Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lover of Prostitutes Found. Religiously Right Lost.

prodigalgod Timothy Keller’s book “Prodigal God” insightfully revisits the Parable of “The Prodigal Son” in Luke 15.  He appropriately renames it… “The Parable of the Two Lost Sons”. 

After reading this book, I am more embarrassed with self, yet more confident in Christ.  I am more aware of sin within the church, yet more motivated to love missionally within that church.  Conviction. Fresh wonder. Awe.  Heartache. A celebration of the sufficiency of the Gospel message. Wow, what a great transformative read. 

If you read this book, the sin of self, that you may be very aware of, or totally unaware of, will be laid bare.  You will encounter your depravity as if looking in a mirror.  You will be called to repentance.  You will find love.

BTW, “prodigal” means lavishly extravagant.  Yes, God is/was lavishly extravagant in his love for me, for you, for all of humanity.

Truly, a phenomenal read.

His point?

We mistakenly focus too heavily on the wandering son.  He asked for his early inheritance, went and blew it on licentious living, and was welcomed back by his father.  The grandeur of the father throwing his arms wind open and welcoming him back is truly a story of hope and joy that we all can rejoice in.  We allow this wonderful and positive message to overshadow the almost more important tragedy in the rest of the story.

You may be this younger brother, the wanderer.

But…if you are “in the church”, you may more likely and tragically be the “elder brother”.

Keller suggests that Jesus’ main point is more about “Elder Son’s” journey.  The elder son is left in a unreconciled relationship with his father at the end of the story.  How dramatic, yet we have missed the importance of this.  “The lover of prostitutes is saved, but the brother of moral rectitude is left in a lost state.”  Wow.

Keller argues that the elder son’s actions teach us that his religious moralism (dutiful obedience and right living), which is so broadly present in today’s church, is a particularly more deadly spiritual condition than the younger son’s gross selfish licentious debauchery.  Our rightness becomes our pride and joy.

Did you know that the Romans called the early church atheists because they were so non-religious?  They had no religion, only a deep faith is the sufficiency of the Gospel of Jesus.  That is cool.

I have seen this self driven religious moralism in my own life, in my own churches.  My pious obedience has nothing to do with the Gospel.  In fact it blinds me from my own sin, and causes me to think I am better than others. So many times I have disgraced the name of Christ in my superior attitude toward others of many other persuasions, classes, races, careers, etc.  We do this in our church communities.  The body’s collective proud celebration of our rightness, to the offense of another, is embarrassing.  The Gospel will offend, but our “rightness” should not.  I am too often a Pharisee (to whom this parable was written). 

One all too common expression of this is politics in the church.  Political posturing and superiority in the pulpit and pew should not be cheered and applauded.  The Gospel will change lives, not one’s politics or government.  The church’s mission is to seek and save the lost, not to rally the troops for political purpose.  Let me be clear, I believe there is an important place for government and the Christians influence of such.  But I also feel so strongly that political endeavors should never disrupt one’s opportunity to be found by/in Christ.  Our Gospel convictions, rightness and confidence should oppositely empty us of our pride and inspire us to self humbling, people loving, Christ exalting missional living.  We will passionately give ourselves to ministry, evangelism, service, seeking the lost, loving the “unlovable”, caring for the marginalized.  Our celebrations should be about the advancement of His Kingdom, not our earthly kingdoms.

The elder brother was left lost, unreconciled with “the Father”.  He was ultimately blind to his spiritual depravity.  The younger son was quite aware, yet repentant and found. 

Which is more desperate and dangerous?

Rob

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