Author and speaker Rob Parsons offers biblically-based encouragement and hope to parents of children who've chosen a destructive lifestyle and/or adopted spiritually-wayward perspectives. (Part 1 of 2)
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Rob Parsons: There's no better place to bring our prodigals than at the foot of this cross. As we cry out, sometimes from broken hearts, "Lord, wherever they are, touch them. Be with them. You love them more than us. By Your grace, bring them home.
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John Fuller: A heartfelt prayer of encouragement from speaker and author, Rob Parsons and he's with us on today's "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and our program is really for anyone who's experienced or is experiencing a distance between themselves and what we might call a prodigal child.
Jim Daly: Rob is a great friend of this ministry, John. He's somebody that I have known since the 1980s. In fact, Rob Parsons, along with others in the U.K. started Care for the Family along with Focus on the Family and that's how far back our roots go together.
Rob is an effective storyteller. He is terrific at knitting a story together. It may be because he's trained as an attorney and can really weave the story for the jury. And he's also experienced the prodigal story with one of his children and he's very vulnerable and open talking about that. And I know many, many, many parents have gone through a situation like that, where one or maybe more of your kids have walked away from the faith, have caused you such anxiety and you need to stick with us today, because Rob will provide a presentation with many stories that will encourage you that there's light at the end of the tunnel.
John: And he is using as a text one of my favorite passages in the Scripture, Jim. It's Luke 15, which we often refer to as "The Prodigal Son," but when I read that, I see it as "The Forgiving Father."
Jim: That's a great way to look at it, John. In fact, Rob's written many best-selling books. Bringing Home the Prodigals I think is one of his best and that's what he's talking from today.
John: We have details about that book by Rob at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or give us a call and we'll tell you more. It's 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And of course, you can also get a CD or download of this presentation, as well. Let's go ahead and hear now from Rob Parsons, as he was speaking at a Focus on the Family event in Naples, Florida just a few years ago.
Rob: It's the ancient story of the boy who broke his father's heart. What in essence, he said to his father was, "I wish you were dead already." And he went to a far country and one day he ends up in a pig sty somewhere and he thinks, "I want to go home." And he makes up a speech, "Father, I've sinned against heaven and against you. I am no more worthy to be called your son."
And I've no doubt as he's walkin' home, he's rehearsin' that little speech in his heart. What he doesn't know is every day since he left, the old man has climbed onto the flat roof of the little house and he's looking down the road. And when he sees his boy, he starts to run. Sophisticated men did not run in the Middle East, but this man cannot stop runnin'.
And he throws his arms around the boys' neck and the boy begins his speech, but he never finishes it, because the father is saying, "Put a robe on his back and a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. My boy's home." It's an incredible story.
It all began for me about eight years ago in the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. A wonderful organization had called together 4,000 people for a Saturday of prayer for prodigals. And nobody has told me about you, but almost every one of you will have a prodigal on your heart. It could be a brother or sister. It could be a husband or wife. In a strange reversal of the parable, it could be a mother or father, but many of you will have children on your heart and it was so back there in the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. And I prepared a message on prodigals. It was in my pocket. I was ready to speak it, but sometimes God ambushes us.
And they'd erected a huge cross, like the one we have here and during the day, they invited people to write their names of prodigals on a little card and come and lay them at the foot of the cross for prayer. After an hour, they asked me if I would leave the stage and come and stand by the cross and pray with people. So, I get up to do my duty, but by the time I get there, there are tens of thousands of names there. The names are spillin' off the little table. It seemed to me that the pain of the world was at the foot of that cross.
"Bring Jack home, Susan, Peter, Charlie." I have two children. Diane and I have Katie and Lloyd. Katie's 30 now and Lloyd's 27. I thank God for where my kids are right now. I thank God for what He's done in their lives in those intervening years, but I can tell you, those years ago it was a little different. And I remember laying Katie's name at the foot of the cross. And I remember laying Lloyd's name at the foot of the cross. And I remember thinkin', this is not how I thought life would be."
And then I started to cry. I could not stop crying. I never did get to preach the message in my pocket, but God laid a message on my heart that eventually went to that little book you have. It is an embarrassingly simple message. I don't pretend that it's new or kind of wonderfully in vogue. It is an embarrassingly simple message, but He laid it on my heart and I want to share it briefly with you.
The first, ladies and gentlemen, is very sad. It is this. We have made prodigals. I cannot speak of your nation, but I can speak of mine. We have made prodigals of some who never, ever did turn their back on God. They never did turn their back on God. They turned their back on something else. Sometimes we almost created prodigals. We made them prodigals. My mum and dad didn't go church. Dad was a postman; Mum was an office cleaner. We had a very poor little home. We didn't have [an] inside toilet or running hot water or as I told 1,000 businessmen the other day, even toilet paper. Don't even ask. (Laughter)
But a little poor home, but there was a little church on the corner of my street, a little Gospel hall. And my mum and dad sent me along to that. Miss Williams, the Sunday school teacher, came to get me when I was 4-years-old. She held my hand and took me down the street into the world of Sunday school. Recently they asked me to speak at their 100th anniversary. And I'm sat there [sic] and they put up photographs of old Sunday school parties and suddenly, there I am, age 7, smiling out of this photograph. And as I leave, somebody tugs my coat and I turn and she says, "Do you remember me?" "Miss Williams!" I thought she was 100 when she came to get me. (Laughter) when I was 4! I only just stopped myself saying, "You're still alive!" (Laughter)
And you know, it's kind of "in" to knock your Christian roots, but I won't do that. They were wonderful people, but they did get some things wrong. I remember when I was about 20-years-old, I'm sat [sic] in church and my friends are 20 and 21 and they're engaged to be married. And they will be married soon and she becomes pregnant. And I knew that, that was wrong; I understood that.
But what I didn't understand was something that happened in that service. I remember one of the leaders getting up and saying that because of the great shame this couple had brought on this little fellowship, they could no longer be part of our church. I knew that my friends had done wrong; I understood that, but it seemed to me that a deeper wrong was going on. I didn't have much understanding of Christian truth, but I knew that something terrible was happenin'.
I remember going to one of the leaders and saying, "You know what? You're meant to be the shepherd of the sheep. You're meant to put your arms around them when they break a leg, not kick them out." We didn't see that couple for 35 years.
And Diane and I were in church one day and here they come, grey haired. They've been faithful to each other all those years. They have brought that child up all those years. Were they prodigals? I doubt it. We made them prodigals. And ladies and gentlemen, we have done that not over issues like that; we have done it over little issues. We have made young people prodigals 'cause of the color of their hair or the fact a lion mongery in their face. A vicar's wife wrote to me shortly after I wrote the book [Bringing Home the Prodigals]. She said, "My boy of 16 stopped coming to church, but the other Easter Sunday, he said, 'Mum, Dad, I want to come to church.' We were thrilled."
The vicar and his wife [were] thrilled their son wanted to come to church. She said, "The only problem is, he wears a baseball hat everywhere." And she said, "We're in church on a Sunday morning. He's got this baseball hat on. And we can both hear the whispers and feel the stares that say, 'Why has he got a hat on in church? And why is the vicar's son got [sic] a hat on in church?'" Ladies and gentlemen, I'm not stupid. I know it's better [if] he didn't have a hat on in church, but I doubt heaven was holding committee meetings about it. (Laughter)
Somehow every generation has to say to God, "Heavenly Father, help me know what matters," because some things do matter. They matter to God and we have to message of our lives to it. This is not a matter of compromise. The incredible thing is not that Jesus ate with sinners. You'd expect Him to. The incredible thing is that sinners ate with Jesus. He was "the Holy One," without compromise, but they wanted to be near Him. Some things matter. But in every generation we have to say, "Heavenly Father, help me to know the things that really matter to You, really matter to You." God forbid we make some prodigals over tiny issues. Jesus said it to the religious leaders of His time.
A woman came up to me some years ago. She said, "Rob, when I was 19, a woman in my church said to me, 'You know, Suzanne, godly women don't wear Doc Martin boots.'" Ladies and gentlemen, we smile at this, but it is a great tragedy. We have done that to people.
John: This is "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly and our guest on the program today is Rob Parsons, a message from him of hope for every parent with a wayward child. And you can hear Rob's heart and passion and if you're resonating with what he's talking about, please know we're here to help you, to pray with you and to offer some guidance as you're longing for that child's return to faith and family. If you'd like to talk, our number is 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or you can get the CD or download of this powerful message at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Let's go ahead and return now to more from Rob Parsons on today's "Focus on the Family."
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Rob: When I was 15, I didn't understand school very well. My mum could read and write, but not much more than that. We only had a couple of books in our home. When I was 15, my school report said (I'd come 34th of the 34 kids in my class), it said, "He is making no use of what little ability he has." (Laughter) I understand that. I don't argue with it. I didn't understand school and it was a foreign country to me—total foreign country—didn't understand it. All I wanted to do was be a rock 'n roll singer.
And I'm about to drop out of church and in that sense, perhaps I'm a prodigal. And I can remember, I got an Elvis Presley style haircut and a leather jacket and I'm smokin' and I'm walkin' down the road one day and old Arthur Tovey [sp?] comes up to me. The man who changed my life died a fortnight ago. He was the most conservative Christian I have ever known, but he had a heart a mile big.
Arthur had never passed academic examination. Arthur and his wife were poor. They lived in two rooms in his mother's house. Arthur and his wife were told at that time they could not have children of their own. I have discovered such couples often have hundreds of children. Arthur was the worst public speaker you've ever heard. He had a very bad speech impediment. Arthur had little understanding of theology. He had not passed an academic examination in his life, but he loved kids. And although he was so conservative and I don't understand this, he had a heart that just reached out to prodigals. I remember him coming up to me and perhaps he could smell the smoke on my breath, but it didn't seem to bother him. He never ever mentioned it, in fact. He said, "Rob, next Wednesday, I'm doing a little Bible study in my home. Would you like to come?"
Ladies and gentlemen, when all you want to do is walk onto the stage in Las Vegas dressed in gold lamé (Laughter), a Bible study on a Wednesday night is not the greatest offer you've ever had. (Laughter) But he was a brilliant psychologist. He taught me the Bible for 25 minutes. And then, in that tiny home, he erected a table tennis table with two bits of hard board and we played ping pong with the bats up against our chests. If the ball went under the table, it was an engineering job to get it out. (Laughter)
And with what little money he had, he bought us fish and chips. And as we were coming back from the chip shop and the vinegar was seeping through the paper, Margaret had the tea brewing. When you walked into Arthur's home, you felt like a king. No matter what teachers thought about you, Arthur told you that you were special, that God had given you gifts. When I was 17, he said, "Rob, I believe God has given you a gift of public speaking." I said, "Arthur, don't even think about it. I don't even put my hand up in class. I don't take part in debates or drama. Don't even think about it." He said, "Well, I think God has and I am gonna teach you." That was scary. (Laughter) He was the worst public speaker (Laughter) you have ever heard.
And he got an old flannel graph out. I don't know if you remember those things. (Laughter) You stuck characters on them. And he taught me to teach the parable of the Prodigal Son to children--kind of interesting, seeing what I'm involved in now. He taught me to do that. When I was 39, the Law Society of England and Wales invited me to be one of their keynote speakers to 1,000 lawyers in Vienna. And as I'm walking on stage, I ring him. He lived in a tiny prefabricated house in Cardiff. I said, "Arthur, I'm about to go on stage [with] 1,000 lawyers out there. You taught me to do this." He said, "Did I?" And I was in Focus on the Family's radio station; about four years ago, we were talkin' about a book I'd written and they got him live on air as a surprise to me. And they said, "What do you think about the boy who came to your Bible class?" He said, "I'm proud of him." I cried on air.
Arthur had nothing. You will not meet anybody who had less than Arthur. He had no ostensible gifts. He had no money, but you know what Arthur and Margaret said to each other one day. They said, "You know, what darling, we don't seem to have very much, but we've got a couple of rooms. And if we saved a little money, we could buy fish and chips for the kids and you know what? We could use those bits of wood and make a table tennis table. And I could teach them the Bible as best I can. Why don't we do that? Why don't we see what we can do?
Arthur convinced me, you don't have to be young to be a great youth leader; you have to love. He didn't criticize my jeans; he didn't criticize my crazy shoes. He didn't mention the smoke. He just loved me. Arthur had the heart of the Father. Ladies and gentlemen, they'll be on the edges of your church with their wild hair and their body piercing and their tattoos, but if you can, if you can, put your arms around them.
A friend of mine had a church of 300. And he said, it grew to a church of 10,000. It became a prodigal-friendly church. But he said, in the early days, a young Hells Angel came to church. This young man had long greasy hair and somebody dared him to come to church. He not only came to church, he walked right down the front row and sat in the front. Unfortunately for him, that church allocates certain seats to certain people to welcome and he got himself in Marge Staples' area. (Laughter)
Marge is almost 90-years-old. Marge is gonna be in front of Jesus any day now. Marge doesn't have time to argue about the color of the carpet or whether they swing from the chandeliers in worship or use the old green hymn book. And unlike most of us (Laughter), Marge's mind is not getting narrower as she's getting older, but wider. Marge just wants to love people. Marge just saw a young man and she said, "Oh, young man, it's so lovely to see you in church. Come here; let me hug you." He didn't stop crying till the pastor finished preaching. [He] gave his life to Christ that day.
I want the spirit of Marge Staples. I want to be like Marge. I don't want to compromise anything that matters. You can sweep sin under the carpet. I'm not into that, but I want the spirit of Marge Staples. I want, if possible, to love wherever, to love first. Give me the spirit of Marge Staples. We have made prodigals of some perhaps who never were.
Secondly, ladies and gentlemen, God put on my heart that day, that many people carry a weight of guilt for prodigals they have no right to carry. It could be a brother, a sister. If only I'd done more; if only I'd taken them to hear that great preacher. If only we'd done it. If only I'd lent that book and especially parents, parents.
Dr. R.T. Kendall took Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones' pulpit after the great doctor left. He was senior pastor of Westminster Chapel for 25 years, dear friend of mine. He said to me some years ago, "Rob, I've been a failure as a father." At that time his two children, Melissa and T.R. were prodigals. They've come back wonderfully to God now. "Rob, I've been a failure as a father. I gave too much time to Westminster Chapel, too much time to my doctorate at Oxford." Now he's hard to impress theologically, but I think I managed it on this occasion.
"R.T.," I said, "Adam and Eve had the perfect Father and the perfect environment, but they went a way their father didn't want them to go." I know that, that lovely verse [is] in the Book of Proverbs, "Bring up a child in the way he should go and when he's old, he won't depart from it," but ladies and gentlemen, it's not a guarantee; it's a general principle. Most of the Bible has God, the perfect Father, saying to His children, how come you went a way I didn't want you to go?"
Dr. Kendall looked up at me and said, "Rob, have you any idea how liberating that is?" And some of you, ladies and gentlemen and nobody has told me about you and I may be wrong, but I'll be I'm not. Some of you have carried a weight of guilt for your prodigals for 10, 20, 30 years. You have not been perfect parents; you've just been parents. You probably gave it your best shot. Did you make mistakes? Yes. If you could rewind the whole thing, you might just make different mistakes.
Lay down the guilt. Sometimes our children, our friends, our brothers, even our parents make choices and sometimes those are bad choices. I have parents coming up to me all over the world, " Rob, if only we'd had daily devotions with our children." I have other parents saying, "If only we hadn't had daily devotions (Laughter). Perhaps we pushed the faith to them too much." All those "if only's." (Laughter)
Lay down the guilt. It allows you to view things. Do you know, ladies and gentlemen, you and I think we have control. We think when our children are small, if we read all the books and go to all the seminars and do all the stuff, it will be well. But you and I do not have control. We are totally thrown on God. There's no other hope. That's our actual position. But ladies and gentlemen, some of you have a testing child, don't you? You know, if you have more than one child, you will have "chalk and cheese;" you know that, don't you? That is particularly galling if your first one is compliant, because for a while you think you're a great parent. (Laughter) Actually, you just got lucky.
It was so with us. Katie, our first, was so compliant. The first thing Katie did when she came into the world was apologize to the midwife for being slightly late. (Laughter) She would save up pocket money for study guides. She would complain [that] church services weren't long enough. So, for about four years, Diane and I think we're perfect parents. We foolishly begin giving other people critical advice where they're going wrong with their kid. It's not a good idea. (Laughter)
'Cause what heaven does, it looks up the kind of child they sent you last time (Laughter) and somebody up there says, "Have we got any of those others left?" (Laughter) Lloyd came into the world, smokin' a cigar. (Laughter) That little boy got up every day of his young life with the same prayer on his lips: "Dear God, help me drive my mother crazy today." (Laughter) And every day, God answered his prayer. (Laughter)
But ladies and gentlemen, you know the funny thing about that testing child, sometimes you can be so consumed, lookin' over your shoulder, wondering what the rest of the Christian community are thinkin' of your parenting. Sometimes you can be so concerned with a check box that says, "Tidy bedroom, stop smoking, help with the washing," a check box when they're 16. That check box won't be enough for you when they're 35, if when they're 35, their bedroom is tidy and they do this work and it won't be enough if they are not faithful and they're not loyal and they don't have big hearts and they don't care for the poor.
And the funny thing about the testing child, is they sometimes have those qualities even as teenagers, but we miss them, 'cause we're so busy lookin' over our shoulder, making them fit some other kind of category.
John: What a great point and I wonder how different our parenting would be if we weren't so concerned about what other people think. We've been listening to Rob Parsons on today's "Focus on the Family" and Jim, it's hard not to consider what other people might say or think about us as parents. You know, we mess up and especially when we're dealing with what Rob refers to as a "testing child," that child that just pushes on the boundaries all the time.
Jim: John, most parents have probably been there at one time or another, dealing with as you said and Rob said, that "testing child." And I think what Rob is saying is to be careful how you handle that child or there's the possibility of driving him or her away and actually, fueling that prodigal. Maybe our checklists are a bit too superficial. Maybe we check off the chores and those other responsibilities and we smile, but what about that checklist for inner godly qualities?
I've got one boy who mirrors this. I mean, he sometimes doesn't do what we ask him to do, but put him around foster kids, he's an A-plus. He's involved with those kids. He'll spend eight hours with those kids. And I'm reminding myself and Jean that those are heart qualities. Those are good things. He might not be takin' the trash out when he's told every time, but there are other good things that he's doing. And sometimes you can get frustrated and not remember those good things.
1 Samuel 16:7 addresses this tendency for us as human beings to look at the outward appearance. In fact, it says, "The Lord sees not as a man sees. Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." Parenting in this day and age is definitely challenging and we are certainly looking at the outward appearance so often, even as parents, if we're not noticing those subtle inward things that are happening--
Jim: --those qualities that are good. We need to lift those up and nurture those in our children to help prevent them from becoming that prodigal child. Rob's written so many useful books over the years and this book, Bringing Home the Prodigals is especially helpful in this situation and it points us to God, Who is the perfect parent. God certainly knows all about the pain of separation from His children and I've often said it, we're like teenagers to Him. We all have our issues I believe and God is working on us. He is wooing us to do better at walking with Him and that's the point of this life.
John: Well, be sure to get a CD or download of this presentation for yourself or a parent that you know who is struggling with this kind of a situation. And of course, get Rob's book, as well.
Now thanks to some very generous friends, you have an opportunity to increase the amount of your giving through a matching gift program. When you provide a donation of any amount to Focus on the Family, they'll match it so your $25 gift becomes 50 and so on. And now is a really great time to hear from you, because not only will you have that opportunity to match your gift, but we'll say thanks for your donation of any amount by sending a copy of Rob's book, Bringing Home the Prodigals as our way of saying thank you. We'd be honored to hear from you. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or you can find these resources and donate at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio .
Our program today was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, thanking you for listening and inviting you back for more from Rob Parsons about wayward children--the prodigal--as we return tomorrow to help your family thrive.
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