Faithfully Thinking: Letting God Lead

I was scrolling through Instagram this past weekend when I saw a post/video from novelist Nadine Brandes. She was talking about acne she had dealt with after a virus during college. It was all across her face and she said many people would offer unsolicited advice or make awful assumptions about it. She eventually developed a deep depression over it because nothing worked to remove it — not medications or creams or expensive medication. All those things did was make her sick.

She said that one day she started to cover the mirrors in her house and began to focus on Jesus and her relationship with him. She stopped trying to take care of the problem herself. She wrote under the short video she posted that she never actually figured out what the source of the acne was, but one day, she began to notice it was fading, and then it was gone. She wrote, “All I can say is Jesus. Jesus removed the stress, the anxiety, and the shame. I think peace affects our bodies just as much (if not more) as creams.”

I could relate to her story, not because I have ever had her acne, or even because of the frustrating health issues I do deal with, but because I have found myself focusing too much on situations, people, and my perceived failures and not enough on Jesus many times.

Most recently this focus has come in the form of trying to figure out how to build a following for my books so I can earn a little extra cash to help my family financially, but also because I enjoy sharing my stories. I started checking off all these steps that “experts” insist you must do to be noticed on social media. I created an author page and group on Facebook. I searched for ways to increase interactions and followings on Instagram. I tried to do everything that was being suggested without totally driving myself crazy since I had walked that road before and ended up with a near mental breakdown.

I’ve learned there is nothing wrong with building a following, either to help promote your work so you can support your family or to get the word out about something you’re passionate about (like your faith in Christ), but if it is replacing your relationship with Christ then it will bring you more misery than you were prepared to handle.

Nadine’s post was a reminder to me to step back again, lay it all in Jesus’ hands and not worry so much about followers or sales or anything other than my relationship with him.

He’s the ultimate provider and all my hard work means nothing if I don’t lean into him and let him lead.

This is something I will have to remind myself of over and over again because so many of us know how it should be and we do fine for a while but then life — argh! Life gets crazy or scary or crazy scary again and we lose our way.

We forget to trust.

We lose focus.

We get distracted. It is in those moments of distraction that we have to be reminded of what we had committed to in the past, which was focusing on Christ and letting him take care of all that weighs us down.

Doing anything other than that will not only frustrate us but make us sick, mentally, spiritually and even physically.


Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;  and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Faithfully Thinking: Jesus said it had to go

Little Miss and I were watching The Chosen (a show that follows the life of Jesus) on Sunday and there is a scene where a demon-possessed man is attacking Simon. In the middle of the attack, Jesus arrives and shouts, “Out! Out of him!”

The man immediately spasms, then falls to the ground and is still. A few seconds later the man begins to cry as everyone looks on in horror mixed with relief.

“What happened?” Little Miss asked.

“The demon left because Jesus said it had to go,” I told her.

My own words stopped me.

Wow.

It left because Jesus said, “Out! Out of him!” or essentially, “Leave him!”

How many times every day should we be saying the same thing in our life? How many times should we be saying to our thoughts, our emotions, or worries: “No. You can’t be here. You have to leave.”

In TV, movies, and books, Satan is a caricature, a joking evil character who humans with common sense aren’t supposed to believe is real.

But if you’ve been around long enough, you know that there is evil in the world and that evil fits in well with the Bible’s description of Satan and his influence. You may deny in your mind that there is a real devil but deep down your spirit knows there is.  All day, every day, voices whisper around you and you may not hear them or see who are speaking them, but they see you and they want to hurt you for their cheap thrills.

That’s when we need to be like Jesus and tell those thoughts, those residents of the spiritual realm, which torture us, or try to, that they have no place here.

That spirit who speaks to you has no power, and it needs to leave.

Fear?

Jesus says it has to go.

Anxiety?

Jesus says it has to go.

Jealousy?

Jesus says it has to go.

Infirmity?

Jesus says it has to go.

Anger?

Jesus says it has to go.

Hurt?
Jesus says it has to go.

Doubt, depression, pride, arrogance.

All of it.

When Jesus says it has to go, then it has to go and it can go with one word from him.

One word.

But also one word from us because when Jesus rose to heaven he told us that the Holy Spirit would be with us to help us do as he had done here on earth. It is Jesus’ power through us, and we can demand that spirits, that demons, that all evil that goes against us leave.

Now.

“Out!” Jesus said.

We can do the same with the thoughts that come after us, with the spirits that come against us because don’t be fooled — there is spiritual warfare, there are battles going on around us in spiritual realms and we are fighting against more than flesh and blood.

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints. Ephesians 6:10-18

Faithfully Thinking: The miracle I needed and others need too

I didn’t want to be moved to a new room in the hospital. I had just got comfortable in my private room in the Covid wing. I had also just fallen asleep for more than a half-hour to an hour at a time which had been plaguing me for two days. People weren’t interrupting me. I just kept jerking out of a Covid-induced-coma-sleep, terrified and feeling completely like I was outside of my body. It was awful.

I had actually been in my first three hour stretch of sleep in days when I was woken up by Phil, my six-foot something Teddy bear of a nurse, and told I had to be moved to another room because they needed my room for a man since he couldn’t be placed with the woman who had just been brought in.

I had to have a roommate. That meant I couldn’t pray or cry out loud to myself anymore.

I was being moved? I had to lose the emotional support of the nurses I had come to love?

Wait. What?

Covid brain fog is no joke but Covid brain fog when you were asleep for the longest stretch in two days and have been woken up is even worse.

“But I don’t want to go,” I told Phil, my bottom lip quivering.

“Aw, hon, it’s okay,” Phil told me, kneeling down to my level. “You’re doing great and you’re going to be in great hands. Mike is going to be your nurse and he’s great.”

I nodded, sniffled like a child and hugged my purse to me.

“O-o-Kay.” sniff.

Before I knew it, I was being pushed down a hall, weepy, looking warily into a room at a woman who didn’t necessarily look friendly from my quick glance.

“She’s sick, Lisa,” I reminded myself. “She’s not going to look friendly right now.”

She was curled on her side, no covers, arm under her head. She’d probably been woken up too and wasn’t real pleased about it. I guessed her age to be somewhere in her 60s.

I was wheeled to my bed and climbed quickly to the safety of it, always afraid I’d get shaky and fall even though I was fine most of thr. The bed was my safety net, as sad as it sounds.

It was a bed that actually hadn’t been ready for me. The nurses had to quickly set it up and move me in. Everything seemed so haphazard and unorganized on this floor. Where had I been brought to?

In the bed I waited to be hooked up to the 24/7 pulse ox I’d had in the previous room. The nurses took my state-of-the-art pulse ox hook up off my finger and let me know that didn’t have a 24/7 setup in this room because the other patient had it. She was hooked up to monitors and IVs and I started to wonder if the hospital was cutting corners because of shortages and what would that mean to me? What if my oxygen dropped but they didn’t have me hooked up where they could see my numbers at the nurse’s station like they had in the previous wing?

I would realize later, when I was less panicked about it all, that I didn’t need to be monitored as well as my roommate because my oxygen numbers were doing well on the very low flow of oxygen I was on. I was monitored every few hours and if I was nervous at all I could call the nurse or an aide to check. My roommate, who I will call Betty for this post, was in much worse shape.  The machine was beeping every half an hour or so, letting the nurses know her oxygen was at dangerous levels, even on the higher flow of oxygen she was on. This was normally when she was trying to get to the bathroom or just rollover.

I spent a lot of time in the hospital praying for myself.

“Lord, save me.”

“Lord, don’t let me die.”

“Lord, don’t leave my kids without a mom.”

When I was put in with Betty, I found myself praying for her too.

I’m not someone special, some amazing Christian. I still prayed for myself. I’m human. I’m selfish. But praying for Betty gave me something else to focus on and, more importantly, someone else to focus on.

On Saturday night, a day after I’d been placed with her, an aide was begging Betty to put on a bipap to force air into her lungs. Her oxygen had dropped to 63 or 68 percent.

This young man, probably about 24 years old, who spent much of his time joking around, kneeled next to her bed and he said, in the sweetest, most pleading voice, “Betty, I need you to do this for me, okay? I need you to fight for me and this is one way to fight. Your family needs you, Betty. Please try this for me. I don’t want to lose you tonight, okay?”

Another nurse came in and together she and this young man convinced Betty to put on this Bipap (similar to a CPAP used for sleep apnea) so she could breathe. Watching that aid and that nurse was like watching a scene from a television show. He especially was like a real-life angel, not to sound too dramatic.

Betty was unable to keep the mask and device on for more than am hour before she said it was making her feel like she was suffocating. When the nurses were out of the room, I told her she was suffocating without it. I told her I would hold her hand while she fell asleep on it. She shook her head, thanked me, but said she just couldn’t do it.

“Betty, do you have a family at home?”

“Yes. I have grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

“Fight for them, Betty.”

I walked around the curtain, shaky and tired, and laid my hand on her leg as she tried to rest, still trying her best to wear the Bipap mask. I asked God to help her keep the Bipap on so she could breathe. At that moment her oxygen rose from 85 to 98, well in normal range.

She was not able to keep the Bipap on for very long, but it did help while it was on. A couple of hours later, her oxygen was dropping again, and nurses came in to raise the flow on her oxygen, which can cause damage in the long run. She sat up on the bed while they tried to figure out how to get the oxygen in her without ventilating her and her oxygen dropped into the 70s. I was pacing on the other side of the curtain, praying, in between begging Betty to try the Bipap mask again.

The high flow began to work, and Betty was able to lay down again and I worked on getting some sleep. Somehow both of us slept for four hours or so that night.

Betty and I didn’t have a lot of time to talk, in between her throwing up and trying to breathe well and sleeping, but I did learn she had a husband, grandchildren and also COPD and heart failure. I learned that she was okay with my praying for her, even out loud, and she said she appreciated it. She said she didn’t go to church, but believed in God. She also gave me her jello and some crackers, probably after she heard me telling my mom how I was hungry all the time and felt like the meals weren’t filling me. I didn’t understand why I was so hungry and wondered if it was the steroids I was on, even though they were a low dosage.

Two nights after I thought I was going to listen to Betty die, I was being discharged. I had to have one last dose of the anti-viral medication and I was a nervous wreck, worried that I would be this close to going home to my family and I’d have some weird side effect from the medicine. I hadn’t so far, but I had this fear I would this time and that they would keep me from my children and husband again. (Note: if you are ever in the hospital, don’t read what others have to say about the medication you are being given, especially if the person says it is a conspiracy and now you are going to have kidney failure.)

In the end, all that worrying about what the medicine might do, raised my blood pressure and the nurse hinted I was going to be unable to go home with my family who was downstairs in the parking lot waiting for me. My family had driven 45-minutes, I desperately needed them for my healing, and I couldn’t take the stress of waiting for Betty to die, while praying she wouldn’t.  

“I have to get out of this hospital,” I told the nurse. “I have to go home. You don’t understand.”

I couldn’t calm down. Watching a Christian comedian wasn’t even helping. The nurse said that after talking to the doctor, she was going to give me medication to lower my blood pressure and if it came down, I could go home.

The nurse was at the end of her shift, stressed, wanted to send me home but was worried if she did and something happened to me at home, she would one, feel horrible and two, lose her job. She’d had to report the high blood pressure to the doctor. She had no choice, but she knew I was upset. She started my discharge paperwork, in case my blood pressure came down, rushing in and out of the room to check my blood pressure in between trying to also discharge four other people. I closed my eyes and prayed, terrified I would not get home that night after being told I would.

My eyes popped open.

My dad had been encouraging me to talk to Betty about becoming a Christian, but “Daaaad, hello? Betty is just trying to feel better and breathe normally. I can’t be over there proselytizing.”

 So I had prayed silently for Betty, asking God to touch her and heal her. I’d also already told her she could call on Jesus anytime she needed him, silently or out loud.

Laying there, waiting for my blood pressure to come down, though, a thought popped into my head. “Pray with Betty one more time. Tell her how to ask Jesus into her life.”

I felt a little like maybe God was making me jump through a hoop, or maybe that I was looking too much into this delay, or like I was being a bit dramatic. I mean, come on. Was God really delaying my discharge so I would pray with Betty one more time? This was silly.

Silly or not, I prayed out loud with Betty, who I couldn’t see behind the curtain between our two beds, and who was waiting for a nurse to come help her to the bathroom. I told her that if she ever wanted to ask Jesus into her heart she could do so, and it could be as simple as asking him to come and be a part of her life. Or something like that. I’ll be honest here; I don’t remember exactly what I said. I was nervous, felt like I was being one of those Christians who looks for signs in everything, and wanted to go home. But I also wanted Betty to have some comfort while I was gone and wasn’t there to pray with or over her anymore.

Betty said she understood what I was saying, thanked me for praying for her and said she appreciated everything I had done. She wished me luck going home. She was exhausted but still wanted to thank me.

Fifteen minutes later my blood pressure had dropped a small amount, not really enough for the nurse’s liking, but enough that she worked out a deal with the doctor to send me home if I agreed to monitor my blood pressure with my cuff at home, to increase my blood pressure medication (which I hadn’t yet started at that point), and see my doctor in six days.

I was going home, and I was so excited and nervous all at the same time. I was worried about me because I wouldn’t have 24/7 monitoring any longer.

I was also worried about Betty. I didn’t want to leave her alone in the hospital. Her doctor had said her family could visit her as long as they were masked and covered, and I hoped they would the next day. Still, who would be there to pray with her if her oxygen dropped again? Yes, of course I knew I could pray for her at home too.

I was also worried about Betty. I didn’t want to leave her alone in the hospital. Her doctor had said her family could visit her as long as they were masked and covered, and I hoped they would the next day. Still, who would be there to pray with her if her oxygen dropped again? Yes, of course I knew I could pray for her at home too.

After I was home, Betty was still on my mind even as I dealt with exhaustion and other symptoms. I knew the hospital couldn’t tell me how she was, since I wasn’t family. I called, though, and asked a nurse to tell Betty I was still praying. The nurse said she wasn’t supposed to tell me Betty was still there but that she was and that she would tell Betty I was praying.

Then I went to Facebook, did some sleuthing and found Betty’s account. From there I found a family member, or so I thought anyhow, and messaged them out of the blue, asking if they could give me an update on Betty.

To shorten the story, not only did this family member give me an update, but she also gave me Betty’s cellphone number at Betty’s request.

I texted her and she responded that she couldn’t talk right then.

I knew she was probably still fighting for her life so I texted back I understood and told her I would be praying.

Two days later Betty called me on my cellphone.

Her voice was clear, she wasn’t gasping for air, and she told me they had lowered her oxygen from 30 or 40 Liters to eight a couple of days earlier and that that day they had lowered it to 6 liters. At home she is on 4 liters at all times because of her COPD.

“My lung collapsed two days ago,” she said. “But I’m feeling better. I can eat, I’m coughing up a bunch of junk they wanted me to cough up and they say I might go home in two days.”

To say I was shocked by this exchange is an understatement.

This woman who was one step from being ventilated (something doctors try their hardest not to do anymore because of the damage it does, they told me) had just called me to tell me she was going home in two days.

Going home.

Not to ICU.

Home.

Wow.

Here I had been worried I would be reading her obituary and instead I was hearing the woman say to me, “I credit the good Lord above for this and I’m going to take better care of myself when I get out of here. Yes, I am.”

We agreed we would keep in touch, even after she left the hospital and I told her we will stop in and visit sometime when we are up in her area.

The next day she texted me and told me she was home.

The situation with Betty taught me a couple of things. It didn’t teach me that I’m some great Christian. Not at all. I prayed with Betty, but I wasn’t bold or confident about it. I was hopeful God would heal her, but I worried He wouldn’t.

However, meeting Betty taught me to be a little bolder in my faith at least. I think the fact I had brain fog from Covid probably made me a little braver too. I didn’t have the brain capacity to overthink like I usually do, which was a gift from God, even though I prayed for the brain fog to be taken away. He knew if I could think something like, “I look like some weird fanatical religious person doing this,” I wouldn’t actually pray out loud over Mary, asking Jesus for her healing. I couldn’t think that because my brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Not even close.

The time in the hospital showed me that I need to hold on to Christ when I feel like I can’t hold on to anything or anyone else. I had faith that the nurses and doctors would try to help me, but I knew only God could really heal me and protect me and I had to keep reminding myself of that. I wasn’t some super, confident Christian in that area. I had to listen to my mom, a pastor’s wife, and friends tell me that. Over and over.

I worried after my diagnosis that I or my husband would be a statistic. Or the rest of my family. Then I worried Betty would. Or members of other families who had it at the same time would. There were many times that Christ’s peace settled over me and a few moments later I would worry again and wipe it all away. I’d have to pause, pray and ask again for Christ’s peace.

In addition to strengthening my reliance on God, meeting Betty also taught me that God is still in the business of miracles.

There is so much sadness in the world. There is heartache, bitterness, hatred, hurt, and there has been deep, deep loss because of this virus. But there are also miracles like mine and Betty’s happening.

When I looked at my oxygen levels on Thanksgiving Day and saw it was lower than I’d read it should be during COVID, I panicked. When my husband went to get the car and it dropped even lower while I walked, yet I still felt pretty good, I completely panicked. While we waited for the ambulance, I pondered why I felt okay, why I wasn’t gasping for air. On the way to the ER, I wondered if the trip was wasted. In the ER when they finally said my blood oxygen was showing lower in the blood gasses than on the pulse ox and hooked me up to oxygen, I still wondered if my being admitted was necessary. I still wonder if the oxygen would have come back up on its own or not. I know some others have while others have not.

Maybe I overreacted or maybe it was all divine.

Maybe the ER doctor was over cautious and if he was then I am still thankful because he very well may have saved my life.

I am also thankful for his actions, not because his decision meant I spent five days away from my family, but because his decision led me to meet Betty and through Betty see a miracle.

It was a miracle that I, and many others, needed right now in our lives.

Faithfully Thinking: Keep Your Eyes Focused on Christ, not the storm

As Christians, we are called to keep our eyes on Christ, but this can be such a hard thing to do when so many other things and people are vying for our attention.

No year has made this struggle more prominent than in 2020.

This year has been like a roller coaster ride gone out of control.

We can shut off all the news, block ourselves out of all the social media sites imaginable, but if you’re like me, you can still feel “it”  — the perpetual tension in the air.

Between coronavirus, politics, social issues, moral issues, poverty, personal financial struggles, and family relationships breaking down, many of our heads are spinning. We don’t know where to focus, or more importantly, who to focus on.

I’ve found myself focusing too much on politicians and media; people who can’t provide me the peace I’m seeking.

I heard two sermons this week that focused on putting our focus back on the one who can help calm the storms within us, even as chaos reigns around us.

When the world is raging around me, I find it hard to keep anxiety from raging within me as well.

Jesus has called us to let him settle the storm within us, but we can only do that if we realize that, ultimately, he is in total control of our world.

Does it look like God is in control right now?

I know there are days it doesn’t look this way to me, but that is because I am looking at earthly situations. I am looking at what is tangible and right in front of me and not at the battles within the hidden realms.

“Hidden realms?” you might ask yourself. “Has Lisa gone all Lord of the Rings on me?”

Well, yes, and no. J.R.R. Tolkein was a Christian and he knew that there is a world beyond our own – a world where demons and the Prince of this World battle against the heavenly hosts for our souls.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. – Ephesians 6:12

The fact we are never completely in control of our own life is a hard concept for anyone to accept, Christian or not.

We can’t stop our car from slamming into a deer when there was no time to hit the brakes.

We can’t stop the hurricanes from destroying our lives, or cancer from taking our loved ones.

We can’t stop people from not liking us.

We can’t control what happens all around us on a daily basis.

What we can do is remind ourselves who is with us during the turbulent times.

The pastor at my parents’ church talked last week about the disciples being on a boat when a storm came up. Jesus wasn’t on the boat when the storm came, but walked to them from the shore, on the water. They thought he was a ghost.

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

Jesus said simply “Come.”

He didn’t say “Oh, that’s not safe. Nah. Don’t do that. I mean, look at the storm raging around you. There is no way you are going to make it.”

He said, “Come.”

And he said “come” because he knew the power to keep Peter calm during the storm was in his control.

Peter did what Jesus said and began to walk on the water, on his way to Jesus’ outstretched hand, but then he looked around at the waves thrashing around him, the wind buffeting him — pushing and pulling at him — rain hitting him the face, and he panicked.

He lost sight of Christ and he began to sink.

How many times have we lost sight of Christ in our own lives and let the chaos of the world overwhelm us and drown out the Lord’s voice?

For me, it is so many times. So many times, it is embarrassing.

We can’t control the world raging around us.

We can’t control viruses.

We can’t control social unrest.

We can’t control elections or politicians (no matter how much we wish we could.).

What we can control is our trust in a God that is more powerful than our fear.

There was another time that a storm raged around the disciples and Jesus, but Jesus slept through it. The disciples were amazed, maybe even annoyed. “How can he sleep when the waves are battering this boat back and forth?” they might have said to each other.

Jesus wasn’t worried, though. He knew and still knows, who is in control.

As the pastor told us Sunday, “Jesus is saying to you, ‘I created you. I formed you. I redeemed you. I have called you by name. What wind? What waves? What are you afraid of? I will always be faithful to you.’”

The pastor also said, “Jesus is in the boat with us.”

What a comforting thought — that we are not in the storms of life alone. Jesus is with us even as the winds howl and the water rises around us.

The words “God is in control” is something we can say with joy in our hearts because that means we don’t have to worry anymore. We can give our fears over to him, walk away and let the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) ) settle over us.

We can close our eyes, take a deep breath, and remind ourselves that Jesus is in the boat with us.

He’s in the midst of the storm and he calms the storm within us.

“You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.”
-Isaiah 26:3-4

Faithfully Thinking: When the church disappoints you

The Church has disappointed me, time and time again. By The Church, I mean the Christian Church.

I have stood in offices of private Christian schools and overheard gossip about others within the school; gossip that never should have been repeated. I have been told information I should never have been told by Christians who never should have known it, let alone shared it. I have heard Christians run down people who are struggling with cancer, mock people who were struggling with parenting, and betray people who were supposed to be their friends.

I have listened to people who call themselves Christians speak sarcastically and condescendingly to other Christians. I have been rejected by many Christians and I have been pushed to the outside of circles because I wasn’t the “right kind of Christian.”

And I have also done some of these things in the past myself.

I have been disappointed in myself.

I open my mouth or use my fingers at times I should not. I get annoyed and instead of praying, walking away and asking God to seal my mouth, I blurt out that annoyance. I have a quick tongue (and quick fingers) that God has been taming and has tamed in the past, only for me to lose control again. It may not seem like it to some, but I am so much better than I used to be. If people only knew how far I’ve come, they’d be so proud of me, even though I never recognize my progress and am rarely proud of myself.

That’s the issue when we judge people from only what we can see. Sometimes we see where a person is and not how far they’ve come. Trust me, I am very, very guilty of this.

The bottom line is that it is almost inevitable that at some point in our life The Church will disappoint us.

Its’ members will hurt us.

We will hurt them.

They will make mistakes.

We will make mistakes.

They are humans and we are humans and the only way for us all to get better is to commit to trying our best to live like Christ.

Church is not a place for perfect people.

It’s a place for hurting, broken, struggling, and failing people.

The people who hurt, break, and fail us.

No matter how many times The Church or its’ people disappoint us, God will never disappoint us.

Humans are ever-changing.

God is never changing.

I find that fact that God never changes comforting in the moments when I fail; when I fall off the wagon of keeping my mouth shut and get myself in trouble – once again.

I am not proud of those moments, but I know that even in those moments God loves me.

He knows I’m human and I’m going to fail.

He knows I want to change and I want to make amends where I can.

And he knows that The Church, his imperfect people, are simply learning as they go and they may hurt each other but that he will never hurt us and will always be there to comfort and hold us in our pain.

Don’t let the pain and hurt the people of God’s church have inflicted on you keep you from the never-changing love of Christ.

He’s with us even when The Church isn’t.

 

Faithfully Thinking: Which is more real, new or old time religion?

Church isn’t what it used to be and that can be both a good and a bad thing.

Yes, it’s good that the pastor’s who screamed hell and damnation at every service is fading out of the mainstream, but I’m not sure that it’s a great thing the pendulum has swung entirely the other direction and now we have pastors telling people to do whatever makes them feel good because God loves them anyway. God does love them no matter what, but I don’t know telling people to do whatever they want is the message God wants them to be pushing.

Today church is like going to a full-fledged concert, complete with fancy lights and singers and dancers and sound systems and a complete stage show leading up to the headliner – which is of course the pastor presenting the sermon.

Up until this past Sunday I thought these halftime-show type of churches was only something found in bigger cities, but while looking up an old college friend online I learned there is a copy cat style church near us, complete with fancy backdrop and professional sound system.

I watch a church service based out of Charlotte, N.C. every Sunday and it’s one of those churches that holds a 30-minute worship concert before the pastor, dressed in ripped jeans and a trendy shirt, comes out to preach. I actually love the pastor at the church and feel the worship is heartfelt and truly “worshipful” and not simply entertainment. To me the pastor is very honest about his doubts as a Christian and his awareness that many Christians don’t always feel good enough but pretend they’re fine. In my opinion, he is not at all the caricature his detractors paint him out to be. I’m impressed that he never ends a service without an altar call and always asks for everyone to stand until the Word of God has been read.

old or new_ (1)

Still, I sometimes feel uneasy with the slightly staged feeling of the service overall – the way you know when the sermon is going to end because the keyboard and base players appear in the background to begin playing the pastor’s “background music” to accentuate the emotional, serious final sermon point; how they break away during the music so they can show someone being “spontaneously” baptized in a big tub/pool in the lobby; and how you can see customers at the the merchandise store behind the commentators who talk about the sermon on the Youtube channel after it’s over, making sure they commemorate their visit to the church that now has their own touring worship band.

Though there are parts of the service that make me uncomfortable, I feel the pastor and others associated with the church are sincere and believe what they preach. There are times the Holy Spirit does seem to be leading the service such as when the main pastor swerves off script and prays or preaches a little longer than he should (he has to be careful because he preaches and they broadcast two morning services so he doesn’t let the Spirit get too out of control).

But then there are the churches trying to copy the church I watch or similar churches. The local church that I watched a little of this weekend featured frightened-looking women with large, fake smiles plastered on their faces saying things like “Tell Jesus you love him this morning. Okay? That’s right. We love Jesus.” without even blinking. Creeeepy.

The churches that have worship concerts to kick off services are mainly aimed at the younger crowd, who apparently need constant entertainment to feel like life is real. Maybe I’m an old fart at the ripe age of 42, but sometimes the inability to present the gospel without a light show is disconcerting to me.  I love worship bands and worship singers possessing long hair, tats up and down their arms, and recording contracts, don’t get me wrong. I believe many of these worship leaders are anointed and aren’t after the fame. There are others, though, who are just the opposite. As Christians we have to be careful and weed out which is which; not always an easy task.

000005_DSC_6658

I miss when we went to church and there was a little lady up front playing piano and the congregation joined their voices together and could be heard, instead of being drowned out by the pounding drums and the singer showing off his or her vocal acrobatics. I miss the pastor simply preaching to preach, not to make sure he produced a Twitter-worthy quote or an Instagram-story worthy clip. I miss people trying to save souls instead of reputations. I miss when a relationship with God was personal and not an effort to seem popular.

DSC_4623

Can there still be the personal outreach and the intimate connection with God in a church that uses a light show and a sound system to dazzle our eyes and tickle our senses? Of course there can be and, of course, I still feel God is moving in a church that sometimes seems preoccupied with appearance. Even with the show, with the light, with the perfect color-coordinated advertising campaigns, there is definitely some real preaching going on in some (the keyword being some) of these types of churches.

But we can definitely get lost in all the perfectly crafted moments and lose sight of the simple, uncomplicated, God we are here on Earth to worship and fellowship with. God doesn’t need our light shows or YouTube Channels. He doesn’t need our new clothing lines with the names of our churches emblazoned on T-shirts and beanie hats. He doesn’t need big buildings or big screens and he doesn’t care about subscribers or followers.

All he wants is to have a relationship with us and we need to be careful that the pounding drums and the raging guitar and the pastor’s catchphrase don’t drown out his voice.

 

Fully Alive Part 3

For the first part of this work in progress click HERE. For the second part, click HERE.

This is a work in process and there will most likely be typos and changes to it in the future.


The busy sounds of people rushing by to complete their daily chores quieted as Jairus pushed the door to the synagogue closed. He leaned against the door and closed his eyes for a moment as he tried to quiet his racing thoughts.

Jairus focused on the words he had said to Josefa the night after the teacher had healed her.

Healed her? Brought her back to life?

Is that really what had happened?

Even now it was all too unbelievable to him.
He wondered, did he really believe this man, this Jesus was the true Messiah as he had told Josefa?

Maybe he had been wrong to say so. He’d spent his whole life studying the scrolls, learning of Moses and Elijah, about the prophecies of the Messiah. Now here he was almost completely convinced the man he had followed in the street, begging for him to come and heal his only daughter was indeed the Messiah. He knew he was being ridiculed behind his back by the other leaders of the synagogue for asking for Jesus’ help but he couldn’t deny what he had witnessed that day.

He remembered Josefa’s fever and how she’d no longer been able to stand. Miriam, his wife, had soaked cloth and laid it across Josefa’s forehead, hoping the cool water from the stream would revive her. For days they sat by her cot, holding her hand, Miriam weeping as Josefa moaned and faded in and out of consciousness.

 

“You know I told you about this teacher, this man they call Jesus? Miriam, are you listening? He’s been healing people. I saw him heal a man’s hand in the synagogue last week. The leaders were upset because it was the sabbath, but I saw the man’s hand. It was diseased, scarred, withered but Jesus held it, touched it and the hand was whole again.”

 

Miriam dabbed her eyes with her shawl as her husband spoke, barely listening as she watched her daughter’s breathing become more and more shallow. Dark circles were now under Josefa’s eyes.

 

“I will go to him, ask him to come,” Jairus was speaking again. He was pacing the floor, rubbing and pulling at the hairs of his beard as he always did when thoughts overwhelmed him.

 

“Do we now believe in such men who call themselves healers?” Miriam asked, weary from worry.

 

Josefa’s body shuddered with a convulsion. Miriam rushed to her, held the girl’s small frame against her chest. Josefa’s breathing became labored, shallow. Jairus saw the panic in his wife’s eyes and felt it rising in himself as well.

“We are losing her! Go! Go to this teacher and ask him to come!” Miriam’s voice was filled with fear. “He’s our only hope now!”

Jairus’ heart pounded as he ran from the house, out onto the crowded paths, pushing his way through travelers and locals and animals being led to market. He could see a crowd around a man in front of him. They were all moving one direction, calling out “Jesus!” Questions were being asked, some voices mocked, some sounded hopeful.

An image of Josefa’s pale frame flashed in Jairus’ mind and he tried to move faster, pushing more people aside. His chest felt tight, his breath more labored. Was this man he was trying to reach a heretic as the synagogue leaders and other rabbis said? What if he was crazy like the man who was called John the Baptist, who was covered in dirt and smelled and had spoke of a healer and prophet who would come to save the Jews?

Jairus’ foot caught a stone and he felt himself falling. The sand flew into his face and pebbles cut at his palms. As he pushed himself up he felt tears hot and stinging his eyes. He would never reach Jesus now.

He saw sandal clad feet before him and looked up.

“Let me help you,” a man with kind eyes and a smile held a hand out to him.

Jairus took it and stood slowly.

“Thank you,” he barely looked at the man, instead searching the crowd to see where Jesus had gone.

“Do you seek Jesus?” The man asked.

“Yes,” Jairus said, breathless.

“Come. I’m one of his followers. I will help you to him.”

Jairus looked at the man, noticed his unkempt beard and slightly frayed clothes. He nodded at him, seeing kindness and concern in his gaze.

The man gently touched the shoulders of those around them and people began to move aside. Ahead of them Jairus saw Jesus had paused and turned to the crowd. His eyes focused on Jairus who suddenly felt unsure, uneasy. Jairus dropped his gaze to the ground, overwhelmed with worry for his daughter and overwhelmed with the presence of a man who had performed so many miracles. His body felt weak from running, from being awake for so many days watching over his daughter.

He felt his knees give way and he fell to the ground before Jesus.

Sobs wracked his body as he lost control of control his emotions.

“Jesus,” he gasped out the name.

A sob choked his words and he thought he wouldn’t be able to finish.

“Jesus, my little girl is dying. Please. Come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”

He felt tears rush down his face and he was startled by emotions he usually tried to keep locked inside.

He felt a hand on his head, on the covering he wore there.

“Come, rise and let us go to her,” Jesus voice was calm, gentle.

 

His followers helped Jairus to his feet and Jesus motioned for him to lead the way to his home. The crowd surged around Jesus and they all began to move with him, as if one combined force, following Jairus. Several moments of chaos followed and Jairus felt a rush of frustration as the crowd pushed between him and Jesus.

“Jesus! What does God ask of us?”

“Jesus, what happens when we die?”

“Jesus, will I find wealth?”

People cried out as they walked. They pushed against each other, each person wanting to get closer to the man so many were talking about.

“Who touched me?”

Jairus faintly heard Jesus’ voice over the noise of the crowd but he could barely hear what he was saying. He tried to push forward in the crowd, looking over his shoulder every few steps to see if Jesus was following.

“I felt power go from me,” Jesus spoke louder to one of his followers. He stopped and turned to look behind him. “Who has touched me?”

The people in the crowd murmured and grew quiet.  Jairus stopped to see why Jesus wasn’t following.

“Master, there are people all around you and you are asking ‘who touched me?’” one of Jesus’ disciples laughed slightly as he spoke. His tone was incredulous, tinged with annoyance.

Jairus knew this was the man called Peter – a local fisherman who now followed Jesus. Many whispered surprise Peter, known as brash and abrupt, was following a teacher of God.

“Somebody touched me, for I perceived power going out from me,” Jesus said.

His eyes scanned the crowd around him but no one answered. They looked at each other confused and unsure why Jesus was concerned.

A woman’s voice could be heard softly, barely above a whisper.

“It was me.”

“Who is speaking?” One of Jesus’ disciples asked. “Please, come forward. Answer the teacher.”

The crowd moved aside and a woman, head down, moved toward the front. She dropped to her knees, her head bowed low, her clothes tattered and stained. She clutched her hands before her and tears dripped off her face and into the dirt.

Jairus felt anxious. He wanted to grab Jesus by the arm and drag him forward, back to his house and his daughter, but at the same time he was entranced by the scene unfolding before him.

The woman glanced upwards at Jesus.

“It was me,” she said softly.

“I knew if I could just touch the hem of your robe…”

Her gaze fell again on the ground.

“I’ve been to every doctor. I’ve been bleeding for 12 years. No one will come near me, teacher. I am unclean.”

Some in the audience winced and a few stepped away from her, covering their mouths.

Tears continued to stream down her face.

“I have tried everything. I heard of your miracles and I knew – if I just touched the hem..”

Her fingertips grazed the edge of his robe again. She could barely speak as she sobbed.

“Master, the bleeding. I can feel- it’s stopped. Something is … something is …..different.”

Jairus felt his heart pounding heart and fast. If this woman was sure she had been healed, if she was saying simply touching the hem of his garment was enough to heal her then he was indeed a powerful man, a messenger of God. If healing flowed from him so easily then there was hope for Josefa.

Jesus kneeled before the woman, reached out and took her hands in his. He touched her chin and lifted her face toward his.

“Daughter, your faith has made you well.”

Jesus kissed her forehead gently and wiped the tears from her face. He stood and helped her to stand with him.

“Go in peace.”

A sob escaped her lips and she kissed Jesus’ hand as she held it. She backed slowly away.

“Thank you. Thank you.”

A hush had settled over the crowd. Some of the women dabbed their eyes and men talked quietly to each other, shaking their heads with furrowed eyebrows.

Jairus felt a sense of urgency rushing through him, tensing his muscles. He needed Jesus to hurry. He felt at hope at what he had seen and he wanted the same for his Josefa and his family.

“Jesus, my daughter… please …”

Jesus turned toward him and nodded.

“Of course, let us go…”

Jairus felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Josiah, his servant from home, standing next to him, his face stained with tears and dirt.

“Master, there is no need to hurry now. Josefa-“ his voice trailed off and Jairus began to shake his head.

“There is no need to bother the master now,” Josiah said. “She’s – “

“No! No!” Jairus wouldn’t let him finish.

He felt bile rushing up into his throat and his hands began to shake. He pressed his hands to his head, as if trying to wake himself from a dream.

“Josefa…” he felt the tears hot on his face and he clutched his robe against him as pain seared through his chest. “Oh God. God help me.”

He looked up as Jesus touched his arm.

“Do not be afraid. Believe.”

Jesus’ eyes were kind but Jairus’ mind was reeling. If only Jesus had moved faster. If only that woman hadn’t stopped them. Josefa would still be alive and her laughter would still fill their home.

“She’s gone,” he told Jesus. “We cannot save her now. You can not heal her. If only – ”

Jesus looked over Jairus’ shoulder, his gaze moving above the crowd.

“Come, lead me to your home.”

Jairus did as Jesus told him but his legs felt as if they were weighted down. Before they even reached the corridor where his home was he could hear the wailing and knew mourning had already begun.

 

Mourners were outside the home, trying to comfort Miriam, who was clearly in shock as she pulled at her clothes and repeated “no. no. no.”
Jairus rushed toward his wife, grasped her by the shoulders and pulled her against him. She clutched at his clothes and shoved her face into his chest.

“She’s gone. She’s gone. Oh, Jairus. Our little girl is gone.”

Jesus pushed forward in the crowd. He laid his hand against Miriam’s back to comfort her.

“There is no need for tears,” he said with a gentle firmness. “The girl is not dead. She is merely sleeping.”

An angry voice shouted over the noise of the crowd.

“She’s dead! You give these people false hope!” a man shouted.  “You are a liar and a fool! Like all who have come before you!”

Other voices joined in agreement.

“You say you can heal but you only bring hallow promises to these people,” a man sneered.

Jesus stood with his back to the crowd, kneeling down beside Miriam and Jairus.

“Send these people away and come inside with me,” he instructed. “Peter, James, John, come with me.”

Jairus opened his eyes to the sound of someone moving inside the temple, interrupting his thoughts and memories of that day.

“Jairus? Is that you?”

He recognized the voice of Ezra, another leader in the synagogue.

“Yes, Ezra. Good morning.”

Ezra walked toward him holding scrolls.

“Have you come to help me organize these for the scribes?” his mouth lifted in a wry smile.

“I did not but I am glad to help,” Jairus said returning the smile.

The men laid the scrolls on the table next to a bottle of ink.

“I do not know how so much has become in disarray in here – and outside,” Ezra said.

He looked at is friend and noticed Jairus was pulling at his beard, as he often did when deep in thought.

“Tell me, Jairus. How is Josefa recovering?”

Jairus smiled. “Well. She is well. It is – dare I say it? A miracle indeed.”

Ezra nodded but his expression grew serious.

“Jairus, I must ask you – I’ve heard many talk of what happened with Josefa. Is it true, what they say? Was she dead before Jesus arrived?”

Jairus felt his muscles tense. He was unsure what Ezra hoped to learn with his questions. He pondered how to answer, but knew telling the truth might encourage Ezra to help him understand more what had happened.

“Miriam and her hand maiden said there was no breath. She was cold when I entered the home and I felt no heartbeat beneath my hand. Her skin –“ he felt his breath catch in his throat and he paused to choke back emotion. He shook his head as if to shake the image from his mind. “Her skin was pale, tinged with blue. And… so cold.”

Ezra put his hand on his friend’s arm and squeezed it slightly.

“You’ve been through much, my friend,” Ezra said.

He opened a scroll to read it’s contents, rolled it again and stuck it back in a space in the temple wall.

“What do you believe happened that day?” Ezra asked.

“I don’t know, friend. I truly don’t. All I know is she was gone and when Jesus came she arose at his bidding. He took her hand and instructed her to rise and live and she did.”

“After all you have seen .. .” Ezra paused in stacking the scrolls and turned to look to Jairus “After meeting this man who calls himself the Son of God – who do you say he is?”

Jairus realized he didn’t know how to answer. He had seen Jesus do miraculous things and heard of even more. He believed his daughter was still living because Jesus touched her, but was he truly the son of Jehovah or was he simply a great teacher, so holy Jehovah used him to heal.

He looked Ezra in the eyes, opened his mouth to answer and then closed it again.

“Ezra – I wish I could say, but truly, I do not know what to believe about this man.”

“That’s not my crown! It’s Jesus’ crown!”

I had ordered a crown of thorns last year as a prop for a stock photography session for Lightstock and it has sat on the top shelf of our bookshelf for a year, occasionally being moved for dusting or straightening of books.

A couple times since the purchase I have heard my husband say “ow!” And when we ask what happened he’ll say “I just pricked my finger on Jesus’ crown!”

A month or so ago my son pretended to put it on his sister. The mock crown is made of real thorns. They hurt.

“Knock it off!” She yelled. “That’s not my crown! It’s Jesus’ crown!”

I knew there was a sermon, so to speak, in there somewhere but my brain is mush most days and this was one of those days so I just filed it away to think about another time.

DSC_3596

I took the crown down again a couple of days ago to photograph for stock photography again this year. The sunlight was pouring through our kitchen window perfectly and it was the first time I’d been inspired to shoot something in almost two months.

I laid the crown on my new Bible and in the center I placed a communion cup filled with grape juice and then two pieces of broken bread (incidentally, I accidentally purchased 1,000 sealed plastic communion cups. I have 999 left. Let me know if your church needs some.).

“That’s not my crown! It’s Jesus’ crown!”

Ouch.

If we as Christians truly believe Jesus lived and died and now lives again, then we must believe the full story and that is that the crown of thorns, of pain, of humiliation, was placed on his head and not ours.

And if he took our pain then he also took our sins, past, present and future. And if he took our sins onto himself then he also took our doubts, our loneliness, our health worries, our physical and emotional shortcomings, our failures and all of our questions.

He wore the crown.

He took the nails.

He carried the cross.

He entered hell so we didn’t have to.

The question is, do we really believe that?

And if we really believe that then why don’t we live like we do?

DSC_3618DSC_3683

Can you give me a sign, Lord?

Reading the Bible as a reference for a story I’m working on, (Plus I should be reading it more anyhow) I noticed there are a couple of different times it is noted, at least in the NIV version, that Jesus “sighed deeply.” I’m not sure if this translation from Hebrew and Greek is correct or not, but it cracks me up. I can actually see Jesus rolling his eyes in his particular part from Mark.

“The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. 12 He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” 13 Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.” (Mark 8:11)

In my head, this is how it went down: “Seriously? A sign? Why do you people always want a sign?”

Mocking tone: “‘Give me a sign and then I’ll do it.’ It’s like you just want to procrastinate in doing what you know my Father is asking you do to. Just believe it or don’t. Don’t wait for fire from heaven. If it is God’s will you’ll begin to see your path clear, if it isn’t, the path will be closed. I really don’t have time for this. I have others who listen and don’t ask me for signs. Disciples, let’s blow this village.”

And then he pivoted on his feet and walked away.

So anyhow, I have these decisions to make in my life and I need a sign. You think God will give me one?