Tag Archive: Luke 15


We sat in the upper level section 3 every game that we attended.  The Baltimore Clippers (American Hockey League) were competitive and a constant force striving for the Calder Cup.  This particular year they had a shot at the cup.  I remember a stifling defense, a goalie who did not wear a mask (not mandatory at that time), and just enough offense to win close games.  For a ten-year-old boy it was hockey heaven.  

This particular game was right before the playoffs.  The place was sold out.  We had to sit in section 11 instead of 3.  It didn’t matter.  We were at the game.  Only things didn’t quite go as planned.  Here we were down by 3 with six minutes to go.  The defense was weak that night.  The offense was nonexistent.  

In order to beat the rush we headed for the exit.  This one was over.  Since we sat in different seats, the exit was much farther away.  As we headed for the lower level, the crowd broke into a sustained cheer.  A goal had been scored.  It was now 5 minutes to go and down by 2.  Had the tide turned?

There was a buzz in the crowd.  It could be felt in the hallways.  We decided to cross the stage to catch the #3 bus home.  As we hit the stage, the crowd burst into maddening exuberance.  With 2 minutes and 30 seconds left, we scored to only be down by 1.  Nobody sat in silence.  Everyone who was headed for the exits, including us stopped dead in our tracks.  Not only had the tide turned, the tsunami was overtaking the entire coliseum.  The Clippers were alive and so were their fans.  Enthusiasm reigned.  

I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes.  The entire place was electric.  The Clippers skated circles around the Hershey Bears.  The crowd was plain nuts.  They tied the score within seconds of the faceoff.  Maybe we could win in overtime.  We contemplated returning to our seats.  

No need.  With 35 seconds left on the clock, the Clippers had succeeded in tallying the winning goal.  That’s right! four goals in less than six minutes.  I have never experienced such a scene.  Electric enthusiasm was contagious.  Everybody yelled and screamed and jumped for joy.  The players were grinning from ear to ear.  Once the final horn sounded, the place almost collapsed due to the noise.  At least it seemed like it.  I can verify because I was standing on the stage.  The bad boy was vibrating.  

The electric wave proceeded out onto the streets and onto the waiting buses.  I don’t remember all the details, but as for me, I was a-buzz as I laid my head on the pillow that night.  Something had happened that few will ever see.  What was lost, was won!  

I’ve met a few people over the years who live in constant ecstasy.  There is something about life that they are tuned into that few find.  It doesn’t matter what’s going on; they seem to have that winning grin the Clippers had that night.  My father-in-law was one of those persons.  As my mother would say, “Come hell or high water he would still be dancing all night long.”  Trouble wasn’t a downer.  It was an opportunity.  

Now, 50 years later since I witnessed one of the most amazing comebacks in sports history (at least I think so), I sit in many religious meetings wondering what happened to the enthusiasm.  Stages are not vibrating.  We seem to have to purposely generate any excitement to make it look like we are happy.  Strike up the band.  Shout from the pulpit.  Do something to awaken the masses.  

We have come to believe that Jesus came to this earth.  As the Son of God, he walked with us and didn’t catch the next plane back.  He sacrificially bought us with his own blood as he was beaten and nailed to the cross of shame.  The only righteous one we murdered.  Instead of remaining in the grave, he conquered that as well, rising from the dead the third day and showing himself to a large amount of people.  He ascended into heaven, preparing to return for us, and, in the meantime sent his Holy Spirit to be with us at all times.  

Now I don’t know about you, but that sounds a lot more exciting than a come from behind victory by a minor league hockey team that is now defunct and has been for a long, long time.  So we come on Sunday with drudgery and solemness.  Not only was He who was dead alive, but by his sacrifice we as believers were once lost but now are found!  

Let the stage vibrate from our enthusiastic reply.  In Luke 15 Jesus talks about the celebrations in heaven when we who are lost are found.  So, where is the celebration?  Where is the enthusiasm?  Let’s not make for the exits.  That’s for those who think all is lost.  Our hope is not in our ability to score one for Jesus.  Our hope is in the one who beat death.  As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”  It’s time to celebrate!  Party on! 

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He hung up the phone.  He knew it was trouble.  He knew deep down it would be the last time he spoke with his brother.  No one was going to die; but the relationship, which was on life support, was.  

It had been going on for some time.  It was one of those ,what do they call it, enabling relationships.  It wasn’t so much that they needed each other.  Due to the blood line, they were expected to tolerate each other.  

The older brother was a master manipulator.  He was a juggler.  He did not juggle things.  He juggled people.  Some might say he was a narcissist.  Others might go so far as to label him a psychopath or a sociopath.  It didn’t need to be labeled.  He simply used people for his own benefit.   

The younger brother knew something was wrong.  It started one Christmas.  He got a race track he always wanted.  Making a long story very short, the  older brother ended up ruining it and blaming it on the defeated youngster.  

Part 2 was even worse.  Their sister wore wigs.  That’s what they did back in the 70’s.  One day the wig ended up with a huge hunk cut out of it.  It was clear that a razor was the weapon of choice.  Guess who got blamed and severely punished?  You know it!  Even though the younger brother had a very viable alibi, he couldn’t stand up for himself yet.  During the punishment, the older brother never said a word.  He won!  That his how his life was to be.  The older one never lost. 

A few years later, during a game of one-on-one street hockey in the yard, the relationship issues began to show the ugly side.  In the middle of the game, a friend of the older son rode past.  “I’ll be right back.  Wait for me,” he yelled to his brother.  The younger brother waited.  And he waited.  After what seemed like an hour, he quietly walked off the court.  That day began the descent.  He knew it ,but, as he used to say, “That’s my brother.”

After the younger brother married, the couple were sitting at a table engaging in conversation with the, by now, arrogant juggler.  In mid sentence, a more prominent family member walked in the room.  Without finishing his thought, the juggler dropped the conversation in mid sentence and chased after his next victim.  As the younger brother’s wife looked at him, he shrugged his shoulders and muttered what everybody had been muttering for some 30 years now, “That’s just him.  Don’t worry about it.”  

The stories could go on and on.  Throughout their life the older brother took on the image of the Biblical older brother, especially the one in the Prodigal Son story found in Luke 15.  He knew how to keep those he wanted close and satisfied.  He also knew how to manipulate the others.  

He had a good reputation with those on the outside.  He knew what words to use.  It was like he was a card shark, counting cards and knowing the percentages for his next play.  When God is somehow attached to users and manipulators, it makes the picture very blurry.

I have come to learn that, in many family situations, the idea of the older vs. younger brother situation in Luke 15 is not just a classic parable by Jesus but a picture of actual co-dependent relationships in our families, and without question, in our churches.  

It seems that when love, grace ,and mercy are to be idealized, the abuser (yes, that is what they are) finds fertile soil to toil his manipulative practices. We often forget about the older son in the Prodigal Son parable.  He doesn’t seem like a primary character.  Not only that, but we like to focus on the Father and the wayward younger son due to the incredible love and grace.  It’s easy to forget about what looks like a successful, obedient, faithful son.  

I have looked at that one for years.  My eyes were opened as I sat listening to teaching on this one.  The speaker looked right at me (it seemed like it) when he said, “Few realize the older son did not love his father either.  He only wanted what his father had.”  Ahh, who says the Bible isn’t grand.  They understood modern psychology thousands of years ago.  At the end of the day, those who use people, juggle their relationships to look good, and abuse those closest to them with words and attacks don’t love the person in front of them.  They want what they have.  They want their attention and praise.  

The younger brothers spent years trying to figure out what to do with these enabling, co-dependency relationships in their family and in their church.  I think I know why the younger son asked his dad for his inheritance and took off when he got it.  He wanted to get out of the relationship with the older brother.  When he came home, he did not come home to make amends with the brother.  He came home to the father.  

After so many years, the younger brother has figured out what is the best way to handle this one.  He shut the door to the older brother much like Esau and Jacob.  Jacob came home after many years, but there is no indication the relationship with Esau was renewed.  In fact, Jacob put a distance between him and Esau when peace was established.  It wasn’t that he feared his brother.  He  just knew who he was. 

Maybe some of you reading this article are being used and abused by a family member or church member.  More than likely you have tried to practice love, grace, and mercy.  I have come to figure out that shutting the door to such relationships is love, grace and mercy. 

I can tell it’s time for a vacation.  The articles of the  last few weeks have been hard to write.  Usually, when the mind is not putting things together, it’s time to take a break.  I tell people all the time when I sense they are running on empty, “Even Jesus took a break, and you ain’t Jesus.”  My time away is still ,as of today, 16 days away.  I see light at the end of the tunnel.  In the mean time readers, you may have to put up with my ramblings that may seem to run all over the place.  It’s how my tired mind works.  Or doesn’t.  

I like to listen to Johnny Cash’s music.  His songs are so full of life.  People who have had struggles and I mean serious struggles seem to relate to his songs.  My personal favorite is “A Boy Named Sue.”  I remember the first time I heard that one.  I laughed, and laughed, and laughed.  Johnny came out with that one in 1969.  I was 10 years old.  I thought it was so funny that someone would name his boy, Sue.  

Just the other day my iPod shuffled the classic hit into play mode.  Again, a smile crossed my face as I ventured back to 1969.  Only this time, not only did I enjoy Johnny’s live rendition, I focused on the words of his dad.  He named him Sue because he knew he was not going to be along, and he wanted his boy to grow up tough.  A bit over the top, but the message comes through.  He loved his son enough to give him a girl’s name.  Let’s just say it was a different world in 1969.  

We could argue all day long that if that dad really loved his boy he would hot have wandered away.  I use the word “wander” on purpose.  Jesus describes us as wandering sheep in Luke 15.  Do you know why sheep wander? It’s easy.  They are natural wanderers!  Sometimes I think we forget the basics of Jesus’ teachings.  Jesus had no real issues with our nature.  Our fallen nature should not surprise anyone.  In that amazing chapter written by Dr. Luke, Jesus is addressing the group who thought they had their act together.  He describes us as lost sheep, lost coins, and rebellious kids.  In all of this, Jesus does not issue one single negative comment.  Instead, he talks about his love and grace.  His love to find us and welcome us home.  HIs grace to restore us in relationship with Him.  

I have way too many discussions with fellow “Christians” who want to talk about the reasons we are losing the next generation.  We want to blame technology.  We want to blame the education system.  We want to blame the youth group leaders.  We want to blame just about anything we can get our hands on.  That is, as long as you don’t blame me.  You can blame me, though.  I will admit I’m a natural wanderer.  I get lost at times and, yes, I too can shake my fist at my God and take off on my own path.  Any one of those three will impact my church, my family, and my community.  That is, if I don’t have a sound understanding of the nature of man and the nature of God and how they engage one another.

It is at this point we need to stop our debating and useless blame shifting.  The struggle to give the gospel to the next generation has been an issue since man sinned.  After Adam and Eve came Cain, and he killed his brother.   Noah had an issue with Ham.  David, yes, the great King David, a man after God’s own heart, had serious next generation problems.  In case you don’t know, his one son sexually abused his sister. David’s son Absalom killed the abuser-brother.  Eventually, Absalom rebelled against dad, but, was killed fighting against him.  Don’t forget Solomon, the one son left.  He had serious women issues.  What did David do in all this?  From what we see, not much at all.  

There are plenty of other next generation problems in Scripture as well as the entire history of the church.  It is a common problem.  We waste too much time trying to fix blame.  Fixing blame takes the heat off of those trying to find a solution.  

In the end of the day, each one of us needs to take personal responsibility as we address the next generations.  Instead of judgment, we need to express grace.  Instead of fixing blame on everyone and everything else, we extend mercy by taking responsibility for our failures and sin.  Instead of building walls expecting the next generation to leap tall buildings in a single bound, we express our love by walking with them as the Prodigal Father did in Luke 15 with our arms wide open looking to embrace our natural wanderers.

We as adult individuals either live our lives thinking we are the potter, or we live our lives understanding we are the clay, being honest with our human nature and responding with great love, grace, and mercy.  It’s truly the Jesus way.  

I can hear Johnny Cash now…”I hear the train a coming…”. I hear the vacation train coming around the bend.