The Prodigal God

I started reading a book by Tim Keller yesterday;
The Prodigal God
Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith

If you're wondering about the title, Keller explains in the introduction that the definition of prodigal is not "wayward" but, according to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, "recklessly spendthrift." It means "to spend until you have nothing left."

"This term is therefore as appropriate for describing the father in the story as his younger son. The father's welcome to the repentant son was literally reckless, because he refused to 'reckon' or count his sin against him or demand repayment. This response offended the elder son and most likely the local community...Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal toward us, his children. God's reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience, and the subject of this book."

As most of my friends know, I love listening to Keller's sermons. I have learned so much about the Gospel by listening to him illuminate how the Bible is the story of Jesus (and our need of Him) from beginning to end. For a couple of years (at least) I never listened to anything while driving in the car except Tim Keller's sermons. Therefore, I have heard some of the "lessons" of this book. But these lessons are always fresh and meaningful.

This book explores the parable of the two lost sons. Keller emphasizes that both sons are equally lost and even though we have overly focused on the sins of the younger brother, Jesus aimed this parable at the elder-brother-Pharisees when He told it. He breaks down the parable in such a way that the reader understands that there is more than one way to be lost and there is only one way to be saved. I don't think any of us are 100% older or younger brothers spiritually. I think we all have a propensity to be both. Some of us may have a greater percentage of one than the other, but I know that I have been both at different times in my life. I highly recommend this book. It's short and a quick read, but packed with great, thought provoking Gospel truths.

There was a passage I read this morning that I just had to post. I can't imagine this not speaking to the heart of every reader. We are ALL guilty.

As a means of illustrating for the reader our elder brother mindset, he tells this story:

Elisabeth Elliot recounts an apocryphal story (not in the Bible!) about Jesus that conveys the difference between a results-oriented selfishness and a faithfulness born of love.

One day Jesus said to his disciples: "I'd like you to carry a stone for Me." He didn't give any explanation. So the disciples looked around for a stone to carry, and Peter, being the practical sort, sought out the smallest stone he could possibly find. After all, Jesus didn't give any regulations for weight and size! So he put it in his pocket. Jesus then said: "Follow Me." He led them on a journey. About noontime Jesus had everyone sit down. He waved his hands and all the stones turned to bread. He said, "Now it's time for lunch." In a few seconds, Peter's lunch was over. When lunch was done Jesus told them to stand up. He said again, "I'd like you to carry a stone for Me." This time Peter said, "Aha! Now I get it!" So he looked around and saw a small boulder. He hoisted it on his back and it was painful, it made him stagger. But he said, "I can't wait for supper." Jesus then said: "Follow Me." He led them on a journey, with Peter barely being able to keep up. Around supper time Jesus led them to the side of a river. He said, "Now everyone throw your stones into the water." They did. Then he said, "Follow Me," and began to walk. Peter and the others looked at him dumbfounded. Jesus sighed and said, "Don't you remember what I asked you to do? Who were you carrying the stone for?

After telling this story, Keller writes:

"Like Peter, elder brothers expect their goodness to pay off, and if it doesn't, there is confusion and rage. If you think goodness and decency is the way to merit a good life from God, you will be eaten up with anger, since life never goes as we wish. You will always feel that you are owed more than you are getting. You will always see someone doing better than you in some aspect of life and will ask, 'Why this person and not me? After all I've done!' This resentment is your own fault. It is caused not by the prosperity of the other person, but by your own effort to control life through your performance. The strong undertow of anger this causes may not turn you into a murderer...but it will constantly cause you to lose your footing in various ways."