Sometimes you don’t know what you’re missing ’til you leave it for awhile…
My good friend and mentor, Ron Ritchie, sent me a picture yesterday of the Christian rock group, Love Song, and Phil Keaggy, taken at an awards event a few years ago in Nashville. They’re all looking pretty good for their age, albeit a little paunchy here and there. Ron must have been thinking about the first time we heard Love Song when we “auditioned” them before letting them sing at our Sunday night Body Life service at Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California in 1970. They sang “Welcome Back,” for us that Sunday afternoon, crammed into Ron’s back office, and when they finished, we were all literally weeping due to the sweetness of this song, the unique blend of their voices and the gentle tug of the Holy Spirit on our hearts. At a time when many of the gospel songs were rock and roll screamers about avoiding hell and getting right with God, here was something sweet, warm and inviting. This song was clearly penned by the Lord. These guys were brand new Christians with no training. They just wrote what they heard, and they heard the Spirit calling. It’s for this reason that I’ve always believed that this is the way the Spirit of God does evangelism. No scare tactics. No head thumping. No Bible bashing. No end of the world proclamations. Just the invitation of the gospel of welcome: God’s welcome home to the prodigal.
God used this song to welcome back a generation of wanderers, most of whom had grown up with some kind of religious background be it Protestant, Catholic or Jewish, but left it feeling the irrelevance of the message that somehow didn’t connect to a deep inner need. And here was a rock and roll group welcoming them back to Jesus. Yes, Jesus. It was a generation closed to institutional religion, but open to Jesus. The song still has its power. This was the song that brought our friend Arnold around shortly before his passing last year.
I know you thought you could turn your back
And no one could see in your mind
But I can see that you know better now
You never were the untruthful kind
And I’m so happy now to welcome you back
“You know better now … You never were the untruthful kind.” These are bold, positive statements indicating someone is already on the right path home. You have to go back as far as “Just As I Am,” an invitation hymn for another generation, to find a similar sensitivity to what the Holy Spirit is already doing in someone’s life.
It takes a lot of trust in the Spirit to operate this way. But Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:44). We always try to control too much of this. God is doing the drawing; we are the welcoming party. We’re not in charge of who responds; we don’t have to check everyone’s evangelical credentials; we offer grace turned outward to everyone and care for all who cross our path.
This was the message then and it is the message now, as we ready ourselves for a new frontier. We and the millennials with us welcome anyone going anywhere near our direction. We gather together and walk alongside, just like Jesus and His disciples, and look for the Spirit of God to draw us to Him and to each other.
Welcome back to what you knew was right from the start.