Forgiven Much

“‘love covers a multitude of sins.’ I love that, don’t you? —I can do that.”

tears on feet

Anyone forgiven much? —Do you love much? That’s a little harder question isn’t it? We all know we are supposed to love, love the Lord our God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves. But where the rubber meets the road, it’s a lot harder to do then to say.

I don’t care what anyone says, we’re all pretty good at loving ourselves, even the woe is me, I’m a pitiful wretch I hate myself, person who claims they need to learn to love themselves is focused on what? Themselves. “Look at me, help me, love me.” We all want to be loved, if we didn’t love ourselves we wouldn’t care if anyone loved us.

Jesus didn’t make any disclaimers when he told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. He didn’t say, “Unless of course you don’t love yourselves.” Selfishness is rooted deep in the human psyche. We might not always like ourselves, but fallen man always puts himself before anyone else and anything you put above all else is what you love the most.

Jesus is asking us to put others before ourselves, and especially to put God before ourselves. That’s true humility, not drawing attention to ourselves with our own woes but being willing to put ourselves out for others, to even humiliate ourselves. That’s what the woman we studied last week, the sinful woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears did, and why Jesus was so moved by her love that he declared her forgiven—she got it.go in peace

 

The last thing she needed to do, and would have wanted to do, was to come into a room full of people who loath her, downright despise her as wicked and dirty, and make a spectacle of herself for the sole purpose of thanking one man for showing her respect, for treating her like she mattered, who loved her for no other reason than that she came to him seeking something beyond herself—seeking redemption.

And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, 38 and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; Luke 7

She went away pure, and at peace, because Jesus declared her so—forgiven much.

preachen'

Preparing my sermon last week and spending much time thinking about the woman who was so overwhelmed by a feeling of love for Jesus that she ended up washing his feet with her tears, I knew I wanted to spend more time on those words that Jesus spoke to Simon the Pharisee and the rest of the room concerning the woman whom they could only see as sinful and shameful;  “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

I have pondered that verse many times over the years and am always astounded at how I have seen it proven true over and over and over again. It’s somewhat of a sad testament to the human condition that those who seem to have fallen so far, gotten so far away from a life that honors God and his ways, are the ones who, if and when they are willing to receive the healing touch from Jesus, are the ones who ultimately become the most passionate about their relationship with him.

You would think it’s the ones who never strayed that would be the most passionate in their love for Christ but I guess it makes sense that the one who has been the most hungry for the longest time is the one who is most grateful for the bread when they find it.

Perhaps it’s that “You never know what you had until you lose it” principle at play. Those who think they are just always in right standing with the Lord, who say in their hearts, “Well I’m certainly doing a lot better than those messed up people over there so I must be worthy.” are the ones who end up bitter and ungrateful because they always believe they are getting the short end of the stick.

“I deserve better than this! Why am I not getting a ring and a fatted calf?” —to use a prodigal son reference. While those who have failed miserably and know they will probably get nothing short of scorn and judgement, are so grateful when they receive loving graces from the Father that they can only rejoice, and they cannot wait to share with others who are still in the same miserable shoes that they were in.

Listen! I am standing at the door

I have often said of myself when people express thanks to me for teaching or preaching the gospel, “I’m just a beggar telling other beggars where I found bread.” It’s a line I stole from an old gospel song I heard years ago and it just sums it up for me. I’m no one special, just someone who was starving for truth and meaning and stumbled upon a treasure trove of both in Christ, in his word and by His Spirit.

I just had to be willing to receive it when it was offered. And there is plenty for everyone. Why so many prefer to go through life starving when they can have the bread of life is beyond me but I am determined that it won’t be for lack of me trying to point the way to the pantry.

Really, that’s what it comes down to, that has been the motivating factor in my walk with Christ ever since he rescued me from my own self-induced famine and filled me to the top with his love and forgiveness.

The night in 1985 that I fell to my knees a trembling convicted mess and arose a man overwhelmed, filled to overflowing with love and joy, is a night I will never forget.

After several years of running from the Lord and life, after years of doing what I knew I should not be doing but unwilling to let go of my own destiny and trust Jesus, only giving the Lord a little bit of my heart, only living by his word when it didn’t interfere with what my flesh wanted. I had finally had enough of the frustration and loneliness that comes from a life separated from God by willful disobedience and dove into God’s word searching for an answer— anything to help me overcome my addictions and anxieties and he infused his word with such a power that I was unable and unwilling to close my heart to its truth any longer.

I was unwilling and unable to close my heart off to his Holy Spirit’s offer of love, joy, peace and patience any longer and I simply said yes, ‘yes Lord. I trust you, yes Lord I am yours, Yes Lord I will follow you wherever you lead.’

I gave him my life and he gave me my life back. “Go in peace, your faith has saved you.”

At that point I knew I was truly forgiven much and I loved much as a result. And I still try to do my best to do so, in his power, and he is always faithful. It doesn’t always make me popular, much of the church doesn’t understand how I can love some people, how I can accept some people, how I can keep an open heart and open arms.

Simon

I am only doing what Jesus did for me and what I continue to see him doing. I am called to love all, both the unbeliever who doesn’t even know they are a sinner and the believer who is entangled in sin but is unwilling or unable to face the truth of how it’s hurting them, and breaking the Lord’s heart. I know, because I feel his heartbreak, that’s what is there when you get past the anger and offense, neither of which serve any good purpose, a love that is willing to bear pain is a love that is hard to hold.

But it is the kind of love we are given, and called to share.

fervant

If we are doing our best to love much, we will not scorn others, nor will we be scorned, for love covers a multitude of sins. I love that, don’t you? —I can do that.

 

 

Bury the Dead

“They made their choice and if they are inflicting pain, … you need to leave them behind and let them bury one another.”

bury teh dead

Early in Jesus’ ministry he is traveling around teaching people, healing many and drawing huge crowds. He ends up at Peter’s house; probably to eat and rest. But they arrive to find his Mother in Law is sick so he touches her and heals her. Word quickly gets out— ‘Jesus is at Peter’s house’; and people are flocking to him for healing and deliverance and he heals them all and drives out many demons.

After a while as the crowd was growing alarmingly large, he gets up and says to his closest disciples:  “Come onWe’re going to go to the other side of the lake.”  Jesus apparently turns to another and invites him along, but this man hesitates for reasons only Jesus can see.

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:59—60

Walking down to the nearby shore Jesus then gets into the boat with those who have decided to leave it all behind, probably the twelve, who are surely thinking about now; “Man, we are the chosen few, the ones who are going to ride this train to glory!”  You can almost hear Willie Nelson sing in the background: “Blue skies shining on me, nothing but blue skies do I see.”

They cast off with visions of the Kingdom Come in their heads —and sail— right into a storm. “Where’s Jesus? Asleep? Ahhh, we should have stayed behind with those others who are safe and dry in their own beds tonight!” “Lord don’t you care that we are about to drown?”

They chose to follow the one who was bringing wholeness and life to those he touched, they left behind the dead—all who refused or were unwilling to give up their pasts—the things they had always counted on to be their provision—and now they had sailed right into possibly one of the worst storms these men who had grown up on this inland sea had ever seen.

Woman and tornado

‘What kind of a deal is this? Did you bring us into the desert to see us perish of thirst?’ No wait, that was Moses. ‘Did you take us from our homes and our families just to see us drown in the sea?’

Storm

I have never been in a storm at sea but I can imagine how frightening it must be. Sitting in a small wooden ship, about half the size of a Viking long ship and not nearly as flexible, getting drenched by the rain and the waves as the wind drives you farther and farther from shore. And the only place to go? Into the churning water that holds only darkness and death, a merciless and terrifying tomb that hungers for the living like a doorway to Hades itself.

That’s what these guys are facing. ‘I thought following Jesus, the miracle man, the Messiah, our long awaited king, would make us impervious to harm, where did this come from? I want my money back!’

So here are the followers of Jesus, who left all behind, now thinking, “This is it! We’re going to be swamped and drown.” A fisherman’s worst nightmare. But what they still didn’t understand was just who it was that they were with. This storm was nothing. They were still thinking as those who were still back in the past, who were still living with, subject to, and even one of —the dead. We’ll never overcome this, we’ve been told all our lives to be careful, to not get caught out too far from shore when a storm is brewing—why are we even here?!’

But they are no longer amongst the dead nor one of them. They were now counted amongst the living, in the very presence of life itself, the creator and giver of life, yet they still feared death. How quickly they had forgotten., how quickly they had lost faith.

Where’s your faith?

be still

The disciples had just spent the day with Jesus seeing one miracle after another. And that very same evening they are in a storm fearing for their lives and what do they do? They panic— “We have to wake up Jesus! How can he possibly be sleeping at such a time as this?  “Don’t you caredon’t you care that we are going to drown?”

“Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” That’s a huge question.

Why are we so afraid? We forget what we are leaving behind, we forget the impossible hopeless situations we have seen God take care of with just a word and we forget who we are with. We are afraid of things that now have no power to hurt us.

Demons, people who have hurt us, financial difficulties, we get bogged down in fear and doubt by worries and unforgiveness— voices and faces that come back to taunt us—the dead. We fear the dead.

The dead keep taunting us, their voices alive in our heads. Which is why Jesus told the disciple back in Capernaum; “Let the dead bury their own dead.”

“Lord, don’t you want us to take care of our families, don’t you want us to honor our fathers?” Yes, but nothing can excuse disobedience and here was God in the flesh telling this man to come with him and here is this man making excuses, using what seems a noble task as an excuse for disobedience.

Jesus was asking this man to put him first, to not be dissuaded from following him by those who choose not to follow, to listen to his voice over the voice of man—even his own father. The man was worried about security, about his inheritance, let me be a diligent son and heir and I’ll catch up with you later…

Get Safe

Listen to this—Those behind us, whether it’s family, friends, employers, teachers, even church leaders—anyone who has pulled at you, planted seeds of doubt in your mind, outright hurt you with words, or blows that bruised more than your flesh, who left wounds that pain you to this day—they are the dead that we must leave behind.

shutterstock_242354632

They made their choice and if they are inflicting pain, then they are not following Jesus, they are following their own flesh. If they claim to be following Jesus but are not bearing the fruit of that life in Christ, then they are living as those who are dead and—listen carefullyyou need to leave them behind and let them bury one another.

You get free, go and proclaim the kingdom of God to those who will hear it, among those to whom Jesus leads you. Staying in a place of hurt out of a sense of duty is not the will of God, is not an acceptable sacrifice, it is disobedience. Jesus is saying to you: “Come follow me. Get into the boat and let’s cross this big lake and get away from this clamoring mob who would drag you down and suck all they can out of you. Let’s get away from the voices of those who care only for themselves while pretending to love.”

get away

 

Make of that what you will— I will let the Holy Spirit fill in the rest in your hearts as only he can do.

 

This Little Light of Mine

“’If looks could kill…’” Well, after years and years in the ministry, let me tell you, they can.”

look meme

If we have answered the call to follow Jesus it doesn’t take long to learn that we are called to love people, that is first and foremost what following Jesus is all about, it is after all, what he did–and does.

One way we love is to always speak truthPaul exhorts us in Ephesians;“…we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love,…” Eph 4:14-15

You can tell people some really hard things if they know that you love them. How do they know? Not because you said, “I love you—but…” They know because they can hear it in your voice, see it in your eyes, feel it in your embrace—love is the light of Jesus emanating from every fiber of your being even while the words of your mouth are speaking truth.

The eyes, seriously, the eyes are the lamp of the body. Watch— brothers and sisters—how you look at one another. What are your eyes saying? Remember when Jesus said don’t hide your light under a basket, to put it on a lampstand that all may see it?

33 “No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light. 34 The lamp of the body is the eye. Luke 11:33,34

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…”

little lite meme

We all know the verse and the song but do we ever ask ourselves ‘how do we let it shine? How do people see the light? What is the light? The light is Jesus, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness,” (John 1) That light is Jesus in us and he’s asking us to let our light shine. We don’t put Jesus in a jar like a bunch of fireflies and set him on a table in a dark room. No, Jesus tells us right there in the very same breath from whence our lights shines—it shines from our eyes.

The Lamp

The eye is the lamp of the body. You want people to see the light in you, to know that you love them so that they will hear the truth that will spark the light back to life in their own hearts and behind their own eyes? Look at them and love them. Remember the rich man who asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life?

“one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “’Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?’”. . .

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Mark 10:29

Jesus looked at him and loved him, and then gave him the hard truth. And the man went away sad because he wasn’t ready yet to give up that which kept him from his call to follow. The man wasn’t angry, he wasn’t defensive, he was sad.

That tells me that he heard Jesus and accepted what he said as truth. Why did he believe it?—again, he saw the love in Jesus’ eyes. Jesus’ demeanor, his gentleness, his forbearance and love was evident. We can only hope that later this man chose to live in that truth. But that was entirely his choice at that point. Jesus did his part, in warning and then facilitating his freedom by giving up his own for a time.

How could you say no to Jesus? Especially when he is right there speaking to you. People do it all the time sadly.

Alkiane Kramarik

(Painting by Alkiane Kramerik)

“Jesus looked at him and loved him”— I love that. I want people to see Jesus in my eyes looking at them and loving them. There is an old expression; “If looks could kill…” Well, after years and years in the ministry, let me tell you, they can. People can tell from the look in your eye if you are loving them or judging them. People can tell in an instant if you have already made up your mind about them and will not give them a chance to be heard, to seek help or grace, so they will shrink away from you, avoid you, become defensive and hard.

Then there will be no repentance if it’s needed, there will be restoration gentle or otherwise, and you may have just damned their soul to hell. Yes, looks can kill. I’m sorry if that offends you but this is serious stuff. There is a world that needs to hear truth. There are brothers and sisters who need to hear truth, and they are not going to the righteous potato heads who are wearing their angry eyebrows or who will not even look at them period.

People want, people need, to be seen. They need to know that God has not forgotten about them or given up on them. See people, love people, Jesus looked at people and loved them. We are his body, we must do the same. I am tired of hearing people say in anguish, “So and so will not even look at me.”

The gifts we are called to use and given to equip our call must be used in love or we are just a clanging gong or a crashing cymbal. When we learn to love like Jesus does, to speak truth in love, to see with Jesus’ eyes—then we can say we are no longer children chasing after whatever the latest popular preacher is laying down promising to make us happy, wealthy and wise.

14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together

The Kingdom of God is advanced by loving others, not by acquiring more notches in our guns. “Boy you told them, preach it brother, fire and brimstone, repent or die, grovel or burn…” There may be a place for that— wait, that was called the Old Covenant.

Breakfast

That doesn’t mean we don’t call sin, sin. People have to know they are loved or they will refuse to hear truth, it’s just that simple. Jesus was the master of that, of course he was God so Duh… But he is also our ultimate example. Jesus called people to repentance even as they were compelled to follow him, to listen to him, they knew they were loved when they were in his presence; Mary Magdalene, the woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus the tax collector, Peter who flat out denied Jesus three times on the same night he swore he would die for Jesus first.

Jesus sought Peter out after his resurrection, fixed him breakfast and gently restored him, telling him the truth in love. Peter was convicted and restored probably more by the look in Jesus’ eyes then by the words that he spoke. “How can you look at me with such love when you know what I did? How can you want to spend time with me, to even give me an assignment, ‘Feed my sheep?’ When you know how I failed you?”

Peter was given three chances to say I love you Lord, one for every time he denied him. Jesus spoke truth to Peter, and to all the sinners who crossed his path whom he knew would receive truth, and he spoke it with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with them in love.

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,” Eph 4:1-2

Wow, there’s a walk to emulate. Walk on.

Walk on meme

Shunned -(The Wall part 2)

12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near, reconciled through the cross and bringing peace. Ephesians 2

Separated

It stinks to be excluded, to not be able to join in the reindeer games. Today, we call it being excommunicated, shunned, or our new favorite; tough love.Those who experience it just call it being judged and scorned.

In this scripture Paul is urging the gentile believers in Ephesus to remember how they once felt when they were not a part of the family of God, separated by different belief systems, different cultures and traditions—different gods entirely. The Ephesians had been living without hope as their gods promised nothing but demanded everything, leaving them without hope. They were looked down upon by the Hebrews, those who worshipped a God who offered the hope of eternity and blessings in this life and the next but shunned all who did not adhere to their laws or even belong to their race.

They were unclean, and as far as,any of the Israelites of Paul’s day were concerned they could just stay that way, but more importantly, just stay away!—Open hostility. The Israelites had always been called to be a light to the world but they didn’t always do a very good job of it.

Remember Jonah? He decided he would rather die in a storm at sea then go preach God’s message to the dirty Assyrians. “Just throw me overboard and the storm will cease…” But God wouldn’t let him off that easy He sent a great fish to swallow Jonah before he drowned and to spit him out on the shore so he could fulfill his mission of giving the Ninevites a chance to repent and be redeemed from judgement.

jonah

He did, they did, and Jonah was furious. “These people deserve nothing but judgement, they deserve punishment” “Seriously God, where’s the justice?”

Mercy

That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry? Jonah 3

‘Really Jonah? You’re going to be angry because I am merciful and give second chances? You just need to get over your bad self.’

We don’t know if Jonah ever did (get over his bad self) his story ends with God rebuking him for being angry at God for his mercy toward sinners—the religious rebuked and the sinners restored. An unexpected twist and a theme that would be repeated over and over again throughout scripture.

Even Jesus said, “I did not come for the healthy, for the healthy do not need a physician.”

Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ 12 But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’ Mat 9:11—13

“Go and learn what this means.” That is a challenge from Jesus to those who deem themselves righteous.

We serve a God of mercy, a God so merciful that when he saw no other way to overlook the sins of humanity, who constantly rebelled and forsook his ways, He became one of them and bore the penalty of that sin in his own body, purchasing our mercy with his own blood.

cropped-walking-in-the-light.jpg

…thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Eph 2

Has God put to death your hostility? Or has it only shifted focus or even intensified? That’s a hard question we all need to be asking ourselves.

Restoration

The specific and unique mission the Lord gave me for my church is that we would be a place of healing, restoration and hope for the church, for God’s people, for his children. For the wounded and weary soldiers of the Lord’s army who have fallen for whatever reason, and have been kicked aside by the church. What about the unsaved? Without a healthy church there will be no saved, which is largely where we are today I’m afraid.

Back in 2011 I told our young church; “I think the biggest hindrance to people coming to the Lord through the church is the church.  People look in at us working ourselves to death, shooting our wounded, snubbing the world and say, ’I’ll just stay out here and take my chances, thank you very much.’”

I strive to lead a church where there are no walls of hostility, where all are welcome, all the time. The only people I have ever had even a hint of a harsh word for here are those who come in looking down their noses at me or at any of you. The religious and judgmental do not normally last long here and in fact the only spirits I have ever personally had to cast out of here have been religious spirits. Yes I mean spirits, not people. People are just pawns used by the spiritual forces of darkness, and self-righteous indignant people are  his favorite weapon for destroying churches.

A few weeks ago, I was beating myself up for not being able to prevent people from making bad choices and feeling the condemnation of those who think me too easy on the fallen and hurting—In my lowest point of discouragement The Holy Spirit told me in no uncertain terms, “All I ever asked you to do is love people.” Those words set my heart free.

It just dawned on me this last week that that is exactly how my mission to restore the wounded of Christ’s army is lived out, just loving people for Jesus, letting God be the judge.

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. Gal 6:1—3

Love gently restores. Only love can gently restore the wounded and weary, and the broken and fallen.

Fallen soldiers are not to be used by the ‘more spiritual’ for sword practice as they test how sharp their blades are by hurling God’s word at them like bayonets on the end of a Japanese rifle during the Baton death march where weary American POW’s were stuck mercilessly like living pin cushions.

Remember who ended up winning that war, the scorned and shamed Americans.

The point is, we are to be merciful and offer the hand of restoration letting God be the judge while offering to help bear the burdens of those we think least deserve it.

Save the bayonet practice for the real enemy, the one who is trying to destroy all of us, the fallen and the strong.

We do not kick our brothers and sisters when they are down, we do not shoot our wounded. We gently restore them because without mercy we are nothing. If we are not bearing one another’s burdens, we are deceiving ourselves if we think we are any better than anyone else—if we think we are anyone’s judge.

The one thing I have heard over and over again through the years from people who have stumbled and even fallen in the eyes of the church is this: “Where is the church when I need them? When I needed the church the most was when they shunned me.”

Up go the walls of hostility.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.” There are hurting people who need mercy, who need healing, who need restoration, who need love. We do not know the whole story, their story. I don’t care how discerning or informed you think you might be, there is always a much bigger story, causes, curses and pitfalls of hearts and minds damaged and bruised by the flaming arrows of the evil one in days gone by. Arrows that can smolder for years.

All we see are the sudden bursts of the flames that we are convinced must have been started by the wounded playing with and delighting in fire.

There are a lot of hurting people out there who need a church family and who need us to be there. Where are we? Are we the guards ready to shoot those who dare approach the walls?—“Release the hounds!” Or are we those who see motion on the other side of the walls and rush towards them, overwhelming those walls and the guards until the walls come down and we become one again.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. Eph 2

Jesus set aside the rules and just loved people into wholeness, gently restoring them. As he said to the woman caught in adultery; “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.”

And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

peace

Jesus came not to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved.

Jesus loved people into the Kingdom. Can we do the same?

 

You Don’t Know Me!

 

  Prodigal meme

Prodigal—Exceedingly or recklessly wasteful. From the Latin word Prodigere—to drive forth or away.

So, who really is the prodigal son in the story?

Most people are familiar with the story of the prodigal son; the younger brother who decided he was due hid inheritance only to go blow it all on wine, women and song (or something). Broke and ashamed he came home to beg forgiveness and a scrap of bread only to be welcomed and treated like the son he was to a forgiving and loving father, with grace.

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.

But—

Then there’s the older brother who had his own issues, the other prodigal son who apparently blew all the grace he had been given because he had none left to give his little brother when he came home.

The church is full of people like the big brother who all have their own issues and you may have experienced their wrath. Perhaps their issue is that they have not yet recognized that you are just as loved by the Father is they are, you are just as valuable as they are. Or- they are just bitter because they are getting tired. Tired because they have spent too much time working and not enough time sitting at the Father’s feet and listening. So when they look up and see the Father rejoicing over you they just naturally get angry.

That creates a whole other class of prodigals who will also need to have a genuine home-coming one day.

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 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. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ Luke 8

You cannot always listen to the older brothers, the wise and authoritative self-appointed representatives of the Kingdom. There is a time for reproof and there is a time for correction but if you are going to take on this task you had better be sure it’s from the Lord because usually the Holy Spirit is quite good at handling this himself.

And it’s usually the busybodies in the church who start the lynch mobs, not the ones who are being guided by the Spirit.

There are well-meaning big brothers who are genuinely concerned and zealous for the things of the Lord, perhaps too zealous and this taints their concern, shifting it from concern for others needs and leaving room for the Lord to work— to concern for justice. There must be justice, we must have a stoning!” Guess what, they have just become prodigals, because that’s not where the Father is.

That’s not what we, the church, were called to do.

The Lord me to Red Lodge to minster grace and healing, and he has entrusted and called us especially to minister grace and healing to his weary soldiers. To those who have served, who have worked and strived, given their all to serving the Lord— serving the church—until one day they just can’t do it anymore.

And to minister to those who desperately want to serve the Kingdom but are told they are not worthy, that they miss the mark. Well, if that is you, you are in good company, David and Jesus both found themselves there;

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people. Ps 22

God did not create any of us in the image of a worm, he created each and every one of us in his image, you are his child, he knows you, loves you, and just wants you to come home.

“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.”

And by his Spirit we cry Abba Father!

That call should not be unique to any particular church—we are all representatives of the one who freely gives grace.

You don’t know me

Only Jesus truly knows us, knows what goes on in a heart, in the mind. Only Jesus knows what made the younger son run. All the older brother knows is what his eyes and ears tell him. He only knows what the rumors are, what his imagination tells him. He thinks he knows his brother, the selfishness and evil that drives him and it makes him angry—‘How can he be so foolish? You deserve nothing but scorn, you had it all and you blew it, you had the same inheritance as me, and you just threw it all away like it was nothing!’

‘Look at me, I held on to mine, in fact I am using it to take care of the business of the one who gave it to me—I stayed and served our father while you were out playing your games like there were no rules, like our father’s feelings weren’t worth a second thought—and now you just come crawling back and I’m supposed to welcome you? I know what you did!’

‘Yes, maybe so brother, but you really don’t know me, and our father has welcomed me back—who are you to do any less?’  

There is so much more to every story, to every heart, then we ever imagine, that is why we only have one judge.

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. 1 Cor 4:5

Honesty

What’s important for us as a church family is that we keep things in the light, that we are not afraid to share our thoughts and struggles, our failings and our temptations so that they are in the light where they can be dealt with before they get to the point where they are suddenly exposed, to our shock and dismay, and everyone goes UUUHHH!

That can only happen in a church that does not judge a person’s heart so we can punish it, but desires only to heal and restore, to encourage and forgive—that’s called grace. If we are not living in, trusting in and exuding grace we are not living in, abiding in the words of Jesus as—harkening back to last week— we must absolutely do if we have any hope to stay in the grace and blessings of God, as a church and as individuals.

Because that’s what a church is, a collection of individuals who are all part of the same family, God’s family and we all find ourselves looking at the horizon once in a while and thinking the party over the hill has got to be more fun than the narrow road we walk to the fields every day.  

We have to be the ones that go after the one, even if the running they did was only in their hearts and minds.

What kind of church we are, one that can weather the storms together, each of us pulling on the oars as we are able while those who are weary and wounded find rest and security in the hold?

Or one that throws it’s weary and wounded overboard until we run out of warriors to keep this longship moving forward and it capsizes in the waves.

We are never going to fully be where we are going until the Lord calls us home for the wedding feast, it’s who we are in the journey, what we did along the way, and whether we got there with the warriors and crew he entrusted to us.

viking-longboat-art-by-david-seguin

I call our church in Red Lodge the barbarian church and yes our ship is a Viking longship; the longship was a boat whose design allowed it to flex and bend with the waves never capsizing or breaking it—as long as it took the waves head on, and that never happened by accident, it took a determination and an endurance, it took a crew.

Let’s weather the storms together be the first to make it to Vinland where we will drink a toast with the groom in celebration.

“This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. 25 Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:24, 25

And I’ll take my wine in a drinking horn thank you.

Barbarians in the Kingdom