Sligo18: Bring the Prodigals Home

Monday 9 July

Rob Parsons was the speaker at the Monday evening celebration at #Sligo18.  Rob  is the CEO of Care for the Family, a UK charity set up in 1988 to promote strong family life and to support those in difficulty.  Here, VOX editor Ruth Garvey-Williams brings you a summary of his powerful message:

Tonight, I want to talk to you about prodigals.  All over this arena there will be people who have a prodigal on their heart.  It could be a parent even in a strange reversal of the parable.  It could be a brother or sister, son or daughter or grandchild. 

Reading from Luke 15. The remarkable thing is not that Jesus ate with sinners... he came to save them.  The remarkable thing is that sinners wanted to be close to Jesus - the Holy One.  That wouldn’t always be true of us.

  • The first story He told was of a lost sheep, far away from home.  And some people here are far from home.
  • The second story is of the lost coin at home.  And some people here will be lost even though they are still in church every Sunday!
  • The third story is of two sons, one lost far away from home and one lost at home. 

Some of our prodigals are not as far from God as we think

Some of us have children who don’t fit very easily or tick all the boxes and we write them off as prodigals.  But sometimes these children have amazing hearts.  I believe in the local church and attend my local church every week but, I am telling you, God is at work in the lives of children who are not currently going to church .

I know some of your prodigals are far away and are breaking your heart but some of them are not as far as you think.  They are a million miles from your Christian culture but that is not the point!

Sometimes we confuse personality with spirituality.  Don’t misunderstand me.  I believe in Bible study.  I believe in worship.  But 14-year-old boys don’t like sitting still.  They don’t like to sing.  They don’t like to read.  They don’t like to listen to lectures. And we call them prodigals but it’s just that they can’t sit still.  They might be the first to give money to the poor or to visit a friend in hospital.

So often we are trying to tick boxes instead of looking at the heart.  Can we say, "I was proud of you when you gave your money away.  It was great when you visited your friend.  You are a wonderful follower of Jesus!: Catch them doing something right and point it out!

We want our children to fit the perfect Christian “jelly mould”.  The intention was that believers would be like Jesus, not like you!  Jesus said the religious leaders put burdens on people’s back and didn’t lift a finger to help.  Sometimes we have made prodigals of some who are not! 

Imagine if Jesus had written a “school report” to Peter’s mother....

  •  I’m sorry to tell you that your son almost ruined the Transfiguration with a silly comment.
  • I’m sorry to tell you that your son almost drowned on Galilee when he tried to walk on water.
  • I’m sorry to tell you that your son denied me three times today!

Jesus understood people.  When Peter messed up, He loved and restored him. Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Ask God what matters to Him.  Help us to look at the heart. 

We need to lay down the guilt

We say, “If only!”  Somebody once said, parenting is 50% fear and 50% guilt.  I think that is a little light on the guilt.  Adam and Eve had the perfect Father and the perfect environment and yet they went the way He did not want them to go.  There are parents here who have carried a weight of guilt for their prodigals.  Did we make mistakes? Yes.  But we need to lay down the guilt.

I like being a grandparent and I do but God has no grandchildren.  Your children, your husband, your wife, your siblings, they must make their own choice.

Let the Father's house be filled with the Father's love

If our prodigals are going to come home, we are going to have to pray this prayer: "Let the Father’s house be filled with the Father’s love."  I love the church, but some of our churches spend their lives fighting each other and splitting and spitting at each other.

Churches argue over four things:  style of leadership, style of worship, the building committee and the youth work.  You can stamp and kick and yell and scream until you get the perfect church but then your prodigals won’t come home because it was never meant to be like that! 

Jesus washes the disciples feet.  He said, “You must wash each other’s feet.  You must love each other.  You must invite your enemies to your parties.  I want you to be different!”

I beg you.  In your local churches, be peacemakers.  If any of you have been a pain in the backside for years, try and stop doing that. You won’t be proud to stand in front of Jesus like that.

When the Father’s house is filled with the Father’s love, the prodigals will come home.

Don’t knock other expressions of the body of Christ.  Because if your child is a prodigal you’ll be glad if they walk through anybody’s door!

In a church, where a stripper found faith the pastor received a complaint from a member of the congregation who said, "You are ruining my church."  Wisely, he asked, "So what are we going to do about it?"  After thinking for a bit, the lady eventually said, "We are just gonna have to love them." 

At another church someone came in without shoes and the person “greeting” told him, “You can’t come in here without shoes. This is the house of God.”  Then an older man, one of the founder members of the church and crippled with arthritis, sat down and slowly took off his socks and shoes, and told the young man, “You can come and sit by me.” 

A young man walked into church covered in offensive tattoos and piercings and an older lady hugged him tightly in welcome.  And he gave his heart to Jesus.

 Pray they meet the Father before they meet the elder brother

The spirit of the elder brother or sister is very strong in our churches.  The Father is patient.  The great lie of the universe from the enemy of our souls is that the Father is like the elder brother.  There is something in my soul that says the Father will love me if I do this, that or the other.  I want to grasp the love of the Father. 

The enemy says, “You are loved if...”  It began when we were very small.  We learn that the world will love you when you achieve.  The outrageous love of the Father is different. 

I heard a story at Spring Harvest.  Jeff shared, “I had a great relationship with mum and dad but in his 80s, dad had a stroke and couldn't speak.  One night, I rang my mum and asked if I could come and stay.  About 10.30, mum and I were chatting together and drinking cocoa but dad couldn’t speak, he just smiled.  I went up to bed and suddenly there was a knock at the door.  My dad looked down at me, he tucked me in, kissed me, smiled and then left.  I was lying there at 45 years of age, with children of my own, and I’d been tucked into bed by my own father. And boy didn’t it feel good!  God wants to do that for some of you, tonight.  You are loved!”

Prayer

This cross is the symbol of the greatest weakness and the greatest power in the world.  It is an instrument of torture.  They pinned you to it with nails.  You suffocated on the cross.  If they wanted to kill you quickly, they broke your legs.  And yet this symbol of torture is now a symbol of hope and restoration.   

If your kids are doing well, be humble.  Don’t crow because you never know.  If you have kids who are breaking your heart, don’t give up on them.  We don’t have any control.  We are in the hands of God.

Don’t give up hope. Keep on praying. Always leave a light on!  

At the end of the message, hundreds from around the Arena wrote the names of "prodigals" on pieces of paper and streamed forward to place those notes on the cross.