The Prodigal Son. A story of just one brother.

Yesterday I listened to Rob Bell’s podcast on the Prodigal Son. It’s a story that continues to make sense on so many levels. A story that we spend time trying to figure out whether its true or not that we miss the real truth in it.

That everything I can have from God is already mine is a truth that I will never need to stop hearing. I read and remember. I work, I go to the gym, I eat dinner with my wife, we go for a walk, we talk. I experience it fully, life that is, then I go to sleep.

And in that hazy awakening the next morning, I have all but forgotten. I forgot the gifts that I had bestowed on me and need another reminder to get me through the day.

I don’t need to be told to change. I don’t need to be made to feel guilty about my actions. I know. I know.

But I do need to be reminded of who I am. Loved, accepted, redeemed, chosen. That can not be taken from me. I am the prodigal son returning home knowing I’ll be lucky to even get close to the door. Then I am surprised that the door was already wide open with a banner bestowing my name hung since the day I left.

Later today, I will be the older brother.

Because you see, this story is not about two different brothers. One, a prideful brother who destroys his family out of greed and selfishness only to regret his actions and come back with his tail between his legs. The other, the real villain of the piece. Someone who is quick to judge and can’t forgive.

He stayed after all, he was loyal, so why do we hate him so much?

The truth is much closer than we think.

No, this is not a story about two brothers but a story about one brother. Because let’s face it, who among us has regretted their actions, made amends, seeked reconciliation, received forgiveness and then immediately gone back to repeat the same cycle again and again.

By separating the two brothers into separate identities is to miss an important part of the story. Both brothers lie deep within us.

We often make the older brother out to be the bad guy but the younger brother had exactly the same belief about his father as the older brother. For both, they thought that the harder they worked or the more loyal they were, would decide their sonship. That’s why the younger brother felt so guilty coming home after all; he knew he hadn’t lived up to his side of the bargain.

But both would be shocked. Both would have to think again what it meant to be a son. They were sons because they just were.

Sometimes when I think about what it means to be a Christian I get it completely. I feel at peace and I’m not trying to posture myself to others or God through this blog, through what I say, do or think. My actions don’t come from a feeling of obligation but out of this sense that I am all I am created to be.

There is no greater peace than this.

Other times though, I think I need to believe a certain way or belong to an established church or just lump it and enjoy worship music or not think differently or have a very clear set of disciplines that I never sway from. These are the times when I am most anxious. These are the times when I query whether I am doing enough, loving enough, important enough, doing the “right” things.

My actions are rarely of someone at peace when this happens.

The church has a great reputation for making things black and white. We act sometimes as if we have it all figured out and there are those who are very much wrong and dangerous but if you think the way we do, then you’re ok. Otherwise, best prepare yourself for a hot vacation which never ends.

But this is the older brother part of us vying for attention. He thought he knew how his Father operated until something happened which shocked him to his core and challenged every belief about himself he had ever held.

We do the same. We think we know how God works, what kinds of people God wants us to be, what kinds of people we are supposed to associate with, what kind of movies or music we should engage with. We don’t want to challenge the status quo because we think God is the status quo.

But God is anything but. God doesn’t adhere to our beliefs about Him. We should shape our beliefs to who He is. (Share This)

The calling we have is to find a sense of peace in the Love that is ours simply because God loves us. Then out of this we are more capable to invite people into that life, that justice, that peace, that truly being alive feeling when we stop trying to fight for our faith.

We don’t work now to get to Heaven. We recognize that Heaven is already here. (Share this)

And that’s when we begin to take our first steps home.

Would the real God please stand up.

The times you pray to God can tell a lot about a person I think.

Take for example the person who needs something and uses God more as a genie that they can go to when they need money or when they need help in a certain situation.

90% of the time they don’t try and look for God in their life, except when they need something.

Or take the other person; the one I can more readily associate with. The person who spends their whole day not looking for God but then when they mess up come running for forgiveness. The person who needs affirmation of their place with God every time they sin. Continue reading

What the Prodigal son wish he knew.

I wrote something in my blog a few days ago which I believe wholeheartedly and am trying each day to remember and change how I think, but also finding really really difficult. It was this.

We are in Jesus. Jesus died and is resurrected therefore we are in Jesus and have died and resurrected too. Sin has been defeated and we are called to act, not as if this will be true someday, but because it is, right now.

I truly believe that to stop those behaviours (and I’m talking more in line with addictions rather than lying or cheating, although it’s true for those as well) in our lives that are hurting us and others then we need to get our minds around this. We need to remember who we are or else we could end up like the Prodigal brothers.

But it’s not easy. Especially if you have found yourself giving in over and over to a behavior which is always there, sometimes quiet but ultimately ready to rear it’s ugly head.

In line with what I wrote yesterday there is a part in Romans 6 which sums up nicely how we are to live.

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

I say nicely because it all makes sense in fact I would be so far as saying it motivates me to put my trust in God everyday rather than the things which hold me back from truly being alive.

But it gets sticky when at 3am you awake and for some reason you want to look at porn. (There is a pun in there, if you got it shame on you). Or when you decide to give up drinking because you are hurting your family through the way you react to them when you drink but can’t manage to go more than a couple of days dry.

Its verses like the ones above which can be our best friends or can be our most frustrating friends. I get it, I believe it, I just can’t live by it.

And this comes back to my previous post. We spend some of our time thinking through these things without taking serious consideration of their implications. Because when we are told we used to be slaves of sin that is truth. It’s not just some nice theory but it is the reality. We can choose to live because it is true or as if it is true.

Maybe an illustration could help. Continuing with Paul’s theme of slavery imagine a woman who has been trafficked. She has spent her life since she was 6 being told she is free but really is being held against her will. She is told she can stop having sex with strangers anytime she likes but the walls of the small dingy room she is kept in tell another story. She is used to living like this. This is all she knows. As much as she hates it, it is strangely comforting. Continue reading

The Prodigal Son. What both brothers missed.

More and more recently I’ve found that reading the Bible through the eyes of the Jewish context that Jesus lived in opens up a world that often I believed I had received everything there was to gain from, but which in fact I am barely scratching the surface of.

The more I read and more I hear different stories with the Jewishness of the situation brought to the forefront the more I realise how much Jesus was radical and life changing. This for someone who has spent their whole life, like many others, believing everything they heard about Jesus, is incredible.

Case in Point. While reading the story of the Prodigal Son again (incidentally if any one story continues to reveal new mysteries it is this one) I was struck by the idea of why the Prodigal son decided to ask for his inheritance in the first place. Later in the story when his older brother confronts his father on why they are now supposed to celebrate his returning brother’s return the Father kindly and softly (I imagine) replies with the words,

“‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”

Everything I have is yours. Not “just be patient because in a few years you will own all this” but everything I have is yours. Present. Now. Currently.

The prodigal son I assume had the same promises. He didn’t want for anything. So why did he feel the need to leave it all behind and go searching for something else.

It seems that both brothers had forgotten what it meant to be part of a family and the benefits that that entails. Food, shelter, security, guidance, love. One had forgotten and decided that they were going to look for something else, somewhere else. While the other had stuck around believing that they needed to work hard just to remain in the family.

The older brother’s blindness to this is evident from his question/grumble

‘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.”

When we live in God’s family we spend so much time wondering how we can be better. Like the rich young man we look for answers to the question what can I do to inherit the kingdom of God. For the first Christians and for the Jewish people the kingdom of God was the time where God would unite the New Heaven and the New Earth. The young man was asking for rules to keep so that he would be able to be part of that new age when it arrived. What can I do today to be part of tomorrow?

In truth we still act this way. We want to know what the rules are that a good Christian should follow to be part of God’s family and get to Heaven. Is it no drinking, go to Church every Sunday, read the Bible everyday, don’t look at porn? But Jesus’ answer to the man reveals what truly is important for us. He told the man to give all his possessions to the poor.  A pretty big ask for someone who has a lot. But Jesus point was more than a rule to follow. It was a call to a change in character. A change in seeing what was important. To put the poor’s needs above our own. Jesus often used this Jewish literary tool exaggeration to make a point and get to a truth behind what seemed like an obvious command or statement. Jesus doesn’t really want us to gourge out our eyes if we sin, but he wants us to confront the seriousness of it.

We’re not called to follow specific rules as much as called to changing our character to one where we see where we are going (a renewed Earth with Heaven right in the middle) and starting to follow Jesus into becoming people that inhabit the traits that will exist there, all for God’s glory.

The great news is that this isn’t just something that is coming but is already here. Jesus death and resurrection has brought about the early stages of this. The early Jewish Christian listeners of these ideas from Jesus and later Paul would have understood this. We are in Jesus. Jesus died and is resurrected therefore we are in Jesus and have died and resurrected too. Sin has been defeated and we are called to act, not as if this will be true someday, but because it is, right now.

Just like the two brothers.

They had forgotten what it meant to inherit their Father’s home. Inheritance in Jewish and Greek thought was something that was given as a gift and that you may already have at your disposal.

The younger brother was unhappy with or perhaps had forgotten what he already had. What was already true. So he went searching someplace else for fulfillment. Maybe today we have been taught that God is a strict task master that demands us to give up life and follow rules so we go searching for something more freeing. Or being a person of faith, rather than being about love and hope for the whole world means to be part of a lot of disagreements or fighting, and we decide that we don’t want a part to play in it.

Then there was the older brother who believed he had to work extra hard to stay a part of the family. So today maybe we get bogged down with doing the right things like not missing a Church service, or feeling guilty if we don’t spend time with God. Or even feeling let down when we see people who have ruined their lives have them turned around through God’s grace, while we have never missed Sunday School once in our life and we still don’t get any credit.

God’s gift of new life is our inheritance and it is not something that we need to work at gaining but can accept freely today. It may not be complete yet but it has arrived. We’re called to possess characteristics of the people who will inhabit the New Heaven and Earth simply because it is happening now.

Not like it’s happening, but because it is.