Saturday, April 01, 2006

Chapter 3 - Lost and Found Series

Chapter 3

The third parable Jesus told was the Parable of the Lost Son.

Part 1 - The Getting Lost Phase

"Jesus continued; "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, "Father, give me my share of the estate. So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need." (Verses 11-14)

Just thinking about the first phase of this story. We can call it, the "getting lost" phase. In the English language, there is an expression which one hears from time to time. It is actually a rather nasty phrase. When somebody, or an animal is bugging a person, the person may say "Oh, Get lost!" meaning: Go away and stay away, and don't bug me. People don't mean it literally, but nevertheless I think we ought to be more careful as Christians about what we say. It is after all just as easy to say to a person, "Please leave me alone for a while."

Well in this story, there was no-one saing to the younger son, "Get Lost." but he proceeded to do that anyway.

More often than not, Getting lost is not a deliberate thing, done by the person lost. Nobody intends to be lost - it's kind of accidental. But people do sometimes deliberately want to get away, to escape from a situation. Animals that are confined to a small area, will look for a way to get out. Prisoners are always looking to escape the confines of their prisons. Sometimes a child may want to run away from home, because they believe (or know) that they are being denied something that they want.

The younger son in our story, wanted to get away. He was bored by home living and he decided he would like to "have his freedom." Of course sometimes the reality is you are being confined for your own good. I was safest while I remained within the confines of the campsite. (See my introduction to the Lost and Found series.) People who have been Christians from a young age, sometimes go through a stage when they decide to kick over the traces. They want to "Live a while." They perceive living according God's Word as being boring and they "just want to have a bit of fun." The problem is that the "fun" that they want to have means going against God's Word and will in the long run, result in tears.

Maybe you are a young person who's thinking about leaving home, either secretly, at night, or openly and defiantly. I strongly urge you my friend to talk to somebody and get some other perspective on this. If you can't talk to your parents about your unhappiness, talk to another adult, but don't run away. Let me just warn you up front, that there are people out there, who hang around places like bus terminals and railway stations and they can spot a run-away as if he or she is wearing a sign "run away" on them. When they find find such a person, they act like the friendly older person, who will help. They show the young runnaway a lot of interest and concern, but in a subtle way, they confine the run-away but this time to the run-away's peril. They will give the run-away enough to buy their trust, and then bring them into a terrible life. Young people from Africa and Eastern Europe have been literally enslaved by these people who offer a wonderful life over in "the West" but many a young women will tell you that their lives were awful - they were entrapped and forced to become prostitutes by these people. This is a world-wide phenomenon. It's not that new either. I think of the Charles Dicken's story Oliver Twist, and the story of Pinocchio. My point being that just because someone acts friendly and wants to give you some "friendly advice" does not mean that they really care for you.

Part 2 - Hitting Bottom

"So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country. who sent him to his field to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no-one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, "he said "How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!" Verses 15 - 17.

I would like to refer to this the "awareness phase." Alcoholics Anonymous talk about "hitting bottom." (This has nothing to do with spanking - please read it in context) What is the most painful aspect of falling? When are most of the injuries sustained. Is it not the impact with the ground? But in order to "hit bottom" you first need to have jumped. Jumping might have seemed a good idea at the time, but as you come closer to the ground and certainly when you've hit the ground, jumping definitely was a bad idea. This young man in the parable appears to have hit bottom. But of course there is a "good side" (if you can call it that) to hitting bottom - it means you can't fall any further - it's got as bad as it'll get. Again, Alcoholics Anonymous tells us that the only way to recover is first to admit that one IS an alcoholic. If you are sick, it is realising that you are sick and deciding to get help that is the first step to recovery.

There is campaign for "at risk" people to have themselves tested for HIV or Hepatitus A virus. There are no cures for these but if you catch it early you can take medication that will help you, and keep your system going. Some cancers if caught at the early phases can be removed, but if left alone, or ignored or one is in denial, then that cancer will get the better of you and will kill. This truth is the same for those who are lost, wondering away from God.

It is only at the moment that you realise your need for God that you can be helped. The young man said "I am starving to death." That is the crux of this part of the story. Where are you at the moment, my friend? How are you? Are you "starving to death?"

Part 3 - The Returning Phase

"I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: "Father I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of yor hired men." So he got up and went to his father." Verse 18 - 20a

"The Returning Phase" When the son left home, he left with a swagger, with an attitude, being "full of himself." He was after all in charge of his life. What a different picture we get of the returning son, full of remorse and feeling ashamed. nevertheless, he was doing the right thing returning home. If you have got it wrong, the truth is there is such a thing as new beginnings - 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old is gone, the new has come." Friend, the truth is all of us have a past, something we are intensely ashamed of, something which we would do anything to hide away from. It happens to all of us at some point. The Bible says: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) The young man in our story was ashamed of himself, and well he should have been. But he returned, with a new attitude, one of humbleness, realising that he had a father who loved him (even if he did not at this stage appreciate to what extent.) It doesn't really matter wat the motive for the son's return is, what is important is that he was returning.

Part 4 - The Reunification

"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and was filled with compassion for him. He ran to his son, through his arms around him and kissed him." THe son said to him, "Father I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son." But the father said to his servants, "Quick, Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." So they began to celebrate. "

Verses 20b - 24.

The Son, having made his resolve to return, was met "while he was still far off. " Friend, God looks to the day when you and I will see the error of our ways and will come to him. But he doesn't wait for us for us to walk through his gate, or to knock on his door. The Bible says: "As for you, you were dead in your trespasses and sins.... But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions." (Eph 2:1a, 4-5a) Friend, God is just waiting for you to turn, and he is ready, willing and able to meet you right where you are.

I'm into drama - I really enjoy it, and if I were to set this story in a modern context, I would have the son, after he had realised that he'd blown it completely, living at the other end of the world phone from a call box (reversing the charges) and say something like this: Dad, it's Phil here - I'm calling from .... Please Dad I want to come home. But it'll take me a while, I've hit on some bad times here. Would it be okay if I come?" - to which I would have the father reply: "Son, where are you exactly - I am going to organise you a ticket, you can pick it up at the airport." I think you get the picture - God hasn't given up on you friend, and when you return He's ready for a party.

© John F.

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