Levi Lusko - This Is Why You Are Lonely
You cannot become yourself by yourself. You cannot become yourself by yourself. Because your true identity, baked into you from the image of God, is intensely relational. It's intensely communal. Because you were made in the image of someone who said let us make man in our image. And so he made man in His image and then spoke over man, "It is not good that man should stay alone". I've got a solution for you. So it wasn't even enough that Adam had a relationship with God. Adam needed to understand the power and the complexity, the difficulty, the subtlety, the messiness, you might even say, of relationships with another so that in that dynamic play he could join in what God has perpetually in the midst of... and that is the dance of relationship.
As I think about the most wonderful and the most difficult moments of my life, there's a common denominator, and it's people. The high moments, the wonderful moments, as I scan back my 41 years, I think about the moments of joy and sensing God and there just being a sense of power. And those high moments intersect with people, the faces of people who are laughing, the faces of people who are crying, the faces of people who are holding my hands, the faces of people who are saying to me, "Me too. Me too. You're not the only one," saying, "You're gonna get through this," saying, "God has more for you". Speaking the promises, speaking God's word over my life. And as I think back and scan through the inventory of the pits and of the moments that are mountaintops, I also think about the hardest moments, the most challenging moments, the moments that were the most anxious, the moments that were the most fearful, the moments where I felt like the despair was going to swallow me alive.
And I think about how so many of those moments, as I think back to them, I was alone. Alone because there was either not people in my life or alone because the wrong people were in my life or alone because I had people but I stayed silent and didn't speak up about what was making me so sad. I want to talk to you today about the subject of loneliness. If you like to take notes down, the title of the message God gave me is, "This Is Why You Are So Lonely". "This Is Why You Are So Lonely". Or if you like a subtitle, the subtitle is "Self-checkouts, Pickleball, and Jesus". So, you could write down whichever one you want. But we're in a series of messages.
Welcome to week two, called "Make Yourself at Home". And that's our heartbeat here at Fresh Life Church, that you would come in and from the jump, feel that you can make yourself here at home. One of God's favorite ways to describe the church, there are many different ways in scripture that God thinks about nicknames, I guess you could say, but one of my favorites, and clearly one of his, is that it's meant to feel like a house, to feel like a home. And there are limitations to any analogy. But what we're trying to do is to get the who, the what, the when, the where, the why, the how of church. Why does it matter so much to God? Why should it matter so much to us? And we're sensing that, as we spend our time base-camping in this most famous of the parables, the Parable of the Prodigal son, let's read it once more. And if you weren't here last week, we're anchoring our hearts here in this parable and trying to get a sense or an idea of what the church is meant to feel like and what is a barrier to that coming to life for you.
"A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father", I'm reading from Luke 15, "'Father give me the portion of goods that falls to me.' So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and here I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.' And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found.' And they began to be merry. Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. So he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.' But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, 'Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I may make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours comes, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.' And he said to him, 'Son, you are with me and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.'"
And so God, we thank you for this scripture. We pray that you would cause our hearts to burn, to glow within us as we consider the implications of this, your word, on our hearts, on our lives and yes, God, on our loneliness. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen. (Can I get a good Sunday morning "amen" for those who are thankful for God's word?) Amen!
Now, as amazing as this passage is to read it, to consider it, no matter whether it's the first time you've ever sat and really, really let that sink into you or for the 150th time, you can't properly get the impact Jesus wants this text to have on your heart without understanding, I believe, two things, and specifically when it comes to the implications of our loneliness. First of all, the fact that it is a third or a climax of a series of parables. It's almost like there was the opening act and then another opening act, and then finally you get to the headliner. And this is the headliner. It's the other shoe dropping of a series of parables. And the second thing that you really need to understand is the context, of course, who this was spoken to and the reason it was given because of, right?
So let's deal with both of those. First of all, the parable is the final act in a series of parables about stuff that gets lost. Stuff gets lost all the time, right? Anybody ever just so confused over the sock situation? How can they always... it doesn't matter. It doesn't fail. You just decide, I'm gonna take better care of you, like a new pack of socks. You're like, no, this time we're not messing around, right? My whole life it's been a game, but, no, this time we're serious. We mean business. And then just without fail, there's a missing sock. So I don't understand that. "The secret things belong to the Lord," Deuteronomy 29:29 says, so I have just decided I can wait till heaven to know where all the socks go, right? But as far as the parable is concerned, there's not a sock that's lost.
There's, first of all, a sheep, and then... and we've spent some time on this while pondering our marriages during our summer book club series as we talked about the Last Supper on the moon a little bit, and that is the parable of the missing coin, that this woman lost a coin. And it wasn't just a coin, it was a coin that was basically, to put it in our culture, it was a part of her wedding ring. It was missing a diamond from her engagement ring her husband had given to her. So the franticness with which she looked for that would be the same way that you would look for your wedding ring, right? And so you have these two things that are lost at the beginning and both times what was lost can be found. And may I just be so bold as to say in Jesus' name, what's been lost in your life can be found, can be recovered.
You've lost some ground, you lost some courage, you lost some momentum, you feel like you've lost some progress, you've lost your way, lost things can be found, the Bible tells us, even lost ax heads, right? God cares about things that everyone else might not care about in your life. But you just feel like it matters to you? Well, let me tell you something, it matters to him. And both times, the person who lost the thing went back immediately to their community, to their people. They gathered the people in their life, significant people to their life. They gathered their familia, and they said to them, "What was lost is found. Let's rejoice together".
And the joy actually became fuller than just the joy of having it recovered in a solitary fashion. The shepherd was rejoicing the whole way back because he's got his sheep on his shoulders. But when he gets to tell the story again, he gets to take almost vicarious new joy by seeing the people in his corner, their faces light up as he tells, "Where did you find him"? "Well, you'll never guess where I found Billy, right"? And Billy was like. "And I got him and then..." And now there's a new inside joke. And I'm convinced that half of what makes relationships special is the inside jokes we collect along the way.
If you overheard just my family talking on a Saturday morning waffle breakfast brunch, right, you would just think we're insane. And you'd be right. But you wouldn't understand about the watermelon airplane. You wouldn't understand about swinging in my face. You wouldn't understand the things that cause us to almost compulsively cry. If you got into my family group chat, you would probably stop going to our church because you'd be like, you guys don't make any sense. What are you and Olivia talking about all the time? Not that it's inappropriate, I'm just saying that it makes sense to us because it's funny to us. And so there's now the new inside joke and the shared communal experience of getting to talk about the shepherd.
The same with the woman, when she finds that coin after sweeping and lighting and searching, she gets her people. Her immediate reaction is to what? Rejoice with those who will rejoice with her. They're coming over, and they're excited too. And so now you get that, like, problem-solution-celebration, the problem-solution-celebration. And if you just look at Rembrandt's painting, one of the most famous paintings of all time, of the Prodigal Son being back at home, you're just going to miss it. Because you're just reading the Parable of the Prodigal Son for all the feels without realizing there's the problem, the solution, and then... wah, wah, wah, wah. Because this father is most excited about celebrating his lost son who has come home with his other son. But the other son won't celebrate.
So this ends not with the joyful happiness that we've been expecting because of the pattern that's been introduced and now replicated, this story is meant to leave us unsettled. Have you ever read it and go, well, what does he decide? Which path does he choose? Does he come inside and eat some of that fatted calf or does he stay outside the house angry? And Jesus doesn't tell us because this isn't a real story, it's about your story. What he's asking is, will you have the people to celebrate with? Will you come into the party? Will you allow Him to end the loneliness in your life by engaging in the fullness of the gospel, which is not just being connected, right, with God, but also with his people?
The second thing that's important in understanding this passage and specifically its implications on our loneliness is the actual reason Jesus told the story. OK? So if you back up to Luke 15 at the top of it, you'll notice that Jesus is preaching and all kinds of people be coming into the service, people broken, people wounded, people still smelling high from last night's party, people who literally had been giving their bodies in a sexual capacity for money. Like, they haven't even showered yet, and they're coming to sit at his feet broken and hurting, looking for validation in all the wrong places. And they find kindness and they find hope. They are the lost coin. They are the lost sheep. Jesus' heart breaks for you if that's you today. He welcomes you at his feet. He welcomes you at the table. He welcomes you in the home. He welcomes you in the party.
Come on, this is a place where you are welcome if you are wounded. It doesn't matter where you've been. It doesn't matter what you've done. There is hope for you. There is help for you in Jesus' name. He (listen to me) is the friend of sinners. But not everybody likes that. In fact, it's the professional pastors who didn't like all that, who thought church was meant to be a halo-shining party, a museum for Saints to revel in all the good things they've done that would make God happy that he has us on his team. And they don't like that Jesus is willing to be touched by sinners, in their words. Those nasty sinners, do you know what they've done? Do you know how unclean they are?
And so it is for that reason that Jesus is trying to, even in his meal, give a picture of what church is supposed to look like, that everybody can make themselves at home in his house. That causes him to tell this trilogy of parables that culminates in someone angrily arms crossed, outside of the house, not participating in what God wants for them on the basis of something they have problem with in Jesus's heart. So the point is both of these sons are lonely at a certain point in the story. They both are miserable. And that's what I was thinking about this week. I was thinking about how funny it is that so many of us deal with loneliness because loneliness is man-made. I was trying to think, like, could I define loneliness?
Now, of course, there's all sorts of dictionary definitions. But the best one I came up with is it's man-made misery. Wow. God made relationships. Man made misery. And the loneliness that the younger son felt in the pig trough is, as the story ends, solved. Because the young son ends up in the house. It's the older brother who ends up miserable and having no one to blame but himself that is thrust upon us as the actual point. Now there are other implications. But the actual point for the story is to expose the heart of the older brother who ends up miserable not because of hedonism, not because of secularism, not because of paganism, all those things left the younger brother miserable.
Tell me where the answers are in any of those things? He ended up, though, miserable and lonely and by himself and sulking and with a victim mentality and a woe-is-me spirit and a "God owes me so why is life not going better than it is," not because of hedonism, but because of hypocrisy. Not because of secularism, but because of pseudo-spirituality. Not because he was a pagan, but because he was a Pharisee. And the same thing can happen to any of us if we're not careful. And make no mistake about it, whether you are lonely like the younger or lonely today, miserable because you're like the older, miserable loneliness is something that is affecting more and more of us.
And all of the studies point to this. Misery now, at this moment September of 2023 affects more than half of American adults. 58% of American adults are now considered lonely. And younger Americans are almost twice as likely to be lonely as those who are over 65. If you're between the ages of 18 and 24, 79% are lonely, feel lonely, feel disconnected, feel like they're by themselves, feel like the younger brother, that phrase, that haunting phrase, "And no one gave him anything". Almost 80% of young adults with their whole lives in front of them, their future so bright they should be needing sunglasses, how do they feel? Connected digitally to more people than anyone's ever been connected to ever in the history of mankind, by the way. Lonely.
If this is how life should be going, why does it feel so hollow? And men have it worse than women. Studies bear witness that men have seen a much sharper decline than women in their close friendships over the past 30 years. A higher percentage of men say they have no close friends at all, 15% of men say they have no close friends at all, compared to only 10% of women. Men receive less emotional support from friends than do women. They are also less likely to admit to being lonely, making it tough to gauge. And they are much less likely to address their suffering. They would just rather soldier on through it by themselves.
"Loneliness", and I'm just reading, this is literally articles, news reports, loneliness, quote, "Crushes the soul but does much more than just damage your spirit. Loneliness has been correlated with strokes, heart disease, dementia, inflammation, and suicide. It breaks the heart and the body equally powerfully". Of course, you've heard the anecdotal comparison that helps us get a picture of how big of a crisis this is. The surgeon general now says that loneliness is about the same as smoking 15 cigarettes per day or drinking six alcoholic drinks every single day, right? So you have the devastating effects. We all know obesity is a problem. They say that being lonely is actually worse for your longevity than obesity is.
Now with all that kind of set in our minds why we would need such a thing, let me present to you good news and bad news. The good news is there's a solution to loneliness. And we have it right here in this book. And that is that the Bible says, "God sets the solitary in families". Come on, somebody. God's got a solution to loneliness. He says, make yourself at home. Are you a widow? Are you a single mother? Are you a dad with kids and you don't have a spouse and you're struggling to figure it all out? Make yourself at home. Are you a teen who doesn't have a mom or a dad? Do you feel orphaned by life or by circumstances? Make yourself at home.
God swings open the door and he sets the table and he's got rings ready and he's got sandals for your feet. He says, "Make yourself at home". And guess what? The Bible and me as your pastor are not the only ones saying to you, "Those who are planted in the house of the Lord", Psalm 92 verse 13, "Shall, shall, shall flourish in the courts of our God". But you'd expect me to say that. You'd expect the church to say that. You'd even suspect the Bible to say that. But guess what? It's not just the Bible that's saying that. And that's where I got bad news for you. Because there's good news. You're lonelier than ever, nation, world, culture, young people, but God's got a solution. It's the church. That's the bad news. We're not going to church either, as a nation.
Church attendance, listen to this, this is crazy, church attendance in the last 25 years has seen a decrease in our country to the tune of 40 million Americans. It is the single largest change in church activity in all of American history. 12% of Americans say, online or not online, they are not affiliated any longer with church. Troubling, though, is how good it would seem church is for you. The secular studies, this is the one I found that was published. And the irony of it all, being that it was published in the midst of 2020 is not lost on any of us who as we hear this understand the irony of it is that church attendance has been correlated with better health outcomes, longer life expectancy, more stable marriage and family life, and a greater sense of financial generosity.
This is what everyone's searching for on TikTok. I gotta live longer. I gotta find hacks to have more to spend. I gotta be happier in my home. I gotta have a better life. And the Bible says, make yourself at home. These are all the things that we're all after but we're all doing the opposite of the things that bring those results. My little brother Jesse, he turned me on to a Harvard study that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that said (this is fabulous) once a week church attendance leads to a 68% less likelihood of dying in your life a death of despair. All you gotta do is go to church once a week and you are 60... Death of despair? What are we in The Princess Bride here? Would you like to go in that pit of despair? No. You can go to church.
What are the deaths of despair? Drug overdose, suicide, and alcohol poisoning. You are almost 70% less likely to die from one of these deaths if you simply make being in God's house, being a part of God's house a part of the rhythms of your life. Why are we so surprised though when God's word told us very clearly? Look at Ecclesiastes 4:8. Tell me this isn't what we're reading about in the Prodigal Son. "There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth".
Spoiler alert: the richest person who ever lived wrote this. I'm not happy. I have a ton, and I'm not happy. You got a super hot supermodel wife. I want 700 of them. I got a ton of money. There's gotta be more. How am I gonna keep it? Can I be frozen after I die to have more of it, right? Right? Can I send my remains to Mars and someone can remake me into a human later to live long, right? Like, there's nothing new under the sun, people. "For whom am I toiling, he asked, and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment? This too is meaningless. It's a miserable business".
What did I say about man-made misery? He's lonely. My son's not gonna be able to take the company and do this with it or it'll crush him or he won't want it or I don't even have friends. I don't, I'm doing all this, but I have all this. But who's gonna, what's gonna, where am I gonna, you see what I'm saying? He's lonely, so lonely he could die. And God says, hey newsflash, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is", and we preached a whole sermon series on this one time, "not quickly broken".
And of course, you know, I'm a pastor so I'm aware of the trends and see them and experience them and understanding what's happening in the greater world of church. But it's not just church attendance that's down in our country. Bowling leagues are down. Sewing clubs are down. Bridge clubs are down. Community groups of just about every kind and sort are down. And as automation and AI and intelligent, helpful aides, you know, toasters with Alexa on them, because we haven't ever stopped to go do I need Alexa involved in the toasting of the Pop-Tart, right? But we're like, oh, that one's got a screen on it, right?
My friend literally had a screen on the front of his toaster. And he was kind of using all these features. And I was like, yeah, but that's fine. Like it didn't need any tinkering with, really, if you think about it, right? Feature creep. Feature creep. And even now when we go into situations where in our lives of being alone, our lives of being in solitude where we're not doing a spin class in a group. We're doing Peloton alone. Where we would bump into a few people, it's now all self checkouts, isn't it, right? You've seen every grocery store just ripping out all the times when you would talk awkwardly to a person and have to stand in line and be like, "oh, hey," or ignore 'em, right? And that's just being removed. You can literally go so long in your life, if you even do dare go to the self checkout instead of Instacart, leave it at the door.
We've all turned into Kevin McCallister. Leave it at the door and get the out of here, right? With our DoorDashes, is it safe? Are they gone? All right, I'll check out my ring camera before I go out and grab the food to come back into the sanctity of my lair. So I can stay miserable all the time, right? Shutting the garage door before we're out of the car, backyard people not front yard people, as our cultures used to be. Leaving some and many going, hey, this is killing us and bad for us. But let's keep inventing the things that are the problem meanwhile, like, just grasping anywhere for a solution but unwilling to say let's go back to church.
So instead here's the New Yorker solution. Here we go. "Can Pickleball Save America"? Maybe not? You know I was going to pile on that, right? But because it's a specifically male problem, the loneliness, and men tend to love the awful sound of pickleball, what do we have in the New York Times? Is pickleball the solution for male loneliness? Is it out there on the court? No! And look, pickleball is great. But here's what I would say. Lift your eyes a little bit higher in that picture if you want the solution for that loneliness. It's not what's on the ground. Come on, we gotta lift our eyes. We gotta look a little higher. We gotta set our eyes on things above. Because pickleball is great. Play pickleball. Run your leaf blower. That's how pickleball sounds to me, as appealing as listening to a leaf blower. But I think regardless of your athletic ability, you should have a racket sport to play.
So play pickleball. Because it's tennis for people who can't play tennis. The group aspects of pickleball are unquestionably appealing. The social factor of pickleball, I love the appeal. I see the appeal. Please do, do play pickleball. Do play pickleball. But I'm just one man here to say the problem goes deeper than that which pickleball can solve inside of the human soul is all I'm saying. So what does this parable of the Prodigal Son tell us about where loneliness comes from and why even if you do have a pickleball paddle in your life, that you might just might experience loneliness? There's four things I want us to look at in this text. And when we get to the fourth one, the team will come up and we'll worship and we'll lift our eyes up to the heavens and ask God to help us to understand the implications for all of our unique lives to these truths.
The first thing that is a reason, here we go, this is why you're so lonely, self-discovery. You are so lonely because you are bound and determined to discover your true self. To be independent, to have no one tell you what to do, to be emancipated, to be autonomous, this story opens with a young man who says enough with all these rules. Enough with how everything is supposed to go, being told by my father, right, exactly how my life should go. I will be happy if dot-dot-dot. So if you were just dead, if I just had this money, if I could go out into this far country that you've never let me go to, if I could live there without supervision, then I would just find my true self.
So here's a guy who ends up lonely, ironically, because he wanted to do him. I gotta do me. And me, my authentic me who I know on the inside I could become this amazing person if I could just go do whatever I want in this place. And so his journey of self discovery is literally the reason he ended up with no one to give him anything, longingly wishing he could eat and his stomach could digest what the pigs eat. Here's the truth of that lie. You cannot become yourself by yourself. You cannot become yourself by yourself. Because your true identity baked into you from the image of God is intensely relational. It's intensely communal. Because you were made in the image of someone who said, "Let us make man in our image". And so he made man in His image and then spoke over man, "It is not good that man should stay alone".
I've got a solution for you. So it wasn't even enough that Adam had a relationship with God. Adam needed to understand the power and the complexity, the difficulty, the subtlety, the messiness, you might even say, of relationships with another so that in that dynamic play, he could join in what God is perpetually in the midst of, and that is the dance of relationship community. Within the three persons of the Godhead: one God, three persons. You gonna explain that more? Nope. But I can tell you what the Bible says is true, that there's this perpetual relationship happening within who God is and that he made us always longing for that.
So some journey of self-discovery to go and to be free can't help you find out who you are. Only within the whole generation can you take your part in a chosen generation. Only as a part of a priesthood can you understand a royal priesthood. Only when you're a part of the nation can you be a holy nation, God's own special people called out of darkness into marvelous light that we may proclaim his praises. And even in the church, we get it wrong when it's all about my own personal relationship with God. Good luck praying the Lord's Prayer. "Our Father in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but to deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom..."
See, it's our relationship with him infecting and transforming and revolutionizing the relationship we have with each other and us becoming something along the way. Wow. So good. Wow, so good. The building I'm standing in is made of bricks. And you and your own personal relationship with Jesus an awesome brick, a saved brick, a brick headed to heaven, but a brick wasting its potential and missing out on the mark it's meant to make on this world. And we're going to talk more about this next week. So come back when you get to be a part of a building, when you get to be a part of a house, when you get to say, "I'm a brick and you're a brick and you're a brick".
Come on, let's be a wall. Come on, let's be a structure. Let's be a home. Let's be a house. Self-discovery will make you lonely, though, lonelier than ever. How'd you get there? Doing whatever I wanted to do. I leave the church the second someone tells me something I don't like. I get out of that situation the moment it's uncomfortable. I'm a living sacrifice until it hurts, then I sneak off that altar and go find me a different altar. It's getting quiet.
Number two, why are you so lonely? This is why you're lonely: homelessness in your own body, homelessness in your own body. You know, sin... you're like, Levi, that sounds crazy. Yeah, you know sin makes you crazy? You know sin literally, theologically makes you stupid? It does. There's a doling, hypnotizing, delusional capacity to sin. As a part of what it does to us on the way to death, which is where it's heading, so where is that little sin you're playing with, toying with, fantasizing about, justifying, compromising, rationalizing, allowing, where is it going? To death. How does it get you there? Sin is a sort of madness. Madness, it makes you a little crazy. You can't trust how you see things. You can't trust your sense of right or wrong. So as a part of that mechanism, you will say things.
I wrote down a number of things that crazy people will say. Once more and then I'll be done. I could stop at any time. I'm in control. I'll be happy if... or I can't tell them what I'm going through because I don't want to be a burden to them. No one can relate to the troubles I'm going through. So I would tell them it's hard. I would tell them I need prayer. I would tell them I'm struggling with this, but they're busy. I don't want to bother them. I'm the only one. And then even if we get the blessings we want, what do we feel? An imposter syndrome. I can't even handle blessings. I can't even handle good things because I feel like I'm a fake. Everyone knows I'm a fake. That's madness. I'm doing this.
This is happening. This is what's been spoken. But I'm of two minds of it on the subject. It's a craziness. It's a madness. You can end up truly compartmentalizing these things long enough where you feel homeless in your own body. Because we're having to sort of like hide and keep secret. We're telling lies, both to our spouse and to our people in our life that we're telling them we're all fine when we're not all fine. To God, we're still lifting up our hands but we all have this other thing we're hiding in our heart. And where we end up with is (listen, listen) disintegrated, disintegrated. God wants you to just be body, soul, spirit, every bit of you completely open, completely transparent. Here's who you are. Here's what I am. Here's me, God. This is me. This is me. I'm a mess. I need your help. To other people, this is who I am.
The moment there's something shades of gray, the moment there's something, this is the secret, no one can know this, the moment we're starting to harbor iniquity in our heart, well, we are sort of splitting ourselves. We're fracturing off pieces of our soul. And now we have to always have this thing, what lie did I tell the who? Where did I say I was? Did I delete the Safari thread on my phone or did I delete the search history on my computer? Is this gonna come up in my HBO app that I was watching this after my spouse went to bed? Did I go and cover my tracks? There's always this... what happens? You end up crazy. You end up, long enough, not even at home in your own body. Your spirit's like a foreigner to your body. Everything's clunky. You're insecure and dealing with all of these things.
You're not living nearly the sense of, I have a united heart. This is me. Here I am, God. You're dis-integrated. Lennox used to say "instinigrate" that thing, instinigrate, put that log in the fire. So what does the log do is it disintegrates. It turns to ash. What's going to happen to you and your body after you die? What's the pastor going to say as we leave the graveside ceremony? Ashes, ashes, dust to dust, disintegration. The enemy wants you to die. He wants your marriage to die. He wants your calling to die. He wants God's plans for you to die. He wants what you can do in the House of God when you're fully yourself with the light of Jesus shining in your eye with nothing to hide with transparency and openness to the people of God who can pray for you that you may be healed, who can believe God's best for your life, he wants to disintegrate that. He wants for you death, ashes to ashes. And how he wants to get you there is one tiny piece he can chip off of you at a time.
Sin is homelessness in your own body. But God says I've got a crown of beauty for those ashes. Come to me and be open. Come to me. Run to me. Come to me and say, "Father, I'm unworthy to be called your son. And I will take that ash off you. I will put it on my son Jesus on the cross". And why is it interesting that ashes are often a picture of mourning? In the old days, they didn't just wear black, they also put ashes on their head, death. Jesus says, I take your death upon me. You can have my robe upon you. Come on, newsflash, you don't deserve that royal robe, Jesus does though, and God wants you to have it. So sin splits the self. Confession makes it whole. Homelessness in your own body is the second reason you're so lonely.
Number three, why are you so lonely? This is why. The wrong people are in your life. Clearly, the young son wasn't alone all the time. And he didn't intend to go live in this far country without people. He got people. There's gonna be people scrambling to get it. You can get friends. I'm not saying you're lonely, you have no friends. I'm saying you're lonely standing there with your wrong friends. I'm saying you're standing there with your buzz on, laughing at all the wrong things, and you're lonely on the inside because you got the wrong people in your life. You're listening, you're liking, you're following, you're doing life with the wrong people. No one (I can prove it) gave him anything.
Where's all those friends now who were there getting high on his supply? Where is all the friends now that he doesn't have the resource to be paying for all the strippers and the prostitutes? Where's all his supposed friends that he felt so important when he was in the midst of all of this partying? He had people in his life, but he was lonely because they were the wrong people that were in his life. If you do life with the wrong people, you'll start to be fed by the wrong things. And it'll come to a place where you're looking to things that can't nourish you to satisfy you. And you'll think in those moments, I just need more of them and then I'll be happy. But you are looking to people who are just as lost as you to point you to the water that they don't have themselves, the wrong people.
But I also want to point out, now based on Jesus' party that included tax collectors, sinners, but also had Pharisees like Nicodemus and also had Sadducees like Joseph of Arimathea, that the church, what the church gets right and what the church is so unique in is that it presents for you the solution to loneliness by not just putting you next to people who are just like you. The power of this church is that there's a millionaire on a row sitting next to someone who makes minimum wage. And where else in the world is that possible? You tell me. You tell me. You tell me. You tell me which neighborhood can you move into that your next door neighbor makes minimum wage?
The greatest chance of upward mobility and changing your economic state is to have friends who have a different relationship with money than you have. And the church, God setting the solitary in families allows for that to happen. Because rich and poor, guess what, honey? God is a maker of us all. And we get to be a part of God's house. And that was what was so revolutionary about the early church. You got people literally who have nothing sitting next to you and doing life with people, getting opportunity from, getting access to, getting to learn from, getting to be mentored by people of just about every financial bracket you can possibly, but we're all kneeling at the same ground at the foot of the cross. And we're all saying in the men's group, what are you struggling with?
Well, let me talk to you about that. Here's some encouragement. Where else can you get mentored? I mean, it exists, but it is few and far between that you can find yourself in the midst of different nations, different languages. the Church of Jesus Christ around the world, as it represents the heart of the Father, is a place where financially, where racially, where what you struggle with can be different but we're all pointing to the same Savior. We're all pointing to the same Savior. And then we're all trying to encourage each other in that way. Come on, who's saying the church is amazing? I love God's heart for Fresh Life. That's what we're working for. That's what we're fighting for. Where we're not just going to be surrounded by people who want to take from us and we're not just going to be surrounded by people who look just like us, who live just like us, but we can learn from people who are different from us. You're lonely, though, when you just have the wrong people in your life.
And then, and fourthly, interest in only you. We're gonna talk about the older brother for a moment. Because the younger son's loneliness we get. We know people who are broken by life being hard. And we love his loneliness ending. But what should give us pause is the older brother ending miserable, man-made misery, lonely, outside the party with his father begging, come in and party like us. Come into that. You're welcome, too. But he was only interested in him. So he couldn't or wouldn't come into the house because he wanted to stand outside and talk about how unfair life was. You haven't given me this. You haven't given me that. He was interested only in himself. He, in his own unique way, was just as strung out as his younger brother had been at the height of his drug binge.
Only, it was a different kind of addiction. It was an infatuation and indeed an addiction to achievement and accomplishment, the validation he got by being that perfect son, by doing everything his father had ever asked him to do, to actually be able to listen to him say the words without gagging, "I have never once done anything you told me not to do". I'm sure, bro. But we see his true colors come out when he is unwilling to even describe his brother as his brother. And he only says, "that son of yours comes home". He can't even say his brother's name or even admit he's a brother to him. "Who wasted everything on harlots. And yet you never gave me what I know in my eyes I actually deserve".
The problem with a religious spirit is it blinds you to everything God does want to give you and will make you wish for a life that in your eyes you deserve because God is in your debt. And he deserved a goat. And again, he had friends. He was lonely, as it ends, by himself, miserable. Because he had surrounded himself with the kind of friends telling him exactly that, your father doesn't love you. I can't believe this. He never gives us a goat. Because they were feeding into that exact kind of narrative. Again, if you surround yourself with the wrong people, you will hunger for the wrong things. And pious, pseudo-spiritual, Holy-Roller, holier-than-thou arrogance is no better than the sins that his brother was tempted to.
There's a trick question in the parable. The first shepherd story has Jesus saying this, "What brings heaven more joy," basically. "What brings heaven more joy? 99 righteous people who don't need to repent or one broken hearted sinner who falls at his feet and says, I don't deserve your love". And you're like, well, 99, that's a lot. Everyone is like, oh yeah, it's a pretty good number. It's a trick question. Because there has never been a person who didn't need to repent. The only joy that comes from watching God working on earth is the joy of a sinner who repents. But this man teaches us that there is a way to live that causes heaven to fall silent. God can't rejoice over sin you don't turn from. But this man's lonely because he is interested in only him. And if you live that way, you will only be as good as your last accomplishment, as your last performance.
And this is why perhaps this is more of... at times, a male struggle. And again, we're stereotyping. But I can only talk about how I look at life and guys I talk to, where we feel like I have to do, I have to provide, I have to be enough. And that's maybe part of the reason we give in to the lie that we can't tell people when we're actually hurting. We feel like we're not a good provider, that we don't have what it takes because it's never enough. This man was looking at his father transactionally. And if he had actually seen the invitation to extravagance, it just wasn't something he could stomach because he would have to humble himself to come in. He would much rather stand outside wishing about a goat when he could be sitting at the head table eating a fatted calf. But he didn't have a taste for something that he didn't deserve.
And grace, friends, is not something that you can earn. And if you persist in living interested in only you and only focus on what you can do and what you can earn, you will never stop feeling lonely. The older brother wanted to be separate and felt superior. And these are the things our shadow tells us. We need to be separate. We need to be superior. It could have all ended had he just said the sentence that changed everything for his younger brother, "Make me like one of your servants". Do you see it? The thing that lit heaven up was the younger brother not saying, "The rules don't apply to me, so I can go be what I want, do what I want, snort what I want, inject what I want".
Him coming back and saying, "The rules do apply to me and I broke them. I broke heaven's rules. I broke your rules. Make me like one of your servants. Make me a brick in this house. I'm not special I'm not separate". And then the father then treats him as special and separate. Here's your robe. I got it for you. Here's your ring. Here's your seat. Here's your room. Here's your shoe. But the brother wouldn't say, "Make me like one of your servants". He instead reveals how he thought about himself, as a slave. All these years I've been slaving away after you. See, we can create a hell in our minds out of the heaven God invites us to. Perhaps this is why CS Lewis said, "The gates of hell are locked from the inside". This man lived in his own hell because he wanted to earn his keep. But that's not grace.
So to recap, the wrong people in your life, homelessness in your own body, interest in only you, self-discovery, friends, this is why you're lonely. This is why you're lonely. But God has something better. He sets the solitary in families. He is a defender of the orphan and the widow. And those who are planted in the house of the Lord will flourish in the courts of our God. They'll still be praising him. I wish I could go through each of these with you. But I believe if you make the step today, the step from not just consuming this message, some of you each week, you come and just hear it, and that's a good little blessing and go your way, and watch and tune in and sit at our locations. But if you take that step (here's the first one) the baby step of not coming alone, bringing someone with you. Bringing someone over to your house, putting it on the TV, making some pancakes, not just watching or coming, but coming with some people so it turns it from a unique, by yourself, transactional Instacart, leave it at the door and get out of here experience to, hey, let's be the church together.
That's the first step. Bring someone. Bring someone next week. Bring someone with you to watch next week at your watch party in your home, in your living room. See what God will do. Second baby step, take that step to begin serving on one of our teams, join one of our groups, or get crazy with it and do both. Those are the steps. And just watch what God does. What can I expect, Levi? Just curious, asking for a friend. I made a little list. You can expect encouragement when low. You can expect warning about going in the wrong direction. You could expect counsel when you're making decisions. You could expect support in difficult times. You could expect common purpose with the people you're doing life with, manifest presence of God in your midst, formation together, and enjoyment of life's adventures.
This is us, so make yourself at home. You don't have to go to Europe backpacking for a year to find yourself. It's easier than that. Go to Europe. Play pickleball. But listen, make yourself at home. At home we can find out who God has called us to be. That's what I've seen and felt. In 40 years as I look back, it's been the people, it's been the prayers, it's been the encouragement, it's been the love and the kindness of my brothers and sisters in Christ who have helped me one day at a time become all that God wants me to be. And I want the same for you. I've got to end with this though. We talked a lot about this, this, this is why you're lonely, this is why you're lonely. But now we got to talk about the "why". This is why you're lonely.
The reason in heaven's eyes you're lonely and that you will never be allowed to be satisfied with sin, the why of loneliness is God wants to use it to accomplish his purposes. What purposes would those be? The loneliness you feel is a reminder that we're not at home here on Earth. We're Homesick Youth: W-H-Y. This is in God's eyes why you're lonely. He wants you to lift your eyes to heaven and remember we're like that Prodigal Son. We're homesick youth.
The craving for the ultimate expression of what church on Earth will never fully be is that standing before the altar of God moment, the throne of God in heaven shoulder-to-shoulder with all these other people who didn't deserve to get there either and that throwing of our crowns down and getting down on our faces and weeping and crying out, "Worthy is the lamb who was slain". The loneliness on Earth is meant to point us to what is our ultimate destiny, ruling and reigning with him for 1,000 years just as the beginning. And that's what God wants for you.
So as we pray, Lord, we ask if your spirit would search out where it is in our hearts we need to true ourselves to your compass to what true north is, to lift our eyes. And I don't know exactly what you're doing in the hearts of the people today.
But if I could be so bold, I want to ask that if you would say, hey, I needed to hear this and God spoke to me today, this was a word for me. It wasn't a word for my neighbor. This was my word today. God spoke to me. Could I just ask you to raise up a hand? Just a way of honestly saying:
I hear you God. I have ears to you now. God help me to walk these truths out. Help me to take the next step. Help me, Lord. Thank you, Jesus. Bless your servants who come at your feet and you want to call them son. Thank you, Lord. We love you.
You can put your hands down. If you're here today and you don't have a relationship with Jesus, you don't have that hope and promise of heaven, of life everlasting and you need to, like the older brother, uncross your arms can come in or you need to, like the younger brother, leave that pigsty behind, the things of the world you're looking to, you just need to come home. Today there's a place for each of you, both of you, for all of you. If you would say, "I need to trust Jesus as my Savior and King", what's gonna happen? He's gonna put his arms around you. He's gonna kiss and weep and then we as his people are gonna rejoice over what's lost being found.
And then we're gonna messily and imperfectly urge you on walking with God. There's gonna be weird moments in your Fresh Life group. And if there's not, you're probably gonna bring it. But we're gonna just be your family. And then we're going to be in heaven one day. And we're going to look back and laugh about all the inside jokes. If that's you and you're saying, "I want to come into the house today," I'm gonna pray with you. I'm gonna ask you to pray with me. Say this to God. Mean it in your heart. God will hear you. We're gonna pray it with you as well so you'll hear us, our voices standing with you in this moment:
Dear God, I know I'm a sinner. I can't fix myself, I can't buy salvation, but thank you for sending Jesus. Thank you for his cross. The power of the empty tomb make me one of your servants. Thank you for calling me your child, in Jesus' name.