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The good son or the bad son?

Luke 15:1-2

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

See the Pharisees and the scribes had a question about Jesus’ behavior because it didn’t line up with the behavior of those he ate with. And Jesus is trying to correct their thinking in that…. “this has nothing to do with their behavior.”

See, the younger son tells the Dad, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son” and you know what? He’s right.

The older son refuses to join the party, because his younger brother is a misbehaving miscreant and he doesn’t deserve a party and you know what? He’s right.

Well, if both sons are right then I guess the Father is wrong….

Oooh, I wouldn’t go there, would you? Can the Father in this story be wrong? Uh not if you believe the Father in this story is God.

But if the younger son doesn’t deserve this, why is he reinstated?  Well, because for Jesus it’s not about what we deserve and it’s not about our behavior. Watch what happens next…

v28-30  His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours (not my family) came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’

The older son says, “I’ve been religious all my life, I have followed all the rules, I have lived a life of righteousness – I am the first born!” And what does God say….

v31-32 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

The Dad in the story says, “Oh you thought it was all about performance. You thought the big feast was a reward for your brother? No, my son. It’s not about performance and it’s not a reward, it’s simply that your brother has come home.”

You see the answer is right there in the very first words –  the Father says…. Son, you are always with me. Did the older son have to earn his Father’s love? Do your children have to earn your love? No. The Father says to the older and obedient son, “Our relationship is great, because you never left. You are always with me and all that I have is yours.”

“But your younger brother left.” You see, the Father wasn’t worried about the money, the Father wasn’t worried about the younger son’s behavior… why?

Well, for those of us who have been blessed with kids, what’s the first thing you ask when you hear your child has been in an accident? “Are you ok?” Yea, but what about the car?

What about the property that was involved, there is going to be police reports and questions and insurance claims, what about the financial nightmare…. doesn’t matter. Right? The money… that is lost…is lost.

In other words “the behavior” that took place, that doesn’t matter – what matters? Well, what matters is that you are with me.

“Son, daughter, how are you – were you hurt?” For the Father what matters is not the money, but the relationship.

These three stories of Jesus they are about broken and restored relationships. They are about lost and found things and Jesus says “heaven rejoices” when the lost are found. Heaven rejoices when the relationships are restored.

Jesus has two groups of people listening to him talk – good guys and bad guys, people in white hats who’ve been good all their lives, people who have never left the relationship and people in black hats, who’ve lived questionably all their lives and people who are not close to God and Jesus tells them…

God could not love you more and … and there is nothing you could to – to make God love you less.

So, in this story, who does Jesus want you to be?

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Angry Birds

Last week we mentioned a few of Jesus’ more famous teachings like the lost sheep and the lost coin and so this morning I wanted to look at those and see what we could see. Luke 15 starts this way…..

Luke 15:1-32

Now the tax collectors and sinners …

(who was that? Who were the tax collectors and sinners?)

Well, this is the Mafia, their thugs and everyone else who was unacceptable in the minds of the people… this is the worst of the worst. The people who were traditionally alienated from religious circles. And these are the people who Jesus is sitting with…

Luke 15:1-2

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

(Well, who is that? Who are the Pharisees and Scribes?)

These are the legalists and the doctrinally trained. These are the holy rollers and the goody-two-shoes.

And these people are upset, because back in Jesus’  day, eating with someone was a way of saying that you were “in” with them, or that you “agreed” with them – or that they were “your people.”

So in this scene so far, the people that Jesus perhaps agrees the most with theologically, he’s ignoring them and in turns he eats and hangs out with sinners. And the Pharisees and the scribes are concerned because it looks to them like Jesus ‘likes’ these people and they are worried that Jesus also then agrees with their behavior, or their lifestyle or their sin….

But I would argue that Jesus knew this would rub them the wrong way, and so he did this to prove a point. But rather than defend himself, Jesus uses this as an opportunity to tell a story.

v3-4 So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, …”

Wait, how does Jesus start talking about his choice of dinner companions? He begins with sheep…. why? Because this is how Jesus operates. He has two audiences – he has ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ so he has to level the field so to speak and direct his argument at everyone’s range; so Jesus begins with something that everyone is familiar with.

v3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, … does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?

Who here has ever lost something? That’s what I thought, everyone. And what do you do – when you lose something? You go and look for it. When do you STOP looking? Typically when you find it. That’s why people say, “It was in the last place I looked.”

Of course it was, nobody ever finds what they were looking for and KEEPS looking. And so what has Jesus done with this story? He has found a subject matter and an idea that everyone who is listening to, understands.

Who hasn’t ever lost something – and who doesn’t know what it means to go and look for it?

v5-6 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’

Who hasn’t done that? That when you find your item, you tell your spouse, or you tell your kids the harrowing story of you searching for the lost item and the glorious capture of when you found it? And then… as his kicker, Jesus says this….

v7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Who is Jesus talking about? Still sheep? No, he is talking about Tax-collectors, sinners, Pharisees and scribes. Jesus continues…

v8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?

What’s that about? Well, some people think Jesus is talking about a wedding dowry. Traditional Hebrew dowry for a poor family was 10 coins. So this woman is saving this for her husband. And these would have been special coins, irreplaceable, so naturally very valuable, Yes? And every woman listening to Jesus’ story would agree – “yes, that is exactly what I would do.”

v9-10 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

And again he finishes his second example saying, when one sinner repents (or ‘is found’) heaven rejoices. And now Jesus tells the most famous of his ‘lost item’ trilogy.

v11-12 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’

Which is the nice translation. The reality of what this son is saying is, “Dad, I wish you were dead. I can’t believe you’re not dead yet. I have been waiting for you to die, and it’s just not happening, so here is what I want…give me what I am owed…. NOW”

What a rude boy. Jesus’ audience would have been deeply offended. This is a disgraceful thing to ask for. Everyone listening to this story is thinking, ‘this kid deserves a swift kick in the teeth,’ but what does the Father do?

v12-13 And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.

Can you imagine, all of the wealth this Father had amassed in a lifetime in a matter of weeks, this young man spends all of it. Wastes all of it.

v14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.

Ah, now Jesus’ story has gotten good again. His listeners are back to liking this story. Good moral. This punk is getting what he deserves.

v15-16 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

Even better. This is a great story. I’m going to remember this story and tell it to my own kids, If you break the laws of Moses, honor your Father and Mother you get what you deserve. This is a great example of sewing and reaping. Thank you Jesus.

But the story is not over….

v17-20 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father.

What do you think the audience is thinking now? Well, probably what THEY WOULD DO if this were THEIR son…. “Oh if this were MY son he’d be grounded until his clothes went out of style.”

v20 But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

Well….This is a turn in the story, because THIS is NOT the ending that everyone who was listening expected. This was not the ending that the people listening to the story even liked. Nobody likes this ending. Why? Because this son humiliated his father and squandered his father’s money and the Father has every right to be … what… ANGRY!

The Dad should be angry! He has every right to be ANGRY! Yea, but how does this chapter start? Jesus is eating with Tax collectors and sinners and the ‘religious people” were…. ANGRY!  And Jesus knows they are angry so he says, “let’s talk about that…”

And in a justifiable circumstance, where the Father has every right to be angry, the Father’s response wasn’t anger it was…(what does the Bible say?) compassion. The Father who was hurt, abused and mistreated by his son – felt “compassion.” This son had spit his father in the eye! But when he sees his son from a long way off, he runs to his son with compassion.

Jesus’ audience both ‘good guys and bad guys’ have agreed with Jesus’ stories all the way up until now …and now… they certainly do not agree with him. But Jesus keeps going….

v21-24 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

He’s back. The misbehaving son is back and with one act, he is re-established back into the family as an equal as if he had never left.

v25-28 “Now his older son was (the behaving son, the obedient son, the righteous son) in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.  And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in.

I heard a Sunday School teacher was teaching this same story and she described to her class about how the lost son was returned and how the father gave the lost son a ring and sandals and how he killed the fattened calf. And the Sunday school teacher then made a grumpy face when describing the older son’s response and her question was – who was the most sorry that the lost son came back?

And one little boy raised his hand and said – “the fattened calf.”

But here is your word again…. the obedient son was angry. Tell me something, shouldn’t this lost son at least get a 90 day trial period? He made a huge mistake, what if he wakes up tomorrow and does it all over again? I mean sure, forgive him I guess that’s the “Christian thing” to do, but shouldn’t he be on probation? He shouldn’t be treated as a child in the family the very same day?

Jesus is teaching a story – and a theme – about how God looks at sinners, about how God recovers and seeks out sinners AND how “religious people” look at sinners.

Jesus says “God has compassion, God seeks them out, but religious people seem to get ANGRY when it comes to sinners and sin.”

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The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage

I have read all of Rob’s books and liked them. I have seen him live a few times, and even met him for a book signing… so I can safely say that I am a fan and that I know his work, but… this book really falls flat.

The premise is good, the whole ZIMZUM thing, and I think it would have made a great “one off” sermon back at Mars Hill, but maybe because Rob doesn’t have that outlet anymore, I guess he felt he could turn it into a 121 page book.

But even at 121 pages, it’s not that big. (there’s only five chapters) The book uses a large font and the sentences are spaced very far apart, and there is much more negative space in this book, compared to his earlier works. So content wise, you’re not getting very much.

And as a Christian marriage book there are so many better titles out there.  But as much as this book might want to be a “marriage book” it felt more like a “relationship book.” This book would be a good primer for teenagers to teach them how relationships work and how causality works.

You don’t live in a bubble, what you do affects others.

The main problem (at least for me) was Rob became the “Gay Marriage Pastor” and this book doesn’t really help that stigma. What I mean is, Rob got such bad press from that (and admittedly Jesus got bad press to) that he probably should have come out with a different book that made us all stop talking about it and move on.

Not that the ZIMZUM of Love is a “gay marriage book” it’s really not… but then it isn’t not NOT. His illustrations depict two genderless people and he admittedly adds near the front of the book, “Marriage – gay and straight – is a gift to the world because the world needs more – not less – love, fidelity, commitment, devotion, and sacrifice.”

Rob Bell said in one interview ” The zimzum of love is for anyone–gay or straight–who believes the world needs more love and sacrifice and commitment and marriage.”

But the book is mostly common sense, especially for anyone who has been in the dating scene or been married for longer that five years.

The book’s subtitle is “A new way of understanding Marriage,” and I don’t know that I walked away with a new understanding. Maybe a new word in my vocabulary, but you won’t catch me ever saying it.

“Zimzum”

 

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Relational

The reason some Christians can pick a side to stand on – or pick an issue to support is because an issue is words on the page. But when the Pharisees asked Jesus to pick a side on an issue he chose to ignore the issue and address the person.

Listen, the dilemma of grace vs truth will all fade together and operate perfectly once we learn that Christianity is relational. You can read the great commandment, the great commission or the new commandment, or anything else Jesus ever taught or did – and the truth is Jesus blended grace and truth in His ministry because Jesus did not stand on the sides of issues, … he stood with people – and he touched people.

The man resting by the side of the pool and the woman caught in adultery… nobody was on their side, nobody was fighting for them, or asking them how they felt. They are nameless characters in the Bible.

That is until Jesus stepped into those stories. When Jesus steps in issues become people and Jesus acts relationally with grace and truth. People long to feel like they matter, and they long; to feel loved; and this happens best one-on-one in relationships.

What can one person do?

Be a friend.

Be relational

You can make a big difference in another person’s life by just showing up and being there.

In his book Here and Now, author Henri Nouwen says, “Ministry is, first of all, receiving God’s blessing from those to whom we minister. What is this blessing? It is a glimpse of the face of God … We can see God in the face of Jesus, and we can see the face of Jesus in all those who need our care.”

Friends the world is full of those who need our care – in fact, this church is full of those who need our care.

What a great place to practice being relational, but right here with the people who already come through these doors.

And I believe that the church is at its best when it embraces BOTH grace and truth and refuses to let go of either. Christians need to stop trying to find a side, stop trying to find a balance, stop trying to resolve the tension – (why?) because Jesus didn’t try to resolve the tension.

Jesus was full of grace – Jesus was full of truth and those are both the ingredients of a Christian.

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… but don’t stay that way

But don’t stay that way

You see the reason why acceptance is not tolerance or agreement is because Jesus expects change. He expects your life to grow and mature. There is the argument that if God will always forgive us – then what is to motivate us from trying to live better? Paul writes…

Romans 6:1-2 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

A few weeks ago, one of the passages of scripture we looked at was

John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit

And we said that one of the ingredients of a Christian was someone who ‘abides in Christ,’ but what does Jesus say with his own lips about abiding in him? You grow! You mature, you blossom, right?

In Church we should be creating a culture of growth. How do people grow? What does it mean to grow spiritually? Well, I don’t think you’re going to find 3 special steps or an easy action plan in the Bible primarily because each person “comes as they are” from a different place and each person grows at a different pace. But the author of Hebrews gives us some good footing.

Hebrews 5:12-14

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

What do we see? There needs to be teachers. There needs to be good things to learn. And there needs to be discernment and training.

And growth is messy – we all know that. Growth is full of mistakes and tears and regrets, but it’s still an essential element to life.

Right now, my son is learning to eat with utensils.  And trust me, growth is a messy process. Maybe half the food gets in his mouth if he’s lucky. But how else will he learn?

How does a healthy child grow? With a clear picture of maturity in their life. We “as the parent” model maturity don’t we? We show them – “Hey, this is what ‘growing up’ looks like.” We give them something to shoot for.

This is what the outside world needs; not condemnation, not stone throwers, but grace and truth. We need to be forgiven ….and instructed. We need to hear the question, “Where are your accusers?” …and hear the words “Neither do I condemn you.” So many live the Christian life under condemnation; under guilt from the past or the present. If that is you, Jesus has plenty of grace and truth for you! Let the words “Neither do I condemn you” ring in your heart. And then ….learn how to live differently. Learn to grow, learn to mature -  Jesus wants to offer you grace and truth!

So here is what I want you to see – when we build a church that says “Come as you are, but don’t stay that way.” When we build a church of both acceptance and growth – we are learning how to do Christianity the way Christ did.

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