I began this journey years ago while I was journaling through my own vineyard of brokenness. Then along you came, upsetting my simple plan and my fragile mending heart, with all that angry and messy brokenness of your own.
And I saw myself—in you.
Consequently this manuscript evolved. New devotions had to be written to, for, and about you, My Beloved Prodigal.
If not for you, if your stormy life hadn’t bumped into mine, this book wouldn’t exist.
So I give you honor my Beloved—where honor is due.
May God use a couple of square pegs like us, with all our messy storms and our two broken hearts, to guide many wandering “Prodigal-captives” home to Him.
I think it might be difficult for some of us to connect to those we consider BROKEN if we have experienced “breaking” in only minor or irritating ways.
For instance, if you are pitching a fit because you just broke another nail? Trust me. You and I are on opposite sides of the Looking Glass.
When I say “broken” I see smoking rubble and bombed out buildings in my soul. Yet, even I don’t “see” smoking rubble the same way a woman fleeing Syria or Iraq would, right?
Does that help?
We, meaning we in The Church, can often trivialize people’s pain by our own casual approach to what we do not understand. My “brokenness” may be very different from what you have experienced. You can think you are “aware” when perhaps you are actually clueless. I have often heard well-meant heartfelt messages from those who I believe really did mean well, but there was a kind of authenticity or depth that was missing, simply due to a shallower understanding or experience of the subject.
Unfortunately, what people who haven’t survived gross abuse don’t know can add new wounds to the souls who have.
If you haven’t been through deep and dark water or been on intimate terms with Evil, the deeply wounded and broken will know it, because a crushed heart covered in the scars of an intimate acquaintance with Evil is not something you can head-fake.
I also believe there is a kind of inborn intolerance, an unknowing or condescending heart will reveal. Not to intentionally be unkind perhaps, but simply because of profound ignorance.
I don’t say this to be mean, but I believe it is necessary to know, Hearts that have bled from deep wounds have an internal radar that will register any FEAR or SHAME tactics immediately. You may not mean it to sound that way… (Or you might, depending on your motives?) either way, I just want you to understand where I’m coming from when I ask,
“When have you looked into the eyes of your Abuser and seen the pure pleasure that they derive from inflicting new pain? New horror? New terror? New shame? When have you heard pure hatred screaming at you; seen its face contorted in ugly rage inches from your face? When have you seen them smile as they slice and shred your soul again, intentionally carving new wounds?”
There is Real-Evil in this world and some of us have looked helplessly many times into its cold dead eyes. That is a “knowledge” you can’t fake or forget. And, that experience changes HOW you view BROKEN—and how you respond.
Yes, Christ and the sheer power of His love and grace poured out on His cross, can overcome Evil’s power to make one cringe in terror or run and hide. And yes, forgiveness poured from old wounds will lift the broken and crushed heart, and bring it back to resurrected Life. Absolutely!
But, that miracle of love and forgiveness in itself is no guarantee that Evil will surrender its hold on the Abuser, or that the Abuser will magically choose to change their ways.
The Abuser is also free to choose and many choose to continue their abusive ways. (Perhaps due to their own self-loathing?) I don’t know. I have never understood my Abusers. What I do know is that I have been on the receiving end of my Abuser’s resistant intolerance for love and their entitlement to their own cruelty.
I have loved my Abusers, believing that my love would change them; cause them to make changes in their behavior. It did not. Love for Christ and our devotion to Him does not mean we will be able to reconcile ourselves to those who steadfastly refuse to surrender their hatred and destructive behaviors.
Yes, we must forgive them for their past abuse. Yes, we must pray for our enemies and those who willfully choose to continue to abuse our love and trust. But I do not believe we have to be reconciled to continue in a close relationship or in proximity with those who embrace Evil and refuse to surrender their deep desire to destroy us.
I also believe there are sincere Hearts that have not bled at the hands of that kind of Evil, who don’t understand this. They haven’t seen this for themselves—felt it or heard it—and so they just don’t KNOW.
I used to succumb to critics who would loudly proclaim “broken” as “incapable.”
All those in The Church who are so intolerant, unable, or unknowing, because I thought they were right.
I figured that they knew their stuff!
When those dear souls would criticize my tears; my fragility; my brokenness, I would listen to them.
When they would criticize the broken saying, “You can’t speak, or teach, or reach, unless you toughen up, put on your wax lips, and smile… your gratitude will fix it all.” I would inwardly wince! As if doing all those things hadn’t ever been tried by the abused who also love God and their abusers!
I think those who advocate such simplistic answers have no clue the damage their naivete inflicts.
The abused and broken don’t want band-aids. They don’t work! And I don’t believe the broken want another slick-song-n-dance-schtick of:
“I got it ALL TOGETHER and ain’t it great BEING ME?”
How many times have I heard a speaker “speak to me” just like that, and I would think, “That will NEVER be me.” because I felt too, broken; too much of a mess, and saw no way out of my terror-ridden situation!
Not today. Now I believe hurting people just want real with all its awkward and messy flaws.
In ancient days if a guy was making and selling pottery, and it came out of the fire with cracks, they would rub a little wax into those cracks so they wouldn’t show.
(I mean, who deliberately buys a defective pot, right?)
I guess people got wise to the practice, though. (People eventually do.) So among the potters, the term “sincere” was born, meaning: Without wax.
Without wax, yeah. I’ll take my books and sermons and songs without all the shiny wax, please. Just give me real.
Remember what Jesus compared the “religious professionals” of His day too? Vipers. White-washed tombs full of dead men’s bones! When He confronted “the money-changers” in His temple, He made a whip and drove them out! It doesn’t sound like nine bars of “smile, smile, smile” does it? No wonder they hated Him. He chose to hang with the nobodies. Sinners. Prostitutes. Tax collectors and smelly fishermen—He sought them out! The Broken. The failures. The outcasts. (Yeah.) The Son of God said to all of us messy-misfits,
“Make Mine Broken!”
The professing-professionals I once knew used to “help me” feel real-unqualified. Told me, “I had to get my act together.” if I wanted to be the real-thing—before I opened my mouth.
What I believe they just didn’t get? Nine miles of bad road is supposed to change you. Rearrange you. Jesus uses UNDONE as a big part His transformation process.
The wilderness-furnace is meant to remove the wax and reveal the cracks—’cause we’ve all got ’em!
I hope anyone who reads my stuff can see ALL my flaws. (They’re there.) Every bump on that bad road I’ve been down has done its worst.
But, when you see my faults and failures, I hope you see one thing more…
I hope you see the glorious Light of Jesus shining through those broken places, because He is The One that makes all the difference, in my faults, and in yours; His Love shining through ALL our brokenness.
So let’s let His word to us, be our last Word:
But God chose the foolishthings of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1 Corinthians 1:27 NIV
Please remember when someone asks to hear your story:
Tell them your story—your way.
Keep it simple. Keep it real.
People are starving out there for real!
And that BIG noise? The one you hear from the sidelines selling “the best wax” that money can buy?
Pray for them.
Ask God to give them understanding hearts.
Then go out there and let His Light and amazing grace shine, baby.
Simply put God has called me to the Prodigal-Church.
Yeah, you know.
The ones referred to as:
The Wrecked and Wounded.
The ones who have heard it all before and just ain’t listenin’ anymore!
These are the “ones” who are severely bruised, deeply disappointed and pissed off at God, The Church, or all of the above.
(Nope. Not an easy crowd.)
But, you know what else?
God passionately LOVES these that many folks just privately hope will “Go away.” leaving us in ‘The Good Church’ to our sleepy tranquility.
I know because I was one of these prodigals, and truth be known? Sometimes I still am.
Ticked-off that is—not prodigal.
I still get angry because many of these folks have been brutally beat-up good-n’-proper.
Perhaps they “once upon a time” believed. But, now?
Now they ain’t havin’ anything to do with it!
They have hit the dusty trail, and now have turtle-shells thick-n’-crusty around once trusting hearts.
Yet they are STILL HIS. And are perhaps MORE WANTED than they were in the beginning.
(Before it all went wrong in their lives.)
Make no mistake about it—He still calls them BELOVED, and He longs for them to come home to Him.
These the Saints consider rabble-rousers, and futile-flotsam, He calls with infinite tenderness, “My Beloved.
I believe this because—I was one of them when He came after me.
(And I do understand how “The Church” feels.)
I fondly remember the days of easy crowds and occupying easy chairs. (Yeah, I confess.) All gone now, and it’s okay because I believe someone needs to reach Wounded Sheep! All those Prickly-Prodigals with crusty shells around hearts that have stopped believing in anyone calling themselves Christian—walking away from our churches—taking the back door out.
Yep, they’re my assignment. My mission. My project.
1 a: taken and held as or as if a prisoner of war b(1): kept within bounds : CONFINED(2): of or relating to captive animals <captive breeding> 2: held under control of another but having the appearance of independence; especially: owned or controlled by another concern and operated for its needs rather than for an open market <a captive mine 3: being such involuntarily because of a situation that makes free choice or departure difficult<a captive audience>
Yeah. That was me. A captive of disillusionment, disappointment, disgust, and eventually deep, deep discouragement.
And because I’ve been there?
I just can’t think of Prodigals as belligerent runaways or rebellious troublemakers.
And I don’t think Jesus does either.
I believe He is heartbroken over one of His own who leave The Church.
I, perhaps audaciously, think He sees a Prodigal-sheep—as one who has infinite value and potential.
One of His who has been “taken captive” by all those ugly “D” words to which I was just referring.
So let me ask you:
What do you see when you say the word: Prodigal?
Now, what do you see when you say the word: Captive?
Isn’t the perception different?
I believe one word hardens the heart (just a bit) while the other word softens the heart and makes it willing toward compassion. Naive perhaps, but maybe it is—just that simple.
I also believe it is high time we who call ourselves His Church, begin to view our prodigals more as captives, than runaways.
Don’t we need to embrace them with compassion, rather than judgment?
I have been a captive of disillusionment; caged by my disgust and disappointments. And yes, I have been judged and condemned by my Fellow-flock. Perhaps that is why I view those who have left our churches through tears, rather than with raised chins and cold shoulders.
I think Jesus weeps when He sees one of His own, wandering.
I believe He wants us, in His Church, to be more proactive about going out and finding those we so quickly write off with our shaking heads and wagging fingers.
Every. Last. One.
Don’t you think it’s high time, we in His Church, did too?
Well, I wondered the same thing until I read Timothy Keller’s book, The Prodigal God.
In his chapter titled Redefining Lostness, he wrote this:
It is typical for people who have turned their backs on religion to believe that Christianity is no different. They have been in churches brimming with elder-brother types. They say, “Christianity is just another religion.” But Jesus says, no, that is not true. Everybody knows that the Christian gospel calls us away from licentiousness of younger brotherness, but few realize it also condemns moralistic elderbrotherness.
Our big cities are filled with younger brothers who fled from churches in the heartland that were dominated by elder brothers. When I moved to New York City in the late 1980s to begin a new church, I thought I would meet many secular people who had no familiarity with Christianity at all. I did, but to my surprise, I met just as many people who had been raised in churches and in devout families and had come to New York City to get as far away from them as possible. After about a year of ministry, we had two or three hundred people attending services. I was asked, “Who is coming to your church?” Upon reflection, I answered that it was about one-third non-believers, one-third believers, and one-third “recovering”believers—younger brothers. I had met so many younger brothers who had been hurt and offended by elder brothers that neither they nor I were sure whether they still believed in the Christian faith or not. (emphasis mine)
They are a bother—those pesky prodigals!
A BIG bother!
Those pesky Prodigals—of ours!
(I can almost hear every “Elder Brother” mumbling under their breath, “They’re foolish. Reckless! Don’t they deserve everything they get?”)
Yeah. I’ve thought this myself in yonder days.
(Even said so.)
So why should The Church bother with calamitous rebels such as these?
Shouldn’t we just jettison this riff-raff and get on with our good n’ Godly “Christian” causes?
Ah, but let me first ask, “Whom should we jettison?”
Our foolish and undisciplined Younger Brothers, or our unloving-law-upholding Elder Brothers? Keller makes the legitimate case that BOTH brothers are lost, and both in need of repenting and returning to The Father.
We the Faithful Ones?
Doesn’t scripture say,
Allwelikesheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6 KJV
All we like-sheep… yeah.
(So, can I ask again?)
Why, for heaven’s sake, should we in the church bother going after our Prodigals!?!
Well, perhaps the best reason I can think of, is because we who were once counted as hopelessly lost?
I rarely got any sort of an answer so I stopped asking.
(But I confess, I never stopped wondering.)
I’ve heard good Christians tell me that “THE Answer” was that I had to learn to live with all my unanswered questions.
(That didn’t help much either.)
I don’t believe a broken heart is about getting answers anyway.
I believe mostly it’s about what Ann Voskamp said in her book, The Broken Way—it’s about communion. It’s about wanting someone to come close in our pain. Feel close. It is the aloneness we feel in our brokenness that magnifies all our other stuff.
For Prodigals this is especially acute, for the communion, they most desperately need—is also the thing they most fear.
Where do they go then?
What do you do with your wounded heart, when your once “safe place” has become to you the image of Habakkuk’s Vineyard?
Where do you begin to look for a PLACE of healing and hope and strength to believe again?
Is there such a place?
There are many prodigals who would not hesitate to answer a loud and resounding, “No!” Especially if you are presenting today’s Church as your answer to that Safe Place!
They’ve been there—bought the tee shirt.
They’ll gladly show you the blood-stains, pointing out all the bullet holes!
(What do you say to that one then?)
That Outcast who looks at The Church and sees a carefully camouflaged Enemy lurking there?
Do you say, “Just trust us? We’re different. We’re the REAL thing!”
(And if they’ve heard all that before?)
If they know The Church in their past is guilty of shooting it’s wounded?
To take an overall view of the church today leaves one wondering how much longer a holy God can refrain from implementing His threat to spew this Laodicean thing out of His mouth. For if there is one thing preachers are agreed upon, it is that this is the Laodicean age in the church.
Yet while over our heads hangs the Damoclean sword of rejection, we believers are lean, lazy, luxury-loving, loveless and lacking. Though our merciful God will pardon our sins, purge our iniquity and pity our ignorance, our lukewarm hearts are an abomination in His sight. We must be cold or hot, flaming or freezing, burning out or cast out. Lack of heat and lack of love God hates.
Christ is now “wounded in the house of His friends.” The Holy Book of the Living God suffers more from its exponents today than from its opponents!
…I do not marvel so much at the patience of the Lord with the stonyhearted sinners of the day. After all, would we not be patient with a man both blind and deaf? And such are the sinners. But I do marvel at the Lord’s patience with the sleepy, sluggish, selfish church! A prodigal church in a prodigal world is God’s real problem.
Oh, we bankrupt, blind, boasting believers! We are naked and don’t know it. We are rich (never had we more equipment), but we are poor (never had we less enduement)! We have need of nothing (and yet we lack almost everything the Apostolic Church had). Can He stand “in the midst” while we sport unashamedly in spiritual nakedness?
—Leonard Ravenhill, The Prodigal Church in a Prodigal World
And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. Revelation 3:14-18 KJV
Figuring out what does, and doesn’t, makes all the difference in how you finish.
Many of us have had a rough start.
We don’t have any control over that.
But it’s how you finish that will tell your realstory.
How will you finish?
We each must decide for ourselves.
What matters; what we choose to care about, that will tell our final story.
Where we invest ourselves?
That will be our legacy.
I have seen people choose wisely and I have seen people choose foolishly. But, mostly? I have seen people choose much less than they could have had.
And that is the saddest part.
The closer you get to the finish line it’s not the what of life, or the where, but the Whoin your life, that begins gathering great importance. If you don’t get The Who figured out, and by that I mean, your relationship with Jesus Christ? Trust me; the rest doesn’t amount to a worthless hill of beans.
The Bible asks all of us,
What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
—Mark 8:36 NIV
This life is as uncertain as shifting sand in a hurricane.
That’s a very long time, to get it all wrong, living in the FOREVER of mistaken and dismal choices.
This world only gives you one certainty.
God gives to each person the right to choose where they will spend eternity.
No one makes this choice for you.
Only you get to make this decision.
The Bible says, you brought nothing into this world, and you will carry nothing out with you.
I have seen that for myself. Seen people leave as naked and as empty-handed as they arrived. We leave with only what we have sent ahead.
God holds out to you,
THE GIFT—of His grace through His Son’s shed blood on a cross for your brokenness and sin.
He offers you Heaven and an eternity of joy and purpose with Him.
Nevermind your arguments. Besides, I’ve heard them all, and more than once!
Not today. No excuses. No reasonings. No fears. No.
Let’s just sit down together and for once quietly discuss this.
First, I know your fears—every single one.
Why discuss those again?
And, all your good reasons “why not”? I know those, too. Your so called failures and weaknesses? Yes, yes, we’ve talked about those, or should I say, you talked, I listened.
Good thing patience is the fruit of My Spirit.
Today, I want to talk, and I want you to listen. Come. Let’s reason together.
You are making this way too complicated.
When there’s good news with your friends, with yourself.
Even on The News good news is good news!
You are the “teller” SweetHeart, just the crier. Do you worry so much about what others will say when you share your other stories? And let’s talk about our stories; the things I’ve done for you; the way you’ve changed; your life has changed since I became a part of it.
Isn’t it Good News?
So I tell you, you are My Crier of Good News! This is who you are. Any other definition is making it way too complicated.
Do not fear the unbelieving. They are chaff before My Spirit Winds—as helpless as newborn babes.
I told you in the Last Days mockers will increase.
Is it not so?
The world seeks its own greatness and honors self above all else.
My greatness shines most from broken things.
This is something the world will never understand.
To them, it is rubbish—pure foolishness.
I have set the example for you.
The higher you go, the lower you must be willing to stoop.
Beware of the one who refuses to be faithful in the small things.
Before honor comes humility.
Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything, that he came from God and was on his way back to God. So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron. When he got to Simon Peter, Peter said, “Master, you wash my feet?”