Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Let's never forget that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.
Repairing sin's damage means re-establishing contact with God and rebuilding relationships with those we've hurt. There is a way to come home. Stay with us. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Pastor Lutzer, today you begin a series on what to do after you've blown it, reconnecting with God and others.
Give us a look ahead on what we'll be learning. You know, Dave, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is simply this, that we never go so far from the Father that we can't return, unless, of course, we die. I have a word of hope to everyone who is listening to us today. God is with you, the waiting Father is waiting for you, and there is hope. And, of course, as we think about the Christmas season, it is a message of hope. I have to tell you this, that we're living at a time when there are so many controversies, controversies that are tearing the Church of Jesus Christ apart. Could we come together at Christmas, lay down our differences, and worship the Lord together? That is the burden of my heart, and I can't think of a better way to do that than to listen to Handel's Messiah.
Now, there are some of you who say it's a very long piece of music, absolutely, 260 pages, but you know, the good news is you don't have to listen to all of it. You can listen to the Hallelujah Chorus, or you can listen to one of my favorites, I Love It, Worthy is the Lamb. For a gift of any amount, this two-disc set can be yours.
Here's what you do, go to rtwoffer.com, that's rtwoffer.com, or you can call us at 1-888-218-9337. And may I thank you in advance for your generosity. This is indeed a time of giving, and we appreciate all those who help us get the gospel to the ends of the earth. I think of a young man, 30-ish, good-looking, graduate of a Bible college, intending to be an evangelist and a missionary, staring into a window disheveled, saying to me, how could I be in this mess? He'd fathered a child, and now his girlfriend would not allow him to see his own baby. What do I do when I don't know what to do? Or I could think of a young woman, dating a man, bypassing all of the stop signs, all of the red lights, going ahead with a relationship that she knew intuitively was wrong, and eventually being entangled in a mess and asking, what now? This is the beginning of a series of messages entitled, After You've Blown It, Reconnecting with God and Others. Because we're going to talk about reconnecting with God, but we're also going to be talking about, later on, reconnecting with others. To what extent do you try to be reconciled with other members of God's family, and what if people will not reconcile with you?
How do you connect with God, but also connect with others? To help us this morning, I'm reminded of the parable that Jesus told in the 15th chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Jesus was a master storyteller, and in principle, it's a story that has happened a thousand times. A young man becomes weary of the rules and the restraints of the farm, and he comes to his father and he says to his father, Father, give me the portion of the estate that falls to me, and I want you to give it to me right now. We can imagine how impertinent it was for him to make this request. Because, in effect, what he was saying was, Father, I can't wait until you die before I receive my inheritance.
I want it right now. You can imagine the pain in the father's heart. But the father bears the pain and buries the hurt, and gives to the young man, according to the laws of Levitical inheritance, one third of the estate and the other two thirds is given to the elder brother who stays home. The father doesn't lecture the boy, but the father allows the boy to go, and when the boy says, give me, that defines his life, because the father is a giver, but the son is a taker. Wordless, the father watches his son go down the road. The father knows what the far country is like, and the father's heart is broken, but there comes a time in the life of a young person where you simply must let them go if they will not stay at home.
What we'd like to do for the next few moments is to simply take some snapshots of this story. And first of all, we see some of the steps downward that this young man took as he left home. First of all, we notice that he goes away to what is called a distant or a far country. What he wants to do is to get as far away from home as he possibly can.
He doesn't want to leave his cell phone number. He doesn't want the father to intervene, and what he wants to do is to go where he is unknown so he can do whatever he wants to do and nobody back home will know what he's up to. And so the second thing that he does is he misuses the blessings that the father gave him.
Because when the father earned his money on the farm, it was not his intention that the sons squander his wealth in wild living. I like at this point what the King James Version says. It says he wasted his substance. And we still use that word today, don't we? We speak about somebody being wasted, and sin is always waste.
It is always waste. And he takes his money and he blows his money. He takes what the father gave him for blessing, and he uses it to commit sins. Another mistake that he makes is that he ends up spurning actually his own religion.
Now as I read this story, I can be very happy about the fact that this boy does not begin a life of stealing in order to get food. At least he's willing to work for it, and he attaches himself, the scripture says, to a citizen of that far country, and that citizen sends him into the fields to feed the pigs. But pigs were an abomination to the Jews. It's not just that they were physically unclean, they were also spiritually or ceremonially unclean, and he knew that his religion would not allow this vocation. But if you're hungry, the precepts and the teachings of your religion have to be set aside for the greater good of continuing to live. And so the Bible says that he longed to eat the pods that the pigs ate. He was there with them, and he had to compromise his dignity and compromise what he had been taught. But sin always causes us to compromise, and it always brings us down.
It never brings us up. Something else about this younger boy that we discover is that his friends were untrustworthy. He trusted friends who would not be there for him when times became difficult.
As a matter of fact, he had friends as long as he had money, but having squandered his inheritance when the money was gone, his friends were gone, because I read in the text that no one gave to him. Nobody was there for him in the end when he needed his friends that he had made in the far country. Now there were many reasons why this boy might decide to stay in the far country. For example, he could have said to himself, well, I'm not coming back to the father.
Even if I have to starve, I won't go back home. And there would have been good reasons why he could have hardened his heart that way. After all, the question was, could he bear the shame of going back to the father? After all, he had discredited the father's name, because there were folks in the village who talked about the farmer who had two sons, and they spoke about the good boy who stayed home and the hardworking elder brother and then the scoundrel, the rascal, who ran off with his father's wealth and turned it all into cash and then blew it in the far country. And he knew that he had not only hurt his father, but had hurt his father's reputation. And in order for him to go back and to look into his father's eyes and to admit that he came empty handed and all the money was gone, that was tough to do. But there's another reason why he might have found it difficult to go back. And that was his elder brother, that goody two shoes who never did anything wrong, who worked from early morning until late at night. He knew that there was no such thing as being reconciled to his father unless he also became reconciled, at least in some way, to his father's other son.
And so because of that, he might have decided to stay in the far country. And then he could have thought to himself, I know that back on the farm, I can't waste my life. I cannot live a wild life, as the NIV translates it.
I know that there are certain rules at the farm and I don't know whether or not I can live up to those rules. And so I'm not going home, whether I live or whether I starve. It seems to me that there comes a time in the life of everyone who's run through the stop signs. Seems to me that there comes a time when there's a fork in the road, when they have to decide whether or not they'll keep on making one bad decision after another, after another, or whether they will actually come to their senses and turn around. Because there are so many who discover that when their environment gives out, as was true of this boy, when there's a famine in the land, they keep on making the same mistake again and again and again, following the false path until the end and they never turn around. So whatever we may say about this boy in the far country, we read the text of scripture in those wonderful words in verse 17, he came, he came to his senses and he came to his senses because he was hungry. And he knew, however, that it is possible to make a right decision even after a series of bad, destructive ones. There is one right decision that can still be made and that is he can return to his father to be reconciled to him. Now, quite frankly, we wish that his motives would have been a lot better. We wish that his motives would have been more noble. We wish that the text would read that I love the father and I'm missing the father and so because I'm missing him and I know that he loves me, I'm going home.
That's not what we read. He comes home because he's hungry. He comes home because he can't live another day without, with having to sleep out in the field. That's why he comes. But at least he's coming.
Whether it's a right motive or a wrong motive, at least his feet are now leading him in the right direction. It was George McDonald who was a friend of CS Lewis who said that when a child leaves home, he comes home because he's hungry, but he needs his mother more than he does his supper. And certainly this boy needed his father more than he did a full stomach. But at least it's the empty stomach that is bringing him home.
And he comes home to be filled. I believe it was CS Lewis who said that when he was converted, he thought that he was being converted to a place, but then he realized that he's being converted to a person. And it was that that was transforming. And it was because this boy knew that the father loved him, that it was that fact that gave him the permission to come back home. And he makes a speech that he's going to give to his father. Along the way, he rehearses it and it says, first of all, father, I've sinned against heaven and against you. Somewhere along the line, this boy learned some good theology.
All of our sin is always first and foremost against God and only secondarily against others. So he says, father, I've sinned against heaven and I've sinned against you. And then he says, I am no more worthy to be called your son.
Make me as a hired servant. And so with that in his mind and heart, he begins the long trip back to the father. Meanwhile, back home, the father has lost all interest in the business. There are times when the father puts down the tools in his eyes, scan the horizon because he's looking for his wayward child. And he thinks to himself, I wonder if maybe he's run out of resources in the far country. I wonder whether he will ever come home because even though the boy has left the father's farm, the boy has not left the father's heart.
And someone told me one time, and I believe it is true that a father can only be as happy as his saddest child. And so even though the farm seems to be prospering, the father's mind is somewhere else. And one day as he puts down the tools, he looks and he looks in the distance and in the Greek text when it says he saw him when he was yet a great way off.
It's the same word as the far country, which leads us to believe that the father was actually scanning the horizon, looking as far as he possibly could into the far country to see whether or not he might find his boy. He sees a dot in the distance and the dot begins to get closer and closer. And as he, as he sees the boy coming toward him, suddenly he picks out his features and he runs toward him. And the boy has practiced his speech and he says, father, I've sinned against heaven and against you and I'm no more worthy to be called your son, but he can't finish it.
He can't finish the words. Make me as one of your hired servants because suddenly he is smothered with kisses. And the father says, bring Heather the best robe and put it on him and put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet and bring the fatted calf and kill it. For this, my son was dead and is alive and is lost and has found the Pharisees who are listening to the parable that Jesus told were saying, that's stupid. How can a man love a boy with a smell of pigs on him?
How do you live a boy like that? But the father answers by saying, just let me put my arms around him. At this point in the parable, there are two lessons that we should remember for wayward sons. The first lesson is simply this, that the father awaits and longs for the return of all of his wayward sons and daughters. Oftentimes, it is our sin that drives us away from God. And we think, well, God is so mad at us, he doesn't want me back. And we don't understand that by staying away, we're hurting God. We're hurting him because he loves us and he delights in his children and he wants fellowship with us. And all the reluctance is not on his side. None of the reluctance, I should say, is on his side.
All of the reluctance is on our side. We are the ones who think, well, the father doesn't want me back, forgetting that the father does want us back. And if you are here today as a backslidden Christian, I want you to know that if you're out of fellowship with the father, that you're not just hurting yourself. You're also hurting the father who loves you and sent his son to redeem you.
This is from my heart to yours. If you're a wayward son or daughter, would you come back to the father? The father is waiting. The father will forgive you. The father will receive you. The father will bless you.
Come back home. You know, as we think about the Christmas season, we're reminded of the fact that Jesus Christ came in Bethlehem, but we can't stay in Bethlehem. We have to move to the cross, and we have to move to the crown. And there's no piece of music that helps us do that better than Handel's Messiah. I personally believe that the Messiah is going to be sung in heaven. After all, we're going to be singing the song of Moses. Handel's Messiah based on scripture directly from the book of Revelation. We're making this resource available to you. It is the complete Messiah, comes in two disks.
For a gift of any amount, it can be yours. Here's what you do. Go to rtwoffer.com. That's rtwoffer.com. Of course, rtwoffer is all one word.
Or you can call us at 1-888-218-9337. Let me ask you a question. Why is it that music is such a powerful force? Why is it that we can read words but when they are sung, they touch our emotions? Because God made music that way. Christianity is the only religion that has music. Other religions might have chants. Christianity has music. And the highest of choral interpretation, in my opinion, is Handel's Messiah.
Go to your computer, rtwoffer.com, rtwoffer.com, or call us right now at 1-888-218-9337. It's time again for another chance for you to ask Pastor Lutzer a question about the Bible or the Christian life. Today's question, Dr. Lutzer, comes to us from Nancy, who lives in Ohio.
This is her story. Hopeless, helpless is how I, as a child of God, am feeling right now. The devil is using my mind as a playground. My emotions are like a ball being bounced back and forth between belief and unbelief.
And all this is being done with no consent on my part. I was a terrible sinner when I was young, but I have asked God, through the blood of his Son Jesus, to wash my heart clean. Today I am anxiety-ridden, even though I read the Bible and pray.
I believe in the power of God, but I feel helpless against what the enemy of my soul is trying to do to my mind. I have two wonderful daughters, five grandchildren and three great-grandkids. I am 74 years old and need a miracle from God more than I have ever needed one.
I have two grandchildren who struggle with ADD and some speech problems. They have a stepdad who gives them a riff over their heads and food on the table, but they live in the middle of hell. He has no love for my daughter and my grandchildren and shows it daily. Oh, how much I and they need God's help to break this vicious cycle. Well, Nancy, I can't help but listen to your letter without feeling deep sympathy and pain for you. And I'm sure that our listening audience feels the very same way. Imagine now, you have these grandchildren with special challenges, and they have a stepdad who does not love them and shows them hate, apparently.
Couple of comments very quickly. First of all, you have to have a long talk with your daughter because she's really the key in all of this. I hope that she is giving the children a sense of stability and love, even if her husband isn't. So would you pray about that and ask God how you can minister to your daughter and together maybe pray and seek God regarding a solution? Second, it's very important for you to find friends who are willing to pray with you and for you. I really do believe that God is honored when we pray together. There's something about being bound together in Christ as we cry up on behalf of one another's problems and needs.
And God delights to answer those kinds of prayers. Now, one of the questions I have in my mind is, has anyone talked to the stepdad about his attitude and the way in which he treats his stepchildren? You know, men sometimes are very blind to their problems. They're blind to all that is going on because they have their own issues. And evidently he does too. Who knows the kind of pain that he brought into his own life through his family and so forth. Somebody needs to sit down with this man. Invite your pastor to do it. He needs to see that he's hurting these precious children. Finally, it is so important for you to continue on receiving counsel. And I think that you should have someone monitor the family, someone who you respect, someone who loves all of you and you need to trust and you need to believe.
And finally, Nancy, I am getting to the end of my answer. You as a grandmother, you need to show your grandchildren the kind of love and acceptance and wholeness that they so desperately need. I hope that when those children grow up, they'll be able to say, I had a grandmother who really loved us and cared about us.
And in the midst of our pain, she was an island of hope. I pray that God will grant you the strength to do that. Thank you, Nancy, for being willing to share your story. And thank you, Dr. Lutzer, for your answer to her question. If you'd like to hear your question answered, go to our website, rtwoffer.com, and there you can click on Ask Pastor Lutzer. Or call us at 1-888-218-9337. That's 1-888-218-9337.
You can write to us at Running to Win, 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois, 614. When we sin greatly, many of us flee from God. Then we find sin taking us where we really don't want to go. When we get weary enough, some make the crucial choice to return to the Father, no matter what. Next time on Running to Win, the journey home begins. We'll return to Luke 15, where the prodigal son is finally hungry enough to come home to his waiting father. Thanks for listening. For Dr. Erwin Lutzer, this is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
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