Not just from, but to

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Old Testament here lately, mostly because of prepping for my trip to Israel.  (I still can’t even believe I get to type that ya’ll!)  I just finished up watching a series about the Feasts of Israel and I’m currently reading a book by Daniel Juster called “Jewish Roots.”

I was reading last night before bed and in this bit, Dr. Juster was giving kind of an overview of the Feasts.  At one point he was talking about the Passover, which is a time of remembering when God brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.  (That whole saga plays out in the first twelve or so chapters of Exodus.)

Have you ever noticed though that the freeing of the Israelites from slavery was kind of a two-part thing?

See, it wasn’t just that God was trying to get his people free from years and years of being held in bondage in a foreign land.  I mean, that part was important for sure and God sent all kinds of crazy plagues to see that it happened.  But that wasn’t the end of it.  God wasn’t just trying to lead them out of slavery.  He was also trying to lead the to the Promised Land.

It wasn’t enough for God that His people would be set free from their bondage.  He wanted them free AND He wanted them living in a place of abundance.

So after all the plagues, the Pharaoh tells the Israelites to get the heck out of Egypt and so off they go, but then the Pharaoh changes his mind and gives chase after them (Ex. 14:5).  And this is the part where God splits the Red Sea and sends His people across the dry land to safety, closing the waters over the Egyptian army in pursuit behind them.

But even after watching God send all those plagues to free them and then watching Him part the Red Sea to save them, the Israelites still complain, they still don’t fully trust in God, they still don’t believe He will provide for them.  And so they wind up wandering around the desert for the next 40 years instead of entering the Promised Land right away.

I’m wondering if you’re picking up on a pattern here in your own life like I’m picking up on one in mine?

I’ve heard the word repent also has a two part meaning.  That it’s not just the idea of turning from sin, but also then turning to God.  To turn your face from the thing that keeps you tied down, and turn it toward the God who moves heaven and earth to free you.  God doesn’t just want us free from our sin, but He wants us living like we’re free.  You’ve probably heard it put like this before – even though Jesus broke the bonds of sin, we’re still carrying the chains around like we own them.

Yes Lord, and my arms are exhausted from the weight.

Jesus didn’t come to free us from sin just so we could schlep around in the desert.  He came to set us free so that we could live free.

Do you really believe you’re free?  I can’t say I’ve honestly believed it.  I’ve stood on the edge of the Red Sea a hundred times.  I’ve seen the enemy approaching and instead of walking away on the dry land, I let satan carry me right back into bondage even though God has already carved my path to freedom right there in front of me.  I just don’t believe it.  I don’t trust in His provision.  I don’t step out in faith onto the dry land.

Nope.  I just follow the Pharaoh right back to Egypt even though the truth is that the Pharaoh doesn’t own me anymore.

I’ve got to start living like I’m free.  Like I believe that I am no longer satan’s property, but that I belong to God.  Maybe you’re right there with me too?

And look, it’s still going to be a process.  Even if the Israelites hadn’t been stubborn, they still would have had to travel the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land…it just would have probably been a lot shorter and a lot easier.

The same holds true for us.  When we decide to leave our Egypts and follow the Messiah, we are free.  John 8:36 says it this way:

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

There’s no question about it.  You.  Are.  Free.

But that doesn’t mean the enemy isn’t going to come after you.  Of course, he is.  And that doesn’t mean that you’re going to follow Jesus today and be the perfect Christian after that.  The enemy will still always give chase and sanctification is still a process.

But we’ve got to stop…I’ve got to stop…letting my doubts and my fears lead me back to Egypt.  We’ve got to…I’ve got to…fix my eyes on Jesus and follow Him to freedom.  His blood paid for that freedom.  And it’s yours and it’s mine to receive.

Receive it, soul.  Receive it and own it.  You don’t belong to the enemy anymore.

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Can oohs be holy?

During one of the songs last night at church, there was a part where there was no words…just oohs.  You know those parts?  Where it’s just a lot of aah-ing or ooh-ing during what would otherwise be an instrumental part of the song?

While I love those parts of the song when I’m in the car, I’ve often felt they were a little awkward in corporate worship because they just didn’t say anything.  Sometimes when leading worship during one of those parts, I’d look out at the congregation and sometimes think, this feels a little weird.  I mean, were just singing a bunch of oohs.

And sure, those parts sound really pretty, but are they necessary?  We’re supposed to be offering up worship, but we aren’t even saying anything.  Does God appreciate our oohs as much as our words?

So I’m standing there last night ooh-ing along with the worship leaders and the rest of the congregation and that’s when it hit me.

You won’t always have the words.

I had to just let that settle for a second.

Because there will be seasons of hardship when words fail.   And I thought at that moment about times in my life so difficult that I’ve been at a complete loss as to how or what to pray.  I thought of situations I’ve seen my friends walk through that were so hard, so gut-wrenching that I didn’t even know how to pray on their behalf.

And in the middle of that part of the song that was without words, I was reminded of this verse:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

~ Romans 8:26

There will be those moments where all I can get out of my mouth is an “ooh” or “aah.”  We’ve all had them.  Life happens and we are left feeling confused and hurt, angry and frustrated, or frightened and alone.  Sometimes your brain just can’t get it together.  And when we land in that spot, the Holy Spirit steps in and prays the words on our behalf.

And you know, there’s even a flip side to that coin.  I’ve found myself in moments where I have been so stunned at God’s love and His mercy that I can’t think of anything that even comes close to saying how wonderful and beautiful He is.  All I can do is stand there and “aah.”  I bet you’ve had those moments, too.

So then…can oohs be holy?  Yep.  I’m thinking absolutely they can.  🙂

 

God’s still working on your puzzle

I have a friend who for a few years has been coming over on Tuesday nights.  It started out mostly because her cable was out and there was a TV show that we both watched, so she just came to my house to watch it with me and the routine stuck.  During the times when the show was on a break, we started putting puzzles together and well, that routine pretty much stuck too.  So now we watch shows and put puzzles together every Tuesday night.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time that my table didn’t have a puzzle on it.

We usually do 1000 piece puzzles and in all this time, we’ve gotten pretty good at putting them together.  We have often finished a whole puzzle in one night with the TV going in the background.  We always start by sorting through to find the outside edges.   Then once they are all together, we sort the inside pieces – by color or by what they are – and then we start working on the inside.  Sometimes the sorting is easy because the pieces are distinct enough to know which section of the puzzle they probably go, but other times when there are a lot of similar colors, it’s a lot harder to tell.

But even when a piece is obviously part of the house or the dog or whatever’s in the picture, you still don’t know exactly where to put it until there are some other pieces in place around where it goes.  You have a general idea, but not an exact one.

Our walk with God is so much like this.  We try to sort out situations we find ourselves in and sometimes we kinda have an idea of where God’s going with the thing.  We can see about where all of it fits in.  Other times, we haven’t got a clue…we know it has purpose and fits in somewhere, but where is so unclear.  It’s not unusual to end up having to wait for God to put a few more pieces in place before we can get a clear picture of where He’s going.

And in our waiting, it’s not hard to get distracted by glancing around at other people’s lives.  We see all the pieces of their puzzle seeming to fall right into place and here we are with all these piles of pieces and no idea where to put them.  It’s easy to get discouraged when we focus on what God is doing in everybody else’s life and forget to pay attention to what’s happening in ours.  We get envious and covet what someone else has instead of being patient and waiting for our own picture to become clear.

And I mean, let’s just be honest.  Waiting stinks.  It’s hard, especially when the thing we are waiting for is something that’s a deep desire of our heart.  But when God is in charge of our timeline, we can find rest while we wait.  We can trust His timing even when we can’t understand it.

We can be fully assured that all the pieces of our puzzle will come together and make something beautiful.

Lamentations 3:22-24 says this:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, 

for his compassions never fail. 

They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; 

therefore I will wait for him.”

Our God is merciful and good.  He loves with un unending love that is so hard for us in our finite minds to grasp.  And He is faithful…remember that.  Even when you don’t see anything falling into place, remember that He’s still at the table. He hasn’t given up on you and left.  He’s still there sorting all your pieces and He’s still working to put together something beautiful for you.

He’s a master at putting your puzzle together.  And He won’t quit until it’s completed.

“…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion

until the day of Christ Jesus.”  ~ Philippians 1:6

Faith versus control

I don’t really think of myself as a control freak.  I’m usually completely unorganized and just barely make it through my day by the skin of my teeth.  I do well when I make lists, but I’m also quite the rebel and don’t like making lists because they make me feel smothered.  I know that seems stupid.  The best way to conquer being unorganized is to get organized, but apparently I enjoy self sabotage more than I enjoy having it all together.

I mean, having a schedule feels kinda rigid sometimes.  And I don’t like rigid.  I don’t like having somewhere to be all the time.  I like flexibility.  I like to think of myself as a free soul, flowing wherever and whenever, but if I really look at that honestly, I’m not a free flow-er.  I am a total control freak.

I recently listened to a message by a pastor at a church here in town.  The message was excellent, but one thing he said particularly caught my attention.

Faith and control cannot walk together. 

I’ve heard something similar to that before, but it was more like faith and fear don’t go together.  That was always kind of a duh thing, you know.  I mean, obviously if I’m letting myself be driven by fear then I can’t really say I’m operating in faith.

But to think of it, not as fear, but as control.  Now that made me stop.  What’s control all about anyway?  It’s having a desired outcome and doing whatever you can to make it happen.  And so I started thinking about control and fear and how they play off each other.  Most of the time, the whole reason I strive to have control of a situation is because I’m fearful of it going sideways.  I feel like if I can control a situation, I have a say in what happens, whereas if I have to have release control, I’m putting my trust in somebody else to bring forth a desirable outcome.

When I put my trust in God, ultimately I know that His plan and mine aren’t always going to line up.  And while His plans are always better in the end, I know that getting from A to Z isn’t always easy or fun.  In fact, sometimes it’s freaking hard.  And so I struggle with waiting on God, struggling with trusting in Him, struggle to say at the helm of the ship.

But you can’t struggle to stay in control of a situation and still call it faith.  At some point, I have to stop struggling and believe that God is good.  That He loves me.  That He can be trusted with all the big pieces and the little pieces of my life.  That He is all light and no dark.  Only good.

That’s something else the pastor said…

Faith is based on who God is – not on what He does or what He allows.

Difficult circumstances don’t change the character of God.  And I know that doesn’t make having faith in the face of a scary diagnosis or a financial crisis or a crumbling marriage any easier.  Even with faith, difficult circumstances are still…well, difficult.  But we can’t put our trust in our health or our money or our relationships.

No, we put our trust in the God of the Universe because regardless of what happens around us, it doesn’t change who dwells in us.  It doesn’t change who He is.

He can be trusted.  He really can.

But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD, I say, “You are my God.”  
My times are in Your hand.  
-Psalm 31:14, 15a

 

P.S.  If you wanted to listen to the message I mentioned, click here.

When God writes your prayers

Ya’ll.

I wonder how many posts I’ve started with “Ya’ll.”  Anyhow.

Ya’ll.  I have been about to bust to write about this one!  Several years ago my sweet friend, Tati, had a chance to go to Israel.  I was super excited for her…and honestly a little jealous.  Can you imagine?  Going to the places where Jesus was born and did miracles and ministry and died and rose again?  It’s like a once in a lifetime trip.  And one I figured I’d probably never get to go on.  For one, I was (and still kinda am) scared out of my mind to fly across the ocean.

Anyhow, so bless her – Tati offered to take a prayer and put it in the Western Wall for me while she was there. I mean, that was the next best thing, right?  And oh, how I hemmed and hawed about what in the world kinda prayer to write on my paper and send with her.  I mean, I might not ever get another chance to put a prayer in the Wall, right?

Now just in case you aren’t sure what this wall is that I’m talking about, the Western Wall (also called the Wailing Wall) is the last remaining piece of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD.  From what I’ve read, it’s a small western part of the outer wall that surrounded the Holy Temple.  The.  Holy.  Temple.  Like where sacrifices were made.  Like where the priests served.  Like where the presence of God dwelled in the Holy of Holies.  Oh my lands.  I can’t even.

What’s visible is only about half of the actual wall itself…the rest is underground, but the Wall, or HaKotel in Hebrew, is a very sacred and holy place of prayer for Jews and Christians.

So long story short, I thought it over and thought it over, but just couldn’t come up with a prayer to send with Tati.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to pray for.  I guess it was just that it was such a special thing and I wanted to get it right, you know?

And then God gave me my answer.

In my mind, I saw this piece of paper folded in half and then in half again.  As it started opening up, I saw that the paper was completely blank.  And I knew exactly what I was supposed to do.  It was like God was saying, you send the willing canvas, and I’ll fill in the blank.  So that’s what I did.  I sent a blank paper with Tati to the Wall.

I had no idea going forward that one of the things that God would write on my paper for me was that He would give me the chance to actually go there myself.

Wait, WHAT???

That’s right ya’ll!  I’m going to Israel!!  I’m super excited and nervous, but mostly excited! I’m going with my mom and my aunt in September for ten days.  I can hardly believe it.

I was looking at the itinerary last night and researching some of the places we are going.  So I was looking at pictures on Google maps that people have posted and I totally got overwhelmed.  Looking at these places and realizing that I’m going to be there…right there where Jesus stood.  Right there where He was born, where He performed miracles, where He was baptized, where all the things happened.  It was too much.  Like for a second I almost called my mom and said I can’t go.  It’s just too holy and I have no business going, no right to stand in any of those places.  I had to just move away from the computer for a bit and get myself together.

Lordy, I can already see I am going to be an uber emotional mess while we’re there.  My poor mama.  Ya’ll pray for her.

Anyhow, I’m asking for your help!  If you’ve been to Israel, I’d love to hear your travel tips.  What things did you bring that you didn’t really need?  What things did you wish you’d brought, but didn’t?  What was your favorite thing you saw or did while you were there?  And of course, will my cell phone internet and messaging work over there if I have a wireless connection?   These are things I need to know!

Also, I’d love it so much if you be praying for us as we prepare for the trip and then in September while we’re there.

Ya’ll!  I’m going to Israel!!!

 

Let’s play catch-up

I’ve had so much to say lately, but I’ve continued to put writing on the back burner because somehow I felt like I had an elephant in the room that I needed to mention before I could go any farther.  So in an effort to be more obedient and less lazy, I wanted to get this out there so I can get on with writing about all the other things God has been speaking around me.

I wanted to just acknowledge that my family and I have returned to the church we left.  If you’ve been reading my posts from earlier this year, you’ll remember that I went to the women’s conference there and what an eye opening (and heart mending) experience that was.  Following all that, I made an appointment with my pastor to talk about it all…including why we left in the first place.  The conversation was a good one and truthfully, it was perfectly timed.  If I’d sat down with him a year or two ago and tried to have that conversation, it wouldn’t have probably gone very well because I was still carrying around a lot of hurt and anger.  After talking with my pastor, my husband and I discussed it and prayed about it and decided to come back.  It was awkward at first, and still is a little, but it also felt good to be back in worship with my church family again.  So, I just wanted to get that out there.  It felt weird talking about going to church or listening to my pastor’s sermons when the last thing I’d really said about all that was that we’d left.  So there’s that.

Honestly, I still find myself struggling with doubt sometimes and I don’t understand why things happen how they do or why they are the way they are most of the time.  I can’t for the life of me at times make sense of what happens in my church…or in The Church for that matter, but I guess I don’t have to understand or be overjoyed by everything.  I just have to be obedient to God and trust that He will right all the wrong things…including and mostly all the wrong things in me.  And that friends is hard.

It’s hard when you have a big mouth and big opinions to trust that God will work all the things out because “giving it to God” might mean you have to wait a long time to see things fall into place…if you ever actually do.  Because you won’t always be the harvester, you know?  Sometimes you’re just the water or the fertilizer.

It’s also hard when you’re all broken inside and have what seems like mountain after mountain to overcome and it feels like God is only focusing on this little tiny speck of a thing and you just want to be done with all this hot mess RIGHT NOW.  God may not fix all the broken things in you overnight.  Sometimes you wake up one day and whatever you struggled with the day before is done and you’re over it.  But more often than not, repairing the brokenness inside of us is a lifelong journey happening a little at the time and we just…I just…have to be patient and trust in His timing and His faithfulness.

Anyhow, bless the Lord, and Hallelujah.  While this post might not make a lick of sense to anybody else but me, it felt like a wall that needed to be knocked down.  So there.  It’s done.  Moving on.

When you find yourself in the shame pit

My husband recently went camping in the mountains with some guys from church.  They were warned about bear activity in the area, and that there was one bear in particular who was especially determined.  Being mindful of that, they hiked along and set up camp for the night.  They did all the things they were supposed to do to keep the bear out of their food and hung their food bags from a tree away from their camp site.  The idea was that hopefully keeping the food off the ground would be a deterrent for the bear, but at least if he did get the food, it wasn’t right there in the camp where the bear would be tromping around in their tents.

Well, remember this bear (who they named Kevin) was determined.  I guess a little thing like elevation wasn’t going to keep him from his prize.  So Kevin just climbed that tree and got ahold of those food bags.  Clearly Kevin was hungry and he wasn’t playing around.  (The guys were all fine by the way.)

Isn’t that how it goes sometimes though?  You do all the things you’re supposed to do, you dot all your “i”s and cross all your “t”s and somehow you still find yourself in the pit.  I mean, how does that happen?  How is it that you can be going along just fine, moving in a good direction, doing what you think is the thing God has set out for you, following all the rules and suddenly everything goes careening off the rails.

You find out you have a little one on the way.  You take all the vitamins, follow all the doctor’s orders, do everything you can to take care of yourself and it ends in miscarriage.

You send your kids to church, thankful for a place where they can learn about Jesus and find godly friends.  You put your trust in leaders to teach and encourage your child, only to find out that your child has been molested by one of the very ones you trusted.

You do your best to be a good husband or wife.  You are faithful and kind and try and keep God at the forefront of your marriage.  But one day your spouse comes to you and tells you they love someone else and don’t want to be married to you anymore.

It seems so unfair.  And wrong.  And confusing.

I remember hearing Beth Moore say once that sometimes we find ourselves in the pit because we jump right in there with both feet, but then other times we end up in the pit because we either fell in or we were pushed.

Now I can spend all day telling you about all the stupid things I’ve done in my life that have left me in less than desirable places.  I could list decision after decision that led me onto paths that weren’t at all what God wanted for me.  It’s very true that more often than not, I am where I am completely of my own doing.  But I can also recall a few times where I found myself in a dark place because either someone did something that put me there or else things just went south and there was really nobody to blame.

But here’s the thing.  Regardless to how you got there, the enemy will do everything he can to keep you in the pit.  And one of his favorite tools to do that is shame.

My pastor preached on shame this weekend and how the accuser uses it to bring separation between us and God.  He said to overcome shame, we must learn to separate who we are from what we do.  Yes and amen to that.  I would even add that we must separate who we are from what we do….as well as from what has been done to us.

God is not the author of shame anymore than He is the author of sin.  And God doesn’t use shame to “keep us in line.”  Does the Holy Spirit convict us when we make decisions that move us away from God?  Absolutely.  But there’s a pretty considerable difference between conviction and condemnation.  Conviction leads us to repentance.  Condemnation leads us to shame.

Psalm 34:4-5 says this:

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
    he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
    their faces are never covered with shame.

We also read this in Romans 10:11:

For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

I cannot say it enough.  Shame is absolutely from the enemy.  And the enemy’s number one priority is to put a rift between us and Jesus.  Covering us in shame weighs us down and distorts our view of Jesus and who we are in Him.  Shame causes separation and that’s never God’s desire.

I’d love for you to take just a moment and ask God if you are allowing shame to keep Him from having every bit of your heart.  Maybe you made some sketchy choices and you’re somewhere you never thought you’d be.  Or maybe something happened to you…something someone else did or something that just has no good explanation…and you’re now living in condemnation because of it.  Whatever the cause, Shame. Is. Not. From. God.  It’s not how God operates and don’t you let the accuser make you believe differently.

God desires peace…wholeness…shalom…for us.  Shame was nailed to the cross when Jesus gave Himself on our behalf.  Satan uses shame to keep us feeling defeated and hanging our heads.  But in Christ, shame has no power.

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. ~Psalm 3:3-4

Distractions…or why watching a TV show that’s in a language you don’t speak very well at all can jam up your ability to get things done.

You guys.  I was on a roll recently with my writing and then I got distracted by this ridiculous television show.  A SPANISH television show where I had to read subtitles.  Thank goodness it was only three seasons or else I guess I’d still have my face in my iPad sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to see what the next catastrophe was going to be for these folks.  How does that happen?

In this case, the explanation seems easy.  I thought to myself, I’ll just find a show that can be background noise for me while I crochet or fold clothes.  Makes sense right?  However the show I picked because it sounded really interesting turned out to be a Spanish show.  So I thought, well I’ll give it a go.  Maybe it’ll help me learn more Spanish.

Except for that’s not how it all went down.  Nope.  See if you’re watching a show that’s in a language you don’t speak really well, you have to actually read the subtitles to keep up with what’s going on.  And this show was a cliffhanger thriller type show, so you don’t want to miss any of the details of who’s hiding what and who’s in cahoots with who.  Whom.  Who.  Whatever.  (Clearly English is also not a mastered skill of mine.)

So here I am all involved in this show and I can’t get anything else done because SUBTITLES.  And by the time that revelation dawned on me, I was in there way too deep, ya’ll.

And I couldn’t help but think how many times the enemy gets me like that.  Not that I’m blaming the Spanish show on Satan.  That was all me.  I jumped right in with both feet on that one.  But in other things, the devil uses distractions to get us to focus on little things that don’t really matter to get our attention off the main thing (which I know I’ve said a million times before, but clearly have not yet grasped the concept of).  He frames these little things in a way that makes it seem like they are uber important.  Suddenly we’re putting all our attention into this one thing that might not really be as important as we think it is.  Or maybe it is important, but it’s not ours to deal with.

I’ve been spending some time looking back over the last few years of my life at the things that I’ve put a lot of focus on.  Some of them were just silly in the grand scheme of it all, but some of them were things to legitimately be concerned about.  Except for I went from being concerned to near being obsessed.  You guys, I wish I could tell you my whole story because I think all this would make so much more sense, and maybe one day I will, but not yet.

What I can say looking back though is that I found myself viewing situations through my own past wounds.  It wasn’t that the things upsetting me weren’t valid.  They absolutely were.  However, some of these battles weren’t mine to fight.  But there I was swinging my sword anyway because in the moment, the pain I saw others suffering was magnified by my own.  Do you know what I mean?  When we have old wounds that haven’t ever healed properly and we see others being wounded as well, it’s almost like ripping the scab off and we’re bleeding all over again and we don’t even fully understand why.  We just know that we’re hurting and somebody else is hurting and it has to stop.

Instead of trusting God to work everything out, I get so easily sidetracked and suddenly I have tunnel vision.  What should happen is that I recognize a wrong, I pray about it and do whatever God tells me to do, even if that is to just be still and wait for Him to make it right.  And that’s hard when you’ve already jumped in with both feet because you’re impatient.  You feel like you have to see the thing through and it has to be right now.

And just like I binge-watched three seasons of non-English show because I couldn’t wait to see how it would end, sometimes I come in like a steamroller because I can’t wait for God to do His thing.  Because He’s not always fast about it.  And somehow I’ve equated praying while waiting with doing nothing.  Which is a lie.

Because if God has said, pray and wait, that doesn’t necessarily mean that nothing is happening.  God’s always at work, always doing.  It just might be that what He’s doing at the moment doesn’t directly involve me.  Maybe for the moment I don’t have a part in the show.  Maybe for the moment, I’m just hanging in the back, taking care of props and lighting while somebody else is on stage.  Just because God’s movement isn’t evident to me in the moment doesn’t mean God is being still.  It just means He wants me to.

So I’m giving Spanish TV shows a rest for now.  I’m also putting my sword in the sheath and letting God do God while I re-learn what it means to trust Him, His timing, and His good intentions towards me and everyone else.

Hasta luego!

What I learned from an unclean spirit

I started a study through the book of Mark a little over a week ago.  In true form, I’m only three days in, but they’ve been a good three days.  It’s interesting what things stand out when you read scripture slowly and really sink your teeth in.

In Mark chapter 1, starting in verse 21, it says Jesus went to Capernaum and started teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath.

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

~ Mar 1:21-22 NIV

Evidently these people had never heard anyone teach like Jesus before.  There was something different about Him.  He taught with authority and it was enough to make the people take pause.

But the enemy wasn’t having it.  Immediately following this verse, there’s a distraction.

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”

~ Mar 1:23-24 NIV

Jesus is right in the middle of teaching and the people are finding themselves being drawn to Him and boom…the enemy sends an interruption.  But here’s a couple of things I thought were interesting about this scene.

First, I wonder how long this guy with the unclean spirit had been hanging around the synagogue.  Like, who was he? And what was his influence on the people around him before now?  Did they know already that he was possessed or was it only in the presence of Jesus that he was forced to reveal himself?

Either way, I think it’s worth noting here how important it is that we stay connected to Christ and in constant fellowship with Him.  That we stay in the scriptures.  That we stay aware of what’s going on around us.  That we are in the habit of renewing our minds (Romans 12:2).  Because Satan is sneaky.  Who knows where he’s hanging around or how long he’s been there?  And if we are counting on our own eyes to see his schemes, we’re in trouble.

Second, it’s interesting how this unclean spirit decided to out himself.  There’s Jesus teaching like nobody ever and all of a sudden there’s this guy crying out and detracting from the moment, but he’s doing it by addressing Jesus as the Holy One of God.  It would seem like this demon is working against the enemy by confirming Jesus’ identity.  And while that might be a little true, the fact is that even sometimes things we think are God things can be distractions from the main thing.

Jesus wasn’t having any nonsense and immediately cast the demon out, but then in the next verse it says,

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”

~ Mar 1:27 NIV

Only a couple of verses before, the people were astonished by Jesus’ teaching.  They were listening to the Son of God talking about His father and they were enthralled.  Now it says they were amazed by His authority over demons and immediately His fame spread throughout the region.  I can’t help but wonder what spread the most from that occasion?  His words or His works?  Is it possible that the enemy thought that using a miracle would take the focus off what Jesus was teaching?  That people would be more interested in what Jesus could do for them than what He had to say to them?  Sorta like, fix their bodies, but stay away from their hearts?  Because the heart change was really the point, right?

Sometimes even things that seem good or right might not be best.  Sometimes the things we do for God can start to overshadow our walk with God.  Like it starts to be more about the doing than the being.  It’s like something Noelle said the Pursue the Passion conference this past weekend.

Walking with God is far better than walking for Him. 

It might seem like semantics, but think of it like this.  If I’m walking beside someone, conversation is easier.  Eye contact is easier.  But following along behind or getting ahead  can break the connection.  It’s easy to miss part of the conversation or even the direction the other person is going.

It’s not to say that doing God’s work is a bad thing.  But when our relationship with God gets off track because we’re fixed on this thing or that thing, God’s work really isn’t God’s work anymore.  Now it’s our work.  And I’ve come to realize more and more that if I’m going to stay in line with God’s will for me, then I’m going to have to stay in line with Him.

God, help me keep my focus.  When my eyes wander to great and mighty things instead of the Great and Almighty God, draw me back.

The armor of the enemy

I went to the Pursue the Passion women’s conference this weekend.  I know, I know.  Any of you reading this that know me well are thinking, She did what??  Women’s conferences are not my thing.  I mean, I’m glad to help out, but I’m not one to go.  All that having to make small talk with strangers gives me a complex.  I’ll always be the awkward one standing in the corner trying not to make eye contact with anyone.

But my precious friend Stephanie called me this past week and said she had ended up with an extra ticket and really felt like it was supposed to be for me.  Knowing how I am, she even added “I’ll even protect you from all the icebreakers.”  Love that girl.

Now normally I would have probably been able to give her an easy no.  But this particular conference was different.  I’d met Noelle, the speaker, before and honestly when I heard it would be her, I really did want to go.  Noelle is a Godly and gifted woman and I was intrigued to hear what she had to say.  So I went.

And ya’ll.  Thank God I did.  Thank God for Stephanie for asking me.  Thank God for Shannon, who sat next to me yesterday and spoke truth after truth to me.  Thank God for Meredith, whose songs pierced my heart.  Thank God for Noelle, whose words spoke to places in me that have felt so numb.

Saturday morning Noelle spoke about David and Goliath.  Her message was so good and I’ll share more about that in another post, but as she was reading the scripture to us from 1 Samuel 17, a part jumped out at me that I’ve read hundreds of times and never really thought much of:

A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span.  He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him.

~ 1Sa 17:4-7 NIV

Ya’ll Goliath had armor.  Now just stay with me for a sec.

The theme for this year’s conference was Stand Firm, taken from Ephesian 6 where Paul is describing for us the armor of God.

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

~ Eph 6:14-17 NIV

Do you see it? God has given us armor to wear…truth and righteous and peace and faith and salvation.  But don’t you know that the enemy always makes a perverted counterfeit of God’s gifts?

I had been walking through a season of deep confusion even before I ever left my church.  I was trying to see God through a cloud of anger and hurt and frustration and eventually the fog got so thick that when I felt the cold hand of the enemy reach through, I allowed myself to be drawn away from the path God had me on.

And so the enemy comes and says, Here.  I have better armor.  See?  God’s armor doesn’t protect you from the pain.  But mine will.  Here’s a bunch of lies to set the foundation and hold everything together.  And here.  Here’s some self-righteousness to make you feel better about your anger.  Oh, and don’t forget isolation.  Because that will keep you safe from the wounds others inflict.

Satan is a master at what he does.  He’s been doing it long enough that he’s had plenty of time to perfect his craft.  And he almost had it perfect.

Until God’s truth broke through.  And I could feel that cold slimy armor being peeled off a piece at the time.

God never intended for us to walk in faith alone.  God never intended for us to push through in our own strength.  And that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do.  I need my armor and I need my sisters.

Friend, whose armor are you wearing?

PS.  Check out this clip from the movie 300.

Faith works so much better when there’s others around you holding their shield too.  And when your shield gets full of arrows from the enemy and you just don’t have the strength to chop them off, God sends another warrior to do it for you.  Thank you to all my warriors this weekend.  Love you all.