“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.

 

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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

 

 

 

The Courage to Change

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

Our text for this morning is: Luke 15:20 “So he returned home to his father.”

Do you remember the last time you told either your mother or father, “I can do this myself?”

Were you a child?

Were you a teenager?

Where you an adult, like this lady whose mother gives her a headache?

There comes a time in a young child’s life when they say, “I do it myself!”

The version of this proclamation that my mother loves to tell on me is the day I went to the grocery store with my parents and as I was picked up to sit in the cart seat, I protested and said, “I big boy now, I walk.”

One of the biggest proclamations we make throughout our lives is:

“I do it myself!”

“I don’t need help!”

“Let me do it! I have to do it!”

That was the prodigal!

“Give me my share of the estate now!”

“I want to live now…on my terms!”

“Let me do it! Let me live life on my terms!”

The word willfulness comes to mind…

In 2 Samuel 22:27, we read

to the pure you show yourself pure,
but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.

In the Amplified Version of the Bible it is translated

To the pure You will show Yourself pure, and to the willful You will show Yourself willful.

In Psalm 19:13 we read

Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

And in Matthew 6:15 which we often read as follows:

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

In the Amplified we read:

But if you do not forgive others their trespasses [their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment], neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses.

Now being willful, having a strong will is not a bad thing. Being strong willed can be a good thing when it comes to protecting oneself. Being able to appropriately say “No, I won’t!” is sometimes the difference between life and death.

But, willfulness as defined here creates a problem for us. It did for the prodigal son.

As we continue our series Awakening to God, Awakening to Life, a study of the prodigal son and the journey back to his father, we stop at the third of the five awakenings which Pastors Dave and Jon Ferguson discovered as they interviewed members of their church of how they came to faith in Christ.

We have looked at the awakening to longing and regret and this morning we stop at the awakening to help often expressed in the statement, “I can’t do this on my own.”

And this brings me back around to the issue of willfulness.

Willfulness is one of the strongest forms of resistance to progress in our walk with Christ and in life in general. Just ask any recovering person you know.

And it is this willfulness that the Prodigal Son has to deal with. He wants to go home. He is tired. He is spent. He has nothing left. His life is at a standstill.

Something has to change.

He has to change.

His will has to be reshaped.

There has to be a change in him.

A change he cannot make on his own.

He starts the process of that change by going home to his father.

Real change, important change, in life is hard…seemingly impossible at times because the willfulness that got the prodigal to the point he found himself at, is part of the problem and it requires a spiritual solution to overcome our willfulness that pushes against what the Lord requires of us.

And that spiritual solution is demonstrated in this story which Jesus told.

It is in the going home to his father that the prodigal son begins to change.

He could have said, “I am going to move somewhere else where I can get a better job. I am going to visit my friend in the next town and live with him for a while. I am NOT going to go home and have my father tell me, “I told you so! And then, along with the rest of the town leadership, be told “leave and never come back!”

Now I want us to step back for a moment from this section of Luke 15 that we have put under a microscope for these six weeks and compare the endings of the three stories that comprise this chapter.

The first story is that of the lost sheep and Jesus concludes this story in verse 7

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Then in the next story, that of the lost coin we read in verse 10 Jesus’ conclusion to it:

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

And then the final story, that of the prodigal son, we read in verse 32:

“But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

It is interesting to me to compare the three endings and see that Jesus’ ends all three on a note of celebration but in the first two he makes a point that “in the same way” there is a heavenly rejoicing over the repentance of a sinner.

Why the difference?

Maybe it was Jesus felt the point was sufficiently made in the first two that it was clear in the second because they all knew, and we should know, who the sinner was in the third story. Or it was the best way to describe to His audience exactly what He meant.

Now the word sinner here means wide of the mark of God’s standard or wandered off the path. The sheep wandered off the path. The coin was not where it was supposed to be and when both were found there was a celebration!

Now, in verses 18 and 21 in the story of the prodigal the words which he first utters to himself and then to his father are,

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

In the first two stories, that of the sheep and the coin, the word translated sinner is an adjective and they do what? The describe something as in red car. Jesus is using the two stories of an animal and a piece of money to describe how heaven feels (and how He feels) at the return of someone who left the path.

In the second story the word translated sinned is a verb! It describes action. In this case the prodigal son uses it to make clear what he had done.

“Dad, I screwed up. I threw away what you were saving up for me to have one day. I left the path thinking that I could find and go my own way.”

So Jesus makes a statement at the end of each of the stories that the animal, the coin, and the son all had gone the way they shouldn’t have gone. They had left the path.

In the first two stories the humans involved went in search of the lost items and found them.

In the last story one of the humans involved went in search of home.

The sheep could not find its way, it had to be found. The coin was not going to roll into sight for its frantic owner to finally see it in the middle of the floor.

But the son had to find his way home because he needed to change, he had to change, he had the ability and necessity to change. A change of heart, a change of attitude, a change in character.

So he got up and went to his father. ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“I can’t do this on my own anymore dad. I screwed up. I was wrong. Things can’t be the same, I sinned, I left the path. I had to come home. I will be a servant now.”

And dad was not buying any of it.

What happen to this boy?

He came to his sense. He woke up! He grew up! In the classic language of recovery, read in thousands of places on a daily basis around this world right from the Big Book of AA which I respectfully paraphrase for us this morning are these words which describe from another perspective what the prodigal son had to do:

Our description of the [prodigal], … and our [own] personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:
(a) That we were [prodigals, sinners in fact, living off the path we needed to be one and were wide of the mark that God had for us to aim toward in life] and could not manage our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our [sinfulness.]
(c) That God could and would if He were sought.

Now there is another word in verse 7 we need to pay attention to for a few moments as it relates to all of this…

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

The word translated as repent here means a change of mind. In the language of the Old Testament, as in Deuteronomy 4:30 it means something else of importance to us:

When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him.

It means, in so many words, go.home.

I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.

Was it an easy decision for the son to make?

Is change of any kind an easy thing?

Someone said that change is instantaneous. It’s the adapting to it that’s the hard part.

The son repented. He changed his mind.

He realized that where he was at, was not the place to be.

He would go home, he had to go home if real change was going to take place.

He went to his father expecting to be told to get lost or at least given a servants role in the household.

But the father had other plans!

The point of all this morning is that we cannot change ourselves, we need help. The son needed help and the help was in the person of his father who had the power to help him.

We need help, too. Only God can really help us.

We have to give up our willfulness and allow God to start changing us.

It’s not easy at times. But is necessary.

Consider this:

God rarely puts something new in your life until you let go of something old and broken. Dave and Jon Ferguson

Philip Yancey told the story of a young lady who grew in the wonderful city of Traverse City, Michigan. She was, as Yancey tells it, “the wild child of the family.”

A serious fight with her parents resulted in this young woman storming out of the house and to the city of Detroit where her life was nearly used up sexually and in other ways. Finding herself on the street after a few years because she was no longer seen as young and desirable, she decided to move to Canada and start over.

The bus she was to take would be stopping in Traverse City for about 15 minutes and so, thinking that no one would show up, called her parents and told them if they would like to see her they could at the station. She had to leave a voice message.

As the bus approached Traverse City, she wondered if anyone was going to be there. She wondered if she was going to be shamed and rejected one final time.

But to her surprise, when she got off the bus, there were her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins wearing party hats and they stood underneath a huge banner saying, “Welcome Home!” Her dad broke through the crowd to welcome her home even as she tried to explain herself and he wrapped his arms around her and was glad that his daughter was home.

Are we not waiting for someone near and dear to us to, if you will, get off the bus? Are there not children, grandchildren, spouses, friends, former members of this church, that we are praying will come home to the Lord?

Maybe we need to pray this prayer on a regular basis:

God, if you are real,
Make yourself real to ______.
Awaken in ________ the willingness
To turn toward you for help.

And keep praying it.

Maybe we need to pray this prayer ourselves

God, if you are real,
Make yourself real to me.
Awaken in me the willingness
To turn toward you for help.

Are will be willful about something in our lives and resisting coming home to Jesus because we are being stubborn and proud?

2 Peter 3:9 says this

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Thanks be to God that He does!

Amen

 

 

 

 

Does God Play Hard to Get?

Text: Luke 15:18-19

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Does God Play Hard to Get?

How many here this morning think that God plays hard to get?

How many don’t believe that God plays hard to get?

I know that there are verses in the Bible that indicate that God may play hard to get. Verses such as “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.” found in Isaiah 55:8

And we need to be cautious at times when think that we and God are buddy buddies. We are not.

God is a holy God. He is righteous. He is above all things and above us.

God is greater than anything or anyone else.

So His thoughts are above our thoughts and His ways are above our ways.

And yet…and yet…we read

In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. Jeremiah 29:12-14

And, just a couple of verses before the Isaiah 55:8 verse we read

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near. Isaiah 55:6

And, a verse that I spoke about a few months ago, in Luke 11 and verse 9

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

So does God play hard to get?

I do not think so.

We are the ones who play hard to get!

Just like the prodigal son…who asked for his share of the family wealth and took off…the father did not take off, he stayed. The son took off!

 

 

We are continuing our series Awakening to God, Awakening to Life this morning with a stop at Luke 15:18-19, part of the famous parable Jesus told to illustrate God’s great love for us, that of the prodigal or wastefully extravagant son.

‘I will go home to my father and say, Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”

Now, being known for my abrupt transitions, I am slowing the bus to take a quick exit,

This series is important to me on two fronts;

The first front is that of a spiritual awakening.

The second front is that of a revival of the church.

For some, including those who have studied the history of revival in our nation and world, these two words, awakening and revival mean the same thing. I am not going to argue with them.

There have been movements of God in the history of our country in which believers have been revived and those who have not believed and trusted in Christ alone for salvation did so.

Patrick Morley has noted the following history of revival and awakenings in our nation:

“The Great Awakening, 1734-43. In December 1734, the first revival of historic significance broke out in Northampton, Massachusetts, where a young Jonathan Edwards was pastor.” After months of fruitless labor, he reported five or six people converted–one a young woman. He wrote, “[She] had been one of the greatest company-keepers [today we call them party animals] in the whole town.” Says Morley.

“He feared her conversion would douse the flame, but quite the opposite took place. Three hundred souls converted in six months–in a town of only 1,100 people! The news spread like wildfire, and similar revivals broke out in over 100 towns.”

Then there was The Azusa Street Revival, 1906.

Says Morley, “In 1906, William J. Seymour, an African-American Holiness pastor blind in one eye, went to Los Angeles to candidate for a pastoral job. But after he preached, he was locked out of the second service {which happened the next week]!

He began prayer meetings in a nearby home and the Spirit of God, which they called “the second blessing,” fell after many months of concerted prayer. Eventually, the interracial crowds became so large they acquired a dilapidated Methodist church at 312 Azusa Street where daily meetings continued for three years. The resulting Pentecostal Movement and the later Charismatic Movement, which both exploded worldwide in the twentieth century both trace their roots to this revival.”

One of the ones that I have heard about was the “1970 Asbury College Revival in Wilmore, Kentucky.” Notes Morley, “Within a week the revival had spread throughout the entire country.”

Does God want to do a similar work today? You bet He does!

And there has been evidence from what I have been told by reliable sources that there is a movement of spiritual awakening and revival going on in the US.

I think that perhaps we need to consider another verse from Isaiah. Isaiah 43:19

 

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.

Could this be happening? Could God be doing a new thing?

Listen to what I just said…

Could God be doing a new thing?

Not an old thing. Not a way back to the past.

But a way to the future that is God’s future and has always been God’s future.

Consider with me for a moment 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

How many of us long for the good ol’ days?

How many of us long for the regrets we had, and still do, that were part of the good ol’ days?

How many of us (and you don’t have to raise your hands on this one unless you want to) have regrets that still hold us hostage to guilt, shame, and…well…regret?

How many of us are trapped because we are face to face even today with some regrets of ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, or sixty years ago?

Something we said. Something we did. Or did not say or do.

Something that we wish would take back.

I think that we all do. We all do.

Would it sound strange to you if I were to suggest this morning that one of the awakenings we need to have if we are going to come home either for the first time or the umpteenth time to Jesus is an awakening to regret?

‘I will go home to my father and say, Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”

This is what our main text says, this is a text in which regret is expressed

I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.

“It can’t be like it once was dad. Things are different. I come home but I can’t be your son anymore. I will be your neighbor. I will be your friend. I will be your worker. But I cannot be your son anymore.”

That’s regret talking.

And the son is right…it cannot be like it once was.

But the father will say, “no it cannot be like it once was…it can and it will be better!”

It has been suggested that we consider that there could have been a period of time between the end of this verse, the declaration of verse 19 about a change in status and relationship, the expression of regret, and the first sentence of verse 20.

Would somebody please read just the first sentence of verse 20 just the first sentence.

Please repeat it…

So he got up and went to his father.

A suggestion is made that there was a period of time, perhaps, between the decision to seek a new relationship status with the father and the decision to go home. A regret cycle it is called, is perhaps in place with son. He is overwhelmed with regret.

We stay stuck in regret. We get covered not just in the pig’s slop but the mud bog of regret.

If only

If only

If only

Can’t stay there… if we want to awake to God and awake to life, we have to awaken to our regrets and deal with them.

We get up and we go to…those that we need to make things right with. And for those that we cannot, because of death or incapacitation, we write a letter and we read it to a trustworthy friend to clear the air.

God has a new way for us…still his way.

The son sat with his regret but then he move on.

Are there some regrets you are dealing with today that you are stuck in?

Dave and Jon Ferguson have written about the following types of regret:

The Spirituality Regret: “I wish I had thought about God more.”

The Relationship Regret: “I wish I had loved and been loved better.”

The Health Regret: “I wish I had taken better care of myself.”

The Finance Regret: “I wish I had been smarter about money.”

The Purpose Regret: “I wish I had given my life to a big cause.”

Do you have any of these regrets?

Some of us might be thinking this morning, “I don’t have as much time as I used to have in dealing with my regrets….”

Maybe not…

But…

Is the Lord limited by how old or young we are in helping us get out of our regret cycle and come home to him?

I have read a great deal over the years and heard many people speak about the power of resentments and their effect on a person’s life. And resentments are powerful things.

But I am beginning to wonder if regret is a close second to resentments in causing us to stay away from the Lord.

We really do not know how long the younger son was gone from home. It could have been a year. It could have been a decade.

He changed, he grew up – life depended on it.

He was not the same man he was the day he left home with the world on a string.

But the father’s love was still the same…

Consider the practice of Kezazah (kay-zah-zah) as evidence of the father’s love…

 

A little known Jewish custom from Jesus’ time and it was done to disown community members who had behaved in ways that the community did not care for and were offended by. It was a shaming ceremony.

The practice, as I understand it, was for the community members to meet the person to be shamed at the gate to the city or town. One of the leaders would bring a clay pot and in front of the person being shamed, throw it to the ground allowing it to shatter.

Taking one of the pieces of the shattered pot the leader would face the person and say something like:

“Just as this clay pot has shattered, so you have shattered this community by your actions. You have broken the trust in you. You have broken the heart of your family, especially your father and mother.”

“There is no repairing the damage. You are no longer part of our community. You are cut off from us, from your family…forever.

Leave.”

So the individual would be forced to turn around and leave and never return.

But what does Jesus say in His story?

“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.

The father kept the town council from meeting the son. He ran, embraced him, and showed him love and forgiveness.

One of the things that can happen, and does happen, is that when we begin to come home to Christ, the voices of shame and regret grow louder.

“You can’t go back to God! You’ve already failed!”

“God won’t accept your weak apology!”

“Do you really need to do this? You walked away once. What makes you think you won’t do it again?”

“How many years has it been? Do you really want to face God again? Look at what He did to Adam and Eve?”

We do not have to let our shame and regret have the last word! (And we know, we know whose voice it really is, right? Satan’s voice.)

We can, with God’s help face our regret and get out of the regret cycle and go home to Christ!

This slide contains a prayer… can you read it…

God, if you are real, be real to me…awaken in me the possibility that with you I could start all over again.

Pray that prayer often this week as you need and pray it for someone you are praying for to come home to Christ

God, if you are real, be real to ____…awaken in _______the possible that with you _____ could start all over again.

Thanks be to God that we can start over!

Amen

 

 

 

My Review of Robert W Merry’s President McKinley: The Art of Stealthy Leadership

Robert W Merry has done justice to the 25th President of the United States with his new work President McKinley: The Art of Stealthy Leadership (Simon & Schuster, 2017).

William McKinley, a Union Civil War veteran, US Congressman, and Ohio Govenor, is often ranked in the top 20 of Presidents, generally ahead of his predecessor Grover Cleveland, but in the shadow of his second Vice-President the energetic and highly regarded, Theodore Roosevelt, who assumed the Presidency on September 14 1901 following McKinley’s assassination.

Merry seeks to at least move Teddy Roosevelt’s shadow aside (if one could move TR’s shadow aside!) for a least several hundred pages and bring to light a President who oversaw (and perhaps was swallowed up by, at times) a United States emerging out of the Civil War/Reconstruction era and into the twentieth-century. This reviewer believes that he accomplishes that task and reveals a President who knew how to use executive power in ways that allowed him to accomplish his goals. And the book’s subtitle, The Art of Stealthy Leadership, reveals how McKinley does that – through a stealthy approach – in which personal influence and relationship account for a great deal.

In this approach, this reviewer believes that Merry does for McKinley’s presidency what Karl Rove did for McKinley the Presidential Candidate and Campaigner in his The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters. They reveal a man whose exterior, plain to some, dull to others, hid a methodical mind that allowing him to move the levers of power and influence to accomplish his task.

I liked this book because it is a wonderful introduction to the 25th President to a new generation of readers and students of history and politics. Merry is able to describe the complex issues and events over which McKinley governed in simple and clean prose. He is sympathetic to McKinley but points out his slow and deliberate way of working often got him in difficulties or forced him to act before he was perhaps ready to act.

I believe that this book will be a wonderful book for undergraduate and graduate programs in history and political science classe, book clubs, and like this reviewer, for those interested in Presidential biographies and autobiographies.

I gave this book a five star rating on Goodreads

Note: I received an electronic ARC of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.