The wild child was a big, hard-punching brawler. He picked fights all over town. When he grew up, he got involved in criminal gangs, bringing shame on the family name.
"Do something about your son, or we will!" angry neighbors demanded.
"Please, give him a little more time," pleaded the heartbroken father, a Christian leader in the community. "I am praying for him."
The father wept many tears and prayed many prayers, refusing to give up on his wayward son. One day, the son came home, seeking forgiveness. Today, he joyfully works alongside his father and brother to spread the Gospel in Hindu villages. When asked about his son's formerly evil ways, the father waves his hand, as if sweeping the painful memories away. Those days are past, he says. My son has come home.
"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in," wrote the poet Robert Frost.
But here's the thing: They don't have to take you in. They probably will, if they love you. But they don't have to.
Nor does the Lord have to take you back when you come stumbling home -- hungry, ashamed, afraid even to ask for restoration as His child -- after abandoning Him yet again. But He will, if you ask with a repentant heart, because of who He is.
What makes the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) one of the Bible's most moving descriptions of God's grace is the way the rejected father responded before his returning son even opened his mouth: "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him" (Luke 15:20b, NASB).
I heard a preacher put it this way: God's mercy is not giving us the punishment we deserve. God's grace is giving us the love we don't deserve.
That's what I'll be thinking about during Thanksgiving this year.
Another Scripture passage I've rediscovered is Isaiah 30:15 (KJV): "For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not."
"And ye would not." How sad is that?
Instead of returning to the Lord and quietly trusting Him to defeat an invading enemy (mighty Assyria), Jerusalem panicked. God's people sought help from Egypt, Israel's old slave master, without even consulting the Lord. It was a political, military -- and above all spiritual -- mistake doomed to failure. But His offer of salvation stood, and as Isaiah later prophesied, it would be extended to all nations with the coming of the Messiah.
It stands today, as an invitation both to wandering souls and to wandering nations (peoples). America seems very far from God at the moment. Other nations and peoples are even farther from Him -- so far that they don't even know He is Lord of all. But He is standing at the doorway of His kingdom, scanning the distance for any sign of His children coming home.
"Come, let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us," appealed Hosea, Isaiah's contemporary and the prophet of a God heartbroken over the unfaithfulness of His people. "He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, that we may live before Him. So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; and He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth" (Hosea 6:1-3, NASB).
"Life with You is the good life indeed," Augustine prayed in his "Confessions." "When we live apart from You, our life is a twisted life. Let us come home to You, Lord, lest we be lost. Life with You is a life in which nothing is lacking, because You are life. We do not fear that there is no home to turn to. We may have turned away from it. But it remains. It did not fall because we fell away. Our home is Your eternal life."
Make that your prayer this Thanksgiving. Come home to the One who is waiting for you.
Erich Bridges is an International Mission Board global correspondent with a blog at worldviewconversation.blogspot.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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