Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. 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. Today, the journey home begins. 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, some who are listening might think that their sin is too great and that there is no waiting Father to welcome them. What would you say?
Dave, if I could shout it from the housetops. I would say this, that there is more grace in God's heart than there is sin in your past. The greatest sin that was ever committed was committed actually in the Garden of Eden. And God gave Adam and Eve skin so that they could cover themselves, covered their shame. And it signified the fact that he was a redeeming God.
The serpent could not prevent God from showing mercy. You know, this is the time of year that really brings us together. It's a time in which we get together to sing the carols of Christmas. And of course, I know that there are various tastes in music. But I do have to say that when composers such as Handel and Bach wrote what they did, they believed that the harmony they were creating mirrored the harmony of the Trinity.
That's why I believe that there are probably very few pieces of music that have the beauty, the elegance of Handel's Messiah. That's why we're making it available to you. And by the way, this is the second to last day when we're making it available.
For a gift of any amount, it can be yours. Here's what you do. Go to rtwoffer.com.
That's rtwoffer.com or call us at 1-888-218-9337. Thank God for Jesus, for his coming and for his coming again. 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. But there's a second lesson that we learn and that is that the father abundantly blesses his wayward sons. He abundantly blesses his wayward sons. One commentator I read said that he struggles with this parable because he says the parable does not have the cross.
The parable doesn't say anything about Jesus Christ needing to die before the father can forgive. Well, I think that the cross is implied because when the father says bring hither the best robe, that is the robe of righteousness that is given to those who believe in Jesus. In fact, it seems as if the right robe, the special robe, maybe the father's own robe, but that he's going to give to his wayward boy. And then he says, bring hither the ring, the ring symbolic of power and status and then put shoes on his feet.
No slave was ever allowed to wear shoes, only sandals. The father was saying, you're not going to be a hired servant. You're going to be, you're going to be my son and I'm going to kill for you the fatted calf and, and we're going to have a party.
We're going to have a big party because, because you've come home. Why is it that the father was so anxious to bless his boy? The reason is because the father is after all very generous and the father saw in the boy an opportunity, an opportunity. He found someone who wanted the robe and the ring and the shoes and, and the father loves to give to those who are destitute, those who come back to him with nothing in their hand except failure to present him.
But the father loves them and the father reinstates them and the father blesses them. Now it's at this point that we are introduced to someone else in the family. It's the elder son. He's the boy, you know, who has been working from early in the morning until late at night. He is the one to whom and for whom the farm prospers. He's the kind of person who's dependable.
If he says he's going to do it, he does it. He's working late. He comes home and he hears the party before he even sees the party because the Bible says that as he drew nearer, he heard the sound of music and dancing. And so he calls one of the servants and says, what is going on? And the servant says, well, he says, you know, your younger son has come back and the father has killed the fatted calf. He's throwing a party because, because of your brother. We might expect him to say, oh, that's so wonderful and rush into the house and throw his arms around his, his younger brother and say, welcome back. I've been praying for you.
We'd been missing you. But he doesn't do that because one of the things that we learn about the elder brother is this, though he is busy in the father's work, the elder brother does not share the father's heart. The elder brother does not delight in the salvation of his younger brother. The elder brother is judgmental. He's a Pharisee. He's a bean counter.
And what the elder brother is interested in is so many years of work, so many years of reward. He can't understand this business of God being generous to people who are destitute. He, he doesn't get it. He's the kind who says, how can God possibly bless him?
Look at that. He's divorced. How can God bless him? How can God bless somebody who has spent time in jail?
How can God bless somebody? Look at the home that they're from. Look at how dysfunctional. Look at the, look at the alcoholism. Look at the abuse. Look at the father who ran off with somebody else. And God is going to bless this child.
How can he do it? You see, because even though the elder brother happens to be busy on the father's farm, and even though he is a son, he is actually living like a slave. And so when he meets the father on the back porch, the elder son with all of the resentment that had been stirring in his heart for years, unloads on the old man. And he says to him, lo, these many years have I served you. And I never transgressed any of your commandments.
And yet you never gave me a goat that I could have a party with my friends. But as soon as this thy son has come, who has devoured thy living with prostitutes, you've killed for him the fatted calf. I want you to notice a few things about that speech. First of all, you'll notice that he says the younger son devoured the living with harlots, prostitutes. We're not told that explicitly, but the elder brother knows that that's what he'd be doing if he had the nerve to leave the farm. There's something else about that speech and that is that he distances himself from his younger brother. He says as soon as this thy son is come. Somebody complaining about a church member at Moody Church said to me one time, instead of saying, you know what that dear brother did? He did this and this. He said, you know what one of your members did at Moody Church in your church? Well, he's a brother in Christ.
I guess we all do that. I remember sometimes coming home and my wife would say, you already know what she would say. She'd say, do you know what your oldest daughter did today? But here's a guy who is a son, but he's living like a slave. And how does the father handle this guy? How does the father treat him? Does the father say, well, if you're going to shout at me, I'm going to shout back?
No. And this is a third lesson for wayward signs is that the father, the father helps wayward sons be reconciled to other members of the family because I want you to notice how tenderly, how tenderly he speaks to him. He says in verse 31, my son, the father said, you always are with me and everything that I have is yours. When he uses the expression, my son in Greek, it's Technon. It means really my child. It's a term of endearment because God is even gracious to the judgmental Pharisees who, who are fault finders, who, who don't like it, that God is gracious.
And so the father helps in the reconciliation process. He says, don't you know that everything that I have is yours? You want to party? Oh man, you want to party? You're asking for a goat and the Hills are filled with goats.
Help yourself and throw the biggest party you would want to throw and invite all of your friends because everything that I have is yours. Well, the elder brother had forgotten that the father was generous in the minds of the mind of the older brother. The father was stingy and the father was not sharing the wealth, so to speak. And so as a result of that, the elder brother had become bitter and resentful in the father's work, but out of harmony with the father's heart. So the father says, you are always with me and everything I have is yours, but we had to celebrate and be glad because this, your brother of yours was dead and is alive again.
He was lost and is found. The elder brother did not understand grace. John Piper says, grace is grace because it highlights God's own overflowing resources of kindness.
Grace is eternal because it will take that long to expend inexhaustible stores of goodness on us, totally and completely undeserved grace to those who are destitute and those who need a brand new beginning. And so the father helps the son and what he wants is reconciliation. He's saying to the elder son, come join the party, join the party, join the celebration, get your heart where mine is so that we can rejoice together that the younger son has found his way home from the far country. There is a fourth and final lesson for wayward sons and daughters and that is it is never too late for you to come to your senses.
It's never too late for you to come to your senses. I'm speaking to some today who perhaps are angry. You may be angry with the father. You may be angry at some of the father's sons and daughters and you're saying I'm not going to have anything to do with the church.
Maybe something happened. One of those elder brothers stepped on your toes or judged you and you're saying I'm staying away from the father and I'm staying away from the father's people. I may come to church. I may listen to a message but my heart is somewhere else. Some of you who are in the far country may be wasting your lives on riotous and wild living and you say I can come and I can listen but I can't give God my heart. But it's exactly your heart that God wants today.
Elizabeth Elliot says to give myself up is the last thing I think of doing. It looks like weakness. But in God's eyes it is power.
C.S. Lewis says we are not only merely imperfect creatures who must be improved. We are rebels who must lay down our arms. I'm talking to you today.
I'm talking to believers who are not walking with fellowship for a whole bunch of reasons. I'm asking you. I'm pleading with you. Come back to the father. Give up your bitterness. Give up your grudges.
Give up your reasons. Give up your sins because the father is waiting and the father loves you and no matter how far you have fallen and how many stoplights you have run it's always right to return to the father who loves you. Many years ago I heard a story about a more modern prodigal son. He was a kid brought up in a fine church and in a fine Christian home and therefore he sinned against great light. He also went into the far country to seek his fling.
He indulged in everything that the far country had to offer, drugs, alcoholism, and sex. But one day he came to his senses and he wondered would my parents ever have me back. He knew that he had brothers and sisters in Christian work and that he had disgraced the family because of the way in which he lived.
Everybody talked about the fact that this family was such a wonderful family but just look at what that kid did. But he came to his senses and he wrote a letter to his parents. The letter said in effect mom and dad I I don't know if you'll have me back. I'd like to be reconciled to you.
I'd like to be forgiven. But next Wednesday I am going to take a train ride back into the town and you know that as the train rumbles through the village from the window I can see the backyard. He said if you will have me back take a yellow ribbon and tie it on a branch of the old apple tree. If it's there I'll stop at the station.
If not I'll just go to the next town. When Wednesday came he could scarcely contain himself. He he wondered if the if the ribbon isn't there what that would be like the rejection of his parents.
As the train rumbled through town he pressed his nose against the windows if he were a child and then when he had the nerve to look tears streamed down his face as he saw a yellow ribbon on every branch of the apple tree. And I say to you today that the reluctance of you being in fellowship with the father does not exist with the father because the waiting father has his arms open to the rebellious. He has his arms open to those who are in the far country and he urges them to come back.
The reluctance is all on our part and if we after we have blown it if we want to connect with God then we want to connect with others the first step always is the right one. The first step is to return to the father and his waiting arms. Are you willing today to give up the weapons of a rebel and to say father I'm coming back home.
Let's pray. Our father today we ask for those who are in the far country in their hearts if not in their bodies. We ask for those father whose lives have been one wrong decision after another after another who plunge on.
You've tried to get their attention through circumstances through famine through heartache and through hunger and they've not listened. We ask today father that you will give them the grace to come to the father to come to the father and to say today today I want to be in fellowship with someone who loves me and in coming back to the father to be reconciled to his other children difficult though it may be. Grant that grace we ask in Jesus name. Amen.
Amen. This is Pastor Lutzer. Would you return to the father if you have been running away from him this is your opportunity to say I return I receive forgiveness and I receive grace and what a time of year to do that as we contemplate Christmas. This is one of the last days we are making available to you the Messiah. Now I know that there are different tastes in music I understand that but I have to say that when Handel wrote the Messiah taken directly from the book of Revelation he understood that he was writing about the return of Jesus the glorious return of Jesus.
For a gift of any amount this can be yours. Here's what you do go to rtwoffer.com. What we are making available to you is two CDs Handel's Messiah or if you prefer you can call us at 1-888-218-9337. Perhaps you've never listened to Handel's Messiah you don't have to listen to it all but what about the Hallelujah course what about Worthy is the Lamb.
Go to your computer right now go to rtwoffer.com or you can call right now at 1-888-218-9337. Worshipping Jesus will help bring you back to the father it will put you on your knees in gratitude and thanksgiving. 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 comes to us from Alex who lives in Connecticut. Here's his story. Although I was raised a Roman Catholic I was saved and ended up joining a Baptist church which I later found out was a fundamentalist church. I didn't even understand what that meant at first but eventually found myself walking on eggshells in the midst of the fundamentalists and in some ways worse off than when I was a Catholic. I am studying for the ministry and feel a strong call to it but when I wanted to marry a divorced woman this church objected. They advised me to find another woman.
I have tried to rationalize my engagement because my fiance has strong reasons to believe that when she was still married her former husband was cheating but there is no real proof and she is unwilling to find out. There certainly is no shortage of sin around but Christ died that we might live despite our sins. My fundamentalist church says that an elder or pastor should never have been divorced or married to a divorced woman based on 1 Timothy and Titus. But since I have never been divorced myself and she will be my only wife don't I meet the qualification to be the husband of one wife as the scripture says would I be sinning and therefore an adulterer if I marry her and if I do marry her should I not try to enter the ministry?
Well Alex you have asked many questions. I'd like to begin by saying that there could be worse things than attending a fundamentalistic church as you described it. You know fundamentalism itself is usually a defense of the scripture.
It is usually you find churches that love God's word and preach the gospel but some of them yes it's true become legalistic and that is a danger isn't it? Now in your case however I'd like to suggest that to marry a woman who's been divorced I don't think that that would disqualify you based on what the Bible says in Titus and in Timothy because there it does say that you should only be the husband of one wife but since you have not been previously married you are indeed the husband of one wife whether she was divorced or not. But the more fundamental question is this should you marry her? When you marry her would you commit adultery? Now you say in your letter that she is not willing to investigate her former husband.
That strikes me as a little strange because why wouldn't she be willing to? Has he been married? If he has been married then in my mind that bond would be broken and you would be free to marry her.
Perhaps he is living with someone. It seems to me that it would be worthwhile to investigate that fact. Then you ask the question of whether or not you can enter the ministry. Well it depends of course in what denomination and what church.
There are some denominations that have no rules at all and so they would indeed welcome you no doubt with open arms into the ministry. I cannot answer that question because of the difference of opinions. But getting back to the bottom line I believe that if you marry her and her divorce was not legitimate in God's eyes you may indeed be committing adultery. Now that's tough news but I suggest that you do some investigation regarding her former husband and then based on wise counsel you make your decision. I pray that God will give you both the grace and the strength to choose wisely.
This is a huge decision and it does not have a simple answer. Thank you Dr. Lutzer for that answer. If you'd like to hear your question answered you can go to our website at rtwoffer.com and click on Ask Pastor Lutzer. Or you can call us at 1-888-218-9337. That's 1-888-218-9337.
You can write to us at Running to Win, 1635 N. LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60614. Many people carry a paralyzing burden of guilt for past sins. Beset by a crushing load of self-blame they face each new day with yesterday's emotional baggage. Next time you'll hear God's way out of having to bear guilt for the rest of your life.
Don't miss The Guilt You Can't Wish Away. Thanks for listening. This is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
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