The Lost Son, Older Brother and Running Father

Jesus often tells parables or stories which teach us something that is true about God, about us and how God and humanity interact. Here is one of them from Luke 15.

This is the story of a man who had two sons

“The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’” This would have been what he would have received after his father died. Essentially, the son is saying, “Dad, I wish you were dead.”

He takes this money, travels to another state and blows it all on wild living – sex, drugs, and parties. He utterly enjoys himself, until one day he realizes that he is out of money. Completely.

“When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything.”

Then, he remembers that even the slaves in his Father’s house were better off than he was right then. He sets off for home with a script in mind – “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.”

“So he got up and went to his father. “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him.” He throws a feast and a great party for this son that has returned.
His old brother complains to his father – “‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’

Then his father said, ‘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. He was lost and is found.’”

This story paints a picture of God’s love, grace and forgiveness. The very same love and forgiveness that is available for us today.
As United Methodist Christians, we believe that God is at work in the lives of people before they recognize it. God was working in the life of the son, even at the beginning of the story when he asks his father for his share of the estate.

God loves us even when we are sinners.

God offers us forgiveness, even though we don’t deserve it.

We can decide to live as followers of Jesus or of our own way. It is that moment of clarity for the son there with the pigs. Life doesn’t have to be like this.

We confess our sins, receive forgiveness, trust in God and seek to follow Jesus. We are set free from the slavery of sin and are free to live as slaves to God. We are made right with God and begin to grow in love of God and neighbor.

Then, we seek to follow after God all of our days. We grow to perfect love of God and neighbor with the spiritual practice to worship, grow, give, serve and share. When we use these spiritual tools, we come closer and closer to God and care more deeply for our neighbor.

By God’s grace, it is possible for us to be delivered completely from slavery to sin and death and live completely as disciples of Jesus Christ. The amazing thing is that to live in this way, it takes people who know what it is like to live as slaves to sin. The only ones qualified are the ones who have experienced God’s grace and forgiveness.

The good news is that Jesus Christ sets us free from sin to live a holy life today.

The opportunity to live a holy life and to receive God’s forgiveness is available today. It is available for you and for me. All we have to do is ask.

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Is Communion for Christians Only?

A few weeks ago, I visited a church where this sign was displayed during communion. The method of serving was passing a tray through the aisle and taking a piece of bread and a small cup of juice, so it would not have been obvious if one chose not to partake.

United Methodists practice open communion, which to clarify, means that you do not have to be a member of the church where communion is being served or a member of any United Methodist Church to receive the sacrament.

This is different than saying that you have to be a Christian to receive, which is clearly what the church that I visited was indicating.

The official document on baptism for The United Methodist Church, By Water & The Spirit, indicates:

In celebrating the Eucharist, we remember the grace given to us in our baptism and partake of the spiritual food necessary for sustaining and fulfilling the promises of salvation. Because the table at which we gather belongs to the Lord, it should be open to all who respond to Christ’s love, regardless of age or church membership. The Wesleyan tradition has always recognized that Holy Communion may be an occasion for the reception of converting, justifying, and sanctifying grace. Unbaptized persons who receive communion should be counseled and nurtured toward baptism as soon as possible.

That last sentence is particularly tricky in practice. Do you ask people if they have been baptized before, during or after they receive the bread and the cup? Perhaps a message of this sort in a United Methodist Church would say:

If Jesus is lord of your life, please take communion. If he is not lord of your life, go ahead and take communion anyway, as you might experience a desire to make him the lord of your life, in which case we would like for you to be baptized if you haven’t already been baptized.

This is a little tongue in cheek, however I do wonder – How does your church communicate about who receives Holy Communion?

Speedlinking – July 2, 2010

Christian Content Creation Model

Why is it difficult to create effective content for Christian spiritual formation?

Because people creating the content are not aware of the answers being sought.

I recently read an article in Wired Magazine about Demand Media and the way that they go about creating content. This excerpt from the article gives an idea of Demand Media’s model of commissioning pieces of content to be developed:

Pieces are not dreamed up by trained editors nor commissioned based on submitted questions. Instead they are assigned by an algorithm, which mines nearly a terabyte of search data, Internet traffic patterns, and keyword rates to determine what users want to know and how much advertisers will pay to appear next to the answers.

What if a similar model was used within the church? The focus would not be on how much money could be made by creating particular articles. Christian content creation based on a model similar to that of Demand Media would create text and video content that would be tailored to where people are hoping to grow. Significant progress would be made in meeting people where they are in their experience of God’s grace and helping them take the next step as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Would this Christian content creation model lead to useful tools for helping people grow in their faith or anesthetize and distance content creators from those seeking to grow in their faith?

Messy Spirituality

Messy Spirituality by Michael Yaconelli is accurately described by the subtitle – God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People.

 Yaconelli presents an approach to discipleship that is not about clear next steps and unquestionable outcomes. Instead, the path of discipleship that he presents is full of changes, turns and a never failing trust in God. Yaconelli refutes some assumptions of discipleship in a way that I found to be at first unnerving, but finally satisfactory.

I do not feel that it would be appropriate to base the path of discipleship for an entire church on the ideas that Yaconelli presents. However, I recognize that this may be because it is far different than my current setting for ministry and from many other settings of which I am most familiar.

I found Messy Spirituality to be a refreshing understanding of God’s work in the world and my own path of discipleship. I will return again to this book in the future and expect that it will catch me off guard again in ways that are needed and helpful.

Speedlinking – June 5, 2008