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!

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Grace is Not Ashamed of You

ShameHands

Mephibosheth didn’t start out with such a horrible name to pronounce.  In fact, his father had given him a completely different name:  Meribaal.  While that doesn’t seem much better to us modern people with names like John and Sarah, in the ancient world these two names were worlds apart.

Meribaal meant “defeater of Baal,” who was a false god, an idol, worshipped by pagan nations.  His father, Jonathan had believed that his son had a great future before him.  Maybe he would one day sit on Israel’s throne as king, being the royal son of a prince of Israel.  Maybe Jonathan saw him defeating the armies of pagan nations and bringing down the false worship of a false god.  So he named his son with great potential and purpose.

But then Jonathan died in battle, and Meribaal was dropped by his nanny, ankles crushed, never to walk, let alone lead a nation.  Rushed into hiding, he is raised in obscurity by friends far from his home and his original purpose.  A new name is given to him, or maybe taken on by himself, we don’t know:  Mephibosheth.

This name brings a new meaning and with it a new definition of this man:  “breathing shame.”  How sad it is that the defeater of Baal should become one who is now simply breathing shame.

Shame in what we have done or what has been done to us can become a defining factor in our lives.  It can so consume us, if we listen to its lies, to the point we become named by it.  It becomes who we are.

I have met some of those people who will not look you in the eye for fear that you might see their shame.  It’s almost as if they introduce themselves as “Hello, I’m shame.”  And this is what Mephibosheth actually did every time he said or heard his name said.  Shame for what was, but could never be again.  Shame for failure, yet not his but still owned anyway.  Shame that his purpose and destiny now would never be what it was supposed to be.

Shame is a trap of the highest order.  It wraps it’s tendrils around our feet and says you can never be a good person, after what you have done.  It denies us access to the good things of life and God, for fear of other finding out our shameful secrets.  It tells us the God himself is ashamed of us, and keeps us from drawing near to the One who loves us in spite of what has been done to us or what we have done ourselves.

So we give up and allow ourselves to fall into other sin, deeper sin, because if we are already ashamed and separated from love why should we care what other sin we indulge in.  And then more shame arrives and the cycle begins again.

This is why what David did for Mephibosheth was so powerful.  He called him to the throne room, unashamed to have this crippled prince in his presence.  God calls you and I also to his presence.  Dirty, ashamed, worried, fearful, crippled…we are accepted into the King’s presence.

God is not ashamed of you.

Just as the prodigal’s father ran to him, putting his arms around him and kissing his face, probably dirty with the waste of the pigs still on it, God desires you and I to know that no shame can keep him away.  He knows what he has named us and that name cannot be destroyed no matter what mud we fling on it.

Grace is not ashamed of you, He gives you power to change, to heal, to restore, to rediscover who you really are.  But we have to accept his offer to come to him, to come to the throne room and receive his love.  Will you do that today?  Will you take all your shame and your fear and walk into the throne room with it and present yourself to the King?