Older Brother Syndrome

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In the famous story of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel’s, there is another story going on that we many times overlook.

The father has welcomed the prodigal home and celebrated his arrival with a party for the whole household. However, there is one who is not so happy about the return: the prodigal’s older brother.

In the midst of partying and rejoicing over the lost son’s return, the father realizes his other child is not at the gathering. Making his way outside, away from the joyful music and delicious food, he finds his oldest son sulking.

“I am here always. I do all I can for you. Never once have you thrown a party on my behalf! Where’s my reward for being the good one?” He says to his dad.

At first glance, it seems like the older brother is a whining, spoiled brat, jealous over his father’s love for his younger son. But if we listen to his words, we find there is something deeper going on his heart. There is an accusation in his words that are deeper than the want for a party. It is the accusation that the father does not love him.

Many times when we see the story of the Prodigal Son, we identify with the lost son. We know we’re sinners and have messed up royally and really don’t deserve grace and mercy. Yet, because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we find ourselves in the Heavenly Father’s embrace. We count our blessings and thank God for them.

But can we also identify with the big brother? How often have we sulked outside the parties of life, because we haven’t received what we think we deserve for being the good one? Why don’t we get the blessings, when we have tried our best to walk the straight and narrow and another person who has messed up their lives just walks in and takes the blessings we think we deserve?

Could it be that we have isolated ourselves? Could it be that we have misjudged the Father’s intention and love for us? I believe that many times we have wrongly accused God of not caring and ignoring us, because we have believed a lie.

We understand that God has saved us by his grace. He had mercy on our souls, Jesus died in our place, so that we could be free to have relationship with God. And we are grateful. But the lie we have believed is that though salvation is free, the rest of our lives is to be about being deserving of that sacrifice. We may not have to earn grace, but we have believed that we have to prove ourselves to keep it.

But what did the father say to the big brother in the story?

“My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate, because your brother was dead and now alive, lost but now found.”

Essentially, dad was telling his son, you already have everything. You already have this powerful relationship with me that you could have accessed at any moment you needed me. You have access not just to my hand, but to my heart as well.

God the Father wants us to experience not just grace that provides entrance into relationship with Him, but also grace that keeps us in relationship with Him. You don’t have to work so hard to prove your love for God, He already has showered you with his love. He already approves of you.

He wants you for his own. He wants you to live with him as a son lives with his father, ask whatever you will and it will be done for you. A son should never fear his father’s voice. Neither should a son ever fear asking his father anything. Even if the answer is no, there is always a reason for it. Father does know best.

Too many times, we are the big brother living in the house, feeling like a servant, rather than the son that grace has made us become. The young brother, on his return, simply wanted to live as a servant in his father’s house, because he knew he had failed so miserably. But the father put a ring on his finger and robe on his back and made him a full member of the family again.

The older brother was a full member of the family, but was so concerned about proving his worth to his father, that he missed the point altogether. He was already a son!

He Chooses Us

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My apologies on the length of time between posts. I am going to “get back on the horse,” so to speak.

Jesus comes out of the water, as John baptizes him, and there is a great voice that speaks from heaven: “This is my beloved son, in whom I’m well pleased.” I have always loved this story and in recent months and years I’ve come back to it over and over again. And today I want to look at it one more time.

Jesus had not done anything of note to this point.

Nothing. No miracles, no feeding the thousands, no walking on water. Nothing. Yet its in this moment at the beginning of his public ministry, God does the introductions himself.

Yet he declares Jesus his son. He owns up to Jesus. He isn’t ashamed of his son. He is proudly declaring his son’s arrival on the scene.

This isn’t because of his goodness or his mission. It isn’t because of what he’s volunteered to do for the human race. It’s because God is validating him, owning Jesus as his son.

And this is what God does for us as well. Jesus is the firstborn of many brethren, according to Paul. Jesus sets the course for those who believe in him. And so as we place our trust and faith in Jesus, we also become the sons and daughters of God.

Before we do anything. We’ve obviously not been good enough. Before we find a mission to go on or accomplish great deeds in his name. We could never live up to what Jesus did.

No, God chooses us. He owns up to us. Because he loves us. He even likes us. And we are his sons and daughters. That’s enough.

Can we rest in that today? Simply come to the realization that we are God’s child. And nothing else? Can we just meditate on that fact and not allow the enemy or religion or other voices to sneak in and pull us off his lap? Can we simply own the fact that God calls us his own?

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son…” 1 John 4:10

“You did not choose me, but I chose you…” John 15:16a

Conclusions and Interpretations

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“The conclusions we draw about God in the midst of our pivotal circumstances drive us toward or away from him.” Andy Stanley, Deep and Wide, pg 138

Reading Andy Stanley’s book, Deep and Wide, and coming across this section reminded me of what we’ve been talking about on this blog.  Andy is talking about how what he calls pivotal circumstance in our lives affect our faith.  Some of these experiences in life are life altering, which can be good or bad.  But either way, how we interpret these experiences determine how we perceive God and if our faith will grow or be devastated.

This returns us to the idea of the spirit of accusation found in the dry land of LoDebar.  When we face circumstances that challenge our faith, we have the choice to listen to the voices of those who make their home here, or will we stand against the words that try to accuse God to us.

The enemy of our souls will look for those experiences in our lives to try to define God to us, and by extension, define us to ourselves.  He will paint God as a tyrant, or uninterested, or even against us.  The question will be what will we do?  Will we allow our circumstances to define who God is, or will we allow Him to speak for Himself?

This is why it is important for us to learn to hear the voice of the Father.  Just as Jesus heard the Father declare him as His beloved son, we need to hear the Father’s voice speaking those words over us.  The king is our friend.  We can trust him.  Even when our circumstances try to lie to us, accuse God to us and accuse us to ourselves, we can believe him.

He has made his love and care for us known.  We must choose to believe the king has our best interest in mind, rather than the lies from the enemy.  Ask him to speak to you his truth, let his word be your anchor in the midst of LoDebar.

“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” Ephesians 1:4-5 NLT

Without Pasture

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LoDebar.

It became the hometown of the hidden prince of Israel named Mephibosheth. Having been crippled when his father fell in battle, his nanny on the run dropping him, he is hidden by well-meaning people trying to preserve the life of this little guy who threatened the new regime taking over the kingdom.

Soon enough, Mephibosheth had forgotten his birth name, which spoke to strength and honor, defeating the enemies of Israel and God, and identified with his new name: breathing shame. Here in this hidden place, he learned what it was to live in a barren land. LoDebar means “without pasture.” In an agricultural/nomadic society, no one would want to pitch their tent in a place where their flocks and crops could not flourish. And yet this is what LoDebar represented: a dry, barren place with no fruitfulness.

It was here he learned not to trust. It was here he learned the accusations that were made against the new king, ones of fear and torment that the new king wanted him dead. It was here he learned to fear.

We all find ourselves in LoDebar at times in our lives. Some people out of despair choose to stay and make a life there. Others of us travel through and hopefully move on quickly to safer lands. But it is a reality of our faithwalk that we will find ourselves in places without pasture at times.

What happens when we’re in a dry place? Jesus found himself there, right after the greatest event of his life. He was in the water with John, his cousin, who had just dunked him under and baptizing him, when God the Father spoke out of heaven and people heard Him say “This is my beloved Son in who I am well pleased.” What an incredible moment! Wouldn’t you love to have a moment where God rends the heavens and speaks out on your behalf? To validate your existence and declare his pleasure over you?

And this is what happened to Jesus. Fully God, but yet fully man, he still needed his Father’s approval and acceptance and endorsement. But it was from this place he found his own LoDebar. Being led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus ends up in the wilderness, or desert, and there he is confronted by his and our enemy. The enemy begins his attack with seven little words: “If you are the Son of God…” These words have weight, they have power. They question Jesus’ very existence and purpose in life, as well as his identity.

The same goes for us. When we find ourselves in those dry, barren places, where there seems to be no refreshing for our soul or recovery from the battle, into that place comes a spirit of accusation. Just like the words that bound up Mephibosheth and threatened Jesus, the voice speaks to us that we are not who we thought we were. The truth of our identity as a child of God comes under attack, as if we were Jesus when we hear the voice say “If God really did love you, then why…”

How we respond in LoDebar makes all the difference of whether or not we will survive here or build a home in this place. Will we choose to accept the accusations of the enemy or will we trust the words we have heard before, those of love and grace and truth? Whose voice will we allow to become loudest in our ears?