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Lessons From Animals--"Neglect"

"How can I give you up? How can I hand you over? How can I destroy you? My heart is changed within Me; all My compassion is aroused."
Hosea 11:8

 

It's finally time for me to talk about my cats, Sneezy and Squawker. I mentioned them briefly in the last article; but after five articles devoted solely to "the girls" (Kasey and Annie), it's time they got the attention they deserved. I've neglected them long enough.

Actually--unfortunately--neglect has been, in some ways, part-and-parcel of their lives. I adopted Sneezy and Squawker when I lived in Montana. In Montana, I pastored two churches simultaneously--I led Sunday morning worship in Conrad, and Wednesday evening worship in Great Falls, which was 60 miles away. For 2 years, I was gone half the week of every week--and my cats grew accustomed to it. Not only that, but when vacation, out-of-town meetings, or mission trips came up, I was often gone for more than a week at a time. Fortunately, cats are more independent than dogs; furthermore, Sneezy and Squawker had each other.

It's about TIME we got some attention on the web!When I moved to Longview, Washington, things changed. Not only was I now focused on just one church, but I actually moved in next door to the church building. For the first time in my cats' lives, I was home every night. I didn't think about the effect this would have on them, until I took a 2 week vacation. For months, they had grown accustomed to me being home every night--and then I suddenly disappeared for 2 weeks. The best word to describe them, upon my return, was needy. At every turn--every time I walked by or sat down--they wanted my attention. They wanted to be held, to be loved, and to snuggle.

In many ways, we are like those cats. When we stretch our relationship with God to go beyond a mere "Sunday morning friendship"--when we genuinely seek a deeper relationship with God, and daily draw closer to Him--we actually get used to it. In fact, we like it! And it's great! It's great to be that close to God! And in times when that relationship begins to feel distant, we miss it. We miss having a close relationship with God. Unlike my analogy, though, God is not the one who leaves for weeks at a time--we are. We are the ones who, for various reasons, begin to slip away.

Perhaps you've seen the affect that neglect has on animals. Neglected animals eventually become cold and distant. The love has seeped out of them. Likewise, when we stay away from God for too long, we become cold and distant; the spiritual joy that was so prevalent--which, indeed, depends on a close relationship with God--fades into memory.

And what about God in all of this? Because God, also, is the one neglected--neglected by the children He loves. We see it all too many times in Scripture. God laments in Isaiah 1:2 - 3--"I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand."

Are we doomed when our relationship with God suffers neglect? Fortunately, no. Hosea, one of my favorite writings in the Old Testament, says it best in chapter 11 (my favorite chapter). Hosea 11:1 - 9 (paraphrased):

 

When they were a child, I loved them, and called to them. But the more I called, the further they went from me. They turned to other gods. It was I who taught them to walk, taking them by the arms; but they didn't realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted their burden from them and bent down to feed them. Will they not return to slavery and oppression because they refuse to repent? They will fight and be destroyed. My people are determined to turn from me. Even if they call to Me, I will not listen. Yet, how can I give you up? How can I hand you over? How can I destroy you? My heart is changed within Me; all My compassion is aroused. I will not carry out My fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate you. For I am God, and not man--the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.

 

It's a heavy passage, filled with deep emotion. It begins with words of hurt, as God tells us how much He's been hurt by those who neglect Him. He loved them as a parent loves their child. His words of hurt then turn to words of anger, as He essentially says, "You are determined to turn away from Me--fine!" You can almost see Him turn away in fierce frustration…then stop, as His shoulders sag…and He speaks words of incredible compassion: "How can I neglect you? My heart is changed within Me; all My compassion is aroused." That's a special kind of love right there.

Jesus paints a similar picture in the Parable of the Prodigal Son--a son who leaves his family and home to set out upon his own ambitions. In time, though, he wants to return home…but how will his father, whom he neglected, feel? Luke 15:20--"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."

At times, we neglect God. And it hurts--both us, and God. The Good News, though, is this: God's compassion overcomes any anger, any hurt, any neglect. The love is still there; the joy can be rekindled…and God waits with open arms.

Good News indeed.

 

 In Christ,

 

--Pastor Dan

 

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