Hi Friends! Here’s a reminder of where we are and where we’re going with the Lost Series from Luke 15:11-32. Lost Part 1: The story of the Lost Sheep. Lost Part 2: The story of the Lost Coin. Lost Part 3 Introduces the Return of the Lost Son. Lost Part 4: The Younger Son. Lost Part 5: The Older Brother. Lost Part 6: The Father. Click these links to catch up on anything you missed!
In the introduction to the Lost Series, I made the statement: All the Bible is written for us, but not all the Bible is written to us. When I read the Bible, one thing I need to determine before I start making application to my life and to the lives of people around me, is whether I’m reading something that is written to me or something that is written for me.
In the Hebrew Bible, the book we call the Old Testament, we can read in Leviticus 18 and 20 that God commanded the people not to give any of their children as a burnt offering to the idol Molech. That commandment was written “to” those Israelites because as they made the transition from paganism to Judaism, from polytheism to monotheism, they were still tempted to follow many pagan practices. But we can understand that command as having been written “for” us to help keep us from idolizing anything that could come between us and our gracious God.
Reading with these questions in mind can help us to be clear on what we should learn from what we’re reading:
- Is the intent for us to learn principles, patterns, and consequences so we can make wise decisions in life?
- Is this written to help us understand how cause and effect works over a lifetime?
- Does what we’re reading include specific instructions for us to act upon in the present moment?
When I’m reading the Christian Bible, the book we call the New Testament, especially the teachings of Jesus, I can be pretty sure this is something that’s written “to” me, because I’m a disciple, a Jesus-follower. What Jesus is saying in his teachings and his stories always relates to me in some practical way: it shapes my faith, it informs my attitudes, and it directs my actions.
So when I’m reading the stories Jesus told, I look for myself in the story and ask the Holy Spirit to show me how the truth contained in the story applies to my life. Jesus’ story of the Lost Son is such a good example of that! Each of the characters: The Lost Son, the Older Brother, and the Father have something to teach me.
So let’s apply the pattern I’ve developed of putting myself in the story to Jesus’ story of the Return of the Lost Son. Let’s ask: Where do I fit? Which character am I? What do I need to learn? What do I need to do?
The Younger Son. I mentioned in Lost Part 4 – The Younger Son, a period of a couple years in my teens when I could really identify with the Younger Son. I was selfish, disrespectful to the wishes of my parents with regard to my behavior, and really needed to “come to my senses” as the Younger Son did. I did come to my senses, I “came home” in the sense of complying with the rules of home, and the rest of my time with my parents until I left home at age eighteen went pretty well. Now that’s sixty years ago, and friends, I don’t have the energy or the inclination to be the Younger Son! Marriage, kids, business, Vietnam war, more business, ministry, being a missionary, having married kids, grandkids, arthritis, hearing loss…the list goes on! You know what? I don’t even stay up until midnight on New Years’ Eve anymore! Sorry, but someone else is going to have to play the role of the Younger Son now!
The Older Brother. Yeah, I can relate to the Older Brother. I can still compare myself with others to make me look better. I can still become jealous if they get more recognition or “blessing” than I get. I can even become resentful at Father because he doesn’t judge and punish their behavior. After all, they seem to get away with stuff that would nail me to the wall. They don’t vote right, they read from a different Bible translation than I read from, they sing different songs at church, they drink wine (Or don’t drink wine), the list goes on and on!
But actually, I can’t do that very well anymore, either! Somewhere along the way, in the sixty years since I played the Younger Son, God’s grace worked some changes in me and I just don’t feel good about myself when I find myself playing the Older Brother. Maybe some of it comes from living in other nations, under other forms of government and other political and economic systems. Maybe some of it comes from knowing and loving and respecting other people whose skin is a different color than mine and whose language is different and whose culture is different than mine. Maybe some of it comes from working with and loving and respecting Christians of so many denominations and different customs of worship and expressions of their faith. But for whatever reasons, I simply don’t have the time nor the energy nor the inclination to judge and condemn and exclude people that Father throws his arms around and welcomes home and throws a party for!
I don’t want to be the older brother anymore! I don’t want to miss the joy of appreciating the wonderful blessings God has given to me because I compare myself with others and feel superior to them and resentful to God for loving them, being merciful to them, and blessing them. And if you’ve been around Father for anywhere nearly as long as I have, you don’t have time for that either!
The Father. Friends, I’ve got to confess to you that I’m starting to relate more and more to the Father. Actually, I think that’s what Jesus had in mind, when he said, “I and the Father are one. If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” And you know what else, if I listen to Jesus, and put myself in the story, and actually follow Jesus by doing what he says to do, I’m going to start to think like the Father. About Older Brothers. About Younger Sons. About tax collectors and notorious sinners and other despicable people and even about self-righteous Pharisees. I’m getting to where I just want everybody to be thankful for God’s marvelous grace, and for everybody to stop judging and excluding others who are different, and just come to the party!
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV)
I think God is asking me to grow up a little, to rise above pettiness and comparing myself with others, and being resentful if others receive mercy and grace.
I think God is asking me to become the Father in the story, to love the wandering ones and to love the responsible, reliable, steadfast ones. And to hold the door open so all God’s children can come to heaven’s party!
How about you? There’s a place for you in the Story of the Lost Son, friends. Ask God to show you where you fit in the story!
As I was preparing to start on the Lost Series, I talked to my friend Jim Petersen about what I was beginning to see in the story of the Lost Son. He told me about a painting by Rembrandt called “The Return of the Prodigal Son”, and about a book by Henri Nouwen that unfolds this story in a powerful way. It would not waste your time to read that book. You can find Nouwen’s on Amazon Kindle. “The Return of the Prodigal Son, Anniversary Edition: A Special Two-in-One Volume, including Home Tonight” – by Henri Nouwen.
That wraps up the “Lost Series”! It went considerably longer than I had expected. I hope it’s been helpful.
See you next week with a story about a Missed Opportunity! Thanks for reading!