Lots of new chances … Starting today!

[This religion column appeared in section B-3 of the Sunday Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette (3/04/2013).  Currently, the paper does not include the columns of their local columnists on their website.  With their permission, here it is.]

Don Follis column; March 3, 2013: “Enjoy the day full of lots of first chances” 
When my daughter was a student at Anderson University in Anderson, IN, she lived in an apartment near Second Chance Baptist Church.  She walked by the church every day going to class.
When I visited, I, too, walked by the church when I sauntered over to campus.  A rusted, white Dodge van was parked in front of the church. Second Chance Baptist Church was painted on each side.  The Sunday was long ago worn off both the church building and the church van.  Something about the church name struck me as being not quite right when I walked by.
One day I peered through the windows into the foyer.  The church’s mission statement painted on the wall was in plain view: “A mission-minded church for those who are currently or formerly incarcerated.”
Oh, I thought, they really did mean Second Chance.  It wasn’t simply Second Baptist Church, which is what I misread it as when I first saw the sign. It truly is Second Chance Baptist Church.
Walking by the church building on that particular day, I had been singing the old hymn “Great is thy faithfulness.” One of the lines goes, “Morning by morning new mercies I see.” As I pondered Second Chance Baptist Church’s love for the outcasts of society – especially the rather unorthodox mission statement – I suddenly recalled the older brother in the story of the prodigal son in Luke chapter 15.  He didn’t want to give his returned brother a second chance.
Who can blame him?  His younger brother had weaseled his inheritance out of his father, only to waste the money on wild living.  But then this vagabond, this loser, this derelict of a brother, this irresponsible son, had the audacity to now return home and beg for mercy.
And return home with what?  Nothing.  His money was gone.  His reputation was gone.  He brought but two things – the tattered clothes on his back and this rehearsed speech on his lips:  “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Make me like one of your servants.”
One of the elements that give this story such staying power is that when the lost son returns home, his father runs to meet him.  Then the father quickly assembled a huge welcome home party that was way over the top.  Bottom line, the Father welcomed his boy back with unconditional love. 
Now, when the hard-working, faithful older brother realized what was happening, he was incredulous and angry and incensed and aghast.  Pick your adjective.  He was all those.  The older brother intuitively knew that this party, this acceptance by the father, was so utterly outlandish, he could not believe it.  It was as if the father didn’t even remember the past. It was as if the younger son had never even needed a second chance, so great was the love poured on him by the father.
Like the returned son, the older son gave his speech, too.  Boy was it a doozy.  Contrast the humility, the brokenness of the first son’s speech, with the firepower of the older brother’s speech.  Raise your voice and yell while you read it.
“All these years I have labored faithfully for you.  You never once gave me anything like this.  But this son of yours returns and you give him the most outrageous party anyone around here has ever seen.  Dad, think.  Have you lost your marbles? I’m all for giving a person a second chance under strict circumstances.  But this?  No, dad.  This is crazy.”
What happened then?  Well, after listening to the older son’s plea the Father, feeling properly ashamed, immediately recognized what a mistake he’d made.  Like the prodigal son, he came to his senses and at once shut the party down, embarrassed to have been so impassioned about him returning home. 
No, that’s not what happened.  In fact, the father, who had deep respect for his older, hard-working, faithful son, merely smiled and said, “You’re right, son.  Call me crazy, unfair and disloyal.  I don’t think I’m any of those.  But I do think this lost kid now deserves a brand new start, and I’m not changing my call.  That’s the kind of father I am.  I’d do the same for you.  I’m sorry if you’ve somehow missed that.”
On one of my trips by Second Chance Baptist Church, I saw a guy loading the van with used clothes and stopped to talk.  “Yea,” he said, “we give lots of former inmates the chance they never had in life. One our new guys said to me just yesterday, ‘Thanks for believing in me and giving me a chance I never had.’”
I walked away just shaking my head.  “I was right,” I thought. “The church name is a little off, in the same way the father’s incredible generosity in the parable of the Prodigal Son seems a little off.  It’s as if he doesn’t even remember what had been forgiven. Wow.”
I just smiled as I walked away saying, “Welcome to the Church of the First Chance.”

One thought on “Lots of new chances … Starting today!

  1. As always, Pastor Don Follis brings life to the Bible through his real life experiences as interpretation of the words in which we read in the book. Thank you Don for your faithfulness and love of God's word.


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