Along with many in our nation, I sat glued to my television in March 2018 as the funeral service for the Reverend Billy Graham unfolded. It was a beautiful service where God’s servant was honored, God’s word preached, God’s grace magnified, and God’s dear Son exalted. During the service all five of Billy Grahams’ children spoke. The highlight of their testimonies for me was when the youngest daughter, Ruth, shared a powerful story about the loving heart of her famous father.
As the story goes Ruth faced a breakdown in her marriage of 21 years, which ended in divorce. It was hard time for everyone involved and Ruth was advised by her family to move away and make a fresh start somewhere else. Having moved to live near her older sister she started attending a good church where she met a widower. The relationship was a fast and furious one, but some within her family encouraged her to put the brakes on and slow things down. But Ruth did not listen. In an act of arrogant willfulness, she hurriedly married the man against the best advice of friends and family and within 24 hours realized what a terrible mistake she had made. A few days later she fled the marriage out of fear. With nowhere else to turn, she turned for home hoping, but wondering, if she would be accepted. After all, it is one thing to embarrass your father it is another thing to embarrass Billy Graham. Plus, this wasn’t the first time.
As Ruth drove up the driveway to her father’s home in North Carolina she wondered if she would be met with compassion or condemnation. I’ll let her finish the story: “My father was standing there waiting for me. As I got out of the car, he wrapped his arms around me, he said welcome home. There was no shame, no condemnation, just unconditional love. My father was not God, but he showed me what God was like that day. When we come home to God with our pain and our failure, God says welcome home.”
How true, and that truth is wonderfully exemplified in the prophecy of Malachi written around the late fifth century B.C.as God invites the wayward nation of Israel to return to Him (Mal. 3:6-7). The premise of the invitation is that God doesn’t change, nor does His promise of grace for the repentant. God says, “I am the Lord, I do not change; Therefore, you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob . . . Return to me and I will return to you.” The implication of these words is that Israel had changed for the worst through their disobedience, but if they were willing to change for the better through repentance they would find, in returning to God, that He had not changed in terms of His covenant love for them, and the offer of His amazing grace toward them. In returning home to God they would be welcomed home just like the prodigal in the parable of Jesus (Luke 15:20).
Our turning back to God does not find Him with His back to us. The reason we buy return tickets is because we believe the place from which we departed will be there when we get back. To attempt to return is to imagine the constancy of the place you left behind. That is the promise of Malachi 3:6-7!
God is love, and He waits to welcome us home!