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God’s Loving Pursuit

All the passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “Traveling Light,” published in 2001 by W. Publishing Group.

 

Eric Hill had everything you’d need for a bright future. He was twenty-eight years old and a recent college grad with an athletic frame and a soft smile. His family loved him, girls took notice of him, and companies had contacted him about working for them. Although Eric appeared composed without, he was tormented within. Tormented by voices he could not still. Bothered by images he could not avoid. So, hoping to get away from them all, he got away from it all. On a gray rainy day in February 1982, Eric Hill walked out the back door of his Florida home and never came back.

His sister Debbie remembers seeing him leave, his tall frame ambling down the interstate. She assumed he would return. He didn’t. She hoped he would call. He didn’t. She thought she could find him. She couldn’t. Where Eric journeyed, only God and Eric knew, and neither of them has chosen to tell. What we do know is Eric heard a voice. And in that voice was an “assignment.” And that assignment was to pick up garbage along a roadside in San Antonio, Texas.

To the commuters on Interstate 10, his lanky form and bearded face became a familiar sight. He made a home out of a hole in a vacant lot. He made a wardrobe out of split trousers and a torn sweatshirt. An old hat deferred the summer sun. A plastic bag on his shoulders softened the winter chill. His weathered skin and stooped shoulders made him look twice his forty-four years. But then, sixteen years on the side of the road would do that to you.

That’s how long it had been since Debbie had seen her brother. She might never have seen him again had it not been for two events. The first was the construction of a car dealership on Eric’s vacant lot. The second was a severe pain in his abdomen. The dealership took his home. The path nearly took his life.

EMS found him curled in a ball on the side of the road, clutching his stomach. The hospital ran some tests and found that Eric had cancer. Terminal cancer. Another few months and he would be dead. And with no known family or relatives, he would die alone.

His court-appointed attorney couldn’t handle this thought. “Surely someone is looking for Eric,” he reasoned. So the lawyer scoured the Internet for anyone in search of a brown-haired, adult male with the last name Hill. That’s how he met Debbie.

His description seemed to match her memory but she had to know for sure.

So Debbie came to Texas. She and her husband and two children rented a hotel room and set out to find Eric. By now he’d been released from the hospital, but the chaplain knew where he was. They found him sitting against a building not far from the interstate. As they approached, he stood. They offered fruit; he refused. They offered juice; he declined. He was polite but unimpressed with this family who claimed to be his own.

His interest perked, however, when Debbie offered him a pin to wear, an angel pin. He said yes. Her first time to touch her brother in sixteen years was the moment he allowed her to pin the angel on his shirt.

Debbie intended to spend a week. But a week passed, and she stayed. Her husband returned home, and she stayed. Spring became summer, and Eric improved, and still she stayed. Debbie rented an apartment and began home schooling her kids and reaching out to her brother.

It wasn’t easy. He didn’t recognize her. He didn’t know her. One day he cursed her. He didn’t want to sleep in her apartment. He didn’t want her food. He didn’t want to talk. He wanted his vacant lot. He wanted his “job.” Who was this woman anyway?

But Debbie didn’t give up on Eric. She understood that he didn’t understand. So she stayed.

I met her one Sunday when she visited our congregation. When she shared her story I asked what you might want to ask. “How do you keep from giving up?”

“Simple,” she said. “He’s my brother.”

I told her that her pursuit reminded me of another pursuit---that her heart reminded me of another heart. Another kind heart who left home in search of the confused. Another compassionate soul who couldn’t bear the thought of a brother or sister in pain. So, like Debbie, he left home. Like Debbie, he found his sibling.

And when Jesus found us, we acted like Eric. Our limitations kept us from recognizing the One who came to save us. We even doubted his presence---and sometimes we still do.

How does he deal with our doubts? He follows us. As Debbie followed Eric, God follows us. He pursues us until we finally see him as our Father, even if it takes all the days of our lives.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalms 23:6 NKJV).

This must be one of the sweetest phrases ever penned. Can we read it from a few other translations?

Goodness and love unfailing, these will follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long” (NEB).

I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life; and your house will be my home as long as I live” (TEv).

Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of YAHWEH for the rest of my life” (MSG).

To read the verse is to open a box of jewels. Each word sparkles and begs to be examined in the face of our doubts: goodness, mercy, all the days, dwell in the house of the LORD, forever. They sweep in on insecurities like a SWAT team on a terrorist.

Look at the first word: surely. David didn’t say, “Maybe goodness and mercy shall follow me.” Or “Possibly goodness and mercy shall follow me.” Or “I have a hunch that goodness and mercy shall follow me.” David could have used one of those phrases. But he didn’t. He believed in a sure God, who makes sure promises and provides a sure foundation. David would have loved the words of one of his great-great-grandsons, the apostle James. He described God as the one “with whom there is never the slightest variation or shadow of inconsistency” (James 1:17 PHILLIPS).

Our moods may shift, but God’s doesn’t. Our minds may change, but God’s doesn’t. Our devotion may falter, but God’s never does. Even if we are faithless, he is faithful, for he cannot betray himself (2 Timothy 2:13 NCV). He is a sure God. And because he is a sure God, we can state confidently, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

And what follows the word surely? “Goodness and mercy” If the Lord is the shepherd who leads the flock, goodness and mercy are the two sheepdogs that guard the rear of the flock. Goodness and mercy. Not goodness alone, for we are sinners in need of mercy. Not mercy alone, for we are fragile, in need of goodness. We need them both. As one man wrote, “Goodness to supply every want. Mercy to forgive every sin. Goodness to provide. Mercy to pardon.”

Goodness and mercy---the celestial escort of God’s flock. If that duo doesn’t reinforce your faith, try this phrase: “all the days of my life.”

What a huge statement. Look at the size of it! Goodness and mercy follow the child of God each and every day! Think of the days that lie ahead. What do you see? Days at home with only toddlers? God will be at your side. Days in a dead-end job? He will walk you through. Days of loneliness? He will take your hand. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me---not some, not most, not nearly all---but all the days of my life.

And what will he do during those days? (Here is my favorite word.) He “follow” you.

What a surprising way to describe God! We’re accustomed to a God who remains in one place. A God who sits enthroned in the heavens and rules and ordains. David, however, envisions a mobile and active God. Dare we do the same? Dare we envision a God who follows us? Who pursues us? Who chases us? Who tracks us down and wins us over? Who follows us with “goodness and mercy” all the days of our lives?

Isn’t this the kind of God described in the Bible? A God who follows us? There are many in the Scriptures who would say so. You have to go no farther than the third chapter of the first book before you find God in the role of a seeker. Adam and Eve are hiding in the bushes, partly to cover their bodies, partly to cover their sin. But does God wait for them to come to him? No, the words ring in the garden: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9 NCV) With that question God began a quest for the heart of humanity that continues up to and through the moment you read these words.

Moses can tell you about it. He was forty years in the desert when he looked over his shoulder and saw a bush blazing. God had followed him into the wilderness.

Jonah can tell you about it. He was a fugitive on a boat when he looked over his shoulder and saw clouds brewing. God had followed him onto the ocean.

The disciples of Jesus knew the feeling of being followed by God. They were rain soaked and shivering when they looked over their shoulders and saw Jesus walking toward them. God had followed them into the storm.

An unnamed Samaritan woman knew the same. She was alone in life and alone at the well when she looked over her shoulder and heard a Messiah speaking. God had followed her through her pain.

John the Apostle was banished on Patmos when he looked over his shoulder and saw the skies begin to open. God had followed him into his exile.

Lazarus was three days dead in a sealed tomb when he heard a voice, lifted his head, and looked over his shoulder and saw Jesus standing. God had followed him into death.

Peter had denied his Lord and gone back to fishing when he heard his name and looked over his shoulder and saw Jesus cooking breakfast. God had followed him in spite of his failure.

God is the God who follows. I wonder. . . have you sensed him following you? We often miss him. Like Eric, we don’t know our Helper when he is near. But he comes.

Through the kindness of a stranger. The majesty of a sunset. The mystery of romance. Through the question of a child or the commitment of a spouse. Through a word well spoken or a touch well timed, have you sensed his presence?

If so, then release your doubts. Set them down. Be encumbered by them no longer. You are no candidate for insecurity. You are no longer a client of timidity. You can trust God. He has given his love to you; why don’t you give your doubts to him?

Not easy to trust, you say? Maybe not, but neither is it as difficult as you think. Try these ideas:

Trust your faith and not your feelings. You don’t feel spiritual each day? Of course you don’t. But your feelings have no impact on God’s presence. On the days you don’t feel close to God, trust your faith and not your feelings. Goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life.

Measure your value through God’s eyes, not your own. To everyone else, Eric Hill was a homeless drifter. But to Debbie, he was a brother. There are times in our lives when we are gangrels---homeless, disoriented, hard to help, and hard to love. In those seasons remember this simple fact: God loves you. He follows you. Why? Because you are family, and he will follow you all the days of your life.

See the big picture, not the small. Eric’s home was taken. His health was taken. But through the tragedy, his family was returned to him. Perhaps your home and health have been threatened as well. The immediate result might be pain. But the long-term result might be finding a Father you never knew. A Father who will follow you all the days of your life.

By the way the last chapter in Eric Hill’s life is the best one. Days before he died he recognized Debbie as his sister. And, in doing so, he discovered his home.

We will as well. Like Eric, we have doubted our Helper. But like Debbie, God has followed us. Like Eric, we are quick to turn away. But like Debbie, God is slow to anger and determined to stay. Like Eric, we don’t accept God’s gifts. But like Debbie, God still gives them. He gives us his angels, not just pinned on a lapel, but placed on our path.

And most of all, God gives us himself. Even when we choose our hovel over his house and our trash over his grace, still he follows. Never forcing us. Never leaving us. Patiently persistent. Faithfully present. Using all of his power to convince us that he is who he is and that he can be trusted to lead us home.

His goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. (141-148)

 

Notes

1. F. B. Meyer, The Shepherd Psalm (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1991), 125.

2. Though originally written for this book, this story initially appeared in The Gift for All People. Thanks to Multnomah Publishing for allowing us to use it in Traveling Light.

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