|
Coming Soon

Forgiveness, Week 1

The Lost Sheep

Luke 15:1-7

God forgives you.

If you went to hear Jesus teach, there was no telling who you might meet in the crowd. You might come across a wealthy man. Or a group of kids. Or well-educated religious leaders and teachers. But many of the people who crowded around Jesus were considered the lowest of the low. Tax collectors who cheated people by taking extra money for themselves and the Romans. Other men and women who had made wrong choices and broken God’s laws. Jesus was happy to see everyone, especially those who were eager to hear God’s words and change their lives. But the religious leaders thought Jesus was bringing Himself down to the level of these “sinners.”

“Look at that riffraff hanging out around Jesus,” the religious leaders complained to each other. “He doesn’t tell them to leave! He even ate dinner at the home of a tax collector.”

Jesus overheard the loud whispers and knew just what the religious leaders were thinking in their hearts. But instead of arguing with them, He told a story. If He told it today, it might sound something like this.

++++++++++++++++

THERE ONCE WAS A MAN with one hundred sheep. We’ll call him Bob.

Each day, Bob led his sheep out to the mountain pasture where they could munch on the rich, green grass and wander down to the creek for a drink of clear, cool water.

Every evening, Bob led his flock back home to the sheepfold with its impressive steel fence.

“Check out these special infrared detectors,” Bob explained to a neighbor. “I installed ’em to zap all wolves, lions, bears and any of your other Type A predators.”

One evening, Bob herded all the sheep inside as usual. “Let’s see,” he said, patting an extra-furry lamb, “You’re number 98, Curly. Cotton, 99. And Snowflake . . . now where’s Snowflake?”

Bob searched the sheepfold and re-counted his sheep. But the smallest one, Snowflake, was nowhere to be found! Bob made one more frantic sweep of the pen, but it quickly became clear.

“Snowflake’s back up there on the mountain!” he exclaimed.

Night was falling, and darkness crept through the valley. Bob could even hear a distant, lone wolf howl.

“She’s out there all alone!” Bob worried. “I gotta find her.”

Bob grabbed his flashlight and shut the door of the sheepfold. As he hurried across the field, he texted all his friends and neighbors:

FYI. Snowflake lost. Going 2 look.

Bob rushed back up the mountain, scrambling over loose rocks and through bramble patches. As the night grew darker, he thought he could hear a lion roar. Bob flashed his light behind craggy rocks and into tangled thickets . . . but no sheep.

“Back off, you!” he shouted to any predators that might be near. “I gotta find my Snowflake.”

Bob spun in a circle searching for any clues of his missing sheep. He listened hard . . . and finally heard a faint bleating.

“That’s gotta be her. I’m coming, Snowflake!” he called.

Bob plunged into a deep ravine, slipping and sliding down the steep slope. Even though he scraped his knee and bashed his elbow, it was worth it. There, trapped in vines at the bottom of the ravine, was Snowflake!

Carefully, Bob freed his lost sheep. He draped her around his shoulders and clawed his way up out of the ravine. Filled with joy, he raced down the hillside— calling friends on his phone as he went.

“I found her!” he exclaimed. “She’s safe! Big party at my place, and you gotta come.”

The rest of the sheep were happy to see Snowflake back. And Bob shared his great joy with friends and neighbors late into the night.

++++++++++++++++

AS JESUS FINISHED THE STORY, the crowd listened in silence. Jesus looked directly at the religious leaders.

“I tell you,” He said, “it will be the same in heaven. There will be great joy when one sinner turns away from sin. Yes, there will be more joy than for 99 godly people who do not need to turn away from their sins.”

“Is Jesus saying we’re the other sheep?” one religious leader whispered to his friend. “It’s like Jesus is saying God actually loves all those lost sinners . . . losers . . . people.”

Not one of the religious leaders had the nerve to respond to Jesus. But many of them understood what He was saying. God is quick to seek out and forgive everyone—no matter who they are or what they’ve done.

Coming Soon

Forgiveness, Week 2

The Lost Son

Luke 15:11-24

Everyone needs to be forgiven, even me

When Jesus was on earth, He lived like one of us. He slept and ate and worked and made friends and traveled. But His main purpose was to show us what God is like in everything He said and did—and in the stories that He told.

Some of Jesus’ parables portray God as a shepherd. Or a king. Or as someone searching for a lost coin. And in one of those stories, Jesus explained God’s heart by sharing how He is like a good father. If Jesus told the story today, it might sound something like this.

++++++++++++++++

THERE ONCE WAS A WEALTHY FARMER who had two sons. We’ll call them Peyton and Eli.

Peyton never failed to do exactly what his father asked. “Cow stalls are mucked out, carrot patch fertilized, horse tails braided, and I should have time to give orders about the wheat harvest before breakfast,” he announced.

Eli, on the other hand, was less enthusiastic. “What . . . ?” he mumbled, rubbing his eyes as he finally sat up and yawned. “Guess I overslept again. Can I get breakfast in bed already? And make sure the pomegranate juice is freshly squeezed.”

Frankly, Eli was a lot less interested in his family and the farm than he was in having a good time. And he knew that when his father died, he would inherit a big chunk of his dad’s money and property. The more Eli thought about that money, the more it consumed him. At last, he rushed out to the field where his father and older brother were overseeing the wheat harvest.

“Dad. Hey, Dad!” he demanded.

“Look who finally showed up to work,” Peyton scoffed.

“Work?” Eli laughed. “I’ve got a better idea. Dad, I want you to give me my share of your property and money right now. Like today.”

Eli’s words were cruel. It was like saying he wished his dad were already dead! But Eli’s father cared enough to let Eli make his own mistakes and learn his own lessons. So the father divided up everything he owned and gave Eli his share of the money.

“Here it is, son,” Eli’s father said. “Use it wisely.”

Eli lost no time in packing up and heading out of town on the family’s best horse. He soon arrived in a foreign city full of colorful markets and even more colorful characters. Within days, Eli had rented a fancy home and bought an entirely new wardrobe. He celebrated with peacocks in the courtyard and a party every night.

“Pizza Party Sunday!” he announced. “Paintball Party Monday! And don’t forget Taco Tuesday!”

Eli made dozens of new friends. As long as he kept throwing parties, they happily showed up every day.

But then . . . a terrible famine swept over the land. Everyone ran low on food— even Eli. In fact, he soon ran out of money, too. All his new “friends” disappeared, and Eli found himself alone and hungry with nowhere to go.

“I guess I’ll have to get a job,” he sighed.

Work was as scarce as food, but at last Eli found a job taking care of pigs. He could hardly afford food, so he was always hungry. In fact, even the scraps he fed the pigs started looking pretty good!

Eli’s days out in the field with the pigs gave him plenty of time to think. And at last his thoughts turned to the home he’d tried so hard to leave behind. “My father’s servants eat like kings,” he recalled, “and here I am practically starving!”

Carefully, Eli began to make plans. If he went home, he figured his father would be so angry he might fly into a rage or send him away.

“I’ll have to talk fast,” Eli decided. “I’ll say, ‘Father, I’ve sinned against heaven. And I have sinned against you. I am no longer fit to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’”

Eli had sold the horse long ago, so he trudged back home on foot. The journey took many long days, but at last, Eli neared his home. He took the back roads so no one would see him.

“Dad’s probably out in the field,” he told himself. “I wonder if he’ll even know who I am . . .”

But as Eli approached the house from a distance, he could just see a figure standing on the porch. In moments, the person rushed down the steps and ran into the lane. As the man grew closer, Eli could see it was his father!

Eli froze, unable to believe what he was seeing.

“My son!” Eli’s father cried. He threw his arms around Eli, hugging and kissing him.

Eli stepped back, struggling to catch his breath and to remember the words he had memorized. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer fit to be called your son.”

To Eli’s amazement, his father ignored these words, ushering his son back to the house. Many of the household servants had come out to see the commotion.

“Quick!” Eli’s father called, “Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.”

Eli stood speechless as servants buzzed around him.

“Bring the fattest calf and kill it,” Eli’s father added. “Let’s have a feast and celebrate.”

“But Dad,” Eli protested. “I’m the one who should be doing the work.”

Eli’s father shook his head and announced to everyone around. “This son of mine was dead. And now he is alive again. He was lost. And now he is found.”

Eli had expected to have to work to make things right. But instead, he found himself the honored guest of a big party—all because his father had chosen not to make Eli pay for the wrong he had done.

Coming Soon

Forgiveness, Week 3

The Father and Older Brother

Luke 15:21-32

When you don’t forgive, you miss out.

When Jesus was on earth, He lived like one of us. He slept and ate and worked and made friends and traveled. But His main purpose was to show us what God is like in everything He said and did—and in the stories that He told.

Jesus spent His entire life on earth showing people who God is. On one occasion, He likened God to a wealthy farmer with two sons we’ll call Peyton and Eli. The older son always did just as his father asked. But the younger son, Eli, was a different story. He demanded his share of his father’s property and money and took off for a foreign country. There he wasted all the money on parties and wild living.

Soon, though, food ran low and Eli ran out of money. He found himself working the worst of jobs: feeding pigs. And even the pigs ate better than he did!

So Eli finally went home, planning to ask his father if he could work as a servant. But instead, his father raced out to meet him with a big hug, and then threw a huge party to celebrate Eli’s return! It was a day of joy and laughter for everyone—except Eli’s older brother, Peyton.

If Jesus continued the story today, it might sound something like this:

++++++++++++++++

PEYTON STRAIGHTENED HIS BACK and surveyed the field. The barley harvest wasn’t quite finished, but he wasn’t giving up.

“We’ll finish before dark!” he announced to the hired workers.

They exchanged glances. “It’s already nearly dark,” pointed out one man.

“Nearly is not completely!” barked Peyton. “Get back to it.”

“But there’s something going on at the house,” the worker noted.

Peyton glanced toward the family’s large, rambling home and was surprised to discover every window blazed with lamplight.

“It’s preposterous!” he exclaimed. “No one told me anything.”

Frowning, Peyton stalked toward the house. As the door opened and a servant came out, Peyton could hear music and laughter and the stomping feet of dancers. He called to the servant, who was carrying kitchen scraps to the garbage heap.

“You! Tell me what’s going on.”

The young servant couldn’t keep himself from dancing to the bursts of music. “You haven’t heard?” the servant asked. “It’s your brother! Your father killed the fattest calf ’cause your brother’s home safe and sound.”

Peyton stared in disbelief. “Hold on a sec. My father is throwing a party for the kid who took his money and broke his heart?!”

The servant shrugged. “Your dad seems pretty happy right now. You want to come tell your dad you’re done for the day?”

“What?” Peyton shouted. “No! I’m not going in.”

The servant returned to the house. Peyton plopped down on a tree stump and glared at the brightly-lit windows. “No fair!” he grumbled to himself.

After a few moments, he hopped back up and began to pace, fuming. “I should just run away, too. Then maybe Dad would notice that I’m the one making everything happen around here!”

Peyton was so consumed with anger, he didn’t even notice his father approaching. “Peyton, please. Come in,” his father encouraged.

Peyton whipped around, practically shooting flames from his eyes. “Are you kidding me?” he growled. “All these years I’ve worked like a slave for you! I’ve always done what you asked me to do. And you never even let me roast a young goat to have a party with my friends.”

“Is that what you wanted?” his father asked.

“Like you care!” Peyton spat. “Just look at Eli. He insults you and wastes your money—and then just shows up again. And you kill the fattest calf for the biggest party ever!”

Peyton’s father watched him with sad eyes. “My son . . . you are always with me. Everything that I have is yours. But we [have] to celebrate and be glad. This brother of yours was dead. And now he is alive again. He was lost. And now he is found.”

Peyton crossed his arms. He couldn’t find anything to say.

“I do hope you’ll come in,” his father invited.

Peyton allowed himself one last glance at the lights and dancing through the windows of the house. Then, determined, he turned his gaze back to the dark fields.

“I like it out here,” he mumbled.

At last, Peyton’s father returned to the house. Peyton remained outside, torn between clutching his anger—or letting it go and joining in the party.

Coming Soon

Forgiveness, Week 4

Unmerciful Servant

Matthew 18:21-35

Since God forgave you, you should forgive others.

Peter was one of Jesus’ most passionate followers and closest friends. But even he didn’t always understand that following God isn’t about rules; it’s about your heart.

One day, Peter came to Jesus with a burning question. Perhaps he’d just had a fight with his brother Andrew. Or maybe he and Judas had argued over who should be in charge of the money. Whatever the case, Peter needed to know: “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Peter probably thought being willing to forgive seven times made him pretty awesome stuff. But Jesus had a different answer.

“I tell you,” Jesus said, “not seven times, but 77 times.

Jesus didn’t actually mean we should stop forgiving after 77 times. He simply meant that it’s not about numbers; we should forgive as many times as it takes. In fact, He told a story to explain. If He told that story today, it might sound something like this.

++++++++++++++++

THERE ONCE WAS A KING who lived in a glorious palace. One afternoon, he called for his bookkeeper and demanded to know the state of his accounts.

“Tell me, good man,” the king demanded. “How do they look?”

“Let’s just say you could purchase whatever you wish, as much as you wish, whenever you wish,” the bookkeeper replied.

“So my books are in perfect order!” the king announced.

“Not quite, Your Majesty,” the bookkeeper cautioned. “There’s that servant of yours, Larry. You’ve lent him approximately 29 million dollars and six cents. Give or a take a few million.”

“Jumping geraniums!” the king exclaimed. “That much? He must pay it back!”

The king called Larry to come before him. Larry smiled uneasily and bowed low.

“It appears you owe me quite a lot of money,” the king pointed out.

“Oh. Well, um. Yes,” Larry admitted. “But I can’t exactly pay it back at the moment . . .”

The king was livid. “Can’t pay?!” he shouted. “Guards! Sell everything this man owns. Then hire him and his family out to work for the rest of their lives until he can pay me what he owes!”

The guards closed in on Larry, but he fell to his knees and pleaded. “No, no. Please! Give me time!” he begged. “I’ll pay everything back, I promise! Every last penny!”

The king nodded to the guards, who backed off.

“All right then,” the king said. “You don’t have to pay right now. In fact, you don’t have to pay ever. You can go.”

“Really?” Larry asked in amazement. “Wow. That totally rocks!”

Larry leapt to his feet and did a happy dance all the way out of the palace. But along the road home, he came across another servant. We’ll call him Mo.

“Hey! Mo!” he called. “Don’t you owe me some money?”

“Oh. Well, um. Yes,” Mo admitted. “A couple hundred dollars, right?”

“You gotta pay me back right now,” Larry demanded.

“I, um, can’t pay right now,” Mo told him. “Just give me a little time. I’ll have it next week!”

Larry was livid. He ignored Mo’s pleas and had him thrown in prison until he could pay. But Larry had made such a fuss, the other servants saw what happened. They went and told the king.

“Jumping jellybeans!” the king fumed. “Get Larry back in here!”

Larry arrived, still pleased with himself for showing Mo who was boss.

“You evil servant!” exclaimed the king.

“Er . . . excuse me?” asked Larry, taken aback.

“I forgave all that you owed me because you begged me to,” said the king. “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on the other servant just as I had mercy on you?”

“Humph,” grumbled Larry. “None of your beeswax.”

“Guards!” the king commanded. “Throw this man in prison. Punish him until he’s paid back every single buck he owes!”

Larry protested and begged again, but this time, the guards grabbed him and locked him away in prison.

++++++++++++++++

AS JESUS FINISHED THE STORY, He studied Peter and His other friends and followers who had gathered to listen. “This is how my Father in heaven will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart,” Jesus explained.

Jesus’ meaning was clear. God has forgiven us of so much. He wants us to forgive others in the same way—even if we have to forgive over and over and over.