A few months ago I was struck by the message of the Lost Son(s) from Luke chapter 15, so much so that I got to preach on it. Tim Keller (whose book 'The reason for God' was probably my favourite new book that I read in 2008)has recently published a book called the 'Prodigal God'. Keller rightly points out that prodigal means 'recklessly extravagant' and that is how our God is, He lavishes us with unmerited kindness, bringing sinners back to himself. Keller rightly contends that there are two lost sons which reflects two type of characters. The first younger son represents those who are out for adventure at the cost of others. The second type elder brother types stay at home and are moral but no nothing of the grace of the Father. Both are lost and both in need of redemption.
On page 15 Keller says, 'Jesus's teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, button-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren't appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we'd like to think. Keller The Prodigal God p.15,16
A couple of months ago at an event called Souled Out I got to hear Jean Larroux, Jr. senior pastor of Lagniappe Presbyterian Church speak about his church plant in a community devastated by Katrina. Larroux pointed out that many churches have a sign as you leave the car park that says 'Your mission starts here' Larroux says this is one of hells lies. We have received God's free grace , unmerited and undeserved favour, and instead of pointing to people and saying 'sinner repent of your sins, we first need to stick our hands up and acknowledge that we are sinners, and broken and that God has saved us.' We all sin and as C H Spurgeon said 'Evangelism is just one beggar showing another where to get bread.'
One of the problems that modern evangelism faces is how to relate to broke people again, we are possibly frightened by them, and too often sit in judgement of them, we tend to forget the grace we have received. We need to love like Jesus with unconditional love, we need to remember God's grace.
Later in the prodigal God, Keller quotes one of his parishioners who seems to have knocked Keller over with her insight. 'She said that she had gone to church growing up and she had always heard that God accepts us only if we are sufficiently good and ethical. She had never heard the message she was now hearing, that we can be accepted by God by sheer grace through the work of Christ regardless of anything we do or have done. She said, "that is a scary idea! Oh, it's good scary but still scary."I was intrigued. I asked her what was so scary about unmerited free grace? She replied something like this: If I was saved by my good works- then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace-at God's infinite cost-then there's nothing he cannot ask of me.' p.121
As we end this year let us look back on the favour of God, in the midst of both good and bad circumstances. Remembering that the only thing we have earned is judgement, yet we can call God Abba Father if we have received the grace offered through the death of his Son.
Happy New year