A few weeks ago I was privileged, a word I do rarely use for Christian meetings, to attend a seminar in the city where Letitia Shelton spoke about the ministry of City Women in Toowoomba.
This is a diverse ministry that draws resources from the Body of Christ across that municipality reaching into high schools with the message of hope and dignity, and providing discipleship, mentoring, accommodation, pregnancy services, assisting women coming out of prostitution and multiple agencies of relationally based family support.
The fruit is mature and bears all the signs of Jesus’ love (John 15:16). I had heard Letitia previously and was already aware of the unusual quality of their ministry. Given this past familiarity, and my lack of optimism about the Church in Perth picking up the message,
I was initially hesitant about attending the gathering at all. Eventually succumbing to the graces of the Spirit I did come and sensed at the seminar something that inspired my prophetic imagination. It was the presence of a quality of heart that makes this sort of kingdom activity transferable (1 Cor 11:1). The day was facilitated by my friend Nick Scott and it was how he commenced the day that broke things open in the Spirit.
The Broken Father
Nick described how when he returned to Perth from first hearing Letitia speak and attempted to convey to his wife what he’d heard he kept breaking down in wordless tears. This happened repeatedly. Being overwhelmed with emotion at the care being shown to broken and abused women is not the normal response of an Australian male; “even” a pastor. Such brokenness is however a window into the heart of God the Father, a heart indwelt by Jesus. “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” (John 1:18 NRSV).
When City Women is invited by school authorities to speak to their girls they are of course not allowed to preach about Jesus. But by love, care and compassion they show Jesus and in showing Jesus show the Father (John 14:9).
The interesting thing about this ministry is that it seems completely free of reproaching moralism towards those who don’t yet know the Father’s love.
Sexual promiscuity and like are simply to be expected from girls who don’t know about Christ; how else could it be?
The former is a clear communication of the good news to the lost who Jesus came to save (Luke 19:10).
There is a vast difference between legal repentance and evangelical repentance.
Legal repentance says: if you repent then God will be gracious to forgive you.
Evangelical/gospel repentance says: God has forgiven you in Christ, therefore turn back to him and accept his acceptance.
The legal lays the stress on what we do to connect with God, the latter on what God has accomplished for us in Christ.
Paul tried to get this through to some legalistic believers in his day;
“Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” . (NLT)
An old teacher of mine used to say that when people see Jesus all-forgiving love repentance is “evoked” i.e. drawn out of their hearts. If you think I am going soft in my old age there is a powerful witness to these truths in Jesus’ own teaching.
The Wordless Father
Here is a question I felt the Lord brought to my mind when I was in the City Women meeting; “What did the father of the rebellious prodigal son say to the boy when he returned home?”
He said “Nothing.” He conveyed the contents of his heart by what he did; impelled by compassion he ran to his son, embraced him, placed on him a robe and ring and then spoke to the servants that they were to throw a party (Luke 15:20-24).
This son instantly knew that the self-condemnation of his miserable conscience; “‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” was dissolved in the presence of the Father’s love (Luke 15:21).
The shameful scale of worthiness/unworthiness which holds all prodigals/rebels captive was utterly swept away never to return (John 8:34).
Wordless to his returning son the father however has things to say to the older brother who wants to rake up the record of his sibling’s sins (Luke 15:30).
This angry legalistic child actually rebukes his father and in so doing degrades his own status to that of a slave, “‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command,” (Luke 15:29).
The father’s reply is a gentle but deep correction to his oldest boy; “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”” (Luke 15:31-32).
This son was so consciousness of his own righteousness that he was totally ignorant of his father’s heart.
The story ends there, but if the history of Israelite religion is any guide the chances of the pharisaic in-house son taking the father’s love into his heart are very slim.
What is it that we, who are so often like the older brother, missing?
Letitia explained that the original impetus for City Women came from expletive laden “raw words” of a former non-Christian woman mayor of Toowoomba who challenged Christian women about taking care of those outside the Church.
The true rawness of human need should take our minds immediately to the cross.
In becoming human and dying for us Jesus fully embraced all the miseries of the rebellious in a “far country” away for the glory of his Father’s presence (Luke 15:13; Rom 8:3).
At the cross the rawness of human depravity and suffering was laid bare in the agonies of Christ.
A practical theology of the cross agrees with the sentiments of a saint much persecuted by the comfortable Established Church of his day, “Christ’s merits bought a blessing to the crosses of the sons of God….no man has a velvet cross” (John Flavel).1)John Flavel [c.1627–1691] was an English Presbyterian clergyman, puritan, and author.
Whilst the churches of today preach cushioned crosses ministries like City Women will remain rare amongst us. It is only as we suffer inconvenience and discomfort in identifying with lost children of God who have no idea what they are doing in their lives can we lead them through Jesus back to the Father (Luke 23:34).
Nick Scott’s tears, the overwhelming emotion of the father of the lost prodigal son and the compassionate ministry of City Women all image in action more than words that through Jesus the lost are already in the heart of the Father (cf. Eph 1:3-4).
In Christ the sin against heaven has been completely dealt with so that his Father is free from all driven legalistic negativity.
Our task is to so live like Jesus that the Spirit might restore to broken souls the memory of a Father who never rejects.
Repentance must come, but it is a repentance “evoked” by memory of the Father’s love in an unconditional embrace (Luke 15:20).
The parable of the rebellious prodigal son is a parable for our day, a day in which multitudes of lost people, old as well as young, need to discover the heart of God in actions beyond words.
Yet, how many in the church need to discover this for themselves?
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|1.||↑||John Flavel [c.1627–1691] was an English Presbyterian clergyman, puritan, and author.|