It is Well… no, really!

The best, most wonderful, precious and amazing thing we can do is pray.  But what happens when we don’t feel like it?

Most of my blogs are about prayer.  Jesus spent a huge amount of His time in prayer.  The answer to all things Christian is prayer.  The modern Christian has little else to do but pray… But there are circumstances where prayer just seems out of reach.

We aren’t worthy, we haven’t been answered, we feel let down, we are stuck in a rut, angry at God, need a break, it hasn’t yielded positive results in months.  And… etc.

Christians aren’t called to be perfect, but we are made to endure.  The song “It is Well”, if you aren’t familiar with it’s roots, was penned by a man who just lost 4 children in a boating accident.  He didn’t have the strength to do much.  So he wrote.  When peace is with me… it is well.  When trials come… it is well too.

His wife, who couldn’t comprehend the devastation, said “God gave me four daughters. Now they have been taken from me. Someday I will understand why.”  She was having the same moment her husband was.  It was an ‘it is well’ moment.  Devastating, horrible, unfathomable, gut wrenching, and yet… not eternal.

They knew death has been defeated by Jesus.  They knew eternity and real life starts with death.  But, as the living, we mourn the loss of those we love.  And in those moments where our hearts are floating in the abyss we can’t muster the attitude that says, lets move on, lets celebrate!  Instead, we trust God just enough to know that it is well.  Or maybe for some… it will be.

Each day can bring a new season in your life.  You may be happily faithful.  You may be being stretched and prepared for great things.  You may be in an ‘it is well’ moment.  And while we will all endure each of these, it’s very important we don’t give up.

It is well, means… I’ve lost my children, but God has gained them.

It is well, means… I’ve lost my job, but God will provide.

It is well, means… I’ve received the diagnosis, but today is not the end.

It is well, means… I’m in prison, but I can minister to my captors.

It is well, means… I’m on the cross, but its for them.

It is well, means… whatever my lot in THIS life, my soul’s path is unchanged.

It IS well.  It really is.  But there are times when our inner resources need a moment to process and catch up.  We don’t live for the playing of taps, we eagerly await angels blowing trumpets.   Tears at a graveside isn’t the end of life, shouts from the heavens are where it simply begins.

It is well, means… the tomb has been sealed, but it was empty days later.

It’s about the victory that is to come, but isn’t quite here yet.  We can’t let go of that.  The loneliness, the bitterness, the emptiness… it will create a vacuum of pain.  That is when we need it is well the most.  Not quite the power to dust ourselves off and march onward, but enough faith to know that God will deliver in His perfect timing.

One of the greatest misunderstandings in the Christian faith is why we suffer.  And why suffering builds character.  And how suffering molds us into receptive and strong foes against the enemy… how it prepares us for future needs.  How one loss prepares us better to deal with another.  And how these moments are NOT created by God… but we are guided through them, by Him.

As cliched as it sounds, don’t despair.  It is well.  God turns water into wine.  He turns blindness into sight.  And, He turns tombs into celebration.  All we have to do is weather the storm.  The end of the story for the writer of this song???  His wife gave birth to 3 more children.  But that was just a momentary pause in the story.  The end hasn’t happened yet.  He awaits, along with us, for what the true ending will be.  All he knew in life, was the ending would be worth it.  How much so, is still eagerly anticipated.

But due to their faith… because she knew God knew…  because He knew THE day was about a heavenly battle already won… they rested their hopes on days to come.  This day will pass.  A new dawn will rise.  Tomorrow brings fresh opportunity.  With time, healing abounds.  It is well.

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Small portion of the story found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horatio_Spafford

 

 

I’ll stop the world and nag for you!

Luke 18 tells the story of a whiny, annoying, tattletale.  The woman is seeking justice so I assume she recounts her entire story including names and locations with grisly details abounding.

This, of course, is from the point of view of the ruler who had to hear her testimony day after day.  Because the scriptures tell us she kept coming back, we can assume he told her, “no”, more than once.

After all, he did not care what she, or even God, thought about his ruling decisions.  But something happened.  An M. Night Shyamalan style plot twist occurred.  The ruler grew tired of the repetition.  He thought, ‘can I afford more enemies’?  And for the most selfish reasons afforded to him, he chose to answer her plea…. eventually.

You don’t have to ponder for long what the moral is here.  The Bible follows with it bluntly.  If an evil, selfish ruler will grant your requests, how much more so would a loving Father?  And if you combine this scripture with my very favorite, “Pray without ceasing.”  You get a pretty good picture of what prayer life is supposed to look like.

Don’t stop praying.  God does not tire of the monotony.  He has an entirely different perspective than that.  His children are sharing with Him what is most important to them.  Those who have children will understand that its in our nature to jump from one fad to the next.  So when the kids break down the door after a long school day and shout out their most current, favorite thing in the world… veteran moms and dads will wait it out and see just how precious this new interest is.  Sometimes it lasts only a day.  Some can be interested for a few weeks before tossing it out for the next big thing.

Praying for the same thing every day lets God know where you are vested.  It’s a conversation with your Father.  He doesn’t answer out of frustration, or even pity.  When He answers a prayer, its out of love.  I imagine the dialogue is not like that of the evil ruler who gave in selfishly to protect his own time and interests.  I believe its more like:

‘You have wanted this for a long time.  You have shown to be faithful.  It pleases me to do this for you’.

Many will point out that God does not need our prayers to do His will.  Some will argue our prayers are ineffective against the plans of our Lord.  While I feel that contradicts scriptures in several ways, perhaps its better to try and look at it a different way.

Suppose we decide to go skydiving today.  When we jump out of the plane, our abilities really have nothing to do with the experience.  In fact, anyone can go skydiving.  The plane takes us up to a height that allows the jump, and the parachute allows us to safely return to the ground.  So when we say, “I’m going skydiving!”, we are really just taking a ride.  The true power is everywhere but within us.

Even as it is, we still have to make the choice to skydive.  We still have to get ready that day and get to and on the plane.  Most importantly… we have to be willing to and decide to jump.  Those are our actions even if we need the plane and the chute to make everything else happen.

And if we choose not to jump… perhaps someone else will.  But they will be the ones in the embrace of the chute.  They will be the ones climbing into the warmth of the sky.  They will be the ones experiencing the presence of adventure.  We will have missed out on the whole experience.  Perhaps the parachute opens anyway?  But its a chute meant for everyone… and only a few chose it.

When we pray, the power comes from God, but we have to act out some faith and time on our end.  God designed prayer for us to be along for the ride.  So it can take us to wonderful places and allow us to experience fantastic things.  Will the world keep moving without us asking God for it to?  Most likely.  But, He desires our communion with Him.  And He has proven on more than one occasion to alter His plans for those that love Him and pray accordingly.

Never stop praying.  Pray for miracles.  Pray for healing.  Pray for rain.  Pray for insight.  Pray for tacos.  God desires to hear from you… and every single day at that.  Is your aunt still sick?  Pray again.  Still?  Pray again.  This isn’t questioning God, His will or His power.  It’s communicating your constant desires to your creator.  My cats tell me every single day they are hungry in the morning, lonely in the afternoon, and frisky in the evening.  Without fail, they make their case known plainly.  Does it bother me?  Not at all, I’m happy they know I’m the one to come to for such things.

Now imagine a loving, daddy anxious to hear what is on your heart.  Even if He’s heard it a million times… He wants to hear it once more, every day, as long as that is what consumes your heart.  Someone you know need prayer?  Stop your world and pray for them.  Pray the way God created you and prayer to work together.  Never ceasing, never withholding, always giving God the glory, faithfully that He intends to use that power as He promised, when you ask.

 

God’s Work During ‘the Fall’

 

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image” – Gen 1:26

We are made in the image of God.  That thought alone should spawn hours of reflection.  I would like to offer that we are capable of one thing that God is not… sin.  And God, is of course, capable of some things we are not.  Most suitable to this discussion… forgiveness.  True forgiveness where the price is paid and the slate is washed clean.  The type of forgiveness where it never happened.  Too often we read into how forgiving God is, and only come out with how sinful we are.  And this may be why God reminds right off the bat, where we come from.

Satan would tell us we come from dirt and used bones.  God’s word says we come from God and the breath of God breathed into us and gave us life.  And thus we have the devil.  Half truths, lies, manipulated context.  So effective at deceit he started the fall of mankind.  I tend to read quickly past the fall as its clearly not man’s most shining moment.  Similar to the story of Noah where God is so upset He regrets ever making us and claims we have nothing but evil in our hearts.

Yet there is hope for every one of us, and if any part of the Bible teaches us this hope, I think where it all began does it the best.

So the Lord God said to the serpent… – Gen 3:4

To the woman he said… – Gen 3:16

To Adam he said… – Gen 3:17

First we get an unintentionally comical scenario where God shows up on the scene after things got out of hand.  Immediately 3 hands shoot out from their respective sides and illuminate blame to an opposing party.  Satan nodded at man who had the core just under his feet.

The man spits out quicker than his tongue can handle that the woman was to blame for she offered it.  Shaking off tree leaves and apple stems she yells that the ‘snake’ put her up to it.  How would this play out in people’s court?  God has His own way of justice.  All of them were guilty.  Three crimes had been committed, all of them against God.  God dealt with them swiftly, yet justly.  God was with them when they didn’t see Him and He knew how to respond to their action.

Even though they walked and talked with God, they assumed He had His back turned.  We know better.  We have the opportunity to live knowing God is a part of every moment of our lives.  He breathed into us life, and He is a part of our every breath.  Live like He is with you, you will be judged and rewarded based on that.

 

they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” – Gen 3:8

“Who told you that you were naked? Gen 3:11

“Where is your brother Abel?” Gen 4:9

After each sin, God asked them about it.  Parents likely already know the reasoning.  God clearly knew the answers to His questions, yet He asked anyway.  This is where we get Cain’s famous response, “Am I my brothers keeper?!!”.  You have likely seen internet memes expressing innocence over obvious guilt.

explode

While we can laugh at the absurdity, consider God’s point of view.  And just like a good parent, He withholds summary until each party has a chance to speak.  Each one blaming, lying, making excuses, and when He has heard enough, He passes judgement.  You notice no words are recorded of the event after God starts talking?  Not until after they are out of the Garden and officially living, post Eden?

I like to ponder the why of that as well.  My current best guess is that we get a chance to come clean, one chance.  I know many parents who dole out weaker punishments when the truth is told up front.  After all, we are made in the image of God.  What do you think?

“With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Gen 4:1

Here we have Eve commenting on the birth of Cain.  This is the very first story we get after they are kicked out of the garden.  And remember, painful child birth just happened to be her punishment.  What is her response to exile and pain?  Praising and thanking God, of course.  Because God’s punishment was just and because He still loves mankind unconditionally, He is able to see past the mistakes.  Outside of the garden, life went on.  Just because we see Eve as the ruin-er of all good things, doesn’t mean that God does.  He lovingly created her.  And He wants her to be happy.

We see that back in the creation story when God did all that He did in the garden.  Beautiful trees, ample food, diverse creatures, and finally woman… all for Adam’s delight.  That feeling of love, protection, and comfort didn’t end with a mistake.  All it did was set in motion the next plan to save humanity.  Once you grasp your mind around what God does for us, how He made us, and how much He loves us… it’s easy to see how Eve is able to praise God for a painful experience outside of the safety of the garden.

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear”. Gen 4:13

But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. Gen 4:15

In the actual process of casting punishment against Cain, Cain speaks up.  God responds in a way that should shock most of us.  He is, of course, speaking to an angry God, after just committing the worlds most gruesome crime to date.  God hears his concern and counters the murderer’s concern with a mark.  The mark promises that Cain goes unpunished by the rest of the world.   This tells me two things.  First, God’s punishment is more about discipline.  The root of that word is to disciple.  He isn’t interested in exacting vengeance, it’s about lovingly teaching and molding His people.

He could have just killed Cain, but He chose not to.  He could have allowed the world to enact their own justice, but He forbade that.  And that brings me to the second point.  God’s judgement… is enough.  The world has no place butting in and passing their own rulings along the way.  This fits nicely with the very straight forward scripture that says, “do not judge”.  The world does not need another judge.  The world needs God’s love.

What does God ask us to give, spread, and share?  Love.  It’s the greatest command.  Does God, anywhere in the Bible ask us to help Him bring about justice in the world?  nope.  But He does, on many, many occasions tell us that the key to all of life is to love EVERYONE.  I think we can see that here when God so graciously marked Cain to keep the nosy, holier-than-thou’s away from him.

The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. Gen 4:4-5

God has personal opinions and choices of His own.  He preferred Able’s offering to Cain’s.  Cain was not wrong in His offering, but God liked the other better.  We truly are made in His image.  We often beat ourselves up over choices when God ultimately leaves it up to us to decide.  God isn’t a vegetarian.  That doesn’t make Cain a sinner.  It just means He preferred the meats.  Whether you choose dancing, singing, poetry, mechanic, uber driver, etc, etc, etc.  You aren’t wrong.  As long as you obey the laws where the laws are at.

The next verse quickly explains that Cain has His reward for doing what is right.  But Cain was jealous because Able pleased God’s senses as well as His will.  The litmus test isn’t where, when, who, or how.  It’s about obeying God.  And we can do that in almost any locale, with almost anyone, etc.

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.  Gen3:7

The final definition of choice.  Sin desires us.  We forget spiritual warfare is so real.  It’s not a sin to be a vegetarian.  It’s a sin to kill others who aren’t.  And when we make those choices… we let sin win.  Sin isn’t a bench warmer.  It isn’t a spectator.  It’s the main event.  If the most devastating opponent and we must give it the respect it deserves.  When we give in… it gets us.  We are the reward to evil when we don’t rule over it properly.

So there we have the fall of man.  Just a few verses, often summarized as a single act that engaged God’s boot to swiftly kick us out of the garden.  Yet if we pause on each verse we see a loving Father preparing those ‘in trouble’ for the next phase of life.  (and aren’t we all ‘in trouble’?)

Just Breathe

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being – Genesis 2:7

This amazing verse is likely where we get this incredible song.  But if you prefer not to stop and listen, I’ll put the song at the bottom and the important verse right here:

It’s your breathe in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only.

I have sleep apnea.  What that means is that my doctor thought this would be a great place to start troubleshooting health issues for me so he sent me to a sleep center for what is called a sleep study.  A sleep study is much worse than it sounds.  I am the one being studied.  They hook up wires to everything (arms, legs, chest, head, feet), open windows into the room, turn on cameras pointed directly at me and then demand I sleep for their viewing pleasure.

If you missed that, let me rephrase, as its very therapeutic for me… I already have problems sleeping, so the solution is to put me through trauma and then insist I do the very thing I’m seeking their help in accomplishing.  This doesn’t work in many areas of life.  If I went to flight school, they wouldn’t ask me to fly first.  They would teach me to fly so I don’t crash their plane.  With sleep apnea, you have to sleep, so they can tell what is wrong and to what degree.

Nestled in my bed of cables, with blinking lights in full view to my left and a bright, wide open hallway to my right, I opted to stare at the TV, which was surrounded by video cameras staring back at me.  Only a couple of moments passed when the nurse walked back in and with a very solemn voice, softly said, “I’m glad you are here”.  I heard, but I didn’t understand, so I said, “excuse me?”.

She said, “it’s very good that you came, we are already getting data that needs to be treated”.  I corrected her that I hadn’t fallen asleep yet.  I could recite every word and action that happened on the TV.  I watched her walk back into the room.  I saw her in the hallway.  I hadn’t even closed my eyes.  She corrected me further.  You slept, but its such a low quality, you likely wouldn’t know you were sleeping.

I received my results in the mail.  It started by defining what sleep apnea is.  Its diagnosed by the number of abnormal breathing events you endure in an hour.  There are anomalies and one-offs, so a single event or two isn’t worrisome.  In fact, this doctor classifies anything less than 15 events an hour as ‘normal’.  Any thing over 15 events an hour is considered apnea and needs to be treated.  Anything over 30 events an hour is considered ‘severe’ and could pose life threatening issues.  My number, was in the 70s.

What does that mean?  Basically it means, that multiple times a night, I wake up gasping for air.  Sometimes I just need air and a better sleeping position to help me breath, but many times, it includes panic.  I know something is wrong but I don’t know what.  I know I need oxygen and I’m not getting it.  Waking up is like busting through the surface of the water just as the last bit of air ran out and I could hold my breath no longer… I heave in air as hard and big as possible while frantically tossing covers and trying to stand outside of the bed to see exactly what is happening.

Our bodies don’t function without air.  But as bad as we need air, we need God more.  Some of us need to get checked out… but without a third parties involvement we may never know how much we need Him.  We need family and friends praying over us.  We need a Bible study instead of a sleep study.  We need intervention.  Because we are gasping for God and the longer we go without the worse it gets.  Jesus went without God.  It was at that time He cried out that God had forsaken Him.  Our Savior languished under the absence of God… and He had God’s powers.  How are we to make it without the Father in heaven?  Especially if He could not stand it?

You might have seen a movie or TV show where two people are trapped underwater and they take turns breathing from a diver’s tank of oxygen?   That is pretty difficult to keep up.  Each time you hold your breath, your body wants to breath in more.  Need a visual?  Hold your breath for as long as you can.  When you need air, breath.  What happens?  You are likely breathing heavy, trying to regain oxygen throughout your body.  Now imagine you are back under water.   You have to hold your breath until the other person relinquishes the breathing mask.  Each breath of air requires more and more oxygen to offset the holding in from before.

We weren’t meant to live a life with God and another life without Him.  Being a different person on Sundays is like trying to breathe from someone else’s tank.  It doesn’t last for very long.  We need God in every breath.  We need Him every moment.  He needs to be in our jobs, our schools, our grocery stores, our highways, our parking lots, and our pool halls.  Everywhere we go, we need Him.  We sing another song that demonstrates how badly we need Him.  It’s worth sharing again…

Oh god how we need you

Oh, isn’t filler or to keep the tempo.  It’s an adjective of desperation.  I learned this when I was little.  When my mom said, “barry”, I knew we were about to engage in interpersonal dialogue.  when she yelled, “BARRY!!!!!”… I ran.  To say, “God”, is to address our Father in heaven.  Our maker.  To sigh out “oh God!” Is to be on our knees.  Tears dropping to the ground as we rest face down before the holy King.

“How” has a different effect.  I think of the poem, how I love you, let me count the ways.  How is an amount… but it’s an unfathomable number.

When we truly offer to God, “OH”, “HOW”, “I NEED YOU!” we put ourselves in the proper place of worship.  And that is precisely when God fills us back up with His air, His breath, His life, His Love, Himself.  We carry the breathe of life… Try rethinking your day with that image in mind.  And remember… as bad as we need God, so does the world.