...the churches of Christ salute you! Rom 16:16

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The Return

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How very far sinners stray. How /cursed the distance the soul is transported from God's mantle of grace and mercy. Moses' advice to "take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently," comes to mean noth­ing. Thus, we may expect his prophecy to be fulfilled: we "forget the things which [our] eyes have seen, and.. .they depart from [our] heart..." (Deut. 4:9). We forget the pleasure of right living. If not taking residence in the far country, sinners find pleasure in the sins nearby. Though they "have tasted the good word of God," the flesh takes them back to the foul things of sin. They remember only faintly that the sinner is damned-but the seed is not allowed to flourish. It does not grow to repentance.
But often, God is gracious and lives are spared. Perhaps to hear the exhor­tation of the preacher. Perhaps to note the warning of some blessed gospel passage. If we are sane, there is the chance that, by and by, we will begin to see our selves as we are. No glam­our. No honour. Nothing of praise. Only shame and disgust. In sorrow and regret, the penitent bow to say, "What have I done...What was I thinking?!"
There is none so noble as one who sees himself as he is. Who makes no excuse. Who covers no fault. The Fa­ther cannot be pleased more than by that one who honestly prays, "I bring my sins to thee; the sins I cannot count." There is a place for that brother or sister who turns in the
strength of Israel's God, vowing, "I will arise and go to my Father!".. .and rises to keep the oath.
Sometimes, those dearest to us become careless, caught in the vortex of worldly things. Some of these see their wrong quite soon, repenting. But others propel themselves so deeply into sin that it soon grips the heart that so quickly has turned stony. With haste, the devil leads these away from all that is right. They leave the church. They abandon God.
It is a sad time, a dreadful experi­ence for those standing by the side. Like the father of the Prodigal, parents, friends, and a multitude of good broth­ers and sisters who love them, help­lessly watch the downward spiral. Heart-broken people wait for, pray for, long for the return of these poor mis­guided prodigals.
With all of this, there inevitably arises a special concern when we wit­ness our young beginning to stray. Our children are our heart. At the first, we can scarcely believe that these dear loved ones whom we once nurtured so, whom we taught so much about Jesus, in whom we had so much faith and trust, so many dreams, are gone. But all is shattered, and in tears we think back to happy days as did Job, "Oh that I were as in months past... When his candle shined upon my head, and when by his light I walked through darkness.. .When the Almighty was yet with me, when my children were about me." But with broken hearts we are forced to admit it is so..."My own flesh and blood has forsaken the Lord." And with the same grief and lament as King David, we put our child's name in the place of Absa­lom, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had [filled your heart more completely with Jesus], O Absalom, my son, my son!"
Where there is time, where there is opportunity, we pour out our love and anxiousness...we beg them to recon­sider; we plead with them to not offend God. But often we see them bent, determined to exercise their right to be wrong. Our pleadings are filled with common sense, mixing our admonition with encouragement to do the right thing. We attempt to strike the heart. We lay God's Word alongside the sin­ner's life, exposing the grave mistake and its consequences. But it is so often fruitless, not enough.
Even so, and though these loved ones may even turn against all training and moral virtue, even abandoning the family-though this is so, we ourselves sin with the devil's heart if we allow our despair and grief to turn to disgust and loathing for these erring. God demonstrates His own love for us in matters such as this: even "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." These wayward loved ones, rebellious and lost as they are, must never doubt that the people they have aban-doned-the family, the church, their peers yet in the church, still love them deeply. We will make no excuse for their sin, we are without compromise or endorsement of their wrong, but are overflowing with anxiousness for their return and cleansing.
There are a multitude of reasons for right living, with some of these directly related to influencing these careless dear ones we love. Good living, godly living, in family and friends, soon be­comes a light in the window. It gives these careless souls a beacon to which they may be inclined. When repen­tance begins to well in their bosom, the light may remind them of where they once were. They may see the church, the Christian family, the faithful individual, as a bastion of love and protec­tion and understanding to which they can flee, even as they struggle to return fully to the faith. The world cares for them not at all. Christians are their only hope. Our great God requires we give our hearts to these returning prod­igals in their repentance and change. No one can predict what love and concern, what acceptance and under­standing, may inspire.
"There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." As this is so in Heaven of the returning sinner, at the very mo­ment, what a happy, blessed time it is among parents and siblings, among brothers, sisters and friends in Christ!
Picture the overwhelming elation of the Prodigal's old father as he looked down the way and beheld his wayward boy coming down the dusty road. Even while he was "yet a great way off the Bible says this good man saw him, had compassion, and ran to him.
Compassion-What a beautiful word is that! In the Greek, it means, "to yearn with tender affection, to feel sympathy for, to pity." The old father ran to him, embraced him, and kissed him. What a sweet sight these few words convey.
Compassion! No censor. No, "how could you have treated me so?" No, "Begone! You have offended the fam­ily name." There was no, "I hope you have learned your lesson," or "I told you so." Not a word about the per­sonal hurt, the anguish and misery this sinner had caused the family. Only forgiveness-genuine, deep-from-the-heart, unreserved, no-strings-attached fatherly forgiveness. It is a picture of God Himself and our pitifully sinful condition, a picture of God's own gracious heart. "Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon, pardon for you and for me."
The return. It is a day longed for-by parents, by brothers and sisters in Christ. A day to pray for. The return. Dear ones, never give up. While that loved one lives, there is hope. "Never stop praying" (1 Th. 5:17). Never dark­en your light in the window. -Jerry


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