A Prodigal America

Bible Book: Luke  15 : 11-22
Subject: America; Renewal; Awakening

I thought I understood the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I had heard it read. I had read it. I had told it. I had heard it many times. Then, some professor at Mississippi College, or New Orleans Seminary inserted another point that made me have to go back and re-learn this very familiar parable.

I had, indeed, heard the Parable of the Prodigal Son many times. I had heard it at home, in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and revivals. I am sure we read it when we were having our “Family Altar” when I was growing up on the farm in the Mississippi Delta. My mother always got up at 4:00 A. M., called me at 4:15 so I could begin my chores: Milking, feeding, moving livestock, slopping hogs. I won’t ever forget those hogs! Picture this: you mix a five gallon bucket full of water and wheat shorts, and then try to slip up to the fence and ease the bucket over it and begin pouring the wheat shorts into the trough as quietly as possible, but a bunch of half grown pigs charge the trough and stick their heads under the flow of wheat shorts, each one trying to collect more than their playmates. When their ears are fully loaded they would, in what seemed like a synchronized move, or an evil plot, shake their heads, ears flopping, shorts flying, farm boy covered from head to toe with specks of wheat shorts. Did they not know I had already milked, eaten breakfast, separated the cow and calf, and as a special treat, prepared a sumptuous breakfast for them? Did they not care that I had to go in, get cleaned up, dress, and walk a mile and a quarter to the county line grocery store where I would catch the school bus to ride to school at Sledge, which was in Quitman County. We lived in Tunica County? Not that you could tell.

Rain, sleet, snow, or boredom, I walked to that store every morning and back every afternoon, except for that time a neighbor picked my brother James and me up and gave us a ride home. I think I was in the eighth grade then. After a baseball game when I was a senior, my history teacher and coach, Mr. L. C. Caffey drove three or four players home. As we crossed the county line and approached my home, Mr. Caffey decided to give my teammates (otherwise known as fellow students) a little motivational speech about how dedicated Johnny was to getting an education. I felt guilty for not speaking up, but what could I say? He didn’t understand that the dedication belonged to my father: “You are going to finish high school and four years of college! And, if you want any more after that it is up to you.” When I was a senior I drove the school bus, just so my brother James and our cousins wouldn’t have to walk to the county line to catch the school bus.

My mother would set plates of hot eggs, bacon, biscuits, and jelly on the table and while we watched it all cool down, one of us would read the Bible reading before we had prayer. I supposed it never dawned on her that we could have eaten a hot breakfast and then read the Bible....

During World War II, my parents moved to Mobile, Alabama so my parents could work in the ship yard. They had bought the first small farm and what they referred to as “a killing frost” came early enough to wipe out the cotton crop that year. I has begun the first grade, so they pulled me out of school and left me with an aunt to finish the first grade in Mississippi, so I would not be hindered by the difference in the grading system in Alabama. The next year, I went to school in Alabama, and then after that year my father was drafted and sent off to Germany, leaving my mother and James to live with her sister and me with my great Aunt Effie, because our little farm had been rented to someone else. I went to school at Pitsboro that year: in the second grade until Christmas. It took my teacher that long to convince the principal that I had already had all they were covering and should be in the third grade. I was at the head of my class and suddenly I was at the other end. The next year, I was back home and in the middle of a fourth grade class with 44 other students. Discipline was rough in those days when so many fathers and male teachers were in the war. The next year I was in the fifth grade, determined to stay off the radar screen, if there was such a thing in those days. I will not comment on that teacher because she may find me yet!

We moved into the sixth grade where I was discovered, after being in hiding after a two and one-half years journey through a strange, alien teritory. One day, after we had our Bible reading and prayer, our teacher, Miss Jackson, announced that they were having a revival at either the Baptist church or Methodist church in town, and that anyone who would like to attend the service on Tuesday morning could bring a note from home and they would be permitted to walk from school to the church for the service. The teacher didn’t force us to go, but it was obvious that she thought it was a great opportunity for her students.

When we all returned to our classroom, Miss Reba Jackson, asked, “Can anyone tell me what the preacher talked about this morning?” Little Johnny’s hand went straight up! Ever notice how all the little dumb boys and all the little bad boys are named “little Johnny”? Well, dumb little Johnny looked around and saw that only one hand had been raised! The teacher called on me and I told her the story of the Prodigal Son. That was my coming-out day! That teacher discovered that I might have a little potential after all, and she became a source of encouragement. The strange thing to me was that I seemed to be the only one in my class who knew the story of the Prodigal Son well enough to volunteer to tell it. I thought everyone would have heard the story often enough to be comfortable telling it. I would like for us to read that parable today and then consider some things that are normally associated with it, and perhaps a few things that are not included with it.


A. The Self-centered Younger Son Demanded His Inheritance, 15:11-12.

1. The irresponsible younger son thought only of himself.
2. Unlike his brother, he felt no responsibility to his father.
3. He lacked the initiative and responsibility shown by his brother.

B. The Younger Son Left Home and Traveled to a Far Country.

1. He became a party guy.
2. He must have been very popular as long as he had money to spend.
3. He soon squandered his inheritance on wild parties.
4. He took a job feeding hogs.
No responsible Jew, would have anything to do with hogs. Hogs were unclean to the Jewish people. This man was really desperate. He not only fed pigs, he wanted to eat their food. No one would help this desperate young man. He finally came to his senses.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired hands’ (15:17-19, HCSB).

He decided to return to his father. He would confess his sin. He would ask for forgiveness. He would submit himself to his father as a slave.
j. He then returned and confessed his sins and asked forgiveness.

The King James Version has, “...he came to himself.” Southern Baptists have never had a greater, or more popular story teller than the late Dr. C. Roy Angell. I had the privilege of hearing him in person when he spoke in chapel at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. I remember one of his published sermons in which he said he visited his uncle who was a pastor. The uncle invited him to preach and he really worked on the sermon on The Parable of the Prodigal Son. He really polished that one up, in part because his uncle would be listening to him, and in part because the congregation that listened to his uncle all the time would be listening to him. He hammered away at the main theme in his sermon: “he came to himself”.

When the service was over, the people praised him. He loved it, and when he got into the buggy with his uncle he waited for him to comment on the sermon. When his uncle remained silent, he asked him, “How do you think I did?” His uncle said, “Roy, you were well prepared, you delivered the sermon well, and the people loved it. But you made your main point that the young man ‘came to himself.’ Roy, nothing changed when he came to himself. Things changed when he went to his father.” Dr. Angell never forgot that great lesson, and you and I must never forget it.

His father saw him at a distance and ran to meet him and forgave him and received him as a son.

Let’s read the words again: “So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (15:20-21). What an amazing story! That, however, is not the end of the story: “But the father told his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate” (15:22-24).

What a heart wrenching story this is, but what a happy ending, as far as this wayward son is concerned. When he was completely broken, helpless and alone, when there was no other sensible course to take, he made the decision to return to his father, confess his sins and ask for forgiveness. He did not ask to be restored as a son, he would have felt blessed if his father had accepted him on his terms and let him move into slaves’s quarters and work for his bed and breakfast. He just wanted mercy from his father. What he got was grace. What a great ending to an incredible story!

All the father had to do is to see his beloved son coming toward him. Our heavenly Father is not just waiting for men and women to come to Him, He is convicting them that He is their only hope. He is prepared to offer both mercy and grace to those who come to him.

The Prodigal Son returned and was welcomed by his father. This, for some, is where the story ends. We may read the rest of it, but we normally read the rest of the story quickly and either move on to something else, or we return for another look at the younger son in this story. We miss a great lesson if we stop here. Let us continue with this parable.

C. There Is Still the Older Brother to Consider (15:25-32).

1. The older son was the responsible son.
2. He would be given his inheritance, but he was satisfied to continue to work for his father.

In fact, he received a double portion of the inheritance, according to the law. Why, one may wonder was that? Well, think of it as the social security program for the parents and for other family members with special needs.

3. He was the responsible, industrious, and hard working son.
4. The older son was the loyal one.
5. He was the moral son.
6. He was the hard working son.
7. He was the intelligent one.
8. He was also the shocked one when he came in from the field.

“Now his older son was in the field; as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he summoned one of the servants and asked what these things meant. ‘Your brother is here,’ he told him, ‘and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “Then he became angry and didn’t want to go in” (15:25-28a).

D. Now, Consider the Wisdom of the Father (28b-32).

1. The “father came out and pleaded with” the older son to show mercy to his brother.
2. There was not mercy in the older son’s heart.

“But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him” (15:29-30).

3. The father tried to persuade the responsible son to reconcile with his wayward brother.

“Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found’ ” (15:31-32).


A. “All Have Sinned” (Rom. 3:23a).

1. All have sinned in the past.

There are people who sense that those who would witness to them of the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ must feel morally superior to them. They may even say that “They think they are better than I am.” In fact, when I was in high school I was asked by our Director of Missions to preach at a mission church one Sunday. Two or three of the men decided it would be a good idea to take a new young man to visit Mr. Smith, a hard, blunt, unfriendly farmer. We went to his home and after I was introduced to him I tried to find an opening to witness to him. He stopped me when he said, “I don’t know who sent you to see me, but I will tell you right now, I live better than that Sunday School teacher and those deacons. I have known them for years and they do things I wouldn’t do.”
I didn’t know whether that was true or not, but the man had the attitude that they looked down on him because he was not a Christian.

2. Unforgiven sin condemns the sinner forever.

When I was Youth Pastor at First Baptist, Rayville, Louisiana, Dr. D. Wade Armstrong preached a revival for us. I went with him to visit a number of people, and while he admitted that he lacked the personality and people skills to be social, he knew how to lead people to talk about their spiritual needs. We found one man who was arrogant and defensive. We walked into a store and when saw the man talking with another person and in that conversation he used the word “hell” in a profane way. After meeting us he apologized and then said, “But you preachers say ‘hell’, too, don’t you?”
Dr. Armstrong said, in a humble but positive way, “Yes, and I believe in it, too.” The man then began saying, “I don’t know who sent you to talk to me, but I will tell you right now, they are worse than I am!” Dr. Armstrong humbly asked, “is your daughter a worse person than you?” He said, “No, she is a good girl!” The evangelist said “She is the only one who has ever mentioned your name to me, and she did so because she is concerned for you.” Dr. Armstrong was a humble man who made no pretense of being better than the person to whom he witnessed. I saw a family of five or six pray to receive Jesus Christ as Savior on one of those visits. They came to know that they were lost and needed redemption from their sins.

B. We All Fall Short of the Glory of God Daily (Rom. 3:23b).

Before I was saved, I was a sinner. I am now a saved sinner. I have sinned in the past, but I was redeemed from those sins, never to have to answer for them in the future. After I was saved I did not cease to be a sinner. I am a sinner saved by the grace of God. I will never be condemned for those sins because God cannot even remember them in a judicial sense. But there is more. Once one becomes a believer he or she must confess the sins they commit each day (1 John 1:9) to receive forgiveness for those trespasses.

I once asked Dr. Leonard Sanderson, Chairman of the Evangelism Department of the Louisiana Baptist Convention at the time, to preach a revival for me in Bastrop, Louisiana. When he arrived on Sunday morning I told him I had just taught his book on personal soul winning. He hesitated and then said, “I don’t use that method any more. It is too aggressive.” When we visited with people who were lost, he shared his personal testimony, whether they were lost, or people who claimed to be Christians, but were out of church. He told about his salvation experience when he was a young boy working in a field in Tennessee. He was under conviction of sin and went over to the side of the field and got down on his knees and poured out his heart to the Lord, and asked Him to save him. He did save him, but he still had to confess his sins every day. All we have to do is come shot of the Lord’s perfect plan for us and we have sinned.


A. Both Ancient and Modern Kings and Generals Were Often Notorious for Their Savagery.

Nimrod, the Bible tells us, was a mighty hunter, and because some have misunderstood what that meant, campers been named Nimrod and hunters have been called Nimrods. The point the Scripture makes is that Nimrod was a mighty hunter of men, conquering land and founding cities, like Nineveh and Babylon. When the Lord, through His prophets warned of the Assyrians who would destroy the Northern Kingdom of Israel, He warned of a brutality that almost defies belief: ripping up pregnant women and slaughtering children. Even the biblical accounts of wars in ancient times reveal one horror story after another. Before we assume that Israel was guilty of the same kind of brutality as their neighbors we should look at the Mosaic Law which prohibited such behavior as was common among the heathen nations that surrounded them. Read the first few chapters of Amos to see what I mean.

In the last century Hitler worked up his Nazis slaughtered 15 million people, including 6 million Jews. Countless lives were destroyed by Communists in Cambodia, Viet Nam, Cuba, and other places. The Japanese troops committed such brutal acts against the Koreans and Chinese people modern day residents of Japan would be shocked if they came face to face with that kind of evil. At one point, reports claimed that the Communists in the Soviet Union and Red China, in the space of half a century slaughtered one hundred million people.

B. America Has Been an Exceptional Country in Many Ways.

America has been like a shining city on a hill, compared to ancient armies, and to some modern armies. My father served in the army during Reconstruction in Germany, and discovered how America has helped rebuild defeated countries. No nation in the history of the world has every helped rebuild defeated nations or nations devastated by a natural disaster as much as America has. A friend who was quite a bit older than I told me that he was in Tokyo after Japan surrendered, and that he saw General Douglas MacArthur leave his office in Tokyo every afternoon at 3:30 and take a thirty minute ride in his open jeep through downtown Tokyo. The people of Japan had lost their god when the emperor was forced to resign, so his presence was reassuring to them

No other country has sent out missionaries around the world the way America has. No other country has published as many copies of he Bible that have been published in America. I had the honor of serving on the Broadman and Holman Committee when I was a member of the Board of Trustees for LifeWay Christian Resources, and I discovered that when we bought Holman we became the oldest Bible publisher in America.

America has known two Great Awakenings in it’s relatively short history. Great denominations have grown across America. Churches have built buildings, founded colleges and universities, and distributed both Bibles and Sunday School materials. The Gospel has been proclaimed in local churches, by radio, and by television. We send aid around the world when there has been a disaster. We help provide food, safe water, medicine when there is a need.

We could go on and on about how great America is, but I am disturbed by what I have witnessed in America. In America alone over 50 million unborn babies have been killed, mostly for someone’s convenience, cover up sin, or to escape embarrassment. We have urgent appeals for pets and wild animals by people who also crusade for the right to killed unborn babies. This is not the America I remember from my youth!

C. This Is not the America of My Youth.

I know there are some who may charge pastors with being naive, shielded, and limited in our understanding of society. Let me confess that I am naive, but I may not be naive as many may think.
I have spent a lot of time ministering and preaching to people in jail cells as well as the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman . I worked for the USDA for six or sevens summers while I was in college and seminary. I worked with farmers for those years and most were honest men, but I met some of the other kind as well. All this time I was active in my home church, and I was a student pastor for two years. I was a mission pastor one year, and I also served as a Youth Pastor later.

When I was in high school, Southern Baptists set a goal: “A Million More in Fifty-Four.” In 1954, Southern Baptists added one million members to their rolls. As a youth, I listened to the pastors and denominational workers celebrate the success of that outreach ministry and became convinced that America had an opportunity to experience another Great Awakening. Just imagine what would happen if we had continued to add one million members to our rolls for the next 68 years! Instead, those of us who were alive then saw the Supreme Court take Prayer and Bible reading out of public school, and with that influence take away moral and social problems began to accelerate, as William Bennet demonstrated in his book dealing with the moral index in America. Somewhere along the way I observed a number of things that I find disturbing. This is not the country I grew up in, and in some ways it reminds me of the Prodigal Son.

It disturbs me when the NBC Tonight Show portrays Jesus Christ, wearing the crown of thorns and carrying a saw off shot gun and wearing an expression that one might see on a terrorist. When Sean Hannity expressed concern that they would do something like that with Jesus but probably would never think of representing a Muslim leader like that, one guest challenged him on it: “He was JOKING! HE WAS JOKING.” Jesus is a joke on a national television network? That really is disturbing.

It disturbs me when I hear reports that the media will not use the name Jesus with the title Christ.
It disturbs me when nativity scenes are no longer permitted on public property.
It disturbs me when a very tiny minority can control and manipulate the vast majority of Americans.
It disturbs me when R rated movies are shown on television and in movie theaters.
It disturbs me when many people will fight you to keep vulgar movies before America’s youth.
It disturbs me when the masses defend the use of profanity in the public arena.
It disturbs me when I stop at gas tank and a young female shouts vile language because it is cold.
It disturbs me when I visit politicians hinder Christianity while defending Islam in America
It disturbs me when history books are rewritten to purge our history of the influence of Jesus Christ.
It disturbs me when they take George Washington’s prayer out of his farewell address.
It disturbs me when mothers dress young daughters in immodest clothing.
It disturbs me when fathers won’t tell their daughters why they should dress modestly.
It disturbs me when husbands won’t explain temptation to their daughters. And their wives.
It disturbs me when beer, wine and whiskey are promoted as necessary for a meal or party.

It disturbs me when those who drink beer condemns one who has one too many and gets a DWI.
It disturbs me when a man serves alcohol and then condemns one who becomes an alcoholic.
It disturbs me when casinos promote “gaming”.
It disturbs me when the state offers help for those who are addicted to the gambling they promote.
It disturbs me when so many young people drop out of church when the go to college.
It disturbs me when young people say it is normal to “shack up”.
It disturbs me when a more and more people approve of same-sex marriage.
It disturbs me when the Bible is suppressed on homosexuality.
It disturbs me when homosexuals are allowed to lead Boy Scouts.
It disturbs me when youth ministers speak of “marketing” young people.
It disturbs me when churches offer kids games but withhold the Bible from them.
It disturbs me when children decide where the family will go to church.
It disturbs me when children are not disciplined.
It disturbs me when children are abused.
It disturbs me when the Children’s Home must get involved in the human trafficking problem.
It disturbs me when professing Christians don’t live godly lives.
It disturbs me when young girls object to being called young ladies.
It disturbs me when out of wedlock births soar.
It disturbs me when people profess with their tongues what they deny with their lives.
It disturbs me when nudity is flashed on home TV during the family viewing time.

It disturbs me to think that a president of the United States participates in a Muslim prayer at the White House, but refuse to observe a Christian Day of Prayer.

It disturbs me when an experienced Juvenile Prosecutor says to me, “If you want to know what is happening to our young people, look at your church youth ministry. And look at some of the youth ministers.”

It disturbs me when a preacher goes to the pulpit and, in the name of Jesus Christ, delivers a sermonette to those he seemingly views as Christianettes.

It disturbs me when some people are offended when they hear a young Christian say he or she wants to be a virgin when they get married.

It disturbs me when the media would announce, as I hear someone has done, that Tim Tebow was speaking at a radical church. What church? First Baptist, Dallas. The church George W. Truett served for over thirty years and W. A. Criswell served for something like forty-five years. This is a great church, but labeled radical because of its stand against same sex marriage and abortion. Let us pray for a lot more radical churches!


This is not the America of my youth. It is not the America of our Founding Fathers. It is not the America of the Great Awakening. It is not the America that taught morality, integrity, decency, and responsibility. This is not the America that taught that “my word is my bond.” It is not the America that taught that one must earn his living by the sweat of his brow. It is not the America that began classes with Bible reading and prayer. It is not the America that honors the Ten Commandment, memorizes Psalm 23, and prays the Model Prayer. But you know something? It can be. In fact, it can be that and much more. Let me tell you how to get it started:

“(A)nd My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land” (2 Chron 7:14, HCSB).

America has moved into a strange and foreign, land and there are signs of moral and spiritual poverty everywhere. It is time for America to come to her senses, get up and go to our Heavenly Father, confess our sins, and ask for His forgiveness and restoration. The hymn is right: He Is Able to Deliver Thee. Are we willing to call on Him, that is the question.