Brother Ron Barnes
Founder and Pastor
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Are You Hiding From God?
I remember the hot summer when we discovered ice cream sandwiches in the bottom of the cooler at the corner store. They were ten cents apiece, a lot of money back then. I don't remember how we came to buy one and taste the sweet chocolate graham crust and the melting vanilla ice cream, but we were mad for them after that. Of course, none of us had any money, allowances being unheard of on our side of town. Whether we rode our bikes, or played ball, or sat and played marbles, we talked and dreamed about those soft, creamy sandwiches. Within a week we had tapped out our sources of money: mooching and pop bottles for 2 cents each.
My dad worked nights, coming home to join us for breakfast, and then sleeping till late afternoon. When he came home one morning I heard the jingle of change in his pants and something ugly crept into my mind. That change was just what we needed, what I had to have. All day long I kept coming into the house and listening at his door. Sleeping sounds: slow, even snoring. I cracked the door, and there hanging at the foot of the bed were those pants, that change, those ice cream sandwiches; my chance to be the big man in the neighborhood. I slipped in and took a handful of change. We ate like greedy pigs, and I was a hero to my band of friends as we sat in the shade of the corner store. They thought I was rich. I told them it was birthday money I'd saved. I felt satisfied before I ever ate them sandwiches. I was somebody.
That went on every day for about two weeks and what a time it was! I had gotten good at slipping in and slipping out, and then ran to my buddies and we headed to the store. One day there was no change in dad's pocket so I felt for his wallet, hesitated a moment, then took out two whole dollars. I had been okay with taking the change, but those dollars made my face feel hot. Even before we began gorging ourselves on ice cream, my stomach felt sick. The importance and joy I had felt buying for my friends was gone that afternoon. I realized I was in pretty deep. If dad knew, he'd kill me, but worse, he'd have that look in his eye, that disappointment he would get when I'd miss catching a ball or get a bad grade. Now, I had stolen from my dad. I couldn't face him, and didn't know what to do.
Early that afternoon, the sun high and hot, I grabbed my fishing pole and walked down the tracks to the reservoir, wishing my stomach would quit aching, and praying nobody would see me crying.
Sometimes we have sinned in our own eyes so deeply that we don't know how to return to God. Our sin seems so big we simply can't face Him. It isn't so much that we don't love God. In fact, it is largely because we do that we cannot figure out how to tell Him about what we did. Our betrayal of His love, our utter failure where we promised devotion, makes us feel unworthy of Him.
Well, of course we are unworthy whatever we do, we know that doctrinally, but now we feel it, and just can't lift our faces to His. We go away. We go fishing maybe like I did, like even the apostle Peter did. Driven by guilt at his actions during our Lord's arrest and trial, Peter walked slowly into the shadow world of self-rejection. He buried himself back in what he knew best - fishing. Peter felt remorse and despair.
Have you wept those bitter tears? Have you walked away from Him because of your sin? Unworthy, unacceptable. God will use your failure for your good, your instruction, your growth. Although just a little boy, my dad taught me something about God that hot afternoon fishing in the old reservoir, something you need to know, something your Father wants you to discover today for yourself.
As I sat hurting that day, knowing there was no way to get right with my dad, I saw him walking along the tracks. He was big man who sort of swaggered like a sailor in a roiling sea, his arms swinging to the sides as he went. But now he was walking slow and deliberate, looking somehow as heavy as I felt. I couldn't run. I just sat there, watching him come to me, my pole motionless in my hands, barely breathing. I don't remember being afraid. No, it was more so feeling deeply sorrowful at hurting him. My eyes were watery when he came up. He just quietly sat alongside me and stared in the water with me.
After what seemed a very long time he asked, "How're they biting son?
I couldn't speak. I was too near crying, and he deserved me acting with some dignity I thought. We sat quietly, a bird singing nearby, and I stuck out my chin as best I could, willing to take whatever beating he thought I needed, if he would only take me back.
In a moment I will never forget, he said, "Son, I've known since the first day you took the money. I watched out the window as you and your friends ate ice cream. I didn't say anything, because I wanted to let you come and tell me yourself. It hurt me that you were stealing from me, but it hurt more you didn't come and tell me. Son, you can always come to me when you've done wrong. I love you son." And with that, his hand reached out, not to strike me, but to pull me to his chest, where I cried. As I cried, my dad told me he trusted me, and that everything he had would be mine some day. Because I couldn't go to him, he came to me.
God is coming to you. It isn't so much your sin that hurts Him, as your reluctance to face Him and trust Him even in your failings. He is your Father. His calling is unchanging. His love, unfailing. He has come seeking you, true Shepherd that He is. Bury your head in His chest, accept His embrace, and begin again, as at the first, to follow Him. There, in His grace, you will find a firm foundation for serving others, your own needs met. Our Father has work for you still.