Bring on the Carmel (Hold the Chocolate)

Megadim_Cliff_Mount_Carmel_-1Ok, so the title is probably a bit misleading. This post has nothing to do with candy. Is it about Carmel though… Mount Carmel. You probably know the story… how Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a god competition. (If you don’t know the story, you can read it here.) I’ve always read/heard the story with the idea that those stupid people who worshipped Baal needed to be put into their place. But when the story teller at our children’s Sunday night Pioneer Club retold the story, I heard something else.

Think about this… The prophets of Baal set up a proper sacrifice. They had a nice pile of wood, plenty of burnable material. They chose a bull, cut it into pieces and laid it on the wood. That right there is barbeque waiting to happen. They just needed Baal to bring the matches.

Elijah, on the other hand,  built an altar of stone. He dug a ditch around it, placed wood on top, and laid the pieces of bull on top of that. The ditch is a little weird, but ok. We can cook on stone. Then he turns to some people and says, pour water over it all. They did. Then he said, “Do it again.” And then “Do it again.” Everything was soaked. There was so much water, it filled the ditch around the altar. If you remember, Smokey Bear teaches us that water puts out a good campfire, so I’m thinking it would be pretty darn hard to start a fire when everything is that wet.

So we have barbeque waiting to happen and an impossibly soggy pile of meat. Those prophets of Baal spent all.day.long crying to their God. “Please, just light the darn thing on fire. We’ve even set it all up for you. Just one tiny spark should do just fine.” They cut themselves and danced. I cannot imagine the amount of physical pain and weakness they went through to try to convince their god to just show up for the picnic.

When it was Elijah’s turn, he prayed a simple prayer. “You are God. Answer me, Lord, so these people will know that you are the one and only God, and that you are turning their hearts back to you.” Immediately, the entire soggy mess burst into flames. The fire burnt up the meat, the wood, the stones, the soil, and dried up all the water in the ditch. Now I was under the impression that stone and dirt don’t burn, but this time, it did. If that’s not proof that He is real, then I don’t know what is.

How many times, though, do I prepare my sacrifice, and line up my dominoes perfectly, then pray to my “gods” to make things happen? I set it all up, and then I look to my husband or to my kids or to my friends or my ego or my “set your goals and achieve your dreams”ness… or whatever to make it all happen. I get so worked up, trying everything to get the attention of these gods. I mean, come on!!! It’s a barbeque waiting to happen; just bring the darn matches already! And all I get is crickets.

And God is there the whole time, waiting for me to just stop.

I don’t have to set anything up for God. I can bring Him the absolute most impossible, and it doesn’t phase Him one single bit. He simply reaches down from heaven and proves that He is real and that He can be trusted.

God is real.

He can be trusted.

He is a master of the impossible.

 

*photo credit

When Dream Houses Implode

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Sometimes, it feels like God thinks my life is one big joke, as if I am but a doll in his drama filled dollhouse. I can see Him sitting up there with his two buddies, Jesus and H.G…. “Hey guys, watch this!” He snickers. Then he knocks me down the dollhouse stairs or pulls a wad of hair from my head or yanks my arm off. The threesome all laugh wickedly, then rush out of the room to play something else, leaving me lying there in a battered heap at the foot of my dream house stairway.

I thought this pink dream house was going to be everything I wanted. It was perfect. My Ken doll was perfect. Our little kid dolls were perfect. Our pink convertible was perfect. My walk in closet full of flashy outfits was perfect.

But now, the shutters are hanging loose. The front door is stuck in a half open position. We’ve lost the potted flowers that sit on the front steps. Someone has scribbled on every single floor of the house with green crayon. The beautiful portrait stickers have been peeled from the walls, leaving only ragged white scum. My perfect Ken doll now wears a permanent Sharpied frown. My little girl dolls are sporting that ugly plastic-doll-hair-stuck-straight-up look. My little boy dolls hang their faces, decorated with Sharpie freckles, out the broken window pane of the upstairs bedroom. The rows and rows of sparkling outfits hanging in the closet just collect dust, because they were made for a skinnier, sexier version of me… a version I will never be again. And me… I lay battered at the bottom of my dream house stairway, wondering how I got there.

How does everything you’ve ever wanted in life suddenly blow up in your face? Doesn’t the dream house please God? Doesn’t He want us to be content… to love the home He’s given… to love the family He’s given… to throw ourselves into that dream house with all our hearts? Doesn’t He like it when we embrace the role of wife, mother, and homemaker? I thought that’s what pleased Him.

But now, as I lay at the bottom of my dream house stairway, I hear Him say…

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”

“What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

“Brenda, Brenda, ‘you are anxious and troubled about many things. But one thing is necessary.’ To sit at my feet.”

And the truth sinks in slowly, but warmly. I have worshipped my dream house. I have made Ken my god. I have made the kid dolls my joy. I have made my sparkling outfits my security. I lay battered at the bottom of the stairs because this dream house has let me down. I lay here because Ken is not my god, these kid dolls are not my joy, and these outfits… these skinny, little outfits… they are not my security. They have all let me down. They have not been to me what I’ve needed when I’ve needed it most.

I poured my love and my trust into them, but they could not bear it. My love and my trust is God-shaped, not doll shaped or house shaped or skinny shaped. Nothing else can receive my love and my trust except my God, because only He can be trusted, and only He can return that love in pure and steadfast volumes.

He does not demand love, because He is a selfish love hog. He commands my love, because He knows my heart, my needs, the very depths of my being, and He longs to be…

my shield

my fortress

my hope

my joy

my strength

my rock

my refuge

my deliverer

my light

my salvation

my song

my security

my helper

my resting place

my steadfast love

the upholder of my life

…my God.

Because nothing else and no one else can be all that for me.

 

God Became Vulnerable by Love

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Two days had passed, two long days, since Lazarus’s servant stumbled to Jesus’ feet and panted, “Laz…a…rus… is very… sick… Rabi. P…please come… so that you might… heal him…. We fear… he won’t make… it much longer.”

I searched Jesus’ face, wondering what he would do. Lazarus and his sisters were like family to him. He loved them differently than he loved us disciples. It was more than a comradery. He loved them with a tenderness, much like an older brother toward his baby sister, only with much more intensity. I studied his face, but it remained calm and confident.

“Go home,” he instructed the servant. “His sickness does not lead to death, but to the glory of God.”

And that was it. The servant ran back home believing Lazarus was going to be just fine, and we went back to… well, what we always do… walk around talking to people, camping out under the stars, controlling the crowds as Jesus told stories.

But the last two days have been different. Every word he’s spoken has been tinted with a hint of sadness. When the crowds are gone, he’s quiet. I asked Peter this morning if he had noticed something was off.

“Ah, John,” he quipped, “It’s Jesus. He’s always a bit… well, different.”

When Peter brushed me off, I asked my brother James. I only got a shrug out of him and a quick, “hadn’t noticed.”

Maybe it’s because Jesus and I have a closeness that the others don’t share, or maybe it’s because I’m simply more emotionally sensitive. I don’t know, but apparently I’m the only one who had noticed anything different. That is, until Jesus suddenly announced, “Let’s go to Judea again.”

You would have thought Jesus was suggesting suicide. Everyone immediately began to protest. You could hardly hear one above the other. Finally. Peter boomed above the others. “Are you crazy?! The Jews are wanting to stone you to death, and you want to just waltz into the middle of them?”

Jesus held up his hand and calmly asked, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”

None of us were sure what in the world Jesus was talking about. Peter looked at me and raised one eyebrow as if to say, “I told you he was different.” I sighed and stayed close to Jesus. Something wasn’t right, and I wanted to figure it out.

When Jesus saw that we were confused, he said, “Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I will go to wake him up.” He said “asleep”, but his face said so much more.

I put my hand on his arm and probed him further. “Lord, if he’s sleeping, that’s a good thing. He will recover quickly.”

He sighed, and simply stated, “Lazarus has died.” Several gasps circulated through the lot of us as he continued, “I’m glad, for your sake, that I wasn’t there, so that you may believe. But, come on. Let’s go.”

Thomas began to gather up his few belongings then. “Let’s go, boys! We shall die with him.”

And so here we are… nearing Bethany. And apparently we’re not the only ones. “Hey!” I called to a Jewish man passing me. “What’s going on? Why are so many Jews coming into Bethany?”

“Haven’t you heard? Lazarus died. They buried him four days ago. We’re going to comfort his sisters.”

Is it my imagination or did Jesus just wince at those words?

“Jesus! Jesus!” Martha ran toward us. She stopped a couple feet in front of Jesus, breathing heavily from her jog. “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!” she accused. Jesus took her hand and looked compassionately into her eyes, and her tone softened. “But even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, He will give you.”

“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus answered.

Martha sighed in frustration. “I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Jesus took her other hand into his and explained, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

Martha nodded slowly. “Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Jesus gave her a soft, sad smile. “Now, go get Mary. I wish to speak to her.”

We sat down beside the road and waited, and within a few minutes, we could see Mary walking toward the large boulder where Jesus sat. She practically stumbled to his feet, sobbing, “Jesus! Oh, Jesus! If you had been here…. If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” Her tears fell like rain as her body shook with sobs.

ifyouhadbeenhere

Jesus placed his hand on her head and swallowed hard. The mourners who had been with the sisters were beginning to gather around as well, weeping for their lost friend and for the loss of Mary and Martha. Jesus cleared his throat and blinked hard. “Where have you laid him?” he managed to ask before he too began to weep.

He pulled Mary’s head into his lap and leaned his forehead onto her head. His body shook forcefully. I have never seen a grown man cry so hard. I couldn’t keep it in any longer. I stood beside him, wrapped my arm around his shoulder, and cried.

The other disciples shifted awkwardly as the crowd began to whisper amongst themselves. “Look how much he loved Lazarus!” But some in the crowd accused him. “He opened the eyes of the blind! Couldn’t he have kept this man from dying?!”

Jesus lifted his head when he heard these words. With tears still streaming down his face, he gently lifted Mary to her feet, and stood himself up. Taking her hand, he led the crowd to Lazarus’s tomb.

“Take away the stone.”

Martha turned her head quickly toward Jesus in disbelief. “Lord, he’s been in there for four days. By this time, he’s really going to stink.”

“Oh Martha,” he answered. “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

Several of the other disciples lined up next to the stone, but I stayed by Jesus’ side. He was hurting, and I wasn’t about to leave him when he needed me most. They pushed against the stone and it slowly began to roll from the opening of the cave.

Jesus looked up toward heaven and confidently said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” Then turning his face toward the tomb, he boomed, “Lazarus, come out!”

I nearly fell over backwards. Emerging from the tomb was Lazarus himself, still bound in burial cloths. Jesus nudged me. “Unbind him, and let him go.”

I hesitated, still trying to wrap my mind around what just happened. Jesus nudged me again, and I stepped forward. A huge grin spread across my face, and I ran to Lazarus. One by one, I unwound the cloths as his sisters and friends began to crowd around him.

After removing the last strip of cloth, I squeezed my way out of the crowd and found my way to Jesus’ side. “God feels. God cries. God understands. God is love.” I whisper these words, half to Jesus, half to myself. He smiles.

“God is love.” These words will stick with me for life. There is nothing so strong on earth as love. Nothing so exuberating… so edifying… so beautiful… and yet so painful as love. God came down from His throne to this humble earth. He allowed Himself to love… to feel it’s beauty and it’s pain. Why? So that we can believe. I will never forget this day… the day that God Himself sobbed uncontrollably because He loved.

 

When Rotten Lettuce Condemns

lettuceWe had only twenty minutes before we had to be out the door and on our way to church. I rushed through the kitchen on the way to the laundry room to desperately dig through the baskets looking for clean underwear for my four year old. As I passed the end of the kitchen counter, I stopped in my tracks.

Is that…? Ew. It is. Right there on the edge of the counter, eight inches above the trash can sat my lidded glass bowl which once had a hand full of lettuce past its prime. It had been removed from the fridge and set there, waiting to be dumped into the trash. Life continued and I kept thinking I’d dump it right before the trash gets taken out or the next time I load the dishwasher.

I don’t know how a bowl of lettuce can go ignored for that long, but it did. My incredible glass bowl now held a blackish, slimy liquid, a perfect illustration of decomposition and the life cycle of the fruit fly.

Gross, I know. But what’s even grosser is what happened the moment I noticed it.

“Are you kidding?” my brain yelled at me. “Can you not even manage to clean your own dishes? Look at this house! Just look at it! You’re a complete failure. You can never keep it clean. You suck at parenting too. I mean, if you were a good parent, then your children would always pick up after themselves. You would be working alongside them, teaching them how to clean the kitchen and mop the floor and clean the bathroom. You would all merrily sing like Snow White and the seven dwarfs as you sweep those little puffs of dust out the backdoor. And speaking of your kids… what makes you think you can teach them at home? You fail everyday at that. I mean really, think about all those holes in your teaching. And now you’re going out the door to church where you will smile to every well meaning greeter and lie through your teeth that you’re “doing good”. You can’t even manage to make friends. You’re incredibly awkward and just plain weird. Besides, how can you be a true friend and invite them over when you have rotting lettuce on your kitchen counter?”

Yeah, it was that bad. I fought back tears on the way to church, pouted through Sunday school (being sure to hide it with my smile), and guilted my way through the church service. Why can’t I just get it right? Why am I such a failure in life? I condemned myself over and over and over again. I just want to be successful in something. I just need one thing… just one thing that I attempt to actually succeed… to be at least half way perfect.

I tried to pray about it this evening as I scrubbed the dishes and counters. But I didn’t even know how to pray or what to say. Do I ask Him to provide help? Do I ask Him to teach me to “man up”? Do I ask Him to show me what to cut out of my life, so I have time to do the most important things? (But there are no extras to cut out.) I just didn’t know.

But the Spirit did. He always does. He knew what my heart really needed. Romans 8 began to slowly pour over me and the tears trickled down.

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“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

“And we know that in all things (even bowls of rotten lettuce) God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one.”

And then the glorious part… What can separate us from His love? Bowls of rotting lettuce? Never. Dirty kitchen floors? Never. Failed attempts at producing a substantial income from home? Never. Imperfect parenting? Never. Half written novels? Never. In fact…

I am more than a conqueror in all these things through Him who loves me.

Did you catch that? I don’t have to be perfect to be loved. Who condemns me? No one.

In all my imperfectness, I am loved.

That last sentence should be repeated out loud in an awed whisper.

In all my imperfectness, I am loved.