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A Sobering Mercy

In the early 1950s teenage Lyle Dorsett and his family moved to Birmingham from Kansas City, Missouri. They were outsiders, often labeled Yankees by peers. But one summer evening in 1953, Dorsett was walking to his house after work and decided to take a shortcut through the campus of then-Howard College (now Samford University).

He was immediately intrigued by the sight he saw: a large tent on the football field featuring a magnetic preacher. As Dorsett drew near, he could hear evangelist Eddie Martin preaching on the parable of the prodigal son, calling other prodigals to come home. Dorsett said, “I knew I was the prodigal and … needed to come home.”

Martin asked those in attendance to return the next evening. Dorsett came early, and this time was seated near the front. When the call came, “the evangelist led me through a sinner’s prayer. I confessed my need for forgiveness. While being led in prayer, I strongly felt the presence of Jesus Christ. I sensed his love and forgiveness as well as his call to preach the gospel.”

Shortly thereafter, Dorsett and his parents joined a local Baptist church. However, 18 months later, Dorsett’s family moved back to Kansas City. On his return, gradually he drifted. During his time in college, he embraced a materialistic worldview. He received a Ph.D. in history but despite professional success, he began to drink heavily and became an alcoholic. His wife, Mary, who became a Christian after their marriage, began to pray.

One evening, he stormed out of the house after Mary asked him not to drink around the children. He found a bar and drank until closing. While driving up a winding mountain road, he stopped at an overlook and blacked out. The next morning, he woke up on a dirt road at the bottom of a mountain next to a cemetery not having any memory of the drive.

Dorsett cried out to God, “Lord, if you are there, please help me.” At that moment, he recognized that the same presence he had met in Birmingham was with him in the car and loved him. The prodigal son had finally, truly come home. He said, “Although I made countless mistakes, the Lord never gave up on me.”

God then called Dorsett to full-time ministry, ordination in the Anglican Church, and eventually to the Billy Graham Chair of Evangelism at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, where he had first heard God’s call to preach.

He concludes,

Over the years God has proved to be a gentle Comforter—like when Mary underwent massive surgery for cancer, and when our 10-year-old daughter died unexpectedly. Certainly, the most humbling and reassuring lesson is his persistence in drawing me to himself. And it was he who pursued me and sustained the relationship when I strayed in ignorant sheeplike fashion, doubted his existence, and then like the Prodigal Son deliberately moved to the far country. And it is all grace—unearned, undeserved, unrepayable grace.

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