There’s a famous story which Jesus told about the prodigal son. But did you know there were actually two prodigal sons? The more well known was the younger brother who strayed from the Father’s house. But there was also the older son who stayed in the Father’s house. Yet he had some profound issues in his life too.
When the younger son humbly returned after his reckless escapades, the Father wanted to throw a party to celebrate the occasion. But the older son strongly objected. After all, what was there to celebrate since his younger sibling had forfeited the responsibilities of sonship in favour of a nomadic existence? On the surface, the elder son’s protestation seems reasonable. But lurking behind the ‘concern’ was a sinister old enemy called… jealousy.
Thing is, when jealousy manifests itself, it’s a sign of a prodigal heart. The older son didn’t care that his younger brother had come home. On the contrary, he sneered at the attention being directed towards his rebellious sibling who had since humbled himself and asked forgiveness from the Father. But none of this mattered to big brother. See, the older son’s lack of grace and absence of compassion is what cold religion is like. It is only interested is in being proven right, not loving people.
The older son was not simply just as much a prodigal as his younger brother. No, he was far more extreme. Sure, the younger boy had been thoughtless and irresponsible in the way he had lived. But at least he ‘came to his senses’ and repented. Not so with the older son. By staying in the Father’s house, he had developed an entitlement mentality – cold, clinical, careless. He was subsequently offended at the grace offered by his father to a little brother who was as good as dead to him. The jealousy was real.
This story serves as a warning. When you find yourself justifying feelings of jealousy and refusing to celebrate the grace of God in others, this is a dangerous place to be. There is no justification whatsoever for us to live like that. We are all at the mercy and grace of a Father in heaven who knows the worst about each of us – yet chooses to forgive us when we come to him. A prodigal heart wanders from the wonder of grace, even when it appears to be near to God.
Jealousy is graceless, thankless and spiteful. It prides itself on being closer to God than others – and detests anyone who might get closer. But grace is not fair – God gives more to those who need it more.
The lesson Jesus wants us to learn from the older prodigal is….deal with jealousy in your heart. Ditch any notion of entitlement and live thankfully every day for God’s grace. This is the vaccine that will protect you against the toxicity of jealousy. It will free you to celebrate and appreciate the grace of God in others. This is a better, more liberating, more fulfilling way to live.
A pastor friend of mine recently succumbed to Covid-19. As a statistic, he’s just one of thousands to have fallen victim to the terrible malaise. But as a human being, his story is far more poignant than that. This man had invested the best years of his life serving God and His people. Like any pastor, he’d dealt with the joys of pastoral ministry as well as the challenges. The latter included times when he’d been on the receiving end of behaviour which was less than honourable. But with good grace and a dash of humour, he kept serving and believing to see the church grow. Sometimes though, the pain inflicted by graceless conduct nearly broke him. His wounds were real. Yet, he never allowed bitterness to contaminate his ministry.
Just two weeks prior to his passing, he’d been working hard behind the scenes to ensure his church was ready for the move online. Like many of us, he had to make numerous video announcements on social media informing his church community of how things would look for the foreseeable future. As usual, he served his heart out and arranged for care & support for the people in his church. But within a fortnight, he was felled by the very virus he sought to protect his church against. The ventilator wasn’t enough to save him.
Today, a church is mourning the loss of their shepherd. There can only be a tiny funeral service because of the lockdown. His family didn’t even get to say a proper goodbye. So sad.
No doubt the tributes will keep pouring in, and rightly so. But it got me thinking….why do we wait until it’s too late before saying what is good? Why not express appreciation now? Why not just believe the best instead of going along with the gripes and whims of the habitually disgruntled? See, when pride & ego are taken out of the equation, it’s amazing how culture shifts from dishonour to honour. If you choose to bathe your words and actions in honour, you will never regret it….ever….both in time and eternity.
The passing of my friend hit home last week…hard. This virus is real. But there’s a malady which is just as potent. It’s called pride. It’s a wrecker of relationships. It’s a destroyer of trust. It’s a divider of people. The enemy thrives on it. But it’s about time we called it out, before it’s too late. Meanwhile, the Bible challenges us to live with the high values of Christ’s Kingdom permeating every aspect of our lives. Romans 12:10 says “Honour one another above yourselves”. Nothing less will do. Humility is the vaccine which disempowers the toxic scourge of self-centredness.
Question is, when all this is over, what will ‘normal’ look like? Will there merely be a return to the old ways? Or will a new normal emerge – where gossip and toxicity are replaced by honour and appreciation?
Me? I’m praying for a new normal to emerge. Gosh, we need it.
Meanwhile, for my friend & colleague, I honour his life. One ‘well done’ from the King makes everything worthwhile. Salute.
Do you like a story? Ok…well I’ve got one. Put the kettle on and pull up a chair!
Before the lockdown and social distancing laws came into force, the Junction Church’s brilliant exec team read the road ahead long ago. We had a good idea we would need to move everything completely online at some point – not because of some profound prophecy, but because we kept an eye on the news. So, we decided to prepare well in advance and pre-record lots of services, so that in the event of a lockdown, we could use these as our online material. This even included Easter services!
A local church in Loughborough kindly invited us to use their building (we don’t currently own our own permanent facility). Over a couple of mid-week days, a small team of people from our church community (including a number of frontline healthcare professionals) set-up our equipment and had loads of fun recording back to back services – with 10 minute breaks in between. It was tiring…but brilliant. Those services reflect the heart and culture of our church – positive, fresh and encouraging.
Then eventually, a total lockdown was announced by the government. This meant church gatherings were not permitted. Lots of churches were thrown into crisis because they’d never contemplated the idea of online church. But at the Junction Church, we felt prepared, if a bit anxious about it all. We totally understood the reasons for the lockdown and support the governments actions in tackling the virus. Moments like this are what leaders are made for, right? Well, that’s what all those leadership books & conferences tell us.
Anyway, then came the beginning of those ‘churchless’ Sundays. Like many pastors, I sat in dread as I hid behind my morning mug of tea, wondering if anyone would watch. But to my delight, the viewing numbers rose to thousands!! Suddenly, we were a mega-church!!! Ok…not quite. But I actually LOVE online church. It’s not as good as physically gathering but, it’s the next best thing. Because we’d read the road ahead, we were able to offer some decent quality services online. The work had already been done.
For me though, some of the most enlightening revelations in this strange season have occurred when I’ve been scrolling through comments during the services. Oh my word!!! Of course, our church family cheer us on from start to finish (as they always do – they’re brilliant)! Even people who are not Christians have written warmly and positively about their online church experience – some even coming to faith! How good is that?!!! But…some of the “Christian” response has been fascinating to observe. Some of those comments have been laden with suspicion and lacking any kind of warmth – with a tangible sense of ‘name & shame’. When aggressive comments like ‘why are you having a LIVE service?’ are written without even a hint of grace or the slightest smidgeon of the benefit of the doubt, it says much about how people can so quickly jump to cheap conclusions without knowing the real story.
In response to the less savoury comments, we always graciously point out that there are clear signs on our Online Church service video’s saying “RECORDED PRE-LOCKDOWN”. But…this does not seem to satisfy some. It’s as if some of God’s children want to assume the worst of God’s other children, believing that a church would flagrantly disregard the law, gather people in a secret location each Sunday and then proceed to have a full on Sunday service which is aired live to thousands of people. Preposterous, hey? But when the pressure is on, a lot gets revealed.
Some of the emails have been interesting too. The unchurched have written kindly & generously, saying how much they’ve enjoyed the services. But some of the ‘Christian’ response has been accusatory and judgmental, written like a verdict being pronounced and guilt being delivered. You can almost see the triumphant smirk and the loud ‘GOTCHA!!!’ bellowing out as yet another pastor has been brought down to size by a morally superior Christian. But for what? When time passes, level heads will look back and shrivel with embarrassment at what they were willing to believe.
So…at the risk of disappointing the disappointed…I can confirm that our services are NOT live. We would never disobey the law. They were pre-recorded before the lockdown – just like the sign says. We do livestream the services because the recordings run smoother this way. Meanwhile, while Online Church is happening on Sunday, you’ll find me in my living room, drinking yet another cup of tea, commenting on the preacher’s dodgy hair-do and personally answering some aggressive lines of questioning from irate Christians such as ‘WHY IS THIS LIVE?????’ (the fact I’m responding while I’m preaching should be a giveaway).
I know these are strange times. We, like every church, are seeking to lovingly pastor people through this desperately challenging season. Behind the scenes, our church has been supporting families, sending out food packages, creating support systems and lots more. Our church family have been truly amazing in all this. What has saddened my heart is the doubt & presumptions of some Christians who have been only too willing to pronounce a ‘guilty’ verdict without being sure of the facts. Oh for a day when God’s people would choose to believe the best of each other and not the worst. The real reason so many churches are in a state of decline is because the default culture is fearful & suspicious – the very opposite of God’s culture. Thing is, nothing will ever grow in a culture of suspicion….apart from fear.
Our world is in turmoil. It doesn’t need more suspicion & distrust. God’s people ought to be leading the way and cheering each other on….believing the best, speaking the best, bringing hope, and demonstrating faith. That’s what’s needed more than ever before. God help us rise to the challenge. The world is watching.
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