Leave the Older Brother Alone

If you have spent any considerable amount of time in a church Sunday School class, you may have heard the Biblical parable of the “Prodigal Son”. This story is also called the “Lost Son” in some Bible versions (among other titles). If this narrative does not sound familiar, allow me to briefly summarize…A young man approaches his father and demands his inheritance so he can start “living his life” immediately. The father reluctantly agrees, and gives this boy the biggest payout of his life which leads to this young man living on impulse and squandering everything.

Scripture indicates that the wealth the boy was given was “liquid currency” meaning immediately spendable income. In ancient inheritance practice, this son would have also been entitled (unless the father deemed differently) to a certain portion of the family land. The older brother (there were only two sons in this family), in the case, would have been entitled to double the portion of inheritance that the youngest would have received. After spending all of the money and becoming homeless, the prodigal (meaning “one that squandered monetary resources”) returned home to a very warm and mercy-filled reception. The older brother was angry at this grace given to his sibling.

So, normally, we read this story and get a “warm-fuzzy” feeling when we realize the immense love shown to the young man who obviously did wrong. Then, we easily wag our finger at the older brother…acknowledging his lack of mercy. But wait… Let’s not condemn the older brother too quickly. It may be possible we are assuming something about him that isn’t true. If we are not careful in our reading, it could seem that the older brother was jealous and even competitive with his younger brother. This may not be the case. It could be that the older brother simply forgot his own status. He also could have forgotten what was rightfully his which in this circumstance amounted to exponentially more than the younger brother (due to the fact that land couldn’t be spent impulsively like money).

This older sibling was concerned with justice, and he had such a love for his family, that he found it to be a personal attack when his younger brother asked for “his portion” of the wealth. In those days, this was essentially telling your father that you are ready for him to die. This amount of disrespect was unmatched by any other action. Especially to a father that was only able to produce two sons in his adult life (which was an extremely low amount considering the assumed wealth and size of estate of this family). This older brother worked very hard because he knew that most of it was going to be his…or at least he would be the steward of it (assuming it could also stay in the family for the family). While this man looked at this action communally (what was best for the household), his father cared about the individual. Neither one was actually wrong according to ancient thought. This story just helps to remind us that there are times where we need to snap out of our cultural routine and focus on bringing the individual back into the fold.

Don’t be so quick to assign a villain to this story. The father knew that his son was more valuable than what temporary currency he spent. The older brother also knew that everyone would bear the burden of his sibling’s wrong choice. It was just simply taking him longer to process. We also learn by reading in between the lines that God’s grace is disproportionally generous to our transgressions.

In the end, the older brother needed to go on a learning journey too. Just like his brother.

Now, ultimately, this is a parable, but Jesus expertly uses it to instigate a thought process in His disciples. One that would lay the foundation for how the Kingdom would be structured.

-Landon DeCrastos

We Misunderstand Bread

Most mornings, as a part of my daily routine, I enjoy a couple pieces of toast. I usually wait until I have taken the kids to school, and when I come back home, where there is no noise or distractions, I eat. The invention of the toaster is one I truly appreciate in my life. With that said, even though toasters make bread better, it can still become a very boring part of a meal. It’s quick and easy, though. I simply reach into the plastic bag and pull out 2 nearly identical slices without thinking about it very much.

If you are like me, you think of a bag of individual slices when you hear the word “bread”. In our culture, we know that a farmer grows wheat, grinds it up, and someone waves a magic wand and “POOF”…bread appears (I am pretty certain that is how it is made, but don’t fact-check me on it). We can reach into this same bag, take out a uniform slice each time, and have an identical experience again and again. To us, “bread” in very individualistic. We eat to satisfy our needs in the moment.

The fact is, in ancient times, this would not have been the experience of anyone eating bread. Sure, it was not completely uncommon for a shepherd to have a pouch with individual servings, but for the most part, bread was a community experience. Allow me to explain.

A person who did the cooking, would gather the ingredients needed (flour, oil, perhaps some spices, etc), and would knead the dough and would make sure to make multiple loaves (if they had the means) in one sitting. This way, the family would have plenty to last them for several meals, and even accommodate potential unexpected visitors. The head of the table, during the meal, would break the bread and distribute the pieces for people to enjoy as they wish. This distribution would symbolize, not only provision, but sacrifice and unity. If I am the head of the household or gathering, and I invite you to share my bread, I have found you worthy to partake of it. Someone in my family put their heart and soul into the bread, and pressed it to the right shape, and carefully monitored the stove to make sure it was baked to perfection. You see, in scripture especially, bread was not only about nutrients, but about sharing life.

There is even more to it, though. Look at two nations, or tribes who have been at odds. When reconciliation would occur between the two parties, a feast would occur and bread would be broken and distributed. It would be recognized that one of the parties did work to make the meal happen. Also, consider the fact that every family, tribe, nation, and region would have there own “take” on taste and texture. Spice combinations (or lack thereof) would vary, and every tasteful note that one would experience would identify the origin.

In the Bible, bread is used as a symbol to remind people of unity, provision, reconciliation, and so much more. Bread, to us, seems like a silly theme, but to ancient hearers of the word it was serious and profound. The example of the showbread in the Tabernacle not only symbolized the grace receivers (12 tribes of Israel), but there was also the implication of community that needed to be developed among them for their survival and ability to flourish. Bread, for them, was about obedience.

So, the next time, you sit down and eat, look at your dinner roll, or garlic toast with deep gratitude. God is trying to each us something.

There’s Mud Ahead: Why Intergenerational Churches are Vital

We were on a hike at the local state park. It was a beautiful day, and the shade during our walk provided a welcome reprieve from the sun’s rays. The excitement of “actually getting out of the house” hurried our preparations for exploring nature. We were armed with bottled water and our normal hiking clothes. It was time to have fun. Even the kids were enthused about the event (which speaks volumes since it had nothing to do with electronics). On the way to the park, we discussed what path we would take, and decided on one that was not terribly long, but provided some good scenic views. We had a late morning start so we wanted to make sure we timed it out right to eat lunch at the appropriate time.

As the hike started, we had a fairly typical experience (nodding our heads to people we passed, telling the kids not to pick up rocks and sticks, recounting stories of previous hikes, etc.). Then, as we approached an older couple walking the opposite direction, they told us of a hazard that we were about to experience. The rain from 2 days prior had caused certain low areas to collect water and form large mud pits that were difficult to cross. We thanked the couple for letting us know what was ahead of us, and trekked forward. Sure enough, we reached exactly what they described, and it was nice because we had mentally prepared for it. There were 3 different areas that contained mud and when we passed them, we soon saw other hikers who had not yet approached the mud pits. We then told them about what they were going to experience so they were also prepared.

This experience led me to reflect on Deuteronomy 6; a deeply foundational section of scripture referred to as “The Shema”. It is called this, because the first word in verse 4, in Hebrew, is literally “shema” (to listen/hear). In this writing (which was, and still is, regularly repeated/ prayed by committed Jews) emphasizes the holiness of God and our obedient response to Him. It also goes on to command followers to embed the message on their hearts AND pass down this communication to the next generation. This command wasn’t just conveyed to people with children, but to the whole worship community. It was everyone’s job to make sure this message was being preserved for future generations. It is life-giving and requires remembrance.  

For many, it becomes tempting to seek out worship communities that mostly reflect their own current context in life. People often try to find congregations that have mostly people their own age, with the same age of children, or perhaps containing young married couples that share their same interests. I think this can be a mistake (depending on the heart attitude). While some of this is great, often what happens is that entire churches shut out those of other generational demographics. There tend to be a lack of older people with more life experience to help guide and disciple. Then, a new church growth book is published, and the author essentially wags his/ her finger at the older generation, telling them they have abandoned the younger generation.

In the same way that nice older couple told us about the mud hazard ahead, we need intergenerational worship experiences to help us prepare for future physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental hazards. If facilitated in a healthy way, the more mature generation can pour into the less mature by utilizing their stories. We simply cannot get this without older and younger generations experiencing life together. Older believers have a command (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) that they need to fulfill. Let’s not rob them of that.

Love you all.

-Landon DeCrastos

The Amazing Power of the Small Church in Times of Crisis

Since the genesis of the Christian church in the early 1st century, God has blessed the missional efforts of His people. In the last 2000 years, we have seen small, medium, and large congregations emerge as an expression of mutual care and corporate worship. Functionally, the Church has changed very little since these humble beginnings. Sure, technology and culture have helped to evolve discipleship methods but the basic staples of service, spiritual formation, and proclamation have stayed consistent These evolutions are needed, and should stay steady in anything we do as pastors and leaders. I however think that there have been some misunderstandings and false idols that have been constructed within the Church we have come to love.

The apostle Paul spoke of this mentality in a few of his letters to the relatively new Christian church. In his first letter to the Corinthians, for example, not only was he addressing basic doctrinal issues and Christian behavior, but he also touched on the concept of following leaders merely for their charisma. These teachers were great at their presentation, but the content pertaining to the sovereignty and work of Christ was blatantly false. These are things I have been reflecting on lately.

I have been thinking about what Paul would say about the world we are currently in as a Church. My guess is (taking clues from his writings) he wouldn’t concern himself much with the things we do as a Christian leadership culture. We spend a lot of time reading books, and going to conferences in order to learn from men and women who have built empires…and who no longer call themselves servants but “influencers”. I wonder what our beloved apostle would say about the Kingdom validity of a local congregation merely based on attendance and financial status. If Paul walked into a church and saw a bunch of people all carrying coffee in the same hand, wearing the same kind of scarves, with the same skin color, similar socio-economic backgrounds and a facility that is brand new and immaculate…I wonder what his observations would be. Just a thought… Nothing wrong with a new building, but often aesthetics becomes the focus.

There is something happening in our world currently that begs to be mentioned. In a time where churches have to be flexible and sustainable for the long term due to this pandemic, I actually believe smaller churches are best suited for this task. Small churches are nimbler in times of crisis and are set up better to take on the charge to intimately serve their neighbor. Megachurches are wonderful expressions of worship and programs…but I have felt burdened for the mere financial overhead of daily operations that exist. Especially in a context in which they are not having regular physical services for the purpose of safety. Also, I don’t want to be crass in the way that I say this…but there are churches out there who thrive on the addiction to their programs they have created in the community. I’m sure there is a better way to say that (and I will get reamed for it), but I am not sure how else to express the idea.

One of the largest misconceptions of the smaller church has to do with financial resources. The idea is, a small church can’t possibility be a valid expression of the kingdom of God unless money is pouring in and constant enthusiasm is being created. Pastor David Platt said it best when he observed, “The greatest hindrance to the advancement of the gospel may be our attempt to do the work of God apart from the power of God.” In this address he was saying that we have become really good at piling resources around us so that we are no longer in need of God’s intervention. We can even grow our churches through psychology, marketing, and manufactured excitement. Let’s look at Paul once again and his thought pattern evidenced in scripture. In many of his letters, Paul actually makes a plea to other churches to support the churches of lesser means. He even acknowledges the vitality of their work. This is counter-cultural to our Darwinian view of congregational support. So, let’s just agree that all sizes and financial statuses are valid. My purpose in these statements is not to “bash” or condemn larger churches…only to establish a respect for smaller ones.

Right now, we are seeing an amazing reawakening of the small church like never before. Leaders are coming up with new ideas on how to engage and serve their communities. Sure, many of these congregations don’t have the most polished or professional presentations, but why would that matter? I suppose that would only matter if we were trying to attract people to charisma or prowess. This is unbiblical, and we need to melt down that golden calf.

That’s my two cents.

Love you all.

-Landon DeCrastos