Good morning. I trust you all rested well last night, even though I know that’s unlikely. Conferences are hard places to rest, aren’t they? They are places where gifted lay people, gifted people in ministry can assemble to study God’s word and to share their heart and to enjoy what happens when a community of people that are trying to help others come together. I can’t tell you how excited I am, not only to be invited but to join people like Zach Eswine who has served so many pastors in so many places and leaders through his preaching and writing, to join Elyse Fitzpatrick, who is just this articulate, incisive, clear voice helping the church, apply the gospel, and quite honestly, helping old pastors like me to know how to think about women and the church.
To see Jim again, and Tim Challies is here as well. He’s dedicated his life helping the church build discernment. These are just wonderful things for us to be able to experience together. I count it such a rich blessing to be with you. You can open up your bibles to Romans Chapter 12. Title this morning’s message is Rugged Love for the Wayward Soul, in other non-expository message if that means anything to you from last night. Let’s just stop and pause and go to Jesus together and ask for his help. Would you pray with me, please? Lord, I thank you that we were able to lift our souls in worship to you and to be reminded of what you have accomplished upon our behalf.
Now, we have this task, Lord, of looking from you down here into the earth and to see, and experience, and explore, and discuss some of the challenges of fallenness. Yet we realize that you are here as well or that you are all around us and that you work in powerful ways through the things that we want to discuss this morning. I pray that you would give me an ability to serve these good people. Give us ears to hear and help us find you together. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. The question I want to explore with you this morning might be best phrased in the following way, does true love ever tolerate evil in the name of good? Does true love ever tolerate evil in the name of good?
Or maybe in other way to ask the question would be to say, does biblical love working with esteem of the wayward, the prodigal? Does biblical love ever appease the prodigal to fulfill a higher call? Just so we don’t leave that as obstruct questions, let’s look at some specific situation. Let’s put some faces onto those questions. Recently, I met with a woman, I’ll call her Lily. Lily has been married for 15 years. She’s got a house full of kids and a church-going husband who hasn’t acted like a Christian in about seven years. Her husband just has this pattern of berating her and ignoring the family, and spending most of his times with his drinking buddies, just going out and enjoying himself much the way he may have done when he was in high school.
When Lily tries to appeal to him, he says, “Hey, I’m hopelessly unhappy in this marriage but I’m Christian and I’m not going to divorce you.” Yet she’s pretty certain that he’s seen at least one or two other women outside of the marriage. Now, to use the language or pull the language back in from last night that we talked about, he’s obviously renounced his role as a husband, renounced his role as a father. He is rejecting the wise counsel beginning with his wife and then with this pastor and others who have appealed. His shields go up immediately. He doesn’t want to hear anything. Yet you have Lily who’s in marriage, you have Lily who knows the Bible.
Lily wants to obey God, Lily who wants to display the love of God. Yet she lived haunted by this question, what do I do when my best attempts at love just seem to make a situation worse? What do I do when the best that I have, the best attempts at love, at gospel love that I can bring into marriage? It’s not like it just remains the same or inches the ball forward a little bit, but it seems to make things worse. Okay, now, hold Lily out there. Let’s just move her to the side, leave her hanging suspended. Let’s go to this other situation happened just recently. I received an email. In the subject like of the email was, does loving my wayward addict mean financially supporting him?
Does loving my wayward addict mean financially supporting … I began to read through this email. You know this experience. You sit down to listen or you begin to read. You immediate know that the pain is palpable. You could feel it in every sentence, in every word. I discern that there was this deeper question that was driving what they were communicating to me, which is what vision of love should determine my actions or our actions with respect to this person we love who is an addict. What vision of love should determine our action? Does love open its hands? Does love open its wallet once you’re serving an addict or somebody who is obsessed or in this narcissistic kind of parallel universe?
See, the delicacy of this question is that addicts do inhabit a kind of parallel universe where manipulation is the currency by which they stay alive. Manipulation is the currency by which they remain addicted. It’s often possible because the family that is around them or the support system that is around them is more emotionally invested in the prodigal and the prodigal is invested in the family or the support system. To say it simply, the prodigal is loved more than they love. That can arm a person who’s going wayward, arm a person who’s prodigal with a kind of strange superpower when it comes to the balance of the family and the rhythm of the family because they can easily exploit and control those who love them.
We mentioned last night, they have no skin in the game and yet they’ve left reservation. They’re playing by no roles whatsoever. It’s from this kind of ecosystem that comes the worst forms of enabling, or I should say the most unhelpful forms of enabling, or the most unhelpful forms of accommodating a behavior in the name of love. Because when somebody that you love deeply begins walking down that road, it can trigger powerful fears in the heart of those that love them. Or it can trigger this idea that somehow by showing them unconditional love that my display and my commitment to unconditional love toward them will overrule their self-obsession.
Here’s the thing about the nature of prodigality. We talk about this a little bit last night. I want to pack it a little bit more this morning, and that it that prodigality often fosters a selfishness that feeds off of benevolence. It fosters a self-obsession that will actually feed off of … See, there’s no coincidence that in Luke Chapter 15 Jesus tells the story of the elder brother prodigal son. The prodigal son goes to the father, asked the father for his inheritance. The dude is not even dead yet. He’s asking him for his inheritance, which is outrageous, even more audacious back then as it sounds to us today.
He’s basically saying to the dad, “I wish you were dead, but I would like to receive from you the benefit of you being dead. I want it. I want it now. I want to spend it. I want to go off.” See, there is this selfishness that’s fomented, that sees the father, knows the father might be benevolent, knows the father might be generous as … “Give me half of inheritance.” In the family system oftentimes, you can fall into this push and pull of appeasing that behavior. The appeasing doesn’t really serve them because they’re in this alternative universe, they’re in this delusionary world. Did you ever hear the quote by Churchill?
Churchill once said, “An appeaser is one who feeds the crocodile hoping it will eat him last.” “The appeaser feeds the crocodile hoping it will eat him last.” There’s that sentence that the crocodile is always hungry. You never quite feed him enough. Okay, so there we were talking about the email I received. We talked about Lily and Lily’s question, “What do I do when my best attempts at love just seem to make things worse?” Then the email that I got in which was, does loving my wayward mean just continuing to financially support them? Third thing I was thinking about was that the Southern Baptist convention was just recently up ended by the forced resignation of Dr. Paige Patterson.
Dr. Patterson was guilty of a cluster of comments that were shockingly tolerant of abuse in marriage. Now, I’m not going down the road of criticizing Dr. Patterson but more to observe that there was a time that he was speaking out of that had a certain vision of love, a certain application of love. I think it was misguided, but it was an application of love. It was probably drawn from 1 Peter Chapter 3 where the unbelieving husband is one without a word by the conduct of the spouse, of the wife. The application became that she just needs to trust God and endure even if wickedness, even if abuse and God will ultimately transform the husband.
Quite honestly, this is one of those public situations that should have every pastor, anybody that stands with a microphone in their hand should have all of us looking at ourselves. Because I’m quite certain I have stood in front of people and said stupid things. I’m quite certain I have said misguided things and foolish things and sinful things. I pray that I haven’t said things that leave the weak or suffering people feeling as if they are unprotected or they don’t have advocates or actually they’re the problem. Near the juicy center of all of these three profiles is a question that just refuses to be dismissed. The question is, does true love ever tolerate evil in the name of good?
Does love accommodate wrong because they have a vision of a greater right, because of a greater right? It was out of this wrestling that the idea for a rugged love came to the forefront for us, and for Paul Gilbert and I in writing this book on Letting Go: Rugged Love For Wayward Soul. What we were thinking about is the areas where love has teeth. What I want to do for you is I want to define for you what I mean when I say rugged love and then just talk about a couple of those things and apply them a little bit. Love is rugged when, love is rugged when, number one, it’s strong enough to face evil. It’s strong enough to face evil. Number two, it’s tenacious enough to do good.
Number three, it’s courageous enough to enforce consequences. Number four, it’s sturdy enough to be patient. Number five, it’s resilient enough to forgive. Number six, finally, it’s trusting enough to pray boldly, trusting enough to pray boldly. We don’t have time to cover all of these, but let’s just think together about two or three of them, beginning with the first one, rugged love is a love that is strong enough to face evil. What I mean by that is that when someone we love goes wayward, they begin to walk the foolish road, they begin to renounce their roles, they begin to reject right voices, they move from the fool to the wayward.
The wayward becomes not only a direction, but a destination. Facing their problem can be a real hurdle. If we’re one of the people that are in orbit around them and we love them, facing their hurdle, because first, that decline can be really subtle. It’s not just like it appears one day, but it can be a really subtle thing. It’s not always easily detected. Some incidents happen. You wonder what’s that all about. You speak to them. You assume that they’re incidents and not a pattern. That’s one of the reasons why, but also there is … When someone we love begins to go in this direction, it triggers profound anxieties within the average person, profound anxieties about them, the one we love.
How did they get here? Why do they seem to love darkness rather than light when for years we’ve been doing family worship and we’ve been exalting into light. I don’t get it. It’s fears about them, it’s fears about ourselves. What did I miss? What was is? What was missing in the package that we were trying to put together to raise this child or to love our parent? Or what does this mean? Or why do I feel this shame now? Or it can be these pressing anxieties that result in questions about God. What did I do wrong? What is God trying to teach us through this situation? Often it goes to, is God punishing me through this in some way?
We had a daughter that went through some very dark times. I remember dozens of times be in the situation where I realize that the information about what was going on was this two-edged sword. I needed to have it. Man, I didn’t always want it. I needed to maintain a perspective of where she was. The information brought pain. The information brought shame. The information illustrated the loss of control that I had. The information confronted me with these feelings like I was a failure as a parent. The point I’m making is that the questions are so complex and the information is so convoluted and so painful that a lot of folks just won’t go there. They just don’t want to go there.
See, we’re talking now about being strong enough to face evil. One of the first challenges is people don’t ultimately want to go there or they don’t want to name it. For instance, you have let’s say a wife who knows her husband as a serial adulterer. She has found a way to move forward in the family just looking the other way. Or you have a parent who knows their child is involved in porn or involved in drugs but they don’t really want to ask a lot of questions, they don’t really want to investigate. They’ll ask the superficial questions that will satisfy parental due diligence. That sense that, “Yeah, I think I asked enough so that I can go to sleep tonight.”
See, one of the things we begin to discover as we wait into this world of prodigality is that the worst lies aren’t the ones that our prodigals tell us. The worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves. This is why rugged love starts with strong enough to face evil. This is why I ask you to turn to Romans 12:9 where the word of God says, let love be genuine. Then, it pulls this second idea right up alongside of it, abhor what is evil. Then, we’re going to talk about the third idea in just a second. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil. What’s interesting about this is now we’re being asked by God to straddle attention here of genuinely loving somebody despite the knowledge, the confirmed knowledge that there is this abhorrent evil that they may be pursuing and perhaps, God forbid, even embody.
See, when love is rugged, it does not need to manipulate the truth, to ignore the truth, to deny the truth nor is it passive towards evil that there is a strength because of the love of God towards us, because of the power of the gospel that we can face evil. It’s not just to bring good leadership although good leadership is important. It’s not just to bring integrated leadership or strong leadership or anything that has to do with something we’re manufacturing. See, the goal here ultimately is to mirror the gospel of Jesus Christ in the situation. It’s not to manipulate behavior. It’s not ultimately to try to change them through a new way of thinking about leading in this situation.
It’s to mirror the gospel. See, at the cross, what we have is we have the perfect love of God that meets the wickedness of evil. That’s the kind of love that we start with in the gospel. Love and abhorrence meet at Golgotha. They meet at the cross. See, the cross is not God’s work around so that evil doesn’t have to be dealt with. Again, our point here is strong enough to face evil. The point I’m trying to make, the connection I’m trying to make is we find this in the gospel and we need the power to do this from the gospel. Because in the gospel, we realize the cross is not God’s work around. It’s not God winking at evil but really saying, “You know what, I’m going to make it just all about love.”
The satanic scope of evil is fully exposed in the gospel by God the Father unleashing his holy wrath upon evil. The [inaudible 00:23:24] mobility of that evil, the height of that evil is seen in the fact that there is only one payment that could be accepted in order to propitiate God, in order to satisfy the problem. That was the blood of the Son of God himself. The cross is God’s abhorrence in action. That’s what it is. Yet, genuine love drives the whole enterprise. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. In the work of Jesus, in the work of the gospel, we see a love so vast. Here’s where I’m going. I want you to pay careful attention to this.
It’s a love so vast, a love so strong that it actually works to accelerate the downfall of evil. Just to put this back in the real world, for the wife that I was talking about earlier that is married to the serial adulterer, it may mean first that she’s not just ignoring the behavior but that she’s actually broaching the conversation with her husband in a very courageous manner, and persisting, and informing him, and letting him know that she’s praying, and then also honestly opening up conversations with other people that she trust and respect. Hopefully, she’s involved in the church. She’s opening up that conversation with her pastor as well, and that there is a plan being put into place that requires incredible courage on her part, but a plan put into place where ultimately she’s not going to live simply tolerating and evil.
Which means for her, she has to abandon the illusion that this peace keeping venture is actually helping her, this peace keeping is way of thinking … Here’s how it works, is I stay in this situation for the kids. I stay in this situation where there can be at times horrific evil that plays out within the home because keeping the peace seems to help the kids more. Being strong enough to face evil means that we’re strong enough to really look at those statements and those convictions, some of which are embedded deeply in fears and in anxieties, and to no longer ignore the destructive sin that is not going to bear good fruit within the home.
Nevertheless, with this woman, she’s going to need a lot of help. There’s going to be this dread if she decides along with the wise counsel, that the best thing to do, for instance, is to separate for a period of time. There’s going to be a dread that she experiences over leaving. There’s going to be an incredible anxiety that is triggered by walking into the unknown, perhaps even having children with her and not really having a game plan. See, even when your world is delusionary, it’s the only one you know. Even when your world is … It’s like one of the things with addicts, they have a community, they have a way of living. They have a sense of peace. These are my people. This is my place.
Even when your world is delusionary, it’s one you know. Disrupting even a delusionary world is a very frightening thing for that person. There has to be a love that is strong enough to face evil, not only in using this situation for her but for the people around her that helps her to swap the value systems, peace for truth, short term gains for long term benefits. Let me just say, if you’re here this morning and you are facing evil, let me encourage you to think about this passage, Romans 12:9. Think about the pathway here. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil. Actually, let’s add the third part now. Hold fast to what is good.
We’ll just riff off the last part of that passage in order to move on to our second point, which is that rugged love is a love that is, number one, strong enough to face evil or strong enough to face evil. Forgive me. Strong enough to face evil. Secondly, tenacious enough to do good. In other words, naming evil is important but it’s only the first step. Love is made rugged by a commitment to not be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good, Romans 12:21. To do that because, well first, we love, we love the people that are going through these things. We love the people that are wayward. We love the people that are experiencing this prodigality, this waywardness.
The challenge is, the reason why doing good for them is part of rugged love is because as a prodigal or a wayward person begins to drift more from God, their world shrinks to the size of themselves. They become this universe of one person and all of their decisions are made for themselves, in light of themselves, and what’s going to benefit themselves. That pattern of growing self-obsession, of naked self-obsession, a reckless disregard sometimes for other people, what happens is that attacks the affection that you feel for that person. It’s a human thing. It erodes the affection. It insights a sense of righteousness, which if it’s unrestrained, quickly becomes self-righteousness.
It can poison the relationship that we have of that person. We just want to write them off. We think somehow that’s the high road to just write them off. See, when you love a prodigal, your heart is like a bank account where there’s never any deposits made into the bank account. There’s only withdrawals taken out of the bank account. It’s you cutting checks for them in some way. They’re just taking and spending. They’ll take your trust. You’ll say, okay, well, maybe we’re taking a step forward and maybe things are a little better. You give a little of a something. They’ll take that trust and they’ll exploit it in some way or take your affection and reject it in some way.
The temptation for us, even in a counseling situation where you develop your relationship with them and it’s happening once a week but over a long period of time and it’s beginning to happen to you. The temptation is, is anger, it’s through express foolish things. It’s to feel ashamed, because when you’re the object of somebody who’s basically saying, “I want your resources but I don’t want you. I want your support, but I don’t want any relationship with you.” That insight shame issues within the human soul, because that’s part of what it means to be exploited. That’s the nature of exploitation. That’s why doing good is so important.
Doing good isn’t just important because somehow it protects the relationship. Doing good is important because it goes again to the gospel, it goes again to the power of the gospel. See, the gospel is so significant that it enables these deposits of love into our heart that are not dependent upon what the prodigal does or doesn’t do for us. In other words, we’re not trying to get the strength to love them from the things they do for us, the way they respond to us, whether they’re applying the counsel were giving to them. In fact, they’re not even in the picture when it comes to doing good for them. You remember Lily, we talked about her. Lily may decide in the name of doing good.
She may decide to write notes to her husband indicating that she’s praying for him and that there’s a hope that she has for the future. Or from the email that I was telling you I received and the subject line, does loving my addict mean financially supporting them? Well, they may not allow their addict to live at home in that season, but they may invite him over to dinner regularly. Or they may give him food, buy him food. Or they may give him gift cards that will enable to do that. My point is that, the good we do is intentional and it doesn’t perpetuate the evil that they’re pursuing but having made the stand for truth. It then finds ways to express love.
Not because it’s just a good thing to do and we want to be good people, but because we see that in the gospel. See, when it comes to this waywardness and prodigality, we don’t want to be living a constant defensive game where good depends upon their behavior because basically, it’s a lost game. It goes nowhere. What we’re doing is we’re determining before God to do good not because they have earned it, but because the gospel reminds us of how we were treated, how we were treated when we didn’t earn it. We didn’t do anything to deserve it. When we truly understand that, when we really wrap our brain around that, the gospel begins to tenderize our heart for good works.
Because it reminds us that we were the objects of God’s mercy long before we had done anything. In fact, I think our status was enemy of God when God decided to save us. As ones who have received this great mercy, we are now called to pass it along to the prodigal. Actually, if you want a good passage, one that’s really functional, Luke 6:34, listen to this and maybe even listen to this passage with new set of ears. Love your enemies and do good, and lend expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the most high … Now, check this out, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. He is kind to the ungrateful. Well, let’s just stop there.
I mean, how many times that you’re in a situation where you don’t want to be kind to the ungrateful. Are you parent here? Do you know what I’m talking about? Have you ever raised a teenager? He is kind to the ungrateful, but then it’s like Jesus says, “Okay, has settle on you because I’m about to ratchet it up. I’m going to take you to a place you never expected to go.” Evil is kind. I’ve been meditating, thinking, praying from John Chapter 13 lately. This section of scripture starts out in a fascinating way. It’s Jesus on the night before he dies or the night before he’s arrested, night he is arrested. It says, Jesus knew that his time had come. That’s how it starts, and that he was returning to the Father.
Then it says, having loved his own who were in the world. That’s how the disciples have described, having loved his own who were in the world, and then it says, even unto death. That’s the beginning. That’s like the opening salvo to where he then stands up, he takes the towel, he wraps it around himself. Actually, even before that, I think the next Verse 2 or Verse 3, it says, during supper, the devil had already put it in Judas’ heart to betray Jesus. He’s loving the ones that God had given them even to the end and then we’re informed Judas is there. The devil has already put the idea in his mind. Jesus knows that Satan is doing that.
Then, later on in this passage, Peter is mentioned and Peter is saying, “I’ll stand with you. It doesn’t matter, Lord. I’m your guy.” He said, “Peter, you don’t get it. You’re going to fail in an unbelievable way, in a historic way. How does Jesus then marked that moment? How does Jesus loved them to the end? Well, he stands up and he wraps it all around himself. He stoops down and he begins to serve and wash their feet. We’re talking about Peter washing his feet. We’re talking about Judas washing his feet. Then, this is the lesson, he says, “If I have done this for you,” and you almost completely expect him to say, you should do it for God. In other words, I’ve served you, you serve God.
This is a transactional thing that we’re arranging here. You see it in play right here. I’m embodying it. No, he says, “You serve one another.” Jesus has this idea that loving to the end means serving, number one, those who don’t get it, number two, those who will betray him, number three, those who will deny him, number four, those who will become amazing disciples too. Then, he says, by this all men will know that you are my disciples because you loved one another in that way, because you love one another through these things. It’s only a love that is rugged, only a rugged love can be kind to the ungrateful and the evil, to be tenacious enough to do good.
Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” Let’s mention one more category. Courageous enough to enforce consequences, we touched on this last night a little bit. I also mention that I was going to return to it today. Do you remember what we said about the nature of prodigality? This is what prodigals want. It’s real simple. They want it all. They want it all. In other words, they want the benefit of the relationship that you have, whether that’s a sibling, a parent, whether it’s a child. They want the benefits of that relationship without the cost that that relationship might bring.
They want kind of a Christmas morning life. Christmas morning is where we get all these cool stuff and we don’t pay for any of it until you’re an adult. One of the most established strongholds in a prodigal’s life is that I should be able to choose without consequences. I should be able to live without consequences. In scripture, we see the reason why that’s called foolishness, because God sets up the economy of his kingdom in a completely different way. In scripture, consequences are often the tools that God uses to tutor us towards spiritual sanity. Beginning all the way back with the law, the law is outlined, Moses, Mt. Sinai, if you sin in this ways, there will be these consequences.
First generation of Israel doesn’t even enter the promise land, because of the consequences. The child that’s conceived from David’s adultery dies because of the consequences. Romans Chapter 1, we talked about a little bit last night, although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks. Therefore, God gave them to the lust of their hearts. He gave them over to dishonorable passions, because of the consequences. Now, because prodigals are living blinded to consequences, this is really important, because prodigals are living in a world that they have created where they are blinded to consequences.
It’s very important that those that love them allow them to bear the consequences and to stop the carousel, the carousel is something you get on and you just go round and round and round and might be a little entertaining but you don’t make any forward progress to stop the carousel of explaining away their behavior of intervening when consequences come upon them in some way. Let’s just recognize that the reason why this is so difficult is because when you’re dealing with somebody who’s gone from being a little foolish to a full blown fool, to wayward, to rejecting counsel, to rejecting roles, those consequences can be heart breaking. They can be painful.
Those decisions can be costly. They can be hurtful, sometimes even harmful. Dan Allender once put his finger right in the middle of this thing when he basically said, “In order to repent, prodigals must feel pain.” “In order to repent, prodigals must feel pain.” Now, this is not the pain of bitter people around them inflicting pain upon them or making them pay. No, it’s a pain that has come from the consequences that by the design of God can ultimately work to collapse the illusion that they are living under. Because it’s coming from outside of those that love them, they pay more attention to it. That’s the brain twister in the whole thing.
I remember one father dealing with a 16-year-old wayward daughter. She wouldn’t keep any agreements, wouldn’t do what she said she was going to do, drop out of school, wouldn’t curb her distractive behavior, was always threatening to flee, was basically trying to hold the home hostage to her way of thinking, her way of doing life. They felt the best way to love her was to take the hit, to call the bluff, and to … Well, he wrote to me and he said this. He said, “Eventually, we had to realize that our vision for love was too small. It was confined to what we could control. If she stayed home, we felt less anxious.
For some reason, the home had become this humongous stumbling block for her. Eventually, we became convinced that we needed to show her a love that was strong enough to impose consequences. With tears in our eyes, we asked her to leave.” Actually, that reference in his words bridges over to a core idea in the book, which is called Redemptive Release, Redemptive Release. It goes to a paradox that we see in scripture that’s difficult to understand. The paradox is that sometimes God pursues us by releasing us. Releasing means letting them go, letting us go. In other words, to change the circumstances of the prodigal so that they must bear the burden for their decisions and they must bear the consequences for their selfish choices, which sometimes involves doing what this father talked about asking them to leave, sending them out.
When you love someone, whether it is a spouse, or it is a child, or it is a toxic personality in your life. When you love them, one of the hardest things in the world to do is to abandon a story that you have in your mind where your patient love wins the day, where your patient love within the home ultimately turns them. This is the point, God, I know what this is supposed to look like. I have it in my mind. This is how the narrative is going to be written. Ultimately, it’s going to be hard, it’s going to last for a while. Love is going to win. More often, at the cracks of that problem is not just the fear that we have, but this I can fix this. I think I can fix this.
I think I can fix … I know that if I can be just in here long enough working this problem, bring in some leadership, bring in some love, bring in a new way of thinking, becoming the Holy Spirit. I can fix this. Here’s the thing. This is really important, particularly in the home situation, is the prodigal becomes aware of this. The prodigal becomes aware that they are your project and that you’re going to take them one way or the other. What happens is that it mute your voice in their life. Sometimes getting them outside of their comfort system is actually what helps to reset the way they think about life, self, God, and all the things that seemed to becoming against them and destroying them.
Because in the home, they feel this entitlement but outside of the home, they have to bear the responsibility of their choices. They have to bear the responsibility and the nature of your relationship to them changes where you can begin to serve them, and they don’t feel entitled to your service because they’re not living in your home. See, the prodigal son in Luke that we talked about earlier, he didn’t just cash out and hang around the estate. His father didn’t enable to do that at least. Son wasn’t afford the privileges sitting around the house being the entitled man child playing computer games. He had to go. He had to be let go.
The point from a biblical standpoint is that God sometimes shows his grace by releasing us to pursue what we want until we see what we really need. He releases us to pursue what we want until we see what we really need. This happened in a situation with a guy, I’ll call him Jorge and his wife, Ashley. Jorge and Ashley were believers. They had one child attending a solid church, but Jorge had a secret. Jorge’s secret was he was abusing alcohol and he was concealing it from Ashley. He had stash in different places, in the home and she’d go to bed, get up at night and would drink oftentimes through the night.
Then, it began to affect his job because he would appear like he’s leaving in the morning for his job but he would stay home. Sometimes he wasn’t able to do his job, so that was affecting his ability to work. Ashley discovered the whole thing through just by stumbling upon it. She discovered his secret life and she confronted him. They went to their pastor and they met with their pastor, and got some counseling. He made these promises. “I’m going to change.” It’s going to be different. For a few months, it did seem to be different. Things were looking somewhat promising but all that wasn’t really the case, because he was just becoming a lot more stealthy in the way that he was pursuing his idolatry.
One day, Ashley had to go into the trunk of their car to get something that she thought was in the trunk. She popped the trunk and there was this stash of hard liquor, which totally freaked her out because she thought there was none of that around. She went to find that there were charges on the credit card, there were other credit cards that were set up that she didn’t even know about. The family was now in a full blown financial crisis. Ashley began to realize that Jorge, her husband, he loved her on some level but he had become a master manipulator, and that she was at a point where she honestly couldn’t trust what he said. She didn’t just bale out initially.
She had tried long suffering, and forbearing, and sitting with counselors, and sitting with the pastor but it was evident that this addiction had taken over his life and that he was preferring it, that he was pursuing it. See, prodigals face two fierce cravings. One is the destructive things they desire, the relationship they desire or the way of life they desire or whatever they’re pursuing their addictive behavior towards. The two things they crave is the destructive things they desire. Secondly, the key resources or the arrangements they need to indulge the first craving. Jorge needed to be at home. He needed some income. He needed the support of his wife to maintain this in a comfortable way.
Because as long as the prodigal indulges the first thing without consequences, without consequences to the key resources, they have little motivation to change. What you’re doing is you’re recognizing what the prodigal needs to perpetuate the behavior they’re pursuing and you’re working to wisely disrupt the system. If there was any hope for change between Jorge and Ashley, Ashley couldn’t change his desires but she could alter the resources and she could alter the arrangements of their living. What she did after meeting with pastors and others is she moved back home with her family, which was across the country.
She worked out with Jorge the specific guidelines for him to see his child, to get help for what he was doing. She wasn’t trying to punish him. She was trying to make it … She cast vision for the future of them being married where this wasn’t a preoccupying part of his life. She told him that if he really was a Christian as he professes, that he would stay involved in his local church, he would stay involved there for support and for accountability. She chose this path which is unthinkable when you think of a new baby, when you think of moving across the country. It was a rugged love. When love has teeth, man, could it spark reflection in a prodigal.
Kind of get them thinking about what they’re doing. For Jorge, he began this slow and excruciating turn away from his sins and towards the truth. It was two steps forward, one step back. Part of it was just the loneliness he had to deal with as he came home each tonight and he realize, my family is not there, they’re across the country. Jorge says, “This is what I did during that time. I worked and I wept. I wept and I worked.” Over time, this fierce desire for alcohol began to be replaced as he was getting counsels. He’s been prayed for. There was a replacement. It was being swapped out for a desire to have his family back, to have integrity in his life.
A little over a year later, they were reunited. That was about six years ago. You and I have been around long enough to know that that’s not always the way it works out. That’s what it’s like in a fallen world. That’s where we’re called to love and live and serve with this place where there is this mystery of lawlessness. Yet to recognize that encircling all of it is this providential God who loves us deeply, and that in the way that he moves within creation, there is thing called wayward. There is thing called the fool. There is thing called prodigality or being a prodigal, which is this painful mysterious lever that providence pulls from time to time for reasons that we don’t see for years.
It sets in motion a number of different things and it makes no sense to us and it doesn’t seem to bear good fruit. It exposes these commitments we have to be the fixer in this situation, to be the Holy Spirit. It really does reveal who we trust and what we ultimately believe about the gospel. One of the things we’re going to be talking about tomorrow morning is just the nature of faith, faith for the war of attrition that can take place when you love a prodigal. Here’s where I want to end and it’s just to remind you that however you’re coloring yourself into this picture, wherever this content touches your life, whether it’s in counseling, whether as a parent, whether it’s just somebody that you love who’s very dear to you.
The suffering that you are experiencing matters deeply to God. One day, it’s going to matter deeply to that person as well. Until then, may God give you and may God give us the courage to exercise this rugged love and to apply it in a way that gives him glory. Let’s pray. Lord, I want to thank you for the hope that you give us from your word and for the strength of your love that didn’t deny evil but saw beyond it and saw the hope and the help that could be in us because of the magnitude of your love and because of what you accomplished for us upon the cross. Lord, I want to pray for each person here again for the people, the burdens they bear in the form and shape of people, the faces that have been flashing in their mind throughout the last hour.
Lord, I want to pray that you would stir their courage and their hope and their confidence in your promise, Lord, that you would help them to know how to love ruggedly, and how to do good consistently, and how to feel bitterness in ways that allows their service to be much more pure. Lord, not to do it all to get a notch on our belt, but simply to mere the gospel of which we were objects. From which, we thank you. In Jesus’ name, amen.