Jesus went back home to Capernaum a few days later, and word got around quickly that he had returned. People found out where Jesus was and mobbed the place to the point it was standing room only with people spilling out the door. While he was teaching, four men rolled up carrying a paraplegic friend. They figured there was no getting to Jesus from the ground, so they climbed up on the roof and dug a hole through it. They lowered their friend down on the mat he was lying on.
Jesus took note of their effort and he granted the paralyzed man a full pardon of all past wrongdoing, saying, “You have a clean slate starting today.”
Some law professors who were sitting in the crowd thought to themselves, Who does this guy think he is? Only God can pass that kind of judgment. Does he think he’s God?
As the thoughts were forming in their heads, Jesus sensed it and said, “Why you gotta think like that? Which is easier: for me to tell this paralyzed man that he has a clean slate, or to tell him to get up and walk? Just so you know that the Son of Man is fully authorized to pass that kind of judgment while I’m here…” Turning to the paralyzed man, he said, “Go ahead, get up, take your mat and go home.”
The man got up, took his mat and walked out in plain sight of everyone there. People were floored. They said, “We’ve never seen anything like this!” And they credited the miracle to God.
Day three: Jesus and the men who were learning from him attended a wedding in a town called Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was also there. Well before the celebration was ready to end, the hosts ran out of wine, and Jesus’ mother came up to him and said, “They ran out of wine.”
“What’s that got to do with me, Woman?” Jesus asked. “You know I’m not ready for prime time.”
His mother turned and told the wait staff, “Just do what he tells you to do.”
There were six big water jugs, the kind the Jews used for their religious washing rituals – each of them held about 20 to 30 gallons. So Jesus told the wait staff, “Fill those jugs with water.”
And they did, to the brim.
Then he told them, “Now draw a glass of it out and take it to the father of the bride.”
So they did, and the father of the bride tasted the water which had miraculously turned into wine. He had no idea where it came from, only the wait staff knew. Then the father of the bride called the groom aside and said, “Hosts usually serve the best wine first and then bring out the cheap stuff when people are too drunk to notice; but you’ve saved the fine wine for the end.”
This was Jesus’ first public demonstration of his divine powers, and it caused the men who were following him to believe that he was the real deal.
After the wedding, he left for Capernaum with his family and his followers came with too. They stayed there for a few days.
Jesus Clears the Temple Courts
It was almost time for the Passover, the most important annual Jewish holiday, so Jesus made his way to Jerusalem for the celebration. When he got there, he visited the temple and in the courtyards of the temple, there were people selling cattle, sheep and doves, as well as people selling the only currency that the priests would accept as offering. Biding his time, he wove a whip out of some rope and all of a sudden let loose, cracking the whip and scaring out the cattle and sheep from the temple. Then he flipped the money changers’ tables over and coins flew everywhere. He rushed the dove salesmen and said, “Get out of here! My Father’s house isn’t some livestock market!”
Trying to make some sense of this outburst, the men following Jesus remembered the Scripture that says, “I will be overwhelmed with passion for your house.”
A few people stood up to him and said, “What gives you the right to do this?”
Jesus replied, “Flatten this place and I’ll have it up again in three days.”
They popped back, “It’s taken 46 years to build this temple and you think you could do it in three days?”
But Jesus wasn’t talking about the building; he was referring to his body. This made sense to his followers only after he had come back to life, after three days of being dead. They really only understood what Jesus had said that day in the temple in retrospect.
During the Passover celebration in Jerusalem, Jesus did a lot more amazing, miraculous things and quite a few people started to believe he was for real and spread the word about him. But knowing people like Jesus did, he kept a safe emotional distance. He didn’t need anyone to tell him how fickle people can be.
The title of this blog is a personalization of a verse from Psalms 112, Living Bible, which says, “…all goes well for the generous man who conducts his business fairly. Such a man will not be overthrown by evil circumstances.” Psalms 112 is a favorite of mine and I used this portion of scripture as a mantra during a recent opportunity for God to show “His constant care for me” (Psalm 112:7, LB).
Just about the time we started wondering when our $1395 tax refund might show up in our bank account, we got a letter from the IRS saying that they had some concerns about our tax return, would do some checking into things and get back with us within 45 days. Hmm, OK. About three weeks later, we got another letter from the IRS requesting documentation of the adoption expenses we had paid back in 2007.
They wanted a receipt from 2007, and we had 30 days to produce it. Or what? If we couldn’t prove we paid adoption expenses, not only would we NOT be getting a refund this year, we would also owe the IRS about $12,000 back for adoption credits we had claimed in the past three tax years. (Quick primer for those not in the know: the government gives a tax credit of about $13,500 when you had that much or more in adoption expenses. You can take the credit over a four-year period, reducing your tax owed, but it doesn’t increase your refund if you didn’t own any tax.) So, the small piece of paper we needed to produce was worth $13,500 for our family.
What makes these evil circumstances? Well, for starters, why did the IRS wait until the last of four years to ask us for this piece of paper? Maybe they thought there would be a better chance that we couldn’t produce it if they waited so long? (They were right.) And of all the things to question in our tax return – adoption expenses? The IRS already requires a copy of the final court order of the adoption, so they know we actually adopted. But, you know those people who adopt – they just can’t be trusted! Some of the most devious and crafty element of society, those adoptive families!
Then there was that complication of my being out of the country during the entire 30-day period that the IRS gave us. My husband was home, but he was the only thing in our house. All of our belongings were stored away because of our extended trip. We had left to go to South America for nine months and we put our house on the market, so in anticipation of selling the house, we boxed and stored everything. But before we put things in boxes, we did that thing people will do when they move: we threw stuff away. And I am pretty sure one of the things I threw away was the adoption folder, with that valuable little piece of paper in it. In almost four years of our son’s life, we hadn’t needed anything from that folder, so I tossed it!
OK, not such a problem, we could just contact the adoption agency – good folk that they are – and surely they have a file on us with something we can use to prove to the IRS that a private adoption costs more than $13,500 (as if that weren’t common knowledge). Oh, but bad luck, we adopted from a swindler! Turns out he was taking people’s money and not delivering the babies as promised. Business went belly-up; he lost his license to practice law, got a divorce and left the state.
Providentially, we paid the adoption fees with a credit card, and the IRS indicated that a credit card statement showing the agency’s name would be acceptable. I used my Citibank card – an account I’ve had since college and right up until I closed it about two years ago. I wasn’t even in their system. But they did give me a fax number to send a written request which they might or might not answer in some undetermined time frame.
“I will not be overcome by evil circumstances. I will not be overcome by evil circumstances. I will not be…” You get the idea. A whole lot of that going on for most of the 30-day period.
A few days before our IRS deadline, we got something in the mail from Citibank: a copy of our March 2007 statement. Praise God. And there it was – an expense well over $13,500 to Adoption Advantage in Little Rock, Ark. My husband whisked it off in the mail to the IRS and now we are back where we were two months ago – wondering when our refund check is going to hit our bank account.
Take that, Uncle Sam. All goes well for the generous person who conducts her business fairly. I will not be overcome by evil circumstances.
Update on Aug. 31, 2012: Thought I would just follow up to say that we did eventually get the full refund.
For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. Matthew 6:32
In preparation to sell our house, we recently redecorated my daughter’s bathroom – taking it from preteen flowers and butterflies to a more sophisticated powder-room effect, in shades of brown and teal. The project was accomplished in short order, with one holdout – bathroom rugs. The whole project cost more than it was supposed to (gasp!) and I was now determined not to pay any more for rugs than was absolutely necessary. Thus began a fruitless search through garage sales, resale shops, eBay and Amazon, etc., for the right rugs at the right price. I finally sprung for one to put in front of the shower, as I was getting tired of seeing a towel on the floor. Now we just needed one for in front of the toilet, but the search was starting to become absurdly elongated.
One evening we were at TJ Max, shopping for camp clothes for Gwen. While she was trying things on, I wandered through house wares. When she joined me, I said, “Let’s just take a quick look to see if there’s a rug for in front of your toilet.” There was about a 10-foot section of shelf devoted to bath rugs. We stood back and looked for the right color – dark chocolate. Found it, but it came only in a set of two rugs which cost more than I wanted to pay. So I stuffed it back in the shelf, stood back again, surveyed once more for the right color and found nothing.
“Oh well, the search continues,” I said, as I headed down the isle and rounded the corner.
Just as Gwen was about to round the corner behind me, something hit the floor. She looked back and said, “Mom, look at this.” I came back around the corner to see her holding the perfect dark chocolate brown rug, perfect size, with a design that coordinates perfectly with the rest of the bathroom. She said, “This just fell on the floor.”
Where had it come from? If a rug had been precariously dangling just seconds away from hitting the floor, wouldn’t we have seen it as we stood back a second time, looking for just that color? And what about the racket it made as it hit the floor? It had to have fallen from one of the upper shelves. We looked at the shelves and all the rugs were neatly folded and stacked. It was as if our guardian angel pulled the rug out from its hiding place and plopped it on the floor, as if to say, “Here! I found what you’re looking for.”
The price? $7.99 – very much to my liking.
Gwen and I rejoiced as we wondered about the perfect rug miraculously plopping to the floor in just the precise moment we would have noticed it.
As I reflected on this unique provision, two things happened: First, I felt very safe. If God cares enough to use His divine intervention to provide the perfect rug to go in front of a toilet in the smallest bathroom in our house, He surely cares about whether the house sells. God is in the details and that day showed His unbounded love toward us in the form of a carpet.
The second thing that happened was that my mind began to explore alternate explanations. I dismissed coincidence as a possibility, as I could clearly remember standing back and surveying the shelf for another dark brown rug. I feel certain I would have seen that rug – just seconds away from falling off the shelf. Instead, another interesting theory emerged: maybe it was a magic carpet. Maybe there’s something special about the rug itself.
I’m happy to report that this was a fleeting thought and I found it not only ridiculous, but ridiculously funny. And yet, it occurred to me! Isn’t this temptation to glorify the creation over the Creator what God is addressing in the second commandment, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything…”? That commandment is one we often dismiss as being mindlessly easy to obey. In this age of Christian enlightenment, we’re way past worshipping golden calves, right? It’s just plain silly these days to think that inanimate objects, like fortune cookies, Magic 8 balls, lottery tickets, lucky underwear or heads-up pennies, have any power. (Ehem!)
The magic in that carpet is that it had the privilege of being used by the Creator of the Universe to show His love toward me and my daughter. I hope we remember that each time it warms our feet as we sit on the potty.
“…and the terror of God fell upon the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.” Gen. 35:5
Almost three weeks ago, I got a phone call, my caller ID said “private number,” from a man who identified himself as “Robert Dudley, D-u-d-l-e-y.” He said he was calling about a book he was working on, Unusual Unique Things in the United States, and he wanted to include my propane tank in the book. He had learned of it at www.Ohiobarnes.com:
This rarely happens to me, but in the first minute of conversing with Robert, I got really creeped out. My senses were on orange alert for the rest of the conversation, which is probably why I was able to remember so much of it and replay parts at random in my head over the next couple of weeks. To be honest, it could have been a very normal conversation, but because I was creeped out, some things he said or asked, threw up red flags for me – questions about my children, did my daughter ride a bus to school…
We ended the conversation with the understanding that Robert and his wife Barbara would be coming to photograph the propane tank and would call either Monday or Tuesday of the following week. After hanging up, I immediately started working on a backup for that visit. My mother was coming for the weekend – could I ask her to stay over? How about insisting he come after 4 p.m. when more people are around, but then Gwen would be here and maybe that was who he was after. I settled on getting my neighbor Jeff’s (see my hero from the last post) cell phone number and just keeping my phone handy. I told Jeff and his wife about it. I’m sure they thought I was/am paranoid!
Through the week of waiting for the Dudley’s visit to come around, I really struggled with fear and negative fantasy at night in particular. I’m no fiction writer, but when it comes to spinning worst-case scenarios, I could win a Booker Prize or something. I was having something of a relapse from the intense fear I felt for months after my baby Hunter died. I tried to keep the thoughts at bay by calling on the name of Jesus – and it worked, like it always does, but only for as long as I kept my eyes on Him. My focus kept shifting back to negative fantasy.
By Monday, I had actually calmed down quite a bit and wasn’t afraid to get the call that the Dudley’s were in town. In fact, I reasoned that if I did get the call, if a man and woman pulled up at my house, there would be no problem. Well, I didn’t get the call. The call is more than two weeks late now and I have no explanation for why I haven’t heard back.
On the last day I was expecting the call (Wednesday after the Monday-Tuesday timeframe Dudley had given me), I was still wrestling with negative fantasy. No call had spawned all kinds of new possibilities. In my devotion for that Wednesday, I prayed God to give me peace. I can’t stand being afraid. And God did. I read of the story of Jacob leaving Canaan after his son had ticked off the locals and how his clan got away without a problem because the terror of God fell upon the towns. I claimed this verse and it gave me peace. If Dudley had meant me any harm, I believed the terror of God had fallen upon him and he didn’t pursue it.
Just so no injustice is done to Dudley, I have to admit that there could be a lot of explanations as to why he never got back to me. But whether or not he was legit is not the point. The point is that God gave me peace over my negative imagination.
Well, that was sweet peace for one day.
The next day, I was taking a walk with Chaise (he was in a stroller) and a truck passed me just as I was about to go on to the no-outlet road that leads to my house. When I got about 20 feet down that road, I heard the truck come up behind me and stop at the T where my road and the county road meet. Three men without shirts and appearing to me to be drunk got out. I was down wind from them and could smell old beer mixed with body oder – gag! The driver yelled at me a question about whether the road they were on went back out to the highway. I answered a couple of questions about directions then I kept walking, civic duty done.
Another of the men yelled out, “She’s got a nigger baby! She’s got a nigger baby! Hey Bi…! Hey Bi… come back here!”
My split-second reaction was fury. I wanted to rip the cajones off that guy. But a voice loud and clear in my head said, “Just keep walking. Don’t look back.” So I did. And I didn’t hear anything else from any of them. Just the truck starting and pulling away. I pulled out my cell phone and called the police and reported them for driving drunk. They had two miles (one on gravel road) to go before they would be off that county road, so I thought if a police car happened to be in the vicinity, they might intercept them when they hit the state highway.
The incident set my mind reeling again. I had been on a no-outlet road when they saw me. They could find me again and the baby toys in the front yard would be a dead giveaway. Whereas Dudley was a big unknown, these guys were obviously not law abiding citizens and they obviously were very racist. I haven’t heard anyone say “nigger” outside of a movie or historical reference in almost two decades! I always joke with people when I’m giving them directions to my house that when they start to hear “Dueling Banjos” they’re almost there. But this was some serious back-woods stuff! And yet, if these guys were from my county, I know they weren’t from my neighborhood by the questions about directions they were asking.
Phoning the police, though I believe it to have been the right thing to do, actually worked against me later. Now I had all these revenge-related plot lines in my dark thoughts. This day was the worst. I was irrationally afraid.
The next morning, when my husband left for work, I went to the door that leads to our basement and even though it was locked, I put a chair under it. Then I brought my cell phone in the bedroom and locked that door. My actions had gone way past prudent into the realm of the ridiculous.
When I finally got up that morning, God met me at my morning devotion with another special selection. The devotion read: Don’t let your fears rule your actions.
Besides being just what I needed to hear, I had to acknowledge that a God big enough to put that sentence before my eyes on the day I most needed it must certainly care enough for me to protect me if those goons did come looking for me.
I wish I could say that was that and my mind was at peace from that point on. But the truth is that I continued to struggle. I had the verse from Genesis and the other devotion in my arsenal now and so I battled fear much more effectively. I was able to quickly redirect my thoughts when I caught myself slipping. But it wasn’t until last Sunday night that I really felt at peace.
Sunday night, I shared an abbreviated version of this post with my church family. They prayed for me – various ones prayed specifically for me – and as the words were coming from their mouths, I could feel peace coming over me. And that was that.