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"Regrets, Reality and Grace-filled Restoration " #82-25

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 22, 2015
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2015 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Luke 15

11 Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided up his property between them. 13"Not long after that, the younger son got together all that he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.' 20 So he got up and he went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine who was dead is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.

Christ is risen; He is risen indeed, and faith in Him is the power to deal with reality, regrets, for real restoration. Amen.

Have you ever had a moment in your life when you came to yourself? You know, when you said, "How did I get here?" "Is this what I'm supposed to be doing?" And you decided to make a change!

Jason Brown had a moment like that. He was a National Football League veteran with 37.5 million dollars in contract. Released by the St. Louis Rams, he was still a valuable commodity in the league. The San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, and Baltimore Ravens all lined up to court the twenty-nine year old, three-hundred-pound center. Which team did Jason choose? None of them. After years of success in the NFL, Jason decided to walk away from football. People were amazed at his decision. His agent told him he was making the biggest mistake of his life. But Jason said, "No. No, I'm not." He came to himself.

Instead of continuing his football career, Jason went back home to North Carolina and bought a 1,030-acre farm. This young man who had never farmed in his life decided to settle down and help his community by growing sweet potatoes and cucumbers that would help feed the hungry.

Years ago, in the middle of the hoopla of football, Jason Brown came back to himself. It was when his brother was killed while serving in the military in Iraq. Suddenly Jason saw what was truly important in life. He decided to play football well, but to use it as a launching pad to help people in need.

For a short time, Jason reveled in the glory of the gridiron. He went to clubs with his friends, enjoyed the public adulation; but it didn't take long for him to realize that there was much more to life. He said to himself, "When I'm done playing football, I need to leave with my identity intact."

So, Brown got out at age twenty-nine. He said that he knew it was God's plan for him and his family. Though living lavishly in St. Louis, they gave it all up and they moved into a 100-year-old farmhouse in the North Carolina countryside. It was time to remember who he really was, what life really was all about, and how God wanted him to give back.

Have you ever come back to yourself? Has a wake-up call ever shaken you back to your senses?

Maybe it was something your kids said to you. Maybe you had a health scare or weathered a broken relationship. Perhaps you lost a loved one. It could have been a time when you hit rock bottom. Have you ever been shaken to your senses by reality that hit you that hard?

Jason Brown saw the danger of losing himself in the fast moving world of football. There are times in life when you can lose yourself, too, when you can forget who you are and what life is really all about. Jesus told a story about a son who did just that. You've probably heard it before. It's the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke, chapter fifteen, of the Bible. The young man decided that he had had enough of the ways of his father's house. It was time for him to take his inheritance and do his own thing. Jesus said the boy went to a far away country and "he squandered his property in reckless living" (Luke 15:13).

When the money ran out, so did his so-called friends. His world came crashing down. Suddenly, a boy who lived in comfort was scrounging for pig food with the pigs. He was at rock bottom. What happened next changed the course of his life. Jesus said, "He came to himself." It was as if the boy was living outside of himself. He was living a life that neither his father nor God intended. He was a stranger to the God who loved him, who created him, who redeemed him; a stranger even to himself.

Have you ever felt that way? Maybe your work schedule leaves you feeling like an empty human being. Perhaps your quest for success has made your heart cold and distant. I wonder if all your efforts to feel good are causing you to lose yourself.

When you get to that point, you wonder if there is any hope, if there is any way back to who you really are.

The Prodigal Son that Jesus is talking about he wondered the same thing. Restoration, he didn't believe there was any way back to being a son again. As he sat in pig slop, he composed a speech. He would go back home. He would beg his father for a position as a hired servant. His own regrets and his sloppy reality convinced him that restoration really was ultimately impossible.

But you know what happened next. While the boy was still far off and before he could even begin to recite his prepared speech, his father ran to him, threw his arms around him in a compassionate and forgiving embrace, and called the servants to begin a welcome home celebration beyond all celebrations. Jesus recounts: The father said to the servants, "Bring out the best robe, put it on him, put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate" (Luke 15:20-24).

The undeserving, Prodigal Son ran into an extravagant grace, abounding love, and a limitless forgiveness. With a surprising turn of events, he was restored. He was himself again because of the father's gracious love. You could say it this way; grace chased him down on the road and gave him hope and a future because that's what grace really does.

Jason Brown also experienced it. He went home to North Carolina and he tried to start on his own; but a gracious God, through gracious people, made all the difference. Things really changed when he met Len Wester, a local farmer, who came over to help him and give him some pointers. Then a few other farmers found out that Jason wanted to give all his crops away, so they connected him to some charities. At last, the man who had never farmed in his life gave away 46,000 pounds of sweet potatoes. Jason said, "I look over this farm and I see such blessing. This has been more than I could have ever imagined. I have been blessed more than I've blessed others."

Grace pursued him, it pursues you because that's just who God is. That's the point of the story of the Prodigal Son. God's grace sought him out; it seeks you out. You may think that you've hit bottom or lost yourself. You may feel like you need to find a new life. But before you go looking for anything, your heavenly Father, in His grace, is pursuing you. He's running after you with a heart of love and compassion, ready to embrace you and cry out, "You're already welcomed home in Me! Let's celebrate!"

In Ezekiel 34, God described Himself as a faithful shepherd looking for His sheep. He said: I myself search for my sheep. I will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among the sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep.....I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, I will strengthen the weak..." (Ezekiel 34:10-12, 15-16).

In His grace, God pursues you. He seeks you out to restore you. He's seeking you today. What reality is hitting you hard right now? What regrets are weighing you down right now? How do you need to be restored by your Savior God, your Faithful Shepherd? Today you can be certain that God is reaching out to you to surprise you with His grace. He is searching for you, looking behind the dark clouds of gloom that have settled around you. He is working to rescue you from the painful places where you feel stuck. He is opening doors to bring you back from places of worry and doubt, from disappointment and fear. He is healing your wounds with His life-renewing love. It's all happening right now. Do you see it this moment? Do you hear the encouraging truth of your caring God who is looking for you, seeking you out?

Tim Miller knows how important it is to have someone searching for you. Twenty years ago, his sixteen-year-old daughter, Laura, disappeared. Laura was talking to her boyfriend on a phone at a local convenience store--just a half-mile from home. Laura asked if she could walk home. It was the middle of the day, so her mom thought it would be okay. Time passed. Both Tim and his wife got home, but Laura wasn't there. They went to the convenience store and they didn't find her. They checked with her boyfriend, but he hadn't heard from her since their phone conversation. They drove all over the neighborhood, they searched for their daughter all night, but there was no trace of Laura. Finally, in the early morning, they contacted the police to report her as a missing person. They listened, but thinking she was merely a runaway, they didn't get into action.

Heartbroken, Tim and his wife did all they could; but they felt helpless. No one was looking for their daughter. Over a year and a half later, two boys riding their bikes accidentally stumbled across Laura's remains in a field. Tragically, she had been abducted and killed.

Tim Miller vowed never to let a person go unsearched for again. Tim formed a volunteer search group called Equusearch. Its purpose was to work with law enforcement to provide large numbers of volunteers who would search for missing loved ones. Tim asked for volunteers to help with this compassionate searching cause. He was astounded by the response. Horse owners stepped forward to give their time for search efforts. But it wasn't just the horse owners. People who owned helicopters and airplanes, they volunteered to help. Certified rescue divers and boat owners wanted to join in. People brought four-wheelers and infrared night-vision equipment. Soon, Equusearch had resources that surpassed the best law enforcement agencies. It was clear: people wanted to look for the lost. They wanted to support families who were agonizing over their missing loved ones. They wanted to provide restoration when reality was hitting hard.

Jesus' mission for your eternal salvation was much the same. He said, "The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost" (Luke 19:10). God's grace always pursues you. It always seeks you out. If you think you're too far gone, remember this.....God sent His only Son to shoulder your reality and your regrets. He took your burdens upon Himself as He hung on the cross for you. He carried your failures. He was punished for your sins. He took the consequences for your wandering and straying. And He hit rock bottom when He died in your place. But then Jesus, He rose from the dead. That means when you hit rock bottom, the living Savior is there to lift you up. He lives to seek you and find you. He lives to bring you back and give you a restored life. He rose from the dead so He could chase you down in your lostness and surprise you with His extravagant grace.

On the cross, in Christ's resurrection, God found you, my friend. By faith, you can receive that blessing! In the face of reality, regrets, there is restoration for you and me. Through Jesus Christ you are forgiven, restored. Your life is brand new. And your Savior won't stop chasing after you; He won't stop looking for you--no matter what your reality may be. Will you trust in Him with me today? Will you receive the joy of being found in Him?

It may come as a surprise to you, but God is real and He really loves you and in Him your life can be restored, refreshed, reset. I want you to know the joy of being found by Him. For the surprise of being found can change your life.

That's what happened to a Haitian man named Evans Monsignac. Evans was buried alive when a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, killing 230,000 people. The twenty-seven-year-old father of two was trapped beneath the concrete slabs. All he could hear were the cries of people dying all around him. Evans lived in a slum and he worked to support his family by selling rice. At the end of his workday in January of 2010, the world came apart and buried him in the darkness.

Rescuers began searching for people immediately; but Evans was trapped deep in the darkness. He said, "I just lifted up my eyes and prayed because I couldn't understand what was going on."

Helpless, he felt a trickle of sewage water and it touched his lips. It made him sick. Soon he began to fade in and out of consciousness. With one million people homeless and 300,000 injured, the country was overwhelmed, but people kept searching.

Evans said, "I didn't think of anything, just death. I could smell death from others - there were a lot of people under the rubble with me but the screaming soon stopped. Then it was quiet...it was dark all the time. Every time I came out of unconsciousness I prayed, I prayed that God would rescue me, give me life."

Evans lay trapped for twenty-seven days. That's when somebody spotted him. Cries went up. Hope-filled people scrambled into action. Someone was alive! They pulled him from the rubble; they rushed him to the hospital. Evans was dehydrated and malnourished. He lost sixty pounds. He was traumatized and disoriented. But he was alive. Searchers didn't give up and they found him! Against all odds, when hope seemed impossible, when life looked as if it was gone, he was found. From a Florida hospital Evans said, "I still don't understand how I'm here. I was resigned to death; but God gave me life. The fact that I'm alive today isn't because of me; it's because of the grace of God. It's a miracle. I can't explain it."

The Prodigal Son could have said the same thing. Today, you and I can say the same thing. God's love surprises us, but it is very real in Jesus. The miracle of life is that no matter where you have been or what you have done; He is always ready to welcome us home with joy. Come to your senses, yes! Know your need for God today, yes! But know even more His gracious, persevering love for you in Jesus and reality, regrets, they can give way to real restoration and new life.

We're going to be talking about these things for the next several weeks in our sermon series, "Regrets, Reality, Restoration." I hope that you continue to listen, to share the messages with a friend in need, or even contact us here at the Lutheran Hour for more resources to begin living again in God's restorative grace. We're all here today not because of ourselves. We're all here today because of a miracle. We have life in Jesus Christ today because of the grace of God and we want you to have that too.


LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for February 22, 2015
Topic: Do I Really Have to Forgive Those Who Hurt Me?

ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, we're just now starting our sermon series on "Regrets, Reality, and Restoration." Here's a question that deals with the restoration part of that. How do you forgive someone if they've really hurt you?

SELTZ: Mark, what a tough question, but one that Jesus really wants us to answer! In fact, repentance and real forgiveness, that's what the Bible is all about.

ANNOUNCER: But does that also include those who maliciously hurt and even keep on hurting others?

SELTZ: Yeah, how about forgiving our enemies?

ANNOUNCER: That all sounds impossible!

SELTZ: It is. It's a God thing in our life or it is nothing. We, at best, we brush aside our hurts and pains, real forgiveness requires absolute mercy and grace and it's absolutely impossible for us sinful, broken, hurtful, and hurting people to do it on our own, completely.

ANNOUNCER: So what can we do?

SELTZ: Nothing, that's the point. And that's why what God has done becomes such a blessing for our forgiveness, our new-found capability to really forgive others in His Name.

ANNOUNCER: Which brings us back to our theme of "Regrets, Reality, and Restoration."

SELTZ: It does, because regrets and realities have to do with the hurts that we all seem to perpetuate on one another, things that begin to destroy us, our relationships, often times from within. Restoration is something that God makes possible, something He offers as a powerful, gracious gift.

ANNOUNCER: Could you explain that?

SELTZ: Love too, first of all, when somebody is offensive, abusive, or even unknowingly hurtful, there is real damage that is done. The heartbreak of it can linger for a long time even if the person is apologetic. Often it is just difficult to forgive.

ANNOUNCER: And even when we want to forgive, there is often something in us that's pushing back against that and resisting.

SELTZ: I think part of this is that our sense of justice desperately wants the offender to receive equal or greater punishment and receive it right now. To forgive, especially if that person hasn't apologized or hasn't suffered appropriately for what has happened, that just seems wrong and it can even rub salt in the wounds of our heart.

ANNOUNCER: But God wants us to forgive others, "as He has forgiven us." How do you do that if you feel that others are somehow getting away with it?

SELTZ: But that's the point, nobody gets away with sin. God forgave us by taking the just punishment for our sin, upon Himself on the cross. His mercy flows from justice completed, sin paid for. Think of it this way; He took the ultimate salt in His wounds for us all. And then as forgiven ones by His grace, we can even begin to forgive others the way He does us.

ANNOUNCER: So forgiveness, justice, repentance--these are things that need to be brought to God first and foremost.

SELTZ: That's why I said, without Him, this is impossible. We need to see how His grace overwhelms us, strengthens us, empowers us as we try to deal with real hurts and brokenness.

ANNOUNCER: I suspect there are many listening today, though, that still don't want to forgive because the offense was so great, the hurt is so deep, the anger is still so fresh.

SELTZ: Well, I think it's important then to distinguish between times of struggle with forgiveness and a heart that just won't forgive, period. A never-forgive attitude in us is one that can't be aligned with Christ by faith. But, amidst the struggles of trying to forgive, when things are fresh, when the hurt is real, God doesn't deny that reality. In fact, it's important for all of us to remember that God knows our hurts even deeper than we do. And He doesn't leave us alone to suffer.

ANNOUNCER: Which is another reason Jesus came--to experience our brokenness even as He earned our salvation.

SELTZ: Well said--He knows what it is like to be wounded physically and emotionally and Jesus' death and resurrection was provision for us where God overwhelmed our real brokenness and pain with His joy, forgiveness, and salvation.

ANNOUNCER: So another aspect of God's gift to us in Jesus is that He lifts us up out of the pain and bitterness that would otherwise make slaves of us and rob us of our joy.

SELTZ: Right, Christ's good news of forgiveness now means that we too can forgive others, not because we ourselves have this power to forgive but because God in us can forgive. That's the God who knows the pain, the brokenness, the reality of your hurt, but also knows the power of His love in Christ for you and for all.

ANNOUNCER: God Himself is deeply offended by sin; we trust that He will do what it takes to bring about justice. That enables us to let go of our bitterness and forgive others.

SELTZ: Yes, and trusting in Him for all of that, that's the beginning of real restoration, too.

ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"O Lord, Throughout These Forty Days" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.

"On My Heart Imprint Your Image" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

"When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

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