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Evan Earwicker: The Prodigal, The Pretender, and The Child of God – Isaiah 43:18-19

November 22, 2023

Audio Recording

Whether we’ve lived a life of indulgence or one marked by religious accomplishments, the Father is waiting for His children with love and acceptance.

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Evan Earwicker: The Prodigal, The Pretender, and The Child of God - Isaiah 43:18-19
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Sermon Transcript:

You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

We've been in a series talking about healthy rhythms in our lives. Spiritual practices that we put into place in our weeks and days and years in order to really create an environment where life can thrive. An environment where we are both connected to the vine that is Jesus in his life and bearing fruit that we're able to receive from Christ and have something to offer the world around us. And we do this through healthy rhythms. And I love the conversations that have come out of this series as people are considering the rhythms in their own lives and some of the default bad habits that we just automatically slip into because it's the path of least resistance, maybe. And we were having a conversation in our staff chapel this week and I heard two of our team talking about the spiritual practice of rest. You notice the fifth commandment is fifth, right? Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy baked right into the Ten Commandments. Going all the way back is a command to rest. And here in our hyperspeed high productivity society that values and idolizes productivity, a command to rest might seem foreign, but we find that these ancient practices don't hold us back from a life that thrives. But actually, when we put them into place, it enables a life that thrives. And so our staff was talking and two of our guys, I won't call them out who they are, but they were like, you know, I used to feel really guilty anytime I would take a nap. And now I realize that sometimes that's a spiritual practice.

And so this week we're starting nap time from one to four.

Maybe not, but there is truth that sometimes we are like, oh, I feel so guilty that I'm not staying productive all the time. And sometimes the command of God is, you want a healthy life, you need to rest. You can't run on empty. You're going to start being unable to produce the kind of fruit and the fruitful life that I'm calling you into. And so you need to rest and you need to have these practices of prayer. And so we've been talking about this, a practice of community, the way we approach our work and our vocation and all these great, I think, important pieces of what a life pursuing Jesus looks like. And as we're coming into kind of the last couple weeks of this, I was just in prayer for you and thinking through for many of us who might look back in our life or our current lifestyle and realize that there's a sense of maybe guilt or shame because we haven't put into practice healthy rhythms. Or if you look back in your life, you're like, man, like prayer, quality time with my family, none of that. I just do Netflix all the time, whatever it might be. But we can start to feel guilty because our life rhythms aren't so healthy. Or maybe even more dangerously, we look back at our lives and we say, I've done all the checkboxes.

I've practiced all the healthy rhythms that you're talking about. And Evan, today I don't feel close to Christ.

There's a disconnect. In fact, I was talking to a friend, he's a pastor in the area, and he was saying in the last few years, he has struggled both because of some health issues in his life and then just leading the church. He feels like he is preaching these kinds of practices, and yet in his own life, he sees a gap between his lived experience and what he really believes. But there's a chasm between those two things. Have you ever felt like that? Like I'm doing the right things, but I don't feel connected to Christ?

I think one of the key things that we get trapped in is the past.

And in the past we have regrets and maybe some guilt or shame about what we haven't done well.

And I loved this. I came across this verse, it's a familiar one out of Isaiah 43. But I felt like this is for all of us who, when we start living in the past and our past mistakes and what we haven't done right, and it brings guilt. We hear this from God. Isaiah 43, remember not the former things, nor consider things of old. Behold, I'm doing a new thing now. It springs forth. Do you not perceive it?

I think the dangerous thing about the past is not only that regret lives there, but also we can be sucked into the seductiveness of living in nostalgia. Right? And for those of you who are like nostalgia and regret, that sounds like Thanksgiving dinner with my family.

You're not wrong.

But for the Israelites who are receiving this word from God through the prophet Isaiah, the reason he is writing this, they're in exile. They're taken from where the temple was and they're remembering back the good old days when they had this beautiful temple and everything was well and there was peace. And now they're far from home and they're in suffering. And Isaiah speaks that word. Don't remember the former things.

I know things were good then, but if you live there, you will miss the good thing, the new thing that I'm doing now.

Wow.

And the response might have been, it could never be that good again. Really?

And God says, Watch me.

Watch what I'll do.

So we don't live in the past. That's instruction number one today for you. Don't live in the past. And here's instruction number two out of Matthew, chapter six.

Jesus is speaking. He says, Therefore, I tell you, don't worry about your life, what you'll eat or drink, about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes. Look at the birds of the air. They don't sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. And are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers, the field, grow? They do not labor or spend. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. And if that is God, how God closes clothes.

I've been reading for many years, but we're all on a journey, a journey of reading.

If that is God clothes, the grass of the field which is here today and tomorrow is thrown in the fire, will he not much more clothe you, you of little faith. So do not worry saying, what shall we eat? Or what shall we drink? Or what shall we wear for the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble on its own, and we all say, amen.

So instruction number one don't live in the past. Instruction number two don't worry about the future.

And if you're tracking with me, you'll realize that really boxes us in. We don't have a lot of options of where we can live except for the present moment.

And in this day and age, we have plenty of distractions to take us out of the present moment. I don't want to throw my wife under the bus right now, but she was definitely looking at our calendar during the announcements. I don't think she was paying attention. I just noticed she was just getting some it was what?

Oh, you were adding the announcements onto our calendar? Okay, all right, fair enough. This is the dynamic every day at home, okay? I call her out, and she's like, no, you're wrong. And I'm like, okay, I'm wrong. All right.

But the reality we have plenty of distractions that keep us from staying present in the present moment.

We have these watches.

Have you ever had this happen? You're in a conversation with a friend over coffee or a meal or whatever, and they do one of these right in the middle of your sentence. They go, yeah.

Whenever that happens to me, and it happens a lot, what I want to say is, I'm sorry. Am I bothering you with my friendship?

And the annoying thing is, sometimes it's important.

Maybe you have an elderly parent that needs to get a hold of you, so you have to stay available or kids or whatever. Then there's important things that deserve an interruption. But the nature of our devices many times is the non important stuff also notifies us. So it's like, hang on 1 second, the Gap is having a sale on denim.

Come on. The Gap will be selling denim after our conversation ends. Thank you. Right, like, stay here. Stay with me.

And that's one example of the reality of the world we live in, filled with noise that wants to pull us to the past and the future, and yet it's right here in the present, I think, where actual communion with Jesus happens.

It's in the present moment that we encounter the presence of the living God.

And so the rhythms that we put into place, really what they are doing in our hearts and our schedule, and they are grounding us into the present moment. Years ago. I was in high school. Went to Lake Billy. Chinook Went out wakeboarding with some friends, drove there, went out first as the first one on the water, came back onto the boat after wakeboarding. This is maybe just 15 or 20 minutes into our time on the water and realized that my car keys were on the bottom of Lake Belly Chinook.

And I'm 17 or 18 years old, and the cost of a locksmith, it might as well have been $3 million based on how much I had in my bank account to pay for a new key to be made right. Like, any amount is more than I got, right. And so immediately as I get back onto the boat, I'm taken out of the present moment. Why? Number one, I'm regretting decisions that I made that brought me to this point. I'm regretting even coming on this trip. I'm regretting that those keys were in my pocket when I wake boarded. And now I'm anxious about the future. How am I going to pay for who's going to come out to make a key? How am I going to get home? All these conflicting tensions now are pulling me out of the present moment. I think that's a picture of where many of us live day in and day out, torn between the regrets of the past and the anxiety of the future. And all the while, we never come present into this present moment, where we can abide in and commune with the presence of Jesus.

And so I want to invite you in this moment, right in this moment, to be here, to be fully present, not because what I say is going to be the best thing you've ever heard. I hope it will be, but because Jesus is here and, yeah, he'll meet you in the future. Yeah, he's been with you in the past, but it's right here, right now that he wants to minister to you and encounter you and let his presence commune with you. Abiding happens in the present moment. And so, Jesus, we invite your present work right now in this room. Those watching online, all the distractions swirl around us. It's no different now, but we choose to be grounded in this space, in this time in this moment to receive from you. In Jesus'name, we pray. Amen.

I think one of the terrifying parts about being really, truly present in this moment is that we can't hide who we really are. If we are truly present, we can't look back on our glory days when you were quarterback of the team and you made that game winning touchdown. Bro, that was, like, 35 years ago. Get over it.

Nobody cares. I'm impressed. The letterman jacket still fits, but get over it, right?

And we can't live in the future. Well, someday I'm going to accomplish this. I'll be this kind of person.

When we're in the present moment, we are confronted with the reality of who we are right now. And for many of us, we're afraid that that person is not truly and completely lovable by God or anybody else.

And so it is, I think, a risky thing to be truly present here.

And when we are present and we come into the presence of Jesus, I think there are two identities in all of us that Jesus confronts. The first identity is that of the prodigal, and the second is the identity that of the pretender. And this is what I want to talk through today the prodigal and the Pretender, two stories from the book of Luke. The first one in Luke 15 is a parable that Jesus tells. We've talked about it a lot here if you've been with us for a while, but it's a parable that Jesus tells to those around him. In Luke 1511, it starts, jesus told this story. A man had two sons, and the younger son told his father, I want my share of your estate now before you die. And so his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. And a few days later, this younger son packed all his belongings, and he moved to a distant land. And there he wasted all his money in wild living.

About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve, and he persuaded a local farmer to hire him. And the man who sent him into his fields to feed the pigs, the young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him, but no one gave him anything.

I love how he's like begging the pigs for food, and the pigs are like, no, sir. No one gave him anything. When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, at home, even the hired servants have food enough to spare. And here I am dying of hunger. I will go home to my father, and I'll say, father, I've sinned against both heaven and you. I'm no longer worthy of being called your son, so please take me on as a hired servant.

The prodigal identity that I think lives in all of us is that side of us that is impulsive, selfish, wants what's ours.

We're reactive, easily set off, insecure, lustful, full of anger and resentment.

Goes by other names the sinful, nature, the flesh. But we know this, reading through the teachings of Jesus and Paul, that it's at war within each of us, that this prodigal identity that wants to run far from God, that, as we've talked about in this series, thinks it knows the better way than God's way. It's at play in all of our hearts.

And I think Paul said it well in Romans seven, he talks about this nature and this struggle. He says, I do not understand what I do. You hear that frustration. For what I want to do, I do not do. But what I hate, I do. It's a lot of I do's in there. It's like a group wedding.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do. But what I hate, I do. And we've all been there.

I want to be a good person. I want to make the right decisions.

I want to honor God. I want to walk in healthy ways. I don't want to be impulsive. I don't want to be angry.

I want to respond to my children in healthy way. I don't want to be that guy. I don't want to be that person. And yet I find myself pulled into this prodigal identity.

And I think the logical response in all of us, if we are desiring to not be that person, is that we try harder and we do better, and we present the world in a way that says, I've got this under control.

I've got this shadow side, this prodigal identity under control.

Yeah, it's at war with me, but don't worry, I got it under control. And check out my instagram, right?

I'm presenting really well.

I've got all the right things out there in the world so that if anyone were to look at me in my life, they'd say, wow, that person, they've got it going on.

And we present these identities to the world around us, and they're not necessarily lies, but they carefully omit the inconvenient parts of our identity, right?

Anything unflattering, I'll take that out, and let's just put our best face forward to the world.

And I think the church churches we have maybe even supercharged this idea. I remember the churches kind of culturally in church when I was growing up. I mean, you dressed up, right? Suits and dresses and the finest fashion the late 80s had to offer, and we come to church, and I think that propagated this idea of when you come to God's house, you project the best version of yourself and man. I hope that in our church that our view of the gospel of Jesus is big enough and wide enough, that when we come into this community, we are our truest self.

And when we feel like maybe the weight of all the things that are at war in us will be rejected or unloved by this community, that this community would rise to the occasion. We had us at the men's breakfast and just was reminded yesterday morning, as we sit around these tables and have conversations and kind of share our stories with other guys, I am struck again and again every time we gather about the deep seated need for real connection, authenticity, and relationship that is sorely lacking in our culture. There is a hunger. I know I feel it. There's a hunger that we might connect with each other and be seen not for who we pretend to be, but who we really, truly are. And that on the other side of those conversations and those relationships, we wouldn't be met with rejection, but with acceptance and love, because we have been deeply accepted and loved by Jesus. This is the community that shapes when we come under this understanding of who Jesus is.

And so the first story of the prodigal reveals to us this prodigal identity that's at war in all of us, we move on a couple of chapters, not to a parable, but to an actual encounter that Jesus has. Just a few chapters later, in Luke 18 to our second identity, Luke 1818, it says, Once a religious leader, other gospels refer to this guy as the rich young ruler.

He comes to Jesus and asks this question, good teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?

Why do you call me good? Jesus asked. Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments you must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely honor your father and mother.

And at this point in the conversation, I'm certain this young, influential, wealthy man is like, I'm good to go. Then the man replied, I've obeyed all these commandments since I was young.

And when Jesus heard this, he said, there is still one thing you haven't done. Sell all your possessions and give them money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. And then you come follow me. But when the man had heard this, he became very sad, for he was very rich.

I suspect that this young, powerful, well to do young man is coming to Jesus not to truly learn the secret of eternal life, but to have his suspicion that he's already accomplished what is necessary affirmed by Jesus. He wants Jesus to pat him on the back, clap his hands, and say, bro, you have got it going on. Eternal life is yours.

And instead, Jesus looks at his Facebook page and says, that looks nice, but your heart isn't with me.

Your heart is tied to your credentials and your titles and your wealth and your comfort, and you're far from me.

And it's so fascinating that you have on one hand a son who squanders all of the good things he's given.

On the other hand, you have a guy who's done it all right, and yet they find themselves in the very same spot, far from God.

And I think about our own experiences and when we have checked the boxes, when we have achieved some kind of religious standing where we feel like we've done all the stuff.

I've listened to all the podcasts. Jesus Listen More since I was a child, or whatever it is for us today.

I go to church and then I listen to sermons on the radio on Mondays.

What must I do to achieve eternal life?

Jesus says, Is your heart with me?

Is your heart with me?

And I think sometimes we know this pattern that we oscillate between these two identities. There are times in our life and seasons in our life we find ourselves in the pig pen of sin and impulsive living and compulsive behaviors, and we feel trapped or we're addicted or we're underwater in things that we wish we could get out of. And then there's times when we've done everything right and our behavior is good and we're living the right way, but we're pretending that we're close to Jesus and we oscillate between these two existences. And then we don't like the shadow side. We don't like the prodigal identity. So we put together and with this scaffolding of who we want to pretend to be, and we try to live in this and put a good face on it and our best image forward to the world. And I think that this back and forth between these two identities is exhausting.

And I think when Jesus says in Matthew eleven, come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest, it's not just because they're physically exhausted. It's because they are trapped in a cycle of going between the prodigal identity and the pretender identity and is killing them.

And Jesus says, Come to me, and I'll give you rest from this cycle that is so exhausting.

Two young men, two very different stories, but both are far from home.

Many of you have heard my story. I've told it.

But many of you maybe are new to our community, do not know my story.

Right out of high school, I interned at a church, and it wasn't long into the program I was caught in and lying about a promiscuous relationship that I'd found myself in, that I pursued.

And in a matter of weeks from the beginning of the program, basically had flunked out of it.

And it wasn't just the confrontation of what I was doing. It was my response to that confrontation, that correction that was filled with my own arrogance, anger, and resentment that brought up me to this point where 20 years ago, I had this very difficult conversation with a pastor, a leader of that internship. And I remember so clearly 20 years ago driving away and saying, this to myself, I might have even said it out loud, but saying this to myself, I will never go back there.

And that church was this church.

Spoiler alert, I'm back, baby.

I've told that story, especially in regards to the story of the prodigal returning. Because there's obvious connections to this idea that when we screw up in this faith, we don't believe that it's a one and done thing, but that God is in the business of redeeming and restoring.

And those who find themselves far from God aren't destined or doomed to that being the end of their story in the presence of Jesus that he has power to bring us back into relationship. Rightness? Not in a way that just allows us to kind of sit in the back and observe, but to be restored in a way that invites us into the fullness of what he has for us.

And as I was talking through some of this content this week with Pastor Dave and Pastor Ben, I love Pastor Dave. He always just looks at me with these, like, beady little eyes.

You don't have beady eyes, Dave. But he looks at me and he's, hmm, how are you going to make this be a true reflection of your story, though? I said, well, this is my story, and it has a lot to do with the Prodigal Son.

And he goes, interesting, Dave, come on, just say it's good and let me do it.

But you see, the thing is, I find myself these days, 20 years later, maybe not relating so closely to the prodigal story anymore, but relating to the rich young ruler who comes to Jesus with all the religious credentials dressed apart, with all the experience of walking out this religious life. That should grant him access to what he's looking for from Jesus. And yet Jesus says, but do I have your heart, Evan?

You've got a name on an office now. You've got a title and some certificates and some degrees and some credentials. But do I have your heart, Evan?

I like to point. I was in the pig pen, but now look what God has done. And sometimes I find that actually I've gone from one identity to another and neither are close to the heart of Jesus.

And I read these stories and I wonder if we could read the ending of the prodigal son story. But think of it through the lens of this rich young ruler. Had he come back to Jesus?

Had he turned around from his sadness over his heart being connected only to this identity of his wealth and his title and his credentials and his religious accomplishments? If he had turned around to follow Jesus, maybe this would have been the response that when he returned home to the Father, while he was still a long way off, his Father saw him coming and filled with love and compassion, he ran to His Son, embraced him, and he kissed him. And he said to him, father, I've sinned against both heaven and you. I'm no longer worthy to be called your son.

But his father said to the servants, quick, bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet and kill the calf. We've been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast. For this son of mine was dead and now has returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found. And so the party began.

The news for us who find ourselves living out of a prodigal identity today is really good news. The father watches the horizon for your return, but also for the rich young rulers in the room. The news is equally good that the father watches the horizon for your return and for you. If you would say, I want to shake off this identity of pretense and find an identity that is not rooted into my accomplishments or my titles or my influence, but it's rooted in my identity as a child of God.

We will find that we are fully seen and fully accepted by God.

When the prodigal son returns, he's got nothing. And so the Father clothes him with a robe and puts a ring on his finger.

When the rich young ruler returns, I wonder if the Father does the opposite.

Here comes the rich young ruler burdened down by all the robes of accomplishment and the ring of I was going to say Ring of Power, that's very Lord of the Rings. But you know what I mean.

All the identity, all the things that have been built, the scaffolding around this rich, affluent person to make him feel secure and at home. And yet it's taken him far from the Father that the father would take those false identities off and embrace him with the identity.

He's a child of God.