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Wise to rise above our hurts

The passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “He Still Moves Stones,” published in 1993.

     The older son was in the field, and as he came closer to the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. So he called to one of the servants and asked what all this meant. The servant said, “Your brother has come back, and your father killed the fat calf because your brother came home safely.” The older son was angry and would not go in to the feast. So his father went out and begged him to come in. But the older son said to his father, “I have served you like a slave for many years and have always obeyed your commands. But you never gave me even a young goat to have at a feast with my friends. But your other son, who wasted all your money on prostitutes, comes home, and you kill the fat ca lf for him!” The father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. We had to celebrate and be happy because your brother was dead, but now he is alive. He was lost, but now he is found.” (Luke 15:25—32 NCV)

 

THE CASE of the elder brother.

A difficult one because he looked so good. He kept his room straight and his nose clean. He played by the rules and paid all his dues. His résumé? Impeccable. His credit? Squeaky clean. And loyalty? While his brother was sowing wild oats, he stayed home and sowed the crops.

On the outside he was everything a father could want in a son. But on the inside he was sour and hollow. Overcome by jealousy. Consumed by anger. Blinded by bitterness.

You remember the story. It’s perhaps the best known of all the parables Jesus told. It’s the third of three stories in Luke 15, three stories of three parties.

The first began after a shepherd found a sheep he’d lost. He had ninety-nine others. He could have been content to write this one off as a loss. But shepherds don’t think like businessmen. So he searched for it. When he found the sheep, he carried it back to the flock, cut the best grass for the sheep to eat, and had a party to celebrate.

The second party was held in front of a house. A housewife had lost a coin. It wasn’t her only coin, but you would have thought it was by the way she acted. She moved the furniture, got out the dust mop, and swept the whole house till she found it. And when she did, she ran shouting into the cul-de-sac and invited her neighbors over for a party to celebrate.

Then there is the story of the lost son. The boy who broke his father’s heart by taking his inheritance and taking off. He trades his dignity for a whisky bottle and his self-respect for a pigpen. Then comes the son’s sorrow and his decision to go home. He hopes his dad will give him a job on the farm and an apartment over the garage. What he finds is a father who has kept his absent son’s place set at the table and the porch light on every night.

The father is so excited to see his son, you’ll never guess what he does. That’s right! He throws a party! We party-loving prodigals love what he did, but it infuriated the elder brother.

“The older son was angry” (v. 28). It’s not hard to see why. “So, is this how a guy gets recognition in this family? Get drunk and go broke and you get a party?” So he sat outside the house and pouted.

I did that once. I pouted at a party. A Christmas party. I was in the fourth grade. Fourth graders take parties very seriously, especially when there are gifts involved. We had drawn names. Since you didn’t know who had your name, you had to drop your hints very loudly. I didn’t miss a chance. I wanted a “Sixth Finger”—--a toy pistol that fit in the cleft of your hand and looked like a finger. (Honestly, it did exist!)

Finally the day came to open the gifts. I just knew I was going to get my pistol. Everyone in the class had heard my hints. I tore into the wrapping and ripped open the box and. . . know what I got? Stationery. Western stationery. Paper and envelopes with horses in the corners. Yuck! Probably left over from the Christmas before. Ten-year-old boys don’t write letters! What was this person thinking? No doubt some mom forgot all about the present until this morning, so she went to the closet and rumbled about until she came out with stationery.

Tie my hands and feet and throw me in the river. I was distraught. I was upset. So I missed the party. I was present, but I pouted.

So did the big brother. He, too, felt he was a victim of inequity. When his father came out to meet him, the son started at the top, listing the atrocities of his life. To hear him say it, his woes began the day he was born.

“I have served you like a slave for many years and have always obeyed your commands. But you never gave me even a young goat to have at a feast with my friends. But your other son, who wasted all your money on prostitutes, comes home, and you kill the fat calf for him!” (vv. 29—30).

Appears that both sons spent time in the pigpen. One in the pen of rebellion—--the other in the pen of self-pity. The younger one has come home. The older one hasn’t. He’s still in the slop. He is saying the same thing you said when the kid down the street got a bicycle and you didn’t. It’s not fair!

That’s what Wanda Holloway of Channelview, Texas, said. When it looked like her fourteen-year-old daughter wouldn’t get elected to the cheerleading squad, Wanda got angry. She decided to get even. She hired a hit man to kill the mother of her daughter’s chief competitor, hoping to so upset the girl that Wanda’s daughter would make the squad. Bitterness will do that to you. It’ll cause you to burn down your house to kill a rat.

Fortunately, her plan failed and Wanda Holloway was caught. She was sentenced to fifteen years. She didn’t have to be put behind bars to be imprisoned, however. Bitterness is its own prison.

Black and cold, bitterness denies easy escape. The sides are slippery with resentment. A floor of muddy anger stills the feet. The stench of betrayal fills the air and stings the eyes. A cloud of self-pity blocks the view of the tiny exit above.

Step in and look at the prisoners. Victims are chained to the walls. Victims of betrayal. Victims of abuse. Victims of the government, the system, the military, the world. They lift their chains as they lift their voices and wail. Loud and long they wail.

They grumble. They’re angry at others who got what they didn’t.

They sulk. The world is against them.

They accuse. The pictures of their enemies are darted to the wall.

They boast. “I followed the rules. I played fairly. . . in fact, better than anybody else.”

They whine. “Nobody listens to me. Nobody remembers me.

Nobody cares about me?’

Angry. Sullen. Accusatory. Arrogant. Whiny. Put them all

together in one word and spell it b-i-t-t-e-r. If you put them all in one person, that person is in the pit—--the dungeon of bitterness.

The dungeon, deep and dark, is beckoning you to enter.

You can, you know. You’ve experienced enough hurt. You’ve been betrayed enough times. You have a history of rejections, don’t you? Haven’t you been left out, left behind, or left out in the cold? You are a candidate for the dungeon.

You can choose, like many, to chain yourself to your hurt.

Or you can choose, like some, to put away your hurts before they become hates. You can choose to go to the party. You have a place there. Your name is beside a plate. If you are a child of God, no one can take away your sonship.

Which is precisely what the father said to the older son. “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours” (v. 31).

And that is precisely what the Father says to you. How does God deal with your bitter heart? He reminds you that what you have is more important than what you don’t have. You still have your relationship with God. No one can take that. No one can touch it.

Your health can be taken and your money stolen—--but your place at God’s table is permanent.

The brother was bitter because he focused on what he didn’t have and forgot what he did have. His father reminded him—--and us—--that he had everything he’d always had. He had his job. His place. His name. His inheritance. The only thing he didn’t have was the spotlight. And because he wasn’t content to share it—--he missed the party.

It takes courage to set aside jealousy and rejoice with the achievements of a rival. Would you like an example of someone who did?

Standing before ten thousand eyes is Abraham Lincoln. An uncomfortable Abraham Lincoln. His discomfort comes not from the thought of delivering his first inaugural address but from the ambitious efforts of well-meaning tailors. He’s unaccustomed to such attire—--formal black dress coat, silk vest, black trousers, and a glossy top hat. He holds a huge ebony cane with a golden head the size of an egg.

He approaches the platform with hat in one hand and cane in the other. He doesn’t know what to do with either one. In the nervous silence that comes after the applause and before the speech, he searches for a spot to place them. He finally leans the cane in a corner of the railing, but he still doesn’t know what to do with the hat. He could lay it on the podium, but it would take up too much room. Perhaps the floor. . . no, too dirty.

Just then, and not a moment too soon, a man steps forward and takes the hat, returns to his seat, and listens intently to Lincoln’s speech.

Who is he? Lincoln’s dearest friend. The president said of him, “He and I are about the best friends in the wor1d.”

He was one of the strongest supporters of the early stages of Lincoln’s presidency. He was given the honor of escorting Mrs. Lincoln in the inaugural grand ball. As the storm of the Civil War began to boil, many of Lincoln’s friends left, but not this one. He amplified his loyalty by touring the South as Lincoln’s peace ambassador. He begged Southerners not to secede and Northerners to rally behind the president.

His efforts were great, but the wave of anger was greater. The country did divide, and civil war bloodied the nation. Lincoln’s friend never lived to see it. He died three months after Lincoln’s inauguration. Wearied by his travels, he succumbed to a fever, and Lincoln was left to face the war alone.

Upon hearing the news of his friend’s death, Lincoln wept openly and ordered the White House flag to be flown at half-staff. Some feel Lincoln’s friend would have been chosen as his running mate in 1864 and would thus have become president following the assassination of the Great Emancipator.

No one will ever know about that. But we do know that Lincoln had one true friend. And we can only imagine the number of times the memory of him brought warmth to a cold Oval Office. He was a model of friendship.

He was also a model of forgiveness.

This friend could just as easily have been an enemy. Long before he and Lincoln were allies, they were competitors—politicians pursuing the same office. And unfortunately, their debates are better known than their friendship. The debates between Abraham Lincoln and his dear friend, Stephen A. Douglas.

But on Lincoln’s finest day, Douglas set aside their differences and held the hat of the president. Unlike the older brother, Douglas heard a higher call. And unlike the older brother, he was present at the party.

Wise are we if we do the same. Wise are we if we rise above our hurts. For if we do, we’ll be present at the Father’s final celebration. A party to end all parties. A party where no pouters will be permitted.

Why don’t you come and join the fun? (20-26)

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