Monday, November 25, 2013

Returning home for Thanksgiving


On a recent visit to India, I met a father of two sons. One son has been dutiful and loyal through the years. The other? Well, let’s just say the police were familiar with his activities.

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).

 Saint Augustine knew all about wandering from God. He was an enthusiastic sinner in a pagan age. But he yearned to return to his true and eternal home.

 “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.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Seeking the unseen kingdom


“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven,” Jesus taught His disciples to pray.
Where is the kingdom of God? You will find it on no map, but it is coming — one soul, one household, one village, one nation at a time.

“We arrived at house number 37 and were met by a sweet, short, red-headed woman with a smile that flashed the most beautiful gold teeth,” an IMB missionary wrote earlier this year. “We introduced ourselves and told her that we came to her village to tell her that God loves her and to give her a copy of His Word. She took the gift and invited us into her home. Once inside, we met a man with a sad, sunken face. He had no legs. The first words out of his mouth were, ‘Yesterday, I wanted to die.’ We talked about faith matters and asked if he wanted to invite Jesus into his life. He asked if he could right now, and then he prayed with great emotion. Then I looked up and saw his wife with tears streaming down her face, and I asked if she had repented, too. She said, ‘Yes, right along with my husband.’

“When we arrived, that house had been full of despair, but the Savior gave hope. I am so grateful that I still have legs and can walk into places and touch lives for eternity. Though I don’t get to experience it every day, I was born for this.”

You were born for it, too, if you belong to Christ. Before you can spread the kingdom of God, however, you must seek it with all your heart. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you,” Jesus urged in the same sermon that contained His guide to prayer (Matthew 6:33, KJV). Only one thing is necessary, He told anxious Martha: Sit quietly at the feet of the Master, like Mary (Luke 10:38-42).

Worldly kingdoms are visible. They traffic in power, wealth, military might, prestige. Victory is to be sought at all costs. Defeat is the ultimate humiliation.

The unseen kingdom of God, by contrast, glories in humiliation. Its symbol is a cross. In this life, it offers rejection, suffering and death. It demands surrender. The reward: union with the Lord.

“To really be His heart, His hands and His voice, to completely love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind, we must totally surrender to God’s leadership,” says IMB President Tom Elliff. “This means being unconditionally, wholeheartedly committed to God — first to love Him, then to love others.”

It begins in prayer, a deeper form of prayer than many of us have experienced.

“Most people don’t know how to pray for the fulfillment of the Great Commission because they don’t even know how to pray for themselves,” said Marty Sampson,* an associate pastor from Alabama who attended the first School of Prayer for All Nations, held earlier this year at IMB’s International Learning Center. Sampson, who asked that his real name not be used because he travels to overseas regions hostile to Christianity, said he was drawn to the school out of deep conviction that Southern Baptists have forgotten the importance of prayer.

“I’m convinced the church lags behind in spreading the Gospel because we are depending on ourselves, our strategies and our plans as opposed to the power of God in response to intercessory prayer,” he told IMB writer Don Graham. “I’ve been on a personal journey in my spiritual life of learning to be dependent on Him. And the key to that is absolute surrender. Everything about my life, everything that I value, I’m going to put on the altar so that nothing takes precedence over God.”

Drawing away from the world in order to change the world seems counterintuitive, but it was the spiritual practice Jesus Himself followed. He sought out solitary places to be alone with His Father and to listen to His voice. He returned to the world filled with God’s Spirit and power.

Let’s follow Christ’s example. No strategy, no amount of resources will bring light to the darkness without Him.

To learn more about the School of Prayer for All Nations or to register for an upcoming session, visit Questions can be emailed to

Watch a related message from IMB President Tom Elliff:

*Name changed