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.

The Old Man and the Child  (based on a dream)

 

The old man sat alone. He didn’t care about this family gathering. He didn’t know why they insisted on including him. He just wanted to be left alone.

He sat in his chair, apart from everyone, and wished they would go away. Let them have their life. They’ll find out soon enough.

He took no pleasure in people.  Jobs, friends, family – all had failed him. The constant disappointments had knocked him down so many times he no longer had the strength or desire to rise again. Life was hard. But it was even harder with people. Better to be alone than to risk more pain.

So he sat in his chair, across the room from everyone else, daring with his demeanor for anyone to approach him.

And most respected his wish. They watched him from a distance, and discussed their concerns with each other. He knew they did because he could hear them. Occasionally someone would approach him. “Do you want anything to eat?” “Are you cold?” “How are you doing?”

Only they didn’t really want to know how he was doing. They didn’t really want to connect to the real him. To know him deep down. To accept him as he was, and not in comparison to their idea of how he should be.

Until the child.

She was young, only a couple of years old. Not old enough to read people’s body language. And so she ignored his grumpy look. She stood there, holding on to the arm of his chair with both of her tiny hands, and looking up at him.

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He tapped his finger in annoyance where it lay a little further up the arm than her hands. She tapped her finger. He frowned. Was it a coincidence?

He tapped two fingers. She tapped two fingers. It hadn’t been a coincidence.

He lifted his hand and put it back down. She lifted her hand and put it back down. He was intrigued now.

He put both hands on the chair arm, and wiggled his fingers. She wiggled her fingers, both hands already being on the arm.

He lifted both hands and crossed them before putting them back down. She frowned in concentration as she lifted both hands and crossed them, struggling just a bit with her developing coordination, to put them back down just like his. “Hmmm….” He nodded his head. “She’s okay. Smart.”

He felt a growing connection with her. Here was someone more interested in joining him and what he was doing, than in him joining her and what she was doing. Maybe he could take a chance one more time.

He lifted his hand, and smiled at her.

 

1 Peter 4:8  Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

When You Pull Me Closer, I Come to Life

The words from one of TobyMac’s songs floated through her mind… “When you pull me closer, I come to life…”

“That is so true,” she thought.  “Spiritually, I’m easily lulled to sleep. But when God calls me, my spirit jumps and I do come alive.” Even though she could sometimes get into His presence through her own efforts, she knew ultimately she was totally dependent on God. Especially when she was as tired as she was now.

 

Later that day, as she gazed at her newborn granddaughter sleeping in her nursery bed, those words returned.  Turning to look at her daughter sitting in the chair next to her, she said, “It’s just like Ryn.”

“What is?” her daughter answered distractedly.

“That song… ‘when you pull me closer, I come to life’… that we heard earlier today. It’s just like Ryn. She lays sleeping in her bed but when you call her, she wakes up. And she’s totally dependent on you going to her because she can’t come to you. It’s the same with God. We are totally dependent on Him to come to us because we aren’t capable of going to Him. And when He calls us, we wake up. We come alive.”

“Yeah, OK,” mumbled her daughter, obviously impressed with her insight.

But that didn’t bother her. She had already turned back to the sleeping infant, enjoying her smallest moves and sounds – while God lovingly enjoyed all three of them.

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Getting Closer

Previously:

You Want to Be a What?

Wrestling with God (continued from You Want to be a What?)

Caught in the Middle, a Continuation

Under Pressure

and now… Getting Closer

Something was definitely wrong, she thought. He’s acting really strange tonight. Even stranger than he had the last few weeks, after she had heard from God to give him time. And she had. But now he was acting cold and distant.

True, he had traveled the hour to visit the local prayer meeting she had started attending. And he had been his normal endearing self to the others who were there. But when it was time to leave, he had said goodbye to her abruptly and without much feeling.

Now she was getting ready for bed and wondering what went wrong. Did she hear from God wrong and this was all normal as he prepared to leave? Was their relationship over?

“God,” she cried. “I know I gave him to you. But You also said he wasn’t going to be a priest. I have no idea what’s going on. And it hurts. Take care of him whatever’s happening.”

Just then there was a knock on her door. She glanced at the clock. 10 PM. Who would be IMG_20180421_203931566coming to her house at this time of night? Scared to open the door, she tried to peek out the window. There weren’t many lights, but she managed to see the car parked in the driveway behind her car. Could it be? It looked like his car! What could he be doing here? It had been an hour since he left and she was already in her PJs. She couldn’t let him see her like this!

“Hello?” she heard him call. “It’s me. Let me in.”

Dreading what he might have come to tell her – sure he was breaking up with her – she let him in.

“Why are you here? I’m already dressed for bed,” she protested.

“You look beautiful to me any way you dress,” he answered with a smile.

They sat in the den and he told her that as he was on his way home, he had begun thinking about the evening and didn’t like how it ended. So he had decided to come back to talk with her about it.

 

So she took a deep breath and prepared herself to be let down, certain he would explain how their relationship had to end.

“I’ve been thinking about this a long time,” he said. “I don’t really know how to say it.”

Here it comes, she thought, looking down at her lap.

“I love you.”

What? She was definitely not expecting that. She looked up into his face.

He was smiling but there was fear? uncertainty? along with the smile.

“I love you,” he said again. “I know the seminary is something we need to deal with, but for right now I want you to know that I love you.”

Unable to speak, she just stared at him.

“I don’t really know how you feel about this. I was afraid to tell you.”

She smiled. But then the smile froze on her face as fear rose up inside her. Now that she was faced with the moment she had waited so long for, she didn’t know what to say. Did she love him? Did she really love him – or was she just imagining her feelings all these months, building them up into something they weren’t? She felt so broken inside, could she love him or anyone? Was she even capable of love?

“I don’t know if I can love you. I don’t know if I can love anyone.” she finally said.

Her response was not what he expected, but he accepted it, as he had accepted her from the beginning. They talked for hours about her fears and feelings, about his fears and feelings, and about their possible future together. Then they prayed. “God, we don’t know where this is going. But we thank you for the opportunity we had tonight to really share our hearts with each other. We place this relationship in Your hands. And we trust that You will continue to guide us. ”

And He did. For the next six months as seminary loomed closer (those struggles are a whole ‘nother story), for the following four years of their courtship, and for the next 33 years and counting of their marriage – His amazing love was with them every step of the way.

The end. Or the beginning depending on how you look at it. 🙂

Under Pressure

Continuing the story begun in You Want to Be a What?, continued in Wrestling with God (continued from You Want to be a What?) and in Caught in the Middle, a Continuation

She listened in amazement, then frustration.

So, he’s under pressure about this priesthood thing? Really?

It had been several months since he informed her that he thought he was being called to be a priest.

She had spent those months rotating between hopeful trust in God, depression, and anger. It was affecting her whole life, and he was surprised to be feeling pressure?

“What kind of pressure?” she asked him.

“I don’t want to be a priest.”

“So don’t be one.”

“But what about the call I feel?”

“Then be one.”

And around and around they went. It was causing a strain on their relationship. She didn’t know how far to let him into her heart or how to look at him. Romantically? Platonically? She wished Jesus would hurry up and settle this, or help them to get past it and just enjoy their friendship.

Eventually she started sensing that he was pulling away from her, like he didn’t want to IMG_20180420_185546747spend time with her anymore. He didn’t explain himself, or even acknowledge it, so she went once again to the Lord about it.

“Oh, Lord,” she called. “I have a question.”

“Go on.”

“Why is he acting like he doesn’t want me around anymore?”

“He’s afraid of his feelings for you. He needs time to adjust. Give him time. Don’t become impatient with him. Keep loving him and he’ll be back.”

“Does this have anything to do with the seminary?”

“Yes. He’s afraid of leaving. He’s afraid that he might become too deeply involved with you to want to leave.”

That makes sense she thought. But she didn’t like it. What about her?  What if she became too deeply involved and didn’t want him to leave? God had said he wasn’t going to be a priest. So maybe she should just do what He said – be patient and wait it out. Or maybe she had been hearing wrong all along and he really was going to become a priest. Maybe he was hearing from God and she was only hearing from herself.

She sighed. He had made one short trip to the seminary already, and another longer one was scheduled for the next summer. How in the world was she going to navigate these next six months?

to be continued…

Caught in the Middle, a Continuation

A continuation of You Want to Be a What? and Wrestling with God (continued from You Want to be a What?)

They went on vacation with her family. A three week long vacation entailing well over 2,000 miles. Lots of miles with little to do than drive and talk. And sleep if you weren’t the one driving. Visiting relatives on both sides, answering questions… surely during this time God will make His plans clear for us, she thought. At least clarify things.

But she was wrong.

It just brought them closer. And yet, he kept talking about seminary.

So she came back from the trip just as confused as when she left.

She called on God again.IMG_20180420_123724358

“Lord, we need to talk again,” she said.

“What do you want to know?”

“I want to know about him.

“I already told you that.”

“When will he know?”

“When it’s time.”

“Why do you speak in riddles? Why aren’t you more informative?”

“It’s better this way.”

Exasperated, she gave up and they changed the subject.

 

The next time she drove to his house, she asked him about their relationship.

“You help me a lot,” he said. “Like a soothing ointment on my pain.”

“You mean the pain after your previous girlfriend left you?”

“Yes, that pain.”

That made her feel good. But then she thought what will happen when he doesn’t need me anymore?

So she asked him. “Is that all?’

“Well, our relationship is completely different than any I’ve ever had before. It’s lively and refreshing and perfect.”

“But you’re still going to be a priest?”

“I don’t know. I think so. I’m going to spend some time at a seminary next month. I should know after that.”

God had told her to relax and enjoy her time with him. But how could she with this hanging over their heads – her head? She felt like something was going on and she was caught in the middle. He says he probably will be a priest, God says he’s not going to be a priest. Who should she believe? What she could see? Or what she couldn’t see? If only her emotions weren’t so caught up in this dilemma.

to be continued, again…

You Want to Be a What?

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She looked at him with disbelief. Did he just say what she thought he had said?

“But what about us?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he answered. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

She wasn’t happy. More than that, she was hurt. After months of getting to know each other, they were inseparable. She spent most weekends with his family to be close to him. And, when he could, he traveled the hour distance to her house to surprise her. She had even begun thinking this might lead to marriage one day. And now this!

“It’s not like I’m leaving tomorrow,” he continued. “We can still spend time together.”

“Doing what? Are we allowed to even hold hands anymore?”

“I don’t know,” he repeated.

She tried to sort through all the feelings flowing through her. Hurt was way up there on the list, along with a feeling of betrayal. She had finally begun to open up to someone, and now God was taking him away from her.

“How do you know He’s really calling you to do this?” she asked him.

“I prayed about it with a friend. He saw me pulling at a white collar around my neck. I think that means God wants me to go to seminary, but not immediately. He wants me to relax first.”

“What does that even mean – relax first?”

“It means to not worry about it right now.”

“That may be fine with you, but what about me? How do I date a future priest? Do we hold hands? Kiss? That just seems wrong.”

“I don’t know. Let’s just take this one day at a time.”

They parted, neither of them happy, and both wrapped in their own thoughts.

All the way home she thought about what he had said. A priest? Him? Now? Was this some kind of game God was playing with their hearts? If it had been another girl that was threatening their relationship, she could fight. But fight God? How does anyone fight God?

“Lord,” she finally prayed, “I don’t know why You’re doing this. But I know you love us and want what’s best for us. So although I don’t understand, and really don’t like it, I will trust You.”

Trust is one thing, she thought. But the pain is another. And this pain isn’t going anywhere.

The following days were hard as she tried to wrap her head around what God may be doing and what her place in it was. It seemed mean for Him to bring them together, only to separate them. She struggled to maintain her trust in God through the waves of pain, betrayal, sadness, loss, confusion, and anger that flooded her.

A few nights later, as she cried her way through her prayers yet again, she sought a word from the Lord, something to comfort her or to give her hope. But she heard nothing.

“Fine, Lord,” she finally said. ” The most important thing is that You are pleased with me in all this so if this is what You want, then so be it.”

He smiled at her, understanding in His eyes.

“That doesn’t help,” she told Him. “I was really hoping that You’d say it was just a test, that I passed and I could have him back.”

He just continued smiling at her and she knew He knew what He was going to do and He wasn’t going to change His mind. And He wasn’t going to tell her either.

Well then, maybe she wasn’t ready to hear those plans. Maybe she didn’t want to hear those plans. Maybe she should just ignore this whole thing, pretend it didn’t happen and just keep on dating this might-be-a-priest guy. After all, he did say God had told him to relax. And God wasn’t telling her anything.

“OK, Lord,” she said. “I know You’re going to be amazing in all this, but if You won’t tell me anything, and he doesn’t feel we need to change anything at this point, then I’m going to keep dating him until You take him or say otherwise.”

And so she did. Or tried to.

to be continued

Slime Monster

Where did this feeling come from, she wondered. This warm, want-to-hug-people feeling?

She had never wanted to hug anyone before. As a child, she had been forced to hug every relative hello, regardless of who they were and how she felt. That was not OK with her. In fact, she hated it. But she did it dutifully. She learned to see hugging people as a chore and to bury any feelings involved in it.

But now…she WANTED to hug people.

People in her family.

People in her church.

People at her prayer meeting.

People who befriended her.

People she knew.

People she didn’t know.

Even her pesky little sisters.

Where had this huggy part of her come from?

Then one day she read Romans 5:5. “…for we know how dearly God loves us and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.”

Ahh! So that’s where it comes from, she thought! I’m so full of God’s amazing love that it oozes out of me every time I get near someone. I’m like some kind of slime monster!

And that was just fine with her.

 

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I’m an Ear

She thought about what she had just heard. That some people have a gift for listening to others.

Was listening a gift? Isn’t that something anyone could do? That everyone should do?

Evidently not. Some people seem to be gifted the opposite way – they could talk about anything at anytime with anybody. In fact, she had noticed, they were so busy talking, they barely heard what anyone else said. If they even gave them time to get a word in. And they seemed intent on making their thoughts known regardless if anyone was actually listening or not.

She was not like that.

For some reason people thought she had this gift of listening.

“OK, Lord,” she prayed. “If listening is a gift, and if You’ve given it to me, I ask that You send me people who need someone to listen to them. I’m willing to be Your ear.”

So He did.

For the next three days, people came to her house and ended up talking at length to her. She listened to their problems, concerns, doubts, and fears. And they each left saying, “I don’t know why I told you all this. I didn’t mean to.”

But she did. God was answering her prayer.

“Am I really going to be an ear for Jesus?” she wondered excitedly. She thought of all the people who needed someone to just listen to them. She thought of the comfort and strength listening might bring them. Yes, this truly is a gift the body of Christ needs.  “Wow,” she thought. “I’m an ear for Jesus! What an amazing ministry this will be!”

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That’s My Dad!

As she read the Old Testament, and the various ways God dealt with the prophets and the Israelites, an idea slowly took form in her mind. That was not just God who did those things, it was her Dad!

The whole previous year, God had revealed His Fatherhood to her. And now she connected the God of the Israelites with the God who is her Father. But not just her Father – a parental figure who loved her and took care of her – but her Dad – who knew her intimately and who liked to hang out with her.

Wow!  She was blown away!

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It was her Dad who hid in the burning bush and parted the sea and rained down manna.

It was her Dad who appeared as fire and smoke and scared the Israelites.

It was her Dad who knocked over the walls of Jericho.

It was her Dad who sent the big fish after Jonah.

It was her Dad who had incredible conversations with the prophets.

And it was her Dad who did so many other amazing things!

Excited, she couldn’t wait to reread the Old Testament in this new light. It was like His dealing with people of long ago suddenly became more personal.

Looking up, grateful to the Holy Spirit for helping her understand a little bit more about God, she whispered, “There is none like You, my amazing Dad!”

He whispered back, “And there is none like you, my amazing daughter!”