Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Prodigal Church? Part 3

Today we are going to look at how we can make the church a more welcoming place for both those represented by the 'younger' and 'elder' sons in Jesus' "Parable of the Prodigal Son." The church as it is isn't usually a very comfortable place for either party. We are either constantly trying to prove how good we are or constantly being told how bad we are and neither situtation makes us long to be in the church because it is not a place where we can find rest. But the church, in its true form, is a place we should long to be because it should be a place where all people can find rest.

If we could move our churches towards a state of repentance in which we would all acknowledge that we consistently sin and consistently need the grace and forgiveness of God, I think the tone and feel of our churches would shift dramatically. If we consistently realign ourselves to acknowledge our lowliness in the face of God's majesty, then it would be very difficult for us to both jockey for favor, point fingers, and brashly believe that we deserve everything good that the world has to offer.

Last week, I wrote about how the elder son and the younger son are really more alike than we would think. They are both trying to manipulate God into giving them what they want. The older son uses morality in a "magical thinking" sort of way: if I do everything right and make no mistakes, God will have to give me what I want and believe I need. The younger son uses brashness: boldy (and disrespectfully) demanding that he be given what he wants. Neither son is valuing the father for who he is and what he has done for them - they are simply using him as a means to their ends.

As Christians, we all need to take a good, hard look at ourselves and ask if we really value what God has done for us: From the first act of Creation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins, to his constant pursuit of our hearts. We can't ever be good enough to earn God's forgiveness and grace but God loves us enough to freely give it to us. We, as sinners, have no right to ask God for anything, yet God has given us that opportunity through his desire to be in relationship with us. If we can take an honest inventory of ourselves and see how small and undeserving we truly are, then maybe we can finally begin to glimpse the value of God's sacrifice in Jesus Christ for us and slowly begin to reflect the love and mercy he gives us to those around us.

If the church could become a place that is made up of "prodigals" - people who spend recklessly all that they have and are for God and his kingdom, rather than for themselves , how would that change the world?



Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Prodigal Church? Part 2

So today we are going to look at how the "Church" actually hinders people from coming to Christ through its "religiousness" and its hypermorality about people not living a "Christian" lifestyle.

Timothy Keller writes about the irony of how the first Christians were actually called 'atheists' by the Romans "...because what they Christians were saying about spiritual reality was unique and could not be classified with other religions of the world." (Pg. 14, The Prodigal God) In our modern culture today, most people see Christianity as what "is religion and moralism". (Pg. 14, The Prodigal God)

How did we get so far away from the point Jesus was making in the days he walked the earth? When Jesus was on the earth, he went out of his way to invite everyone to be near to him. Unfortunately, it was only those who were 'immoral' or 'unreligious' who usually chose to be near to him. He was incredibly attractive to those who were outcasts from the religious establishment of his day because he welcomed them as they were and showed them, gently, who they could be. Those who belonged to the religious establishment usually had too much pride in their own religious accomplishments to take Jesus up on his offer of grace and forgiveness. They didn't think that they needed it.

Jesus never told anyone to keep doing what they were doing. He challenged everyone to accept forgiveness, to not judge others, and to 'sin no more. For the 'elder' son's of Jesus' day, just as in ours, this is offensive, because all of us who fill the role of the elder son (and we know who we are) believe we have it all figured out and are justified in feeling that we are above others who don't follow the same strict moral code as we do.

The religious establishment of Jesus' day and of ours usually isn't gentle. It is more often cutting and judgemental, two of the main things Jesus told us NOT to be. We live in an era where church attendance is dropping steadily, the cultural norms are more often influencing Christian norms instead of the reverse (despite our judgemental attitudes, or maybe because of them), and yet we continue to dig in and do the same kinds of things that Jesus is telling us not to do in the parable we are studying.

Keller points out that despite the younger and elder sons very different paths (one of self-discovery and one of rigid moralism) the two are much closer than we would think. Both sons wanted what their father had and chose different paths to recieve it - the older by doing what he could to 'earn' it and the younger by disrespectfully asking for it. Keller states that the real goal behind each brother's desire is to have authority over the Father: to have what is the Father's and be able to tell the Father what to do. (Pg. 36, The Prodigal God) Keller goes on to say that neither son loved the Father for himself and that we can rebel against God by both 'breaking his rules or by keeping all of them diligently." (pg. 37, The Prodigal God)

If we are 'super Christians' and can find (incorrectly, of course) no sin in ourselves, then we believe we have the right to look down upon others. If we take the elder son's course, we may think we are a Christian, but we have not truly allowed Jesus to be our own savior - we are trying to save ourselves. (pg. 38, The Prodigal Son)

What would our modern Christian Church look like if we could all repent of our desire to control God? Would we be more loving, more graceful, if we could accept that we are failures ourselves? Maybe we should try it...


"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me.....Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51: 1-3; 10


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Prodigal Church? Part 1

Today I am going to start blogging on The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller.

His book is based on the parable told by Jesus in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. In case you don't remember this story, I'll give a quick synopsis. Tax collectors and "sinners" have gathered to hear Jesus speak. The Pharisees and scribes (very upright, religious folks) have also gathered to hear Jesus speak. The religious folks start to grumble about the fact that Jesus welcomes these 'others' to be near him and that he actually spends time in their homes and eats with them! In response Jesus tells the "parable of the prodigal son."
This parable begins with a younger son who rudely asks for his inheritence before his father's death (the equivalent of wishing your father dead) and then squanders it on women, wine, and song only to come home in shame when the money runs out. The father sees the son approaching and is overjoyed to have him return. He throws a great feast to show how happy he is that his son has returned to him. The older brother, however, who has dutifully remained home and suppressed his own desires in order to be the 'good' son, is furious at his younger siblings reception. He doesn't understand why he has never received a party for his good and dutiful behavior and yet this wastrel brother has taken half of his father's wealth, lost it, and is being offered the chance to regain his standing in the home and community (and possibly receive more inheritance).

The father's responds by saying, "My son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is now found." (Luke 15:31-32)

Keller defines 'prodigal' as an adjective that means 1) recklessly extravagant and 2) having spent everything. After reading that definition, you might be wondering why I titled this blog series "A Prodigal Church?". Do we want a church that acts prodigiously? Maybe so, if we are looking at extravagance through God's eyes. In other words, I am wondering if we want to be a church that acts in amazing, astonishing, eye-opening ways.

If you grew up going to church you would most likely have been taught that the parable of the prodigal son was all about God's grace and sinners being forgiven. Keller's premise, with which I happen to agree, is that this is a very one-sided lesson from this expansive parable. In fact, I almost think that Jesus told the parable not so that the 'religious folks' would learn to have some grace for those who 'sin' but in order for the 'religious folks' to realize that they needed grace just as much as anyone else. However, this part of the teaching is not traditionally stressed - it upsets folks in the pew to think that their 'religiousness' is causing them to sin.

It is, however, those of us in the pew that need to hear the message of the prodigal son. How are we going to fulfill our call to spread the gospel if we look down upon those who haven't heard it? How are we supposed to share the love of Christ if we think ourselves better than those we are sharing it with?

In the next few weeks we will look at the following:
1) how the church actually hinders people coming to Christ through its 'religiousness' and critical views of those not living a "Christian" lifestyle.
2) how the church can make itself a more welcoming place for those in need of grace (which is all of us - those already in the church as well as those outside it)
3) how God himself, is a prodigal God, willing to 'spend' extravagantly to bring us back home to him.



Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Since so many Christians ask themselves this question, "What would Jesus do?", maybe we should start thinking about it in a different way. Caspar keeps asking Jim after every church service they attend, "Jim, is this what Jesus told you guys to do?

What Caspar is asking about is the immense amount of work and money that go into a single hour on Sunday morning. Did Jesus really want us to focus so much of our time and energy on one hour of the week?

No, he didn't. So, as Christians who want to live a Christian life all 7 days of the week, what do we do about it?

Instead of getting my thoughts on this today, since this is the last blog on Jim and Caspar go to Church, I am going to give you some of Jim's closing thoughts.

"Unless we're willing to remove the handles from the front doors of our churches and publicly say to outsiders, 'We don't care what you think,' the church must become more reflective and repentant about how outsiders perceive us...as long as we put "Everybody Welcome" on our church signs, we are the ones who need to change - not our guests.

Jesus gave us a mission. I don't remember reading anything in the Bible written to missing people telling them to 'go into all the church.' They don't have a mission to adjust to us; we have to adapt for them. It's called the Incarnation." (pg. 149)

So, maybe what we need to think about is not so much how to get people into our churches as how to get our people out of our churches and into the world.