Since the middle of the 1970s there has been a Chinese church in Belfast. Today they have services in Mandarin, Cantonese and English. Over the weekend I joined a small group of the English-speakers on their annual weekend retreat. The venue was the YMCA site perched on the edge of the Mourne Mountains and overlooking the seaside resort of Newcastle (I attended a summer camp here forty years ago).
We spent the weekend looking at the story of the Prodigal Son – I think a better title would be A Tale of Two Sons (and their Grace-Filled Father). We had the time to spend a session on each of the three main characters in the story.
In the evening it was off to a rural mission hall called Tullynore where two brothers (sounds like something from Luke 15) have taken on the mantle of their father who started meetings here over 60 years ago. For most of the year they run a Sunday night (later than most evening service times) meeting twice a month.
A surprise for me at the end of the evening was to recognise someone I used to play cricket with – 35 years ago – who had been in the congregation. He had basically managed a team that I captained for a season.
No prizes for guessing the theme of my message: we talked about the ways the older brother was actually quite like his younger brother, despite the differences on the outside. As Tullian Tchividjian (Billy Graham’s grandson) says, you can be lost through your self-righteous goodness just as you can be lost through your unrighteous badness.
It’s interesting that it is possible for people to morph from being younger brothers into older brothers. As time goes by, we forget what we were like and become impressed with our own goodness. You know it might be happening to you is if you find it hard to forgive or if you find that you are quick to judge. The answer is grace. As Jerry Bridges says, on your bad days you are never beyond the reach of God’s grace, but on your good days, you are never beyond needing God’s grace.