago, I read my first Mohana Rajakumar novel entitled Love Comes Later  which introduced me to the world of contemporary Arab fiction and the two main characters of Rajakumar’s newest novel Pearls of the Past, Abdulla and his wife Sangita, who met while graduate students in London and fell in love, following the death of Abulla’s first wife and unborn child, much to the chagrin and frustration of his family with whom they now live among back in Abdulla’s home country.

Living in a constant state of tension with both the past and the future hanging over them in a cloud…and with a cloud of another kind about to cover them and their family, Pearls of the Past, is a tense and onrushing work of fiction about dreams and desires of the past still affecting the dreams and desire of the present and future in ways which unfold as the story unfolds…and which threatens to swallow all of them up in a very dark way.

Pearls of the Past, has several plot lines (which this reviewer thinks will be further explored in future novels). It is a novel about romantic love – strained, guided by traditions and customs; it is also a novel about family love – strained, challenged by the traditions of the past as they meet the realities of the present and larger world; it is also a novel about the love of work – increasingly in at least one character’s memory that is fast fading.

I like this novel for its complexity and its humanity. It is a story that is set in the east but those in the west will see themselves – hoping, yearning for love, dealing with expectations and traditions that make themselves known in a variety of ways.

There is more to this complex and interesting novel than I am telling in this review. However, I did enjoy this novel and will simply say that the title of the novel Pearls of the Past is very relevant to the unfolding story line…in more ways than one.

I gave this novel a four-star rating on Goodreads 

Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

 

 

 

The Morning Sunrise in My Town

It has been a while since I posted some photos and with the wonderful sunrise this morning, I went to my favorite spot, the west bank of lake on the east side of my town, and again shot some photos with my simple LG smartphone. I hope that you enjoy them! Have a great day! Jim

How High is the Bar of God’s Grace?

Series title: Awakening to Love “God, loves me deeply after all!”

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Our main text for this morning is Luke 15:20

And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.

I begin with a reading of the entire parable of the prodigal son and then after reading it I am going to ask you a couple of questions.

Luke 15:11-32

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“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! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 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.

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

“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. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 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.’”

Here are the questions for your thought and, if you would like, your response:

What did the father require the son to do to rejoin the family?

Nothing except to come home and be his son again. In the father’s view, he could not be anything else except his son.

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.

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

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

Question number two: What did all of this cost the son?

Nothing and yet everything…it cost his pride and willfulness, two things that get us in trouble more than anything else…

Question number three: What did all of this cost the father?

Nothing and yet everything…

“Now wait a minute pastor! Are you saying that the prodigal son did not have to do something to earn the right to come back home?”

“Are you saying that the father did all of this for free? There’s no free lunch!”

I think that there was here.

And yet, it did cost him…his running to his son, his dirty and humiliated son? Cost him his reputation. Men don’t run to their wayward kids, do they? The kids come home to them…

Not this dad…

The calf, the party? It cost him.

But it really did not cost him, I think because of one thing…

Love.

“Oh pastor, I am concerned about you…you need to go to the altar! The son had to do something and the dad certainly had the right to demand his son change his ways!

And besides, what do we do with Paul’s words to the Romans? I mean, pastor it is very clear what our sinful behavior and attitudes does to our relationship with God!” He said quite clearly, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God!”

You’re right he did say that. And we do sin, we do get off the path, we do miss the mark and fall short of God’s glory…”

By the way, what does Paul mean when he says “God’s glory?”

The word translated as glory here is doxa.

Now, what word do we see in our bulletin that has a variation in it?

Doxology

Doxa, glory means “honor, renown; glory, an especially divine quality, the unspoken manifestation of God, splendor.”

So all of us have fallen short all of God’s glory, we have fallen short of God’s splendor and renown. We are marred, we are disfigured, by sin.”

“Thank you Pastor for being clear about that…now tell us what needed to happen to the son. This dad needed to do something to make sure the son knew he had done wrong!”

Okay, what does Romans 3:24 say?

“…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

Let me read the rest of the passage

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

The father showed grace, mercy, love, and something else.

He could have, he had every right to follow the rules of his faith of that day and tell him at the city gate, “Get out of here! You’re done!” And he could have said that because the son would have most likely partied with the Gentiles and wasted all of his money on and with them. And he could have truly rejected his son because of this.

But he didn’t.

‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Consider with me this perspective on what the father did in response to seeing his son

“Jesus says the father saw the son “and was filled with compassion for him.” The father wasn’t filled with indignation. He wasn’t filled with anger. He wasn’t filled with retribution. He was filled with compassion.” Dave Ferguson

I have done this little back and forth dialogue this morning to suggest that for some people their experience of coming to, or trying to come to, the Lord was not and has not with been people of grace but with people of indignation, anger, retribution, or impatience or all four and can we call also call it legalism.

Which Paul responds to in the Romans text just read and to whom one of the audiences – the Pharisees, one group of religious professionals back in the day – Jesus targeted when He told these parables alongside the other audience to whom Jesus spoke – The prodigals who wanted to come home – to remind them both of the great love and extravagant even scandalous grace of God.

We have been looking at a path, a journey of awakening these past few weeks and this morning we encounter a very important awakening – the awakening to love – often expressed as “God, loves me deeply after all!”

The son found out just how much his father loved him.

Dad, in closing the physical distance on his own initiative, short-circuited the shame the son was dealing with.

“Pastor, oh pastor, the son was as guilty as…well…he was guilty!”

He confessed that guilt!

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

The son had to own his guilt for what he had done and he did. He confessed his sin.

The shame, the sense of I am not good enough, the father addressed that…

“Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

We have fallen short of God’s standard. We are sinners, we are flawed people in need of God’s grace that Jesus Christ made possible through His death and praise God, His resurrection!

Romans 3:24 and John 3:16 make that clear! Praise God!

Then there is James 5:16, a verse I have grown to appreciate more and more this year…

Here it is in a couple of versions:

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (NIV)

Therefore, confess your sins to one another [your false steps, your offenses], and pray for one another, that you may be healed and restored. The heartfelt and persistent prayer of a righteous man (believer) can accomplish much [when put into action and made effective by God—it is dynamic and can have tremendous power]. (Amplified)

Admit your faults to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous man has great power and wonderful results. (TLB)

Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. (Message)

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (NLT)

Both sentences are essential to understand and apply. Confession of our sins and shortcomings helps us heal from the scarring of sin. Christ forgives us of our sins. Only He can do that.

But when we confess to another person, another Christian, their praying can help free us from the bondage of shame. Shame causes us to hide and when we tell the truth to a trustworthy believer, their listening and their praying on our behalf, can allow the Holy Spirit to lift the shame out of us! I have found this to be true!

The son discovered in his journey home that he was really loved, really and deeply loved…and had been the whole time!

 

“Is there really no bar to clear to be reconciled to my heavenly Father? Are you suggesting that the only relationship in this life that will determine a person’s eternity is based on clearing a bar of worthiness or getting my act together even just a little? Is it true that the fundamentalist God with the bar set high is not real and that the liberal God with the bar set low is not real either? Do you mean that there is no bar to clear at all? How is that possible?”

Well, actually, there is a bar. Just one. And Jesus hung from it. Finding your way back to God is not about what you do-it is about what Jesus already did. Dave and Jon Ferguson

You and I are deeply, deeply loved by God…Loved that much…the bar of His grace…AND LOVE is that high…so high only He could have of hung there!

Thanks be to a God who came to rescue me and you too!

Amen