When Someone You Love Turns Away from God


As I write this, we’re entering another holiday season. No time of the year is more intimidating for people who must deal with difficult family members. And no family member is more difficult than the one who once had a vibrant faith but has since turned away from God. For some, it’s even harder because it’s not the uncle they see once a year but a child, a spouse, or a parent. The holidays only deepen the sadness over that person’s ever-present lack of faith.

The Bible gives us a well-known story of a loved one who turned away from God:

And [Jesus] said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 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 15:11-32 ESV

What can you as a believer in Jesus do? I don’t claim to be an expert on this issue, but I will offer the following.

1. Understand that turning away from God is turning to self

The “oldest lie in the book”:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
—Genesis 3:1-5 ESV

Back in my youth, people who turned away from a Christian view of God often turned to other faiths. Today, in contrast, my experience is that most people who reject Jesus don’t go elsewhere. They instead reject all belief.

Or this is what they claim. Fact is, though, the “reject all belief” option doesn’t reject all belief. It instead accepts a belief that I can be my own god. Sound familiar? If anything, it’s the ultimate in self-centered thinking. When someone we love turns away from God, it is an act of extreme selfishness, and we must understand it as such.

2. Understand that turning away from God is a sin

Black sheep with white sheepRomans 14:23 makes it clear: “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Don’t candy-coat another’s walking away or call  it by some romanticized nomenclature such as “going on a quest” or “finding herself.” This is a genuine battle, and it should never be excused or downplayed. Faithlessness is a sin.

3. Understand that you are likely NOT the one who will restore that lost person

As Americans, we want to fix problems. Something in our national psyche makes it impossible to sit still while a problem exists. We demand change. And if someone else won’t make change happen, then you and I will.

Don’t go there. In the story of the prodigal son, the father understood that whatever change would come over his lost child, he would not be the one responsible for it. Let God work in His timing in the life of a prodigal. Most likely, God will bring awareness, as was the case in the prodigal son.

4. Pray for that lost person

My advice for prayer is to pray that God would…

…break the power of sin in the prodigal’s life.

…run that prodigal to the end of his or her means.

…show the prodigal that he or she is incapable of assuming the role of God.

…show that prodigal that God alone fulfills.

…bring that prodigal back “home.”

5. Never stop praying for that lost person

Pray always. Never give up. Never, ever give up. The Bible does not say explicitly, but I believe that the father of the prodigal son never stopped praying for him. The father’s response to the son is exactly the kind one would expect from someone who never gave up on prayer.

6. Never stop showing lovingkindness to that lost person

Obviously, we love this person if we care enough to worry about his condition. But too often we resort to “tough love” when we should instead display lovingkindness. Always respond to the lost person with lovingkindness. You will be tested in this perpetually. Be kind, and never think that harshness will triumph. Sometimes, you may have to speak a difficult truth. Do so only when guided by God and not by your own desire to change the person. Again, you are likely NOT the change agent in that prodigal’s life. Instead of trying to be the hammer, be the place of safety.

7. Never stop trusting God

I cannot add to this:

This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
—Psalms 18:30 ESV

I don’t believe there is a believer in Jesus in this big country who lacks for a family prodigal. We are all in this together. If you know someone who is distraught from watching a loved one go astray, be there for that fellow believer. Perhaps you can pray for each other’s prodigals.

Never stop praying. And never, ever give up hope.

When the Bridge Is Out–How to Deal with Lost People God’s Way


They called him Farmer John, and that was OK by him. He had a farm. His name was John. He was a practical man, and the appellation made sense to him.

Farmer John was the sort that didn’t say much, but when he did, people listened. He’d been around long enough so that his voice in town meetings carried some weight. Some folks would toss around the word wise when talking about John, but he preferred practical. Folks can say lots of things, but no one ever considered practical a bad thing, so in John’s eyes, practical won out.

Practical was not what that semi driver had been when he decided to take a wrong turn off the highway and down that old gravel road a month back. The supposedly abandoned road ran past Farmer John’s house and crossed a gorge via a bridge John believed must’ve been built when Chester A. Arthur was president.Bridge out Along with Arthur, most folks had let the bridge slip into the Sea of Forget. Seems the bridge suffered a bout of amnesia, too, because the sudden application of a semi filled with ball bearings across its surface made the bridge forget its own sole purpose for being, and the whole thing collapsed into the gorge.

A knock on Farmer John’s door that morning revealed a rather sheepish truck driver who somehow escaped a 200-foot freefall into the gorge, though the man’s conveyance had not fared as well. The county took one look at the wreckage, chalked it all up to rare misfortune, and left the whole mess sitting at the bottom of the gorge to rust.

When John happened to mention the empty space where a bridge had once been, the county engineers looked at him and said, “No one comes by here anyway.” They didn’t even bother to put up a “Bridge Out” sign, which John thought was rather an impractical way of dealing with a missing roadway over a 200-foot-deep gorge. “Budget cuts,” one of the engineers said with a laugh.

John stared at the place where the bridge had been. He then trudged the half mile down the road to his barn and found the biggest sheet of plywood he had. He painted “Danger—Bridge Out” on it, lugged it back to the gorge, and propped it up on the gravel road with a couple small boulders. It wasn’t art, but then he was a farmer and not Picasso. Still, it served its purpose, and if he himself should be careless some day and in the grip of a “senior moment” forget the missing bridge, the sign might just help him too.

One day, Farmer John heard wheels spinning on gravel.

Outside his window, John saw the unmistakable plume. He walked down to his drive to where a red Camaro hunkered. In his youth, Farmer John had once owned a Camaro, but it proved less practical than a tractor for farming purposes, so he sold it. Still, he knew a Camaro when he saw it, even if it was “one of them new ones.”

A young man with tossled hair popped his head out the driver’s window and said, “I think I’m lost.”

John replied, “If you’re here, I’m certain of it.”

“But my GPS said to turn here if I wanted to get to Frederickstown,” the man said.

“Wrong is wrong,” said John as he walked up to the driver’s window, “even if a computer says otherwise.” He looked at the man and added a couple beats later, “And perhaps especially if a computer says.”

The man pulled the GPS from its suction-cupped holder, popped open the glove compartment indignantly, and tossed the device inside. He turned back to John. “So where does the road go?”

“Nowhere you want to be,” John said, “unless you don’t like yourself or your car too much. Bridge out.”

The man laughed. “Look, I’m lost. I know it. How do I get to Frederickstown?”

“Go back out to the highway.” John motioned with his good hand, drawing in the warm, summer air. “Take a left. Drive until you see the Exit 77 sign. Take that exit, then hang another left. Twenty minutes and you’re there.”

But the man kept looking down the gravel road.

“Son, I’ve lived here more decades than you’ve been breathin’,” John said, the serious creeping into the many lines on his face. “You go down that road there, and it will not end well for you. I know the way you need to go. If’n you need, I can ride with you down to that exit and you can let me off there. I’ve got no problem walkin’ back.”

The man’s countenance seemed to soften, and his head swiveled back to the highway. “That’s a kind offer, but I think I’ve got it. Thanks.”

The old farmer extended a hand. “John.”

The young man gripped it. “Steve. Thanks, John.”

“God bless you, Steve.”

The young man nodded and shifted the car into reverse, the throaty growl of the engine a familiar sound to the old farmer. John waved, stood in place, and watched his visitor shift again, make a left, and enter the highway.

A pheasant called in the distance, and by the time John’s eyes returned from where it might be hiding to the place the Camaro had been a heartbeat before, both the car and its driver were out of sight.


Most people are headed toward the gorge, and the bridge is out. Christians know this. How we respond to lost people makes all the difference in whether they listen to our warnings or not. Frankly, we’re not sharing what we know as well as Farmer John did.

Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?
—Proverbs 24:11-12 ESV

John was wise enough to know others would come down that road. He knew how it would end, even if others pretended not to. He didn’t want to see anyone end up dead at the bottom of the gorge. People mattered to him.

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
—Matthew 7:3-5 ESV

John was wise enough to know that in a weak, forgetful moment, he too might drive into the gorge unless he set up a warning. He dealt with his own failings first. This granted him the right to speak to other people’s weaknesses.

In addition, John didn’t question the preceding part of the man’s trip or how he had come to end up in his driveway. All he knew was that the man was going the wrong way, and that steering him the right way was the best approach. Then John offered that better way.

…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…
—1 Peter 3:15 ESV

John kept to the main and the plain. He didn’t rail against the man’s head turning back to the gravel road. He was gentle, respectful, and genuinely concerned. No, he didn’t back down, but he didn’t yell,  cause a scene, or draw too much attention to himself. He shared what he knew and did it simply.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
—Philippians 2:3-4 ESV

John not only gave directions, he offered to ride with the stranger down to the proper exit to ensure he was going the right way. Even though the walk back might be considered an inconvenience to some, to John it was part of caring for this man God put in front of him.

If we Christians keep these four verses in mind whenever we deal with lost people, our interactions with them will be as God wills them to be.

This isn’t hard. Farmer John didn’t do anything impractical or wild. When dealing with lost people, we don’t need to either. John kept it simple. So should we.

Does Anyone Still Care About the Great Commission?


Over my break, I heard a young, Christian man tell an assembled crowd how he was forsaking his house, his job, and his former life to give everything for the cause that has captured his heart.

Usually, the passion of men and women on fire for a righteous cause enflames my own heart, but honestly, I was bored to tears and wanted to get up and leave.

It’s not because the cause wasn’t just and right and noble and oh so needed, but because I can no longer get fired up for any old cause within the Body of Christ—save one.

The amount of spam in my Cerulean Sanctum mailbox from Christian organizations lamenting the state/condition of this institution or that now overwhelms the legitimate email. I look at my inbox and see it as the perfect microcosm of where the Church in America is today. We’re like Don Quixote, and the  world is a vast plain strewn with windmills.

Tilt. Tilt. Tilt.

Funny thing about that young, Christian man I heard speak. At his age, I was zealous for the same cause he was. That’s not the case now. Old age is teaching me something.

Over my break, I watched a few episodes of Mythbusters. Being a science-y sort of guy, I find the show interesting and informative.

One of the phrases they used a lot in the episodes I saw was physics thought experiment, meaning that physicists had created an illustration based on scientific principles to explain a foundational concept in simple terms.

I want to attempt the same thing.

From what I can tell, there are 300,000 churches in the United States. Our population is close to 300 million. Roughly 40 percent of our population claims to attend church services on any given weekend. That’s about 120 million people who could be said to be Christians of some type. Doing the math yields an average local church size of about 400 people. That sounds like a reasonable number.

With a church of 400 people living out genuine Christian discipleship according to the Bible, how impossible would it be to think that those 400 would be used of God in a given year to lead 20 unbelievers to Christ? We’re talking a 5 percent conversion factor.

Now how is it, in reality, that in the average church of 400 people such a thing is unheard of?

Some will object and point to our children coming to Christ. Heaven help us, I hope that would be so—a given even—but I’m less concerned about the basics of a Christian husband and wife replacing themselves in the church pews via their two children (on average),  and more concerned with reaching people who would never otherwise darken the doorway of a church.

Fundamentally, I want to know why, of the myriad Christian causes of worth, the Great Commission—the one Jesus charged us with before He left this earth—has become the most neglected.

How is it that we can get whipped into a frenzy about aiding the poor, stopping same sex marriage, putting more conservatives into the halls of American power, and a million other causes, but the simple act of helping lead a lost soul to Christ is something we have neither time nor energy for?

Let’s be honest here. The Great Commission no longer compels us. The proof is right before our eyes, but we don’t want to see it.

I read ads for churches that proclaim that theirs is Spirit-filled. I hear Christians talking about charismatic gifts and soaking in the Spirit. Everyone seems to be about ushering in the Spirit during worship. We talk and talk and talk about the Spirit and being filled by Him.

But no surer sign exists for being Spirit-filled than having a burning desire to see the lost come to Christ. Being Spirit-filled awakens the Christian heart to the brutal emptiness of what it means to lack Christ. The stark division between having Christ and not having Him ends up driving the believer to share Christ with anyone who will listen.

That reality used to compel the saints of old. Christians would die to ensure that one more soul came to knowledge of Jesus. Believers gave everything they had, even their own lives, to ensure that no one would go into a Christless eternity.

Yet today, the Great Commission hardly charts on the primary cause list for most Christians.

A few years ago, I did another thought experiment in a post, wherein I computed that 4,212 people go into a Christless eternity every hour of every day. I’m sure that number is higher today.

I’m at a point in my life where I’m convinced that no cause we Christians can join trumps depopulating hell.

How is it, then, that this most important cause gets short shrift?

I see scores of people ready to radically change their lives to ensure more Republicans get into the Senate, but where are the people who forsake all so that one more person can come to know Jesus Christ?

What amazes me most of all is that many of the causes we give everything for would fix themselves if we just led more people to Jesus and trained them up to maturity.

So why don’t we do this?

My first post back from my break was going to be about freedom in Christ, and I’ll get to that soon enough. But at the very heart of freedom in Christ is dying to self. And being dead to self means no longer caring what others think of us. It’s no longer valuing what the rest of the world values. It’s realizing that eternal life is knowing Jesus, and only that matters.

That’s where we stumble in the Great Commission.

We haven’t made the choice to die to self.

We haven’t set aside the things of the world that distract us from the real work.

We don’t really know Jesus.

Don’t really know Jesus? Dan, how can you say that?

I say it because I’m increasingly aware it’s true. Most Americans Christians can’t share Jesus with another person because they don’t truly know Him. They know a few facts about Him, but that’s it. And when it comes to facts, I think average Christians would be much more likely to share their knowledge of their favorite hobby or sport than to share what little they know of Jesus.

So rather than appear to be ignorant before others of the very truth they supposedly wrap their lives around, most Christians say nothing.

I just can’t get away from that. Nothing else explains the utter lack of evangelistic fervor going on in “Christian America” 2011.

I’ve always felt my own calling was to discipling Christians to maturity, which is part of the Great Commission. But my lacks in evangelism are ever before me. I’m praying that 2011 will be the year that changes.

And that means dedicating this year to knowing Christ and making Him known.

Folks, no other cause trumps that. All others are pretenders to the throne.

God help us if we continue to fail to grasp this!

Note: I planned to include an image in this post, but every image of evangelism I could find online was clearly of evangelism occurring someplace other than in America. If that doesn’t make the point, I don’t know what can.