Prodigals, Older Brothers, and Cousins

By Scott Keith

A few weeks ago, I was honored to be a plenary speaker at the now much lauded Christ Hold Fast (CHF) conference. For many, it was a life changing event. Why? Because the unadulterated Gospel of Christ was handed over with detail and passion for the sinner, over and over again. The speakers were fantastic. They faithfully proclaimed Christ and the forgiveness of sins through God’s radical pursuit of “prodigals” just like us. The testimonies sent in after the conference say it all.

“It was just the best three days! My friend and I flew in from Jackson, TN to be at CHF16. We loved the speakers and the break-outs so much.”

“What a pleasure it was to attend the inaugural Christ Hold Fast Conference. I was floored by the genuine, down-to-earth nature of each individual who spoke… None were claiming anything of their own volition but continually gave the praise to God and His matchless grace. I am so proud to have been a part of that and was blessed by the entire weekend. I’m looking forward to continuing to share the heck out of CHF’s stories and content, as I feel compelled to further spread the good news which you champion so well.”

“It was water. It was bread. It was sustaining and life-giving. It was the word of God; it was the gospel preached at every corner. And it was not a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps gospel,” it was the true and pure you were dead, and Christ made you alive gospel. You are a sinner, and Christ made you a saint. It was you who were condemned but because of Christ, you are loved. I cannot wait till I have the opportunity for it all over again. I am the women’s chair at our church, and I can not wait to share this with the women in our congregation.”

But, for me, the great messages, while incredible, were not necessarily the highlight of my time spent at CHF, nor was giving my plenary address. In fact, by the time I got around to giving my plenary, I was quite distracted by my overwhelming joy. You see, I, for the first time in twenty years, got to spend some time with my cousin, Crystal. Crystal and I were very close growing up, and we spent a lot of time together. She was my friend and often my confidant. We even, for the most part, maintained our friendship into our teen years when it was pretty clear that our lives were not headed down the same path.

parting ways

You see, I loved Crystal. Our growing differences, though they were great, were not so great that we couldn’t still talk and console one another. So why did we lose touch for twenty years? The truth is, I think we were lazy. We allowed life to get in the way. Also, to borrow from the theme of the conference, she was definitely from the house of the prodigal, and I was of the lineage of the older brother. She was the child of the prodigal and often embraced the excitement and danger of that position. But in this, our story, the older brother died long ago, which made me a somewhat mythical creature, the son of the “good one.”

Things played out in our teen years almost as they did in the tale of the Prodigal Son. She was always in trouble and I, at least according to what everyone thought always did what I was supposed to. Now, of course, this was not the truth. I didn’t always do what I was supposed to, and she was often kind, sweet, and caring. As was bound to happen, as we got older, after we had graduated High School, we lost track of one another. She allowed her inner prodigal, and I let my older brother to come to full fruition. I went to work full-time at a Christian camp, and I’m not sure what she did.

The last time I saw her was at the California reception of my wedding. She came and looked so happy for me, though I’m sure she was very confused as to why I would marry so young while there was still time to party. For a day, I dropped my pretension, and she came into the home of the older brother one more time to wish me well, and then we parted ways.

reconciliation-header

Seeing her again was in a small (not so small really) way, for me, the party in the parable. It was time for us both to drop our apprehensions, our laziness, and in many ways our past, and put on the silly hat and step inside the party. The parable of The Prodigal Son can teach us many things about the love of God for his wayward children. And that day, in an entirely unexpected way, it reminded me of my love for my cousin.

You see, I honestly believe that God has given us the parables of Christ that we might rely on them and share them, that we be God’s words of life on the lips of another imparting faith, hope, and life. His Word on our lips kills and makes alive. Father Robert Capon gives us some insight into the purpose of these tales when he says that in The Prodigal Son we see clearly that: The last judgment will be the ultimate vindication, “for the simple reason that everybody will have passed the only test that God has, namely that they are all dead and risen in Jesus. Nobody will be kicked out for having a wasted life because nobody there will have any life but the life in Jesus. God will say… ‘You were dead and are alive again; you were lost and are found: put on the funny hat and step inside.’” You can always come home. Put on the funny hat and step into the party. Jesus has made you a dead thing, alive!

That day, Crystal and I saw one another at the party and rejoiced. Her prodigal’s life and my sanctimonious older brother life were put away as we gathered together, heard the Word, got to know one another, ate from the fatted calf (actually a pulled pork food truck––still good though), and wore our silly hats. The truth is, in the end, no one’s crazy life will matter––good or bad from our limited and sinful perspective––because no one will have any life at all except for the life we have in Christ. That day, we had that life together. Praise be to God for the gift of Christ given to prodigals and older brothers everywhere. Praise be to God for my cousin Crystal, may it not be twenty years again before we come together for a party.

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