Luke 15

Watching what happens when a congregation assembles on Sunday morning for worship is fascinating. I am talking about the things that happen during the actual time dedicated to worship. I am not talking about what happens before or after worship.

The worship period has begun. Everyone who came to the building knows that the worship period is in progress. The majority of the people in the building came to worship. They want to worship and are personally motivated to worship.

Their motives for worshipping are good. Some, with a distinct awareness of their blessings, come to thank and praise God. Some feel weak from their struggles, and they want the comfort and strength of worship. Some want to improve their focus and sense of direction in their lives. They know God is the origin of focus and direction in life. Some seek to confirm their forgiveness as they struggle with guilt. Some are filled with a sense of joy and gratitude in their forgiveness.

While the majority came to worship, others have neither the intention nor the desire to worship. Some came to visit, and they visit while the majority worship. They use the time to laugh and talk and catch up on the news. Some came because they felt they had to come. They have no interest in worshipping, but they feel that it is necessary to be in the building. Some would not dream of being anywhere but the church building, but they regard the worship period to be a loss of time in our stressed schedules. They feel the need to use the time "productively"--maybe make out the grocery list or organize next week. Some feel that their physical presence is essential, but they want to make the time to pass as quickly as possible. They would rather be somewhere else doing something else, but they find it necessary to be in the building.

  1. What causes one person to see great value in actually worshipping God and another person to see no value in actually worshipping God?
    1. What key factor produces that very visible difference?
      1. Some suggest that the key factor is family background.
        1. I do not think that is the key factor.
        2. For years I have witnessed Christians who come from generations of family worshippers who personally have no interest in worship.
      2. Some suggest that the key factor is education.
        1. I do not think that is the key factor.
        2. Some individuals who had the benefits of years of Christian education have no personal interest in worship.
      3. Some think that the key factor is peer influence: if your friends truly worship, you worship.
        1. I do not think that is the key factor.
        2. Some Individuals whose close friends genuinely worship have no personal interest in worship.
    2. Are all three of these factors important?
      1. Absolutely! Family, education, and peers have enormous spiritual influence in our lives.
      2. As important as they are, I do not conclude that they are the key factor.

  2. "David, what do you regard to be the key factor?"
    1. I conclude that the key factor is the person's primary view of God.
      1. The most critical factor in our individual spirituality is our personal view of God.
      2. This is fact: if you want to genuinely change a person, you must change his or her view of God.
        1. If you do not change his or her view of God, any change will be superficial.
        2. To change a person's heart and conscience, you must change his or her view of God.
        3. That is the true beginning point; that is ground zero.
    2. What is your basic view of God?
      1. "My basic view of God is that God is filled with rage and wrath."
        1. "He is angry with all of us."
        2. "He is impossible to please."
      2. "My basic view of God is that He is a God of vengeance."
        1. "We messed up His world."
        2. "We killed His Son."
        3. "We keep on making a mess of things."
        4. "He is just waiting to get even."
      3. "My basic view of God is that He is a God of mercy."
        1. "He loves us so much that it really does not matter what we do."
        2. "His love is unconditional; that means nothing we do can destroy His love; and that means I can live anyway that I want and He still will love me."
        3. "Whatever I do, God will just say, 'Everything is all right!'"
      4. "My basic view of God is that He is a God who wants me to be happy."
        1. "I decide what will make me happy."
        2. "God always says, 'If that makes you happy, go for it!'"
        3. "As long as I am trying to be happy, it is okay with God."
      5. "My basic view of God is that God is a great big hoax."
        1. "You cannot depend on Him."
        2. "He cannot protect you."
        3. "At best this is a rotten world, and He just sits around and lets it get worse."

  3. If any of those are your primary view of God, you have not met my Father.
    1. Again, I call your attention to the prodigal son in Luke 15.
    2. The prodigal son left home, took his inheritance, and left all his father's influence to create his own life.
      1. But it did not work out--his world and his life fell apart.
      2. He was reduced to a starvation existence in a place where no one cared if he lived or died.
      3. He came to himself, realized what he had done, and accepted responsibility.
      4. Then he found true courage, the courage to go home.
      5. He started on a painful course of action.
    3. He could not stop thinking about the last time that he saw Dad.
      1. He could not forget what a bad scene that was.
      2. His attitude was horrible--arrogant, prideful, disrespectful, stubborn, rude.
        1. He took all he could get and acted as if his Dad owed it to him.
        2. He did not even say "thank you" for the inheritance.
      3. He just wanted to get out of that house and forget that his family existed.
      4. So in a huff he walked out and walked off--his Dad's tears just made him mad.
      5. The last time he saw Dad he unquestionably, obviously rejected Dad.
    4. But the man returning home was not the same man who left.
      1. How could he make his father see that he was not the same man?
      2. It had to happen quickly.
      3. He had to show his father the truth; he was a changed person.
      4. But what if Dad was so angry, so disappointed that he would not listen?
      5. What could he do to show him the truth, and show him quickly?
      6. He would do the only thing that he could do: he would confess that he had sinned in God's sight and his father's sight; he would admit he was not worthy to be a son; he would ask to be a slave.

  4. Let me tell you about my Father.
    1. Never a day passed but that the father walked to the road and looked in the distance.
      1. Day after day, month after month, he looked down that road and day after day, month after month he did not see his son.
      2. He did not know if his son was dead or alive.
      3. If his son were dead, he would never see his son again.
      4. If his son were alive, he might never come home.
    2. One day he looked yet again, and in the distance he saw his son.
      1. The figure he saw was ragged and dirty and thin, but he knew it was his son.
      2. And when he saw him, there was no anger, no wrath, no desire for vengeance; there was only the joy that is born of compassion.
      3. He knew his son had suffered; he knew his son had learned; he knew how hard it was for his son to come home.
      4. He knew the humiliation his son felt, and he had no desire to make the moment more painful.
    3. He did not want his son's fears to turn him back, and he did not want his son's failure to cause him to walk on by.
      1. So he ran to met him.
      2. He grabbed him in his arms, and could not stop kissing him on the neck, and held him close.
      3. As his father grabbed him, the son said, "Father I have sinned...I have sinned against God and against you...I am not worthy to be your son."
    4. As the servants saw their master running to this dirty, ragged man, they ran after him.
      1. He said, "Get these rags off my boy and put the best robe him."
      2. "He is my son--put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet."
      3. "Prepare a banquet; it is time to celebrate!"
      4. "My son was dead; now he is alive."
      5. "He was lost; but now he is found."
    5. That's my father.

  5. If you think that the point of this parable is that you can live your life as wastefully and evil as you wish and God does not care, you are very, very mistaken.
    1. The father did not compassionately run to the son and welcome him home because he approved of what the young man had done.
      1. He did not embrace him because what he had done did not matter.
      2. The attitude of the father was not, "Every young man has to run away and do his thing. It is okay as long as he comes back home."
    2. The changes in the son kindled the joy and compassion of the father.
      1. "He had not even talked to his son yet; there was no way that he could have known that the son changed."
      2. Wrong, wrong, wrong!
      3. All you fathers of grown sons should know just how wrong that thought is.
      4. He knew what it took to come home, and he knew only a changed son could do that.
      5. He had a son who rejected love, care, home, and relationship.
        1. Nothing mattered.
        2. Nothing had value.
      6. Now he had a son who desperately wanted and needed what he rejected.
    3. "Well, what is the point of the parable?"
      1. If you will come to yourself, if you will find the courage to redirect your life, if you will accept responsibility for your mistakes, if you will bring your heart to the Father, he will be all over you with his love and strength.
      2. Some think they must impress God with deeds before he will accept them. What can you do to impress the God who created heaven and earth?
      3. Some think they must do the extraordinary to impress God before He will accept them. How can you impress the God who is the origin of life?
      4. There is only one thing you can do to impress the Father.
        1. Come to yourself.
        2. Redirect your life.
        3. Bring God your heart; that is the only thing you have to give God.
        4. Then you will meet the father of the prodigal son.

[Prayer: God, we are so unjust to you. We not only have wronged you. We have also misrepresented you. Open our eyes to see you as you are. Give us the courage to accept Your love. Give us the understanding that will not abuse your grace.]

The prodigal son wants to ask you a question. "Have you met my father?" Is he still looking down the road for you? Or can he see you coming?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 12 December 1999
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