Would You Give Up Your Favorite Seat in Church?

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One of our cats ran away for a 30-hour trek into the woods.

Our other cat stayed home.

In sympathy, my daughters talked about our large black cat missing his smaller orange “brother.”  He meowed and we thought it was a meow of sadness.  My three-year-old showed him extra affection out of concern for his worried feline heart.

Maybe he was just meowing because he was hungry.

Because when our orange cat finally sauntered home at 2 a.m., the stay-at-home cat seemed to care less at first.

Then the hissing started.

Four days later there was still hissing.

The prodigal tries to eat food, or brush up close to the larger cat, or snuggle up on the bed where the stay-at-home cat is napping.

And we hear the ugliest, most evil hissing sound.  It’s hardly a warm reception for our runaway.

We have the classic case of the prodigal son and the older brother who remained at home working the fields.  It’s playing itself out between a behemoth black cat and a skittish orange cat in our very own home.

And this I understand just a tiny bit.003

In Scripture, the prodigal son demanding his inheritance before his father’s death was more than just a young adult rebellion and a little bit of wandering and partying before responsible adulthood.

Sure it sounds so calm and level-headed at first glance when the younger son said to his dad, “Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me” (Luke 15:12).

Yet, it was really the ultimate rejection of a parent.  In essence, the prodigal son said, “I wish you were dead, so I’m going to take my inheritance and leave as if you had already died.”

We sometimes miss the enormity of the disrespect and insult and treat the prodigal as if he just had a wild stage that he needed to get out of his system or simply a little curiosity about the big wide world.

But it was so much more than that.  It was cutting off that relationship in what the son knew was a permanent, hurtful, totally destructive, rude, and unfeeling way.

“I don’t want to ever see you again.  I wish you were dead.  I hate you.”

That’s what the son said.

And here I am with this runaway cat, feeling the tiniest bit of rejection (and worry) that he would choose a night outside over our cozy home with food, fresh water, and places to stretch out for comfortable naps.

How much more the hurt of that father watching his son slamming doors and shouting in anger?

Of course, in their case when this same prodigal son crawled home, humbled and hurting, the father killed the fatted calf and threw a Welcome Home party.

And we haven’t done that.  No special treatment.  No canned tuna opened to celebrate our cat’s return.  It’s just business as usual for us.

But still our other cat hisses in annoyance like that older brother in the field, re-asserting his authority and his territorial rights. It’s more than a bit ugly.

Every week, folks might walk through our church doors who we’ve never seen before or those we haven’t seen for a long time.

In some cases, they will be simple visitors, passing through the sanctuary for only a brief time.  Others might be long-lost friends.  Still others might be the prodigals slipping into the pews, hoping not to draw too much attention to themselves.

And we have to choose how to welcome them.

With open arms.

Or with territorial hissing.

Or unforgiveness.

Or sanctimonious displays of righteousness and very little grace.

This past week, I read of a woman who slipped into the pews of a church before the service began one Sunday morning.  She bowed her head low and cried, mourning the death of her son.

A woman in the church walked over and stood looming over her while she prayed.

Finally, the visitor looked up expecting someone to pray for her or hug her or ask how to help her.

Instead, she was told, “I’ve been attending this church for 17 years and that’s my seat.”

That’s the ugly sound of hissing.

We do this in other ways, making us 200-or-so “older brothers” feel mighty cozy on a Sunday morning while showing the prodigals they really aren’t welcome here.

Perhaps we need the reminder to leave room–and not just pew space–for the younger brothers returning home, for the lost, and for the hurting.

How do you make visitors, new folks, and pretty much anyone feel welcome in your church?

Originally posted March 25, 2013

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

 

The One Thing I Forget To Pray About That Really Needs Prayer

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Our prodigal finally tiptoed through our backdoor at 2 a.m. last night.

We’ve had our orange cat for about 12 years now.  I picked him out of a litter of tiny strays at the Humane Society when we lived in New Jersey.  He was strikingly beautiful with swirls of white in his fur.

And he was terrified of us and the world.

When people visited us, our other more-friendly goliath of a black cat would greet them at the door, and our orange skittish feline would hide away for safety.002

Since he had lived outside as a newborn before he was taken to the Humane Society, what he knew was the outdoors.  For years, he would stomp all over my potted plants to push their leaves down and then sleep on the soil.

At some point, this Scaredy-Cat, who is supposed to stay inside, got a taste of the outdoors again.  At first, it was little excursions out the back door.  Then longer jaunts into the wooded area behind our house.

On Wednesday night, he ran out in the evening and didn’t run on back home after an hour.

So, we went into “recovery” mode.  I opened the back door and made a loud production of pouring food into his food dish.  My husband searched the yard and called his name.  We left the door cracked open all night and put his cat bed out on the deck.

And we prayed.

But he didn’t come home.  Not all that night.  Not all the next day, even though I abandoned chores to trek through the woods calling his name and spent the rest of the day peering out the back windows watching for him to shoot up the stairs of the deck.

…Not even after I started to suggest to my daughters that maybe he wasn’t coming home and they invented adventure stories about how he made a new friend or went to kitty preschool or visited the cat doctor.

…Not after we bowed our heads as a family and each daughter and parent prayed that Oliver would come home.

At 2 a.m., though, I woke abruptly and fought the urge to roll back over and go back to sleep.  I fumbled for my glasses and plodded in bare feet to the back door, expecting to see an empty deck.

Instead, I saw our orange cat nibbling at the food we’d left for him. He lifted his face to look at me as if nothing had ever happened, and when I opened up the door, he just tiptoed inside nonchalantly like it was no big deal whatsoever.

All that time he was gallivanting through the woods or maybe hunkered down somewhere trying to keep warm, I thought and prayed about this cat.  Every time I walked outside,I thought about him.

And I’m not sure I ever really understood Jesus’ passionate, intense, and committed pursuit of the lost and the prodigals until now.

I was worried about a cat.

He’s concerned about people He loves enough to die for.

Sure, I read the parables in Luke 15.  The Lost Coin.  The Lost Sheep.  The Lost Son (there’s that prodigal).

I thought I knew–Yes, “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10 HCSB).

But I really didn’t understand.  Not the way that they would linger on His mind or how He’d put aside other agendas to pursue them or that He’d keep searching long after most of us would lose all hope.

He leaves the 99 sheep, to wander the hillside looking for the one stray.

He runs full speed toward the prodigal returning home and welcomes him in, celebrating rather than chastising.

And that woman who lost the one silver coin—I’ve been there.  Turning on all the lights.  Sweeping the whole house.  Scripture says she would “search carefully until she finds it” (Luke 15:8).  I don’t know what “carefully” looks like for her, but it sounds so methodical and orderly.

My searches look more like frantic overturning of dresser drawers, tossing things out of closets, sweeping papers off of desks and rumbling through junk all while whispering desperate prayers that God would just help this crazy woman find this oh-so-important-thing already!

I lose that for people too much of the time, that willingness to keep on relentlessly praying for the lost and the fervent intercession for and seeking out of the prodigals.

I struggle to confess–it’s ugly, but true—I think I felt more worry over my runaway cat and more desperation about finding missing pieces of paper than over the wayward and hurting around me.

And that needs to change.

Do you need to re-commit to praying for lost loved ones or loving the prodigals you know?

Originally published MARCH 22, 2013

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2015 Heather King

Weekend Walk: A Wayward Cat

We have a wayward cat.

He started dashing out the door for periodic jaunts around the neighborhood long ago.  Whenever we found him crouched in the woods with his bright eyes shining back at us, he’d run into the house and hide for an hour or two under the bed.

Those experiences in the wild scared him to pieces.

Still, he ran away again.  And again.  Today’s adventure is the longest he’s had.  Escaping this afternoon, he’s still not home and it’s long past his bedtime as I write this.

We can never understand why he leaves.  He’s clearly terrified of whatever is out there in the wild.  He’s clearly spoiled here in our home.

And yet he runs.

A man once told me that once a cat experiences the smallest bit of life in the wild, you can never successfully keep him indoors again.

It made me wonder if the prodigal ever thought about running away again after he’d returned to life on the farm and celebrated his homecoming.

When Jesus told the woman, “Go and sin no more,” I wonder if it was as simple as that (John 8:11).  Did her memory of extravagant grace sustain her?  Was it as simple as walking away or did she have to fight for change, falter, repent, and run to Christ again and again?

Paul described exactly this struggle in Romans 7.  He did what he didn’t want to do.  He didn’t do what he knew he should do.  This is the continual battle with our flesh.

Like the hymn writer said, we’re “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”

Why do we wander?  Why do we dash out the door at the slightest opportunity and leave the safety and provision of God’s care?  Why risk treacherous territory rather than rest in His love?

After all, as soon as our cat did return home (at 4:00 a.m.) he ran in from the rain to our dry house and was greeted with a can of tuna fish.  You’d think he would understand that home is a better place to be than gallivanting around the woods in the rain sans tuna.

Paul made our choice clear in this same way and that’s my verse to meditate on this week:

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).

You’d think given the choice between death on the one hand and life and peace on the other, this decision would be a no-brainer.  Unfortunately, though, we slip into flesh-thinking so easily—-choosing to dwell on worry and anxiety, jealousy, fear, anger, bitterness, selfishness, greed, and more—everything that leads to death.

This week, let’s focus on having a Spirit-governed mind.  We must choose not to let our thoughts run wild into flesh territory.  We must choose if we want life and peace.

How do you take control of your thought-life?

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Don’t Leave Me

She doesn’t want to be left behind.

My older daughters and I have rehearsals almost every night now for their upcoming big performance in a community theater show.

My youngest little one, though, could stay at home with Daddy, playing games, watching her favorite cartoons, reading books, and being tickled.  She could even snuggle into bed on time, a definite plus in my book.

She, however, is ever-watchful of signs that her sisters and I would leave without her.  Because I’m slightly neurotic, I start slowly packing bags and laying out clothes hours before we need to leave.

She sees me put their shoes by the door and shouts, “I wanna come wif you” and frantically hunts for her own sandals.

I assure her that our departure is still hours away.  But then she sees me pack the bag for the night and declares again, “I wanna come wif you!”  Then she clambers into my arms, snuggles down into my chest and whimpers, “Don’t leave me, Mommy.”

No way am I shutting the door on her now.  She’s absolutely coming with us.

We have a way, don’t we, of pleading with God just like that?  “Don’t leave me.  Don’t abandon me here.  Don’t forsake me.”

We needn’t worry.  He is, after all, Emmanuel, God With Us.  His desire for relationship with us motivated His journey to a Bethlehem stable and His trek to the cross.  Our God will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

Instead, we are the ones who leave.  We wander, we run away, we linger too long after He’s called us to move on.

We’re the one wayward sheep leaving the fold or the prodigal sprinting from home with a wad full of blessing.

Yet, not only does God neither leave us nor forsake us, Scripture tells us that Our Shepherd will “leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off” (Matthew 18:12).

So for those of you who are lost and afraid, far from the Shepherd, alone and missing the companionship of your flock, know that God is actively searching for you and will carry you home on His shoulders.

For the prodigals who eventually landed in a life of pig-slop and shame, know that your Heavenly Father is running toward you with joy when you choose to return.

Maybe you’re like me, though, who shamefacedly admits that parables of lost sheep and prodigals are sometimes more mysterious than comforting.

I’ve always pictured the 99 obedient sheep left behind so the Shepherd can traipse across the countryside hunting down the one disobedient sheep and I’ve thought, “that’s not fair.”  After all, He will “leave the ninety-nine on the hills” so He can look for the lost sheep.  Now we’re the ones left behind, missing out on the Shepherd’s affection and guidance.

And I’m more the grumpy brother than the prodigal, frustrated that while I’ve been responsibly laboring in the fields my brother’s been squandering on pleasure and extravagance.  That’s just not fair.

And I’m right. It’s not “fair,” of course, but that’s the beautiful thing about it.  The Gospel isn’t meant to be fair in the sense that we get what we deserve.

For all of us, prodigals and older brothers, runaway sheep and obedient followers, our story is that God heaped grace on us that we could never merit or earn.

In her book, God Loves Broken People: And Those Who Pretend They’re Not, Sheila Walsh reminds us that our God is an ever-present, omniscient shepherd, not one with earthly limitations on time and space.  While He’s passionately pursuing the runaway, He’s also actively caring for the 99 who still need his guidance and protection.

That’s our God, the Shepherd who cares attentively for all of us.

And maybe Tim Keller is right when he says that the story of the prodigal son isn’t really targeted at “‘wayward sinners’ but religious people who do everything the Bible requires.”

It’s the reminder that even when we don’t feel like we’ve run away, we can still be steeped in bad attitudes, misplaced motivations, judgment, and religious pride.  We’re so convinced of our own “merit,” we’ve forgotten how extravagant God’s grace is for us—and how others have need of such grace.

After all, if we truly remembered that, we’d be helping to hang the streamers for the prodigal’s Welcome Home party.  And we’d be overjoyed to see the wayward sheep carried home again.  That’s because at some point, God has pursued, carried and rejoiced over all of us.

That’s His passion and heart—to be with all of us without fail or interruption.  If that’s our God’s heart, it should be what pushes blood through our veins, as well: the desire that every seeker is found, every wanderer recovered, and every child brought home.

Caedmon’s Call sang these lyrics in Long Line of Leavers.  They are on my mind today.

I come from a long line of leavers
Out of the garden gate with an apple in their hands
I expect and I believe
You’re gonna run out of love
You’re gonna give me the shove
‘Cause that’s the thing that lovers do
Then there’s you

You’re the only one
Who knows my secrets
You’re the only one
Still you’re the only one
Who never leaves
And I wake up to this mystery

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King