Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Luke 15:11-12
There are three main characters in Jesus’ story of the prodigal in Luke 15: the father, the younger son and the older son. Each of them represent a different perspective on common human behavior, and I suspect each of us can relate best to each of them at different times of our lives. Sometimes we are the one betrayed (like the father), sometimes we are the rebellious one (the younger son) and sometimes we are the one crying out for justice (the older son). But in every case, Jesus told the story to demonstrate one simple truth: the way back to a right relationship. And that, it seems to me, can be the most confusing path of all. I am so glad for what Jesus’ story shows us about how to return to a right relationship, once we have determined to do so.
Seasons of Rebellion. We all have some connection to the prodigal himself, because we have all made decisions which we knew (even at the time we made them) were disobedient to God. We knew His desire for us and we simply went in a different direction. It was (and is) rebellion, plain and simple. Sometimes it is a short season followed by an immediate “what was I thinking?” head-slap. But sometimes it is a prolonged season when we withhold from His Lordship some particular slice of our life which we just are not willing to submit to Him. Either way, it is rebellion. And the way back from any rebellion is, quite simply, confession. You will not find a more perfect confession in …
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you… For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:13, 16-17
I have often said I could not fully invest in a pastor who has never suffered deep loss. “Grieving with those who grieve” is a critical part of the pastoral responsibility, and how can a church leader who has never grieved before possibly know how to start doing so now, over somebody else’s pain?
Similarly, I think I would have a difficult time listening to a pastor or teacher or spiritual leader call me to repentance and to confession unless I first know that he/she knows the humiliation of being laid bare before God in a moment of confession. That, it seems to me, is what gives a leader the credibility to “teach transgressors [God’s] ways” and to cause us sinners to return to God.
David expresses this brokenness so very well in Psalm 51, after his sin with Bathsheba. In this Psalm, he shared with all of God’s people his heart broken before the Lord. “Against you and you only have I sinned…” “For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.” It is a confession filled with remorse and humiliation. And it calls us to have that same contrite heart before God.
Moreover, Psalm 51 cries out to God for the very type of forgiveness which would later become the earmark of Christ’s church and of Christ-followers around the world. As a leader of other Christians, we must therefore have experienced this very intimate level of confession before we …
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Theology is difficult for me. Understanding God is difficult for me as well. I do so much better with stories and metaphors to try to get my mind wrapped around Biblical truth. Maybe you’re that way too…in fact, maybe we are all that way. Maybe that is why God gave us His Word in the form of Jesus and in the stories of the Bible rather than in formulas and spreadsheets. Surely that is why Jesus used stories, similes, and metaphors so much in his own communication.
The metaphor most of us use to describe our Spiritual pilgrimage, our faith walk, is relationship. We talk about our relationship with Christ, or with God. We use little sayings like, “It’s a relationship, not a religion.” We use that term (that metaphor, if you will), because it best captures what it means to follow Christ. It is NOT a metaphor Jesus used for ancient times, because it would not have had meaning then. It is NOT a vocabulary we find anywhere in God’s Word. But, like the term “mission”, it still has profound meaning to our culture today, and it is a useful way of describing our part in this amazing revolution that is Christianity.
The call to follow Christ is a call to relationship. Yes. So, why doesn’t that answer all our questions? Why does that metaphor fall short for …
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” Mark 10:35-37
I admit that, sometimes during my childhood, under some circumstances which might come about upon occasion, I was, at times, capable of being…the teacher’s pet. I do NOT admit to being crass about it, nor even intentionally manipulative about it. And I certainly never perfected the art in nearly the way(s) my younger daughter seems to have done so (sorry, Reno…cat’s out of the bag now I guess). But I will confess that, when one of my teachers may have favored me a little one way or another, I liked it…and may have even used it to my advantage at times. Whew! So glad to get that off my chest!
So, when I read about James and John and their not-so-secret desire for favored treatment with Jesus, I admit that I actually understand where they were coming from. Don’t act like you don’t get it. I know you do.
The truth about all of us is that we enjoy being favored. We relish special treatment. When the flight attendant comes to your seat in coach and informs you that you have been selected to enjoy a free upgrade into first class for this flight, you have no problem gathering your belongings and bouncing up to the comfy seats as if you deserve it. When the police officer pulls me over and has me on his radar doing 65 in a 55, and then tells me he is just going to give me …
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. Matthew 16:16-17
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Matthew 16:22-23
I was the baby in my family. That means I got to learn from my older sibling’s mistakes (sorry, Sis)…not that there were THAT MANY mistakes there to learn from…but there were a few. And I did learn from them. That, it seems to me, is a huge benefit of being the younger brother.
I think of Peter that way…an older brother from whom we can learn. For me, Peter’s spiritual pilgrimage has always served as a great illustration of the human frailty of the church. Just like a local body of believers, there are times when Peter got it so very right, and there are times when he got it so very wrong. Looking at his pilgrimage in Matthew 16 raises for me a couple of important lessons for the church.
1. Celebrate when we get it right, but don’t get too cocky…we may just get it wrong tomorrow. My church happens to be one of the really healthy churches in our community right now. I like that. It makes me feel good. Even though people coming from other, less healthy, churches do not constitute “kingdom growth”, I am not going to lie and act like it doesn’t make me feel good. My …
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ Luke 15:21
“A stiff apology is a second insult… The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt.” G.K. Chesterson
I have a pretty tough apology to make this week. I will confess to you that I do not want to have to do it. The more I think about it, the more my sinful mind begins thinking other thoughts…alternative thoughts…thoughts of deflecting the fault to someone else, or even of feigning my own “hurt” from the situation in an attempt to distract from my fault. Do you ever have those kinds of conversations in your head?
My Dad called it “Loser’s Limp”. I was about 10 years old. I was the second-string quarterback of the Bellaire Panthers Pop Warner football team. I was running plays with the second-string offense against our very formidable first-string defense. I called a simple running play in the huddle, came to the line, called for the snap, and proceeded to turn the wrong direction to hand-off the ball. It was a busted play and I got smeared all over the field by our entire defense. I was the last to get up. I was humiliated, and maybe just a little bit injured. Maybe. I did not want to face my coach, so I slowly but emphatically limped off the field, hoping everyone would forget my mistake and just feel sorry for me and my injury (which was growing worse and worse in my mind). I got to the sidelines and met Dad’s gaze. He was giving me the disappointed look (I didn’t …
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16
Step 5: We admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
[I am using these Tuesday Re-mixes for a few weeks to think (again) about addiction to self-reliance and how that addiction is one of the biggest challenges to genuine community which we face in the American church culture.]
I grew up feeling sorry for my Catholic friends because they had to confess their sins to a priest. It seemed to me that such a thing would be the most awful experience in the world. My particular faith community taught me that, when it came to confession, I did not need an intermediary…I could confess my sins straight to God. To be honest, I liked that a lot more, because it was easier to fool myself into believing I had actually confessed to God than it would ever have been to fool a priest. I could go and spend a few moments thinking about my various wrong-doings and thinking about God, and maybe even whisper a few words to God about it all, and then leave feeling like I had done the whole confession thing. Problem solved. Easy to fool myself!
But it’s not that easy when there is a human being on the other end of the confession who can ask you questions for clarification and can make you say the actual words…out loud…describing what you did and who can tell you when they think you’re not “owning” your fault. That, to me, is a less flexible and less manipulatable process. It is very much like the difference …
Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. James 5:13-16
Passages like this one from Pastor James make us squirm. We see them in scripture and we gloss over them, because they make us uncomfortable. We honestly do not know what to do with them, because, if we’re being honest with ourselves, they bear almost no resemblance at all to the church with whom we are familiar.
The notion of being so involved in one another’s lives, so intertwined together, that we know each other’s struggles and are fully mobilized to help and to pray…the notion that we would be so interdependent on each other that we would share our deepest fears and our hardest temptations, i.e., that we would actually confess our sins to each other…the notion that we would live our lives fully open and exposed to our Christian community, knowing that it is safe and that they will love and support us even with all our flaws…these notions are all foreign to our culture of self-sufficiency and anonymity.
We have reared at least two adult generations of Christians who consider social interdependence a weakness in an individual. Saying, “I am hurting and am needing help” is reserved only for the …
As Christians, we have been given only one mechanism to deal with sin in our lives: confession. There simply is no other means of prevailing over sin. Confession is our only hope.
Much of what I understand scripture to teach us about confession comes from my old friend, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. So today I will not bore you with my words; rather, I will challenge you with his. Take a minute to let his words (from Life Together) about confession of our sins to one another settle in your heart. Here was a man who understood some things about the transforming power of community.
Breaking Through to Community
In confession the break-through to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen even in the midst of a pious community…
The expressed, acknowledged sin has lost all its power…It can no longer tear the fellowship asunder. Now the fellowship bears the sin of the brother. He is no longer alone with his evil for he has cast off his sin in confession and handed it over to God…Now he stands in the fellowship of sinners who live by the grace of God in the cross of Jesus Christ.
Breaking Through to the Cross
In confession occurs the break-through to the cross…Confession in the presence of a brother is the profoundest kind of humiliation. It hurts, it cuts a man down, it is
I have mostly tried to forget my early teenage years (from about age 12-14…the dreaded middle school years…every boy’s misery). But aside from the many nightmares I have surely forgotten, there are still a handful which I remember as if they were yesterday: being spit on by Jimmy E. (7th grader) on the first day of 6th grade; being beaten up by Andy W. in the boys locker room; getting sick on the tilt-a-whirl on my very first “date” (so very sorry, Glenanne); and my illustration for this blog…trying to run the 440 yd. high-hurdles my 7th grade year. Nightmare!
I was a low-hurdler. Not the fastest in the world, but pretty well-trained and pretty well-equipped for my particular race. My race was a quick 100 yards, with just a few hurdles to clear and then the race was over. I liked it that way. So when Brian W. had to pull out of the 440-yd. high hurdle race at one of our track meets, and the coach just needed a warm body to run the race (something to do with team points), I got picked…out of nowhere. I won’t take you through the parade of horribles which ensued. Let’s just say that, after not clearing the first hurdle and after basically running around the rest of them and then not being able to finish because of the unexpectedly long distance…well…it was a nightmare. I was not ready for ANY of the obstacles that race held for me. I had not trained for it, I had not studied it, I was completely unprepared for it. I had not been given even the most basic, fundamental skills for running that race. I learned some things that day about preparation.
The more I work with conflicted congregations and the …