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.

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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.

Everything we need

My friend Karen passed away recently.  Her death felt so sudden and so jarring.  The cancer I thought she’d overcome came around again and took her quickly.

Karen lead a group at church of the neatest ladies.  They are crocheters and knitters and when I showed up one day wanting to learn to crochet, Karen happily sat me down and in no time flat had me working on a little hat.  We laughed later because I failed to mention that I’m left-handed and when Karen taught me the crochet stitches, she taught them to me right-handed.  It worked out well though because most patterns are written for right handers anyway.  I have loved my new hobby!  It’s the coolest thing ever to create something with my own hands.

When I walked into group this week, the long boardroom-style table was covered in yarn.  Boxes and bags and balls of yarn everywhere.  Karen’s daughter had given all her yarn and supplies to one of the girls to bring to group for us to have.  It was such a special, but emotional, time to be able to select some of her yarn to use to make shawls and hats to give away.

There were also a few knitting projects that she had started and had been unable to finish.  But let me tell you something about Karen.  Ya’ll she was one organized lady.  All those unfinished projects were there on the table in large Ziploc bags.  Each bag had the shawl or scarf that she’d started, along with the extra yarn to finish, the needles she was using the make it and a copy of the pattern all right there together.  So some of the girls in the group that knit took them all home to try and pick up where Karen left off and finish those things she started.

I get so choked up thinking about how precious it is to be able to carry on and continue doing the thing she loved with the yarn she chose.  Her legacy lives on in us.

In the book of John, starting towards the end of chapter 13, Jesus and His disciples had just finished their last Passover over together on this earth and Jesus begins the difficult task of telling them that He will be leaving them soon.  Of course they’re all freaking out wanting to know where He’s going and you can feel the panic in Peter’s words as he pleads his case to go along with Jesus with He leaves.

But starting in John 14 Jesus responds and tells them not to worry because He’s coming back for them.  He’s only going to be gone a little while and then He’ll be back for them all.  And then He says this profound thing in John 14:12:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

Jesus is telling the disciples here that even after He is gone, they will continue to doing the work He has done, and even greater.  And then further down in versus 26, Jesus gives them the promise of the Holy Spirit, who would come after He was gone and guide them, reminding them of all that Jesus had taught them.

I can only imagine what was going to their heads at this point.  Their teacher, with whom they had walked for these three years – what probably felt like a lifetime to them – was leaving.  He was going somewhere they couldn’t go.  Instead, they would stay behind and continue doing the things Jesus had taught them.  But He wasn’t just leaving them helpless and alone.  He was sending the Holy Spirit to come and be their guide.

Jesus gave them everything they needed while He was here and when He left, He gave them exactly what they would need to continue on without Him.

And even more, now we have the Scriptures…the whole story from start to finish.  And while we may have those moments of stumbling around trying to figure out what on earth it is we are supposed to be doing, we are never without God’s pattern to look to for guidance.  We might mix up a stitch here and there and it might not always look like we want it to look, but we have been given everything we need to run our race through to completion.

And the beauty of it all is that God has not only given us the pattern and supplies, but He’s surrounded us with brothers and sisters to walk along with us and help us make sense of things when they don’t make sense.  We are not alone.

I miss Karen terribly and I will be forever grateful for her.  She lived her life for Christ and even in death, she continues to point me towards Him.

So I Noah guy who built an ark…

One thing I like about the Catholic church is the liturgy.  I love that on any given Sunday morning, the scriptures read are the same ones read in Catholic churches around the world.  There’s such a unity in that…and power.

This Sunday we read a bit about Noah.  You can find his story in Genesis starting around Chapter 6.  Most of us are familiar with Noah and his ark.  It was a time in humanity where evil was rampant, people were corrupt beyond correction and the world was full of violence.  (Gosh that sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it?)  God saw all this and in His sovereignty, He determined that the earth should be destroyed.  All but this guy named Noah and his family that is.  The Bible tells us that Noah was a righteous man who walked with God.

So God shared his plan with Noah…to flood the earth and destroy mankind…and He gave Noah specific instructions on how to build this big ol’ boat that would keep his family safe during the flood.  Fast forward past the torrential rains and waters coming up from the earth, through 40 days of floating with a bunch of animals….like for real animals, not his family.  Although by the end of all that time on a boat with nowhere to go and nobody to talk to but the same few folks and all the mooing and and pooping and being tossed about, I don’t guess it would be far fetched to think that Noah and family might have been a bunch of animals by then.

Anyhow.

So here’s Noah.  He’s actually been spoken to directly from God Almighty.  He has watched, probably wide-eyed, as animals of all kinds have just showed up on his doorstep in pairs to be loaded onto this huge sea worthy vessel he’s built.  He has watched waters flood the earth, all the while being safe and sound in his pitch-covered ark while the rest of humanity perishes.  And he has the CREATOR of the UNIVERSE make a covenant with him after the waters recede, and in this God gives Noah not just plants to eat, but meat too ya’ll.  Hello steaks and fried chicken to go with your salads.

And this was not just ankle deep mud puddles.  In fact, this was nothing even to compare to our tsunamis or hurricanes.  This was complete and utter destruction…and Noah and his family were spared from it.  This was a big freaking deal.

And following this miraculous event, following this covenant conversation with THE LORD, what does Noah do?   Noah promptly plants a vineyard, makes wine, and gets drunk and passes out naked in his tent.  Nice.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t heard the story before.  But as the father called attention to all this in his message Sunday morning, I was just struck again by the overwhelming grace of God.  The very idea that after everything Noah had seen God do, he still stumbled his way right into sin.

There’s a movement, for a lack of better words, in some more charismatic churches that seems to seek out the signs and the wonders.  And for a while I found myself so intrigued by it all.  Services where gold dust and precious gems supposedly manifest from the air.  Where people have come home from services with gold teeth in their mouth that weren’t there before.  Where the cripple walk and blind eyes suddenly see.  Sounds amazing.  And too good to be true.

And look, I’m not saying those things don’t actually happen.  I’m also not saying that they do.  I’ve never seen any of those things with my own eyes, so I can’t really say one way or the other.

But what I can say is that I began praying more and more to see those things happen.  I was desperate for God to “show off,” as we say in our Christianese lingo.  I thought, Lord if you would just do something big and flashy, maybe some of these people who don’t believe would change their hearts.  I kept thinking that if God would be more public with all this stuff, people would have to admit He was really real and would believe in Him.  And if I’m honest, I think I wanted to see God do those things because I was wanting some assurance and solid evidence myself.  If you’re really there God and you really love me, please help grow my faith by giving me a “sign.”

What I began to realize though was that I couldn’t count on signs and wonders to strengthen my faith.  If I was looking for something to give me hard proof of God’s involvement in my life, I was looking in the wrong place.  My faith can’t depend on what God can do, but rather in what He has already done by the work of Christ on the cross.

So in considering Noah after church on Sunday, it occurred to me that Noah had been given all the signs and wonders a person could ask for.  He’d seen the power of God firsthand, how the heavens and the earth moved at His command.  He’d seen the destruction, he knew people who were there before the water that weren’t there anymore.  Yet it still wasn’t enough to keep him from wandering.  After all that, he still managed to allow himself to get drunk and inappropriate before this holy God who had just saved him from utter destruction.

And even when Jesus arrived on the scene and he was healing leprosy, and he was making the lame walk, and he was restoring sight, and he was bringing dead people back to life for crying out loud –  even then in the midst of the miraculous, Jesus found himself on a cross.

For us.  Because we just can’t get it together to save our lives.

So he came and saved our lives for us.

Jesus became the ark that we drag ourselves into.  Our salvation that protects us from the sin storm that rages around us.  The ark that will carry us over Jordan to the Beautiful Land.

Because even the glory of God in the flesh doing the miraculous right in front of our face wouldn’t be enough to keep us from sin.  He had to go to the cross.  He had to take the blame so that we might be saved.  He had to defeat sin and death so that we could live.

I don’t pray for the miraculous like that much anymore.  I mean, yes, God.  Heal the sick, help the ones in need.  Most definitely.  But more than that, allow the gospel to go into every nook and cranny.   We need to demonstrate the love of God to others more than we need be seeking signs and wonders.  And we need the gospel more than we need gold dust.

How long, O Lord?

I am an emotional wreck this morning.  I saw the new yesterday about the school shooting in Florida.  Mass shootings seem to be more and more commonplace.  It tears my nerves up.  It was just last week that my son’s school did a practice drill of a lockdown in the event that there was an active shooter on campus.  It’s just gut wrenching to me that they even have to practice such a thing.

But there are two things that I have found deeply disturbing.

First, the number of kids that were taking videos and doing Snapchats while all this was going on was alarming to me.  Nowadays, where eh-vah-ry-body has a cell phone, we all have the lovely blessing of getting a first hand look into the day-to-day lives of all our friends and neighbors.  People actually make a living doing You-Tube videos of themselves eating disgusting food and doing stupid (and dangerous) things.  But the thing is, there would be no living to be made if there weren’t people who watched the videos.  And honestly, I don’t know that humanity is all that much more narcissistic and me-focused than we’ve always been, it’s just that now we have outlets to promote ourselves that we didn’t used to have.

When tragedy happens, you can bet that these days that somebody got a video of it and the news media will gracious pay good money for said video.  So now, a school shooting happens and instead of HIDING and PRESERVING YOUR FREAKING LIFE, we have kids doing Snapchats that say “omg nooooo” while there are shots going off in the background.  It’s almost as disturbing as the shooting itself to think that while a classmate is lying on the floor bleeding to death, another is posting a video on Snapchat.  Do you see what I’m saying?  Nobody in the general public needs to see that video.  NOBODY.  There is no news value whatsoever there.  None.  Please please parents, school admins, and any other adulty person that has the ear of a child in school…please tell your children to protect themselves.  That a firsthand video of horror is nothing to compare to the value of their own lives.  That sending a Snapchat is just not worth the risk of calling attention to yourself when there is an active gunman SHOOTING PEOPLE at your school.

The second thing that stuns me about all this is the number of kids that are saying how disturbing the shooter was prior to all this.  That some classmates had even predicted that if there was ever a shooting at their school, this guy would be the one to do it.  And he did.  In this day and age where people get their feelings hurt when you look at them wrong, where your neighbor is somebody that you see when you are driving into or out of your garage, where people “just stay out of it,” and some mass shooting happens, you will always have those who will say, “I just can’t believe they would do something like this.”  But if you start to dig a little into the lives of these people that are doing such heinous things, you’ll almost always find all kinds of crazy, unstable stuff.  And you’ll also find people who knew about their crazy, unstable stuff.  And nobody says anything.  Because what can we do anyway?  You start to see how unstable a person is, how dangerous they could be, but who do you tell?  What do you do?  Everybody is so offended about everything anymore that no one would dare question the metal stability of a person who says disturbing things and posts pictures of themselves with weapons on Instagram.  I mean, if this guy wants to take pictures of himself holding a gun and post it all over social media, that’s his right, isn’t it?  The liberal people say so because nobody has the right to tell me what I can and can’t do with my life.  The gun people say so because nobody has the right to tell me I can’t own/take pictures of me with my weaponry if I want to.  Nobody has the right to speak up because it might be offensive to someone else.  It’s none of my business what someone else does or how they want to live their lives.

And so the shootings continue.  The domestic abuse and killing continues.  The child abuse and trafficking continues.  The awful horrible things just continue.  And we all sit at home and watch them live from the camera phone of a teenager lying on the floor at their school while someone is shooting their teachers and classmates.

How long, O Lord?  How long?