“Do I paint a correct picture, or do I exaggerate?”

June 24, 2017

A couple of years ago, the copyright gods removed a few video clips from my Vimeo account—my “fair use” defense notwithstanding. (Ask me what I think about the sad fact that no song, movie, book, or play falls into public domain anymore! 😡) Still, I’m happy to report that no one came after my clips from It’s a Wonderful Life (which itself became an evergreen classic only after it fell into the public domain, and UHF TV stations could show it for free on their late-night airwaves).

In tomorrow’s sermon, I’m preaching on the older son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (or, more accurately, the Parable of the Lost Sons). As I’ve been preparing for it, I’m reminded of this unforgettable scene between Mr. Potter and George Bailey: having been unable to beat Bailey, Potter decides to join him—or at least have Bailey join him. (Lionel Barrymore’s performance here makes me wish he had been able to play Scrooge, as originally planned, in an MGM adaptation of A Christmas Carol.)

George, the older son in the Bailey family, is also the older son in the parable—or close enough. (It’s not for nothing that earlier in the movie, when George hears that his brother has returned to Bedford Falls, he says, “Kill the fatted calf!”) All these years, he’s been “slaving away” (Luke 15:29) for his father, who, though now deceased, once asked young George to take over the family business. Like the older son, George resents the fact that others are celebrating his younger brother, whose good fortune—whose very life—was made possible by George’s sacrifices. (George, you’ll recall even saved his brother’s life, at great personal cost, when he was a boy.)

Like the older son, George resents that his years of hard work have amounted to so little; he hasn’t received the recognition to which he believes he’s entitled. Until Potter seduces him with this job offer, no one in George’s life even gave him the equivalent of a “young goat to celebrate with his friends”—or so he thinks.

Potter, as smart as the devil, correctly diagnoses George’s problem. 

Now, if this young man of 28 was a common, ordinary yokel, I’d say he was doing fine. But George Bailey is not a common, ordinary yokel. He is an intelligent, smart, ambitious young man, who hates his job, who hates the Building and Loan almost as much as I do. A young man who’s been dying to get out on his own ever since he was born. A young man—the smartest one of the crowd, mind you… A young man who has to sit by and watch his friends go places because he’s trapped—yes, sir, trapped—into frittering his life away playing nursemaid to a lot of garlic eaters.

And this is my problem, too—as I’ve talked about a lot recently. Frankly, I’m writing and preaching about it because I’ve only recently become aware of the extent of my resentment.

God help me, I’m the older brother! I want more than my Father has given me!

I’ve probably felt this way since I was 19 or 20 and discovered within myself an ambition for something other than God’s kingdom and his righteousness. Like the older son, I didn’t leave home—I didn’t drop out of church or abandon the faith. I became a pastor instead. “He’ll have to give me what I want now. I’m the good son!”

Like the older son, I left my Father by staying home. (For more on this, see this post: “To find God, go back to where you lost him.”)

But my case is not hopeless. In fact, what gives me hope is what I shared with you a couple of days ago:

What is our only hope in life and death?

That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

I am not my own. I do not live for myself or my own glory. I belong, body and soul, to God. I have what I have because he gave it to me. I am where I am because he wants me to be here. I am who I am because he wants me to be this person—minus my sin. My sole purpose in life is to glorify him, and I always have the opportunity to do that, no matter what I’m going through.

This thought brings me great comfort.

Lord, give me the grace to believe it. Amen.

3 Responses to ““Do I paint a correct picture, or do I exaggerate?””

  1. Grant Essex Says:

    What you say in your last paragraph is the essence of correctly understanding our purpose in life. I would only add that this life is only temporary too boot. We weren’t made for this world. We were made for an eternal relationship with our God. That’s the real prize!

    • brentwhite Says:

      I promise you, Grant, what I wrote in that last paragraph—as obvious as it seems to me now—simply wasn’t something I considered for most of my Christian life—not really.

      You can probably understand why I’ve become a stickler for God’s providence and sovereignty.

  2. Grant Essex Says:

    Ditto. None of us “got it” right away. It’s the last thing we yield on, and it’s never a completely done deal. We are sinful fallen men after all. Fortunately, God loves us in spite of it. He loves it when we try to please Him.


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