Sunday, March 16, 2014

Identity Crisis



RECAP
Two weeks ago CH Harki preached on “Faith.” He spoke from Hebrews 11:1-16. It starts out: “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” and it goes on to remind us of:
o   Abel’s offering
o   Enoch being taken to heaven without dying
o   Noah building the Ark
o   Abraham going to the far country – a foreigner in this world
o   Sarah’s faith for a son
What really impress me are verses 13 and 16:
All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. ~ Hebrews 1:13, 16 NLT

Now that’s faith! Would you still believe up until your last breath if you hadn’t yet seen it? Sobering thought …
Last week, we were fortunate to have Mr. Pete and Ollie from Team Xtreme join us to share about “God Almighty.” Did you enjoy that? If you did enjoy it, you need to make it a point to let our Garrison Chaplain, CH Simmons, know and please thank him for making it happen. When you let us know – let Garrison know – that you’re enjoying things that the Chapel is offering then we’ll be able to do more things – get more support. I’d also like to thank those of you who helped us clean up afterward. Thank you to CH Broderick and the Fellowship Team for that great meal afterwards. Again folks, if you enjoy the fellowship meals then voice your support and volunteer to make it happen once a month. It only works if we do the work
The title of my sermon is “Identity Crisis. What I’m about to share with you is a devotion from Our Daily Bread titled “Situation Excellent.”

At the First Battle of the Marne during World War I, French lieutenant general Ferdinand Foch sent out this communique: “My center is giving way, my right is retreating. Situation excellent. I am attacking.” His willingness to see hope in a tough situation eventually led to victory for his troops.
Sometimes in life’s battles we can feel as if we are losing on every front. Family discord, business setbacks, financial woes, or a decline in health can put a pessimistic spin on the way we look at life. But the believer in Christ can always find a way to conclude: “Situation excellent.”
Look at Paul. When he was thrown in prison for preaching the gospel, he had an unusually upbeat attitude. To the church at Philippi he wrote, “I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel” (Phil. 1:12).
Paul saw his prison situation as a new platform from which to evangelize the Roman palace guard. In addition, other Christians became emboldened by his situation to preach the gospel more fearlessly (vv.13-14).
God can use our trials to work good in spite of the pain they bring (Rom. 8:28). That’s just one more way He can be honored. ~ Dennis Fisher[1]

A few other things were going on here as well: General Foch … like Paul … and like our Hebrew 1 “Faith Heroes” walked in faith! They believed that God was going to accomplish his purpose and they executed their missions accordingly. Each of these people understood who they were and what their purpose was. More importantly – they were fully aware of whose they were. They knew their identity.

SCRIPTURE READING

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ~ Philippians 2:1-11 NLT

SERMON

Most of you all don’t know this … but I was in a fraternity when I was in college. That’s right … I was in Sigma Alpha Epsilon. This is rugby jersey is from the college I went to … Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, TN. Besides wearing rugby jerseys in college … I wore the loafers (I called them boat shoes) … tan slacks … oxford shirt … patterned tie … blazer … pledge pin … and a pony tail. Come to think of it … I guess I was more like Chris Farley in Tommy Boy than your stereotypical fraternity boy.
I went to college after my first tour with the Navy so I was 22 when I enrolled and 25 when I graduated. And just so you know … this was about three or four years before I came to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior. But one of the best “takeaways” I got out of college and more specifically from the fraternity … was The True Gentleman.
Has anyone heard of The True Gentleman? The True Gentleman is the creed of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. It’s a sentence – a long sentence – that is the best definition of a gentleman that I’ve ever heard. It’s expected that when you pledge the fraternity, you memorize and recite The True Gentlemen in front of all the Actives. Allow me to give you a bit more history on the True Gentleman: “the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis used it in a manual. The author was denoted there as one John Walter Wayland. But before that …"The True Gentleman" had actually first appeared in The Baltimore Sun as part of a competition for the best definition of a true gentleman with Wayland's submission being crowned the winner.”[2]

The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe. ~ John Walter Wayland. Virginia, 1899

I don’t expect any of you all to have an “A-ha” moment from me reading The True Gentleman but I do want you to know how much that sentence has impacted my life. Think about it – I was a guy who didn’t want to know God but something like this – truth like this – was put in front of my face … and I had the faith to believe it. Like I said, we had to read it – memorize it – and then recite in front of the whole fraternity ... and if we jacked it up … well, I can’t tell you what happens to those guys.
But the reality was this: I latched on to that creed. It was something that I bought into hook, line and sinker. I still try my best to live by that standard every day. I read it often and try to use to some extent in most of my sermons. I’ve used it quite a few times over the years when writing papers for graduate work. It’s the attitude with which I want to be identified.
I don’t get it right sometimes but that’s who I aspire to be. Sometimes my conduct does not proceed from goodwill at all. Sometimes I wear my feelings on my sleeve and sometimes I simply blow self-control out of the water in certain circumstances. And sometimes … I’m simply not very compassionate. But I still want to be that guy … that gentleman … and I have faith that God will complete his work in me so that I can be a True Gentleman more often and more consistently.
So how does the True Gentleman mesh with the Gospel? I’m pretty sure that John Walter Wayland was familiar with Scripture if not a believer. Let’s look at Philippians again as well as The True Gentleman and see how they complement one another.
Philippians: “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love?” The True Gentleman: that’s definitely thinking of the rights and feelings of others rather than your own, right? The Bible tells us that the greatest show of love is laying down your life for someone else; most times that’s as simple as being kind.
Philippians: “Any fellowship together in the Spirit?” The True Gentleman: “Who appears well in any company” … that’s Jesus.
Philippians: “Are your hearts tender and compassionate? The True Gentleman: “Who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity.” If that’s not definitive of Jesus then I don’t know what is!
Philippians: “Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” The True Gentleman: “Who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another.” How hard is that? How many of you will step back so that someone else will get the glory? That’s tough sometimes.
Philippians: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.  Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The True Gentleman: folks … Jesus did not flatter wealth, He did not cringe before power, and from what we just read together, He didn’t boast of his own possessions or achievements. In fact, He gave up all that He was … so that you and I could be elevated. Think about that …
This reminds me of the Downhere chorus of “How Many Kings.”
How many kings step down from their thrones? How many lords have abandoned their homes? How many greats have become the least for me? And how many gods have poured out their hearts, to romance a world that is torn all apart? How many fathers gave up their sons for me?[3]

So … I’m thinking about all these things … Philippians … Jesus … the True Gentleman … Downhere … all because I’m currently taking a class on Pastoral Counseling … and … I’m about to preach a sermon. As I’m praying … I’m reading … and God drops a nugget in my lap cause He knows I’m hungry. My first assignment in this class is to read David G. Benner’s book The Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel. I get about 27 pages into it and that nugget I’m hoping for turns into a meal!
How many of you know that there are times when God speaks so plainly that it’s unnerving – exciting – but unnerving? This was one of those times. Dr. Benner had listed 27 identifying characteristics that supported his claim that Jesus was/is the model soul shepherd – one who cares for souls. Benner defines a “soul care as the support and restoration of the well-being of persons in their depth and totality, with particular concern for their inner life.”[4] He goes on to write, “Shepherds lead their sheep to places of nourishment and safety, protect them from danger, and are regularly called upon for great personal sacrifice. They are characterized by compassion, courage, and a mixture of tenderness and toughness.”[5]
Benner shares some identifying characteristics of Christ. The whole point of this sermon was for you … and me … to take back our identities. Quick one: how are we in the military identified from those outside the military? Uniforms, haircuts, etc. How about within? Unit patches, combat patches, special identifiers like Airborne, Air Assault, Ranger or SF tabs, and so on and so on. So we are identified by who we are and by whose we are – which unit we’re in.
So as a Christian … where should we get our identity? From Christ! Jesus Christ is who we – as believers – should be emulating. Think of it as looking into a mirror. When you physically look in a mirror … you see yourself. How about your spiritual mirror? Is Christ reflected? We should see Jesus as our reflection … and others should see him in us as well.
James tells us, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.” ~ James 1:22-25 NLT
“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely” 1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT.
So all this build up because I want to share with you a challenge or two … actually 27 challenges. The overarching one is know your identity. If you’ve given it up at some point then take your identity back. If you’ve never had an identity then I plead with you to assume the identity of Christ today! Be a True Gentleman. Be a Virtuous Lady. Have the same mind as Christ. Be the Christian … the Christ follower … who the world says is not out there anymore.
All right … back to the 27 identifying characteristics of Jesus as the model soul shepherd. I wanted to give you all 27 but for the sake of time I’ll share 10 of them. Remember … these are characteristics of Jesus … as a soul shepherd … as a man of God caring for souls. I have taken them and said, “If this is how Jesus is … then this is how I need to be … this is how Christians should be.”

1.      Be a Christian who meets people where they are.
o   A lot of times we forget that especially when we’ve followed Christ for a very short time or a very long time. Remember … we all sin and we have fallen short of the glory of God. The key is to stay hungry and humble.
2.      Be a Christian who is compassionate.
o   Jesus brought hope for the helpless, rest for the weary and love for the broken hearts
3.      Be a Christian who acts out of an explicit moral context but never condemns.
o   What does that mean? Love the sinner; hate the sin! Remember when Jesus told the mob that brought him the “woman caught in adultery” … “Let any of you without sin cast the first stone.”
4.      Be a Christian who speaks with authority.
o   You have the Word of God … the foundation for truth in our existence … never back down or shy away from that reality … or that authority.
5.      Be a Christian who asks probing questions.
o   Don’t stay on the surface with your relationships or encounters. Every human being has an innate desire to be known. That’s one of the greatest things about small groups. Even for an outsider or new follower, small groups are a place where you can safely go deeper. I encourage you to get involved in a small group somewhere.
6.      Be a Christian who is scandalously inclusive.
o   Jump back to the woman caught in adultery … but this time, which one of you is going to cast the first stone at the homosexual … or the alcoholic … or the or the guy who you know is abusing his wife behind the scenes? Most of the people out there are not in here because they think we’re going to condemn them or not include them. The Church should be a hospital for broken souls.
7.      Be a Christian who never minimizes the cost of discipleship.
o   Be like Jesus did with the rich young ruler … lay it all out there. Don’t mince words that will pierce the heart of a person’s motivation.
8.      Be a Christian who prefers dialogue over monologue.
o   How many of you have ever really sat down and had a conversation with a wall? How about paint as it is drying? What about grass as it is growing? You get my point, right? We must interact.
9.      Be a Christian who never allows your own needs to get in the way of meeting the needs of others.
o   Smack me in the face! Who thinks of the rights and feelings of others rather than his own. No greater love than laying down one’s life for someone else.
1.  Be the Christian who challenges people to never settle for less than God’s best for them
o   This should be a no brainer … but a lot of folks are walking around with no brains. Let’s give them some brains … some hope … some direction![6]

So let me sum things up: walk in faith, our God is a mighty God, the situation is always excellent in that equation: faith + God, have the same attitude as Christ, be a True Gentleman, look in the mirror daily to check yourself, take back your identity if you think you’ve lost or given it up, establish your identity in him if you haven’t done so already, be the Christian who God has called you to be, and never forget … we have the greatest message of hope the world could ever hear – go out, be the Church, and give somebody else that hope.



[1] Dennis Fisher, “Situation Excellent,” in Our Daily Bread, vol 58, Numbers 9, 10, & 11 (RBC Ministries: USA, Dec – Feb 2013-14), Jan 10.
[3] Downhere, “How Many Kings,” as performed by Downhere, © 2006 Centricity Music Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.) Germain and Martel Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)
[4] David G. Benner, Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 23.
[5] Ibid., 25.
            [6] Ibid., 27-28.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Forgiveness



CH (CPT) Malcolm A. Rios
26 January 2014
Prichard Chapel, Fort Knox, KY

“Forgiveness”

SCRIPTURE
“Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people – even eating with them!” ~ Luke 15:1-2 NLT[1].
PRAYER
Heavenly Father … I thank you for this day. I thank you for providing us the opportunity to join together in corporate worship. We thank you for your abundant grace and unfailing mercy in our lives. You are the Alpha and Omega. You are the author and perfector of our faiths. You never stop looking for the lost. The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. Your love endures forever. Lord, May the words of my mouth and all the thoughts and meditations in our hearts be holy and pleasing to you. Amen.
RECAP
Last Sunday, Chaplain Brian Harki shared from Ephesians 4. He spoke to us of unity in the body. Of particular interest to me were verses 2 – 6 because they tell us exactly what we need to do to live in unity:
·         Always be humble
·         Always be gentle
·         Always be patient with each other
·         Always make allowance for each other’s faults … because of your love.
·         Always make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit
·         Always bind yourselves together with peace.
“For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all” (Eph. 4:4-6).
Everybody got that? Do you need me to repeat those again? Let me repeat them anyway …
FEEL GOOD #1
One of the things Chaplains get the privilege of doing as pastors is preaching. We get the opportunity to preach life-changing sermons to eager audiences … yeah! One of the most effective ways to engage the audience as quickly as possible is with a heart wrenching, “feel good” story or engross them with a humorous anecdote that will set up the impending sermon. Well … I have neither. I did find an interesting list of "Cards You'll Never See at Hallmark" though:
·         "Looking back over the years that we've been together, I can't help but wonder ... what was I thinking?!"
·         "I've always wanted to have someone to hold, someone to love ... after having met you, I've changed my mind."
·         "As the days go by, I think of how lucky I am ... that you're not here to ruin it for me."
·         "As you grow older, Mom, I think of all the gifts you've given me ... like the need for therapy."
·         "You look great for your age … almost life-like!"
·         "When we were together, you always said you'd die for me … now that we've broken up, I think it's time you kept your promise."
·         "We have been friends for a very long time... what do you say we call it quits?"
·         "I'm so miserable without you … it's almost like you're here."
·         "You are such a good friend that if we were on a sinking ship and there was only one life jacket … I'd miss you heaps and think of you often."[2]
You laugh now but I bet some of you were thinking some of those exact things about the person sitting right beside you! Am I right? It’s real easy to laugh at those statements because we’ve all felt that way. We all want to say what we really feel but we don’t because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or we look at our own lives are realize the depths of our hypocrisy …
THE SERMON
All right … let’s get serious … back to Luke - Tax collectors and notorious sinners! Luke 15 starts out by telling us that Jesus spent time with what society deemed as the unwanted and unworthy. He hung out with people who Merriam-Webster would call “well-known or famous especially for something bad.”[3] He hung out with the people who made synagogue leadership – church leadership – uncomfortable. He hung out with people who other people were afraid to talk about. He hung out with the people who other people warned people about. Let me break that down for you in relation to our day and age: Jesus hung out with hopeless, the hurting, and the hungry.[4] He hung out with the atheists and agnostics, the heathen and the homosexual, the separated and the strange. He didn’t care because He came with one purpose: to save the lost.
Do you remember the story of Levi / Matthew in Luke 5:27-32?
“Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth.
“Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him.
So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him. Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”
Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”

He didn’t come for the righteous! He definitely didn’t come for the proud! He came for those of us who know we are sinners!
Now I don’t know about you, but I was that scum the Pharisees were talking about when I was growing up. I didn’t start that way, of course. I was a good kid up until about the age of 12. But it was about that time when I realized a few things:
Ø  One … doing “the wrong thing” sure was a lot of fun.
Ø  Two … you’re not always going to get caught nor or you going to get in trouble.
Ø  Three … I didn’t need anybody telling me anything because I already knew it all.
Some folks I ran with really enjoyed that I understood these “truisms” about life but some probably thought I was going to split hell wide open. The fact that I liked to throw down as often as possible – and for any occasion – didn’t help the matter. I didn’t need a reason – I just needed an opportunity! In fact, I had a high school teacher who went so far as saying that she believed I worshiped Satan. My Mom & Dad thought I’d be in jail by the time I was 19. They were wrong! It took two more years before I spent the night in a jail cell.
How’s that for encouragement! I guess if I think about it now, I probably more than deserved all the odd stares, accusatory claims, and lack of belief thrown my way. At the time, though, it fueled my rebellion. The point being – the passion of Jesus – the work He did on the cross – is for people like me!
THE MEAT
My story isn’t unique. You hear ones similar to it all the time if you’ve been around the Church for any amount of time. Some of you may have had a past like mine. Some of you may be living it right now … who knows? My story – your story’s been told millions of times through other people’s lives and it will continue to be told over and over again because people are people and, believe it or not, we have made it abundantly clear throughout history that we have a hard time learning from the past.
Speaking of learning from the past, go back to Luke 15. Luke 15 is unique in that it explains pretty clearly the depths to which God will go to seek and save the lost. Why do you really think God wants us to understand this? Luke 15 tells us three parables about the lost and found. Why does God need to use three stories to get the point across? A sheep? A coin? A son?
I want to focus on the third story – the one called, “The Parable of the Lost Son” or “The Prodigal Son.” Does anyone know what prodigal means? Prodigal is defined by Merriam-Webster as “characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure.”[5] Three main characters are in this story: a father, an older son, and a younger son.
To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.
 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.
“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet.  And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’” (Luke 15:11-31).

First off … which one were you? As I thought about it, I see myself in all three. Obviously I was the young son. I ran for a long time and squandered my inheritance in faraway places. I’ve been the older son. After I’d known Christ for some time I got complacent – even to the point of feeling entitled because I have the credentials and the lost started to burden me. I’ve been the father too – when I’ve come to a place of real maturity in my walk. Sometimes I’m fortunate and in that place for a long time and it’s really good. Sometimes – not so long – and I fall back into either one of the brothers.
But I hope you know that even if this story has a title describing the son … the real focus of the story is the Father and the depths of his love for us … depths that go way beyond the things we’ve done … or have had done to us … or the sin in which we find ourselves. Does that mean even the tax collectors and the notorious sinners? Even the scum … and what about the righteous?
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Rom. 3:23)
“As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous - not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one” (Rom. 3:10-12; Pss 14:1-3; 53:1-3).
And that’s that beauty of the Father passionately waiting for his son to repent and come home. You’ve heard the team, “Waiting on the Lord,” right? The “waiting” that is talked about is an active role. It’s not passively sitting there waiting for something to happen. The father was actively waiting for his son to return. He was on point and on guard for that far off approach so he could run to him and embrace him.
Luke says, “When he finally came to his senses …” It was an “A-ha! Moment” … or maybe it was simply a, “Man, I’m a freakin’ idiot Moment.” He had to come to a place – like we all do – where it wasn’t about him anymore. Have you been to that point yet? The point where you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired? The son knew what kind of man his father was so in utter humility he returned to his father. And what did his father do? He lavished all kinds of lovin’ on him.
Paul pleads with the Church in Ephesus to understand this, “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is” (Eph. 3:18). Paul says it this way to the Romans:
What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below - indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:31-39).

And folks … we know that the Father’s love is acted out through one thing: forgiveness. You know … the more I reflected on the Father in the story of the Prodigal Son, I felt like God was telling me to look closer at what was happening leading up to that point where the parable was shared. In the chapter before, Jesus had eaten at a Pharisee’s house and had apparently gotten up and had just been with the crowds who were following him. Jesus always had crowds following him. Luke 15 opens with Jesus hanging out with the counter-culture. In that entire multitude of people – Jesus wanted his listeners to know – to understand – how important just one of them was. He spoke of going after one lost sheep. He spoke of finding one lost coin. He spoke of one son who was lost but now if found.
Luke 15:7 says, “In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” But doesn’t God care about the 99 others who are righteous? Of course He does … older brother in the Prodigal story … but they have done the right thing already. Luke 17:10 says it like this: “In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’” Army-speak: drink water and drive on.
God’s love is all about sinners knowing they need to repent. God’s love is all about forgiveness. Just like we are expected to do, God, even if that person wrongs him seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, He forgives.
SO WHAT?
The younger son came to his senses because he finally understood this: “If I confess my sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive my sins and to cleanse me from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9). Whether you’re a notorious sinner or whether you’re an inglorious saint; whether you’re a tax collector or a tax evader; whether you’re a Pharisee or a teacher of the religious law or someone who dances, drinks, smokes, or chews or simply hangs with those who do ... we all need forgiveness. And we all need to forgive.
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” ~ Lewis B. Smedes
“He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every man has need to be forgiven.” ~ Thomas Fuller
If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:14).
Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach … because his words meant hope and forgiveness.
PRAYER
Oh God – you are my God.
I will always praise you.
Help me seek you this morning.
Give me grace, wisdom, and strength to walk in your ways – every day in every way. Lead me every step. My heart is to follow you all the days of my life.
Lord, bless me so that I may bless others.
Reveal the areas of my heart that are dark and corrupted by un-forgiveness and bitterness. Father, take those burdens from me in the name of Jesus! I no longer want to be bound by my pride.
Forgive me my sins as I forgive those who have sinned against me.
In all my ways, I acknowledge you, Abba. Amen.


[1] All Scripture referenced in this Sermon was taken from the New Living Translation (NLT).
[4] Trinity Assembly: “… the Hopeless, the Hurting, and the Hungry …” is a tag line from Trinity’s Vision Statement. http://trinityalgood.com/about-us/our-vision/ (accessed January 26, 2014).
[5] “Prodigal,” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prodigal (accessed January 23, 2014).