This month I want to share with you an experience from our family’s summer vacation. I could share with you our stay in a mile-high mountain range. I could tell you about our hike to a rushing mountain waterfall. I could mention many other delightful experiences, but the one I have chosen to write about is our visit to a hog pen! While exploring the Mountain Farm Museum in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park we enjoyed the log structures, the cellar, the water-house and the barn, but in the back corner of the farm was an animal pen of some kind. One of our children asked what it was? I could identify it with my nose even before we could see inside. The hog-pen display was not primarily a visual or auditory experience; it was most strongly an olfactory one. The smell was horrendous!

This encounter (or, I should say odor) jogged my memory back to the Story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. In this parable, Jesus tells the story of a young man who was restless to be out from under the restrictions of his father’s house. He asked for his share of his inheritance, left home and lived in the fast lane. After he had run out of money and the friends it could buy, he could only find a meager existence tending hogs. His circumstance was so bad that he even envied the food the hogs were getting. It was then that he saw the benefits of his father’s house and said to himself: “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants” (Luke 15:18-19). It was only when he sniffed the stench of the hog pen that he looked back at what he used to be and do.

The story of the prodigal son teaches much about the forgiveness of God, but it also serves as a dual warning. First it warns those who are in the hog pen, or on the way, that they must turn around and come back to the Father’s house. Maybe you should look back at what you used to be and do. If there was time in your life where your service for God was more consistent, your love for God was deeper and your fellowship with a local church was more frequent, perhaps you have left the Father’s house; you are on the road to the hog pen. You have willingly stepped outside the protection and blessings of the Heavenly Father’s house. You can turn around at any point; you can reverse your course and head home. Admit your straying ways to Him and seek His forgiveness and restoration.

The second warning is for those still in the Father’s house. It is better to stay put than to stray away no matter how appealing the freedom of the outside looks. The world, the flesh and the devil make what is out there seem so appealing, but remember the end of road will lead to the bondage in some sort of “hog pen.” Guard you heart.

I like pork as much as the next guy but I must tell you I was glad to leave the hog-pen display and stroll along the tree-lined banks of the Oconaluftee River as it continued its desent toward Cherokee, NC. It was definitely more pleasant to take in the shade, the sound of the rushing water and fresh air of the river bank than the foul atmosphere of the hog pen. Yes, it is better to stay in, or return to, the Father’s house.

(from April 2002)