How can I leave you again?

How can I leave you again? Some of you will recognize that question as the title of a John Denver song. Others will be reminded of someone. But who?

How can I leave you again?

I’ve liked the song, How can I leave you again, for many years. Most likely ever since it came out in 1977.

But in the last few years, it has more meaning to me. Maybe, after reading this, it will for you as well.

Lyrics – How can I leave you again?

Let’s start with the lyrics.

Di di di di di la la la la la la
In a spaceship over the mountains
Chasing rainbows in the setting sun
Leaving heart and home for the city of angels
I feel my life is undone

There are pathways winding below me
In pleasure I’ve gone where they go
In the quiet stillness I can hear symphonies
The loveliest music I know

How can I leave you again
I must be clear out of my mind
Lost in a storm I’ve gone blind
Oh, how can I leave you again

Oh, it’s been a long time since I’ve listened
Still longer since I’ve walked with you
For the first time I know what I’m missing
Some answers are no longer true

So I question the course that I follow
I’m doubtful and deep in despair
My heart is full of impossible notions
Can it be you no longer care?

How can I leave you again
I must be clear out of my mind
Lost in a storm I’ve gone blind
Oh, how can I leave you again

How can I leave you again
I must be clear out of my mind
Lost in a storm I’ve gone blind
Oh, how can I leave you again

Who is the “you” in “How can I leave you again?”

Now that you’ve read the lyrics, do they remind you of anyone? Someone you’ve left, come back to, and can’t imagine ever leaving again. Or, maybe for you, it’s someone you haven’t left, and can’t imagine ever leaving.

When I left someone. And later returned.

My answer to the question is God. I left Him. Was very angry at Him. I thought He’d done things to me that were incredibly unfair and just plain wrong. The thing is though, even though I searched long and hard, I never found a replacement for Jesus.

And so I came back. There’s a line in Luke’s Gospel that gives all of us who have left Jesus plenty of reason to not worry about coming back to Him. It’s not one that normally gets chosen for that purpose, and yet, I believe it fits really well.

Jesus’ Sorrow for Jerusalem

13:34, 35 pp — Mt 23:37-39
13:34, 35 Ref—Lk 19:41

Lk 13:31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

Lk 13:32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

Lk 13:34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’’”

No – I’m not Jewish. So “Sorrow for Jerusalem” probably seems like a weird passage to choose. But the rest of it fits. Let’s see how. Maybe it fits you too?

you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you

The truth is, when we’re angry and we leave Jesus, we probably feel free. I did. For a while. Then the search went on for a replacement. I actually thought maybe I’d found one in a book called Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu. It seemed like it led to a peaceful life. The translation of Tao Te Ching is The way of Life.

But it’s not the way of life. Instead, it’s a way of life. But not the life Jesus gives us. Not life to the full. And not eternal life. Jesus’ promise is in the passage below.

The Shepherd and His Flock

Jn 10:1 “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.

Jesus is not just a way of life.  Jesus is “The Way” of life.  

Jn 10:7 Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Furthermore, Jesus is “The Way” to eternal life with Him.  Anyone else, Lao Tzu included, takes away that life Jesus promises.  It puts us on a different path and does not lead to life to the full, as Jesus promises.

Jn 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

Jn 10:14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

The last verses reinforce what was said above.  Maybe it seems like a lot of repetition.  But the repetition is for emphasis.  An emphasis that we need.

Remember, I used you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you as the verse for this section. You might think that’s overkill. But then, considering that I abandoned and rejected everything I learned about the Bible and Jesus, to go search for a replacement, I think it actually puts think in perspective quite nicely. In the passage below, as you may remember, Jesus equates calling someone a fool with killing someone.

Murder
5:25, 26 pp — Lk 12:58, 59

Mt 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Like I said – it fits, doesn’t it?

Look, your house is left to you desolate

It’s no small wonder then that by “killing the prophets”, killing any relationship with Jesus, I also killed my walk on “the way” to the life Jesus promised.

And as Jesus said in the passage the NIV titles “The Shepherd and His Flock”, my house was desolate. And my attempts to fill it with someone or something else were futile.

I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’.

Things sound really bad when we read, I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’. I mean, after leaving Jesus, how can we ever say that? If we treated anyone else like that, they’d never want to hear from us again!

And yet …

Jesus also said, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, …, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

The simple, but incredibly not obvious, truth is that Jesus will take us back. Any time. Anywhere. No matter what! Jesus is always willing to take us back when we live Him.

How can I leave you again?

He’s not the problem. We are! We’re afraid to go back. But when we do, wow. We appreciate and love Him more than ever. And then we learn the truth behind those words – How can I leave you again?

The lyrics to How can I leave you again?

I’m not going to go through every single word. Who can make sense out of something like a spaceship over a mountain? I live near Los Angeles, called the city of angels, but what sense would that make to most of the world? So let’s look at the ones that matter.

Pathways and pleasure

There are pathways winding below me
In pleasure I’ve gone where they go

Yes, there are lots of pathways in life. Most people take the wrong one.

The Narrow and Wide Gates

Mt 7:13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

The wide road, the paths most taken, lead to something less than the life Jesus offers to us. Unfortunately, what we think is a choice between one life and a life of a different sort, is a false choice. It’s really a choice between life and death. Between everything good and nothing at all.

After all, God created everything. Literally, everything. And when God was finished with creation, it was very good. I left out most of the passage, but you’re free to follow the link to read it all.

The Beginning

Ge 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Ge 1:31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. …

Ge 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

It was after this that Satan entered the picture. Satan can most corrupt things. Turn things that were created and were very good at creation into things that are evil and corrupt. But there isn’t one time in the Bible where we ever see or read that Satan created anything. Satan, quite simply, cannot create anything! Satan can only corrupt.

Therefore, the choice we have between the life Jesus offers and the alternative is, at its core, a choice between everything good and nothing! Satan’s realm cannot contain even anything corrupted, because the building blocks won’t be there! Satan cannot corrupt something that doesn’t already exist.

So what we think we see as alternate paths with all sorts of pleasures, that’s only illusions. Lies. Corruption of the true pleasures created by God.

The only choice that leads to anything good, and I do mean anything good at all, is the narrow one. The one least taken. The way, not a way.

Once we’ve found it, we can still manage to say, How can I leave you?

But once we’ve left and found it again, how can we ever day, How can I leave you again?

It does happen. But apparently, most of the time, we’re much more likely to stay close to that path. Thank you God for that!

Stillness and music

In the quiet stillness I can hear symphonies
The loveliest music I know

A few years back, when I was in the hospital with a really bad staph infection, I thought I wasn’t going to walk out of the place. I asked God, is it time for me to go home? I urge you to read that article, but if you don’t, it was a “conversation” between me and God about life or death.

Yes, there were times I wanted to die. Tried to make it happen even. But now, if He wanted me to stay, I thought there were things for me to do. The bottom line though, is that it was His choice. At the end, when I got the idea He wanted me to stay here, not return home yet, here’s what came into my mind. Not the entire Psalm. I grayed out the verses that weren’t included.

Psalm 23

A psalm of David.

Ps 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

Ps 23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

Ps 23:3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Ps 23:4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Ps 23:5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Ps 23:6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.

You may wonder, why not the entire Psalm? I don’t think I needed the whole thing. At least, not at that time. The two weeks before going into the Emergency Room with barely enough energy to get there, the week in the hospital, the 5 weeks recovering after that, were so peaceful. The most peaceful I can remember in my life.

I don’t need my soul restored, because I was in a good place, spiritually. I had that peace beyond all understanding that can only come from God. I didn’t need a table prepared before my enemies. And I didn’t need to be reminded of God’s love and my eternal future.

What I did need was the encouragement to go forward with what I was doing. This site and my other one, Which god Saves? Teaching, like the Bible Study I lead at church. But I also need to slow down. Relax. Lie down in the “green pastures”, the quiet places. Walk with God by the still waters, so I could hear His “quiet Voice”, the Holy Spirit.

And, for me, to get back into music. Something I’ve yet to do. But writing this reminds me – it’s something I need to get to sooner rather than later.

Listening

Oh, it’s been a long time since I’ve listened
Still longer since I’ve walked with you
For the first time I know what I’m missing
Some answers are no longer true

Everything I just wrote about the 23rd Psalm leads to these words from How can I leave you again?

If we don’t go to the quiet places, don’t take the time to listen for God communicating with us, don’t take the time to walk with Him, we miss so much.

When we finally do return, we begin to realize just how much we’ve been missing.

My first time going back to church, really honestly going back to church with the intent to listen for God, I spent almost two hours crying, asking over and over “what have I done?” Saying over and over, “I’m so sorry”. The people I went with sat with me that whole time. Just waited. Around midnight, they finally interrupted, after probably everyone else in the church came and prayed for me.

I began to know what I was missing. I’m still learning more things I missed. And a whole lot of “answers” from that wide path are certainly now known to not be true.

Do You still care?

So I question the course that I follow
I’m doubtful and deep in despair
My heart is full of impossible notions
Can it be you no longer care?

Yes, there was a lot of questioning along the way. Also a lot of doubt and despair. And there were a lot of thoughts and dreams that turned out to be impossible.

And of course, there were many times, especially the ones that got me so angry in the first place, that I questioned whether or not God cared at all!

Now, I still question, but to be sure I’m on the right path. Writing the correct things. Teaching the correct things. Not with the intent to leave again, but with the desire to stay, and lead others to stay as well.

There is still doubt when I read things. But healthy doubt. Doubt that meads deeper into the truth, rather than just blindly accepting everything everybody happens to write. Doubt that leads to staying on the narrow path, rather than being misled onto the wide path to nothingness.

But there’s no longer any question about whether or not God cares. He absolutely does.

John 3:16

Jn 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

That’s how much God cares.

Conclusion – How can I leave you again

How can I leave you again
I must be clear out of my mind
Lost in a storm I’ve gone blind
Oh, how can I leave you again

Yes, I would be out of my mind to leave Jesus again.

And yes, it would have to be related to a really bad storm. But then, when the storms come, I need to remember this:

Jesus Calms the Storm – Luke

8:22-25 pp — Mt 8:23-27; Mk 4:36-41
8:22-25 Ref—Mk 6:47-52; Jn 6:16-21

Lk 8:22 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. 23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.

Lk 8:24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.
In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

Yes, that was about literal weather and storms. But we also must realize, the storms were also an allegory for the storms in our life. Especially given that the seas were also considered the place where troubles await.

It all adds up to remembering, at those times when we’re tempted to walk away from Jesus, they are the very times when Jesus is there to help us stay with Him, no matter what.

So yeah, the conclusion is very much, How can I leave you again?

I certainly pray that I won’t. Pray that I will remember where I’ve been. And where I am. Finally, where I’m going.


Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay


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