A More Desirable God

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A few of my poetry books…I will not be separated from them! Now, I must determine which child should get them when I die…any takers?

Towards the end of December, a dear friend started me on a journey of prayer. Real prayer. Not just the casual God toss up: “Oh yeah, I said I’d pray for so and so…Dear God, help precious so and so today in Jesus name, amen.” My friend’s New Year’s resolution was prayer, and something pricked my heart and mind.

I wasn’t working anymore due to some silly discs in my lumbar region deciding to act up, so I thought I’d give prayer a serious effort, or as my favourite British television detectives would say, “Give it go, Cindy.” So I did. I am. And it’s changing me, shrinking the ME and teaching me to see the specific needs of others.

Another part of concentrated prayer is that it requires concentrated Bible study with an intensity and urgency I haven’t ever experienced. It’s a different urgency than that of teaching. As a teacher of all things literary, I examined short stories, novels, and poetry with an intensity bordering on obsession. I wanted to “KNOW” –I wanted a depth of understanding that would help me be a better teacher. I needed to be the best—to thoroughly grasp and grapple with T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” or the short stories of Flannery O’Connor. I spent hours poring over texts and commentaries; requesting books from the library that were in storage for lack of use became a badge of honor for me. I wanted to be an expert in something.

Funny, the more I studied, the more I realized that becoming an “expert” was an impossible achievement. Besides, was it really so important that I understood Eliot’s poetry? How was it relevant in my daily life journey? And more importantly, was I giving God’s Word equal attention and persistence?

I’m in a place of stillness right now, which is very conducive to both prayer and in-depth Bible study. I’ve been going through Luke as a continuing review of the Gospels. Since kindergarten, I’ve been learning about Jesus. I remember the large pictures of Jesus with

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You can get these at Etsy! Vintage! Ah, Google is amazing.

the children. Soft, wavy, long brown hair, brown–sometimes blue eyes, and a very clean beard. He was often dressed in a white robe tied with some sort of rope—kind of like a monk’s robe. There were also pictures of David with his slingshot, and a young Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel was actually about 81-83 years old when he was tossed in with the carnivores), and of course, baby Jesus in the manger. I remember these stories, but when you’re a child, they are presented out of context with no connection or chronology provided. It’s easier for children that way, I guess. But now, 50 years later, it’s time for me to really KNOW the Gospels. I want to see how they each connect to each other, and how God uses different voices and perspectives to tell His story. It’s much more real and believable that way.

So Luke. An Antiochian. A physician who traveled with Paul, and who states in the first verses of his book that his purpose was to write a “complete narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. “ Luke 1:1-4. I’ll leave it to you do discover who Theophilus was. It was a fascinating rabbit trail to follow.

IMG_3117I have filled up one notebook so far and have just hit Luke 17. I follow the cross-references, look up the original Greek (I actually have The Complete Word Study Dictionary for the New Testament by Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D. It’s so awesome and fun!) I used to teach my students to study an author’s tone by looking at their word choices. Then I’d have them “slash” out the word to look at its nuances and connotations.

Here’s an example: knowledge/epignōsis/acknowledged/confirmation/truth: An acknowledged, confirmation of truth. Cool.

It’s fun…and turns a single chapter into an investigation of customs and Old Testament connections. It’s inductive, sorry Sherlock.

At the end of my first notebook, I got stuck on Luke 17:5. “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” Wowsers. Though they heard them teach and saw his miracles daily, they still had doubts—He wasn’t at all the warrior Messiah they had expected. They seemingly ignored Old Testament prophecies like the words of Isaiah 53 written almost 800 years before Christ: “He grew up before him like a tender shoot and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

By ignoring the prophecies, they had molded and shaped the Messiah into the god they needed at that moment—one who would free them from Roman oppression and give them back their Promised Land.

“Lord! Increase our faith!”

We do that, don’t we? Shape a god to fit our needs for the moment. I had a good think about this and created my own “god list.” I can’t use a capital “G” for god here because I’m not talking about the one true God—I’m talking about the one I want. The one I create for myself.

My desirable god:

  • Doesn’t care how I act as long as my good outweighs my bad.
  • Doesn’t allow tragedies to happen in the world, i.e. tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes…NATURE MUST BE IN HARMONY WITH MAN!
  • No more turmoil in the Middle East. No ISIS or Boko Haram or Bashar al-Assad’s…
  • No more cancer, or Zika, or AIDs, or heart disease, or DIABETES (for my Katie), or any of that awful stuff that erodes our health and sometimes our faith.
  • Gives health and wealth to my family and me as long as I stay within His boundaries most of the time. He should provide my family and me a sort of protection bubble.
  • Gives me the perfect job and house that includes an “open kitchen” with quartz countertops. And room for horses or alpaca. Or sheep.
  • Gives me enough money to travel the world (now peaceful since it’s ISIS-free).
  • I’d also like my new god to miraculously give me a longer neck and legs, and erase the minor tributaries running around my eyes, chin, and neck.

*Oh, an addendum: Please, please could this new god keep us from creating a political and social culture that allows people like Donald Trump to be an elected despot!!

Sure, it’s not an exhaustive list; I have more specific requests that are too personal for public consumption. Things about eradicating past mistakes as a woman, mother, wife, and even as a teacher…

As I look as my desirable god list, I see Eden. What once was and what God wanted us to maintain. Nature in harmony with man and itself. Man and woman in harmony with each other and their Creator—not just striving for an identity outside of what He has designed. We’d be secure in who we were created to be—secure in His love and perfection.

But like children are wont to do—we scramble after a different sort of life then what God intended.

Ultimately, He desired us to desire Him. I recently heard a great take on the concept of “relationship.” There is no relationship without choice. Even parenthood does not guarantee relationship—ask any parents with teenagers or adult children. Nor does marriage promise relationship—ask any man or woman who has gone through a divorce or who plods through a marriage lacking love. Relationship takes daily effort—putting love first and forgetting our need to be loved. Instead actively loving.

And so God—not my desirable god, but the one true God—gave His creation a choice. He loves without condition and waits for us to respond. He forgives, sacrificing Christ so we’d have a redeemer who waits for us to repent—or turn—so He can throw our sins as far away as the east is from the west (I think it’s somewhere in Australia).

Through my study of the Gospels, I gave up trying to create an idol god. I gave up my perceptions of who Jesus was and basked in the truth of who He is. I chose—and choose—relationship with Him as most valuable. Above all things.

Still I cry, “Increase my faith (Greek—pistis—conviction of truth)!” But it’s ok if I do ask because Jesus—the true God—provides the faith I need to move through even the darkest parts of this life journey.

 

 

Prodigal Dog: A Strange Parable

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Zoey “sleeping it off.”

Finally! Spring is here. Since this is only my second spring season in Northern Colorado (or NOCO, as the locals call it), I keep expecting some daffodils and tulips in March. My eyes aren’t used to winter brown when it should be spring green. But yesterday…yesterday was glorious! Virtually no wind and a warm sun moving the thermometer to 70 degrees.

So, I did what any native Coloradan would do: I put on my shorts and tee shirt (baring my oh so white legs) and harnessed my dog Zoey for a long walk.

I live east of Ft. Collins—about 10 miles east. The land around me is cluttered with a mixture of farms and tract homes. Horse farms, cattle farms, and sheep farms all lend their fragrance to what I call the NOCO aroma. My little tract home is close to a gravel trail that takes me past open fields and lots of fracking stations. Not beautiful, but the mountains are clearly visible to the west, and my soul leans towards their beauty during my walks.

Yesterday I wanted to wander “lonely as a cloud”(Wordsworth came to mind). I wanted to head away from civilization and breathe in a NOCO aroma-free day. Not exactly the Lake District Wordsworth was so fond of, but I could imagine.

Zoey wanted to wander, too. We headed straight south toward Greeley, but I decided I want to turn east and make a giant loop back to our neighborhood. As I pulled Zoey to my left side, she slid out of her harness—a new one that didn’t go around her neck. She slid out right onto the road as a car headed straight towards her! And she wouldn’t move! She stared at the car and me as if we were playing with her.

Thankfully, the car stopped but Zoey did not. She made a sharp west turn into an alfalfa field. An overgrown, briar-filled alfalfa field. And thus began a humorous chase.

There I was—a bespeckled, wild-haired, white-legged middle-aged woman chasing a small puggle through the alfalfa fields. It was a war of wills. I would walk off like I was leaving her and she would follow—but not too closely. Just close enough to feel safe, but far enough away that I couldn’t touch her. Occasionally, I’d sit down on the ground and she’d stare at me, circle just out of reach, and then plop down on her belly, warily. Watching.

I did this several times. The sitting. The plopping. I always got up and start moving again, hoping she’d follow and I could catch her and save her from an awful death, because I knew if I didn’t catch her, she’d get walloped by one of the many giant trucks that zoom up and down the country roads as if no human–or dog–would dare walk nearby. Oy.

So I crossed that field again and again, even criss-crossing a recently plowed garden. I stomped through the field behind a water treatment facility (trying not to breathe in that particular odor), and jumped over small fiords. At one point I even carefully balanced over a rather ratty old board–conveniently laid over another briar-filled fiord by a previous wanderer–that provided the only quick route back towards home.

And Zoey? She followed me through the fiords, avoiding the board and instead carelessly attacking the briars, smiling her defiance, probably thinking I was crazy. I finally gave up, sat down, and called my hubster.

About five minutes later, I saw his Tahoe spinning a wake of dust clouds as he tried to locate his loony wife who was waving him down with the red leash.

Zoey came running as soon as she saw who it was. DADDY! She ran right up to him…and then stopped. Just out of reach. She ran around both of us as if to show us that she was in control of this game.

Steve finally said, “Cindy, go get in the car.” We both headed to the car and Zoey ran ahead and jumped right into the front seat. The air conditioning was running and she plopped on the passenger seat as if she’d had all the hot air she could handle and we could drive her home now in style.

I. Was. So. Freaking. Mad. And hot. And dirty. My curly hair frizzed in all the wrong places and my waterproof mascara defied its label running black circles under my eyes. We all drove home and Zoey pranced into the house as if nothing had happened. Oh the arrogance of that dog!

I refused to look at her. She gulped down water from her dish and then plopped on the floor looking at me with a smile as if to say, “That was all great fun, wasn’t it?”

I refused to smile back. Instead I washed my face, replaced my dirty clothes, and went to my small kitchen to start dinner. A roasted chicken with lemon, butter, garlic, potatoes, carrots, and fresh rosemary. Thank you Barefoot Contessa.

I chopped and seasoned with a righteous vengeance. How dare Zoey run off that way! Why didn’t she appreciate my tummy rubs, her lovely bed with a squashy blanket, the occasional treat from the dinner table?! Why wouldn’t she come when I called her? What was so appealing about romping through the bristly, overgrown alfalfa fields? Didn’t she understand I was trying to protect her from the coyotes and giant, menacing trucks?

Of course not, she’s a dog. A spoiled, undisciplined dog who has owners that don’t know how to train her to “stay” or “come.”

She is the prodigal dog.

You might think I exaggerated this two-hour debacle, but I didn’t. Just ask the teenagers on spring break sitting outside their tents across the way. They had a perfect view of the entire ridiculous episode.

But there is a parable in all this: God has let us off leash. We are free to wander through whatever fields we choose. We can stare at Him, smile with our silly human smiles as if to say, “See! I’m free! I can do whatever I want to do. I can choose my own trail and chart my own life course! I can run into the streets and dare trucks to hit me! I can proclaim my own freedom and my own ability to save myself! I can shake my fist at You and declare You irrelevant!”

I can defy God’s “boundaries” saying there is no moral law in my heart that I didn’t create for myself.

I am the prodigal child.

I have been that prodigal child. I know what it’s like to break boundaries and tell God I don’t care what the Bible says—I’m hurting and the magic God formula doesn’t work! You know the formula: Pray. Have a “quiet time.” Be good. Don’t cuss, have sex, smoke, or do drugs. I have been obedient and life still hurts.

I weep for the prodigal child I once was. I thank Him that he let me come back to Him without condemnation and great mercy and love.

I weep for all the prodigals I know and love. There is mercy and grace and love with Christ.

God says, “Come home.” He leaves the 99 for the one who is missing.

“So I [Jesus] tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Luke 11:9-10.

Dear prodigals, come home.

 

You can find the roasted chicken recipe at the link below. (It was absolutely delish! I added a little chicken stock, fresh rosemary, dry white wine, and some lemon pepper! I also only roasted some chicken breasts and legs instead of the whole chicken.)

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-/garlic-roast-chicken-recipe.html