Turn Back to God? I Never Left.

Turn Back to God? 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: 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.

 

I Don’t Think I Will Do This Again

On her way out of town, she stopped for a breakfast sandwich at a popular fast food restaurant. There weren’t many cars ahead of her which was good because she was kind of in a hurry. Not a big hurry, but enough so that she couldn’t afford any long delays.

She gave her order and drove up. Two cars in front of her, three cars behind her. As she looked at the car right behind her, a thought flashed through her head. “You could pay for their order. It would be a surprise and a blessing for them.”

She had heard of people doing this but she had never done it before, nor had she ever been on the receiving end. I should do it, she thought.

But she soon had second thoughts as she wondered what the process would be. Would the cashier know what she wanted to do? Would she or he know how to do it? What would the people in the car behind her think? Would everyone think she was a fool? It seemed like such a dumb idea.

The line moved up and she began getting nervous. Her turn to pay would be next and she still hadn’t decided what to do. Fear began to rise in her as she wondered if she would even be able to vocalize what she wanted to do. All her life people seemed to have trouble understanding her and many times it was because she had trouble finding the right words to use. She never could figure out why something that came so easy for other people came so hard for her. Maybe she should just forget it.

Yet the thought had come to her. And that thought had never come to her before. What if it was God? She couldn’t just dismiss it. She had to obey it just in case.

The car ahead of her pulled ahead and she pulled up to the cashier’s window.

“$5.28,” the cashier said.

As she handed her debit card to the cashier, she blurted out, “I want to pay for the order of the car behind me, too.”

The cashier looked at the computer and said, “It’ll be $14.27. Still want to do it?”

Nodding, she thought how a year ago she would have choked on the amount. But the healing God had been doing in her throughout the last year, including her emotional attachment to her money, was evident as the amount today didn’t even cause her to raise her eyebrow.  What did raise her eyebrow was the cashier’s request to someone out of sight for a key. Then she walked a few feet away from the register and waited. After what felt like ten minutes but was probably closer to thirty seconds, the cashier came back to the window and explained that she needed a manager to enter a key in order to use the same card twice. A man walked over, presumably the manager, punched something into the machine, then walked away.

She looked behind her. This was delaying everyone. Now there were more than five cars IMG_20180522_215334342_HDRback there. If she had known this would cause a delay for the other people in line, she would never have done it. Feeling very self-conscience, she took her card as the cashier finally handed it to her and drove forward. Picking up her meal, she took one more glance behind her. By now the people in that car would know their meal had been paid for.  What were they thinking?

It doesn’t really matter, she told herself. I did what I thought God wanted me to do. That’s all that I need to be concerned about. But I don’t think I’m going to do this again.

That night, when she returned home, she told her husband of her experience as she opened the mail. He laughed and said he’d done it a few times, and even had been the recipient a time or two. Looking inside the envelope, she was surprised to see a check made out in her name from a medical office. The note said it was reimbursement for a payment she had made months before that insurance had later also paid. She couldn’t remember even making that payment. What surprised her even more was the amount on the check – $142, which was ten times what she had paid that morning for the other car’s order. She had heard of the tenfold law – ‘give and it will be given back to you tenfold’ – but also knew it was not found in the Bible. There was a thirtyfold, sixtyfold, even a hundredfold, but not tenfold. She puzzled over the amount until it dawned on her. God was making sure she connected the check to the meal she had paid for that morning. He knew the struggle she had gone through and yet had chosen to obey in spite of her doubts. This check was His way of saying, “Well, done!” Amazing!

God is My Defender

I heard those words repeatedly over the course of a few weeks.

“… your God, who defends his people.” Is 51:22

“This is what the LORD says, “See, I will defend your cause…” Jer 51:36

“We do not need to defend ourselves…” Dan 3: 16

“Do not worry about how you will defend yourselves…” Luke 12:11

OK, I thought. Must be a new lesson. Sounded good to me. I knew no one could be a better defender than the Almighty God who loved me. And it was always good when He wanted to do something for me.

So I watched for opportunities in which I would normally try to defend myself to practice this new lesson. They came more often than I would have guessed. Little things, but frequent enough to give me the time to get good at keeping my mouth shut.

“I’ve got this!” I finally felt one day.

“Really? Then it’s time.”

Time for what, I wondered.

“Would you come to my office please?” The principal didn’t sound too happy. Oh, no, I thought. What did I do now? Turns out a parent had made some complaints and wanted a meeting to discuss them, with the principal in attendance. The meeting was set for the following day.

All night I wondered what the complaints were. I searched my memory for any indication that any parent had been upset with me. Nothing. I had no clue which parent it was or what this parent was going to say.

“Remember, I am your defender. Do not say anything. Let Me defend you.”

“Aallll riiiight,” I said slowly, stretching out the sounds as I considered the cost. If I didn’t say anything, if I didn’t give my side, how would the principal know what the truth was? I would look bad, and may even be disciplined for something I didn’t do. At the very least, I would probably look like a fool for not responding. But I knew I had heard from God. And if He said don’t talk, I wouldn’t talk.

“God is my defender. God is my defender. God is my defender,” I chanted quietly the next afternoon as I made my way down two hallways to the principal’s office.

As I entered the principal’s office, I was shocked at who I saw in the other chair. My parent volunteer! The one who had been helping out in my classroom for a couple of weeks! I could feel the knife beginning to prick my back.

“Have a seat,” the principal said. Then he turned to the lady. “OK. You go first. What are your concerns?”

As she rattled off everything under the sun from rudeness to teaching sex education to the boys in her bathroom, I sat there stunned, probably with my mouth hanging open. What? Where was she getting this? Why was she doing this? Nothing, absolutely nothing she said had any truth in it!

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I wanted so badly to tell the principal that it wasn’t true! But I just kept hearing, “God is my defender.” So I remained quiet.

When she finally stopped, the principal asked her, “Are you finished?”

She nodded, then glared at me. The principal turned to look at me. I thought he was going to ask me something, but then he seemed to change his mind. He turned back to the lady.

“Let me tell you about this teacher,” he began. “She is one of the best teachers here at this school. She is honest, and has the highest integrity. She is…” and he continued singing my praises for several minutes! When he got done, all I could do was marvel at God’s faithfulness. I didn’t have to defend myself, God had the principal do it!

After the principal dismissed the parent, he told me not to worry about anything. As I left his office, I may have looked like any other teacher walking from one place to another. But inside, I was shouting and praising and dancing down that hallway – to the amazing God who prepares us beforehand and who keeps His word!

Give To Those Who Ask? Really?

“You want what?” I couldn’t believe my ears.

Back in my early years of teaching, furniture other than student desks was very hard to come by. Teachers scraped and scrimmaged every piece they could find to provide for their storage needs. This included book shelves. And now the teacher across the hall, who’s room was almost wall to wall with bookshelves, had come into my room and asked me for one of the few bookshelves I had. And not just any one. My best one. Solid wood, painted my favorite shade of blue, I actually took joy in seeing it every day.

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I was about to say, “No way!” when I remembered what God had been teaching me recently in Matthew 5:42. “Give to those who ask, and do not turn away from those who want to borrow from you.” So far the lessons had been easy. Give a cup of water here, soda money there. But my book shelf? To someone who already had more than I did? Wait just a minute! Surely He didn’t mean to give something like this!

“Give to those who ask.”

Did she ask? Yes, I had to admit, she did. But she already had enough!

“Do not turn away…”

“But, God! You can’t mean that in this case! That’s my favorite book shelf!”

I tried convincing the teacher to take a brown one instead. But no, she wanted the blue one because it matched the other shelves in her room. In exchange, she would give me a rickety brown shelf that matched nothing.

If this is a test, I thought, why couldn’t it be for something different – like, say, one of my learning games? Or my new coffee mug? But my bookshelf? The one that took me years to get?

I looked at her. I looked at the shelf. And I thought, “God, I don’t want to do this. But You said to give. So I will.”

The teacher happily got her blue bookshelf, and I unhappily looked at the brown one she left. Following Jesus did not always feel good. But I wanted Jesus more than I wanted that blue shelf, and so I made the best of that old brown shelf.

Not long after that, another teacher was re-organizing her room and asked me if I wanted one of her old shelves. I jumped on it eagerly and almost ran to her room to get it.

It was a wooden blue shelf! Just like the one I had given to the teacher across the hall! Only the paint job was actually in better condition!

“Wow, God!” I thought. “Following You is amazing! Thank You!”

But the story doesn’t end there. Within the next few weeks, I was given several more wooden shelves that matched that blue one! Luke 6:38 came true right before my eyes: “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

I think I got an A on that test!