Daniel was a college friend of mine. Actually, we were also teammates on the college track team. He was a disciplined long distance runner. Though congenial, he was, seemingly by nature, serious and focused.  He was from a small town near my home so we had a few things in common. Daniel was, however, closed off and difficult to really get to know. He shared little about his life and kept things on the surface. Little did I know, below the stern demeanor was a past and present of doubts, questions, and disappointments. That was until he finally opened up to me.                                     

I don’t recall what triggered his catharsis but the story spilled out of him one winter day. His father had been a Methodist minister for many years – faithful to his family and church. One evening his father didn’t come home. After hours of worry the family finally fell asleep. The next morning they found him – passed out on the couch downstairs with a half empty pack of cigarettes and a fully empty bottle of whiskey lying on his stomach. He never explained what had happened and Daniel was never told later of the mysterious developments. The next Sunday he resigned from the church. Soon thereafter his father disappeared and my friend, to that day, didn’t know of his father’s whereabouts.  Daniel was 14 years old. He had been deserted and, we would surmise, his father has abandoned his faith. 

It has been over 20 years ago so I don’t know how the drama ended. I hope the outcome was the restoration of Daniel and his father. The entire incident reminded me of one very minor New Testament character – Demas. We know almost nothing about him other than he deserted his friends and his faith. He is mentioned by Paul in relation to Luke (Colossians 4:14) and Mark (Philemon 3:24) but he is most infamous for his desertion. Second Timothy 4:10 explains, “for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia”. 

The phrase that struck home to me was, “because he loved this world”. We all know the allure and magnetism of our secular culture – the pleasure found in the present that gives no credence to the reality of judgment and eternity. It appeals to our carnal, self-centered, and fleshly nature. Our society screams to us that the temporal nature of this world’s charms will satisfy us. But they don’t: We know because we have tried them and they left us empty and guilty. Tragically Demas chose the world over Jesus. But beware – we are all just as susceptible. 

The other text that came to mind was written by the apostle John: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 John 2:19).  It is a sobering warning about apostasy – the forsaking of our faith. This passage clearly states that those who desert and never return were never among God’s chosen, His redeemed. Their permanent desertion was proof that their faith was false. Clearly some who wander never return. This is a thought worthy of serious consideration as it has eternal consequences. 

The good news is that Jesus welcomes those who have strayed, temporarily captivated by the world’s enticements and temptations. There are many scriptural stories that give us hope as we return. The story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus and subsequent restoration (Luke 22:31-34; John 21:15-19) are two poignant examples. In His grace, He lovingly embraces those who have wandered but eventually return. He even prepares a rich feast to celebrate our homecoming. 

As I mentioned, I don’t know the final chapter in the saga of Daniel and his father. But God does. However, I can speak from personal experience that, having briefly lost touch with my Savior, there is hope for Daniel’s father. Despite my own angry and rebellious desertion fueled by an attraction to this world, God was looking off in the distance for me as I stumbled home in despair and brokenness. Once I realized that He was the only thing of true and lasting worth the journey back, though painful, was well worth His infinitely valuable presence in my life.