Thursday, November 13, 2008

the prodigal God

In last Sunday's message, we looked at "The Gospel & Your Kids" using Luke 15 to consider 4 reminders for Gospel parenting.

I quoted from Tim Keller's new book, The Prodigal God:

The work "prodigal" does not mean "wayward" but, according to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, "recklessly spendthrift." It means to spend until you have nothing left. This term is therefore as appropriate for describing the father in the story as his younger son.
The father's welcome to the repentant son was literally reckless, because he refused to "reckon" or count his sin against him or demand repayment. This
response offended the elder son and most likely the local

In this story the father represents the Heavenly Father Jesus knew
so well. St. Paul writes: "God was in Christ reconciling the world to
himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses" (2 Corinthians 5:19 -
ASV). Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing
if not prodigal toward us, his children. God's reckless grace is our
greatest hope, a life-changing experience, and the subject of this book.

Here also is a practical article entitled 12 Ways to Love Your Wayward Child written by Abraham Piper, one of John Piper's sons, who I understand was wayward for a time himself, but has clearly come "home." Stuff for us to apply today, as we seek to be Prodigal Parents . . .

12 Ways to Love Your Wayward Child

By Abraham Piper May 9, 2007

My son Abraham, who speaks from the wisdom of experience and Scripture, has written the article that follows. I read it with tears and laughter. It is so compelling that I asked him immediately if I could share it with the church and the wider Christian community. There is no greater joy than to see your children walking in the truth—and expressing it so well. The rest is Abraham’s untouched. -John Piper

Many parents are brokenhearted and completely baffled by their unbelieving son or daughter. They have no clue why the child they raised well is making such awful, destructive decisions. I’ve never been one of these parents, but I have been one of these sons. Reflecting back on that experience, I offer these suggestions to help you reach out to your wayward child.

1. Point them to Christ.
Your rebellious child’s real problem is not drugs or sex or cigarettes or pornography or laziness or crime or cussing or slovenliness or homosexuality or being in a punk rock band. The real problem is that they don’t see Jesus clearly. The best thing you can do for them—and the only reason to do any of the following suggestions—is to show them Christ. It is not a simple or immediate process, but the sins in their life that distress you and destroy them will only begin to fade away when they see Jesus more like he actually is.

2. Pray.
Only God can save your son or daughter, so keep on asking that he will display himself to them in a way they can’t resist worshiping him for.

3. Acknowledge that something is wrong.
If your daughter rejects Jesus, don’t pretend everything is fine.
For every unbelieving child, the details will be different. Each one will require parents to reach out in unique ways. Never acceptable, however, is not reaching out at all. If your child is an unbeliever, don’t ignore it. Holidays might be easier, but eternity won’t be.

4. Don’t expect them to be Christ-like.
If your son is not a Christian, he’s not going to act like one.
You know that he has forsaken the faith, so don’t expect him to live by the standards you raised him with. For example, you might be tempted to say, “I know you’re struggling with believing in Jesus, but can’t you at least admit that getting wasted every day is sin?”

If he’s struggling to believe in Jesus, then there is very little significance in admitting that drunkenness is wrong. You want to protect him, yes. But his unbelief is the most dangerous problem—not partying. No matter how your child’s unbelief exemplifies itself in his behavior, always be sure to focus more on the heart’s sickness than its symptoms.

5. Welcome them home.
Because the deepest concern is not your child’s actions, but his heart, don’t create too many requirements for coming home. If he has any inkling to be with you, it is God giving you a chance to love him back to Jesus. Obviously there are some instances in which parents must give ultimatums: “Don’t come to this house if you are...” But these will be rare. Don’t lessen the likelihood of an opportunity to be with your child by too many rules.

If your daughter smells like weed or an ashtray, spray her jacket with Febreze and change the sheets when she leaves, but let her come home. If you find out she’s pregnant, then buy her folic acid, take her to her twenty-week ultrasound, protect her from Planned Parenthood, and by all means let her come home. If your son is broke because he spent all the money you lent him on loose women and ritzy liquor, then forgive his debt as you’ve been forgiven, don’t give him any more money, and let him come home. If he hasn’t been around for a week and a half because he’s been staying at his girlfriend’s—or boyfriend’s—apartment, plead with him not to go back, and let him come home.

6. Plead with them more than you rebuke them.
Be gentle in your disappointment. What really concerns you is that your child is destroying herself, not that she’s breaking rules. Treat her in a way that makes this clear. She probably knows—especially if she was raised as a Christian—that what she’s doing is wrong. And she definitely knows you think it is. So she doesn’t need this pointed out. She needs to see how you are going to react to her evil. Your gentle forbearance and sorrowful hope will show her that you really do trust Jesus.
Her conscience can condemn her by itself. Parents ought to stand kindly and firmly, always living in the hope that they want their child to return to.

7. Connect them to believers who have better access to them.
There are two kinds of access that you may not have to your child: geographical and relational. If your wayward son lives far away, try to find a solid believer in his area and ask him to contact your son. This may seem nosy or stupid or embarrassing to him, but it’s worth it—especially if the believer you find can also relate to your son emotionally in a way you can’t.

Relational distance will also be a side effect of your child leaving the faith, so your relationship will be tenuous and should be protected if at all possible. But hard rebuke is still necessary.

This is where another believer who has emotional access to your son may be very helpful. If there is a believer who your son trusts and perhaps even enjoys being around, then that believer has a platform to tell your son—in a way he may actually pay attention to—that he’s being an idiot. This may sound harsh, but it’s a news flash we all need from time to time, and people we trust are usually the only ones who can package a painful rebuke so that it is a gift to us.

A lot of rebellious kids would do well to hear that they’re being fools—and it is rare that this can helpfully be pointed out by their parents—so try to keep other Christians in your kids lives.

8. Respect their friends.
Honor your wayward child in the same way you’d honor any other unbeliever. They may run with crowds you’d never consider talking to or even looking at, but they are your child’s friends. Respect that—even if the relationship is founded on sin. They’re bad for your son, yes. But he’s bad for them, too. Nothing will be solved by making it perfectly evident that you don’t like who he’s hanging around with.
When your son shows up for a family birthday celebration with another girlfriend—one you’ve never seen before and probably won’t see again—be hospitable. She’s also someone’s wayward child, and she needs Jesus, too.

9. Email them.
Praise God for technology that lets you stay in your kids’ lives so easily!
When you read something in the Bible that encourages you and helps you love Jesus more, write it up in a couple lines and send it to your child. The best exhortation for them is positive examples of Christ’s joy in your own life.
Don’t stress out when you’re composing these as if each one needs to be singularly powerful. Just whip them out one after another, and let the cumulative effect of your satisfaction in God gather up in your child’s inbox. God’s word is never proclaimed in vain.

10. Take them to lunch.
If possible, don’t let your only interaction with your child be electronic. Get together with him face to face if you can. You may think this is stressful and uncomfortable, but trust me that it’s far worse to be in the child’s shoes—he is experiencing all the same discomfort, but compounded by guilt. So if he is willing to get together with you for lunch, praise God, and use the opportunity.

It will feel almost hypocritical to talk about his daily life, since what you really care about is his eternal life, but try to anyway. He needs to know you care about all of him. Then, before lunch is over, pray that the Lord will give you the gumption to ask about his soul. You don’t know how he’ll respond. Will he roll his eyes like you’re an idiot? Will he get mad and leave? Or has God been working in him since you talked last? You don’t know until you risk asking.

(Here’s a note to parents of younger children: Set up regular times to go out to eat with your kids. Not only will this be valuable for its own sake, but also, if they ever enter a season of rebellion, the tradition of meeting with them will already be in place and it won’t feel weird to ask them out to lunch. If a son has been eating out on Saturdays with his dad since he was a tot, it will be much harder for him later in life to say no to his father’s invitation—even as a surly nineteen-year-old.)

11. Take an interest in their pursuits.
Odds are that if your daughter is purposefully rejecting Christ, then the way she spends her time will probably disappoint you. Nevertheless, find the value in her interests, if possible, and encourage her. You went to her school plays and soccer games when she was ten; what can you do now that she’s twenty to show that you still really care about her interests?

Jesus spent time with tax collectors and prostitutes, and he wasn’t even related to them. Imitate Christ by being the kind of parent who will put some earplugs in your pocket and head downtown to that dank little nightclub where your daughter’s CD release show is. Encourage her and never stop praying that she will begin to use her gifts for Jesus’ glory instead her own.

12. Point them to Christ.
This can’t be over-stressed. It is the whole point. No strategy for reaching your son or daughter will have any lasting effect if the underlying goal isn’t to help them know Jesus.


It’s not so that they will be good kids again; it’s not so that they’ll get their hair cut and start taking showers; it’s not so that they’ll like classical music instead of deathcore; it’s not so that you can stop being embarrassed at your weekly Bible study; it’s not so that they’ll vote conservative again by the next election; it’s not even so that you can sleep at night, knowing they’re not going to hell.

The only ultimate reason to pray for them, welcome them, plead with them, email them, eat with them, or take an interest in their interests is so that their eyes will be opened to Christ.

And not only is he the only point—he’s the only hope. When they see the wonder of Jesus, satisfaction will be redefined. He will replace the pathetic vanity of the money, or the praise of man, or the high, or the orgasm that they are staking their eternities on right now. Only his grace can draw them from their perilous pursuits and bind them safely to himself—captive, but satisfied.

He will do this for many. Be faithful and don’t give up.


Mama Mote said...

I miss taking my kids out to lunch or whatever. So, those of you who still have your kids with you, take them on dates and things, separately if you have more than one. When my girls do come home, we always make time to do at least one thing together, since they are at the point where they want to spend time with their friends, too, and find it hard to connect with everyone. Reading each point shows me that I may be doing something right after all. It is hard when one child has turned from Jesus, but I still make sure she knows I love her and am here for her no matter what. I learned how to text and have Facebook, just to keep in touch with her since those are her main ways of communicating these days. I do need to work on point #9 as far as sharing verses or praises or just things that point ME to God - just to send things to her to point HER to God. Whether she reads them or not is her choice, but she has said that "maybe" I'll read my Bible again. Then with the other daughter, I can share anything Christian with her and she with me. She calls for prayer and shares her praises and anxieties. Such a difference, but I love them both so much. Great stuff, Tim.

Anonymous said...

This Sunday's message couldn't have come at a better time. I have been struggling with how I should respond to my brother who just told me he is a homosexual. I didn't know how to grieve the loss of our relationship while trying to continue to point him towards the God he has rejected. Piper's 12 steps are a great starting point. I still want to love and spend time with my brother but now that his sin is out in the open I didn't know how to move forward. Thank you so very much for this post and for Sunday's Message!

Jennie said...

Thank you, Pastor Tim, for this encouraging and much-needed post. We used to attend Grace before we moved in 2003. (My parents are still regulars!) I miss it! But back to the point, I think what you posted is not mentioned enough in Christian circles. We are taught to raise our children in the Lord, but not much about how to handle it when they turn from him in their teenage and adult years. I pray for my three daily, that the Lord will protect and guide them in His truth. Thank you for the work you do in the SLO community, sheperding His flock.
love, Jennie

Suzette said...

All of that is great advice. The lunch out (or even sandwiches in the park) work great. Especially when coming home or even a meal at home is not an option. We are at that point right now. It will be really hard over the holidays. We will have to be creative.

Joe Pollon said...

Dear Anonymous,
I just read your post and had to respond. I, too, have a homosexual brother. And his “coming out” over 20 years ago was a shock to my reality (or denial of it). However, we kept and maintain a good relationship. I believe he “came out” to me first because, as a sibling, I cared for him but didn’t feel responsible for him the way our parents would (therefore, making it about themselves). It was a test to see how this process would unfold. Had I rejected him as an unforgivable sinner, I don’t know what would have happened. But I can’t imagine it would have been good.

In all likelihood, your brother “came out” because he has struggled and valiantly resisted for years but finally surrendered to the conclusion that he “is” a homosexual and, therefore, he has or will stop considering his orientation a choice and a sin.

I don’t believe your responsibilities (and therefore the steps) as a sibling are the same as a parent. I would, however, encourage you to consider the following as you grieve and adjust your relationship with the brother you love.

1) Every individual is so much more than his/her sexuality. There must be much to love, admire and connect with about your brother. After all, before he came out, did the two of you ever discuss bedroom behavior?
2) Your brother is and/or has been for years painfully struggling with this. Your response to him in a time of great fear and need will serve as a representation of Jesus. Rejecting him will likely drive him away from Jesus.
3) If your brother was coming out about another sin—say habitual stealing—how would your response be different? It is easy to get hung up on sexual sin and make it different. Did Jesus see the sins differently? How would you adjust your contact with him if the sin were not sexual?
4) Everyone will sin until the day they die. Some will give up the struggle against it and sin without guilt. If they still feel the love of Jesus and accept him as their savior, will they not be saved?
5) There is a great deal of fear and misinformation in the Church about homosexuality. Carefully and prayerfully consider the character and history of your brother whom you have known for all these years before accepting opinions, stereotypes and labels casually thrown around.

You have been thrust onto a journey of growth and discovery, not just about your brother, but God, the Church and yourself. I wish you the best.