Week 11 – Las Vegas Here I Come!

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    Week 11 – Las Vegas Here I Come!

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    Amazing Love and Forgiveness – Luke 15:11-32

    The Setting:

    Picture a teenage boy who felt like he never measured up to his older brother. Perhaps it seemed that his father never quite understood him or fully loved him.  Maybe he lived under the pressure of feeling like he never measured up or quite “got it right.”  When Jesus told this story it was about people that he welcomed as his friends, people who in the eyes of the Jewish leaders of his day just didn’t measure up to their religious standards and they were criticizing him.  How might Jesus tell the story if he lived in America today?

    The Story:

    Jason wasn’t a really bad son.  He just liked to have fun with his friends.  Well, actually he really did love to party. For years he had worked for his father at the family auto dealership.  He loved cars, so detailing and delivering a variety of new Subarus was an OK job, especially when he got to spend some time behind the wheel of a new WRX.  His older brother, Jimmie, worked in the finance department and was always talking about how someday he would run the company.  That was fine with Jason because he knew that he was destined for bigger and better things than working behind a desk and putting in long hours like his brother did.

    Both boys still lived at home.  Home wasn’t all that bad, good food and lots of it.  The town was too small to Jason’s way of thinking and he looked forward to the day when he had saved enough to move out and be on his own, but money seemed to run right through his fingers and the big move out day kept getting pushed back.  Then he had an idea.

    Jason went to his father and proposed a deal.  He knew that his father had entrusted more and more responsibility at the dealership to Jimmie and that he would never work for his brother.  Would dad be willing to give him the cash value of his half of the dealership – give it to him now?  He told his father that he knew that he could use that money to create more money if he only had a chance.  Unbelievably his father listened and the next week gave him the cash value of the half of the car agency that would eventually be his.

    He could hardly pack fast enough.  With lots of cash in his pocket, Jason bought a one-way ticket to Las Vegas.  His first stop in this wild town landed him a brand new Audi TT that he had his eye on for some time.  Of course, a car like that will help attract friends in this fast-moving city and soon it was party time.  This was the life that was made for him.  He was going to make it big and not skimp on the parties along the way.  All work and no play had been making Jason a dull boy back home.

    But it is amazing how quickly the so-called “friends” were gone after all the money was spent.  Eventually, the car was repossessed and the only job Jason could get was cleaning toilets in the casino where the last of his money disappeared. Home began to look a whole lot better than when he last lived there.  If only his dad would receive him back.  “Yes,” that is the answer he finally decided on and he headed back home to beg for another chance to work for his father, starting over as a lot boy at the dealership.  But what would most dads really feel after a son has been so stubborn, rebellious and wasteful?

    Jason’s dad was told by a friend that he had seen Jason hitchhiking south of town.  He jumped in his car and raced out to meet his long-lost son, not with condemnation, but with kisses and compassion.  How could it be?  Before Jason even finished telling his father how sorry he was, his dad said that an even better job was waiting for him.  His father didn’t even demand that he pay back the money.  In fact, he decided to receive Jason back with a real party, one that overflowed with heartfelt joy at his son’s return.  The only word that seems close to describing that kind of love is “amazing.”  It was given so freely and without consequences that Jimmie who was the stay-at-home “good guy” was totally angry.  He had tried to “do it all right” as he saw it and now the father was favoring Jason who had been so rebellious and wasteful.  Go figure!  How does all this work and what are the lessons Jesus has for us in all this?

    The Debriefing:

    Jesus’ story was directed at the religious leaders who felt they were so much better than other people.  Jesus was not giving anyone an excuse for their sin, but offering a message of God’s grace that He is always wonderfully ready to receive us back when we have made bad choices and are ready to return to him.  We all fail in ways that make us prone to think that Jesus would rather be with people who are “better” than we are.  It sometimes feels that if we were really known for some of the things we think or do when no one is looking, we wouldn’t be loved or fully accepted.

    When my son was a young teen I told him that I would like him to “go do something really stupid.”  Of course, he knew that I didn’t mean for him to get in trouble, but that I was trying to teach him something.  It was my way of saying that before he left our home I wanted every opportunity to show him that he was unconditionally accepted in my love and that I would never turn him away, regardless of anything he did, however foolish it might have been.  He was my son and always would be my son.

    Lessons for Flying Higher:

    So dad, how have you experienced God’s unconditional love and forgiveness?  What are some of the “dumb things” that made you feel you weren’t worthy of His love?

    Son, what kinds of things have made you feel that you didn’t deserve God’s love or your dad’s love?  What convinces you that God loves you for who you are, even when you fail, and not what you do?  Consider the message of these verses:

    Romans 8:1  “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”

    Romans 8:38  “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love.”

    Pray together thanking God for his great love and forgiveness acknowledging that nothing can ever separate you from that love.