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A Great Cloud (A Great Cloud of Witnesses Series Volume 1)



She was going home, but she knew not what awaited her.

A prodigal daughter?  That was her, alright.

It was now a few days since she had spoken to her parents and admitted to them the awful truth that her new marriage, just now in its second month, was a serious mistake and she feared for her safety.

It was a gut wrenching admission to make. Her parents and friends, even her children had all been opposed to her marriage. But, she was determined for this man made her feel special and her soul was longing for a man who would love her as her father had loved her mother. No amount of warning or even pleading from her teenage daughters had any impact on her decision.

The ceremony had been a very small private affair in her new home. Almost immediately the attitude of her new spouse changed from what was exhibited while dating. It was not long until after a fight there were strongly worded verbal threats.

Fear, regret, self loathing, shame and embarrassment all roiled in her gut as she made the exhausting 16-hour trip from South Florida to her parent’s home in the Carolinas.

When word got out this could become a real embarrassment for her parents who were prominent people. It would be especially hard on her father whom she loved dearly.

Her mother, as any mother would, urged her strongly to come home when she explained her dilemma. But…

What would her dad say?

Her father was a man known for his compassion and sterling character but would he extend that same compassion to his adult daughter who had rejected his advice and made a foolish decision? She should have known better!

Would he tell her that? Would he say that she would have to face the consequences of her decision?

She started up the driveway to the house, her hands clenched around the steering wheel wanting to be home but anxious about the reception.

Then she saw her dad at the end of the driveway. She quickly parked the car and he moved around to her side and she looked into his eyes just as blue and piercing as she always remembered them. She looked into those famous blue eyes, filled with compassion and love as he tenderly embraced her.

Then her father, Billy Graham, said to her, “Welcome home.”

If we delve into the story of the Prodigal Son as found in the Gospel of Luke we see something of the way that the Prodigal’s father responds to the wayward child. The wise parent knows when and to what degree freedom must be granted to allow the work of maturity and salvation.

What is the father’s heart?

What is God the Father’s heart toward us, the prodigal human race?

If we were to interview the man or woman on the street, as to God’s attitude towards us we are likely to garner a variety of answers. Some would see God as an angry avenger ready to rain down fire and brimstone on us. If we read the Old Testament (reading it while missing the point) we might perceive God that way. The overwhelming word picture might be the Hebrews at Mount Sinai when the law is given: shock and awe!

Others might see God as a kindly grandfather who just loves everyone as they are and doesn’t want anybody to miss the party. Any path to God is fine just as long as you head this direction. This God is a marshmallow with no real standards or absolutes. Frankly in our day this is increasingly the concept people have of God.

If we read carefully the Old Testament what we see is that the heart of God is as a jilted lover.

The story in Genesis is of God establishing a relationship with a people. The story continues in Exodus as God takes this people, the Hebrews and redeems them from slavery and brings them into a special land to show them love and favor. Yet the other lover is fickle and unfaithful and toys with other relationships. The remainder of the Old Testament is God, time and time again going to extraordinary efforts to show His love and faithfulness to a faithless, adulterous lover.

Always, God loves, seeking to heal and restore the relationship. Always!

As we read Luke 15 Jesus told us that God seeks the lost and His greatest desire is to throw a homecoming party. That desire in the Father should encourage us all. We come to God as He draws us and His face lights up when He sees us.

We were built to be loved and to love Him in return. He loves us beyond human comprehension.


God’s protection…


Let me give a more personal example. In the late summer of 1989 my son Charles, age 9, died in an automobile accident. Two vehicles met at an intersection and if the vehicle Charles was traveling in was one second or two faster, he would have lived. In 2000 I was in an accident at another intersection where if I had been a second or two faster I would have been crippled or killed outright. As I write the emotion is quickly dredged up and I honestly ask, why.


Why?  Did my heavenly Father choose to protect me that day in 2000 and not protect my son eleven years prior? Where is the protection for Charles? Why did the wings of the Almighty shadow me and not him?

Look at some of those we call great children of the Father who were taken relatively young. Where was their protection?

David Brainard whose missionary work among the Indians inspired many to engage in missions work died at age 29. Jim Elliot, martyred as he took the gospel story to a savage tribe of South American Indians was 26. The founder of the Navigators, Dawson Trotman, who had a tremendous impact on Billy Graham was only 50 when he drowned attempting to save another man. The pastor and preacher Peter Marshall, a man who stood for equality and dignity of all men was only 46 when he died in 1949. Had he lived he could have had a tremendous impact on the struggle for civil rights in Washington, D.C. Where was the protection that stayed the bullet that killed Martin Luther King? He was only 39 year old.

Why were these Christians not protected to live a longer life and have a longer ministry? Why was Charles taken so young yet I was spared?

Where were the overshadowing wings then? It is not polite to ask these questions in the minds of some believers. I know, because for years I stifled the questions of my own soul.  I acted as if God didn’t already know what was in my heart; He “…from who no secrets are hid.”

The answer is this: we cannot understand God’s protection without understanding God’s priorities. A glimmer of understanding God’s priorities is found in the words of Jesus.

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12:4-7)

What we take away from all of this, to me, is that Jesus is reminding us that our priority is that which is eternal: our eternal soul. It is the eternal soul that God ultimately values and protects above all else. “The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.”  (Psalms 121:7 KJV)

In C S Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, in the last letter the elder demon Screwtape writes to young Wormwood, Screwtape rails that he ‘lost a soul’.

What Screwtape in effect says is that the ‘patient’, the Christian Wormwood had been tempting was now dead and beyond his ability to spiritually inflict and destroy because he was now with the ‘enemy’ of course who is God.  What Lewis is getting at is that as long as we live in this world we are away from safe harbor which is our true home: Heaven. This world is a place of spiritual danger primarily, because as the book of Job reminds us, our enemy roams it. When we slip this life and move to the next we are finally free and safe in the presence of our Father.

As we repeat Jesus’ model prayer we ask, “…deliver us from evil.” It is right and proper to ask for protection in this world, for it is a dangerous place. Jesus prayed for and was protected by the Father. He was protected from the evil of men for a season. Herod sought his life but God protected him. When Jesus preached to his own people at Nazareth the townspeople took offense and tried to throw him off a cliff. God protected him and he left unharmed. Yet we know that ultimately he died on the cross.

We see in the life of the Apostles there were times of protection. Peter was delivered from prison by an angel. Paul was saved from drowning while shipwrecked. But ultimately, Peter and Paul were martyred. Their bodies perished, but not their souls.

We get our priorities mixed up at times, we who are so bound to this life. It is not the length of the journey that matters; it is the destination. It is proper to pray for protection in this life but we must pray for protection of our soul that outlasts this body. The enemy is constantly warring against us; tempting us to ruin. He will save the body to ruin the soul if he can. Satan knows what truly matters. When tempted we can rest in what Jesus himself said.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.  (John 10:27-30)

It was not easy, or painless to come to this conclusion: The wings of the Almighty did overshadow Charles for he is now listening to the audible voice of his Lord Jesus. He is sitting in the company of Peter and Paul, with David Brainard and Peter Marshall and Jim Elliot and Martin Luther King Jr. He is in the company of all the saints for ages past. I am comforted that his soul is safe, safe for all eternity! Never will he be in danger of the mortal enemy of his soul; he is in the very palm of the Father.

Our Father will protect us, if not in this life physically, He will protect our soul. We must, for understanding, for comfort, have the same priorities of our Father. The priorities of Father God who loves us so much He sent His son to die on earth that we might be redeemed.  To me some of the most comforting words written are in the Heidelburg Catechism:

What is thy only comfort in life and death?

That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

This is our comfort, in life and death in the world to come.









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Copyright © 2011 Brian Bailey, Author