Old Cowtown, Wichita, KS

Wait for the rest of the story

Should some stories not be told? Are there stories in the Bible that shouldn’t be talked about or shared? And if there are, where do you draw that line? Who decides which stories are “good” stories and which ones aren’t?

What makes a story inappropriate? That’s a difficult question because we all have different sensitivities and preferences. I do agree that there is a level of age-appropriateness that people need to use in telling stories. As much as possible, we need to protect what innocence children have left, though not at the expense of their development as adults.

That means Watchmen is probably not a good choice for your kid to watch. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about.

But what about grownups? What about older teenagers? Actually what about younger teenagers and tweens? Why do stories that are potentially “offensive” bother us?

Old Cowtown, Wichita, KS

Old Cowtown, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Luke 15:11-13.

To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living.”

I’m going to stop there because most everyone knows this story. Even secular scholars consider it one of the greatest short stories of all time. If you haven’t read it, you can find it in Luke 15.

Put yourself in the place of the men (and women) who were listening to Jesus tell this story. The younger son demanding his money, disrespecting his father, dishonoring his family, squandering his wealth. Not a good situation.  What do you think they expected to happen with Little Brother came home?

Knowing the culture of the time, I’m sure everyone expected the father would cast him out. After all, that’s what most people would do, especially with someone who’s betrayed you. But if you know the story of the Prodigal Son, that’s not what happens. The father, who is a picture of God by the way, welcomes the Son home and throws a party for him.

Definitely not what anyone expected.

In the last few months, God and I have been having some pretty serious conversations about storytelling and what it is and why it exists. To me, telling a story is an opportunity to share God’s love with people who need to hear about it–or who need to be reminded about it. But to get to that point, sometimes the stories you tell can’t be nice.

That’s the trick about story. Story is conflict. Without conflict, there is no story. Our fallen natures demand trouble in a story, otherwise we’re not interested.

Jesus could have told a story about a young man who stayed at home and never questioned his father and never strayed. The son would grow up, inherit his father’s lands, and live happily ever after.


Try pitching that elevator speech to a publisher and see how rapidly your conversation will switch to the weather.

The son has to make a huge, grave error. He has to do something stupid, though at the time he doesn’t think it’s stupid. He steps out on his own, fights the constraints of his overprotective father, and strikes out to find adventure. He goes where he wants. He does what he wants. And it doesn’t matter that everything he chooses to do goes against everything his father taught him.

Think about this story Jesus is telling. This son just basically flipped his father off. So if Jesus is telling a story about a young man who disrespects his father, does that mean Jesus believes that’s how all people should treat their parents?

Of course not.

The difference comes later, when the son realizes that he has to face the consequences for his actions, when he wraps his dumb head around the fact that his father’s rules were there for his protection.  But you can’t tell a story in summary. Summaries don’t allow you to experience a story for yourself, and that’s where the power of story comes into play. You live the story along with the characters, and you learn the same lessons they learn.

The young man makes a horrible choice and learns a valuable lesson about accountability, only to learn an even more amazing lesson about grace from a father who loves him unconditionally. Jesus didn’t approve of children disrespecting their parents or of people twisting off and squandering their resources. But the character in his story needed to experience those things before he could learn what he needed to learn.

So am I saying we should all rush out and watch the worst rated movie in the theatres? No. But I am saying not to judge a story because it’s real. When you hear or read a story that goes against what you believe, don’t instantly shut it out. Don’t turn away from it. Wait for the rest of the story.

Can you imagine what our faith would be like if the writers of the Gospel stopped paying attention when the Prodigal Son first twisted off? They would have missed the point entirely.

Don’t be surprised when you hear a story you don’t agree with. We live in a world we shouldn’t agree with, but ignoring that fact, turning away from it, shutting it out completely doesn’t do you any good and it won’t allow God’s love to shine through you either.

Sheep at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Sense of direction

Do sheep have a sense of direction? I don’t know. I know they’re creatures of habit, but just because they can get into a routine doesn’t mean they know where they’re going when left to their own devices. As far as I’m concerned, sheep have two settings, hungry and scared. And if they aren’t one, they’re the other.

Sheep at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Sheep at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Isaiah 53:6.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.

I’ve blogged before about how similar we are to sheep. The more you know about sheep, the more you’ll realize how much we’re alike. If you leave a sheep on its own, it will walk the same path day after day because it’s the path it has always followed. And even if there isn’t any food on that path, it will keep looking for it until it walks itself to death.

When you’re raising sheep, you have to establish a routine that you repeat daily. If you don’t, they get scared. I was told during my days raising sheep for 4-H that you would increase your chances of your sheep surviving through the fair if you played a radio in their barn stall constantly. Because there would be radios at the fair, and if the sheep isn’t used to it, it’ll drop dead in fright.

And you also have to establish a feeding schedule every day. You can’t just put all their food in the stall with them because they won’t stop eating when they’re full. They’ll eat themselves to death. And you have to mix salt in with their food instead of providing a salt block because they’ll chew holes in their teeth.

Does any of that sound familiar? Maybe we don’t chew holes in our teeth per se and maybe radios don’t scare us and maybe we can fend for ourselves a little better than sheep can, but how different are we really? I make fun of sheep for lacking a sense of direction, but my sense of direction is no better. Because when I wander off on my own, I get into all sorts of trouble.

There are so many times I am sure I know where I’m going. And I’m confident that even if I get into a sticky situation, I can handle myself well enough to get out unscathed. But it rarely happens that way. I’ve gotten really good at turning around when I’m trying to navigate a city I don’t know. But it’s one thing to turn around when you’ve taken a wrong turn while you’re driving. It’s something else to turn around when you’ve made a wrong choice in life.

Wrong choices in life don’t just affect me. Getting lost in life doesn’t just have an impact on my situation; it affects the people around me too. And the really ironic part of it is that I would never get lost if I just stayed on the path God laid out.

That’s why sheep need shepherds. They aren’t capable of taking care of themselves. So someone has to provide food for them or show them where they can find food. And sheep know that, as much as a sheep can know anything. That’s where we are different. We think we can take care of ourselves. We think we can survive on our own. We think we don’t need a shepherd because if we have a shepherd that means we aren’t in control of our lives.

But shepherds know where to find food. Shepherds know where to find water. They know how to take care of their sheep. Shepherds aren’t enemies with their sheep; their sheep are their livelihood. So why wouldn’t a shepherd want the best for them?

I’m not saying we are God’s livelihood, but why wouldn’t He want the best for us? The issue comes when His best doesn’t match our expectations, and that’s when we walk away from Him and get lost looking for food along our own path. We’re fortunate that He comes looking for us.

It’s the shepherd’s job to know how to take care of  his sheep. It’s God’s job to know how to take care of us. And maybe there are times when it doesn’t feel like God is leading me along a fun path, but I need to trust that He knows where He’s going because I don’t.