“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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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

 

 

 

Hitting Bottom, Finding Hope

Text: Luke 15:17

Sermon for Sunday, September 10, 2017

Did you ever run away from home?

I did.

I don’t remember how old I was when ran away from home. I went a block away to a former neighbors house who had lived across the street from us but had moved and hid under one of the beds in their house.

I don’t remember the reason and nothing terrible had happened but I remember when I got home, I was grounded to my short street for a week.

Did you ever run away from home?

How would you reply to this email?

“I’m 13 years old and I want to runaway to my friends house in Jersey, but will my parents be able to check my text and track me down and come get me? I don’t want to go back with them when I runaway and I don’t want my friend to get hurt.”

 

Abuse
Divorce
Parental substance abuse
Failing at school
Family Finances
Personal crisis such as pregnancy
Personal Addiction

What about adults? Ever thought about the fact that adults run away?

A study of runaway adults in England who returned or were found said this:

The reasons for going missing include “traumatic experiences and strong emotions of being unable to cope, [and] feeling trapped and powerless to talk about or share their feelings”. Three-quarters of those who had gone missing were diagnosed with mental health problems, and one in three had attempted suicide while they were away.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/missing-adults-hide-but-they-dont-run-far-8660467.html

Interestingly enough, they did not go too far from home.

As we begin this series, Awakening to God; Awakening to Life, I would have us consider for a moment that while the Prodigal Son was not a runaway per se, he was running away from something.

What was the prodigal running away from? And why did he return home?

As I shared last week, a sermon that I gave last month about discipleship included these five awakenings that Pastor Dave Ferguson discovered as he talked with people about their spiritual journeys:

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 shared these five awakenings in the context of the importance of discipleship and said this a few weeks ago:

The road to becoming a disciple, and growing as a disciple, includes a spiritual awakening something that you hear me pray for on a regular basis.

And once when we come to point of awakening to life in Christ, and are born again, that moment of decision when we admit to, confess, our sins and shortcomings to God and accept and receive the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ, we begin the journey of being a disciple.

We never arrive as a disciple. We are always on the journey the path further and further toward the Lord and with the Lord.

And today I add…

or we should be…either we are walking with the Lord…or we are walking the path we choose to walk…

This choice never goes away…

And it leads me to ask this question as part of this series “How do we handle prodigals of the faith?” How do we reach out to people who make choices that cause them to walk away from their faith in the Lord?

Now some might respond to this question with, “Pastor, the prodigal son was not saved! He was an unrepentant sinner! He had yet to accept Jesus Christ as His savior!”

Maybe he was…

Maybe he wasn’t…

Let me ask back, He had had a relationship with his father, didn’t he?

I have found in my own life journey of faith, that when I turn prodigal, and I have turned prodigal from time to time – the journey back is very, very, very hard at times because it is easy to simply let people be…

Stuck
Left alone
Judged and cast out

“They got themselves into it…they can get themselves out!”

But what do we do with Galatians 6:1 ?

The New Living Translation translates this verse as follows:

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.

The New International Version renders it:

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

And the Message renders it as follows:

Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.

The life of a disciple of Jesus Christ has with moments when the temptation to doubt; moments when a life filled with things; moments when pain of loss, rejection, envy, jealousy; moments when the pleasures of life become too strong or become more important and the disciple finds himself or herself in a place that he or she never thought they would be.

In the midst of a smelly mess.

What choices does he or she have? Stay where they are? Or move further away from home? Or…go home? Home to the loving embrace of God?

What happens when they choose to go home to God? What will they find?

What is it that makes a person who had been strong in their faith, walk away from it, and then return?

And from another perspective what happens to a person who has not believed in God nor trusted Christ for salvation eventually finds himself or herself coming to Christ and becoming a disciple?

What makes the difference?

Well the work of the Holy Spirit for one. He is at work moving and acting in ways that draw people to the Lord.

And one of the ways He does that is that He creates an awakening, for both the first time follower of Christ and for the returning home disciple, an awakening that causes both of them to ask “Is this all there is?”

This is first awakening that Ferguson describes (and I think that he is right about this, very right about this) the Awakening to Longing often expressed as

“There’s got to be more!”

Our text for this morning is Luke 15:17

‘“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, “At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger!’

Why the change?

Let’s review, quickly what had brought the son to this point…

The son demanded, an extreme demand to be sure, for his share of the estate.

‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

Do we not do the same?

I want it! I want this! I want that! I want it all now!?

I want what’s coming to me!

That wanting that desire, never goes away. It goes underground for a while but it comes back up and when it does we are hit hard with hungers and desires for power, pleasure, things… and meaning and purpose.

The writer of Ecclesiastes understood this when he wrote,

Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.

He got what he wanted and then as we read in Luke’s account of the story

“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.”

It’s not what I thought

I had it better at home. My father’s servants do! I go home and be a servant!

The father had something to say about that. He had more to offer.

God has something more for us, too.

If we choose to want it. If we listen to that longing in our heart asking if there is more to life than what we are currently experiencing. God has more for us too.

You have heard me often say, “God works in the nooks and crannies of people’s lives in ways we cannot see.”

That prodigal you love dearly and are thinking of right now, God is at work! He is stirring in them and seeking for them to think and ask “is this all there is?”

We keep praying. We keep praying and trusting God that He will move in a way that brings our prodigals home to Him.

But what about you?

We are all one choice away from walking out the door and away from God.

Did you notice this segment in what I read a few weeks ago, “Not long after that, (not long after he demanded his share of the estate) the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.”

I wonder, did this young man stop to consider what he was doing? Were friends and family talking to him about staying home? Was he wrestling with his decision to leave? What pushed him to finally leave?

I suggest a sense of entitlement.

‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

Many social observers speak of the strong sense of entitlement these days…from government programs and from society at large.

“I want my fair share…”

“I want, I want, I want…”

Has a sense of entitlement crept into your heart?

Are you at the point where you are thinking, “God if you don’t give me this…I’m going to take it on my own?”

That is a dangerous place to be…

I conclude with a story about a 20th century prodigal…

How many here this morning recognize this man?

Who is he?

Billy Graham

What about this gentleman? Does anyone know him?

He was Charles Templeton

Graham and Templeton were friends and fellow evangelists back in the 1940’s but eventually Templeton quit believing in Christ and the Christian faith and thought that Graham was “committing intellectual suicide” by refusing to look at evidence that contradicted Graham’s faith.

Late in Templeton’s life Lee Stroble, himself a former atheist, and author of numerous books on Christianity, interviewed him and in his book A Case for Christ shared part of that interview with Templeton:

“And how do you assess this Jesus?” It seemed like the next logical question—but I wasn’t ready for the response it would evoke.

Templeton’s body language softened. It was as if he suddenly felt relaxed and comfortable in talking about an old and dear friend. His voice, which at times had displayed such a sharp and insistent edge, now took on a melancholy and reflective tone. His guard seemingly down, he spoke in an unhurried pace, almost nostalgically, carefully choosing his words as he talked about Jesus.

“He was,” Templeton began, “the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my readings. His commitment was total and led to his own death, much to the detriment of the world. What could one say about him except that this was a form of greatness?”

I was taken aback. “You sound like you really care about him,” I said.

“Well, yes, he is the most important thing in my life,” came his reply. “I . . . I . . . I . . . ,” he stuttered, searching for the right word, ‘I know it may sound strange, but I have to say . . . I adore him!” . . .

” . . . Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. Yes . . . yes. And tough! Just look at Jesus. He castigated people. He was angry. People don’t think of him that way, but they don’t read the Bible. He had a righteous anger. He cared for the oppressed and exploited. There’s no question that he had the highest moral standard, the least duplicity, the greatest compassion, of any human being in history. There have been many other wonderful people, but Jesus is Jesus….’

“Uh . . . but . . . no,’ he said slowly, ‘he’s the most . . .” He stopped, then started again.

“In my view,” he declared, “he is the most important human being who has ever existed.”

That’s when Templeton uttered the words I never expected to hear from him. “And if I may put it this way,” he said as his voice began to crack, ‘I . . . miss . . . him!”

With that tears flooded his eyes. He turned his head and looked downward, raising his left hand to shield his face from me. His shoulders bobbed as he wept. . . .

Templeton fought to compose himself. I could tell it wasn’t like him to lose control in front of a stranger. He sighed deeply and wiped away a tear. After a few more awkward moments, he waved his hand dismissively. Finally, quietly but adamantly, he insisted: “Enough of that.”

https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2013/05/09/charles-templeton-missing-jesus/

Would the prodigal son have said something similar about his father if, instead of going home like he did, he got up and went another direction? I miss my father?

But the prodigal didn’t did he? He came to another conclusion about himself, about his situation and he went home.

This morning, I remind us and I believe it to be true…

There is more to life than all of this.

There is meaning and purpose.

There is something better.

This is not all there is!

Christ offers us life and life more abundant now! Not a perfect life. Not even a prosperous life. But a life where a deep peace and joy are ours. A life where forgiveness from sin and freedom from guilt and shame are possible.

We keep praying for our prodigals. We keep praying that God, through His Holy Spirit, will work in the circumstances and connections of those we love. That an awakening, a spiritual awakening of “Is this all there is?” happens and the Holy Spirit moves and acts in ways that only He can.

But we also, must be aware of the temptations that come our way that offer us a satisfaction which does not last. We too, can easily become prodigals.

The prodigal hit bottom and began to find hope again!

May the Lord speak to us and may we be open to His answer to our question, a dangerous question to ask but one that can open us to a greater and deeper life of faith in Christ, “Isn’t there more to life than this?”

 

Thanks be to God there is!

Amen

 

Coming to Our Senses

Luke 15:17

Sermon for September 3, 2017

In her book Choosing Our Religion documenting the choices and views of a group commonly called Nones, those who longer have any affiliation with a church or even a religious faith, Dr Elizabeth Drescher told the story of a former Korean War veteran and engineer named Jack who had faithfully attended church with his wife for their entire married life until after her death when he stopped attending. He had gone out of respect for her and participated in the life of the church, but as he admitted to Drescher never truly believed in Christ.

“Everything I’d experienced in the Air Force and everything I’d studied had confirmed what I’d long suspected growing up: There’s no way of knowing there is or isn’t a god. Religion is a social club. Church is moral finishing school.”

Jack’s story gripped me because the church he attended was one of a sister Wesleyan-Holiness denomination. It also gripped me because I knew a man in a former congregation I served who not long before he passed finally came to faith in Christ. He had been a key leader in the church for years. He chaired the trustees and his wife had been a Sunday School teacher.

Jack’s story, as well as one told by the leader of our Church last year about his father coming to faith in Christ late in life after leading a life which would put many men of active faith to shame, has had me thinking about the quality and depth of faith all of us have or may not have these days. It has me gravely concerned about just how all of us, myself included, truly are following the Lord these days.

And Jesus’ haunting question in Luke 18:8, “But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” takes on a new meaning and perspective for me.

And this ongoing concern was re-lit a few weeks ago in my sermon about the strategic importance of disciple-making when I spoke about the importance of discipleship in helping us stay true to the Lord even during difficult times when our faith is challenged and stretched thin.

Hebrews 3:12-14 was the basis for that message:

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.

How then do we help one another to not become hardened by sin’s deceitfulness which would enable us to turn away from God? How do we encourage one another to stay faithful to Christ and keep believing in, following, and obeying Him?

In that same message, I shared with you the following five “awakenings” that Pastor Dave Ferguson saw as he sought to understand the journeys people take to come to Christ or…come back to Christ.

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!”

As I shared these five awakenings, I sensed that this was important to use as a future sermon series for some reason. I also think it describes a cycle of faith that all of us face which challenges our beliefs and assumptions about God and life and can cause to want to walk away from God when disappointment and pain and loss causes us to either stop believing in Christ or to seek to satisfy our needs and wants in a way that takes us away from the Lord.

I was going to spend this month and most of next month doing a series called Christianity 101 and go over the basic beliefs of our church. But, given what I have been hearing from people who have been talking with me as to the challenges being faced, I determined as I sat down to write this message, that I should address these five things.

So starting next week, I will be speaking to each of the five awakenings with the goal of providing helpful information and inspiration to help us experience a rich and meaningful faith in spite of and through the moments and seasons when believing is hard and difficult.

Our guide will be the prodigal son and the following text from Luke 15:17 will be our focus text for this series:

“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger!

This is a series for us…

…when life takes a turn we did not expect and we find ourselves drowning in doubt and fear…

…when someone comes to you and pours out their heart revealing a desire to meaningfully experience God once again but fears they can’t because of their past…

…or when our own unresolved past issues – the choices, the hurts, the habits – still have power over us and we cannot seem to get free. We, like the Prodigal son, find ourselves unable to get out of the pig pen.

But this series is also for us who know of a prodigal that we so desperately want to come home to the Lord. This series, I hope will help us understand what probably needs to happen to the one we love, so that he or she finally stands up and starts toward home.

But this morning, in anticipation of this series about a son who returns home and a father who welcomes him home with arms wide open, we take time on this Labor Day Sunday to remember and give thanks to the Lord for His sacrificial love on our behalf that reminds us that Christ wants us to come home and has made it possible for us, because of His great love for us, to be and live forgiven.

Let us prepare our hearts for Communion and let us humble ourselves before the Lord in preparation for Communion.

Thanks be to God for His great love for us!

Amen

 

Going Out to Love

Matthew 9:36; Luke 15:20

In his book More or Less Jeff Shinabarger tells the story of one of his neighbors a man named Clarence who within few hours of the Shinabarger’s move in to their neighborhood, rang the doorbell in an unmistakable way and introduced himself. And what Jeff had been studying about people like Clarence, who happened to be homeless, was no longer an academic exercise but a human reality.

Shinabarger said, “Clarence put me over the edge. He was my neighbor. I couldn’t get away from him. And I liked him. His constant smirk of a smile got under my skin and into my heart…Our relationship introduced a barrage of new questions for my life: how do I love my neighbor when my neighbor has no front door or even walls?…With one doorbell ring, all the ways I looked at my day-to-day life changed.”

Speaking of neighbors…

How many of us know the names of at least two of our neighbors and have spoken with them in the last two weeks?

In our neighborhood we have two neighbors who moved in this past spring and are from China. And they do not speak any English and so communicating with them is a challenge. I decided to download google translate to my phone and use it to communicate with them as necessary. So even learning their names has been a challenge.

And I have been reading in the past week how our concept of neighborhood and community has been changing with the advent of the internet. There have been some interesting articles about the younger generation of adults, especially in major cities, who are preferring more and more to stay home rather than go out.

What are the implications for the church with all of this?

I am still digesting an article called The Future of the Church Is Analog, Not Digital in which the author says that in this technological time and place the human touch and presence of the church is still necessary and needed.

(By the way for those who have heard about digital and analog and wondered what it meant, here is a helpful chart highlight the difference between analog and digital soundwaves.

 

 

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Our phones and TV’s use digital waves these days to send signals.)

As an article I read at techdiffernces.com put it,

“The best example of an analog signal is a human voice, and the best example of a digital signal is the transmission of data in a computer.”

Today we are taking time after worship to serve in various ways in our community. We are going out to love our neighbors. We are going to be, if you will, analog. We are going to care for those who share a common zip code or geographic area.

We are going out to love. We are going to be human today. We are going out to be disciples and the presence of Jesus.

Where am I going with all of this?

Two verses of scripture are my texts this morning.

The first is Matthew 9:36:

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

The second is Luke 15:20:

“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.”

Jesus was overwhelmed by all the needs that He faced on a daily basis. The gospel writers clearly showed that He would get away to rest and regroup. But they also showed that He was moved with compassion for the crowds which constantly swarmed around Him.

We are called to compassion today, and every day. To be compassionate, according to dictionary.com is to have “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.”

Jesus’ mission was the redemption of the human soul through His death and, praise God, His resurrection. But He also alleviated suffering as He walked this earth. He healed people of illnesses for which there were no cure; He delivered people from the power of evil; He gave people their dignity back. He loved people.

That is what we are doing today. But it is also what we must do every day. Love people.
And in loving people, we love people – flawed, imperfect, people. And some of them are our neighbors.

Our second verse from the Bible is a familiar one – the story of the prodigal or wastefully extravagant son who finally comes to his senses and decides to go back home and be a servant and not a son to his rich father.

Dad has nothing to do with that… he runs (and I don’t think that he cares what people think) to his dirty son and embraces him as only a deeply loving dad can do.

To love someone is to embrace them, to engage with them. To care. To listen. To believe in.

We may not like what they believe or do or how they live their lives. But we love them.

That errant family member. That neighbor who does not speak English. The Clarence in our lives.

We go out today to love, in Jesus’ name.

Because someone came out of their life to love us as well.

Thanks be to God for that!

Amen