News For Prodigals
s we observed a young family so happy during lunch at a mall food court last week I told Marilyn, "It makes you want to ask them where they go to church." As they were leaving I did ask, and the answer was a happy one because they were Methodists. "Are you all always so happy," I asked the dad? "Family time is special for us because of a life changing event," he said. "Our son was born with a bad heart and had to have massive surgery as an infant and out of that came the springboard for a new life for us."
That is the core
of the Good News "a new creation... What counts is whether we have
been changed into a new and different people." (v.15, NLT)
The Good News for Prodigals is that they can come home again! The Good News for Christian parents of prodigal children is that most of then do eventually come home, and that the glad reunion is an event of monumental importance in the life of the family.
Since a part of my new life was also a calling into the ministry, my Preacher Father loaded me up with Bibles, commentaries, and selected books. One little paperback he gave me was a copy of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. Judging from the different colors of ink that I have used to mark it, I must have read it at least three times. It provided me early intellectual challenge and a model for logical thinking about what had happened to me, as well as to the book's author. Conversion became more than an emotional experience and began to make sense at a deeper level. Lewis had himself been converted from atheism in his late thirties and as an Oxford Don, had applied his scholarship to understanding what had happened to his newfound soul. His work on mere, pure, and unadulterated Christianity remains the most important theological influence on my life. In the margin of the first paragraph in his chapter entitled, "The Perfect Penitent," I scribbled my feelings as a sophomore, "The greatest paragraph of the twentieth century!" I experienced it that way then, and after all these years, I still feel the same. In those memorable lines he says, "Christ is either who he claimed to be as the Son of God, or else a lunatic, or something worse." Lewis had a way of getting to the point of the matter. Two paragraphs later (different pages in the many editions) he says this: "The central Christian belief is that Christ's death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start." This is exactly what St. Paul, another convert to the new birth, is getting at in our text. Indeed, without Christ we do "reap the sin we sow," (v.7) but if we "do not give up" (9) and are eventually captured by the compelling cross of Christ, and see ourselves as somehow having our rebellion forgiven there (13-14), we can experience "a new life," which is "everything" (15).
Most prodigals eventually come home. Research indicates that eighty-five percent of rebellious children of Christian homes do eventually come back to the faith. Nearly all come back as the result of a life changing experience. One researcher found that there was an especially high percentage of local church pastors who had personally gone through a period of spiritual doubt and disillusionment that had caused them to rebel. Ninety-three percent of current pastors and Christian leaders had gone through a faith rejection but had come back stronger than ever. (Good News About Prodigals, Tom Bisset, Discovery House, 97).
Let me hasten to say that not every person must experience a dramatic conversion experience. Some never rebel and live their entire lives with the sweet assurance that they are loved by God and are His child. I believe that this should be the normative experience for the child of a well-adjusted Christian home where the vows of Christening are taken seriously to rear the children in the love of God, clinging to the promise that when they are old enough they will want to be Confirmed into the faith. Fortunately, our daughters did follow in this pattern, but we reared them with prayer and with our fingers crossed too.
However, there are many adults who never had a chance to be a prodigal because they were not reared in a Christian home and have lived their entire lives without knowing the joy of friendship with God and the happiness of Christian fellowship. You could say that these kids had prodigal parents. It is these lost children of all ages that we find most difficult reaching. Many have been reared without any instruction in spiritual matters and perhaps have been reared to resent Christians. Sometimes these lost souls appear to believe that there is nothing a person can do to change their lives. Their idea may be that human destiny is somehow predetermined by some sort of genetic coding. It is obvious as we look at people, that we all inherit much of our appearance from our family; such as, brown hair and blue eyes, and perhaps a turned up nose. Sometimes people can feel so tied into negative family mores and traditions that they can never break away. However, we know that the God of Grace and Forgiveness always offers an opportunity for a new life. We believe firmly that any soul can become what Saint Paul calls "a new creation." (v.15).
The Good News is not only for Prodigals, but for everybody everywhere! Our challenge as followers of Christ is to share this great joy that we have come to experience. Just maybe we know a prodigal that we can perhaps nudge toward home. Or perhaps we are friends with someone who has never heard how much God loves them. What a thrill it is to be entrusted with such wonderful Good News!
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor