Home Is Where….


There once was a wealthy man who owned the best farmland in the country. His hired hands were well-trained and the farm prospered. But the real love of his life, even more than the farm, were his two beautiful boys, who for the record, couldn’t be any more different!

The oldest boy was the kind of son every father dreams of, disciplined, hard-working, and rarely questioning what he was asked to do. The younger boy, however, was of the free-spirited kind, always asking questions, and he would rather play than work anyday! While the older boy carefully learned the tools of the trade preparing himself for the day he would be a landowner himself, the younger carefree son couldn’t wait to get out and discover the real world!

Some weeks after his 20th birthday bash the youngest son said to his father, “Dad may I have a minute with you?” And for the longest minute he spoke frankly of his boredom on the farm and how he dreamed to discover the world out there. “Father,” he said, “I hear the world calling for me, I have to go and discover my place in it! And I know it pains you for me to ask you this, but the only way forward for me is to get my portion of the inheritance right now.” The father was silent for a moment, although he knew deep down that this day was coming, it still took him aback to hear his son’s request. “You are free to go,” he finally exhaled and sadly watched as his playful and curious son walked out of their lives.

The young man rented a large upscale apartment in a bustling city. He was fascinated by all the sights, the lights and his newfound freedom. He could now go to bed whenever he wanted and wake up and not worry about chores. His carefree spirit, good looks and seemingly endless wealth attracted a lot of attention. He soon became the toast of the town, but not always for the right reasons. His apartment unexpectedly became ‘the place’ for the best parties. The pretty girls couldn’t be more plenty. The drugs always found a way into the parties and enhanced his feelings of happiness. “This is the good life,” he thought. But little did he know he was being played as much as he loved to play. The girls had their way with him and his wallet. His new friends knew how to pry one more joint, pop one more pill, stay for one more drink, order another pizza, and, of course, party all weekend. It took its toll on him and his bank account. The bills for repairs and the endless parties for his so-called friends kept adding up. The day came, of course, when it was all gone, every cent of his inheritance.

The owner of the apartment had no choice but throw him on the street. He was homeless. The timing couldn’t be worse, a deep recession hit the land and the only job available was one he loathed to do, raising someone else’s pigs. The pay was so poor that he could hardly afford food. Sometimes he would even try eating the pig food to save a few coins. After weeks of this he came to his senses. He said to himself, “I’ve screwed up bigtime. This is not how it was supposed to turn out! How could I have been so stupid!” His thoughts went back home and to his father’s eyes. How sad they were the day he left home. “I could be such an idiot and he’d still love me,” he faintly smiled to himself. He thought of the time he crashed the truck and how his father would still let him drive the car around! “Man, he was the best dad a boy could have,” he knew it. “I wish I could go back, but how can I now? I’ve embarrassed the family name. But I’ll die of starvation here, maybe if I went back and asked him for a job. At least I know his employees have good food to eat and comfortable sleeping quarters. It’s a million times better than this squalor I’m living in now. I’ve got to go find my way back home even if I have to walk all the way back.”

And so he left on foot for home, all the while practicing what he would say to his father, “Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and I’ve sinned against you and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But could you find it in your heart to let me live with the servants and I’ll work hard for you until I pay every cent back. I’ll get back on my feet.” He kept on repeating it, “I’m no longer worthy, no longer worthy, no longer worthy…” And the tears fell to the ground.

But while he was still a long way off his father saw his silhouette. He knew right away that it was his younger son. His heart raced as he leapt to his feet and ran and ran through the fields towards his son. When he came upon him he threw out his arms and embraced him and kissed him over and over. The son was so overwhelmed he had been expecting the worse, he expected his father to say, “Why are you even here?” “Dad, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you.” But he couldn’t finish his speech, he just crumpled into his father’s embrace crying, “I’m not worthy. I’m not worthy.”

The father called out for his servants explaining his boy had finally returned. “Quick”, he said, “Go get him a clean robe, some shoes, and the family ring. And oh, lets not forget the celebration, tonight, yes, invite everyone you can, prepare the best food, and don’t forget to kill the fattened calf! At long last my son is home!!!!!

That evening the guests arrived and while the feast was being served and the music played. the older brother had just come back from a long day in the fields. When he heard the music from afar he wondered what he had missed. When one of the servants told him it was his younger brother come home, he refused to go in. “Get me my father,” he barked, “ I need to talk to him, NOW!”

And when the father came out to greet him he saw how angry his oldest son was and asked him why he was so upset. “How could you do it, Dad? How could you let yourself be duped by this rotten so-called-son of yours, not just once, but twice! He’s a freaking dishonour to the family name! I can’t believe you are actually feasting and celebrating in his honour!” There was a long pause as the father looked him in the eyes, but the older son turned from his regard. And then the son let it all out, “I’ve been slaving for you all these years. I’ve done everything you asked me to, and more! You never had to worry a single minute about my whereabouts. And did you ever throw a party for me? Not even once, Dad! What’s wrong with that picture!”

The father put his hands on his son’s shoulders and looked directly at his angry boy, “Look at me son. We are all in this together. Everything I have is yours. Everything, yours! That will never change. But this my son, your little brother, was lost. We thought he was gone forever, but now, thank God, he’s back. Can’t you see, he was as good as dead to us, but he’s alive and at home at last! Come on in, please,” and nodding his head yes the father added, “And he’s excited to see you, too. Let’s welcome him back home together.” With this the father gently kissed him, but the older boy just stood there shaking his head, staring off into the distance.

*This is the famous story that has been called the prodigal son that Jesus told. I’ve paraphrased it to make it sound more 2019 ish. I’ve given it a title, but if you could suggest a better title for it, I’d like for you comment. I’ll ‘subjectively’ pick what I think is the best one. Thank you.

Performance.


Medals-with-red-ribbon-on-white-backgroundI think many of us males get lost in our need for significance and success. We measure our lives against the expectations of culture and our closest peer group. In doing so we forget the crucial identity piece: Who are we? My closest peer group has been leaders in Pentecostal circles. Our conversations so often centered around what we did and how well we did it. I’ve  most of my working life the pressure to perform well and be successful. The compulsion to impress any given audience was my only way to show how worthy I was of support. It came to a head while being a missionary in Thailand. I left for Thailand under a central funding model, but  years later it was transitioned to a shared funding model where every missionary was responsible to find his own support, every penny! That’s when I did myself an injustice and began to worry too much about my performance. That’s when competition crept in too.

The Bible says the love of money is the root of all evil. Which is true. But so is the fear of not having enough, it can have detrimental effects on your life. I remember a seasoned Dollarsveteran teaching me how to raise money.  Since my wife at the time didn’t get a salary, but was very involved in what I did, he told me to tell congregations, “See, here you get two missionaries for the price of one!” And I would follow-up that statement with: “There’s no better deal than that, right?” Not only that, I would add that I was no newbie, and had sacrificed a lot to learn languages, cultures, and live in extreme weather! That’s how I presented. I actually don’t know if my new kind of talk helped or hindered the raising of funds. I think now it sounded ‘entitled.’ But in the moment I tried to impress.  I became reduced to how one dictionary described performance:  “the continual performance of a single task reduces a man to the level of a machine.” I felt machine-like wherever I went to ask, ask and ask again for support.

Now performance in itself is not evil and we all should do our very best with the hand God has given to us. However I had to come to my own conclusion as a ‘preacher’ and spiritual catalyst of sorts that I am not my performance on Sunday (or any other day when I am in front of some group speaking for that matter.) If you are a spiritual leader reading this, I encourage you to get this right; you and I are not ‘the great holy man of God’ that some want to label us with. We are not Moses, Billy G, or John Maxwell! And most of us are glad that we aren’t Bill Hybels right about now. But oh how we wanted, at one time or another, to be known as a successful world-shaker, right? But better watch out if you make that your identity! Here is a better more accurate picture of our identity, we are servants, we are lovers, and we are God’s children. That takes off some of the silly pressure that we put on ourselves to be something. Our roles and gifts are not our identity. They are simply the way we express our love to God and His world.

Since my brain surgery in 2012 I’ve tried to be more me, more authentic. Well, ‘try’ is maybe the wrong word, I’ve determined to be more me. That means not worrying so much about the expectations of others. It also has led me to being more open to the struggles of others. I’ve become more sensitive to the pain of others, more forgiving, more inclusive and hopefully more like Jesus. I now am also less afraid, too, of who I hang out with. I like people of all kinds from those who like to eat non-fat yogurt to those who smoke a pipe! And I’ve noticed people like to be around that kind of me, too.  It is kindness, not judgement, that slowly changes people’s attitudes and lives.

But it is not easy walking this path. Many people in church leadership structures want performance reports with numbers about all aspects of ministry. The stress on uniformity and speaking the same language (doctrine) and the need to be successful and more successful than the guy down the street is real. In many circles uniformity is next TheSoldierPeteto godliness. And this is where I return to my main point, if you don’t know your identity, you’ll confuse your self-worth with what you do and how well you do it. Performance.  Yes, it is a good feeling to be able to show big numbers. However I believe the epiphany we need in life happens when we realize I am not my big numbered performance. There’s more to me than that.  I am loved for who I am. And my life is about being true and faithful and generous and caring and not caring who sees me.

So stand up confidently and be different. Be quirky if it is you. Be engagingly outgoing if it is you. But please be unabashedly you.