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JOHN PEARRELL: God welcomes everyone, even those who stray from their beliefs

In Luke 15, Jesus gives three compelling parables; the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son. I encourage you to read Luke 15 for yourself -- fascinating stuff.

When Jesus told these parables, everyone listening was immediately engaged; they all knew what it meant to lose something, and so do we. And those of us who know what it is to lose something, know that when something is lost it becomes the focus of our attention.

In the parable of the lost sheep, the animal had wondered away and was literally lost. In the parable of the lost coin, the coin was missing

Often, those of us who have been in or around the church have our own language and we use it expecting everyone to know what we're talking about. For example, a number of years ago a young man came up to me and announced that when he got home from the institution he was in, he was going to open a bank account.

I was puzzled by his remark, until he explained, "All week my counselor has been telling me that 'Jesus saves' and I figured, if it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me!" This young man's counselor was not communicating what he thought he was communicating.

Another term we churchmen often use when we are referring to someone who is not a believer, is the term "lost." Now we may know what we mean by that, but the average person who has not been in or around church probably has no earthly idea what we mean when we use that term, and frankly, my guess is, some at least are offended by it. "Lost? I'm not lost. I'm standing right here in front of you. I know exactly where I am! What do you mean lost?"

Jesus answers that for us in the final of the three parables. The lost son was not lost in the sense of the sheep or the coin, out somewhere where no one knew where he was, but he was lost is the sense of his relationship with the father. When he asked for his inheritance, he was basically saying to his father, "Old Man, as far as I am concerned, you are dead to me. How about doing us both a favor, give me what is to be mine when you do croak and I'll get out of your life. You and I both know that will be the best for everyone concerned."

What that boy did was cruel and unthinkable in any age or culture. The amazing thing is the father in the story gives the boy what he asks for, and the psychologists of the day complained, "You're enabling your son's bad behavior; you're co-dependent."

I'm pretty sure had this father been in one of our churches today, he would have gotten an earful from people who would second-guess his decision, and worse, would become the target of those who thought him to be a weak-willed, enabling parent.

In the parable, however, we discover that this father's actions, as much as they hurt him and as much as it cost him, was the full price of eventual redemption. The father could have refused the boy's snotty request and he really would have lost his son. So he does the unthinkable, and gives the boy his inheritance and watches with a broken heart as the boy leaves home.

When we talk about a person being "lost" what we mean is they are lost in the sense of their relationship with The Father (God). They are away from their natural home, and like most children who stray far from home, all the restraints and restrictions come off, and they can make some pretty bad decisions.

The point of this final parable (which paints a worse-case scenario in the culture of the day) is that no matter how far one may fall, the Heavenly Father awaits your return. Like the father in the story, He will meet you with grace, forgiveness and restoration, not condemnation or "you should have known better" speeches, or a half-hearted acceptance.

God loves you and He will accept any and all who wish to come home and re-establish their relationship.

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.