Loving the Prodigal unconditionally

    The Prodigal son

    By Hank Lamb

    [dropcap]W[/dropcap]e’ve all enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday with food galore, family fun, lots of football, and hopefully some relaxation. Before we know it Christmas will be here and the imminent New Year will be rung in. And both will likely involve even more food, lots of time with extended family members, and perhaps a glimmer or two of relaxation.

    Family is a core focus of each holiday celebration. And with family there is always the dichotomy of the good and the bad; the upside and the downside; the “we’re so glad you’re here” to “we thought they’d never leave.” Maybe it’s just me and my family, but I don’t think so. Not when I listen to the stories told by my fellow church members. But I have the liberty only to tell my story. I want to tell you about the hope I discovered in the holidays.

    I have two older brothers. One is in the ministry. He has a Master of Divinity degree, as well as a doctorate in marriage and family counseling. The other brother owns and manages a nightclub. He never went to college. The nightclub life is all he’s known as an adult. Both are Christians.

    So there’s the rub. Over the years I’ve witnessed their disagreements. There have been times the oldest resembled the older brother in the Prodigal Son story. He’s been very judgmental and harsh both on his brother and on the idea that God, the Father, would accept the younger son into His household. Meanwhile, the middle brother has been somewhat of a Prodigal Son. He’s had plenty of moments of “sowing his wild oats” and doing his own thing regardless of what the rest of the family thought wise.

    As the youngest of the three, I’ve managed to be like both of them. Growing up I thought the oldest was straitlaced and holier-than-thou. I had no desire to emulate him. On the other hand, I idolized the middle brother. He was cool, hip, popular, living a carefree partying lifestyle.

    But there came a time when I became my own man. I was no longer repelled by the oldest brother, because he had grown and changed by God’s grace and become more worthy of emulation. Meanwhile, the middle brother had gotten stuck in the “faraway country” doing his own thing and was no longer idolized.

    And yet, both are my brothers—biologically as well as spiritually. Each of us must learn to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” realizing all the while that “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12b-13).

    Over the years I had managed to be like each of them, both in their good ways and bad. As I began to recognize their flaws, God did a curious thing. He turned my microscopic vision in seeing their sin onto my own heart. How ugly is that?

    In Isaiah 64:6 God declares, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…” Jeremiah fires a laser at our heart with these words in 17:9: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” Another translation reads, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.”

    Confession is good for the soul. The Apostle John teaches, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Earlier he says, “If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

    I finally realized my best pursuit in life is to strive to become like Christ. To “fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith” (Hebrews 12:2a). I love my brothers. We are family. The challenge for all of us, as followers of Christ, when we gather with family—be it biological or spiritual—is to “love one another” just as Christ has loved us. God is the potter. The rest of us are clay. This reminds me of my favorite saying on a church sign: “God at work. People in progress.” Paul said it first: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” This is the hope I’m reminded of every year as I go through the holidays with family.

    Hank Lamb is senior pastor of Central Christian Church in Richardson.

    Hank Lamb
    Hank Lamb
    is a writer, husband, father and the senior pastor of Central Christian Church in Richardson, TX.

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