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July 5, 2015   Pastor Steve Batten - Assistant Superintendent A/G NZ

“So he shepherded them according to integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.” – Psalm 78:72.

I sense a turning tide within church leadership. It is a movement away from doing and the way this is achieved, to being; it is a careful recrafting of past responses to our failures, to what God can teach us from these experiences. I also sense a reexamination and rediscovery by leadership of Biblical pictures that create healing pathways, which can lead us back from failure to wholeness and health within the church community. Only when these pathways are effectively in place to create a culture of acceptance and forgiveness will we reach and retain believers who have drifted away from church some time in the past.

The parable of the two sons in Luke 15 is one of the best known of these pictures.  You know it well. The younger son leaves home and loses everything; the older son stays with his father but never embraces the possibilities of the “everything” gifted to him.  Both experience personal failure; one a long way from the house, the other while continuing to live in it.  Geography is never the issue where God’s purposes are concerned.

It’s the father’s responses to his sons that shout the loudest and demonstrate a pathway and culture worthy of our consideration if we are to reach and restore those returning to faith.

First, how is your hope?  Faith is founded on the nature and character of God, but hope is anchored in the promises discovered within his word.  Hope is never wishful thinking that leads to disappointment (Rom 5: 5), but is evidenced by God’s unconditional love we continue to hold in our hearts.

“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” – Romans 5:5

Hope is always tested by time and demands patience. It must be focused and passionate to last the distance.  While the older brother saw his younger sibling’s departure as a permanent event, this father refused to renounce hope. Why else would he watch and wait all those years?  Who are you hoping for?

This father understood, as any parent does, that sometimes leaving, realising one’s loss and returning, make up part of the processes that shape our lives.  How every compassionate heart wishes this was not so!  Sometimes leaving involves a separation by distance; with others it’s a relational disconnection.  Yet the father’s heart sees beyond this to a completed picture, a restored relationship. He makes it his business to control the mind game of fear that shouts “What if?” and instead responds from within with words of hope.  How are you managing this battle that goes on inside you?

This father appreciates that parenting is risky and testing.  While the two sons in their unique ways “un-son” themselves, he refuses to “un-father” himself in spite of their attitudes. Neither son was ever disowned.  A change of heart that lasts cannot be engineered by pressure from without, but only by a revelation within.  Truly the “goodness of God leads to repentance” (Romans 2:4), even as we are challenged by the grace he shows to the seemingly undeserving! This father believes that people can be changed by God’s grace. He expects it!  Do you?

This is why this father is prepared. If he is to take hold of a restored future he must renounce the impossibility of his younger son’s return.  So when he sees him still some way off, he runs to embrace him.   He knows he must get there first.  First to hug and to hold, but also to set the scene by his response.  What his son and the community witness will serve as the foundation of a reaching and restoring community.  Reaching to restore is not demanding proof of change; it is the emphasis of a renewed relationship. “My son was dead but is now alive, was lost but now is found!”  His forgiveness was unreserved!  Will yours be?

Finally, this father is prepared in other ways to receive back his lost son.  Although he is the primary victim of his son’s offending, the father walks in the grace he also has received.  He covers the boy with his robe (speaking of restored social standing in the household and community); he presents his ring, (an emblem of restored influence and authority); he gives his sandals (a token of restored leadership within the household).  Here we have a man transformed back to being a son without shame or guilt.  Are you a radiant picture of reaching and restoring? As Ps David Cho said “If the church is lost, what hope is there for your community?”

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