Due to my work with prisoners, in helping to facilitate their education in Bible and Theology, Christian Education and Intercultural Studies, a friend from church had a question for me a couple weeks ago:
“A good friend of mine is coming to the service this morning, an ex-convict. They’re having trouble finding a job due to a felony conviction and was wondering if you had any ideas about where to look for work.”
I told my friend that I personally had no leads on a job, but gave her the contact information for a minister—also an ex-con—who has an outreach to addicts and recently-released prisoners.
“Just pray for this person,” she continued, after thanking me for the preacher’s name. “They think they’re too far gone for God to love them. They think they’ve done too much, and say there’s no way the Lord would ever forgive some of the wretched things they’ve done.”
This person did show up, and oddly enough, the sermon that morning was on the great and never-ending love of God the Father. It was as if the whole sermon was geared directly toward them. Brother Stan Welch hammered the point home that we’ve never sinned too much for God’s forgiveness.
Bro. Welch said time and again, we’re never too far gone for the Lord to save us, and that God is not shocked by our past. God wants to have a personal relationship with us, he stated, and to love us like His children. He said the love of the Father has no boundaries or limits.
Funny thing is, my friend hadn’t talked to the speaker about the ex-con who was to be a guest at our church. This was a Holy Spirit-orchestrated church service, carried out by obedient servants who were completely oblivious of the great hurts and pain being suffered by someone only two rows back.
This person had been torn to bits, emotionally, and came forward for prayer at the end of the service.
God met them right where they were. They didn’t have to get cleaned up or get their life straightened out. A simple prayer to Heaven, and the healing had begun.
In Luke 14, Jesus tells the story about a king who threw a banquet. When the meal was prepared, his servants informed those who had been invited, but one by one they made excuses about why they couldn’t make it.
So the king told his servants to “invite the beggars, crippled, lame, and blind. (vs 21)”
Not what most think of when we picture a royal banquet, but as I reported in a previous blog, God’s heart beats fierce for those whom others have labelled “losers.”
“Dishonest tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus’ sermons; but this caused complaints from the Jewish religious leaders and the experts on Jewish law because he was associating with such despicable people—even eating with them! (Luke 15:1-2)”
In the same chapter, Jesus relates the famous story of “The Prodigal Son.” A young man decided he didn’t want to wait until his father died to gain his rather large inheritance, so he asked for the money. He squandered it on wine, women and song, and soon found himself homeless, penniless and starving to death.
Realizing even his father’s servants had it better than he did, the young man decided to go home and beg forgiveness.
“I’ll tell him I’m no longer worthy to be his son, but am willing to be a servant.”
Jesus picks up the story: “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming, and was filled with loving pity and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
“His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and you, and am not worthy of being called your son—’
“But his father said to the slaves, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. And a jeweled ring for his finger; and shoes! And kill the calf we have in the fattening pen. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has returned to life. He was lost and is found.’ So the party began. (Luke 15:20-23, emphasis mine)”
Many of us picture God as a stern, angry father, but this story is a much more accurate portrayal of His great love. The father was “filled with loving pity” for the lost son, and “ran and embraced him.”
My Christian friends are former drug addicts, ex-cons and recovering alcoholics. Some of them were so ruthless their families left them, while others were so anxiety-riddled and/or depressed that they retreated into a world of their own for years, decades even, living alone and vowing to die alone.
As the band Seventh Day Slumber sings, “We Are The Broken.*”
But the lost are now found, and the “losers” are children of the King.
So, in case you were wondering, you’re never too lost to be found. God isn’t smugly watching your suffering from His mighty throne, uncaring about whether or not you live or die. He reaches out to you constantly, hoping You will accept His help.
Don’t kid yourself: you can’t shock the Lord. His love is boundless, and He smiles wide at you, waiting to embrace you as His child. He loves you, and is in fact CRAZY about you.
“Brothers and sisters, consider who you were when God called you to salvation. Not many of you were wise scholars by human standards, nor were many of you in positions of power. Not many of you were considered the elite when you answered God’s call. But God chose those whom the world considers foolish to shame those who think they are wise, and God chose the puny and powerless to shame the high and mighty. (1 Corinthians 1:26-27)”
* Written by Josh Baker, Michael Barnes, Jeremy Holderfield, William Hunter, Justin Rojas, 2014