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Jesus' Parables About Making Choices
By JAMES W. MOORE
Dimensions for LivingCopyright © 2007 Dimensions for Living
All rights reserved.
Choosing to Grow Up: Navigating the Stages of Life
Scripture: Luke 15:11-24
Our children and grandchildren came in for the weekend a few years ago to celebrate Easter with us. On that Saturday evening we took the entire family (all ten of us) over to Goode Company Taquería for a casual, child-friendly meal.
As we walked in, we began to look at the large menu printed on the wall just above the serving line. I was pointing out to everybody that we could order hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, or Mexican food.
Just then, our four-year-old grandson Daniel asked what was, for him, the ultimate question. In a loud voice that everybody in the restaurant could hear, Daniel said, "Does this place have ketchup?" For Daniel, that was the key question. For Daniel, that was the measuring stick for a good restaurant: "Does this place have ketchup? If they have ketchup, then it's O.K. here." By the way, in case you are wondering, Goode Company Taquería does have ketchup, so it is now on Daniel's list of approved five-star restaurants!
Now, let me raise a key question, a measuring-stick question, for the church. Here it is: Does the church, as a community of faith, produce spiritually mature Christians?
Let me show you what I mean. In growing up, we normally pass through three stages of life.
First, there is the childish stage, where the cry is, "Please do something for me!"
Second, there is the adolescent stage, where the cry is, "Please leave me alone. I don't need you or anybody. I can take care of myself!"
And third, there is the mature adult stage, where the cry is, "Please let me do something for you! Let me be a servant for others! Lord, make me an instrument of your love and peace and hope and healing."
Let's take a quick look together at these three stages of life and their unique characteristics.
The Childish Stage
Of course, we all love children. Life brings no greater blessing than a child. Obviously children are wonderful, but the reality is that children come into the world screaming, demanding. "Please do something for me." "Do everything for me. Hold me, rock me, talk to me, sing to me, entertain me, walk me, feed me, burp me, change me, and do it right now!"
Children have to do that. That's the only way they can communicate. It's the only way they can survive. And it's understandable in a child. But if a child never grows beyond that, if a child never matures, if a child never develops physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, and spiritually, it is a heartbreaking tragedy. And the sad truth is that some people do remain "childish" all the days of their lives.
Childish people are basically selfish and self-centered. They never think of the needs of others. Childish people have not yet learned how to share and care. They have not yet learned how to be grateful and generous. They have not yet learned how to be patient or polite or considerate or gracious.
Do you know anybody like that? Childish people (whatever age they may be) go through life screaming, "Please do something for me! And do it right now!" "I have this problem. What are you going to do about it? What have you done for me lately?"
The Adolescent Stage
Here, the key word is arrogant, but other descriptive adjectives fly fast and furious: rebellious, restless, discontented, ruthless, prideful. Adolescent people quite simply are those who never grew up. In trying to "cut the apron strings," they went overboard. They let the pendulum swing too far, and they have become hostile and resentful of any authority over their lives.
They are scared to death, but they try to cover that up with a false bravado, again and again loudly saying things like, "I don't answer to anybody! I'm my own boss! Nobody's going to tell me what to do or how to behave! My life's my own, and I'll do as I please! You gotta look out for number one! I'm a self-made person! I don't need anybody!"
Adolescent people say things like that so often and so loudly that you wonder who they are trying to convince.
One biblical illustration of the adolescent stage is the picture of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, saying, in effect, "Who does God think he is, telling us what we can eat and what we can't eat!"
Do you know anybody like that? The word here is arrogant, and the cry of the adolescent stage is, "Please leave me alone. I can take care of myself!"
The Mature Adult Stage
I don't know why somebody would give this to me, but "a friend of mine" put on my desk a description of "How to Know You're Growing Older." It reads like this:
You know you're growing older
when everything hurts, and what doesn't hurt doesn't work;
when you feel like the night before, and you haven't been anywhere;
when your little black book contains only names ending in M.D.;
when you get winded playing chess;
when you join a health club and don't go;
when you sit in a rocking chair and can't get it going;
when your knees buckle, and your belt won't;
when dialing long distance wears you out;
when your pacemaker makes the garage door go up when you see a pretty girl walk by.
Now, these may be signs of growing older, but they are not signs of maturity. Growing older doesn't necessarily mean that we have become mature. Some people live a long time and have a lot of years under their belt but still have not made it to spiritual maturity. Somehow they got stuck in either the childish stage or the adolescent stage, crying, "Please do something for me!" or crying, "Please leave me alone!" On the other hand, I know some young people who haven't lived so many years, and yet they are amazingly mature.
The key word here is love. It is fascinating to note that both Jesus and Paul equated maturity with love. Jesus called love the key sign of discipleship, and Paul said that love is the greatest of spiritual gifts. So the measuring stick for spiritual maturity is loving compassion; humble, willing service; gracious thoughtfulness.
Love means being a servant Christian. The most mature person is the person most able to be loving, and the cry here is, "Please let me do something for you! Please let me help you! Please let me serve God by serving others. Lord, make me an instrument of your peace and grace. Lord, let me be a conduit for your love."
We see these three approaches to life expressed dramatically in the parable of the prodigal son. At first, the prodigal son childishly and selfishly demands, "Give me my inheritance now! I don't want to wait around until you die!" How presumptuous! How childish!
Then, he moves into the adolescent stage and runs away to the far country. As he walks down the road, can't you just hear him saying these arrogant words: "I'm my own boss now! I'm number one! It's all about me! I'm not answering to anybody anymore. I can make it all by myself. I don't need my father or my brother. I don't need anybody!" How arrogant! How adolescent!
But then, look what happens. The prodigal squanders his money on riotous living and ends up (of all things) a feeder of pigs, which for a Jewish boy back then was as low as it got. It was the depths of degradation. The absolute pits!
It was also the "two-by-four" that got his attention—that "grew him up." The scriptures say that "he came to himself" (Luke 15:17), which means that he matured. And then (don't miss this now), he returns home and says humbly, "Father, make me a servant. I was so foolish and so ungrateful and so presumptuous. I was so childish and so adolescent. I'm no longer worthy to be your son. Please make me a hired servant."
Now, we know the rest of the story, how the father forgave him and loved him back into the family circle, but we also see that the prodigal son grew up. He became a different person.
In these three stages—the childish stage, the adolescent stage, and the mature adult stage— we see precisely the ways in which people relate to life today, the ways people relate to the church, to marriage, to work, to school, to the nation, to others, and to God.
Let me show you what I mean with three thoughts.
First of All, Think with Me about the Church and How We Relate to It
I have been around the church a long time now, and over the years I have come to realize that these three approaches are precisely the three ways people relate to the church.
Some people relate to the church childishly. That is, they say, "I'll come to church as long as you please me. I'll participate as long as you let me sit where I want to sit, as long as I get the choir robe I want, as long as we sing the hymns I like to sing, as long as the preacher says what I want him to say, as long as the teacher teaches what I want taught; I'll come as long as you make me happy. But if anyone crosses me, if anyone does something I don't like, I'll quit. I'll jump on my tricycle and go home." How childish!
And then, there are some who relate to the church in an adolescent way. They say, "I don't need the church. I surely don't need to go to Sunday school. That's for kids and old folks, not for me. I'm going to live my life out there in the far country, doing my own thing. I have three cars and a boat. Why would I need the church? Nobody's going to tell me how to live my life, especially not the church!"
But then, thank God, there are those who relate to the church as spiritually mature adults, who say, "Let me be the church for others! Let me be part of the continuing ministry of Jesus Christ. Lord, make me an instrument of your amazing grace! Let me be a servant Christian. Let me do whatever needs to be done to help the cause of Christ and the church."
Second, Think with Me about Marriage and How We Relate to It
Some come to marriage in a childish way. They say, "I'll stay married to you as long as you make me happy. If you do what I want you to do, if you please me, if you act like I want you to act and say what I want you to say, if you make me happy, then I'll stay married to you. But if you don't, I'm going to get me another playmate." How childish!
Then, there are other people who are adolescent in their approach to marriage. They say, "I'll marry you, but I won't answer to you or to anybody. I want three nights out a week, with no questions asked. I don't have to answer to you, and where I go and what I do are none of your business. Nobody owns me! Who do you think you are, asking me where I've been?" How adolescent!
Then, thank God, there are some people who come to marriage like spiritually mature people, saying, "Let me love you. Please let me love you." And when you have two people approaching marriage like that at the same time, you have heaven on earth. Our problem is that we spend all of our time trying to find the right person to marry, rather than learning how to be the right person.
Third and Finally, Think About How We Relate to God
The gauge here is our prayer life. Be honest now: Are you childish in your praying? Do you come to God selfishly saying, "Lord, give me this or that. Lord, do this for me. Do that for me. Bless me. Give to me"? How childish!
Or are you adolescent in your approach to prayer, saying, "Prayer? Who needs it? Not me! I can make it just fine all by myself! I don't need God or anybody"? How adolescent!
But then, thank God, there are others who are spiritually mature, and they pray in the manner of Saint Francis of Assisi, "Lord, use me. Make me your servant. Make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, let me bring pardon. Where there is doubt, let me cultivate faith. Where there is despair, let me instill hope. Where there is darkness, let me light a candle." Thank God for these spiritually mature adult people who pray like that and who live like that!
Now, let me conclude with two quick observations. First, please don't categorize people. Don't try to figure out who is childish, who is adolescent, and who is spiritually mature. Because, you see, the truth is, all three of these potentialities reside in every one of us at every moment. At any given moment, I have a choice—I can be childish, I can be adolescent, or I can be spiritually mature.
The second observation is that the Christian faith is saying something very simple but very profound to us, namely this: Grow up! Be mature! And the way to grow up and be mature is to learn how to be more loving, how to be a servant. That's what it is all about!CHAPTER 2
Choosing to Be Humble: O Lord, It's Hard to Be Humble
Scripture: Luke 18:9-14
Over the years, I have learned something that's very important to remember, namely this: that sometimes our worst day can turn out to be our best day; that sometimes our lowest, most agonizing moment can become a stepping-stone toward spiritual maturity; that sometimes a moment of painful failure can, by the grace of God, be redeemed.
Have you ever heard someone say something like this: "That was a terrible experience, but in some ways it was the best thing that ever happened to me"? Let me show you what I mean.
It was a beautiful spring day, a day just made for playing baseball! Just a few weeks before, I had celebrated my twelfth birthday. At the time, baseball was my passion, my ambition, my life. I slept with my baseball cap on, I loved it so much.
I had a new glove, a new bat, a new ball, a new pair of cleats, and a brand-new Little League uniform. Our first game was that very afternoon at 4:00 p.m. at Hollywood Park. Our team was favored to win the league championship and to go on to the city finals.
I was primed and ready for action. I had everything needed to start the new season, except for one thing: I didn't have a plug of chewing tobacco! I had noticed on TV that some of the best Major League players always had a big chew of tobacco lodged firmly in the side of their mouth, making their cheeks puff out like they had the mumps.
I was determined to give it a try, and I was delighted later that morning when an older friend stopped by to wish me luck and to give me a big plug of chewing tobacco.
Now, my mother and father had warned me about chewing tobacco. They had said, "It's not good for you, and it will make you sick at your stomach!" I had heard their advice, and for many years I had heeded it; but now I was twelve years old, and I knew all about life (or so I thought), and I didn't think my parents really knew or understood the finer points of baseball.
So, I slipped out to the garage for my first (and last) experience with chewing tobacco. To my surprise, Mom and Dad were right: I got so sick, I must have turned green.
After an hour or so of suffering in solitude in the garage, my dad found me. Painful though it was, I told him what I had done and blurted out an apology. He hugged me and said, "You stay here. I'll go get some medicine."
My appreciation for my dad grew by leaps and bounds that day, because he not only brought me the medicine but he also never told anybody what I had done that day. The medicine worked wonders, and soon I felt better physically, but spiritually and emotionally I was a wreck.
Embarrassed, I went straight to my room and sat there in silence, ashamed, sorrowful, scared, and penitent—genuinely penitent! I fell down on my knees beside my bed and prayed more fervently than I had ever prayed before.
The words were not high-sounding or theologically distinctive, but in many ways, it was one of the best prayers I ever prayed, just repeating, "O God, I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!"
Now, that was a terrible day, one of my worst moments. I shudder to think about it, and yet, in retrospect, it was one of my best days, because it brought me to God; it brought me to my knees; it brought me to my senses.
That day, as never before, I learned the meaning of penitence, and through the tender way my dad handled that situation, I learned that day as never before the meaning of grace and forgiveness.
I was touched some time ago by a letter to Ann Landers, the former longtime syndicated advice columnist, written by another twelve-year-old boy. Listen to this:
Dear Ann Landers:
I am a boy who is twelve years of age. I did something my parents didn't think was right, and as punishment they made me stay home from a ball game I was dying to see. The tickets were bought and every thing. They took my cousin instead of me. It was the worst day of my life.
I decided they were terrible to treat me so bad, and I started to pack my suitcase to run away. I finished packing and I thought maybe I should write a good-bye letter.
I wanted my folks to know why I was running away. I got to thinking about lots of things as I was writing and decided I ought to be fair and apologize for a few things I had done that weren't right.
After I started to write I thought of lots of things that needed apologizing for. then began to thank them for the nice things they had done for me, and there seemed to be an awful lot of them.
By the time I finished writing the letter, I unpacked my suitcase and tore up what I wrote.... I hope all kids who think they want to run away from home will sit down and write a letter to their parents like I did, and then they won't go.
A Rotten Kid
You don't sound rotten to me. You sound great. I wish you were mine!
Excerpted from Jesus' Parables About Making Choices by JAMES W. MOORE. Copyright © 2007 Dimensions for Living. Excerpted by permission of Dimensions for Living.
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Table of Contents
Jesus' Parables About Making Choices,
1. Choosing to Grow Up Navigating the Stages of Life,
2. Choosing to Be Humble O Lord, It's Hard to Be Humble,
3. Choosing to Listen Do You Need a Hearing Aid?,
4. Choosing to Help The Three Approaches to Life,
5. Choosing to Try Failure Is Not to Try,
6. Choosing to Prepare When Crisis Comes, Will You Be Ready?,
SUGGESTIONS FOR LEADING A STUDY by John D. Schroeder,