Kayla’s Story, An Allegory: Chapter 3 The Man at the Bus Stop

By the time Kayla had crossed one empty lot and reached the intersection of two busy streets, she had developed a kind of rhythm to her steps. Steps and quick half-steps gave her a funny but productive gait. Only two blocks left and she’d reach the last empty lot she needed to cross before arriving at the park. Spotting a bus stop across the street, she pushed the pedestrian button on the post, and then clung to it for support as she waited for the light to change. Cars, trucks, and motorcycles flew past her and she wondered where they were all going in such a hurry. Didn’t people ever slow down?

Do you?

She ignored the accusing voice in her head. She had good reason for the way she drove. The little walking icon turned white and she began to hurry as much as she could while limping. She knew she wouldn’t make it to the other side of the street in time, and sure enough it began blinking while she was halfway across. Well, she was already in the street and those drivers would just have to wait. She limped her way to the sidewalk, grateful to find a ramp. Trying to climb a curb would have been challenging no matter how low the curb might have been. She made her way to the bench at the bus stop, dropped heavily on it, and let out a loud groaning sigh. A few other people were on the sidewalk heading in different directions, but no one looked at her. Fine, let them be that way. She didn’t need them.

Soon an old man shuffled up to her and carefully lowered himself on the bench next to her. She scooted a few inches away, and tried to ignore him. But he didn’t seem to notice. Instead he spoke in a loud but friendly voice. “Hi. You waiting on the bus?”

Kayla shook her head at him briskly, and then turned away from him again. And again he didn’t seem to notice. “Not waiting on the bus? Then why are you sitting here? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Kayla lied, hoping it would end the conversation.

“You don’t look fine, if you don’t mind me saying.” The man fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a yellow handkerchief. “Here, it looks like you need this more than I do.”

Kayla stared at the offering, and then at the man. She didn’t want the handkerchief, but was touched that he would offer. “No, it’s okay. But thanks, though.”

“No really. Even if you’re not going to ride the bus, you are going somewhere. And I think you would feel better if you cleaned your face a little. It looks like you slid down a mountain face first.”

“Something like that,” Kayla admitted. She took the handkerchief. “Thanks.” Pulling out her bottle of water, she wet the cloth and wiped it quickly across her face, being careful not to apply pressure to her nose. She was about to hand it back to him but stopped when she saw the mixture of dirt and blood that coated the small cloth. No wonder he had asked if she was okay. Pouring more water on it, she squeezed out the excess and ran it over her face again. This time she took care to cleanse her entire face. She looked at the man. “Better?”

He smiled. “Much. Do you want to talk about what happened?”

Kayla didn’t. It wasn’t any of his business. But she didn’t know how to tell him that after his kindness, so she said simply, “I fell.”

“That was some fall, from the looks of it. You should see a doctor.”

“I’ll be okay. I just need to get home.”

The both sat in silence for a few minutes. Kayla hoped the bus would arrive before he could ask her any more questions. But no such luck.

“Can I ask you something? It might seem kind of strange, but I feel like I need to ask it.”

Curious, Kayla nodded.

“Which direction were you facing when you… fell… this morning?”

“What?” Kayla frowned. Which direction? What did that have to do with anything? This old man was crazy. Nice, but crazy. The sooner the bus took him away from her, the better.

“Which direction were you facing?” he asked again.

“I guess I was facing…” Kayla mentally retraced her steps leading to the dirt pile. “… west, I think.”

“I thought so.”

When he didn’t say anything else, she prodded, “Why? What difference does it make?”

“All the difference in the world.  One way faces the light of the rising sun, the other side into darkness.”

“Well, yeah, the sun rises in the east, but so what?” She shrugged. “The sun also travels to the west.”

“But that’s the sunset, not sunrise.”

 What’s so important about sunrise?”

“It’s the beginning.”

“And sunsets are the end?”

“Exactly.” The old man smiled with delight. “You got it.”

Kayla was more confused than ever. “I got what?”

Before he could answer, the bus pulled up with the loud pfsssst as the brake’s compressed air was let out. The smell of diesel fuel from the back of the bus blew over Kayla as the door opened.  The man got up, gave Kayla a thumbs up, and began to climb the steps into the bus.

“Wait! I got what?” Kayla called after him. But he didn’t appear to hear her as he reached the top step and the bus doors closed with a hiss. The bus pulled away, leaving Kayla alone once more.

What did he mean about the east and the west being the beginning and the end? The beginning and the end of what? And what difference was it whether she faced the light coming from the east or not? She had to go west to get to the park, didn’t she? He had made that sound wrong somehow, almost like it was the cause of her fall. That was just crazy.

Stuffing the now filthy handkerchief into a side pocket of her backpack, she painfully got to her feet. It was time to finish her walk to the park. She took about three steps, and then stopped. Looking straight ahead, she took note of the shadows that filled the area in varying shades of blacks and grays. Although she could see where the light of the rising sun, still somewhat low in the sky at this early hour, penetrated the darkness, parts the sun hadn’t touched yet still laid in deep shadows. She turned around and squinted into the dazzling brightness of sun. The light was so bright she couldn’t see any shadows at all. It really was a world of difference. How had she not noticed this before? The sunlight was so inviting and uplifting that Kayla didn’t want to walk towards the darkness anymore. Yet walking towards the light presented some impossible obstacles. Her home was to the east, but between there and where she was now was that huge dirt pile she wouldn’t be able to get by easily if at all. And the park, where she was supposed to be going, was to the west. There was no way she could reach it by going east. So what should she do? Continue going west, further into darkness? Or turn around and go east, towards the light that was calling her?


Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. (2 Tim 2:21)

And the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city. (Ez 11:23)

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9) 

Kayla’s Story, An Allegory: Chapter 2 A Pile of Dirt

The rising sun, hidden by a thick layer of clouds, seemed cold and distant. Kayla shivered as she hurried to her car, key in hand. The sooner she got out of the cold brisk wind the better. As the door slammed shut, Kayla shoved the key in the ignition and turned it. Click. That was it. No motor sound, just a click. Eyebrows raised, she tried again. And again, just the soft click that she had grown to hate over the last few months. She had delayed buying a new battery until she could find one at a deeply discounted price, and had gotten used to demanding someone jump her car each time she found it dead. But she thought she had fixed it after cleaning the connections with a homemade cleaning formula she found on line. For the last two weeks it had started right up. How dare it quit working again now! Frowning, she pulled the key out and punched the steering wheel. Without the use of her car, she would have to walk in this gloomy weather. It would make her late, but she could save some time by cutting through some empty lots. Sighing heavily, she opened the door, climbed out, slung her backpack over one shoulder, and began trudging down the sidewalk.

 As she walked, she contemplated the voice mail that had come from her church last month, inviting her to a special gathering at the park. The person had not given many details, just to dress comfortably, preferably pants and a t-shirt, and to be there by ten. Probably some kind of clean up event, but that was okay with her. Helping would help her standing in the church, and she enjoyed strengthening her connections to certain members. She didn’t need their favors right now, but who knew what the future held. There may come a day when she will be glad she took the time to cultivate these relationships.

Turning the next corner, she abruptly stopped. The sidewalk disappeared under a large mound of dirt which had spilled out from the driveway of a small brown house. What were they thinking to bring in that much dirt? Didn’t they realize it would encroach upon the sidewalk, hindering those trying to complete their walks? Or didn’t they care? How was she going to get past it? The traffic had not gotten busy yet, but there were still enough cars to make street walking dangerous so going around the dirt wasn’t an option. She looked across the street. Maybe she could walk on that side, but the lack of a sidewalk over there deterred her. She didn’t want to walk through the tall weeds, probably picking up prickly hitchhikers along the way. There might even be snakes in there. Shuddering, Kayla looked back at the dirt pile. As much as she hated the idea, climbing over the mess seemed to be the lesser of three evils. She gingerly began taking some steps, placing each foot carefully, and shifting her weight slowly as she tested the stability of the dirt. Expecting to sink with every step, she was surprised when she didn’t. The hardness of the dirt suggested that it must have been there a good while. As the dirt held, her confidence grew, and her steps became firmer and faster until she was cresting the top. Standing at the top reminded her of one of her favorite childhood games, and she yelled out, “King of the Hill!”

Suddenly her right foot plunged down on nothing as the dirt gave way. Flinging out her hands, she desperately tried to keep her balance. For a moment she thought she had won, but then the dirt under her left foot shifted and she hit the dirt face first. Her vision dimmed as pain erupted from her nose. She wanted to cry out, but the musty taste of dirt filled her mouth making her gag instead. She sat up slowly, spitting repeatedly, and took stock of her injuries. Her nose was still pulsating with pain, but the rest of her seemed to be okay. At least she thought so until she tried to stand up. This time she did cry out as her right ankle gave way and she fell again. She had to get help, but first she had to get off this pile of dirt before more of it collapsed. Not able to stand, she resorted to crawling. Small landslides flowed around her as she painfully pulled herself along, sliding one inch at a time. Holding her breath each time she shifted her weight, she begged the dirt not to collapse.  When she finally reached the bottom, she heaved a huge sigh of relief and reached down to examine her throbbing ankle. She manipulated her foot, turning it in all directions and wincing at times as pain shot up her leg, until she was satisfied it wasn’t broken. A sprain was bad enough, but at least she wouldn’t have to call 911. Her minimal insurance policy wouldn’t cover an ambulance. Somehow she was going to have to get to walk-in clinic on her own. She scooted to a nearby speed limit sign, and used the pole to pull herself to a standing position. A cautious step, and then another, and Kayla was relieved that the pain, although painful, wasn’t too extreme.  Maybe her ankle wasn’t that bad after all. If she could just get back home, she could treat her injuries herself without having to incur a huge medical bill. However, climbing over that pile to return home was out of the question. She would have to continue to the park, where she shouldn’t have any trouble finding someone to drive her back home.

As she limped, she wondered why no one had seen her predicament. In fact, she realized after a few moments, there had been no traffic while she was on that dirt mound. That was strange. It almost felt like that dirt had been placed there deliberately to catch people off guard, and that this whole thing had been planned to cause her to fall. She shook her head. No, that was crazy thinking. Who would do such a thing? Still, it was strange that no one had seen or heard her. Or maybe someone did and chose not to get involved. That was more likely. The emotionally painful feeling of not being good enough to warrant help by strangers intensified her physical pain. Soon her tears made tracks down her grubby cheeks as she made her way to the place where she was worth someone’s attention and help. Her church owed her at least that much for being willing to help clean up the park with them.


For wicked men are found among my people; they lurk like fowlers lying in wait. They set a trap; they catch men. (Jer 5:26)

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

The arrogant one will stumble and fall with no one to raise him up (Jer 50:32)

Kayla’s Story, An Allegory: Chapter 1 The Mail

Kayla smiled as she stretched. Eyes still closed, she relished the softness of the pillow under her head, the cradling support of her new mattress under her, and the snuggly blanket wrapped around her, still as fuzzy as the day she bought it. She loved mornings, and but this morning came with an additional thrill. A event awaited her, one that she had been anticipating with delight for weeks.

Eager to get started, Kayla rolled out of bed. Walking to the huge closet, she quickly put on a green sweatshirt over a gray t-shirt, a pair of jeans, and her green sneakers. Although it wasn’t quite winter yet, the mornings in her part of Florida had gotten colder than usual, thus necessitating her clothing layers. Once the sun was high in the sky, she would be able to shed the sweatshirt. She thought about the upcoming event as she brushed her hair and applied just a touch of makeup, and then added a pair of green and gray dangly earrings. Looking at herself in the bathroom mirror, she nodded with satisfaction. Completely coordinated, she looked good.

On her way to the kitchen she bumped into the hall table, knocking over the overstuffed mail basket. Mail went flying everywhere. She hadn’t realized how long it had been since she had actually read the piles of mail she received every day. Maybe she should take the time to go through it now, before she left for the event. Although time was tight, she should have time to sort through most of them. Besides, from the looks of it, it would only take a few minutes to toss all that junk mail in the trash.

Kayla retrieved the trash can from the kitchen, and bending down, began picking up one piece after another. Ads for car services and warranty extensions designed to play on her fear of the unknown future, pleas for contributions along with letters and pictures intended to elicit guilt should she decide not to give, and offers for credit cards created to make it easy to give in to temptations filled her hands. She tossed them in the trash can, and then bent to pick up more. A hand addressed envelope caught her eye. Reading the return address, she was surprised to find her father’s name there. She squinted, trying to remember when she had received it. But try as she might, she couldn’t remember having received the letter. How long had that been mixed in with the junk mail? Not having the time to read it right then, she put it back in the mail basket. As she picked up more mail, she was dismayed to find more letters that had escaped her notice. A few of them were from her father, but the rest were from friends. Again she was puzzled. She understood why her father would write a pen-and-paper letter – he was old and had not taken to electronic communication – but her friends? She was always getting emails and messages from them, so why had they felt the need to send her letters? Maybe she’d find out when she opened them, but that would have to wait. She added them to the mail basket before stooping down the pick up the remaining mail, separating the handwritten ones from the mass produced ones. When the floor was clean, she looked at her trash where junk mail she had not asked for overflowed. Why did they keep sending her this waste of trees when she never responded? Did they think by sheer volume they would win her over? Well, that wasn’t going to happen. The trash was the perfect place for them. Personal letters, on the other hand, were important and needed to be kept safe until they could be read. Curious about what they said, she was just about to risk the time to open one when her phone alarm beeped. She groaned with frustration. It had taken longer than expected to clean up this mail. She had to leave now in order to arrive on time, and she hadn’t even had breakfast yet. Grabbing the good mail from the basket, she left the bad mail in the trash can and hurried to the kitchen. She stuffed the personal mail into the front pocket of her backpack in case she had an opportunity to read them later, grabbed an energy bar and a bottle of water, and hurried out the front door, locking it behind her.


It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. (Deut 31:8)

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor 9:7)

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb 13:5)

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (2 Thes 2:15)

Part 8: Let’s Build a Bonfire (Christian But Not series)

Photo by Tomu00e1u0161 Malu00edk on Pexels.com

Ziv walked along the path as it wound through small campsites on its way up a mountain. It was just past midnight, and the darkness pressed in on him as he hurried along. The tiny individual lights of the camp fires he passed, those that were still lit, reassured him that he was not alone, but did little to chase away the darkness. Ziv tried not to breathe through his nose, for each breathe brought with it a nasty odor of decay that seemed to come from all around him. Covering his nose with the top of his shirt had only made breathing harder, so he had given up and was now rushing up the path heading toward an unknown destination. All he knew was that he had to somehow rise above this evil darkness.

As he walked, Ziv noticed that some of the campfires he passed, as small as they were, were slightly brighter than others. Were they larger fires? Were their fuel sources different than the smaller fires? Or were they being better maintained? Not only that, but the rotten odor seemed to disappear the closer he got to those fires. Ziv’s curiosity made him want to stop at the next bright fire to ask, but a particularly foul odor suddenly swirled out from the dark site he was just passing, overcoming all thoughts of the fires. He had to get out of this nastiness.

Slowly he climbed higher than the campfires, seeing less and less of them. The darkness was still pressing in, but not quite as strongly as earlier. He was relieved that the odor was also decreasing. When he could no longer smell the tainted air, he stopped and looked around. The path ahead of him, illuminated by the stars as they began to come out as clouds dissipated, continued up the mountain, disappearing around a curve about twenty feet from him. On both sides of him scraggly bushes filled the spaces between tall evergreen trees. Branches stuck out at every angle, as if to grab any passerby who carelessly got too close. Behind him was the path he had just climbed. Where should he go? Going down was out of the question, and he didn’t want to attempt pushing his way through the underbrush, so sighing, he turned back to the only option he felt he had. Forward. When he got to the curve, he took one last look back, then determinedly faced forward and continued walking, not knowing what he would find.

What he found was a rock. A very large rock. A rock so white it seemed to glow in the dark, making it stand out from everything else. Ziv followed the path as it circled the rock and returned to the curve from which he had just emerged. There were no side paths splintering off from this main one. Apparently, this was the final destination of this path.

Not wanting to go back down, he decided to climb atop the rock. It would provide a safe place to rest as he considered what to do next. Finding some foot and finger holds, he managed to pull himself up until he was sitting at the top of the rock. It was as hard as he had expected, but that gave him a sense of security. It would not be crumbling under his weight. What he hadn’t expected was its warmth. At this time of night, it should have been cold, having lost its daytime heat. Yet, here it was, well past midnight, and this rock felt as warm as if it were midday. Confused, but thankful, he settled down in delight, enjoying the clean fresh air and bright stars. His gaze eventually wandered down the slope of the mountain that lay before him. If he looked hard enough, he could just barely make out a few tiny sparks of light. Although most campfires apparently had gone out, a few were still burning. Feeling safe and cozy, he began to doze.

Suddenly a voice jarred him awake as it called from somewhere below him, “Hi, up there. Room for one more?”

Apprehensive about who this stranger might be, he called back, “Who are you?”

“A friend,” came the swift reply.

Had one of his friends followed him? Although the voice sounded somewhat familiar, he couldn’t place it with a face. Besides, he had not heard anyone approaching, neither while he was walking or while he was on top of this rock. If it was a friend, how did he find him? Ziv needed to take a look, but leaning over the edge of the rock was not an option, not if he wanted to keep his balance. And, in spite of the star light, he probably wouldn’t be able to see the guy well enough in the dark to identify him.  So instead, he asked another question. “What’s your name?”

“Ryder.”

“Where did you come from?”

“A long distance. Can I come up? It will make talking easier.”

Ziv frowned. Why was he being so mysterious? Was he was a thief? If so, he would be disappointed. Or was he friendly like he said? Something in his voice made Ziv want to believe the latter. He decided to trust his gut. “Sure, come on up,” he called back.

When the stranger came into view, Ziv scooted over making room for him to sit. Ryder quickly joined him, giving out a loud, relieved sigh as he stretched out his legs.

“Amazing how the warmth of this rock is so soothing after a long hike. Wouldn’t you say so?”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Ziv tried not to stare at the stranger’s appearance. His dark face seemed to be lit from the inside. He wasn’t exactly glowing, but there was definitely something there. His black curly hair framed his head and reflected the light from the stars that were still shining brightly. His long sleeve hoodie and denim jeans barely had a spot on them. No twigs, no layer of dust, not even a wrinkle. It was like he had just put them on. Even his hiking boots looked clean. Ziv looked down at his own dirt-coated pants and self-consciously picked off some hitchhiking seeds that had managed to attach themselves there. Wherever this guy had come from, it wasn’t from the same path Ziv had taken. Giving up on removing all the hitchhikers, and not wanting to rudely stare at his visitor, Ziv looked down the slope of the mountain at the tiny flickering fires.

After a few minutes, Ryder’s voice broke through the silence. “A penny for your thoughts.”

“Oh, I wasn’t really thinking about anything,” Ziv said without looking up. “I’m just kind of daydreaming I guess.”

“About what?”

“Those fires down there.”

“What about them?”

“Well, I know the people who are sitting by them are probably thinking they are a decent size, but all the darkness around them pretty much swallows them.”

“True, but the light is still there, no matter how small it appears.” Ryder said with a shrug.

“Yeah, but…”

“They don’t seem to matter much when compared to the amount of darkness that surrounds them, is that what you mean? That they don’t do much to drive away all the darkness?” Ryder looked at Ziv. “We both know that’s not their purpose. But let’s suppose for a moment that it was.”

“That campfires are supposed to provide light up an entire mountain? That’s crazy.”

“If we’re talking about campfires, then yes. But what if they are something more than just campfires. And the darkness is more than just the natural darkness of night on a mountain.”

Now it was Ziv’s turn to ask, “What do you mean?”

“Well, when I look out, it reminds me of the darkness that covers this world. Not a natural darkness, but a spiritual darkness. And those lights down there are like the prayers of the people as they pray against the darkness. Do you understand?”

Ziv nodded. “I can see that. As people pray, they light up their immediate areas.”

“Right. And the people down there who have  gone to sleep, letting their fires die out, are like the people who are no longer praying for one reason or another. What do you think would happen if everyone woke up and relit their fires?”

“Well, there would be a lot more light. But it still wouldn’t be enough. Those fires would still be very little.”

“What if groups of people decided to combine their fires?”

“You mean share a campfire?”

“No, I mean add their campfire to another campfire.”

“That would make it twice as big, giving it twice the light. I think I see where you’re going with this. People combining their prayers with the prayers of others would create a brighter light that would illuminate more of the darkness. But even if everyone got together and made one huge bonfire, there‘s still way too much darkness that wouldn’t be touched.”

“What if the bonfire drew others? Like those who, through their own choices, had walked away from the light? What if they saw it and turned back to the light? And what if those who never had a light were drawn to it and wanted to join in?”

“Then the large fires would spread and become even larger.” Ziv’s eyes lit up. “Eventually the darkness, including that evil smell, would be gone. Everyone would be in the light!”

“Well, almost everyone. There are always those who prefer the darkness.”

Ziv was disappointed. Then what would be the point? And then it hit him. He turned to Ryder. “But that wouldn’t matter as much because the light would be greater than the darkness. The world would still be a better place.”

“Exactly.” Ryder smiled and closed his eyes.

Not wanting to disturb Ryder’s rest, Ziv continued to stare at the fires. Could it be that simple? Everyone praying together against the darkness, adding their light to the light of others around them? Turning from their own evil deeds making sure their light was as bright as possible, and strengthening each other’s lights in the process? What would it take for everyone to come together like this?

I have the same question. What would it take for all of us who call ourselves Christians to join together as Christ’s disciples – fully committed to all His ways – in order to share the light of God with the whole nation? I think maybe we’re beginning to find out.

Ecclesiastes 4:12  And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

John 3:19-21  And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come into the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

(Ziv as a boy’s name (also used as girl’s name Ziv), is pronounced zeev. It is of Hebrew origin, and the meaning of Ziv is “radiance, brilliance or light of God”. The name Ryder is a boy’s name of British origin meaning “cavalryman, messenger”.)

Turn Back to God? But I Never Left.

 If you say, “Turn back to God? But I never left.”

Are you sure?

Let me tell you a story.

There was once a man and a puppy. The man loved his puppy with his whole heart, and she loved him in return. He took care of all her needs: a comfortable bed, the best food, plenty of water, and lots of fun toys. He was quick to take care of any physical ailments, and spent many hours playing with, grooming, and cuddling her.

The only thing he asked for in return was her undivided love, and for her to stay in the yard he prepared for her, which would protect her from danger, and would also keep her from becoming separated from him. She happily agreed because the yard was beautiful and contained everything she needed.

Every time she heard her master coming to spend time with her, she would run from wherever she was and jump into his arms, kissing him with her puppy tongue, and wagging her tail so hard her whole body wagged right along with it. He would laugh and hug her tight, and then put her down to start their favorite game of chase. It was a great relationship which they both treasured.

One day while he was away, she noticed some loose boards in the fence. Curious, she pushed on them and found that she was able to peek into the next yard. She couldn’t see much, but she could hear excited barks. She pushed on one of the boards a little harder, and was able to make out a group of puppies chasing each other. That looked like fun, and she wanted to join in, but she remembered that her master wanted her to stay in the yard he made for her. So she resisted the temptation to call out to them and just watched them instead. Day after day, when the man was away, she would sit with her face framed between the loose boards, and watch. Eventually the other puppies noticed her.

“Hey, would you like to play with us?”

“I wish I could, but I can’t. I’m not supposed to leave my yard.”

“Why not?” asked a tan puppy with black spots.

“My master says it’s not safe.”

“That’s just dumb,” said a scruffy brown puppy. “We’re here every day and nothing has happened to us.”

“Yeah, your master sounds too strict,” chimed in another scruffy puppy, this one white.

“But he loves me and wants what’s best for me.”

The tan puppy ran closer to her. “Really? Then there’s no problem. He wants you to be happy, right?”

“Yes.”

“Would you be happy playing with us?”

“Yes, I think so. It looks fun.”

“Then what’s wrong with having a little fun with us? Your master will be glad that you’re happy. Besides, he’s not home. He won’t even know.”

She frowned. Something didn’t sound right about this, but the tan puppy made sense. “Okay, but just for a little while.”

The other puppies barked excitedly, welcoming her as she pushed past the loose boards.

Looking around, she immediately noticed this yard wasn’t as beautiful as her yard. It was dirtier, and crowded with all kinds of things. Some looked nice enough, like the wading pool, colorful balls, and yummy smelling chew toys. But others, like the thick chains, dirty muzzles, and rusty cages, were kind of threatening. “Don’t worry about those,” they assured her. “Just play with what you want.” So she did, and found being there as much fun as it had looked. Chasing the other puppies, fighting over toys, splashing in the muddy puddles, and barking at nothing were all amazingly entertaining. When she got tired, she rested under the tall, spreading trees. When she was thirsty, she drank from the community water bowl, gradually getting used to the taste of the discolored water. And when she got hungry, she shared the synthetic food the others ate. Eventually she began to worry about the time.

“I think I need to go now.”

“Sure, thanks for joining us. Will you come back tomorrow?”

“Maybe,” she said as she slipped back into her yard.

When the man arrived, she wasn’t quite as eager to greet him. A sense of guilt interfered with the joy she normally felt. Would he know that she had not stayed where he told her? But he didn’t say anything so she put the feeling behind her as they began their daily game of chase. Usually he chased her first. As soon as he touched her, he would run off, laughing and calling to her as she chased after him. It usually didn’t take long for her to catch him, and then they would roll around on the ground with lots of delighted laughter and happy barks. But this day was different. For some reason she could never get quite close enough to catch him.

The next day she couldn’t resist the urge to join her new friends again. The fun was just as intoxicating, and again the man didn’t say anything. Maybe he didn’t know. Maybe he wouldn’t have to know. Or maybe the other puppies were right. Maybe he didn’t care where she went as long as she was happy. So as the weeks went by, she not only joined them each day but arrived earlier and stayed later until she was spending most of her time over there.

Without being aware of it, her joy in her own yard slowly faded. She still loved her master, but found her new friends and their yard much more enticing. The more she played with them, the more she wanted to be with them. Chasing and digging and barking filled her days, and she returned to her yard guilty and exhausted each evening.  Her run-and-jump into the man’s arms was replaced with a crawl, sometimes even reluctantly when she was especially tired. She still enjoyed her time with him, but sometimes had trouble staying focused on him as the thoughts of the other yard filled her mind.  She still ate her good food, but it became more of snack because the cheap food kept her stomach full. And the more of the dirty water she drank, the less thirsty she was for her own clean water.

The man saw the difference – in her attitude, in her lack of cleanliness, and in her health as slowly the unhealthy food and water took its toll. He knew she had been leaving the yard, but he had been waiting for her to realize the consequences weren’t worth the disobedience. And he was hoping her love for him, and his love for her, would be stronger than the pull of the other yard. But one day he couldn’t wait any longer.

“Where have you been going?”

“Nowhere,” she lied, looking away from him.

He shook his head sadly. “Don’t you know that the filth of that other yard, the filth that now covers you, separates us?”

Convicted, she whispered, “I’m sorry. I won’t go back. I don’t want to be separated from you. Please clean me up.”

He did, and their relationship was restored. But the pull of the other yard was strong, as were the voices of the puppies calling to her. So again and again, she continued to leave her yard to join them in theirs. And again and again her master cleaned her when she asked. Eventually though, she came to think like the other puppies. “My master will always be there. He loves me and will always forgive me. So what’s wrong with having a little fun?”

Now for the big question… did that puppy turn away from her master?”

And for an even bigger question… have you turned away from your Master? I know I have. We all have. It’s just a degree of how far into that other yard we’ve gone.

God’s calling us to come back. Can you hear Him?


Deuteronomy 10:12  “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (emphasis mine)

James 4:4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

1 Peter 1:14-16 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Amusement Park: Swinging Boat

Amusement Park: Swinging Boat

“Where do you want to sit,” Jesus asked Amalia.

“It doesn’t matter,” Amalia responded with a huge smile. “We’re on the boat. That’s all I care about.”

Jesus smiled back. “Just being on the boat might be enough for some. But I know you. Once we get moving, you’re going to start comparing. So you may as well do that now.”

Amalia looked at the rows of seats. Half were on her right, the other half were on her left. Both sides were facing each other. It looked like they would all get the same ride, swinging both frontwards and backwards. So what did Jesus mean about comparing them?

She imagined sitting in the first row on her right. She pictured the boat swinging forward as high as it could go, and where she would be at its greatest height. Then she pictured how high the last row would go. And she understood. That first row would not rise near as high in the sky as that last row. If she chose the first row, she would not experience as much of the swing as she would if she sat on the last row.

“That’s it, isn’t it?” she asked Jesus. “By choosing where I sit, I can control how much of the swing I experience.”

“Exactly. So, where do you want to sit?”

“I want to experience this ride to its fullest. I choose the back row!”

“I was hoping you would say that. Come on.”

Jesus led her past all the seats on the right side until they got to the last row. “Here you go. This is going to be great!”

Amalia’s anticipation increased as the boat began filling with people. Finally, the ride attendee announced the boat was full, and closed the gate with a clang. He pushed a button, and the boat began its first swing.

At first the swings were small, and Amalia could barely feel the gentle rise and fall. But the swings grew stronger and rose higher on every pass. Soon Amalia felt the need to hold on as her seat became perpendicular to the ground. The only thing keeping her from falling was her seatbelt.

It was exhilarating! The delicious anticipation as she climbed higher, the momentary lull at the very top, and then the stomach-dropping fall made this ride all that she hoped it would be. She laughed as she rose, and screamed in delightful fear at each free fall, knowing she was safe with Jesus.

After several swings, she noticed a difference. Being able to see the top of the rise, or the bottom of the fall, when she was moving forward made the gut-wrenching thrill easier to handle than when she rose or fell backwards. Not being able to see where she was going made it harder to tell when the rise would turn into a fall, or when a fall was finally over and she began to rise again. So even though she knew that she was secure in the boat, and that no fall would last indefinitely, she preferred the thrill of seeing over the alarm of not seeing.

“Just like when you’re walking with Me,” came the familiar soft whisper in her heart. “You love when you can see where you’re going, both when things are going well and you’re heading for great heights, as well as when things fall apart and you can see how much longer before you rise again. But you’re not so fond of experiencing the same things without the help of your sight. Being able to see the WHEN makes the WHAT easier. If you only faced one direction, you wouldn’t get the whole experience.  Just as this boat ride includes ups and downs in both directions, regardless of the seat you choose, your life also includes ups and downs with and without sight. Both the seeing and the not seeing builds your trust in different ways, making your faith complete in a way not possible with just one. And just as you are secure with Me on this boat, you are secure with Me in your life. Once you understand that, you can enjoy the walk with Me no matter which way you’re facing.”

Amanda nodded. This ride was turning out to be one of her favorites. But would it be if she didn’t have Jesus by her side? If she didn’t know He was keeping her safe through every move, both on this ride and in her life?

She was glad she would never have to find out.


James 1:2-4  Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Philippians 4:11-12 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound, in any and every circumstance. I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

Who Do You Choose?

Who Do You Choose?

She looked at him, confused by his reaction. She had worked hard on these vows. “Something wrong?” she asked.

“Well, there are a few things… what did you mean by this line?” He pointed to the first line on the print out.  “I love you, and choose you above all other men. Even when I flirt and play with other men, know that it’s you I choose.”

“What do you mean what do I mean? I mean I choose you to be my husband.”

“But what about the “other men” part? Are you saying you’re going to have relationships with other men?”

“Of course. Other men are all around. It would be crazy to think I would refuse to accept them. That would make me snobbish, wouldn’t it?”

“But I want your whole devotion.”

“Aww.. you sound jealous.”

“That’s because I am. I want you to set yourself apart for me. To love me more than anyone else. To be totally committed to me. To be faithful to me, just as I am with you.”

“I do. I am. Even though I love others too, I love you the most. What’s wrong with that?”

“If you go after other men, you’re not being faithful to me.”

“That’s a matter of opinion. I think I would still be faithful to you because I would be married to you. I wouldn’t marry anyone else. If I did, THEN I wouldn’t be faithful.”

“You’d be sharing your affection with other men. I want to be special to you. I want you to have all your affection focused on me.”

“So you’re saying I can’t love anyone else?”

“Not with your whole heart. I don’t want to be just one of the people you love.”

“I already said I loved you the most. What else do you want?

He sighed. “Let’s drop that for now. What about this other line?” He read aloud, “I promise to honor your values when I’m with you.”

“Oh, that means that I promise to do what’s important to you, to look at things your way.”

“That part is great. But what about the “when I’m with you” part?”

“Because I want to make you happy when we’re together.”

“And what about when you’re not with me?”

“Why would you care what I do when I’m not around you? You won’t be there to see it.”

“That’s not the point. I thought you agreed with my values.”

“I do, most of the time. But sometimes things aren’t so clear. And values in other places are different than yours. If I stuck to your values in those places, it would create problems. People would feel I was being biased or prejudices or critical or something. There wouldn’t be any peace. And you love peace. So by adopting their values when I’m with them, I’m actually living out one of your values.”

He shook his head. “I think you might be confused.”

“No, I just know what’s important.”

“It would also make you hypercritical. You should live by the same values wherever you are.”

“I do. I live by my values.”

Shaking his head again, he pointed to the paper.  “I promise to spend as much time with you as I can.” “As I can?” he quoted.

“Well, sure. I can’t spend all my time with you, can I? That wouldn’t be healthy. I need to spend time getting to know other people, other ideas, other personalities, other beliefs, other…”

“I get it. So how much time would you give me?”

“Oh, at least an hour every day, and maybe a couple of hours on the weekend.”

“That’s all?”

“There’s a lot of stuff to think about. I don’t think I could give you more time. But I promise to think about you more than any one other thing.”

He put the paper down. “So far you have promised to love me as long as you get to love other men too. And you promised to live by my values but only when you are with me. And you promised to spend a small part of each day with me, fitting me in around all your other pursuits. Do I have that right?”

She frowned and pouted her lips. “You make it sound so bad. It’s not really. It’s all about you. I love you. I choose you. Nothing else I do should matter.”

“But it does. I want you to love me with your whole heart, to desire me above all things, to keep me the center of your life, to set yourself apart for me, and to live by my values.”

“That sounds more extreme than it needs to be.”

“My love for you is extreme. My love for you is so much deeper than you can imagine. I long to be with you all day, every day. I long to give you riches beyond your understanding. And I desire for you to return my love. However I’m not going to force you. You can choose to walk away if you want. But if you choose to stay, then loving me with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength is what I require.”

“Require? That’s kind of strong, don’t you think?”

“Yes, require. It comes down to what you want: life with me, or death of our relationship. I love you, and want to give you all I have. I want us to be together forever. But I am not going to force you to choose life with me. It’s important to me that whatever you to choose is of your own free will. ”

She shook her head.  She knew he intensely loved her and that he owned a lot that he promised to give her. And she had to admit no one could love her the way he did, or fill her with such a deep and satisfying joy. She did return his love, at least as much as she was able, but did she love him enough to choose him over her own wants? Was she willing to give up the world for him?

Finally she asked, “Why can’t I have both? You and your world, and me and mine? It’s not so hard to compromise on where we differ.”

“No. You either want me – all of me – or you don’t. You can’t have it both ways. You need to make a decision, and now is a good time. Who do you choose?”

We have each been asked this question by our Maker, who calls us to be His bride.

Who do YOU chose?


Mark 12:29-30  Jesus replied, “This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One, and you shall love the LORD your god with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

1 John 2:15-16  Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not from the Father but from the world.

James 4:4 You adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever chooses to be a friend of the world renders himself an enemy of God.

Romans 5:8 But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

Ephesians 3:17-19  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Then you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to comprehend the length and width and height and depth of His love, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with the fullness of God….

Philippians 4:19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Exodus 34:14  for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

Hebrews 4:7 again he appoints a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

Joshua 24:15 and if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Amusement Park: Waiting on Jesus

Amusement Park: Waiting on Jesus

“There it is!” Amalia pointed to the large wooden boat that was swinging from one side to the other in large arcs. “I’ve always wanted to try this ride!’

“It looks fun,” Jesus said. “But there’s something I have to do first. Sit here on this bench and wait for Me.” He pointed to a small bench just outside the entrance gate.

“Sure,” Amalia agreed. She sat backwards on the bench, facing the boat. It was huge! She wondered what it would feel like to ride it. To feel the thrill of the rise and the adrenaline rush of the fall, both frontwards and backwards. Would she scream like so many others? Or would she laugh? It couldn’t be as bad as a roller coaster, so she thought she’d probably laugh. After all, it was a big solid boat, moving in a predictable manner, and not nearly as high as the roller coaster.

The best thing about it – there was no line! It seemed everyone who wanted to ride it was on already on it-  because it was packed! There was probably less than a handful of empty seats. Amalia sighed in pleasure.  She had never gotten to be first on a ride. Besides, she hated feeling crowded, so the anticipation of riding this boat without having to sit shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of strangers added to her excitement. This was going to be great!

As she watched the boat move, she noticed it wasn’t rising quite as high as it had a few moments before. The ride must be ending soon. And still no one in line. Amalia looked around for Jesus. Where was He? There was still a little while before the boat ride would fully end so Amalia decided not to worry about it. Jesus would be there before it was time to board.

Before she could turn back towards the boat, a group of boys caught her attention. They were laughing and pushing each other. One boy pointed to the boat, and within minutes they heading in her direction. Oh no! Amalia glanced at the gate. Should she get up to make sure she remained first in line? Jesus had said to wait on the bench, but the gate was almost within touching distance. Surely waiting there would be just as good. But what if He meant what He said? She had agreed to wait on the bench. Would leaving it be disobedience? Before she could make up her mind, it was too late. The rowdy boys were at the gate. The best she could be was fourth now. Disappointed, she consoled herself with the reminder that there were so many seats on that boat, it would still feel empty even with the group of boys. Being fourth wouldn’t change that.

A married couple with three children walked up.

“Excuse me,” said the woman. “Are you in line?”

Amalia shook her head. “No, not yet. I’m waiting on someone.”

“Okay, just making sure.” The woman motioned to her kids. “Go ahead, she’s not in line.”

Right behind them came another couple, and then a group of girls. Amalia’s stomach began to tighten. Where were all these people coming from? This was supposed to be her ride, not theirs. She was supposed to be first. She was supposed to ride an almost empty boat. Jesus knew she didn’t like crowds. Why was he delaying his return? Maybe she should go ahead and get in line before it gets any longer. No, Jesus said to wait. On the bench. And she was going to do that. Maybe no one else would come. There were still a lot more seats than people. It will be okay.

The boat was barely rocking now. Soon it would stop and Amalia would… would what? What would she do if Jesus still hadn’t returned? Get on without Him? Miss the ride? No, she trusted Him. He said it would be a fun ride, and He told her to wait. So she would wait.

The waiting became even harder as other people joined the line, now about twenty yards long. Twenty yards of people who got ahead of her. Amalia felt envious. They didn’t have to wait. They could get in line whenever they wanted to. And here she was just sitting on a bench. She felt left out, and a little silly. She wanted to ride. Jesus said she could ride. Did He really say to stay on the bench? Or did He just say to wait, and the bench was her idea? Why couldn’t she wait for Him in line? It wasn’t like she would board without Him or anything. Besides, He said He’d be back. Did it really matter if she was on the bench or in line when He returned?

Amalia’s attention was drawn to the behavior of those waiting. Many were minding their 0805201858 (2)own business, but there were some that weren’t. The rowdy group of boys next to her was calling out rude comments to the group of girls. Amalia could see the girls blush as they tried to ignore them. Amalia felt bad for the girls, and wondered why no one was saying anything to make the boys stop. Further down the line a young girl was pulling on her parents, begging not to have to ride the big boat, but the parents seemed angry and were ridiculing her fear. That didn’t seem right to Amalia either. It actually seemed cruel. She was glad when one man called out to the parents. But instead of interceding for the child, the man began calling the parents names which soon escalated into a loud argument. People around them began to take sides, and Amalia grew tense as a fight seemed likely to break out at any moment. A quick movement caught her attention and she looked away from the imminent fight just in time to see a pickpocket making his way through the crowd. How does he get away with that? Can’t people feel someone else’s hand in their pockets? What if she had been a victim earlier to a pickpocket and she had not noticed? Quickly she felt her back pocket, and was relieved to feel the bulge of her wallet. Other sounds of discord quickly claimed her attention. Some people began grumbling and complaining about having to wait so long in smelly crowd on such a hot day. Others were making snide comments about what other people were wearing, or the way they looked.

Maybe it would be better to wait on the bench. She didn’t want to be part of that crowd. She turned back to the boat and watched as it slowly settled until it came to a complete stop at the bottom. People piled out, some talking enthusiastically about their experience; others white faced – or green faced – hurrying to get away. When the boat was empty, the people in line began to board it. Amalia looked around. Where was Jesus? It was time to get on, and she didn’t want to miss it. But He was nowhere in sight.

She looked at the line, trying to estimate the number of people. Would they fill up that boat before Jesus returned? And even more people were joining them by the minute. Torn between the desire to join the line in order to ensure a ride and the command to wait on the bench, Amalia wanted to cry in frustration. Where was Jesus? Why was He not back already? Had she heard Him wrong? He said the ride would be fun – but what if He meant fun for her, and not for them? Maybe she was supposed to get on it by herself. It was even harder watching all those people get what she wanted. They didn’t even deserve it. Their behavior should have gotten them kicked out of line. But there they were, gleefully filling up the seats that Amalia coveted.

Amalia clenched her eyes, trying to squeeze back her tears. It just wasn’t fair. Her thoughts drifted to her Friend. He had had to face some unfairness Himself. And much worse than she was facing. Feeling remorse, Amalia silently asked God for forgiveness. If He wanted her to wait, she would wait. What He wanted was more important than what she wanted. She would trust His timing. And if she missed this ride, then so be it. She would rather have Him than a ride. Even a ride as great as this one ride. She quit fretting about all the people filling up her boat, especially the mean ones, and the ones she had seen cut in line. Her priorities once again in their right place, peace filled her heart. She opened her eyes and began praying for the people as they rushed past her.

A few minutes later Jesus walked up. “Are you ready?” He asked her.

“Yes, but I don’t think there’ll be any room left.”

“Sure there is. Watch.” He pointed to a couple of security guards walking towards them. A shout from the boat caught their attention, and they pushed their way through the line to investigate. Soon more shouting erupted, and more security guards came running. Before Amalia knew what was happening, the guards had ordered everyone off the boat.

“Let’s go,” Jesus said warmly. He took Amalia’s hand and led her past the people lining up along the fence towards the boat. She could hear snippets of emotional responses to the guards’ questions as people justified their behaviors and pointed their fingers at each other. Jesus gently pushed Amalia up the ramp and into the boat. She looked around in amazement. It was empty! Other people began to board after her, the ones let go by the guards, but she had been first!

“Where do you want to sit” Jesus asked with a smile.

 


Scriptures

Ps 37:7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him, fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!

Ps 37: 34 Wait for the LORD and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off.

Lamentations 3:24-26  “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul. “Therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

Hebrews 6:15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.

Micah 7:7  But as for me, I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.

Deut 10:12 … what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 

Matt 22:37-39  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

 

You Know You Can Take Off Your Coat, Right?

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You know you can take off your coat, right?

 

Carlynne frowned in confusion. It didn’t make sense. Why would they want to wear coats on this warm, beautiful day? Maybe she could ask them. She walked towards them until she could hear their conversation. They were admiring each other’s coats while at the same time describing what they loved best about their own. Carlynne looked down at her own body. She wasn’t wearing a coat. She used to have a coat, but had gotten rid of it a long time ago when she discovered she didn’t need it anymore. The sunshine itself was all she needed to stay warm.  Yet here was a group of people who not only wore coats, but delighted in wearing them.

“Hi,” she called out to them. “I noticed you are all wearing coats.”

“Aren’t they beautiful?” a short woman answered.

“Yes, they do look good, but…”

“I just love how they make me feel,” a taller woman said.

“I can see that. But…”

“I feel so special when I’m wearing mine,” an older lady interrupted.

“I can see that. But don’t you feel a bit… bound… in them?”

“Bound?” a large man asked. “What do you mean?”

“Well, your coats are kind of thick. I would think that would make it harder for you to move as freely as you could if you weren’t wearing them.”

“I can move just fine,” answered the man.

“Well,” a young woman said slowly as she stretched her arms out in front of her. “Now that you mention it, it does kind of restrict my arms.”

Several other people nodded as they stretched their arms, but stopped when they noticed some of the others in the group were shaking their heads at them. “It’s worth the sacrifice,” they were told.

Carlynne said, “You do know you can take off your coat, right?”

“Take it off?” the tall woman gulped, clutching her coat tightly to herself. “I wouldn’t dream of taking mine off.”

There were a variety of assenting sounds, and Carlynne noticed they were all now holding tightly on to their coats.

But aren’t you hot in them? The sun is…”

“It kept me warm when I needed it,” interrupted another man. “If I took it off, I would be cold and vulnerable.”

“But the sun…”

“My coat is what keeps me warm,” interrupted the older lady.

“But I’m not wearing…”

“My coat is the most important thing in the world to me,” interrupted the shorter woman.

Tired of being interrupted, Carlynne gave up. Walking away from them, rejoicing in the freedom she had being coatless – feeling the warmth of the glorious sun directly on her skin – she wondered if any of them had noticed that she wasn’t wearing one. Maybe one day, they would. Then maybe they would be open to hearing why. And maybe, when they understood the sun better, they would find that that they no longer needed their coats either.

 


 

Religion: noun. A personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices (Merriam-Webster)

Carlynne – “she who has freedom”

Psalm 84: 11  For the LORD God is a sun and a shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

Philippinas 3:1-11  Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is not trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also.  If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Col 2:6-23  Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority, in him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us, with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – “Do not handle. Do not taste. Do not touch.” (referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Amusement Park: The Hat, part 2

Amusement Park: The Hat, part 2

Amalia looked at the dark entrance. “Are You sure we need to do this?” she asked Jesus as He settled down next to her in the small train car. “There are still other rides we could do.”

“Sooner or later you’re going to have to go through this room. It might as well be now. Remember what I told you the last time. Hold my hand and know that nothing can hurt you when I’m in the car with you. When you get nervous or feel lost, squeeze it and I’ll squeeze back reassuring you that I’m still with you.”

“Okay,” Amalia responded nervously. None of the rooms had been like the standard spooky rooms found in other haunted houses. This one problem wouldn’t be either. But what would it be like? What hadn’t she already seen on her last ride through this building?

The ride started with a jerk, and they slowly approached the door. Amalia reached up with her free hand to make sure her hat was on securely. The reassurance she felt when she touched it calmed her nerves, and she sat back. She was ready for whatever was on the other side.

The car bumped open the door, and they went in. There were people everywhere. Most were busy with their own affairs, but a few waved at the Amalia. It was the same room as the other time. Disappointed, she turned to Jesus. “I thought You said it would be different. This is the same room we went in the last time.”

“I said there was a room we skipped. You’ll see.”

Amalia watched the people, all busy with their lives, and wondered what it would feel like to live in a room like this. Did they know their world was just a huge room painted to look like the outdoors? Maybe her own world was an illusion too. Maybe there was more to life than what she saw.

As they came to the end of the room, Amalia noticed something she hadn’t the first time. The track had a split. The main track went to the door and into the next room. That’s the way they had gone before. The smaller track curved to the left and disappeared into darkness. That must be where the unexplored room was. Her thoughts were confirmed when the car went over a little bump, and headed left. This is it. Ready or not, here we come.

At first everything was dark. Almost everything. Down the track, she could see the faint outline of a door as light escaped through the edges. That must be the room. Good. At least she would be able to see whatever was in there. As they got closer to the door, the light transitioned from an early morning glow to the brightness of midday. Before she could shield her eyes, they bumped through the door and they were surrounded by light. A harsh light. Amalia squinted through her fingers and noticed the light was not empty. Ghostly beings were around the car. Beautiful, strong, and powerful beings. Were these angels?

“Where are we?” Amalia asked Jesus.

“We’re in a room in the haunted house.”

“I know that. I mean, what is this room?”

“It’s a room that enables you to see what you can’t normally see.”

“And what am I seeing?”

“Keep looking.”

Amalia tried, but the light was too bright. However, ever so slowly her eyes adjusted, and she made out some buildings, trees, cars… Wait! This was her street! That was her house! And that was her car! Was she back home? But no, she could still see and feel the train car. And Jesus was still holding her hand. So… if she wasn’t at home, this must be a replica. Why was it here? To show her that she was surrounded by invisible angels when at home? That made sense. The Bible said that God used angels to minister to His people. Then this was a good thing, and she relaxed. As she did so, she began to hear voices. The ghostly beings – the angels – began to call to her.

“We are here to serve you. What do you want? We can give you comfort when you’re troubled. We can protect you when you stumble. We can fill you with love. We accept you just as you are. You don’t need to change anything. Just reach out to us. We are here.”

She began to reach out, but Jesus stopped her. Confused, she asked, “Why can’t I reach out to them? They don’t seem evil. They actually look good. Aren’t they angels?”

He frowned in warning. “Don’t let their appearances fool you. They are not angels. They are 100% evil. They have only evil planned for you.”

“But how could something so beautiful be evil? How could love and acceptance be bad?”

“It’s all designed to take your eyes of Me, to deceive you, and then to destroy you. I can – and do – give you all those things. But not in the way or timing they do. You have the choice, though. You can choose them, or you can choose Me. You can’t have both.”

Put that way, Amalia had no trouble choosing. “Jesus, I want You.”

Suddenly the lights flickered, and in that flickering, all the beautiful creatures became hideous. Gaping mouths, grotesque features, screeching voices. Amalia shuddered.

“Now you see the ugliness inside them,” came a soft whisper.

Grateful for His warning, and even more grateful that she had heeded it, she squeezed His hand. The harsh light returned, and they continued going through the room. It became easier to ignore the calls as she knew them for what they really were, but still, Amalia was glad to see the end of the room approaching. Except there was no door in the wall. How would they get out of this room if there was no door?

As she tried to puzzle it out, a sound distracted her. A kind of like a roar, almost like a bear or lion or strong wind, was slowly growing stronger as if something was heading towards her. She looked around, trying to locate the source, but couldn’t see anything. She didn’t know why, but she knew she didn’t want to meet the cause of the roar. Door or no door, she had to leave. Now, before it got to her. She pulled on Jesus’ hand and said, “Jesus, get me out of here.”

“I will at the right time.”

As far as she was concerned, this was the right time. But she knew Jesus well enough to know He was going to do what He was going to do. She reached to her hat with her free hand, and focused on its comforting presence.

A few minutes later, the roar subsided, and she heard a high, squeaky voice calling to her. “Come here, Amalia. Let me show you something.”

Amalia shuddered. “No, I’m staying in the car.”

“I can come to you, if you want. All you have to do is ask.”

Amalia shook her head. “No, no, I don’t want you here. Go away.”

A deeper, colder voice broke in. “I told you she wouldn’t invite you in. You’re going to have to get her to come out.”

“How do I do that?”

“Oh, there are a number of ways. Confusion, fear, enticement, intimidation, and lies to name a few.”

“I’ve tried some of that. Why didn’t it work? I used my most enticing voice,” whined the squeaky voice.

The voices continued as if they didn’t realize she could hear them.

“Because she is holding on to Jesus, you fool. First you have to get her to let go.”

Amalia had no intention of doing that. She tightened her grip on Jesus’ hand as well as on her hat just as something flew past her face. She couldn’t see it, but felt the movement of the air and heard a soft buzz as it passed. A bee? In here?  Amalia had a fear of bees, especially angry ones, ever since she had been stung by one when she was a child. If this bee was lost, it was quite possible that it was angrily trying to find it way out using its sense of smell. Amalia grew cold as she realized that the closest smell to a flower in this room was the conditioner in her hair. That meant the bee would be circling around her, getting angrier by the moment for not finding what it sought. What if it landed on her head? Could it get under her cap? She quickly took her cap off and held it tightly to her chest. She shook her head softly, then more vigorously. She heard another buzz, and then another. More than one bee? That was more than she could stand. She let go of Jesus’ hand to swat the air around her, hoping to bother them enough that they would decide to move on.

A victorious chuckle came from the darkness to her left. “See, I told you it would work. Now watch me get her to leave the car.”

Amalia closed her eyes, willing this ride to be over. She didn’t want to face that deep voiced being. But then she remembered that there was no door. Was she stuck in this room forever? With that thing? At least if they kept moving, they were going to get to the end eventually. If only they could move faster. Amalia clung to her hat with both hands, pulling from it as much reassurance from it she could. Jesus would protect her if she held on tight enough.

But then the unthinkable happened. They stopped.

She opened one eye to see why. A glowing being stood before them. He smiled when it saw her looking.

“Hi, Amalia.”

She felt herself inexplicably drawn to him.

“That’s right. Come to me. I’m not evil, like the lies about me say. I have power, and I can give you power too.”

“I don’t want power.” Amalia managed to say, yet deep inside she knew that wasn’t true. She did want power. She wanted the power to make more money. Enough to buy all those snow globes. She wanted power to make people like her. She wanted the power to make all the fighting in the world stop. She wanted the power to heal diseases. She caressed her hat as she imagined all the good she could do if she had that much power.

“See? Power can be a good thing in the hands of someone as good as you. Come on, I’ll teach you.”

Amalia was tempted. Getting out of the car for a few minutes wouldn’t be such a bad thing, would it? She was doing it for a good reason. Besides, she had her hat – the hat that had come to symbolized Jesus – so she knew He would be with her. Hadn’t He said that He would no matter where she went?

Hesitating, she asked, “how do I know you won’t hurt me?’

“Look at me. Can something this beautiful be dangerous?”

Amalia had to agree. He was beautiful. Tall, strong, and glowing with vitality. But then she remembered the other glowing creatures earlier in this room. They had been beautiful too, until Jesus had revealed their real nature. She held her hat up to her mouth in both hands as she tried to discern the truth, but the hat gave her no answers. Maybe that meant it was okay to get out.

“Come on, Amalia. What do you say? Do you want to help the world be a better place?”

Deciding, she reached with one hand to unbuckle her seat belt.

“Stop.”

Startled, she looked up. Jesus was shaking His head at her. She had been so focused on her hat and that being that she had forgotten that He was sitting next to her. “Do not listen to him. He is deceiving you.”

“But isn’t what he offers a good thing?”

“Nothing he offers comes without strings. He will offer you the world, but take your soul.”

Amalia took her hand off the seat belt to clasp her hat to her chest again. Why hadn’t the hat warned her? Why was it still giving her peace?

“Because there’s nothing to be afraid of,” the glowing being said.

“Let go of the hat, Amalia.” Jesus said.

No! He couldn’t mean that! Didn’t He know how much she loved this hat? It made her feel connected to Him. It was a good thing. Why did He want her to remove it? It would be like removing God from her life. She shook her head and clasped the hat tighter.

“Let go of the hat, Amalia.” Jesus said again. “You have made it into something it is not.”

“What do You mean?”

“You have made it into Me.”

“That’s ridiculous,” laughed the glowing being. “It’s just a hat. You’re making too much of this.”

Amalia thought about that for a few minutes. Who was right? How could her hat be God? It was just a symbol. She looked down at it as she held it with both hands. Both hands. And then it hit her. Instead of holding on to Jesus, she was holding on to the hat. Somewhere along the way, she had started trusting the hat as if it was Jesus. Even though it had started off innocently enough, somehow the symbolic hat had become an idol. She had looked to it for peace and comfort and even guidance, instead of looking to the real Jesus. Guilt stricken, she admitted she had made her hat like a god.

“I’m sorry, Jesus. I don’t want A god. I want THE God. I want You.” She stretched out her 0711202130 (2)hand, intending to toss the hat away, but froze. She couldn’t make her fingers move. Her love for the hat made it too painful to let the hat go.  Wasn’t there a way to keep both God and the hat? She knew the difference now, so the hat wouldn’t be an idol anymore. Couldn’t she keep it just as a hat? It was so cute and comfortable.

“Sure, it’s just a hat. There’s nothing wrong with keeping it. Jesus is being too hard on you,” the being’s sugary voice washed over her.

“Amalia,” was all Jesus said.

Confused, she looked from one to the other. Why was this so hard? She knew she should be listening to Jesus. She wanted to obey Him. So why was she so tempted to listen to the other voices – both the one in front of her and the one inside her? And worse of all, the hat itself seemed to be pleading to stay as she gazed at it. Tormented by her indecision, she found she couldn’t move in either direction. She couldn’t drop the hat, nor could she pull in her arm.

“Keep the hat, Amalia,” the being whispered. “It’s okay. Jesus knows how much you love it. And He’s all about love, isn’t He?”

“Yes, I mean no.” Confusion and anxiety continued to grow until she thought she was going to break. “Jesus, help me!” she cried out.

“Jesus, help me,” the being mimicked in a sarcastic tone. “He’s not going to …”

“Amalia,” Jesus said. “Look at Me.”

As soon as she did, confusion melted away. She knew which voice to listen to. But the other voices were so loud, still drawing her attention.

“Resist them,” Jesus said, “and they will go away.”

Amalia closed her eyes and focused on Jesus’ words. As hard as it was, she refused to think about the other voices. She refused to give in to their demands. After a while, she found she didn’t have to try as hard. The voices were diminishing, making it easy to stay focused on what Jesus had said. When they had totally disappeared, she cautiously opened her eyes. The being was gone. And so was her attachment to her hat. Easily letting it fall over the side of the car, she smiled. Jesus was infinitely better than any hat, even a cute faded teal one.

She looked at Him, full of shame for what she had done. But instead of the chastisement she deserved, she found Him smiling at her with pleasure. “Well done,” He said. The car gave a lurch and they started moving again. “Time to move on.”

“Yes, let’s get out of here,” Amalia answered, grabbing His hand. “I don’t want to ever face that being again.”

“I know, but you will. He’s not limited to just this room, and he is not going to give up trying to get you away from Me. And neither are all those other beings. But now you know what to do whenever he comes around.”

“Will resisting him always work?”

“Yes. The amount of effort it will take may vary, but in the end, he must leave. The same is true for his servants.”

Amalia leaned against Jesus, both hands holding His. Eyes now fully focused on Him, she didn’t look back as the car went around a corner and through a door, leaving the harsh light and a small hat behind.

 

 


The story behind the story:

When I was a new Christian, I bought a silver cross to represent my new faith. I was so excited about Jesus that I wore that cross day and night, never taking it off. One day, about a year later, I looked at it with dismay. It had become so shapeless I could barely discern that it had ever been a cross. I couldn’t wear it like that, so I took it off. Soon I had numerous experiences with fear, such as hearing a noise and worrying about someone breaking into my house. Each time I reached for my cross, and felt unprotected when it wasn’t there.  It didn’t take long to realize that I was looking to the cross for proof of God’s presence and promise, instead of trusting His word. In a way, my cross had become an idol. It’s so easy rely on the tangible instead of the intangible, and the transfer of faith is so subtle we don’t always realize it’s happening. That must be one reason the Israelites had so much trouble staying away from idols. My experience with that small silver cross taught me a lesson and I have been careful ever since to make sure my faith remains where it should and not on any object.

As for the glowing beings in my story, I’m still learning.

 

Scriptures:

James 4:7  Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

1 Peter 5:8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

2 Cor 11:14-15 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

Rev 12:9 The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

Exodus 34:17 Do not make any idols.

Lev 19:4  Do not turn to idols or make metal gods for yourselves. I am the LORD your God.