If We’re Honest by Carol Leatherwood

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Carol Leatherwood became a member of Calvary when she enrolled as a student at Arlington Baptist College in 1975. Carol and her husband, Robert, were married at Calvary in 1978. They have two grown children, Amy and Bobby, and one grand-darling, Brylee.  Carol is a musical person and began singing as a young child. It has been an important part of her life for as long as she can remember. In fact, the Leatherwoods are a musical family and Carol loves when they have the opportunity to sing all together.  In her spare time, Carol enjoys reading a good book and occasionally writing poetry.  She loves and spending time with Brylee who keeps Carol laughing and makes her feel lucky to be her Yaya.  Carol believes God brought she and Robert home when He brought them back to Calvary; for that she is truly grateful.  The Leatherwoods have been in music ministry throughout their married life. They have been blessed to served in churches in New Mexico, Florida, Michigan and also in Texas. In February 2013, Pastor Brian asked Robert to step in as interim worship leader at Calvary until Brandon was available to come and the Leatherwoods felt God's call to remain at Calvary. Carol says they are blessed to be a part of this wonderful church family. 

If We’re Honest

If we’re honest, we would all say that even if we have been a believer for a long time, we sometimes have moments when we struggle and even our faith is challenged.

Last summer I found a lump on the side of my face.  It was a tumor.  One that was not cancerous, but could develop into cancer…so I was advised to have it removed.  Due to the location of the tumor, there was a possibility that a nerve could be damaged during the surgery.  I could end up with that side of my face being paralyzed. If that happened, would I be able to talk?  Or Sing?  I didn’t know.  But it was a risk that I had to take.  So on August 25, 2015 I had the surgery.  I woke up to find my left eye wouldn’t fully close and would not blink.  My left eyebrow was paralyzed and the left side of my face at the point of  surgery.  Also,  the left side of my mouth did not move. The doctor said it could take up to six months to regain full use of my eye/eyebrow/mouth.  I just had to wait and pray.  And that I did…continually.  I went back to work the following week.  

At 3:15PM on October 1, 2015 I was called into the general manager’s office and was told that my job was being eliminated.  As of 4:00PM my services were no longer required.  As of 4:00PM my job was gone.  I loaded up my stuff in a box, called Robert and went home.  Being that we are a 2-income family, I was more than a bit concerned.  But I knew that God had always taken care of us and He would again.

So now, I had a face that didn’t function normally.  I no longer had a job.  All I knew is that I had to trust Him. To be honest, it was hard and scary at times… I had to trust Him.  I had no other option.

Soon after that time Bro. Ron started the Tuesday evening prayer meetings.  It happened at just the right time.  It was just what I needed.  No better way to forget about yourself is to pray for someone else.  Not only that, the group prayed for me too.  Double blessing.  

Soon afterward Pastor Brian started the “Crossroads” series.  Wow.  To be honest…I felt like the sermons were just for me.  I was at a crossroad.  I didn’t know what God’s will was for me.  I was still trying to remain positive that I would fully recover from the surgery and that I would find a job.  I was just taking it day by day…step by step…   While waiting, God gave me the opportunity to do some things I never had a chance to do before.  I got to go to The State Fair.  I got to go some of the Young @ Heart meetings. I even got to go to Canton.  God kept giving me blessing after blessing. 

It was now the first of the year.  I still had not secured a job.  I was still filling out numerous applications and submitting resumes daily and still nothing.  My face was still partially frozen but it was healing.   During this time Karen Sneed felt impressed to start an early morning prayer group.  It was exactly what I needed.  What a blessing those ladies have been to me.  We still meet every week to pray and visit…and leave encouraged.  I look forward to it every week.  I also had the opportunity to go to breakfast with a couple sweet ladies.  They were such a blessing to me.  We prayed, we ate, we visited.  Did my heart good.

I came across an article that stopped me in my tracks.  It was from Relevant Magazine.  The article was “What we get wrong about finding God’s will.”  One part, in particular, spoke to me. It said, “Instead of praying to find God’s will, let’s start praying to find faith in God’s guidance.”  I needed to have faith in the journey.  I needed to trust Him step by step… I had to let go.  I couldn’t worry about losing things.  I had to trust that regardless of what happened that it would all be OK.  

Just a week before my unemployment was to run out…I got a job.  Actually, I was initially turned down for the job.  I was so sure it was the one for me.  I kept praying and kept walking by faith.  Then I got the call that they wanted me for the position.  It was all in God’s timing.  I fully believe He was giving me time to heal physically, emotionally and spiritually.  He gave me a job, not when I thought I was ready, but when He knew I was ready.  

I am now happily working and my face is back to normal…well as normal as it ever was or will be. (Haha)  I am so thankful for a God who is faithful even when our faith waivers.  

So, if we’re honest,  we will see that He loves us and blesses us; not because who we are, but because of who He is.   

Take care and God bless,
Carol Leatherwood

Francesca Battistelli - If We're Honest (Official Audio)

The Importance of Singing

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In recent weeks, God has drawn my attention back to the importance of singing. Rather than thinking of personal preferences and reasons why I think we should sing, I have been challenged to look at what the Bible has to say about singing. It is easy for me to encourage singing; I'm a musician and love music! But what if we don't think we can sing, or feel like we can't connect to God when we sing? This article has been one of the resources in helping me find out what Scripture has to say about these issues. My prayer is that our congregation, along with myself, will grow in our understanding of how important singing is in the life of the church.

In Christ,
Brandon H.

The following is an excerpt from "I Worship God by Singing. You Should, Too."by Bob Kauflin on February 10, 2014.

"I Worship God by Singing. You Should, Too."
by Bob Kauflin

... In this post, I simply want to explore some thoughts from Scripture about singing. If Don’s post is any indicator, and I think it is, a lot of us may not be that clear on why God wants us to sing. And no, I’m not writing this out of concern for my job security…

I’ve been a musician for 50 years, so singing makes sense to me. But I know there are plenty of non-musical Christians in the world. People who don’t like to sing. People who sound terrible when they sing. People who have been told they can’t sing. People who don’t “get” singing. And people like Don, who aren’t able to “connect with God” when they sing. Should they be encouraged to sing?

I could tell you what I think based on my experience. But I’d rather take you to God’s Word.

Singing in the Bible

There are almost fifty exhortations to sing in Scripture, as well as four hundred references to singing. Two of those passages (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16) instruct us to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God and to one another. These aren’t suggestions, preferences, or good ideas. They’re commands. Which means God intends for us to obey them.

Since everyone isn’t a musician, how do these apply to us? Why does God want us to sing?

1. Singing is more a matter of our hearts than our voices.

Years ago Ronald Allen wrote in his book Worship: Rediscovering the Missing Jewel:

“When a non-singer becomes a Christian, he or she becomes a singer. Not all are blessed with a finely tuned ear and a well modulated voice; so the sound may not be superb-it may even be out-of-tune and off-key. Remember: worship is a state of heart; musical sound is a state of art. Let’s not confuse them.”

We sing and make melody to the Lord with our hearts (Ephesians 5:19). The sounds we make affect those around us, for better or worse. But God hears what no one else can. It’s the song of the Redeemed for our great Redeemer. It’s a song we didn’t originate and can’t improve upon. It’s true that those who led the singing at the temple were trained and skilled in music for the Lord (1 Chronicles 25:7). But there’s no indication either in the early church or in Revelation’s depiction of heaven that anyone gets a pass when it comes to singing praises to God. Even if we can’t sing a note, we can still sing in our hearts.

2. Singing helps us remember words.

Throughout Scripture, God reminds his people of their tendency to forget his promises, commands, and warnings. In Deuteronomy 31, as Israel is about to enter the promised land, God tells Moses that his people will turn to idols after they enter Canaan. He then instructs Moses to teach the Israelites a song, so that, “when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring)” (Deuteronomy 31:21). We sing to remember God’s word, and most of all, the word of Christ, or the gospel (Colossians 3:16). Science has confirmed that we remember words, patterns, and categories more easily when words are set to music. It’s why hardly anyone can quote a John Wesley sermon, yet most people know the words to Charles Wesley’s “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.”

3. Singing expresses and engages our emotions.

In every culture, music is a language of emotion that helps express what we feel. So David writes, “My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed” (Psalms 71:23). The words of his redeemed soul overflow into song. It’s why musicals are so popular, why we sing our country’s national anthem, and why every revival since the Reformation has been accompanied by an outpouring of new songs. As John Piper said in a sermon,

“The reason we sing is because there are depths and heights and intensities and kinds of emotion that will not be satisfactorily expressed by mere prosaic forms, or even poetic readings. There are realities that demand to break out of prose into poetry and some demand that poetry be stretched into song.”

At the same time, music engages our emotions.  In Matthew 11:17 Jesus implies that music can lead us to either dance or mourn. It can draw out a variety of feelings including romance, peace, joy, fear, playfulness, sadness, or awe. Singing can help us feel the truth more deeply.

4. Singing reflects the nature of God.

The Father sings over his redeemed people (Zephaniah 3:17). Jesus sings with us in the midst of the congregation (Hebrews 2:12). One of the fruits of being filled with the Spirit is singing (Ephesians 5:18-19). We worship a triune God who sings, and he wants us to be like him.

5. Singing together reflects and deepens our unity in the gospel.

Being together in the same room is one way we can express our unity. But singing together draws attention to that bond as we sing the same words at the same time. In fact, Paul uses a musical analogy when he wants to encourage gospel-driven unity: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14).

Connecting with God

There are more reasons to consider, but this is a blog post, not a book (which I’m currently writing). God never promised we would connect with him through singing. The way we “connect with him” is through faith in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ, that paid for our sins and reconciled us to God (Hebrews 10:19-22; 1 Peter 3:18). The way we express that faith are wonderfully varied – working, playing, serving, proclaiming, gathering, etc. But we have no reason to abandon God’s good gift of singing in the name of being more genuine. God knows how we work. And he’s appointed singing to be one way we deepen our relationship with him and each other.

The singing in your church may be dreadful. Your voice might sound like a cross between a beached whale and an alley cat in heat. Singing might make you feel uncomfortable. Those who lead the singing in your church might do it poorly. And if there’s anything we can do to change the situation, we should.

But our confidence and comfort in singing comes from this: Jesus, our great high priest, makes all our offerings acceptable to God through his perfect life of obedience and his perfect sacrifice of atonement. The Father loves our singing not only because it’s sincere, but because when offered through faith, it sounds just like his beloved Son.

And besides. One day we’ll all have better voices and our songs will far surpass anything we’ve sung here. It’s then we’ll realize that eternity won’t be long enough to contain the songs worthy of the Lamb who was slain.

© 2016 Worship Matters.  This full article and all associated links can be found at

Run Pt. 3 | Jonah: The Astonishing True Story

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Jonah 1:1-3 “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.’ 3But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.”

There are several questions I believe the passage above answers for us. You might not have asked these questions yourself, but God apparently believes they are important questions nonetheless. The first question that needs to be answered is “What does it mean to run from the presence of the Lord?” Once that question is answered we can ask, “What causes us to flee from the presence of the Lord?” I want to answer those two questions in this article, and next month we’ll answer the question, “What’s it going to cost me if I do run?” After that we’ll see, “What is the cure for running from God?” But first, what does it even mean to run from God?

Understand this, you cannot leave the literal presence of the Lord. He is omnipresent, which means He is everywhere all the time. When Jonah ran from the presence of the Lord, what’s really happening is he was refusing to seek the face of the Lord. He was actually running from the relational presence of God. For instance, I am close to my dad, but he lives 20 hours away. What I’m really saying is, physically he’s far away, but relationally he’s close. Our physical closeness with God cannot change, He’s always here. But our relational closeness with Him can.

Now, Jonah was a prophet in Israel, a person of tremendous influence who had a long history of prophesying before we’re introduced to him in this whole story. We’d expect Jonah, this servant of God, to have it all together. So why then did He run from God when he knew better? Why would a man of God, who had served Him for so long, book it out of there? What’s the cause?

There was a popular, arrogant view in Israel, that all the nations around them that had wrongfully taken their land should be conquered and destroyed. God had killed many, many people for Israel before. So these Israelites were getting a little cocky. They started thinking everybody who treated them wrongly should be taught a stern lesson. In other words, and this is very important, they thought they knew what God wanted. Jonah was influenced by this racist worldview, and he thought his plan was better than God’s. When God told him to do something that did not fit with his worldview and personal plan he took off running. “Thanks, but no thanks, God.”

Sometimes, we can get so caught up in our culture’s idea of what God’s will is that when God actually shows us what He wants we often hesitate, stutter, and/or completely reject it. Jonah fled because he rejected the clear voice of God, “Arise, go to Nineveh” And we Christians have a word for that: sin. Sin is when you choose to follow your plan rather than God’s.

Remember this, the longer you run from God the further away you get and the harder it is to come back. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it is more difficult. Because when you are living in sinful disobedience you are building a life (your identity) apart from God. You are erecting walls between you and Him and the road back to a relationship with Him stretches longer with more and more walls built in between.

It’s important that you stop for a moment and do some introspection here. Check your own life and ask some questions. What has God spoken clearly into your life from His Word? Are you willing to submit your cultural assumptions and ideas to God? You are either obeying, and therefore remaining close to God, or you are disobeying, and running from His presence. In the next two months we’ll look at the cause and cure for running. But for now take inventory of your life and reflect on how the culture is influencing your beliefs about God, the world, and yourself. And always remember, God’s grace will redeem and restore even the most distant rebels.

The Lost Elder Brother

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MESSAGE #2: The Lost Elder Brother

There are two common mistakes we make with the story of The Prodigal Son

#1 - We underestimate its depth.

We take it as beautiful, emotional, and moving when I think it's far more. It essentially retells the story of the entire Bible and the story of the human race. If the teachings of Jesus can be likened to a lake – this parable is one of the clearest spots where we can see all the way to the bottom.

#2 - We limit its application

We look at it as a story for those who have rebelled in life.  A beautiful lesson that God can bring the prodigal home. Those who didn't want any part of God, Mom & Dad's rules, or what authority tells them and searches the depths of addiction, self pleasure, etc. God loves you. God can save you. God can bring you home. All of that is true, but we miss the fact that this story applies to a much broader audience.

Luke 15:1-3A Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. 2And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. 

Here are all the rebels, the prodigals. We find in the gospels that this group of people love Jesus. They wanted to be around Him and hear Him. They crowded in to be close to Him; to the point where they are eating with Him. When they ate in that culture, they laid down on one arm on a pillow with feet extended out behind them, and dipped into the various dishes. It was a very close, intimate setting when you ate with somebody. In fact, the pharisees believed you could catch someone's immorality like a disease and commonly gathered up their robes so it wouldn't touch that person.

Then religious people come along, and see Jesus laying down eating with prostitutes, addicts, drunks, frauds and they have a question for Jesus...

“There are good people and bad people. You say you are sent by God. Why would God associate Himself with the bad people?”


Luke 15:3-7 And he spake this parable unto them, saying, 4What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? 5And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. 7I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. 

Luke 5:27-32 And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. 28And he left all, rose up, and followed him. 29And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. 30But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? 31And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. 32I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. 

What is Jesus saying?

There are two ways you can take this...

#1 - That good, righteous people should understand that Jesus needs to reach lost people and make them righteous.  However, if you reach that conclusion you have to ignore the rest of the bible.

#2 - Jesus is saying “The world is not divided into good people and bad people. The world is divided into bad people who know that they are bad and in need of a Savior…and bad people who don’t know that they are bad and are trying to be their own Savior.”

There are not simply two categories: the rebel and the religious.

There are three categories: the rebel, the religious, and the redeemed.  Unless you fall into that third category, you are still every bit as lost as the prodigal.


Jesus said empty religion is even more dangerous because it is so very subtle. If you are sick and know you are sick, you'll call the doctor. If you're sick and you think that you're well, you'll just die.

The scriptures are teaching me that there is a tremendous difference between religion and Christianity.  There is a profound difference between outwardly moral and inwardly righteous. Between trying to be good and knowing Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.  The differences can be so subtle, we can miss them to our own destruction.  In the story of the Prodigal Son, and the oft forgotten story of his older brother, we find out how to tell the difference between moralism (which will send you to hell) and a living faith in Jesus.

How do you tell the difference between moralism and genuine faith? 

Luke 15:11-24  11 And he said, A certain man had two sons: 12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me [his inheritance]. And he divided unto them his living. [Older brother gets 2/3 of the inheritance.  Younger brother gets 1/3] 13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance [his inheritance] with riotous [reckless, rebellious, self indulgent] living.  14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.  15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.  16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.  

[Now this is the picture of repentance...] 17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. [Make me an apprentice here or in the surrounding city so I can at least learn a trade.  At least then I can earn the money to pay you back so maybe you can call me your son again.]

20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. [The Greek indicates the father smothered him with kisses.  The kid is filthy and the father accepts him.]  21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.  22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe [the father's robe], and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: 23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. 

If the story ended there, we know there's a father with two sons. This seems to be the story of the older, good, steadfast, respectful son that is doing the things he ought to be doing and the younger, rebellious, demanding, bad son up until verse 25.  But then we read these last eight verses!

Luke 15:25-32  25 Now his elder son was in the field [the kid comes back from working and there's a party going on]: and as he came and drew nigh [near] to the house, he heard musick and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.  

Now, did the older brother say "thank God, Dad's been so worried.  Now Dad's heart is full and so happy and my brother made a wrong turn, but I've been praying for him and God went and got him and brought him back"?  No, not at all.  That was not his response, he was angry!

28 And he was angry, and would not go in [where?  The father's house to the party]: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. [The Father pleaded with the older son]. 29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, [if you translated that literally today it would be "Look you, these many years I have been slaving for you] neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: [I've done what you told me to do and played by your rules this whole time] and yet thou never gavest me a kid [you didn't even give me a goat], that I might make merry with my friends: 30 But as soon as this thy son [he didn't call him "my brother", he said "this son of yours"] was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots [wasted all your money on prostitutes], thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 32 It was meet [it was right] that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. 

The older brother looked good.  He was respectful, compliant, hard working.  He is laboring with his dad and it looks like he loves his father.  These circumstances, this particular trial, pulled back the curtain and showed everyone (and us) the older son's heart.  When the father reinstates the younger son…the elder brother’s heart is laid bare. Why is the elder son so angry?

I read a commentary that said this:
“By bringing the younger brother back into the family he has made him an heir again, with a claim to 1/3 of their now, very diminished family wealth.” 

Little brother got his 1/3 and wasted it so now everything belongs to big brother.  So when little brother comes back home, tail between his legs, and Daddy puts the robe on him, that rob technically belongs to older brother.  That ring on his finger and shoes on his feet technically belong to the older brother.  When Daddy slays the fatted calf, it technically belonged to the older brother.  The whole thing about bringing him back as a son again means that the younger brother is entitled to 1/3 of the inheritance AGAIN!

Last time we talked about how the younger son didn't want the father; he wanted what the father could give him.  “The younger son was saying essentially that he wants his father’s things…but not his Father.”


We have two sons; one BAD by conventional standards and one GOOD. Yet both are alienated from the father.

There are three things we need to look at in this text, as signs that you may be an elder brother.  Lest we wake up on Judgement Day and found out we aren't what we think we are.

If these three things are true, it can mean:
#1 - you are very moralistic but you don't know Jesus as your Savior.
#2 - you do know Jesus, but here's the thing I'm finding personally, our default setting is not trusting Jesus. Our default setting is religiousness (moralism).

On your computer, you have to change some settings if it's not going to blink back to the default setting.  We have to preach to ourselves a thousand times a day to remember "I am not saved by being good, I am saved by the blood of Jesus.  I can't be good, I can't be righteous.  My best day and my worst day are the same to God; filthiness in His sight.

Three ways you might be an elder brother...

#1 - When life doesn’t go as you want you become deeply angry and bitter.

When things don't go according to your plan or your expectation of God and life is disappointed, it doesn't just make you sad it makes you mad, angry and bitter.

Someone said, “Religious people commonly live very moral lives, but their goal is to get leverage over God, to control Him, to put Him in a position where they think He owes them.”   I am terrified that we, in the local church, have sometimes fostered that; and how dare we ever sell that because God never promised that.  Yes, there are indications that God does bless.  However if you believe that you have a kind of barter system with God, you can have your faith chopped out from under you in a moment's time.

So let me ask, when it doesn't go your way, is your first response to be mad at the Lord?  To feel upset, depressed, and angry that He didn't give you what you deserve?  Because that's exactly where the elder brother was; "I've been serving you all these years, I have good things coming.  You owe me."

Friend, let me say this as straight as I can: THE LIVING GOD DOESN'T OWE YOU, OR I, A THING.  By His Grace, we get a taste of any good thing we've ever had.

#2 - When people don’t live up to your standards you become judgmental.

"Don't judge" has become the mantra of our entire society, right?  Do not, at any time, say certain things are right and others are wrong.  That's not judgement; the Bible says some things are right and some things are wrong.

Judgement is when you feel a personal sense of superiority, "I'm working hard, why aren't you?  I'm very religious... doing these moral things...  I'm not giving in to that moral temptation... I'm not yielding to that appetite... why can't you be stronger, more moral, diligent; like me."

If you are living a moralistic life you will constantly look down on the people around you who aren't working as hard.  The pharisees where guilty of this, the elder brother was full to the nose with this, and you will be too.  By the way, this is one reason you can have someone who has been in church for decades, they know the bible like the back of their hand, spout off every religious doctrine in the world, but they are mean, ugly, hateful people.  Because it's moralism, not a living, Grace-filled faith.

“The elder brother’s problem is his self-righteousness, the way he uses his moral record to put God and others in his debt to control them and get them to do what he wants. His spiritual problem is the radical insecurity that comes from basing his self-image on achievements and performance, so he must endlessly prop up his sense of righteousness by putting others down and finding fault.” -Tim Keller

When you get a good dose of Jesus, when you honestly believe you have no reason to go to Heaven and every reason to go to hell, that your righteousness is as nasty to God as someone else's sin, that Jesus bled and died on a cross for you, not because you deserved it, but because He chose to save you from your sins and make you righteous in His sight, it is virtually impossible to look down on your neighbor when you know He saved a wretch like you.  It is that moralism that will make you frown on the people around you instead praying "God, do a work of Grace in them like you did in me."

#3 - When you feel insecure you become desperate for the validation of others.

For the person living the moralistic life, it's not really about knowing God.  Just like for the son, it wasn't really about the father, it was about what the father could get him. He didn't believe happiness lay with the relationship with his father.  He believed happiness lay with the father giving him coats, rings, land, and stuff.  If you believe that happiness is to be found in God's blessing and not in God's arms; you can be very moral and God not be very real to you.  So your Bible reading isn't really to find God, it's because God told you if you read your chapter, you are being faithful.  Your point of prayer isn't really to break through to have a relationship with your Creator, but because you are supposed to say your prayers.   The point of coming to church isn't because this is the body of Christ and He wants to manifest Himself to you and others.

It's really about: I come so I can do so He can bless it.  It's no secret that for moralistic people, God is a million miles away.  He's not very real or relevant to you. The truth is He could vanish completely and it wouldn't change much of what you do because it's about the system.  When all you've got is a system, and not a living God, it is a burdensome, pressure filled, sloth-ish, chained life trying to be good all the time and keep up appearances.

That is why you find some men who have preached the word for decades and find out that guy for twenty years was having an affair.  That moralistic life is a misery and when God is not real and you don't feel His love then you are terribly insecure.  The appearance you've been keeping up doesn't go home and comfort you at night.  The truth is you will look to other people to make you feel like somebody.

Sandra McElreath one time shared something with me that I absolutely love and is burned into my memory: If you live on people's praise, you will die on their criticism.  If you're an elder brother, people criticizing you doesn't simply hurt you, it tears you to bits.  You have to have it because you don't have a Savior, a Lord, a God that's real to you.

"If, like the elder brother, you believe that God ought to bless you and help you because you have worked so hard to obey him and be a good person then Jesus may be your helper, your example, even your inspiration, but He is not your Savior.

What's the antidote to this?  

Those people said, "Jesus, there are good people and bad people.  Why would you hang out with the bad people?"  Jesus said, "you are absolutely diluted about life.  There are no good people, there are simply people trying to earn their happiness; find it in self indulgence or in empty moralism, but neither one of those paths will do anything but ruin you."

You know the tragedy of this text is in the story.  The younger brother comes back, is redeemed, but even though the father goes out and pleads with the older brother to come into the house and get passed his pride and moralism he does not.  Jesus intentionally left it without a resolution because the people all around him (the scribes and pharisees) hadn't reached a resolution.  They were headed for hell, not because they weren't good enough to go to Heaven (though that was true), but because they thought they were good enough to go to Heaven and refused the one remedy for our sins which is Jesus Christ.

I studied for this sermon and prayed "Oh Lord, help me!  How often I default back to that." I find myself going back to trying to being good so He'll bless me, bless my family, bless this church.  How do we stay away from this poisonous thing?  If you are moral, religious, think you might get to heaven because your good, I need to tell you that you don't have a hope in the universe.  You can't do it.  You can't make it.

Jesus lived the perfect life you haven't lived and purely by His mercy, He'll save you.  Lifeguards say one of the worst things you can do when you're drowning is try to help them save you.  Don't try to help Him save you, lay back and let Jesus do what only He can do.  His grace is sufficient.  His blood was enough.  His sacrifice can pay for your sins.

Today can be the day if you're willing to pray "Jesus forgive me for my sins and forgive me for trying to be saved by my own goodness. I've tried to be my own lord and savior, but no longer.  I want you Jesus."

Christians all over this place, our default setting is to revert back.  It takes a hundred times a day, preaching the gospel to yourself. Reminding your heart and mind it is not by works of righteousness that I have done, but by the grace and blood of the Lamb that I know Him.  I'm saved. I'm secure. He already accepts me.  Not a version of me, but He accepts the current me because of the blood of Jesus.

When He changes your heart and mind like that, it frees you to love other people that are living in abject sin.  It frees you to not think your someone superior to them.  It frees you so when God lets your life cave in, it will hurt you and make you sorrowful, but you won't ask why God isn't keeping His end of the bargain.  You'll admit you don't understand it but accept that this is the same God I can trust with my salvation, who sent His Son to die on a cross for me.  When you are criticized, you can say "I am far worse than you think I am.  I can take this in stride because I don't have to be perfect because I have a Savior who already is."