OPENING ACTIVITY: Love Will Find and Hold You
Ask your students what people normally do when they hear a baby crying. Probably they will say that they hurry to the baby to pick it up to hold it. This is a natural reaction for most people. This is also the reaction of our heavenly Father when we turn to Him and cry out to Him.
Despite Eddie’s turning his back on God, in this week’s story we find that God was ready for Eddie to come home and welcomed Eddie back into His family.
OPENING STORY: [Read aloud or make copies for your students]
A JOURNEY FROM PRISON TO THE HEAVENLY FATHER
For most of his early life, Eddie Howard spent as much time in jail as he did on the streets. “In the world I lived in, that was life. You knew that you were sooner or later going to get caught and you were going to do some time and you were going to come home. One of the things I always said was, ‘I could get out of jail.’ I didn’t know how to stay out.”
Eddie grew up in the small town of Crozet, Virginia. He was, for the most part, a good kid and went to church with his family. But when his parents divorced and he moved in with his dad, the trouble started. “Fighting, skipping school, and coming in anytime I felt like it.” He was bitter about the divorce and blamed his dad for splitting up their family. “I always thought he was putting other people before me. I think that came from when I was young, and he left us. I always saw him as the guy that something else was more important than I was. I resented that, and I was angry about that.” So, he avoided his dad and stayed in the streets.
As a teen, he liked working on cars, and also getting high. “I had the car. And along with the car I had the girls. And so along with the girls, I had plenty of friends. So it made me feel good. It made me feel important. From smoking reefer, to snorting cocaine, to shooting cocaine, to smoking crack, dropping pills, the whole drugs scene. I just dove right into it.”
He rejected anything that had to do with God. “You all can have God because I’m not sure who He is or even if He exists. And frankly, I don’t care whether or not He exists, because this life right here I’m living now is real to me. I thought I was ‘the’ man.”
In time, Eddie became a habitual criminal. “Petty larceny, I had an attempted murder charge, I had felonious assault charges, possession and intent to distribute, and assault and battery.” Over the years he spent many short stints in prison. He always managed to get back on the streets. But one time, there would be no way out. “I’m setting up a drug deal only to find out that this is an undercover police officer or a confident informant.” Eddie got busted and was charged with conspiring to sell cocaine. As a repeat offender, he faced life in prison. “I pride myself in knowing how to get out of jail, knowing how to get out of time, but I had no answers for this one. Man, I was broken. I cried every night.” Out of options, Eddie looked to the One he had been avoiding for most of his life. “One night I just cried out and said, ‘God, I went to church when I was a kid. I heard about You. I did the plays, I read about You. People told me about You. I said, are You real? Get me out of this, and I’ll serve You for the rest of my life’ I was saying to God, ‘You got my attention.’ And I’ll just use street terms—‘you can be my man.’ ”
Eddie started reading the Bible and began studying with Christian inmates. A prison chaplain also took Eddie under his wing. “We read the Scripture together. And the Bible says, ‘If any man be in Christ Jesus, he’s a new creature or creation. Old things have passed away and behold, all things have become new.’ I said, ‘Impossible. There’s no way you can wipe my slate clean.’ ” Then before his case went to trial, evidence went missing and Eddie was sentenced to only three years. While incarcerated, he and another prisoner made a decision that changed their lives. “We were reading in Romans where it says, if you confess with your mouth and you believe in your heart, that Christ died for us and that God raised him from the dead [that you can be saved]. And we confessed it right there like, ‘Lord, we want You to come in.’ ”
When he was released this time, Eddie knew he could not return to his old ways—God had totally transformed his life. “I realized that God sees me through His Son. That’s how I became that new creature. When Jesus came in, He washed all that stuff away. Nobody can hold that against me, and that new person began to evolve in my heart.”
He also married and turned his favorite hobby into a career. Eddie knows what true freedom is and has experienced the love of a father that will never change. “His faithfulness showed me that even in my shortcomings, even in mistakes that I made, He’s still God. That’s His faithfulness to say—‘Eddie, I still love you, and I’m still going to show you the way, but I want you to learn from these mistakes as I show you the way.’ ”
Now ask your students to form small groups to discuss their answers to these questions.
- Why do we sometimes run away from our loving Father?
- Have you ever been on a spiritual journey similar to Eddie’s? What was the result?
- Why might we think the Father would never welcome us back to His house?