Why Being Lost isn’t about Location but Closeness

murilloOn Sunday we jumped into the story of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15. Last week we looked at the lostness of the younger son. This week we looked at the lostness of the older son. Which is odd because often in casual readings of the story the older son doesn’t seem lost – but he definitely is.

Jesus here is teaching to two specific groups mentioned in the text. The first are the crowds, the broken, the tax-collectors, and the sinners. In the story the parable of the younger son reaches out to them. To the ones who have broken the rules and are far from the Father’s embrace.

There was a second audience though as well: the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. To this group Jesus tells the second half of the story of the older son. A son who was lost because he kept all the rules and like the younger son was also far from the Father.

The Older Son is clearly lost because being lost isn’t about location but intimacy with the Father. When the Father welcomes the younger son home, the older son stands outside and refuses to join in the celebration. He refuses to join in with the Father. He creates distance between the two of them. And the reason why he is standing outside is actually stated by the older son. He says that he is outside and refusing to go in because he has never disobeyed the Father.

And it is precisely at this moment that we see how keeping the rules can keep us from the Father and God. Because the older Son reveals that he has been following the Father not because he loved the Father, but because of what he could get out of the Father.

Timothy Keller puts it this way:

“The hearts of the two brothers were the same. Both sons resented their Father’s authority and sought ways of getting out from under it. They each wanted to get into a position in which they could tell the father what to do. Each one, in other words, rebelled – but one did so by being very bad and the other by being extremely good. Both were alienated from the father’s heart; both were lost sons…Neither son loved the father for himself. They both were using the father for their own self-centred ends rather than loving, enjoying, and serving him for his own sake. This means that you can rebel against God and be alienated from him either by breaking his rules or by keeping all of them diligently”

The point is that it is possible to distance ourselves from the Father by breaking the rules and by trying to keep them out of the wrong motives. If we follow the commandments of God so that God owes us, so that we guarantee blessing, or that our lifestyle and desire are assured, we are missing the point. To follow God for any other reason than God is worth following is to miss the point and miss God.

So on Sunday we gave three ways to discern our motives in following God. The first was do you expect to get what you want. If your life is built on the expectation that God will create the life you want, rather than the life he is calling you to lead, that might indicate an older brother’s heart.

Secondly, an older brother’s heart can be seen when there is grudging duty in following God. If we follow God out of a sense of obligation rather than anticipation for the kingdom we may be missing the point. We are called to give our hearts freely to God, not out of a twisted sense of resentful compliance.

And lastly, when our lives demonstrate a lack of joy we may have an older brother’s heart. The reality is that joy cannot live in a heart that is filled with resentment. So if our walk with Jesus has a discernable lack of joy, there may be resentment and an older brother’s heart.

So on Sunday we concluded our talk by asking each person to examine why they follow God. And if there is, we gave this simple next step: join the party. The Father comes out to the older brother and invites him back into the party. So if for any reason, like resentment, bitterness, self-righteous, or pride – you’ve missed out on the party, make a choice to accept the invitation, put aside everything and join the party. Because the truth is the party with the Father is where we want to be.

If, like the elder brother, you seek to control God through your obedience, then all your morality is just a way to use God to make him give you the things in life you really want” Timothy Keller

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea Why are your following God?

Take Aways…

  • Being lost isn’t about a location, but a state of your heart.
  • Jesus is writing to two specific groups: rule breakers, and rule keepers.
  • As Christians the Older Brother relates to us
  • Being lost to the Father isn’t about geography but intimacy
  • “The lostness of the elder son, however, is much harder to identify. After all, he did all the right things. He was obedient, dutiful, law-abiding, and hardworking” Henri Nouwen
  • The Older Son is standing outside the party because as he says, “I have never disobeyed you”
  • “Pride in his good deeds, rather than remorse over his bad deeds was keeping the older son out of feast of salvation” Timothy Keller
  • The older Son has been obeying the Father not because he values the relationship but because of what he wants out of the relationship.
  • To seek God for eternal life is to seek eternal life, while to seek God for a meaningful existence is to seek a meaningful existence. A true seeking after God results from an experience of God which one falls in love with for no reason other than finding God irresistibly loveable” Peter Rollins
  • Indicators of An Older Brother Heart
    • Expectation for God to Give us What We Want
    • A heart of grudging duty
    • A Lack of Joy

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What surprised you? What made you think? What did you take away? What was new? In your life have you ever been like the Older Brother? What is your natural response when people receive deep grace – celebration or resentment? Is there anyway in your life that you are like the Older Brother now? What steps can you take to make sure that you don’t become like the Older Brother?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Take a moment and talk to your kids about why its important that they follow your guidance and direction. Then take a moment and talk to them about how its even more important about the motives behind their actions. Tell them how happy it makes you when they clean the dishes because they love you. Tell them how much joy it brings you when their heart is in the right place.

Challenge for this Week Put aside any resentment and join the party

Wandering Lost and Finally Finding Home

300px-Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_ProjectOn Sunday we explored the first of three sermons on the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). In this sermon we looked at the prodigal son and how we are often so much like him. How we too have left home, and left God in so many countless ways. What is remarkable is that it is God’s love that allows us to leave.

Henri Nouwen puts it this way: “The Father couldn’t’ compel his son to stay home. He couldn’t force his love on the Beloved. He had to let him go in freedom, even though he knew the pain it would cause both his son and himself. It was love itself that prevented him from keeping his son home at all cost. It was love itself that allowed him to let his son find his own life, even with the risk of losing it….Here the mystery of my life is unveiled. I am loved so much that I am left free to leave home.”

We are loved so much that we are free to leave. Sometimes the leaving is harsh and sudden, like in the story. Sometimes it’s slow and subtle. But it happens nonetheless.

Again Nouwen writes: “Anger, resentment, jealousy, desire for revenge, lust, greed, antagonisms, and rivalries are the obvious signs that I have left home”. This is true. These are all signs that we’ve left the home of the Father full of grace, acceptance, and love. We’ve left home for a distant land where we become used, abused, and neglected. This is what the prodigal son experiences and he comes to his senses. And decides to return home. This decision though is often so difficult because when we leave the Father’s side we walk into darkness and confusion. Nouwen again wisely writes: “The farther I run away from the place where God dwells the less I am able to hear the voice that calls me the Beloved, and the less I hear that voice, the more entangled I become in manipulative power games of the world.” This is true, the further we run from God the more difficult it is to hear his voice in a world of competing voices.

Yet the son does hear the Father’s voice. He remembers what it was like at home, whereas now he is left alone, struggling, and abused. He decides to walk home and seek to earn back his position not as a son but as a slave. A hired hand. Yet the Father sees the son while he was a long way off…because he was looking. The Father didn’t move on because he didn’t want to move on. He isn’t content till all those who have wandered find their way back home. So he runs to his son not caring that it isn’t dignified. He doesn’t care what other people think, he cares about his lost son. The son shares a speech but the father doesn’t care. Because the father isn’t about what can be earned, but what he can give, which is acceptance, hope, love, and assurance.

So on Sunday we ended by reflecting on how at so many times and places we have been like the prodigal son. That we drift, slide, and move away. On Sunday we ended asking a simple but profound question: will you let the Father accept you? We often say yes quickly but it’s not that easy. Because we need to give up all our speeches, our ways of fixing things (i.e. being a hired hand), our ways of earning love and instead to simply accept the gift before us.

So today I want to ask you the same thing. Will you accept the gift of God’s grace before you? Remember the Father’s focus isn’t on your past or what you’ve done, the Father’s focus is on you.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Love and acceptance are found at “home”

Take Aways…

  • The son leaving is a sign of dying
  • You are loved so much you are free to leave home
  • The Father divides up his life for his sons
  • Away from home people use, abuse, and neglect you
  • “Anger, resentment, jealousy, desire for revenge, lust, greed, antagonisms, and rivalries are the obvious signs that I have left home”. Henri Nouwen
  • “The farther I run away from the place where God dwells the less I am able to heave the voice that calls me the Beloved, and the less I hear that voice, the more entangled I become in manipulative power games of the world” Henri Nouwen
  • The Father saw the son because he was looking
  • The Father hasn’t moved on, because he doesn’t want to move on.
  • The Father doesn’t care what other people think, he cares about his son
  • God isn’t about earning, gaining, or achieving. God is about giving.

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What surprised you? What made you think? What did you take away? When have you “left home”? Is there any places where you have bee leaving home, slowly and subtly? How can having God’s assurance of love change who you are? How does it feel to be accepted by God? How might you share your thanks with him today?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Take a moment and sit down with your kids and talk to them about today’s message. Share with them the story of the Father and the Son. If you can promise them the same type of love, that is modeled in this passage. Talk with them about how you love your kids in the same way with acceptance, forgiveness, and a willingness to reach out.

Challenge for this Week:

Receive the Father’s acceptance


Prodigals and Finding God

progidal sonOver the next few weeks we are going to be moving into a new series looking at the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. This is a story that is very well known in general. But what is often true is that the most familiar stories are sometimes the least well known. Meaning that some of the most familiar stories are so familiar that they have lost their initial impact, shock, and experience.

This is what I hope to explore over the next few weeks. Because this story is shocking in what it reveals.

  • It shows a God willing to divide up his life for people to make the wrong choices.
  • It shows a God willing to accept and offer forgiveness before it’s asked for.
  • It shows how we can break the rules, and obey all the rules and still miss God.
  • It shows how our own righteousness and obedience to the law can distance ourselves from God just as much as running away.
  • And most of all, it shows a radical picture of God that differs from the unchanging, cold, distant entity in heaven; instead it shows a God radically open, relational, and filled with reckless love.

So that is where we are going for the next few weeks; looking each week at one of the characters in the story and how our lives might line up with theirs. But before we do that, why not spend sometime and slowly read and digest this story. Listen to it as if for the first time and discover not only who God is, but also who we are.

Luke 15: 11- 32.

“A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

“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! 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.”’

“So he returned home to his father. 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. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. 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.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

A Quick Quote to Change Your Day

Read the following quote. Then slow down, and read it again. Lastly read it one last time and let it shape your day.

There are many books that tell us how to find God. But the truth is that God is not lost or hiding. In fact, it is the actual, continuous, omnipresence of God that is so hard for the human mind to fathom.

God is with you, God is near to you, God is a part of every moment of every day. So go out today seeking to just live in awareness of his presence. As Jesus says “Pay attention” (Matt. 24:42). So may we pay attention today and find the God that isn’t lost or hiding but is right with us the whole time…