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!







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…


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.


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!





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.

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.”


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.

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…

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.”

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!



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!



My Review of Chris Bohjalian’s The Flight Attendant

Cassie Bowden, a flight attendant known for her drinking binges and blackouts, awakes from another drunken stupor in a Dubai hotel room and finds herself next to a man who has been brutally murdered.

“Did I do it?” she struggles to remember. Believing that she did not from what she could recall of the night before, Cassie struggles to put herself together, get back to her hotel room, and return to America where she eventually reveals all to an attorney…and on to an incredible ending that well…I’ll just leave it at that.

But in between her gruesome discovery and the “where did that come from?” ending, the story of Cassie Bowden, entering middle age, unfolds as she struggles to deal with her uncontrolled drinking, her life as a single person, and her dysfunctional past.

This is my first Bohjalian novel and it won’t be my last.

What strikes me about The Flight Attendant are the characters who are neither over the top nor wooden. They are credible, they are everyday. I felt sorry for Cassie at times and then at other times, when her implusiveness gets the best of her, I felt frustration tinged with concern. Then there was the mysterious “Miranda” whose own second guessing (that will become clear as one reads the book) chips away at her refined and deadly image. And the rest of cast? Sorry, no teasers from this reviewer. You will have to read the book!

Additionally, the tense plot line, which left this reader/reviewer on edge, is an edgy one. One that kept me wondering when Cassie would finally be arrested…or die…or live…in spite of herself.

I really enjoyed this novel and it kept me reading, and waiting, and expecting… well the worst…what I got was…one of the best novels I have read in a while!

I gave this novel a five-star review on Goodreads.

Note: I recieved an Kindle ARC from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.



MY BOOK LAUNCH! (re-blogged from Beauty Beyond Bones)

I have followed the journey of recovery and faith of this young woman for a couple of years and I have reblogged this post (something that I do not often do) to let you know that she has a new book coming out that…well I’ll let Caralyn explain in her post! If you are someone you know is dealing with an eating disorder I encourage you to read her posts and get the book! I am praying that God uses this book to accomplish positive and Christ-centered change in someone’s life!


I cannot believe that I’m about to say this, but…



Bloom: A Journal by BeautyBeyondBones


Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that the scared, sick, hopeless little girl at inpatient would tell her story one day. But here were are folks. Ten years, one irresponsibly honest blog, and 30,000 followers later. I’m sharing my story.

But this book is not just your normal, cover to cover book. It’s interactive. We’re embarking on the blooming process together: you and me.


And the best way for me to explain, is to just share the preview:

Bloom: A Journal by BeautyBeyondBones takes the reader on a motivating and inspiring journey inside the mind of a young woman trapped in the cycle of anorexia, and through the raw and often painful journey to new life.

Designed as an interactive, three-month daily journal with room to…

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