I hope you had a good week as well, it’s good to have you here tonight. Let me ask you to come with me to the word of the Lord and let’s go into the gospel of Luke, chapter 15, and I’d like to share with you such a well-known parable that really it’s a challenge just to add anything new to it. You know, one of the good things about the word of God is that you can read the same message, you can preach the same message for many, many times and yet there’s always something new that comes out of the word of the Lord, it’s inexhaustible, it really is.
The Holy Spirit, only He could do something as marvelous as containing the entire truth of the universe in this book of only several hundred pages. And I really believe that God’s truth in potential is contained somehow in these words, because it’s a living organism. So we can always benefit from going back to well-known passages, such as the parable as the lost son as they call it, in chapter 15, verse 11, the prodigal son, it’s been called as well, but I think, badly named for reasons that I hope I’ll make somewhat obvious as I dwell on this wonderful, wonderful parable that has been one of the most admired narratives in the entire history really of western civilization. It’s a literary jewel and a masterpiece of imagery and certainly of moral and spiritual depth as well.
So, Luke 15, verse 11, says: “…. 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. Not long after that, the younger son got together with all he had and set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything there was a severe famine in the whole country, and he began to be in need, so he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare and here I am, starving to death? I will set out and go back to my father and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired men’. So he got up and went to his father, but while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him. He ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick, bring the best robe and put it on him, put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it, let’s have a feast and celebrate for this son of mine was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found, so they began to celebrate….”
Now, here’s a part of this narrative that appears almost like an addition in a sense, but it really is an essential part of the entire parable and very crucial to the whole narrative, so, it says:
“…..Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing so he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound. The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him, but he answered his father, ‘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, but when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him’. My son, the father said, 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 found.”
Profound, eh. Beautiful, beautiful development of character as well and moral imagery. There’s so many ways that you can approach this parable of Jesus, so many handles to it. You can be evangelistic and you can approach it from the perspective of sin and people who have sinned and how the Lord is waiting to forgive and how God is just a forgiving God. You can approach it from just the love of God and how loving and forgiving he is. You know, for me the perspective that I want to focus on tonight is on grace.
Grace, not only from the Father toward us but also the grace that we must assign to others as well and living within grace and giving grace and receiving grace, which is such an important thing. And I’ll make a personal confession here: this parable for me is sort of an antidote to my own temperament and to much of the content of my own preaching. Some of you who may know me more deeply, know that I’m an intense kind of person. My wife, at least, she tells me that I’m too intense, many times. Each of us has his own perspective about the gospel and about the Kingdom of God.
You know, I tend to brood sometimes and tend to lean towards the darker side of the spirit and you know, if you take my favorite passages they will be about commitment and about warfare, and about discipline and about integrity or these kinds of things that are challenged to me and that these are areas that I kind of zone in. Each of us, I guess, according to our temperament we have our favorite passages and our focus on the Christian life.
So, for me, speaking about grace it’s not one of the natural things. I have to learn to accept grace and to dwell in grace and to assign grace. It is a learned taste for me, it’s an acquired taste. It brings me great joy when I can take passages like this and apply it to myself and also counter balance perhaps some of the contents of my own preaching. And I know, we’ve been just finishing a long series on the book of Ephesians, which is a very heavy book in many ways and you know, it goes into some very deep, profound areas of Christian life and revelation.
And it’s good to take these passages that are inviting us to rest in the Lord and to live lives of grace. You know, because grace is one of the essential elements of the Christian life, and for me, I take it just as an antidote, something to just balance my own spiritual walk and to tell me, ‘Roberto, take it easy. It’s not as hard as you think it is, you don’t have to agonize as much as sometimes you do, or you think you have to’.
This narrative is sort of the essence of God’s attitude of grace. And you know, I started thinking of other passages throughout scripture and particularly of Jesus, speaking about grace. And I want to dwell on some of them with you, but I’ll say another thing also that might just continue illuminating this. As I told you earlier perhaps, that I just finished a lengthy biography on Jonathan Edwards, who has become somewhat of a hero of mine, maybe because he was a brooding guy and he was an intense kind of guy.
Now, Jonathan Edwards is one of the most profound people that you could ever imagine and I really encourage you to read up on him. Despite all his power, of his intellect and his theological knowledge, one of the sad things, I may have mentioned that before, perhaps, is that Jonathan Edwards was so much of a puritan still, that he was still gripped in the mentality and theology and the way of focusing the gospel of the 18th century and of his puritan forebear, which is very intense as well, very Calvinistic. And so, I’m not sure that Jonathan Edwards ever found rest in the Lord and even though Calvinism stresses a lot the grace of God, somehow it is at least, that pure brand of Calvinism, doesn’t appeal too much to me. It’s too intense and I’m reading a lot these days, and the Lord has, I believe it’s something that God has directed me to do, I’ve been reading a lot just on spirituality of the 18th century, and the rise of evangelicalism in Europe and in America.
In the 18th century I believe, that people were still very much in the grip of struggling for your salvation. There was this thing that you had to struggle to get into that point of really resting in the Lord, you had to go through a long period of brooding about your sins and dwelling on your sins and agonizing and questioning whether really you were saved or not and you had to go to the point of despair, and you had to feel yourself almost dangling over the flames of hell, and you had to come to that utter point of misery about your sins and of utter consciousness about how truly worm-like you were and how unworthy of God’s grace. And then somehow if you were lucky, a ray of light and of hope penetrated into your tortured psyche and you felt finally the relief, and then you could say, ‘yes, I’m saved’.
And men, like the Wesley’s, Charles and John Wesley, had to go through that. Jonathan Edwards himself, and Whitefield and others, Martin Luther of course, the great struggler himself had to go through that time of….. and so the 18th century, the 17th, the 16th centuries stress that agonizing dimension of the Christian life.
And you know, when I look… there’s something beautiful about that by the way, because we contrasted with the sensibility, the spirituality of the 20th century, the 21st century of American evangelicalism. The pendulum has gone the other way to a stress on just grace and people no longer feel any pain about their sinfulness many times. It’s not good, it’s not good etiquette from the pulpit to speak about holiness, or about sin, or about hell. I’ve think I’ve mentioned something about that a couple of weeks ago.
So, we’ve gone to the other extreme. I think, superficial and we have lost a lot as well by going to that other extreme. But you know, when I look at scripture and when I look at the God that Jesus portrays I think certainly the people of the 18th century, a man like Jonathan Edwards, missed a whole aspect of God that comes through so beautifully through the parables of Jesus and Jesus’ treatment of others, and the way he dealt with sinners, and so on and so forth, and the kind of lean, the kind of preference that God seems to have in his heart as portrayed by one who knew him as nobody else knows him, which is Jesus, his own Son.
And so, by seeing how Jesus portrays God we can take heart and understand a little bit about how much rest can we afford to have in our Christian walk. Even as we struggle for holiness, even as we know that we have a holy God, and a God that demands a holiness from us, I think, it’s also good to know that we have a God who is so merciful and so understanding and so willing to negotiate with us, and so patient, but of course that we also have to have that same way of dealing with others. That’s the horizontal understanding of grace.
There’s a vertical understanding of grace, that God assigns grace to us, and loves us and forgives us, and tolerates us and is patient with us. But also that we must extent that same benefit to others as well.
And this parable reminds us of that because here we have the father extending grace to that son who offends him, but there’s a second son who cannot understand how the father can have such mercy after the incredible offense that that first son has perpetrated on the father. And so, that’s the whole thing of the story.
In this story you have this young man, and it’s no coincidence, I think in Jesus narrative that it is the younger guy who offends. Because why? Because the young, youth can always be rebellious, over confident, sort of entitlement oriented. “Give me what is mine, he says.”
You know, I look in the Greek and the idea is, give me the inheritance that falls to me. There were laws in Jewish religion that governed how much the older son received and how much the younger son would receive. And so this guy, all of a sudden saying, ‘Father, I have a right to this amount of money, give it to me.’ Of course, he’s being premature, he’s not waiting for the father even to die, before he asks for the amount of money that should be given to him.
Some people, some commentators have talked about it, that it’s really an extreme way of insulting the father. In Middle Eastern mentality, particularly, and culture it was an absolute insult to the father to ask for your inheritance, first in such a way, insolent way, and then before the father even dies.
So, all of this, I think, is meant to show the degree of offense that is being perpetrated upon the father. That alone would have been enough to just disinherit this guy completely, and just through him out of the house. Mysteriously the father decides to give the son the money. We don’t know what transpired because the parable is of course condensed and economic in its message, but the father apparently, without too much struggle, says, ‘ok’. And you know, here’s one thing, again the tolerance of God for humankind, because I think that young man is a symbol of every man and woman who walks the earth, humankind, rebellious against God, insolent.
How many times we complain to God as if we deserved anything from him? How many times have we asked God things as if he, you know, you have to give it to me? How many times we have offended God as well? And God, in his mercy, somehow incomprehensibly, tolerates this humanity. That’s one thing that just blows my mind, that for thousands of years, God has allowed mankind to go its own way. God has allowed the heart of man to have his way and just to proceed according to its own energy, its own impetus. And how many times God, in our own life, tolerates choices that we make, lifestyles that we adopt, attitudes that we undertake, and God somehow says, ‘ok, son, I’m going to give you space. Daughter, I’m going to just let you go your way’, and even there I see a sense of mercy and a sense of grace.
Because I think, when you get to a certain point in your life, and this is the mystery of God, that yes, God is sovereign, but also God respects you, God respects your freedom. God doesn’t want to turn you into a slave, an automat who simply does what he…. The whole relationship of God and his creatures is predicated upon our freedom. And God will not force us, and sometimes God has to allow us space to just find our way and fumble around for years before we come back to him, chastened and humble and then, we can have a truly genuine relationship with him.
I was speaking to a mother this week, a single mother as a matter of fact, and I speak with certain freedom of some of the details because I think that there’s very little chance that you will know her or that she will even know that I’m sharing these things. But, the point is this, that she has a son who’s an adolescent and this young man has entered into a relationship with a young woman, who’s older than him, and apparently it’s a very deep relationship, and this guy who’s lived a very protected life, very close to his mom, all of a sudden finds himself with a girlfriend who’s older than him, buys him things, takes care of his sexual needs, on and on. And she says, I don’t know him, he’s another person. I can’t control him. This guy who was for many years a passive, docile boy, is now entering into adulthood and discovering all these things.
And you know, I was trying to give her some perspectives of my own, and what she was struggling with, but she’s trying all kinds of things and agonizing. And I told her, you know, I think at this stage he’s really getting older, and experiencing all these things, and he’s really right now, he’s almost like in a trance. You taste of that fruit and you find yourself an insecure young all of a sudden finding his manhood and so on in such a profound and dramatic sort of way, quote, unquote, he is in a trance, just like this young man was.
I mean, he was in…. the Bible says when ‘he came to….’ months, or years after, ‘when he came to himself he realized what he had done…’. But for a while he was in a trance, just like humanity is in a trance right now, in a way. I think, humanity as a whole has decided to go its way. When I see what’s happening in this culture, I see this game that we’re all playing in the television, in the media, in academia and it’s like this bunch of adolescents now have run off the house, and we are conspiring as a species to break away from the Father completely, to break all the moorings and all the controls. And we have entered into a period of self sufficiency and of intoxication, with our knowledge, with our power, with our science, with our capacity to create wonderful graphics and all kinds of other stuff, and we are in a trance. We are enjoying our independence, we are enjoying this freedom, this power, this control that we have.
And the Father, somehow allows all this. He gives us space, but of course there are consequences as well as a result. God could take over this world in a moment, but he doesn’t because his relationship is founded on love and on a mature creature. I think, even as God relates to us individually, he also relates to humankind collectively. And I think there’s a drama that God is trying to solve with his child, the human race, and he must allow the human race to go through certain experiences, which to us, you know, a hundred of years, to him it’s just minutes and he’s leading the human race through a series of processes, of development until that human race comes to a certain point in time. I’m not sure what that point in time will be or what characteristics it will have totally. Scripture gives us just some very brief ideas, but God is allowing us to have all these experiences because he loves us, because he cares for us and because he wants a genuine relationship with us, based on freedom, based on maturity. And because there are certain things that we will not achieve unless we are given that freedom to commit mistakes and to mess things up, and so a lot of the consequences that we have in life right now, in history: poverty, oppression, war, terrorism, disease, inequalities of all sorts, are part of that son exploring and saying, ‘leave me alone, I want to be on my own. I want to do my own things, I want to do what I want to do with my inheritance, with the gifts that you have given me, the intelligence, the wisdom, the creativity, the power that you have given me and he’s experimenting and of course he grows increasingly poor. But the Father, somehow, mysteriously allows it and that’s the grace of the Father, his patience.
But time is drawing short. This young man begins to taste the consequences of his actions and grows miserable and goes deep into degradation and humiliation to the point of not even being able to eat what the pigs eat. Pigs, who are absolutely despicable for the Jews. It was an image of how far he went. And then he comes to, he wakes up and he says, ‘what am I doing here? I could go back and I could just be a servant and I will have a better life than I have now.’ And so he prepares the speech, he travels back to the father and he’s repeating the speech: father I have sinned against heaven, I have sinned against you, I’m not worthy any more to be your son, just take me as one of your servants. Father I have sinned against heaven…..
And then, as he’s drawing near to the house, the father comes out and runs towards him suggesting that probably every once in a while he went out the window to look to see whether his son would show up. He was waiting. He had never stopped loving him or waiting him. Just as God doesn’t stop loving us or waiting ofr us when we offend him.
You know, God is always there to forgive us and to take us back. If we have sinned, if you have sinned, if I have sinned against God, when we… what I see is this God who’s so, so merciful and who’s just waiting to take us back, he’s just waiting for us to acknowledge, to repent, to realize what we have done, that we have offended him, and all that he wants is just that show of repentance that he will jump to us. It’s the grace of God.
And you know, I think that’s important if we have made big mistakes in life, that is the God that I see time and time again in scripture and that I have to remind myself, when I fall short of my goals, spiritual goals, know that I offend him. You know, the devil is there to tell me, ‘hey, you’ve done this one time too many. Just forget about it and just stop struggling’. And the Holy Spirit, the word, says ‘no, God is so merciful, God is so forgiving, God is so gracious, if you confess, if you repent, he will take you back.’
The Bible says that if we confess our sins he is faithful to forgive us. No matter what we have done. When Peter asked him, ‘Lord, should we forgive what 7 times’, he thought he was being really generous, 7 times, because that’s what Jewish law sort of suggests. Jesus said, ‘you know, I’ll tell you what, you need to forgive people up to 70 times 7. The perfect sort of number, you know, 7 times 7, perfection squared. And in suggesting….
You know, as long as we keep struggling, to me, for example, that’s one of the things that we should understand, when we’re are in the grip of some sort of persistent sin, for example, let’s take the sin of homosexuality or any sins of any sort, anger, or rebelliousness, or a critical spirit, and so on, and we know…. Or words that we don’t want to escape our mouth and we keep saying them time and time again. You know, when sin persists, I have to remind myself that, personally I believe that what God is seeking for is struggle. If we cannot be perfect, that fourth, or tenth, or twelfth time, keep at it. Keep coming to the Lord, keep confessing, do it as a sort of hygienic kind of thing. Keep seeking the Lord’s grace, don’t break away from him. Keep coming back, ask him to forgive you, if you repent.
What God wants to see is signs of life in your moral conscience, I think. What God wants to see that you’re not happy what you are at, that you want to please him, but don’t go to the point of that demoralizing sense of guilt that paralyzes you and that prevents you from trying again, and from trusting that God is good, that he loves you, that he wants to work with you. don’t let the devil paralyze you to the point where you stop trying, where you stop serving him, where you stop reading his word, where you stop praying, where you stop asking for his forgiveness, where you stop being encouraged about God’s love. That’s what God does not want.
God is not so much concerned, I think, about perfection in you, although he would love for you to show that as would signs of struggle and of desire to please him, and of pain against your sin. Because there are two kinds of pain that you can experience in your sin: one is the pain that kills, demoralizes and debases you. That is demonic pain and sorrow. But then there’s a Godly sorrow, it’s a sweet sorrow, where you know that you have offended God and you’ve it again, but then you come sweetly before your father, because you know he loves you and forgives you, and you ask him for forgiveness. And you drink of his forgiveness and you accept it by faith, and you make a vow to continue working for that holiness. And then you say, ‘ok, that’s it, I’m not going to continue brooding about it, I’m just going to get back on track and I’ll seek the Lord better next time.’ And you’re free and you can continue and you can trust in the Lord’s mercy.
And I think that that is the kind of person who continues growing in the Lord. You know, many times that debilitating sense of guilt, rather than promoting holiness, what it does is that it does the opposite. That debilitating guilt becomes obsessive, compulsive, psychological, emotional, neurotic and it prevents the flow of God’s grace. Where as I think, when you dwell on God’s goodness, mercy, patience, love, and you, at the same time, seek holiness, and you trust in his blessing, then, somehow that frees you then to be even more energetic about being holy.
So, really I think, that it’s much more conducive to holiness and to pleasing God, to learn to dwell in his grace and not to hide your sin from yourself, or even from others, because God will always be there willing to take you back and to love you.
You know, this Father does not humiliate his son. He could have probably said, ‘hey, you’re going to sleep in the dog house for at least 7 days’, and then come back and take him in. But no, he doesn’t even allow him to complete his speech and he says, ‘bring,…. Put a new suit on him, new shoes, give him a ring, the ring of the family that says that he belongs fully into the life of the family, a ring of authority, and kill the best calf that we have, the one that we have waiting for Christmas, kill it now and let’s celebrate now.
In other words, generosity, overwhelming forgiveness. Forgiveness that overwhelms the sins of the past and just erases them because of its very abundance. That is the attitude, that is the essential attitude of God, that gracious spirit, that generous, giving.
And that’s what I want to dwell in my life, as I seek to please the Lord, to serve him, to show him that I care, and that I appreciate him, I also want to know that I have this big reserve in my relationship with him that I can draw on. It’s like those credit lines, you know, if you write a check and you don’t have enough, it automatically covers it. I mean, you know that you have to pay at some time, so it’s not…. But you know that it’s ok. It’s like that with God, we strive for holiness, we seek to please him, we seek to serve him, we’re grateful to him, we want to glorify him because he deserves to be glorified, but we know that sooner or later we’re going to overdraw on the account. But then we know that his grace is there, his love is there to just cover it immediately.
The blood of Christ is running continually, it says, and it cleanses us from all sin. I believe that that is basic insight of scripture. Interestingly enough, there are so many passages in scripture that show this. The outsiders have more insight and more of an inside into God than the insiders. The badly behaved often get more and the broken get more of God’s richness than the well-behaved. So, for example, here the son, is one case. But let me give you a couple of other cases, because there are other parables that suggest the same thing.
You remember, I won’t even get into reading it, you remember Mary when she breaks the perfume and washes the Lord’s hair and dries it with her own hair and you know, he washes his feet and so on and so forth, because Jesus had forgiven her. She was a sinful woman.
And there you have, Simon the Pharisee in whose home Jesus is staying giving Jesus this sort of distant treatment and thinking to himself, ‘if this guy were really a prophet, he would know that this woman is a sinner, and he wouldn’t let her get near him’. And Jesus know the heart of Simon and says, ‘Simon, who would feel more loved, the one who’s forgiven little or the one who’s forgiven a lot?’. Simon says, ‘of course, with good logic, the one who’s forgiven a lot.’ Well, he says, this woman has been forgiven a lot, therefore her love is more profound than yours. Because you think yourself with integrity and in control and disciplined and so on, and therefore when I came in, you didn’t treat me very well. I mean, you gave me just the basic treatment, but this woman has been forgiven so much, so she loves passionately and that passion and love that comes out of gratitude for being forgiven so much, has given her an insight into my own death, my burial, my resurrection, and what she has done instinctively, prophetically she has done it to prepare me for my burial, for my death. This woman was given an insight into the mystery and the drama of Jesus that Simon with his well-behaved mentality, couldn’t even begin to suspect. Because she was broken, she was an outsider, because we see outsiders and insiders morally.
And the same thing with this son, this son offends his father, wastes his father’s money, debases himself completely with bad living, comes back completely dirty and humiliated, and his father breaks a big party for him and gives him everything and is just passionate and celebrating his son’s coming back.
And this other son, the second one, well-behaved never broke a dish, never did anything bad, and he doesn’t understand his father. And he says, ‘I’ve been with you all these years and you never gave me even a little goat to celebrate with my friends’. And the father says, ‘oh, my son, how could that be? Everything that I have is yours, you mean that you’ve been living with me all these years and you didn’t know that you could just go and get, not one, but 10 goats and celebrate with your friends always, if you would have wanted to. You mean that you’ve wasted all this time and you didn’t know me, you didn’t know my love?’
You see, it took sin, in a way, for that other son to know his father’s true nature. But this other well-behaved guy, all disciplined, all control, all duty and obligation was living there physically with his father, but didn’t have an insight into his father’s true nature.
So, I always see that in scripture. You know, that outsiders are really insiders and that paradoxically, ironically we need to cultivate this sense of brokenness in our lives, because we are broken whether we want to admit it or not. It’s just a question of whether we recognize it or not. And sometimes God will, in his mercy, allows some really well-behaved us, to fall and sin in order that we might be forced to enter into that side of God’s gracious nature.
Because you see, God is not so concerned about perfection. He’s not as picky as we are. We’re the picky ones, God, sees everything through eternity. You know, God is not this fuzzy mother who, oh her sons picks up a piece of dirt and puts it in his mouth and she thinks that he’ll have to have a surgical operation. He says, no, that’s all right, let him… it’s no problem, in the light of eternity it doesn’t really matter. What he wants is insight, maturity, growing, knowing him and knowing others and be able to be used by him.
In the economy of eternity that’s really what concerns the Father. It’s not whether you dirtied up your clothes a bit or broke a pair of pants, you’ve got a million pair of pants that he can give you if you tore one, but he wants is insight, maturity, depth, profundity of spirit. So he will allow you to go through certain processes, because what he wants is to create a saint, he wants to create a warrior, he wants to create a counselor, a teacher, a pastoral heart and so you need sometimes to see yourself broken.
So sometimes we have to rebel in our brokenness as Paul writes in First Corinthians. Well, Paul had some sort of problem, we don’t know what it was, we tried to sanitize it by saying it was a physical problem, I think, personally I think it was a moral problem of some sort, a spiritual problem and he had asked the Lord, three times, Lord, deliver me from this. And three times the Lord said, ‘my grace be sufficient’. Why grace? Because I think he needed grace for whatever it was.
You don’t need grace for a physical disease. Let my grace. You know, Paul had received so much, he had such intellectual power, he had such wisdom, such revelation, such access to God’s mystery, he was taken to the Seventh Heaven, I think it was, several times, or third, you know, whatever, it was one of those heavens, and he received so much and he says:
“… so that the magnitude of those revelations wouldn’t turn me into a proud, conceited individual, God sent me a thorn in the flesh…”, un aguijón en la carne, it says in Spanish, “….a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan….”
That’s what the Greek says, angelos satan, which could be an angel of Satan, a demonic attack on his life, persistent and 3 times he asked the Lord, ‘Deliver me from this’, and 3 times he has always responded, ‘My grace is sufficient…. My power is perfected in your weakness…” And so Paul says, ‘well, if that is the case, then I will revel, I will celebrate my weakness, because when I’m weak, I’m strong.’
Because you see, in Christianity you have to learn somehow it’s a delicate act, it’s like a zen thing, you have to balance on the one hand the desire for holiness, and understanding of God’s awesome holiness, and the fact that in holiness there’s safety and that in sin there is danger, but at the same time, you have to learn also to revel in your weakness and to trust in God’s grace, even as you struggle and don’t make it, don’t make the cut every day. Then at the end of the day, when you look at the account it is red and you’ve got to just say a prayer, submit yourself to the grace of God, take a couple of aspirins and go to sleep and trust in God’s grace. And then get up in the next day and try again and trust that God is good and that he is merciful, that he loves. God is in to people who cannot pay at the end and he loves to say, ‘ok, how much do you owe? No, problem, here’s a check. I’ll balance it, go to sleep. It’s cool’.
You know, forgive me if I just take a couple of seconds longer, but I wish I had more time to develop these things. The parable of the workers in the vineyard? The owner of the vineyard starts contracting people early in the day and as the day goes by, he brings others in and he says, I’ll pay you such and such… And then towards the end of the day, he notices a few people who haven’t been working at all. And he says, ‘Why aren’t you guys working?’ They say, ‘well, nobody has hired us’. He says, ‘Well, come and work. It’s like 3 o’clock in the afternoon, for example, come and join and work for me. So they come in at 3 o’clock and they work and at 5 o’clock the bell rings and it’s the end of the day, and he starts paying everybody. And you know what? He pays everybody the same amount. And the guys who started working at 8.30 in the morning see him paying the guys who started at 3 the same amount and they get angry, and they say, ‘hey, what’s going on here? You’re being unfair. You’re paying them the same that you’re paying us.’ And the owner says, ‘hey guys, come on, it’s my money. Can’t I pay them the same if I want to that I paid you?’
You see, that’s grace. That’s God’s grace. And we need to understand that. God is so much into that. Again, the outsiders are the insiders. The ones who cannot pay up are the ones who usually receive the most. Little children walking by, Jesus takes care of them, the adults get angry. You’re distracting the Master. He said, no, actually you’ve got to be like them. They are the ones who deserve to be blessed by me, and unless you become like them, forget it, you won’t get into the Kingdom of Heaven. The little ones, the ones who don’t understand, the ones who seem the weakest, the ones who cannot give me anything, they are the ones that I love the most actually.
You see, so its this idea, you have to cultivate; the more you cultivate this sense of unworthiness, not in a neurotic sort of way, but in a healthy, biblical sort of way, the more God’s character opens up to you, the more insight you have into his complexity, into his love, into his power, into his amazing, amazing grace.
Now, I finish with this. You could go on and on about that aspect of things and there’s a lot of stuff there, but I just want to…. let us not forget the other part, that is we have to assign to others that same kind of attitude in life, that you know, many times people will offend us, many times we will observe all kinds of deficiencies in the character of all the people around us, in the church, in our pastors and leaders, in our mates, in our children, in friendship, at work, and we have a choice, either we live a kind of schizophrenic life where we draw on God’s grace and treat people with the law and get into a whole mess; or we establish consistency and we revel on God’s grace, we depend on God’s grace, we live in God’s grace and then we channel that grace towards dealing with others, and so we’re also quick to forgive and quick to overlook and quick to hide defects, and quick to be generous and to lose trusting that the Father will cover the loss if we move in his spirit and in his style.
See, many times in life in order for you to treat others with grace you’re going to lose something, you many lose money because you may have to forgive the person who didn’t pay you the money and you may either take them to court or not speak to them again or you may choose to kind of forget that they didn’t pay you and treat them as if they had paid you and trust that God will somehow cover the debt. If you are doing in his spirit, in his name, mysteriously, supernaturally, somehow you’ll get it back. I’m always pursued by this image of the good Samaritan who leaves the wounded man in the hostel and tells the owner, I’m going to give you some money and if his expenses exceed what I’m giving you, when I come back, I’ll pay you. Don’t worry about it so take care of him.
And I think that that’s what God tells us believers as well. He says, I’ve given you certain gifts, I’ve given certain resources and you know what? If in the course of your dealings with people and human beings you find that they exceed in their capacity to pay you, that they cannot pay you for something, they offend you, that’s ok. Give them grace and I’ll pay you back at some point.
And you know what? Many times God pays you in this life because mysteriously the person that has grace and assigns grace to others and forgives and is generous with others, that person is the most healthy emotionally and the happiest. That is the mystery of living in grace. I could go on and on about this…
But do you want emotional health? You want to live happily, you want to sleep well without the need for pills or anything? Live in grace. Give grace to others, be generous with your money, with your energy, with your tolerance, always believe the best in people, expect good things to come of them, honor them, praise them, forgive them, assume best motives until proving the opposite and be generous with your money, with your time, with your energy, particularly for the kingdom but also for other human beings and you will experience generosity of God, provision, blessing, peace, joy.
It’s the greatest single secret, I think, of the Christian life. As you live in grace in the style of your Father, and you give to others, you receive and you become a channel of blessing. God will continue giving you more and more and more and it will stay very briefly in you, because you will be giving it to somebody else, but some more will come to replace it immediately. So you become a river, water always flowing through it, never staying, but it always has water. The thing is that we get attached to a particular configuration. If you want to live life fully don’t become attached to a particular point in your life, what you have, for example, just give it away because there will be more. It will have a different shape, but that’s the beauty of it. You’ll be visited by new things all the time, life will be this great game where you receive new things always to replace the old ones that you have given away, living in grace.
The Father is a master at that. As we receive praise let’s give it to others, let’s live depending on grace. You can’t live depending on yourself, on your good acts, you’ll never make it. Revel in your weakness. Celebrate your weakness. Come to the Father for forgiveness, make a decision to be better tomorrow and then bless others with that same attitude and you’ll become like Jesus. The Father will delight in you and you’ll be blessed beyond your wildest expectations.
Let us take a moment to embrace grace right now and to embrace grace for ourselves first of all. I want to embrace grace for myself. And Father, I thank you because you don’t treat me as I deserve, you don’t pay me as I deserve. You pay me way, way better and Lord, I’ve learned to rest in that and forgive me when I don’t because many times I can’t believe that you can be that good, Father. It’s difficult for me, but in my better moments I know that that’s the God that I serve and I thank you for that, Lord. I thank you for being such a patient God with all of us.
We have offended you, we have made a mess of things, we have become masters at messing up and yet your grace is there always flowing abundantly. Thank you because there’s nothing that can separate me from the love of God through Jesus Christ, neither my own sinfulness, my own mistakes, my own shortcomings, the devil tripping me, his accusations, nothing, nothing can take me away from the love of God through Jesus Christ.
Oh Lord I celebrate that. Help us to live in that, Lord. Help us to live in that. Help us to live freely knowing the great Father heart that you have and then let us live lives that reflect that as we deal with others, Father, as we treat our brethren as well. May we be expressions of Christ’s heart as well and of your gracious heart. I want to be like you, Jesus, I want to reflect your grace as well. Thank you, thank you for this mystery of grace.
May this community be a community of grace always open, Father, to strugglers, always open to people who mess up, even as we announce your holiness, Lord, we do know also that it’s all about grace and we thank you for that. We receive it tonight, we celebrate it. Lord, we lift it up and we adore you and worship you because you are the very, very personification of grace and we will always look at that and dwell upon it so that we can absorb its energy. Be glorified tonight. Thank you, Lord. Amen.