She is Home

  
Over 4 years ago, just a couple weeks before I would propose to my wife, I lost one of the dearest people in my life. I had never known life without my Grammy, and for the first week or so after she passed away, it all just felt surreal, like it couldn’t actually be true. She is gone from my life now, but never forgotten. Recent events brought back some vivid memories of my time with her during her last few months with us. I dug out the copy of what I had written for her memorial service, and after re-reading it, I felt that it should be shared with others. I know I’m definitely not the only one who has experienced this feeling of loss and felt the conflict of pain and hope. Maybe these words can help be a reminder to others of what beauty awaits us in the sorrow of death.

Words from Grammy’s Memorial Service

Earlier this year Grammy and I discussed the very concept and message of what I’d like to share with you today and, given these present circumstances, I find it appropriate. I ask you all to think with me about a familiar story, found in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. This parable’s plot and dramatic personae are very simple. There was a father who had two sons. The younger asked for his share of the inheritance, received it, and promptly left for a far country, where he squandered it all on sensual and frivolous pleasure. He returned home penitently and, to his surprise, was received with open arms by his father. This reception alienated and angered the elder brother greatly. The story closes with the father appealing to his eldest son to join in the welcome and forgiveness of his younger brother.

I’m sure many of you have heard this story referred to as the Prodigal Son. However, even Jesus doesn’t call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but begins the story saying, “a man had two sons.” The narrative is as much about the elder brother as the younger, and as much about the father as the sons, if not more so. This parable might be better called the Two Lost Sons, or The Prodigal Father. The word “prodigal” does not mean “wayward” but, according to Webster’s Dictionary, “recklessly spendthrift.” It means to spend until you have nothing left. This term actually better describes the behavior of the father. The father’s welcome to the repentant son was literally reckless, because he refused to “reckon” or count his sin against him or demand repayment. In this story the father represents the Heavenly Father Jesus knew so well.

Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal toward us, His children. God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience, and the framework for the metanarrative in which every Christian finds themselves.

It is important to read Jesus’ parable of the lost son in the context of the whole of Luke, chapter 15, but the story has an even larger context. If we read the narrative in light of the Bible’s sweeping theme of exile and homecoming we will understand that Jesus has given us more than a moving account of individual redemption. He has retold the story of the whole human race, and promised nothing less than hope for the world.

In Jesus’ parable the younger brother goes off into a distant country expecting a better life but is disappointed. He begins to long for home, remembering the food in his father’s house. So do we all. “Home” exercises a powerful influence over human life. Foreign-born Americans spend billions annually to visit the communities in which they were born. Children who never find a place where they feel they belong carry an incapacity for attachment into their adult lives. Many of us have fond memories of times, people, and places where we felt we were truly home. However, if we ever have the opportunity to get back to the places we remember so fondly, we are often times disappointed.

Home, then, is a powerful but elusive concept. The strong feelings that surround it reveal some deep longing within us for a place that absolutely fits and suits us, where we can be, or perhaps find, our true selves. Yet it seems that no real place, or actual friends and family ever truly satisfies these yearnings, though many situations arouse them. The memory of home seems to be powerfully evoked by certain sights, sounds, and even smells. But they can only arouse a desire they can’t fulfill. There is a German word that gets at this concept – the word Sehnsucht. Dictionaries will tell you that there is no simple English synonym. It denotes profound homesickness or longing, but with transcendent overtones. The writer who spoke most about this “spiritual homesickness” was C.S. Lewis. He described Sehnsucht as the “inconsolable longing” in the human heart for “we know not what.”

If you accept this, there seems to be a sense, then, in which we are all like the younger brother. We are all exiles, always longing for home. We are always traveling, never arriving. The houses and families we actually inhabit are only inns along the way, but they aren’t home. Home continues to evade us. Why would “home” be so powerful and yet so elusive for us? The answer can be found as we examine one of the most persistent themes of the Bible. The experience we have been describing is the trace in our souls of this larger story.

In the beginning of the book of Genesis we learn the reason why all people feel like exiles, like we aren’t really home. We are told there that we were created to live in the garden of God. That was the world we were built for, a place in which there was no parting from love, no decay, no disease, no death. It was all these things because it was life before the face of God, in His presence. There we were to adore and serve His infinite majesty, and to know, enjoy, and reflect His infinite beauty. That was our original home, the true country we were made for. However, Scripture teaches that, as in Jesus’ parable, God was the “father” of that home and we chafed under His authority. We wanted to live without God’s interference, and so we turned away, and became alienated from Him, and lost our home for the same reason the younger brother lost his. The result was exile.

The Bible says that we have been wandering as spiritual exiles ever since. That is, we have been living in a world that no longer fits our deepest longings and desires. Though we long for bodies that run and do not grow weary, we have become subject to disease, aging, and death. Though we need love that lasts, all our relationships are subject to the inevitable entropy of time, and they crumble in our hands. Even people who stay true to us die and leave us, or we die and leave them. Though we long to make a difference in the world through our work, we experience endless frustration. We never fully realize our hopes and dreams. We may work hard to re-create the home that we have lost, but, says the Bible, it only exists in the presence of the Heavenly Father from which we have fled. This then is played out again and again in the Scriptures.

It is no coincidence that story after story we hear contains the pattern of exile. The message of the Bible is that the human race is a band of exiles trying to come home. The parable of the prodigal sons is about every one of us. According to the Bible, we live in a natural world that is now fallen. We were not made for a world of disease and natural disaster, a world in which everything decays and dies, including ourselves. This world, as it now exists, is not the home we long for. A real, final homecoming would mean a radical change not only in human nature but the very fabric of the material world. We see this radical change ignite when Jesus appears in history and declares that He is bringing in “the kingdom of God.” Finally, at the end of His life, He was crucified outside the gate of the city, a powerful symbol of rejection by the community, of exile. And as He died he said, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” a tremendous cry of spiritual abandonment and homelessness. But what exactly does this mean?

Jesus had not come to simply deliver one nation from political oppression, but to save all of us from sin, evil, and death itself. Jesus hates suffering, injustice, evil, and death so much, He came and experienced it to defeat it and, someday, to wipe the world completely clean of it. He came to bring the human race Home. He came and experienced the exile that we deserved. He was expelled from the presence of the Father, He was thrust into the darkness, the uttermost despair of spiritual alienation – in our place. He took upon Himself the full curse of human rebellion, cosmic homelessness, so that we could be welcomed into our true home. Because Jesus paid the penalty for our sin with His death, He has achieved victory over the forces of disorder, decay, and death that keep this world from being our true home.

Jesus, unlike the founder of any other major faith, holds out hope for ordinary human life. Our future is not an ethereal, impersonal form of consciousness. We will not float through the air playing harps, but rather we will eat, drink, embrace, sing, laugh, and dance in the kingdom of God, in degrees of power, glory, and joy that we can’t at present imagine. Jesus will make the world in which we reside our perfect home again. We will come, and the Father will meet us like the younger son and embrace us, and we will be brought into the feast. Grammy is at our Father’s table now eating, drinking, laughing. She is sitting amongst brothers and sisters there, with her Savior, with her Lord. She is Home.

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Friendship

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“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival… In friendship, we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another… the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting – any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another, but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” – C.S. Lewis

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Authentic Community: Bearing Life With One Another

Audio Sermon Link

Everyone says they want community and friendship. But simply mention accountability or commitment to people, and they run the other way. So, why should we honestly believe and strive to live like authentic Biblical community really is worth the mess and pain?

The Passage

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” – Galatians 6:1-10 (ESV)

Quote to Consider

“A true understanding and humble estimate of oneself is the highest and most valuable of all lessons. To take no account of oneself, but always think well and highly of others is the highest wisdom and perfection. . . . Should you see another person openly doing evil, or carrying out a wicked purpose, do not on that account consider yourself better than him, for you cannot tell how long you will remain in a state of grace. We are all frail; consider none more frail than yourself.” – Thomas á Kempis

Acknowledging Sin & Seeking Reconciliation

When we become aware of someone else’s sin, conceited inferiority would cause us either to envy the life they are leading, however sinful; or to crave their approval so much that we won’t risk pointing out their failure to live in line with the gospel.

The ultimate goal is restoration. Why do we engage brothers and sisters who are drowning? Why do we engage those who are being overcome by sin? Why do we engage those who are hurting and losing their fight against iniquity? In order to restore; we work, not as detectives, but as friends and coheirs of Christ.

“For love is exultant when it unites equals, but it is triumphant when it makes that which was unequal equal in love.” -Søren Kierkegaard

Further… We should strive to be considerate and empathetic when giving advice. Don’t belittle your friend’s challenges by comparing them to yours. Your race might be a full 26.2 mile marathon, and your friend’s may only be a 5k, but telling them that you’re running a marathon doesn’t exactly make their 5k any easier. The heart of the Christian faith isn’t someone telling others how to eat, it is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.

Abscessed tooth: picture and story.

Abscessed tooth: picture and story.

“Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Authentic Community

We live in a strange time in which it seems the majority of people in our culture say they want community and they desire authentic community, but then they aren’t willing to kneel down and get their hands dirty in a sense. We all seem to understand that community and relationship are important and needed for a healthy life, but at the same time we aren’t quickly willing to make the sacrifices that enable community to happen.

Or on the other hand, we build a sense of community with only friends of roughly the same age, same interests, same ethnicity, same demographic as us so that we are more comfortable and less prone to experience any conflict.

We all constantly forget that sin will take us further than we wanted to go, keep us longer than we wanted to stay, and cost us more than we ever wanted to pay. Everyone wants judgment when it’s not their own foolishness being revealed; but praise Christ for grace in foolish moments and mercy for consistent failures.

“We are far worse than we ever dared to imagine, yet in Christ, we are far more loved than we ever dreamed we could be.”

Takeaway Questions

Is there a habitual sin you need to gently restore a brother or sister from? Are you willing to listen to others who seek to restore you?

What opportunities is God giving you to carry another’s burdens?

How are you sowing and reaping to please the Spirit in your specific set of God-given life circumstances?

Love rebuke, don’t rebuke love.

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“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us, but it keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information, but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. . . . To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” – Tim Keller

“It takes two to speak truth – one to speak, and another to hear.” – Henry David Thoreau

True love in friendships, romantic relationships, and family relationships will inevitably lead to rebuke at times. And while it should be done gently, humbly, and kindly… it unfortunately doesn’t always come off that way. So when you feel attacked, when you feel blind-sided by accusations that you are less than perfect, does that excuse any and all behavior that may have caused someone to voice concern to simply be null and void, because they failed to communicate their concerns in a way that was perceived as loving and genuine? Do we disregard any concern our friends would have with us if they fail to approach us in the perfect way? Are we to deflect all responsibility if the other family member behaved less than perfect towards us in the past? What if they’re currently acting foolish, yet have the gall to proclaim that you have done something wrong?

Please, don’t tune me out yet.

Do you ever have difficulties in your relationships? Does your significant other, or those close to you do stuff at times that upsets or frustrates you? Do you ever find your expectations less than met, more like almost completely shattered. I’d be willing to bet money everyone has dealt with this at some point. Are you aware and willing to admit that you also have sin in your heart and your flesh desires things above God at times… that in conflicts with your spouse or significant other, when you’re arguing with a friend, neither of you are perfect, or even close to it… and yeah, this tension really sucks sometimes. Dating, courting, and engagement are especially tough at times. Because in that dynamic, you often get most of the problems of marriage, but without all the benefits…

Marriage is difficult too, but at least you’re already in the game, and fully committed at that point, so you might as well play it to win it. And that’s fun. Really hard at times, but a lot of fun. Because you’re a team working towards deeper sanctification in Christ here in this life. You guys aren’t against one another or trying to simply co-exist in the happiest manner. You’re partners in battle, fighting alongside one another in a war. The war has already been won, but there is still a lot of mess to work through, until the day Christ cracks open the skies to let the whole world know He really is who He said He was.

However, even though redemption has already been purchased by Christ, for the time being, you ought to be heart-broken over the sin in each other’s life, not because you get your feelings hurt, you selfishly want each other just to act better, be more attentive to your needs, or just be less embarrassing in public, but rather, you want each other to experience more of Christ in this life. To know Jesus more, to be the person God has created you to be and is working in you to accomplish His will. Your “fights and arguments” shouldn’t be over petty things or personality quirks. The issue at hand is sin. Sin should grieve us and cause us to seek help and repentance in desperation.

False conviction is a reflex reaction caused by self-disgust, a sorrow over the consequences of sin. True conviction is an abiding sorrow over the offence against God, and while not the natural response, it does demonstrate that God has begun a good work that He will complete. True conviction is followed by true repentance. False conviction is followed by counterfeit repentance that only sees and fears the consequences of sin and the pain it causes others. Often this leads to a temporary change in behavior, but without a heart change.

John Owen addressed this when he wrote, “Christians must take severe measures in killing [their] sin. This is the real danger: “Every unclean thought would be adultery if it could… Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…” (Colossians 3:1-17)

When we perceive sin in a brother and/or sister’s life that we believe will cause them (and potentially others) great harm over the course of their life, we are to lovingly approach them in humility. All the while, acknowledging we have our own blind spots and our own struggles with sin, but we are for each other’s good, we are for each other’s growth and development in our walks with Jesus. Others’ sin does not negate your sin. Because we struggle doesn’t mean it’s ok for you to struggle and not ever work through grace-enabled efforts to repent. We should all be seeking reconciliation together, because it’s ok to not be ok, but it’s not ok to stay there.

Becky Pippert put it this way: “Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it… Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference… E. H. Gifford once said, “Human love here offers a true analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor” … So, if I, a flawed, narcissistic, sinful woman, can feel this much pain and anger over someone’s condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them? God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but His settled opposition to the cancer of sin which is eating out the insides of the human race He loves with His whole being.” God paid the ultimate cost Himself to love us; He passionately loves us, and simultaneously He ferociously hates sin and the sin within us.”

Little sins left unchecked over time grow, and sin begets sin. Ever wake up one day and ask yourself, how did I get here? You better believe that I’ve found myself there… lying in bed full of regret and wondering how the heck I had wandered off so far from where I really wanted to be. We all constantly forget that sin will take us further than we wanted to go, keep us longer than we wanted to stay, and cost us more than we ever wanted to pay.

We need to understand and remember that the cross isn’t a recovery program, the place to improve on what good is already there. It is a place to die. It is not a question of giving up certain sins, but of giving up one’s illusion to rights!

None of us who claim to follow Christ can remain neutral in each other’s fight with sin. We are either for our brother and sister, hurting alongside them, and going to war with them, out of love for them, because Christ first loved and rescued us. Or we lie, deceive ourselves, the Truth is not in us, and we let our brothers and sisters drown while we idly sit by and watch with hateful indifference. Please try to listen to the concerns of others with an eager heart for repentance and deep hunger for the chance of tasting more of God’s love for you. We are all far from perfect, but in Christ, our hearts, our love, our intentions, are for each other. So in the end, when pursuing reconciliation through Christ, we are truly for each other’s good, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Recommended passages of Scripture to consult for further consideration of this topic:

Leviticus 26:14-46
Deuteronomy 8:5-6
2nd Samuel 7:14-15
Job 5:12-19
Psalm 6
Psalm 38
Psalm 39:11
Psalm 94:10-15
Psalm 119
Psalm 141
Proverbs 3:11-12
Proverbs 5:1-23
Proverbs 6:20-23
Proverbs 12:1
Proverbs 13:1; 24
Proverbs 17:10
Proverbs 19:18
Proverbs 22:15
Proverbs 23:13
Proverbs 27:5-6
Proverbs 28:23
Proverbs 29:17; 19-20
Ecclesiastes 7:5
Matthew 16:14-15
Luke 17:1-4
Luke 23:39-43
1st Corinthians 5:1-13
1st Corinthians 11:32
Ephesians 6:4
1st Timothy 1:18-20
1st Timothy 5:1-2; 19-25
2nd Timothy 4:1-5
Titus 1:9-16
Titus 2:11-15
Hebrews 12:1-15
2nd Peter 2:1-22
Revelation 3:19