I want to talk to you about a pretty specific thing. I grew up, most of my formative years in the Bay Area, right outside of San Francisco and Alameda, and then I came across to Texas. Texas is a different place. Now I love it, but it’s a different place, and I pastor a church in what Christianity Today called the center of the Evangelical world. What that means is that the bulk of people that we minister to have some sort of church, some sort of religious background. And I learned very quickly that there were some pretty massive problems in that, where there was this conforming to patterns of religion, but very little transformation by the Holy Spirit of God.
An Evangelical Nightmare
There were men and women who held tightly to religion, but long since left the gospel, and left any type of active relationship with Jesus Christ. So I began to notice this, and honestly, when I got to college — and I have friends here with me, like some of the guys on staff with me — we lamented. I went to a small Christian college. It was just a nightmare. I survived it, but it was just a nightmare. Maybe your experience has been different. To me, it was just a big nightmare.
Let me give you an example of what I mean by nightmare. Lee Lewis was in a class on marriage, family, and sex, which is kind of theologically how those work. There were eight guys in there, and they began to just talk. These were all men who were going to be preachers. The topic turned to sex, virginity, and marriage. And the other guys in the room all start talking like this: “Well, I wouldn’t marry a woman that’s not a virgin. I mean, I’ve kept myself a virgin. I’m going to the ministry. Why would I marry somebody who wasn’t a virgin? I couldn’t.” This is just a small example of the idiocy that occurs in people’s lives.
And what I mean by that is that we are partakers in the grace of Christ, unmerited. You didn’t do anything to get it. But by the grace of God alone, any sense of moral togetherness that you have is due to his mercy in rescuing you. That’s the gospel, all right? By the cross of Christ. And you’ve got future communicators of the grace of God going, “She’s not a virgin, so I’m not marrying her.” There’s a problem. That’s religion. That’s not the gospel. That’s not our faith. All right?
And it got bigger. I think the example I used at the pastor’s conference was the rose illustration. To this day, I can’t use the illustration without feeling angry. I still feel angry. It’s not that I was really mad back then. I still feel like I need to physically harm someone. All right?
I had to do fine arts. I’m not a fine arts guy. I had to do fine arts. And so, it was pottery or drama. The thought of doing pottery, I just couldn’t stomach it. So I went and did drama. And I’m going to be straight with you, man. There’s some weirdos in the drama department, man. If that’s you, I’m all right. God made you like that. You have a purpose in the kingdom, but you’re a little weird, man. You got to know that, all right? You got to know, “I’m a little weird, man. All right?” Maybe you’re wearing purple pants or whatever. I don’t know. It’s weird. Weird stuff happens.
The Story of a Rose
I was there, and my primary love language before Christ is just sarcasm. Which means, I show love by mocking you. So if I mock you, like I say something derogatory about you, what I’m really saying is, “I love you, man. I have genuine affection for you, moron.” That’s sarcastic.
Art class did stuff like this. It was like 45 minutes of, “Be a tree, to this music.” Bro, I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to be a tree. I don’t know how to do it. So, if you can imagine the environment, there were 25 college students trying to be a tree to music. And my love language is sarcasm. It was just like God wanted to strengthen that gift in me. “I’ve placed you here, son. Go.”
So I’m just kind of going on thinking, “This is ridiculous, but I’ll participate.” But there was a girl there named Kim. She was 26 and already had a baby. She had a baby when she was in high school. She was in an extramarital affair with a guy named Vince, and had no church background. If I was good at sarcasm, she was varsity. I mean, the gift of sarcasm was strong with this one. And so that made me like her even more. I thought, “Wow. She’s just as bitter and jaded as I am. Excellent.” So we hung out, and we made fun of the drama geeks, and that was the nature of our relationship. And then we would get into the gospel, all the time. I mean, we’d always talk about it. We had this great relationship that grew. I’d bring my crew over to her house, we’d cook dinner, we’d play with her daughter, Mackenzie. It was just kind of the nature of our relationship.
Now, I became good friends when we were in high school with a guy named Robbie Seay, and he was part of the Robbie Seay Band, and he was playing in San Angelo. So I was like, “Hey, Kim” — because she would never go to church with me — “my friend is playing at the Steel. Why don’t you come with me to the Steel?” And she said, “Okay.” She loved music. So we hopped in the car and drove to San Angelo, which is a really hideous place. And we got there, and we went in, and I didn’t know when Robbie was playing or what. He really wasn’t doing a concert. He was leading worship for this “True Love Waits” rally. So then I started going, “Well, you probably should have thought through that, Chandler. You probably should’ve been a little bit more wise than that.”
And so the guy, I won’t say his name, but I still want to say his name so badly. But I won’t say his name. He’s a very well-known traveling teacher. He starts out by saying, “Open your Bible,” and then he gets this rose, and he smells it and he talks about how pretty it is, how great it is, and how everybody loves flowers. Even masculine men love flowers. They love the smell, whatever. And then he goes, “Everybody has to smell this. Everybody’s got to feel the texture. This is a perfect rose. This rose cost me $12.” He threw it out and said, “Everybody smell it and pass it around. Smell it.”
Then he started talking about sex. And I swear, to this day, there was really nothing beautiful in what he did. It was all fear mongering. It was all, “Oh, you want syphilis? You don’t want syphilis. Have you ever had a herpe on your lip? You know how bad that thing is? It burns like crazy. You want the rest of your life to have all these things?” You’re just going, “Really? This is what we’re doing?” This is fear mongering. He finishes his sermon, and I don’t think anybody was like, “Oh yeah, I’ll take herpes.” I don’t think anybody thought that. I think everybody agreed, “Herpes are bad. I don’t want syphilis.”
Then he was like, “Okay, where’s my rose? Where’s my rose?” Some little girl came up and gave him the rose, and it really was broken, and most of the petals were gone, and he held it up to the crowd and said, “Who wants the rose now? Who wants it now?” I’ve got a dark past. I really wanted to physically harm him. I wanted to rush the stage, and beat the crap out of him in front of everyone in that room. I wanted to take the mic and go, “Jesus wants the rose. This guy is an idiot.” I didn’t do it. You’re like, “You kicked his butt? That is awesome. Are you serious?” No, I just said I wanted to, all right?
The Problem with Religion
This has been my experience and the Bible Belt, a lot of this kind of nonsense, a lot of things that are contrary to the gospel. It’s something very different. It’s religion. It’s saying, “Look what I’ve been able to do. Look how I’ve been able to walk. Look how much better I am than you.” And this is this kind of driving thought: “I am better today than I was yesterday, so God is pleased.” All right?
I had to get to the bottom of this. I had to figure this out. How does this happen? How do you go from sitting in a church, from hearing the truth, from embracing the gospel, to something else? If you’re converted, you’ve embraced the gospel. If you haven’t embraced the gospel, you’re not converted. All right? So how do you go from understanding the free gift of the grace of Christ to, “Who wants the dirty rose?” or, “I’m not marrying someone who’s already been with someone else.” What’s that transition like? How does it happen?
Well, I think we get a glimpse. I really do. I think we get a glimpse. And then I want to show you God’s heart for the religious, because so far, I’ve only shown you mine. And it’s not pretty.
God’s Heart for the Religious
This is Revelation 2:1–7 in the letters to the churches:
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: “The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary” (Revelation 2:1–3).
So far this is my place. I want to go. I want to join First Baptist Ephesus. I’m in. All right? They know the word. They know it, because they’re able to look at an apostle, hear his teachings, lay it on the word, and say, “No.” They’re able to hear teaching, and distinguish whether or not it is true and right. So they’ve got it, all right? They’re enduring patiently, which means they’re suffering well, right? This is the type of place, on the surface, I want to be a part of. But look at what he says next:
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (Revelation 2:4–7).
There are two things here. Now, do you remember back in Ephesus? We’ll go to Acts here in a minute, and look at Ephesus. But Ephesus is the place Paul shows up and begins to preach. A riot breaks out, the gospel begins to change the socioeconomic climate in Ephesus. So a riot breaks out. You also have the great story of the seven sons of Sceva the Great. Some guys see Paul cast out a demon, and they go, “I want to cast out a demon,” all right? So they go looking for a demon-possessed guy. I’d never recommend that. They find one, weird enough, and they try to cast the demon out. I love the demon’s response: “I know Jesus, and I’ve heard of Paul.” I love that the demon had heard of Paul. And then he goes, “But who are you?” And then the Scripture says that he turned on them and beat the two men naked and bloody. He beat them naked.
If you’ve ever seen a fight, there’s always a debate over who won. Someone might say, “Well, I don’t know. I got a hand on him.” If you came into the fight with pants, and when the fight was over, you were no longer wearing any pants, I think the general consensus is you got drove. I don’t think anybody’s going, “I don’t know, man. I think late in the game he came through.” Where’s his pants, man? Exactly. All right. So that’s Ephesus, a lot of spiritual activity.
Leaving Our First Love
There are two things. One is found in Revelation and the other we’re going to have to go back and find. Here’s what he said: “You lost me. You left me. You left your first love.” So let me tell you how religion happens. When the gospel awakens our hearts to the reality of the cross of Christ, and all that occurs in that, most of us don’t have a framework of right and wrong. We have the framework of affection. So we do this. We fill our lives with the things that stir up our affections for Jesus. We’re just in love, right? That’s the bulk of us.
We think, “When I do this, when I’m a part of this, when I’m around this, my heart is stirred up. My affections are stirred up. I want to worship. I want to be around this.” And on the other side, we think, “When I do this, I feel guilty. I feel ashamed. I don’t want to do it. I want this.” And so what we begin to do is say, “This stirs my affections for Jesus. I’m going to fill my life with the things that stir my affections for Jesus. But this robs my affections of Jesus. I’m going to avoid the things that rob my affections of Jesus.” Very slowly, that gets replaced with something else.
One of the first times I ever sat down with a group of Christians, I was pagan. They were discussing whether or not it was correct for them to go see Terminator 2. They’re going, “Well, should we see that? I mean, we’re Christians. It’s rated R. The only rated R movies we should see are the ones about Jesus, right?” They’re having this conversation like, “Can you listen to this kind of music?” What happens is that now it’s no longer what stirs my affections for Jesus and what robs my affections for Jesus. Now it’s, “I’m going to do what’s right and I’m going to avoid what’s wrong.” Now some of that in the pursuit of holiness is laid out in Scripture by God saying, “Do this, because in this, you’ll tap into how I created things to be. Joy will increase and you’ll be near to me.”
But religion goes beyond that. Religion just starts to build rules. It puts rule after rule after rule after rule. And what ends up happening is that we begin to have this pattern that we’re trying to obey, rather than saying, “What is it that stirs my affection for Jesus Christ? Let me fill my life with it.” So then you get uniformed religion. You get the thought, “This is how everybody should interact with God.” And it doesn’t work that way, does it?
Loving Christ with Our Various Aptitudes
This is probably a swing and a miss here, because most of you are in college. Anybody a morning person? Wow. You guys are liars. No, I’m kidding. And then, how many of you are night people? Some of us function really, really, really well at night. And some of us function really, really, really well in the mornings. And some of us don’t function well with either. We need 14 hours of sleep. People ask, “So are you a night or a morning person?” And you say, “What? Never seen either.”
We’re different in aptitude like that. Also, some of us are cerebral, very cerebral. Some of us are very emotive. I always use Bleecker as an example. Michael Bleecker is our worship leader at The Village. And here’s a difference between us. He will get his guitar, and he will open up to the Book of Psalms. He will open up his Scriptures, and he will read the Scriptures. He will play his guitar. He will cry out to the Lord. In that, his affections are stirred and his mind is stimulated by the word. I know he has written several songs based off of other guys he read. He wrote a beautiful song for our church based on some of J.I. Packer’s articles on the atonement. He’s reading it, he’s grabbing his guitar, and he’s singing songs to God in it. His heart is stirred and his mind is pushed.
I’ll never do it. There will never be a day that I’m just in the middle of Revelation saying, “All right. Ephesus, loss of first love. Yes.” It’s just never going to happen. There will never be a day that I’m writing a song to the Lord, based on something I read. I’m going to read it. I’m going to look for implications in it. I’m going to try to go, “How do I install that in me and in my family.” That’s how I’m wired.
What stirs your affections for Jesus Christ? Because I think you know this. The greatest enemy of your affection, more often than not, is something that’s morally neutral, unless you’re just a super immature believer, and if this is a leadership forum, you probably don’t belong here. They’re morally neutral things that kill most of us. So let me throw out me tracking my life. What stirs my affections for Jesus Christ? Early mornings. They’re cool. Here it’s beyond that. But in Dallas, they’re cool. All right? They’re quiet. And everything in me is level, which means I’m not amped and I’m not exhausted. It’s just level. I love the mornings for that reason.
There’s something about the smell of strong coffee that makes me love Jesus. I don’t know why. I can’t figure it out. I can’t find it in a text. I definitely don’t preach it, as if to say, “Do you want to love the Lord? You get up at 5:00 a.m. and you brew some mean brew — clumpy, mean brew.” I’m not going to preach that. I like emotive music, music that has angst in it. Are you tracking with that? I mean music where it just sounds like you just want to hug the guy, saying, “You okay brother?” It’s emotive music. It can have words. It can not have words. I love stuff like Sigur Rós. I love The Album Leaf. Those types of things for me, if they’re going, just start to make my affection stir up for God.
Graveyards are like that too. My roommate’s dad died. We went to his funeral. It was a full military funeral. He won the Medal of Honor in Vietnam. He got shot up and flew in two more times to pull men out. It was Rich Coddle’s daddy. There was a 21 gun salute. I mean, it was amazing. And then afterwards, I just walked around the cemetery. And you know what I found? A guy my age. He died when he was my age. He was 24 at the time. He died at 24. And I sat down on his grave, over his lifeless (what’s left of his) body. And I sat there and I just wondered about life and death, and whether I get tomorrow, whether my plane crashes tomorrow. Am I faithful today? I get back in touch with my mortality. The graveyard stirs my affection for Jesus Christ. It’s a weird one. I just said that like the graveyard’s not weird.
Really good food is another one, with really good friends. Because it’s heaven. To me, I can’t help but say, “Hey, there’s a day coming that the big one’s here. The new wine will flow, and the Baptists won’t care.” Am I going to get in trouble for that, David? Am I going to get a call? So we do that. I have a group of friends. We go out and we eat really well. We eat slowly. We eat for four hours. We talk about life. It stirs my affection for Jesus.
The Things that Hinder Our Affections
Now, let me get on this side. Let me tell you what rob’s my affections for Jesus Christ. You ready? Sports is one. I can’t follow sports too closely. Television is another. I can’t watch television too much. Sleeping in does as well. Isn’t that weird? I know it’s weird. If I sleep in, I get up, and my mind is not on him. I wake up amped, thinking, “I have to go! I have to get to my meeting, I have to study, I have to get to . . .” I wake up amped, and my mind’s not on him. My heart’s not on him. And what happened? I just didn’t get up.
But I’m not up here going, “Don’t watch TV. It’s the devil box. There’s no way you can love God and watch television.” I don’t believe that. I can’t watch too much of it. I can’t follow sports too closely. I can’t. Why? Because it robs me of affection. What happened in Ephesus is that they lost their first love. They no longer had affection for Christ. Okay? So I think you have to answer those two questions: What stirs your affections for Jesus Christ? What robs of your affections?
Right and wrong matters, yes. But what guides us is, what is it when I’m doing it, when I’m around it, when I’m in it, when I’m with them, it stirs my heart up to want him, to worship him, to love him, to feel gratitude to him? And what is it that when I’m around it robs me of those affections. I’m not aware. I don’t care. I’m not thinking.
Going Back to the First Works
Now, the second thing that happened in Revelation is he said, “You’ve left your first love, and here’s what you need to do: Get back to what you did at first.” So now we’ve got to figure out what they were doing at first. All right? In all of Scripture, we only have in the Book of Acts, one thing that’s happening in Ephesus. So let’s go back to it. Go to Acts 19. I’m going to take a little sip of water here. We’ll pick it up at Acts 19:17. This is right after the sons of Sceva, so this is right after the dude got beat naked:
And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily (Acts 19:17–20).
Here’s what happened. Ephesus is dark. It has the temple of Artemis. It’s a wicked city with pagan rituals. Men and women are coming to know Christ, and they’re coming together in the gatherings and saying, “Here’s what I’ve been guilty of. Here’s what I’ve walked in. I need Christ. I need his grace. I need the cross.” It’s the believers that are doing this. Are you tracking with that? It’s not some random guy off the street who doesn’t know Jesus, coming in and saying, “Here are the things I’m struggling with.” These are believers coming in and saying, “I need the cross of Christ all the more today, as I did when I first heard it. I am instantaneously in this moment known by God, loved by God, and wicked before him. God, help me.”
Maybe Ephesus got pretty, because this is raw. We always do these video testimonies, and there’ve been these guys that are still so raw in their conversion that we can’t even hardly videotape them. We’re just looking for a three-minute shot, and every 10 seconds they’re saying something that’s inappropriate. And we’re like, “Okay, let’s try it again.” They’ll say things like, “I was chasing drugs like a fat kid chases cake.” Wrong. Boop. We’re trying not to offend people, at least not with this. Right, okay, let’s roll it again.” It’s just one of those things. This place is raw. Nobody is playing. Nobody’s pretending. Nobody’s wearing the cape and going, “Let me show you how great I am.”
It’s not happening. It is raw. It is open. It is filled with repentance. Do you see it? They’re saying, “I hate this, I’m not doing this anymore. I’m burning my books.” Could it be that Ephesus got pretty? Could it be that we moved from, “I need him. I have a wicked heart,” to someone asking, “How are you doing?” and us saying, “Fine. How are you?”
Ashamed to Appear Weak
What happens when your affections are no longer being stirred up for Jesus Christ? You’re not filling your life with things that stir your affections, and shunning the things that rob you of affection. You begin to pretend that you don’t still at times struggle, that you don’t still at times have doubt, that sin sometimes creeps up and finds you, that you’re not still weak, that you don’t still have desires that are sinful. It might be when you pretend that those aren’t there, when those aren’t as open as they were.
Because now you’re leaders, right? I mean, you can’t let anybody know that you struggle with that, or that this is an issue, or that this haunts you. You can’t let that be known. You’re leaders. I mean, for goodness sakes, the kingdom would unravel. I mean, what are you, you guys are like 22? Surely you should have the kingdom thing down.
So religion is born just like that. Someone who is saved by grace says, “Who would want the rose?” Well, you are the rose, dummy. They would say, “Well, I’m not marrying someone who hasn’t protected their life in this way, because I protected my life this way.” No, you didn’t. God in his mercy, protected you from yourself. This is how it happens. No affection, no protection, and then you’re fine.
Tax Collectors and Sinners
So what’s our response? Let’s go to Luke 15. It’s probably one of my favorite chapters in all the Bible. I’ve preached it at The Village like 32 times. Literally. I’ll say, “Turn to Luke 15,” and everybody will roll their eyes. Repetition works, though. I’ll just catch you up, because I don’t have a lot of time at all.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him (Luke 15:1).
I love this idea of the tax collectors drawing near. I think the weight of what a tax collector is has been stolen from us by the children’s songs. One says:
Zacchaeus was a wee little man And a wee little man was he He climbed up in a sycamore tree For the Lord he wanted to see
And the song gets goofy. Jesus comes up to the tree and he’s like, “Zacchaeus, you come down. For I’m going to your house today,” right? I’ve never talked with a believer who won’t say this to me. Everybody believes that a tax collector is someone who takes money from people. Rome was like, “Get $20,” and instead of getting $20, they got $25. So everybody hated them, because they took five more bucks than they should have. Well, the problem with that is it’s not true, accurate, or even close. So that’s the problem.
Rome at this time ruled the world, from India to England. They ruled the world. And they are wicked, barbaric, brutal people. We get Roman roads, we get Roman law, we get Roman peace, and we get all those things. But we get that because they sacked nations and crucified hundreds, if not thousands. There are historical incidents of Rome sacking a city and crucifying, nude, 20,000 men, women, and children along the roadside, leading into the main city. So as they came in, all would know, “Don’t mess with Rome.”
If you rule from India to England with no air force, and no ability to press a button and have a missile go 600 miles away and pop some uprising, how do you rule that land mass? With a massive army, made up primarily of conscripts, mercenaries. So here’s my question: How do you fund, if you’re an empire, a massive army? Taxes. Zacchaeus had purchased the right from Rome to raise funds for a mercenary force that had slaughtered thousands upon thousands of his own countrymen. He was a piece of trash. There is no moral equivalent. He deserved to be caught on fire and have something cooked over him. I just threw that in on top, just for a little extra oomph. So it starts to make sense now, right? When Jesus says, “I’m going to hang out with the tax collectors,” people are like, “What are you doing?”
I know of no moral equivalent to this in our country. So you have the tax collection, then you have the sinners, which you know, we have a cultural breakdown here. We’re like, “Yeah, I’m a sinner. You’re a sinner. We’re sinners.” But that’s not how they see it. That was like a class of people. Sinners were people with certain diseases. Sinners were people with certain professions. It was a class of people, right? It was strippers, prostitutes, slave traders, and lepers. These are sinners. So they’re gathering to hear Jesus. But then, so are the scribes and Pharisees, so are the religious people. They’re both there. So you think that what’s going to happen is that Jesus is really going to open his heart to the sinners, and really go after the religious. At least that’s what I want him to do. And he does that in the first two parables. But it’s the third parable that I want to take you to, and it’s probably the most well known, too.
Rejoicing with the Prodigal
Luke 15:11–13 says:
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.”
If you’ve got kind of a historic struggle, and you grow weary of laying it before the Lord and battling, you decide just to run full into it, it’ll always feel like freedom for a little bit. He continues:
And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything (Luke 15:14–16).
To refuse sonship is to accept slavery. It’s just how it works. He continues:
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:17–19).
Anybody who’s ever been busted, and they know they’re busted, on their way home practices the speech. That’s what just happened. All right, let’s keep going:
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate (Luke 15:20–24).
So what’s going on in the tax collector? What’s going on in the sinner, when he’s saying that the prodigal comes home and there’s not the statement, “Do this, do this, do this. Yes, you can be my servant. You can be my slave, but you must work off what you’ve done.” Instead, he says, “Kill the calf. Get the ring. Get the robe.” What’s happening to the tax collector and the sinner?
Appealing to the Pharisee
Now he’s going to the Pharisee. He continues:
Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing (Luke 15:25).
I’ve always loved that one, because they’re blowing this thing up. When you’re a mile out, you’re hearing dancing? I mean, you’re going, “What in the world is going on at Dad’s house? Is that a laser? Is that smoke? What’s happening?” He goes on to say:
And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him (plead with him, begged him to come in) . . .
He is saying, “Come in, don’t do this. Don’t sit outside. Come in, come in here, come in.” See, he doesn’t say, “Oh, moron, older brother. He just doesn’t get it. Let’s just keep celebrating. Let him pout out there like the baby he is.” No, the father stops. He walks outside of the party and he says, “Don’t do this. Come in, come and celebrate. Come and be a part of this.” And then, what’s the older brother’s response? “Well, you never gave me a goat” (Luke 15:29).
You want a goat? You seriously want a goat? That’s what you want. You want a goat? I have slain the fatted calf. I have the best wine. I have a great band. I have joy exploding in there, and you and your buddies want a goat? Did you say boat? Because if you said boat, maybe I would understand. Do you want a yacht? Okay. But you want a goat? That’s what you want?” He says, “Yeah, I want a goat.” So what does the father do? He says, “Listen, you don’t understand. All that I have is yours. This is your party, too. You are of me. Get in here.” And he pleads with him and entreats him and he begs, saying, “Why would you want a goat, when all I have is yours? Why would you want just this little section of it?”
The Glory of Grace and the Goats We Desire
It’s like saying, “Oh, I’m a virgin. Us virgins are more holy.” The father is saying, “Why would you want that? Why would that be what defines you, when I’ve got all of this?” Or someone says, “Well, I don’t drink.” Why would you want that? Why would that be your banner? Or another says, “Well, I behave better than these.” Where’s the glory in that? Do you think that gives you some special standing? The father is saying, “All I have is yours. Get in here. Why would you want the goat?”
And so we engage the religious bigot. We engage the one who says, “Who would want the rose?” We engage the one that says, “Well, I’ll tell you why I’m better, because I do this, I do this, I do this, and I do this.” So much of our faith has become this really ridiculous checklist, particularly on Christian campuses. God knows, if you don’t play the acoustic guitar, you are not saved. Am I right? I mean, I am right. I was there. If you’re not learning some worship song in your dorm room, you do not have a legitimate relationship with Christ.
So we say, “I read ‘My Utmost for His Highest.’ I play the acoustic guitar. I don’t do that. I don’t go to this thing. I don’t do that.” And that’s goats, man. That’s just goats. I’m not telling you not to do those things. I’m telling you, if that’s the standard, what a weak, impotent, sad, powerless, goofy God we have. Because if you and your goats can make him look mighty, there’s something wrong.
We go to a family camp every year, the church does. They have this little petting zoo inside. They have the little fainting goats. A big sign says, “Don’t jack with the goats.” Every man in our church reads that sign and goes, “Oh, they faint if you scare them?” Have you seen these things? You scare the goats, their legs lock, and they fall over. I swear. Google it. There’s great YouTube stuff on this.
They even ask you, on the first day, “Please don’t mess with the goats. Please don’t touch them. If you mess with the goats . . .” Every man hears, “Draw up the competition board grid. I’ve got the stopwatch. Whoever can make the goat faint the fastest wins the trophy at the end of the week.” That’s our people. Welcome to The Village. So I’m watching this, and I’m just wondering if there’s a lion in there if we’re still going to be playing the game. Everybody’s walking up behind the goat, going, “Yah!” They’re trying to make the goat faint. I’m just wondering, if there’s an apex predator in there, if we’re going to try to scare it. No, you’re not.
I have to wonder, how many of us would still play that game if there’s a lion in there? Here’s what I think the problem is. I think that way too many of us are just holding onto goats, saying, “Oh, this is what makes me, this is what marks me as Christian,” and not, “This is the glory of God in the cross of Christ.” We’re not perfect. So we go after them, plead with them, engage them, and teach them the gospel.
Openness, Confession, and Repentance
Can we do something here tonight? Because here’s what I know. I know that probably many here are on the outside of this. I know many of you right now, if you are honest, and I don’t even pretend we’re capable of doing that in religious circles anymore. If you’re honest, you would say tonight, “I don’t know that I have any genuine affection for Jesus Christ. I am just following a checklist of dos and don’ts. I have no zeal for him. My relationship with him is stagnant and cold.” I’m not trying to say that you’re outside of the faith. Ephesus isn’t outside the faith, are they? Christ himself is pleading with them, saying, “Return to your first love. Do those things you did at first. Be honest about where you are. Walk in the things that stir your affections for me.”
Can you answer those two questions? Can you answer what stirs your affections for Jesus Christ? What robs you of those affections? Do you know? Are you walking in those things? Are you honest, man? Come on. What other faith gives you the freedom to glory in Christ by being weak? Are you pretending, has this become some game to you? I know. It happens very easily. You had this moment in youth group, and next thing you know they’re saying, “You’re a leader.” You come off to college and you’re like, “I’m a leader. Where do I lead?” And then you come to something like that, and you’ve got no real progressive sanctification happening. Is this you? You need to repent of that. Maybe you think, “Well, how are people going to see me?” Like you are, which means that you’ve got a chance to grow. But you have no chance if you’re a liar. So maybe we need to repent tonight.
If I could give you an assignment, and I can’t, but I will. I’ll ask, what is it that stirs your affections for Jesus Christ? I know it’s going to involve the word, and I know it’s going to involve prayer. But the other venues? What is it? I know Pastor John writes poetry. I’m just not a poet. I’m not going to write poetry. It would be really corny and bad. So what stirs your affection? Do you know? Do you even know right now? What robs you of affection?
Look at me. Are you right now just living and breathing a lie? Why would you do that? Why would you do that? You’re not fooling God, for sure. Is your standing in this little community worth not growing into the fullness of Christ? Is it worth it to hide your struggle? What a ridiculous exchange. So I’m looking at you. You’re not all that cool. It definitely isn’t worth trading a growing relationship with the living God for. And it’s eventually going to find you out, anyway.
I want to pray for you. And then I’ve asked even on the drive over here, that the Lord would just search your heart, stir your heart, that we might be able to be honest in this place. Maybe one of the things you need to do in worship is to grab the hand of somebody who knows you well and just say, “Listen, part of that’s on me. Part of that is me tonight, man. This is something that’s behind closed doors. This is a part of my life that’s consistent, that’s constant. And I need to be honest. I need help. I need to repent.” Maybe we need to do that tonight. Maybe you just need to spend some good time saying, “Lord, I love you. Show me in better ways how to fill my life with things that stir me up towards you. And what in my life is robbing me?” I think that’d be good work tonight, good progress.
Maybe it’s just one step. God help us, huh? Because I know if we’ve got secrets, we’re like, “Okay, I hear you Lord. But no, I don’t want to.” If we’re in a really dry place, I think it’s just hard to admit that.