Tag Archives: Runaway

“Return”

“For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.”
2 Chronicles 30:9b (NRSVCE)

A few years ago I wrote a play and the entire play was created out of one simple truth: At some point, you have to return home. From there I reached out and plucked a leaf off the tree of tales about a young boy who ran away from his true love and stayed away for many years. When tragedy strikes just over a decade later he has no choice but to return home, and with it he must face the thing he’s been running from for so long.

The theme of “returning” is a big one across the Great Story. There are so many stories in which people find themselves off in some kind of wilderness. Sometimes they place themselves there and sometimes they are there against their will, but somehow they eventually return in some fashion whether they are led, they are invited, they are forced by circumstance, or they simply choose to do so.

In today’s chapter we pick up the story of King Hezekiah who is trying to help his nation heal after years in which they’ve willfully wandered from the God of their ancestors and many find themselves in the wilderness of captivity. In yesterday’s chapter, Hezekiah had the Levites clean out the temple and prepare it to be used as it had been intended for the worship God. In today’s chapter he sends out a proclamation throughout the land, even to neighboring countries where people were living in exile and captivity. The proclamation simply asked people to do one thing:  return.  Hezekiah wanted all of the Hebrew people to come to Jerusalem for the biggest annual festival on the Hebrew calendar. The Passover feast celebrated God delivering their nation from slavery in Egypt.

Along my journey I’ve seen the theme of return play out in the lives of many people in many different ways. I’ve observed that we often abandon faith in God early in life. Sometimes it’s a willful choice out of disagreement with the faith institution of our childhood. Sometimes it’s prompted by pain or a tragic victimization of some kind. Sometimes it’s as simple as choosing to go our own way. So we wander, and often our spirits are stuck back in childhood. Then later in our life journey I observe people returning, not necessarily to an institution, but to God whom they find altogether different than those childhood memories of pain, anger, doubt, and frustration. Not because God has changed, but they have changed and with it their understanding and perceptions.

In today’s chapter the people of Judah returned for the Passover. Just as Joseph returned to his family. Just as David returned after years as mercenary in exile. Just as the remnant returned from Babylon in Nehemiah’s day. Just as the prodigal son returned in Jesus’ parable. Just as Peter returned after denying Jesus. Just as Jesus returned to the Father after His resurrection.

Just as….

No matter how far we may wander, no matter where we may roam, I’ve found that God’s Spirit is always whispering to our spirits:

“Return.”

 

Nowhere to Hide

So Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to the scribe Baruch son of Neriah, and as Jeremiah dictated, Baruch wrote on it all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them.
Jeremiah 36:32 (NIV)

Along my life journey I have taken a few willful detours. I chose to leave the path of following Jesus and, instead, struck out on my own way. It was during these detours that I learned the lesson of the prophet Jonah: You can’t actually escape from God because no matter where you run He’s already there. It’s like the lyrics to David’s psalm:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

In today’s chapter, Jehoiakim the King of Judah is spiritually on the run. Jehoiakim wanted nothing to do with God. He barred the prophet Jeremiah from the temple. He put layers of bureaucracy between himself and the prophet so that he wouldn’t have to listen to Jeremiah’s incessant messages telling the King to turn from his rebellious ways.

And so, Jeremiah dictates God’s message to his servant and scribe, Baruch. He then sends Baruch to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops at the temple. God’s favor appears to be on Baruch as he recites the words of the scroll and his message gets passed up the chain of command until he finally has an audience with the king.

King Jehoiakim’s hard heart, however, was unmoved. As the envoy reads the scroll, King Jehoiakim has each column cut from the scroll and thrown into the fireplace of his chamber. He then tries to have Jeremiah’s servant arrested. So Jeremiah repeats the message to Baruch so that a copy would survive, and he adds a prophetic prediction of the negative consequences Jehoiakim and his royal line will experience because of his willful choice to shun God.

In the quiet this morning I am thinking about King Jehoiakim. He also was experiencing the lesson of Jonah, the same reality I experienced on my rebellious detours on my life journey. You can’t really successfully run from God. No matter where you run, God’s already there. I can harden my heart. I can refuse to listen and willfully ignore the truth, but then I’m just like the child who puts a cardboard box over their head and thinks no one can see him.

 

The Prodigal’s Lesson for Parents

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 166...
Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1662–1669 (Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So [the prodigal son] got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
Luke 15:20 (NIV)

The struggle of parental control and rebellious children is as old as humanity itself and common to even the best of families. The particulars vary as well as the severity, but the path of fierce (and often foolish) independence is well trod by masses of young people escaping the tight grip of smothering (and often foolish) control.

It was while I was a young man working with youth that I first observed the fact that the prodigal’s Father did not go after his son. He didn’t spend a fortune chasing after the boy. He didn’t hire private detectives in the distant country to apprise him of his wasteful son’s dealings and whereabouts. He didn’t go chasing after the kid, confronting him, recounting the boy’s many poor choices and providing him with an itemized statement of all the pains and worry he’d caused. He didn’t seek out his son and demand that the boy return.

The father stayed home and let his son fail. He let his son squander the money and learn first hand what it is to be in need. He let the boy make terrible, self-seeking friends and learn just how trustworthy those types of friends are. He let his son go hungry and stand in pig slop until even the livestock feed began to appeal to him.

Sometimes children need to runaway. It’s part of their journeys and their stories. It teaches them priceless lessons that parents can never provide and their children will never hear. But that does not mean the father was uncaring or unconcerned. In Jesus story, the father sees his son coming from a distance. The father had been watching. The father had been waiting. The father’s eyes had, countless times, turned up the road from the homestead – each glance hoping to catch sight of his lost son coming home.

Jesus story was intended to illustrate Father God’s attitude towards foolish sinners who make tragic life mistakes. Foolish sinners like me. God has been so patient, gracious and forgiving with me in my foolhardy trips (more than one) to distant countries to squander what I’d been given. It would be hypocritical of me not to afford my own children the grace that Father God has showered me, one of His many prodigal.

Peace Amidst the Crazy

WildernessOnce again David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him….
1 Samuel 23:4 (NIV)

The story of the outlaw David and King Saul continues. Saul and the army of Israel are on the march looking for David and his rag tag contingent of outcasts. In chapter 22 David had about 400 men, in today’s chapter his numbers had grown to about 600. Whenever there is good intelligence of David’s whereabouts Saul goes after him. David and his men are constantly on the move, camping out from place to place in the remote areas of Judah like the picture in this post. He even wrote a song about this specific period of time. It’s known today as Psalm 54. I would give it a better title like “Backroad Blues.”

Beneath the story line, we continue to see an underlying theme of contrast between David and Saul. Consider that in today’s chapter we find David constantly looking to God for guidance:

  • [David] inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” (vs 2)
  • Once again David inquired of the Lord (vs 4)
  • [David asked ] “Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? Lord, God of Israel, tell your servant.” (vs 11)
  • Again David asked [God], “Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?” (vs 12)

Even the song David wrote at this moment in time has, as it’s central lyric, a clear expression of David’s reliance on God’s provision:

Surely God is my help;
    the Lord is the one who sustains me

Contrast this with Saul who continues to go his own way. He seeks out spies. He depends on rumors. He seeks out any solid intelligence he can gather about David’s whereabouts. The one thing that that we never read is, “and Saul inquired of the Lord.”

As I look back across my own life journey, I can see God’s hand at work guiding my path. As I have written on more than one occasion, I am nowhere near the place in life I had envisioned when I set out on this faith journey 35 years ago. And yet, all along the way I have actively sought divine guidance in choosing my path. Even my restless wanderings from the straight and narrow path included many conversations with God. I am thoroughly convinced that I am right in the place where I am supposed to be, though I don’t have the time nor space in this blog post to share all of the reasons for my assurance. Buy me a cup of coffee or a beer sometime and I’ll be happy to tell you my stories.

Today, I am reminded of the person I wish to be. I wish to be a person of simple and active faith like David. It’s doesn’t always lead to comfortable places or situations, but I have found that it always leads to a place of inner peace amidst stressful circumstance. I would rather be on the run, hiding in the caves of En Gedi with the assurance of God’s presence, then living in a comfortable palace without Him.

Chapter-a-Day 1 Peter 5

from hqas via Flickr

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7 (NLT)

The other night we were visiting with friends at their house. One of their children was angry over a host of childish issues and, while we were there, he decided to run away from home in anger. Wendy and I love this child and have watched him grow up. He’s like a member of our own family. It was interesting for us to watch him stew in his own misery convinced that nobody cared for the injustice of his life. We commended his parents later for not overreacting to his very public act of packing in front of guests. I especially appreciated when his mother lovingly reminded him to grab his pillow and a sleeping bag because he’d probably need it sleeping out in the cold that night.

I love 1 Peter 5:7 for it’s direct simplicity. I have leaned on this verse countless times, reminding myself of it over and over and over again as I’ve gone through particularly difficult stretches of life’s journey. There are so many times in life when we feel alone and isolated in whatever situation we find ourselves. “Life is unfair. Life is unjust. God doesn’t care. In fact, maybe there’s no God at all if this is the way life is!”

1 Peter 5:7 is an antidote for moments of personal crisis. I have found two distinct encouragements in the verse. First, I need to act to cast my cares and worries on God. This requires me not to keep my destructive thoughts and emotions to myself but to take them to God. I have talked to God, I have screamed at God, I have whispered desperate prayers, and I have wept before God like a baby. The act of physically and audibly getting your cares out is cathartic and healing.

The unburdening of soul through conversation with God makes room for the second part of 1 Peter 5:7, which is the important reminder that God cares. I believe this to be true, though there have been very specific moments along the journey that I’ve seriously questioned it. A petulant child even in an adult body, I have more than once fussed at Father God about His injustice and uncaring attitude as I spiritually packed my bag to run away.

After giving his parents and guests a good dose of teen-aged attitude coupled with the silent treatment while having a snack for the road, our young friend must have thought better of his decision to run away. Without saying a word he headed to bed rather than the front door. Someday he will look back and realize how silly it was allowing a momentary feeling of injustice to let him feel so uncared for when the larger truth of the matter was he was raised in a loving home with two parents who care for him more deeply than he could imagine.

And so this runaway has found the same to be true with Father God. Once I unburden my soul and get out my anger, fear, anxiety and pain I am ready for a dose of truth; God loved me so much that He sacrificed His Son for me. He cares for me and loves me more deeply than I can possibly imagine despite my refusal to see it in the moment.

Today, as I write this post, I am able to see it clearly and am grateful for all the times Father God has smiled quietly to Himself as He lovingly reminded me not to forget my pillow and my sleeping bag