Conquered from a Rabbit Trail

This morning I was listening to a message by Jon Courson as I was getting ready for church.  In his message he said something that really struck me and led me down a rabbit trail of more thoughts.  He said that a lot of well-meaning preachers and teachers use the story of Jesus walking on the water and Peter joining him (Matthew 14:22-33) to encourage everyone to “get out of the boat” and choose to “walk on the water” in various areas of our lives.  They say things like, “Get out of the boat” or “Why haven’t you stepped out of the boat” or “What is keeping you from walking on the water with Jesus?”.  Jon says that, while this is all well-meaning and has a lot of really good practical application, that he believes we are missing the point of the story.

In the story Peter says, “if it is really you, then command me to come out on the water with you.”  Jesus says, “come” or, more accurately, “YOU come.”  He didn’t say, “Sure!  What don’t y’all come on out here!”  He says, “YOU, come, Peter.”  We aren’t all called to “step out of the boat” and “walk on the water” in this way.  We aren’t all called to the same life and acts of faith as each other.

See, my theory here is, and this really is just my supposition, that Peter needed this.  This was something that Jesus wanted to do with Peter specifically.  Jesus saw the big picture of Peter’s life and this particular event was important for him.

If you spent much time reading through the gospels you can figure out quickly that Peter was a pretty, well, outspoken kind of guy.  His emotions were always bubbling at the surface.  He seemed, to me, to be a bit arrogant at times and wasn’t always willing to truly submit to the will of God.  A few examples that come to mind in this are when Jesus foretells of his death on the cross, Peter freaks out and says, “No way, Jose!” (I’m paraphrasing, of course) “I will never let that happen!” Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan!..You aren’t worried about what God wants but about what you want!” (Matthew 16:21-23)

Another instance is when Peter asks Jesus about how many times he is supposed to forgive his brother who has wronged him.  He offers up, “seven times?”  Jesus responds, “7 times 77 times.”  Peter thought he was being pretty liberal with 7 times.  In that day you were to forgive 3 times for an offense and after that you could write the person off (I believe it was 3 but I can’t remember where I learned that).  Peter was trying to be all awesome and cool.  Jesus settled him back and said, “No, man.  You are missing the point” and he goes on to tell the parable of the unforgiving servant.  Peter didn’t realize how much he had been forgiven and, therefore, how unqualified he was to judge and hold sins against other people.  (Matthew 18:21-35)

Peter opens his big mouth again when Jesus says, on the mount of olives after the Passover supper, that they will all be scattered like sheep once he is killed.  Peter says, “Surely not I!  I would NEVER fall away from you!  I’d rather die!  I’d rather die with you than ever leave you!”  Jesus says, “You will deny me 3 times before the rooster crows.”  Peter insists (as do the rest) that he will not do it. (Mark 14:26-31)

Yet again, Peter shows his passion when the soldiers have come to the garden of Gethsemane to arrest Jesus.  Peter draws out a sword and cuts off the ear of one of the soldiers.  Jesus says, “put the sword down, Peter.  I’m going to do this because this is what God wants me to do.” (again, I’m paraphrasing).  (John 18:10-11)

Jesus knew Peter well.  He knew how Peter was.  Jesus knew in advance that Peter would start to sink and need to rely on him in order to stay above the waves.  Jesus knew this.  Peter needed this.  When Jesus says to Peter, “Oh you of little faith, Why did you doubt?” I bet Peter was struck.  I bet he felt a bit humiliated, really.  I doubt that he would ever have described himself as someone of “little faith.”  Peter needed to be humbled, but to be shown all at the same time what he was capable of when he depended on Jesus.  He needed to be shown that he wasn’t always right.  He had passion, and that is great!  It would come in handy!  But he needed to be reigned in like a strong, powerful horse who, when trained properly, can is capable of being incredibly useful and productive.  Peter needed to be trained because after all of these events, after Jesus died and rose again, Peter changes.

Peter doesn’t sprint, like John, to see the empty tomb.  Would you?  Would you sprint to see the guy whom you had just denied a few days before?  Or would you be a little unsure and embarrassed?  When Jesus addresses him on the beach while eating breakfast he asks, “Peter, do you love me?” (love=agape)  Peter says, “You know I love you.” (love=phileo)  Peter was humbled.  He knew he couldn’t truly say that he had perfect, undying love for Jesus.  He had come face-to-face with his imperfection and could no longer deny it.

You see, in order for us to be useful to God we need to come face-to-face with our imperfections.  We need to see them clearly and admit that we are far from perfect and recognize how much we have been forgiven.  If we don’t then we cannot possibly understand the depth and width and height of the love, kindness, and grace of God.  It isn’t until we see ourselves for who we really are that we are inspired to accept that forgiveness and seek to become the new creation that God has created us to be.

This is where the rabbit trail began.  My husband and I were talking about this and he said, “I wonder if they really used the words ‘phileo’ and ‘agape.”  I said, “Well, I imagine that they did…I mean, that’s what the words are in the Bible and the Romans loved the Greeks so I bet there was some kind of law or something about speaking in Greek.”  Josh said, “Maybe they spoke in Aramaic.”  I said, “maybe, but it is specified when Jesus says, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me’ that he says it in Aramaic.  I mean, it would be weird if they took the time to specify that that particular phrase was in Aramaic if they always spoke in Aramaic.”

That lead me to think about how they would not have been speaking Greek had it not been for the Romans conquering Israel.  It also got me to thinking about all of the things that had to happen in order to fulfill prophecy and how the Romans had played such a key role.  The Romans conquered Jerusalem 63 years before Jesus came on the scene as a little bitty baby.  Only 63 years.  The Israelites would have been pretty upset about this, of course, so they were waiting for the Messiah to come and free them from Roman power.  Had the Romans not come on the scene then Mary and Joseph never would have had to go to Bethlehem for the census.  According to the prophecies, the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem.  Had the Romans not conquered Israel then Jesus’ family would not have had to flee to Egypt, as the prophecies foretold.  Had the Romans not conquered, Jesus would not have been hung on a cross, as the prophecies predicted.  There are many others, but you get it, right?  The point is, the Romans had to conquer Israel in order for God’s plan to come to fruition.  

This is where I landed.  The Israelites wanted to get rid of the Romans.  Of course they did.  The Romans were taking their money, killing their people, stepping on their toes…  Israel wanted to be in charge of itself.  They wanted to be free.  But they were missing the big picture.  They didn’t see everything from the perfect perspective of God.

They were a lot like I am.  Often, things invade my life and I want to get rid of them.  Whether it is a person, an illness, a job, or some other circumstance, it is something I don’t like and I want it out of my life…STAT!  I pray and I beg and I plead with God to send in the cavalry to get rid of this thing in my life and get pretty upset when He doesn’t.  “WHY AREN’T YOU HEALING ME!?  WHY AREN’T YOU GIVING ME WHAT I WANT…THIS GOOD THING THAT I WANT!  DON’T YOU WANT ME TO BE HAPPY!  I THOUGHT YOU CAME TO SET ME FREE!  I THOUGHT I WAS YOUR DAUGHTER AND THAT YOU LOVED ME!  WHY ARE YOU ALLOWING THIS TO HAPPEN?!”  I forget that there’s a bigger picture here and other lives are at stake.  I forget that God’s plan is much bigger than me and that, if I want His plan to ultimately be fulfilled, then I may have to be conquered from time to time by a foreign invader to continue on with what He wants.   I need to be reminded that God can work in and through me and grow me in a way I could never have imagined when I’m invaded.  My life can become a light to others when I am enslaved and willingly work with God to see His plans come to fulfillment.

So what is my Roman invasion?  What has come into my life that I don’t like, don’t understand, don’t want, and want out yesterday?  Will I choose to ask God, “What are you doing?  What are You trying to teach me?  How would You have me respond in this situation?  How can I be used in this circumstance to bring You glory and fulfill Your plans?  I can think of a few things in my life.  Now, I just have to choose.  Will I avoid the big picture?  Will I look away from what God is trying to teach me? OR Will I submit it to God and submit to His will and recognize that He has placed me in this time in this place to do some kind of work?

Finding Hope

**Forewarning: This isn’t as fun or happy a post as I wish it was…but it is me.  It is me right now.**

 

If you’ve been following the goings on of my family you know that we picked up and moved 2,272 miles across the country at the beginning of August.  What. A. Trip.  My dad and step-mom came to Southern California to help us pack up and make the drive.  Without delving into all the details, I have to say that this move was the most stressful move in the history of the universe.  Ok.  So that may not be 100% true since I don’t know what moving has been like for everyone in history, but it was certainly the most stressful move we have ever made.  Since our marriage nearly 7 years ago, my husband and I have lived in 4 different apartments, 1 rental house, house sat long-term for a friend while we tried to find our own place, and have lived with our parents twice.  So when I say that this was the most stressful move ever, it isn’t because we don’t have experience with moving or even moving across the country.  This is our second cross-country move.

We had issues with our moving company, Josh did not join us right away, and I got really sick on the second evening of our 4 day trip.  It was miserable.  I just could not wait to get to our destination so we could settle in, get well, and start exploring our new home.  Things didn’t quite work out like that, though.  Instead, I stayed feeling pretty yucky for a good week.  I finally started feeling better only to get sick again just another week or so after that.  I thought that I must have a horrible bug or something.  But then I got sick again (same symptoms all three times) a few weeks after that!  So, since our move at the beginning of August I have felt crummy pretty much every morning I’ve woken up and then on-and-off every day.  I’ve done lots of lab work and it all comes back normal.  My symptoms aren’t considered diagnostic and the 3 doctors I had seen have had no clue what to tell me aside from saying that maybe they were episodes of hypoglycemia…which didn’t leave me feeling very confident or satisfied.

Finally, I went to see a naturopathic doctor to get his take on my symptoms.  I’ve never been to a naturopathic doctor before because they’re generally expensive and we are a single-income family of 5.  We don’t have much disposable income, but I’m at my wits end at this point.  I just want to get well.  I cannot describe how desperately I want to wake up feeling healthy rather than nauseated.  Being sick like this has turned me into an emotional wreck.  I don’t feel like myself at all.  I feel frustrated, tired, and really miss doing the things I enjoy the most like playing with my kids, exercising, going for coffee, going on walks, exploring… I just don’t feel like I have the freedom to go anywhere or do anything because I run the risk of getting sick.  Well, this naturopathic doctor actually treated me like a human being.  I’m not saying the other doctors weren’t nice, it’s just that I felt like, because my lab work returned with normal results, that they felt like I was making it up or it was all in my head.  Because I didn’t have a diagnosis, clearly my symptoms were really not important or couldn’t be that bad.  It is so frustrating to feel like you’re not being heard.  So finally, when someone spent 2 HOURS asking questions about me as a person, my whole health history from birth to now, my personality, my family, and my symptoms, it felt really good.  What felt great?  That he was not at all stumped or confused by my symptoms.  In fact, he said that lots of people go through what I’m going through.  Better yet, he believes that,not only can we treat the symptoms, but that we can get my body back to normal without having to treat symptoms all the time.

SO, why is this titled “Finding Hope.”  Is it because I’ve found hope for what’s wrong with me in a naturopathic doctor?  No.  That is true, but no.  Is it because I’ve found hope in leaving California and moving here?  No.  It’s because that, even in the midst of feeling horrible, God has shown Himself to me in new ways.

You see, at first when I started having these episodes I thought, “The timing could not be worse!”  In some ways, the timing couldn’t be worse.  Who wants to be sick when they’re stuck in hotel rooms and day-long car rides?  Not me.  It’s horrible to not be able to be comfortable in your own bed or in your own home.  It’s horrible when you can’t just get rid of whatever it is that is ailing you.  The second episode, though, came on right after I picked up my husband from the airport.  He has been working from home.  I can’t tell how much help he has been to me.  He has been able to adjust his schedule and work later or on the weekends so I can go to doctor appointments.  He has been supportive of me and comforting.  If we had been back in Southern California, he would be working 40 minutes away from home.  I would be on my own each day when I’m feeling crummy.  On top of that, we have been staying with my parents and not having to pay a bunch of rent.  That has freed me up to be able to do many trips to the doctor, lab work…etc.  Somehow, as crummy as it all is, God has put this in a time when it’s going to be OK.

You know, its’ hard for me to even write that right now.  Right in this very moment I’m feeling pretty crummy.  In this very moment I want to burst into tears and ask God, “Why!?!?!  Why is this happening!?!?  I am so sick of feeling sick!  It is so hard to do my job when I feel like this!  Don’t you want me to be a good mom!?”  But that’s faulty thinking.  God didn’t cause this.  I know He is capable of healing me without any thought at all. I know He can do it.  For some reason, though, He is choosing not to.  He is trying to do something in my life.  He didn’t make any promises that I’d have a healthy, happy life without pain.  He promised the opposite, really.  He forewarned me that I will have troubles in this world, but that I can take heart knowing that He has overcome them and that this is all temporary.  His priority isn’t my comfort as much as it is my character.  Even though I believe these words, it still hurts.  I don’t even know if I can go on typing.  It hurts and I’m frustrated.  I know that God is near me.  I know He is here and sees what is going on.  I even have moments when I feel that He is comforting me and speaking to my heart.  Then I have moments of hopelessness when I fear that this will never end.  I have moments of doubt that I will ever get my life back to normal.

This morning I listened to a message by Jon Courson about the promise of God’s presence and it brought me so much comfort.  God is there.  He goes before me.  You see, part of me wondered if we misread what God was saying when we moved out here.  Part of me thought that maybe I’m being punished or something…like a Jonah situation (he went somewhere else instead of where God called him and God sent a storm and a fish to turn him around).  Is this my storm?  Is this sickness sent to swallow me up until I am forced to admit my mistake only to be spat out back where I should have been in the first place?  Is this my warning signal that I’ve gone the wrong way?  We prayed ardently before moving and everything seemed to fall into place to allow it and make it work.  We really genuinely believed we were doing the right thing…I still think we did, but I can’t help but wonder, at times, if this is a sign that we didn’t.  In Jon Courson’s message he talks about how God has our backs.  God goes before us, and he comes behind.  He knows where we are going and wants us to follow Him, and if we move forward with a decision and we have sought Him and believe we are doing the right thing, then God will honor that and He will help us figure things out.  He protects us.

Right now I’m sure not feeling particularly protected.  I’m waiting for God to step in and save the day.

I have considered driving up to the church and asking for prayer.  We have found an awesome church.  We love the community of people and the small group we have joined.  You see, my husband and I have been praying for the church and specific small group that we knew God had in mind for us since May.  We prayed that He would make it clear quickly where He wanted us.  We prayed for the small group we would become a part of and that God would prepare us to bless them and open their hearts to welcome us as friends.  We have been so blessed.  We LOVE our church and small group.  We have made our friends quickly and enjoy them so much.  We look forward to what else God has in store for us and for them.  The Bible says to bring the sick to the elders of the church and to pray for healing.  There’s a part of me, though, that feels unworthy to even ask.  There’s a part of me that says, “I’m not dying.  I don’t have cancer.  I haven’t had a horrible accident.  I would just be wasting their time.  They don’t want to hear from me about something that is so insignificant in comparison to what it could be…what others have.”  But is it?  I don’t know.  I just don’t know.  Maybe I don’t have enough faith to do it.  Maybe the reason I really haven’t gone is because I’m afraid.  Maybe I’m afraid that I will go and it won’t work.  Maybe I’m afraid of going and praying and feeling the same way tomorrow as I feel today.

However I feel, whatever my emotions are telling me, I need to cling to what I know to be true.  I need to remember all that God has provided, all He has promised, and cling to that as true.  What I am feeling now is not eternal.  It is not the final word on who I am or what God has planned for me. God has plans to prosper and not to harm me.  All things work out for my good because I love him.  One way or another I am going to have to choose to remember what I know to be true.  I’m going to have to choose God’s promises for my life.  I’m going to have to choose to be thankful for all He has done.  I’m going to have to choose to allow him to develop character and hope in me.  I will find hope.  God is my hope.

Just Noise

Back in September I went out to Wisconsin for the wedding of one of my closest friends.  The morning after the wedding I went to church with my cousin and her husband.  By the time we arrived the music had already started and we quietly snuck in and sat in one of the last rows.  As the congregation sung out beautiful songs of worship I could not help but be distracted by a voice behind me.  Was it a man or a woman?  Was this person young or old?  The voice was SO LOUD and I could not hear myself or the people next to me.  Between his voice and the sounds of the instruments I just could not hear anything.

(On a side note, it may sound selfish to not be able to hear yourself, but in music it is important to hear yourself.  If you ever notice a singer cupping his/her ear it is because they are trying to make sure he/she is singing the correct notes.  This is also one of the many reasons that musicians have amps that face them and the pros wear buds in their ears.  If you can’t hear yourself then you can’t really tell if you’re singing in the right key.  Remember Fergie and how awful she sounded at the Superbowl Halftime Show??  Yeah.  Supposedly she couldn’t hear herself…)

Anyway, my cousin and I were laughing so hard because this guy (yes, it ended up being a young, high-school-ish aged guy) was singing so loudly and really struggling to hit the notes.  We joked back and forth as she said, “Everyone wants to be a tenor.”  I laughed and said, “Soprano.”  No joke.  This guy was singing way up at high notes rather than falling back to the notes of the tenor (which is what he probably was).  He was also belting it all.  No falsetto.  Just this yelling in my ear!  I could not focus.  I didn’t hear the words we were singing…just the noise.  (disclaimer: we did not say these things out loud for him to hear…He probably had no clue that we were thinking any of this).

After the service was over my cousin and I felt a little bit guilty about how we had laughed and made fun of this situation.  Jocelyn pointed out that, compared to the voices of prideful people, his voice probably sounded amazing in the ears of God.  It was so true.  Now, I can’t know that his heart was in the music.  Maybe he was singing loudly for everyone to hear.  But maybe he was enthusiastically lifting his voice in praise to God with a true heart.  Maybe I didn’t know what his heart looked like.  But I know what mine looked like.  Mine was irritated, frustrated and prideful.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I don’t have an amazing voice.  I’m OK.  I know how to match pitch and have had a lot of choral and music experience in High School and College.  I LOVE choir and I LOVE singing.  But I love it enough to know that there are people in this world that sing infinitely better than I do.  The only reason I got the lead in our school musical my senior year is because the other girl would have been the love-interest’s sister and it would have been awkward. I would have been better at a lesser role.

Either way, my prideful heart was in the way of the beautiful time to sing to God.  I’ve never really understood how God could appreciate music sung by a not-so-great-singer.  I always thought, “God created music!  He knows music better than I do.  It isn’t that he can’t hear it…”  But I figured it out that day.

Emery is the sweetest little 3-year old I know.  He knows a few songs but ones that he really loves to sing are “Jesus Loves Me” and the “ABC” song.  When Emery sings to me it is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.  He is totally not in key.  He is not matching pitch.  He barely even goes up and down when he is supposed to in the song.  But it is so beautiful.  I love him so much and I love how he is singing to please me…because he knows I want him to and knows that it makes me so happy.  I believe, now, that this is how God is.  It isn’t that he can’t hear that the notes are sharp or flat or just completely off.  He can totally hear it.  It sounds beautiful to him, though, because he loves us so much.  He can hear our heart behind what we’re singing.

Contrast that with someone who has a beautiful voice who is singing to impress everyone.  The person who sings just because he/she knows that his/her voice sounds amazing.  The one who just can’t wait for someone to say, “That sounded so wonderful!  You have such a great voice!”

1 Corinthians 13:1 says, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”  Essentially, “If I say the best things and sound the most eloquent and have the most beautiful voice, but am not doing it in a heart of love, then I am just making noise.”

Isn’t that so true?  Don’t you know someone like that? Don’t we all know someone like that?  Not just in the church and not just Christians.  But people all over.  If someone comes to you and says, “I think what you are doing is wrong.  You’d better stop,” but doesn’t say it in a heart of love, but rather a heart of pride and condemnation, doesn’t it just rub you the wrong way??  And don’t you all know that person who sometimes says things that hurt, but you just can’t be mad at him/her because you know they’re telling you because they love you??

It makes me think of how people who are NOT believers feel by what Christians say.  When we say something or point out something that we find to be wrong in the eyes of God, are we saying it in a heart of love and respect?  Are we saying it in hopes that it will benefit the other person?  Or are we saying it because we want to sound right…sound righteous and holy?  When we look at the life of Jesus it is clear that he interacted more with people who would have been considered sinners.  He interacted with prostitutes, adulterers, thieves, the greedy…He interacted lovingly for 3 years of ministry with a man whom he knew would betray him and ultimately send him to his torturous death.  He showed them miracles.  He fed them.  He taught them.  He asked them to follow him.  (In that day it was a very high honor for a rabbi to ask someone to follow him…)  He washed their dirty feet…something a servant would normally do.  This is in complete contrast to how he interacted with the religious and holy men of the day.  Those who believed they were perfect.  He called them “whitewashed tombs.”  In other words, they may have looked wonderful and clean on the outside, but in the inside they were full of everything dirty and dying.

Peoples’ lives were forever changed when they encountered Jesus.  Whether he healed them physically or set them free from a life that they thought they were bound to forever…a life of lies and cheating or oppression…everyone who encountered Jesus knew that he was different.  Jesus never turned someone away from being healed.  Whether the person claimed to be his follower or not.  He was willing to help all who asked.  Jesus was a voice of love.  Jesus’ voice was not prideful or arrogant.  He did not walk around and only associate with the great and wonderful…but the lowly and poor…anyone who was willing to see him.  He truly loved.

I think back to that day and how my voice was just noise.  My heart was just noise.  I was just making loud noises in God’s ear…noises He probably wanted to drown out because my noise was getting in the way of the true music: The people who were praising God in their hearts.  I walked around without love in my heart that day.  That day I was no better than a pharisee who made others feel like they could never reach God.  When, in reality, on the outside, my voice may have been OK, but on the inside it was dead.