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Erasing Makes A Mess

I worked for an unscrupulous manager when I was growing up.  He would fill out the schedule in pencil and, when it suited him the most, he would erase time slots and fill it out again.  Thankfully, the GM was smart, and when I showed him the faint outline left by the erasing it was obvious that the data was altered.

I used to use erasable ink pens until I learned that no amount of swiping would make the surface completely clean.  Maybe technology has changed, but when I was a child, writing something in an erasable format was like putting something on the internet… there was no way to get rid of it.  Like a dirty chalkboard, you can make out bits and pieces of what was previously documented there.

This is why I’m thankful that Jesus didn’t erase our sins.  He took them.  If He had just forgiven us, there would still be a remnant or stain.  And in our minds we would know what we have done.  It’s hard to live through guilt.  Jesus took our sins.  More specifically, He bought them.  They had a price and we couldn’t afford it.  Jesus stepped in and heaped them all on Himself in our place.

I know a lot of people who won’t begin or further a relationship with Jesus because of their past.  They feel that God is all powerful, but He can’t forgive them.  They think that they have messed up too many times.  They use phrases like too much, too late, or too hard.  The gift we have been given pretty much means that we don’t have a past anymore.  We only have a future.

Jesus found a way so that when someone comes along and scratches the surface of our lives, they don’t find the person we used to be.  That person is gone. We are new with Christ.  That doesn’t just mean we act different, it means we ARE different.  We have a full new history of grace, forgiveness, and salvation.

Satan would have you believe that if someone comes along, they can perform that trick the detectives use on TV shows with a pencil on a post it note to uncover your secrets.  God’s truth is that you have no secrets… His Son paid for them all.  The temptation is to retreat in your sin.  The gift is that you have no sin.  Not if you accept the gift of Christ crucified and live in a relationship with Him.  So please allow me to encourage you to stop letting your sin keep you from Christ, when it is Christ who keeps your sin from you.  Stop trying to erase the sin, when He will fully take it all.

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Hate is always Hate

If you have to raise your voice to be heard, you are not living your life right.

If you have to stand up to be noticed, you are fundamentally and categorically flawed.

…he gave no answer.  – Matthew 27:12

But Jesus made no reply. – Matthew 27:14

And yet, what name is known more than His?  If you want to change the world, drop the signs and pick up a Bible.  Stop chanting and start praying.  Put down the binoculars and spend some time at the mirror.

If we really want to make a difference… we have to stop screaming, “me, me, me!” and start living like Him, Him, Him.

Hate, for noble and good reasons, is still hate.

When I was younger, I remember saying I hated someone very evil.  My mom told me that was not acceptable.  “We don’t ‘hate'” she would say, “its OK to dislike someone, but never hate them”.  I replied once, “well then I dislike them to death!”  It was a hard lesson for me to learn.  Hating seems very natural, but it’s anything but, its a status of the heart.

The lesson my mom learned in her walk with Jesus is that Hate, even for seemingly good reasons, is still hate.  When the Bible tells us to walk 2 miles, what it means is that someone will come to us and demand we go one mile.  That is hate.  It was a form of slavery and societal hierarchy.  And so the response is to go twice the distance expected.

In a similar verse we are told what to do when slapped in the face.  Striking someone on the side of their head is most definitely a hate filled action.  The entire world would unanimously approve and even applaud a return strike.  But Jesus shows us that even when justified, hate is hate.   So how should we respond?  Turn the other cheek.  Let them strike the other side.  Why?  We don’t hate.  All hate is hate.  All hate is wrong.  All hate is from the most evil one.

Jesus has the most perfect response to hate.  He called it love.  And He spent His life showing it to others.  Mastering it in our sight.  Letting others document it over and over how He always chose the natural way of things.   God’s way of things.  The path of love.

And when His story was finished… when He had shown true love over and over again until His whole legacy was a lifetime of love and compassion… He spoke no more.  What else was there to say.  In a final act of love and sacrifice He lay still while hammers injected the world’s hate into his veins.

Fully loving, completely sacrificed to us, we can change the world in a very similar fashion.  We need only stop pointing to the world.  Stop trying to keep the hate scale even on both sides and let it tip over off the table when we collectively stop hating back.  Show the world a love they haven’t seen in years.

And some may look at the world and say that the death of Jesus didn’t have an impact.  Look in your mirror and ask yourself… “is that true?”.  And if it hasn’t… couldn’t it?  God didn’t put a timestamp on love.  It doesn’t spoil.  You can fully utilize it right now no matter how longs its been.

I don’t believe Jesus meant that we can’t defend ourselves when threatened.  But I do believe that we have interpreted our freedom into a chip on our shoulders that says its OK for me to get mine!  I’m allowed to be first.  I’m not going to be treated that way.  I’m not going to allow this.  I’m…. Me… Mine… My….  see the problem?  If we are on our knees before the king trying to do the Father’s business… we wouldn’t even notice the disparity.

Look at our posture.  Standing at the ready.  pointing at each other.  Anger filled, Hate fused.  Look at the posture of Jesus.  Kneeling in prayer.  pointing to the Father, washing our feet.  Love filled, overflowing with grace.  To be Christian means to be like Christ.  How far do you have to go?

 

Listen to your Donkey

We don’t hear about this much from the pulpit… but there is a talking donkey in the Bible.  The owner’s name is Balaam and the donkey is called… his donkey.  If you aren’t familiar with the story, you might take a second to get caught up:

Numbers 22:21-33

In my Bible, the heading of that story is interesting.  It’s titled, “Balaam’s Donkey”.  After reading that story, I would have thought the angel with the sword was pretty cool… and very important.  But Balaam didn’t even notice him.  You know what else Balaam didn’t notice?

THAT HIS DONKEY WAS TALKING!!!!!  Read the text.  After the donkey asked why he beat him so, he simply responded and then added a threat to the donkey to boot.  I also think its interesting that the word says that God opened the donkey’s mouth.  Note the words it spoke,

What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”

Balaam wasn’t beating God or the angel.  He was beating his donkey.  And the donkey spoke.  Why ME?  Not, why HIM?  Not, leave that Donkey alone… it was, “you beat ME”.  And the donkey speaks in first person again.  Later, Balaam sees the angel and the angel references the donkey directly as a 3rd party.  And while all of that is interesting, Balaam responds to the donkey’s questions as though it was a normal conversation.

We don’t receive any physical description of fear, surprise, shock, awe, or confusion.  Balaam is so angry at this creature that when it asked why he would hurt it, he had explanation prepared and shouted it readily.  Balaam wasn’t quoted with a stutter, nor were any follow up questions mentioned.  I was expecting something along the lines of:

“you can talk!?!??!?!”  Or how about an, “I’m so sorry!!”.  Speaking tends to humanize things a bit, but Balaam was wishing he had his sword to teach this animal a lesson.

This situation screams out crazy.  Who could tell this story and not end up in a white jacket after?  But I believe that we re-enact this on an extremely regular basis.  Consider the following:

  1.  We follow our own path.
  2. We keep our head down and pay little attention to what is going on around us.
  3. Circumstances try and steer us clear, but we complain, point fingers, blame, and otherwise try to work around these “obstacles” that are actually there to help us… in hindsight.
  4. Something amazing happens.  Perhaps even miraculous.  But it wasn’t what we wanted, or our way of doing it, or in our timing, so we kick it, fuss at it, and wish it harm.
  5. God performs a holy double face-palm at His efforts to put us on track and our inability to see Him through our own small thinking.

Even when I’m trying to do good, I go about it MY way in most cases.  There are two things I think we could all do better:  (look and listen).

  1.  Keep your eyes out for sword wielding angels.  God cares so much for us.  He loves us to death (His Son’s death) and He would, and has done, anything for us.  This includes working in our lives today.  Keep that head up and look for signs, opportunities, noble paths, people in need, etc.
  2.  Keep your ears open for talking donkeys.  Don’t be so entrenched with what you want, that you can’t even hear or notice that God is clearly talking to you.  If you are open to the will of God, then you need to be always prepared to step back from the worldly way of doing things.  We need to be prepared and expect speed bumps, road blocks, detours, bridges out… If these things derail us emotionally, we will never experience the miracles off the beaten path (which will be most of them).

We can get so wrapped up in our world, we don’t even recognize it when donkey’s speak.  Balaam didn’t.  Not that I can tell.  But I can recognize his exasperation for the situation.  It’s a laser focus mentality that refuses to acknowledge anything other than plan A.  Balaam was on a mission and this stubborn beast was not going to get in His way.

Be open to the whims of the donkey… it may just be spying a sword wielding angel ready to slice you down.  Did you see how the angel talked to Balaam?  He told the man that he would have killed him if he kept going… and he would have spared the donkey.  The donkey saved his life (and tried to 3 times).  Perhaps when things don’t go our way, instead of asking, “why me!!?”, why not pray about what blessings are about to happen?  Or what warning needs to be heeded?  Balaam learned, in the oddest way possible, to be thankful for unexpected inconveniences.

I know that for me, the next time I blow a tire, I’m going to be looking around the area.  Is someone else around?  Is there an opportunity here?  Should I go another way?  Should I turn around completely?  Does the hubcap have something to say?

 

 

 

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.

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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.

 

 

Judge or Sinner? Pick a Side

There really isn’t a third group.  Jesus ate with sinners.  He spoke to those that followed Him (fishermen, children, diseased, depressed, hopeless).  They took one glance at this man and followed Him.  Then there were the religious elite, the pharisees.  He often rebuked them as their judgement was in error and had no place in a gospel built on love and forgiveness.

So where is the third group?  Where is the group we all think we belong in?  Where would we be sitting if Jesus walked into the mall today and there we are?  Most of us admit we have sinned at one time way back when, but we really dislike the connotation of ‘sinner’.  The pharisees were far worse.  Hypocrites, self righteous, pious.  We don’t want to be lumped in with them… but we certainly don’t find ourselves at the tax collector’s table either.

So who are we?  Maybe we could argue we fit in the middle?  That almost sounds like being lukewarm, which promises we will be spat out of grace should that be the case.  I can tell you who you are, but you may not like it.  It’s both good news and bad.  Lets start with the bad.

You are the sinner.  We all are.  We are human.  We have fallen.  We have a diabolical enemy with an army of demons that literally want to drag us to Hell fighting over our souls.  We make mistakes, we goof, and sometimes we just plain choose to do dumb things.  We are actively sinners.  All of us.  The pharisees are simply the group of us that lives in denial.

So, the good news?  We are the ones Jesus came to save.  We would find Him at our table.  He would come into our home.  He will heal us.  He will free us.  He will forgive us.  He will lift us up and allow us to join with Him in the place He has prepared for His children.

Two groups of people.  One followed Him, touched Him in faith, carried their sick to Him, washed His feet.  Sinners, all of them.  The other group nailed Him to the cross because they felt superior to Him and those He came to save.  They also feared Him.  Jesus came to us in our mess.  He meets us where we are.  He did it before and it cost His life.  He does it still.

Why did the pharisees hate Him?  He came to save us.  Our group.  The little guy.  They thought he belonged at the cool table.  But He choose the outcast, the lonely, the forgotten.  The pharisees pass judgement and then claim they are holier than any other.  Do you recall the simple scripture that addresses judgement?  Here it is in all its tricky, complicated, pieces for us to sort out and argue over… “Do not judge.”.

Sounds like a wonderful test to me.  Which group do you belong?  Whose sins are you worried about?  Yours?  Or those of another?   Does Jesus live in your home?  Or do you grind your teeth at the thought of others worshiping Him?  Those people who do it all wrong.  They meet on the wrong day, they sing the wrong songs, they interpret God’s word differently than you.  How dare they enjoy His presence… His blessing… His gift!

The good news about being in the ‘sinners’ group is that we have each other.  All of us, in it together, needing grace, knowing what stumbling is like, knowing what shame feels like, knowing what judgement feels like.  And as we yearn to be more like Jesus, we can sense what forgiveness feels like as we embrace each other, sinners all the same, and love each other the way He taught us to.  There is simply no room for judgement.  We do not wish to be judged and we do not judge.

What replaces judgement?  Prayer.  We pray for each other.  We pray for the pharisees.  We pray for our enemies, for those who wrong us.  We pray for those who need grace, love, healing, and hope.  We do life together.  Helping each other.  We embrace the words spoken as Jesus prepared to return to heaven.  “let them be one”.  We unite in our sin (not as a badge of honor, but as a common ground of understanding).  And much more so, we unite in our need for grace and humility.

I’m not proud of my sin, but I love those traveling with me who withhold judgement.  We have a common enemy that would use that against us if we let him.  Something great happens when we accept what group we are in.  It’s not giving up… we always strive to improve and make God proud every chance we can.  But knowing our place disarms the enemy.  He can’t hold our past hostage over us any longer.  When we know our place, we know we are forgiven.

When we know our place, we know we are loved and the lies of the enemy sounds as hypocritical as the judgement cast down from those told to not judge.  We all need forgiveness.  Some of us need to forgive.  Some of us need to invite God into our mess.  He will come.  Just as you are.  Just where you are.  One of Satan’s biggest lies is that we have to meet some criteria to be worthy of forgiveness.  What a tremendous lie that is!

Don’t be that monkey in the middle who thinks that only the other two sides get to play.  Jump out and claim your place at the sinners table filled with grace, love, forgiveness, hope, eternal promises, and have a seat next to our heavenly brother, Jesus.  He has been waiting for you.

Any Given Sunday you can Worship. Do you?

Do you go to church to sing pretty songs, or do you go to make war against the enemies of God?  You can dress that question up semantically however you like, but war has found you.  And while the end may be determined, the inhabitants of that end have not.  War is about more than staying alive… its about dragging the wounded off the battle field with you.  It’s letting that heroes’ heart take over and determining that counting is in increments of 1.  That life matters.  Every life matters.  Each soul is precious.  The call to worship is a battle cry.
If my throat is not sore, if my eyes are dry, if my feet aren’t tired, if my knees aren’t worn, if my heart is not moved, if my mind wanders.  If I am not shaken into the embrace of God… then I have NOT worshipped.
Read 1 Chronicles 16:23-31.  I’m going to list just some of the words from those verses that describe worship: (if the words repeat, they did so in the passage).
“Sing to the Lord (not to each other).  Proclaim.  Declare.  Glory.  Marvelous.  Great.  Worthy of praise.  Feared.  Splendor.  Majesty.  Strength.  Joy.  Ascribe to the Lord.  Ascribe to the Lord.  Glory.  Strength.  Ascribe to the Lord.  Glory due His name.  Bring an offering.  Come before Him.  Worship.  Splendor.  Holiness.  Tremble.”
Tremble.
“Tremble before Him.”
Who should tremble before Him?  The disciples?  no.  The Pharisees?  no.  Just the old testament?  no.  Who should Tremble?  “all the earth!”.  (exclamation mark included).
“Let the heaven’s rejoice, let the earth be glad, let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
Read it again.  Read it every day.  Read it right before worship.  Read it during.  Have you ever worshipped in such a way?
Stand face to face before the Lord your God and tremble (“come before Him”), ascribe, declare, and worship.
We can sing pretty songs anytime we want.  When we join in worship,  we are worshipping a mighty and living God that will approach us as we approach Him.
He responds in kind.  And our offering?  An attempt to sing quieter than the person next to me so no one can hear how bad I sing.  Or a trip to the cry room so I can stretch my legs.  Perhaps “meditation” when I don’t like the next song?  Even the jubilant singers… if that isn’t for Him… if the jolly isn’t for the Savior, then it isn’t worship.
We just don’t always stop and think that when we ask God to join us… He will actually come.  Some of us need to share our loving Savior with others.  Peacefully and gracefully.  Some of us need to refine our worship.  We need to remove the volume cap and let the praise flow out.  We need a reminder that our scripture isn’t as complex or cryptic as we are made to think.  A sacrifice of worship isn’t simply singing on key.
Some of us need to worship for the first time in our lives.  Some of us know people who go to church every single Sunday and they haven’t yet put one foot over the battle line.  Ask yourself… please… sincerely ask yourself.  Why are you going to church?  To stretch out your new dress shoes?  To get a good spot in the ‘singles’ section?  Or is it to let go of ourselves so God can take hold and lead us to greatness for His name?
This Sunday millions of Christians will go to church and sit on their hands expecting God to make the first move.  Or they will sing under their breath.  Or, they will share scripture in monotone drudgery.
Listen to just the verbs in the passage above:
Sing. Proclaim.  Declare.  Fear.  Ascribe.  Bring an offering.  Come before Him.  Worship.  Tremble.
God may be where the power is at, but we have a responsibility to take action.  Look at the woman who sought Jesus out for healing.  First she carried her sick person directly to Him.  Then she had faith that Jesus had supernatural powers.  Finally she reached out to Him and touched Him.  (Matthew 9:20-22)
Had she not combined 3 key elements ( her faith, her action, and God’s willing power) she would not have been healed.
She was bold to reach out and touch someone who she already believed was who He claimed to be…. God.  Did she do it with fear and trembling?  Most likely… that is worship!  She went to be face to face with the Savior and made the choice to give all she had (faith and action) and to involve Him in the moment.
Worship is… If and only IF… you are face to face with the savior, reaching out and being ready to grab hold of what He has in store for you!
You can win this Sunday.  You can choose to step onto the spiritual battlefield and accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Savior.  You can introduce others to Him and give them a fighting chance as well.  The enemy, literally, wants you and everyone you love to go to hell.  Don’t just sing a pretty song in response…. go to war!

Wassup God! [High Five]

College was fun.  I remember days when walking across the campus I felt like I knew almost everyone.  I went to a small school and most of us enjoyed large friendship circles.  The manner in which we greeted varied from person to person.  Hugs, handshakes, high fives, shouts from too far away, running up and scaring the unsuspecting person, waving, etc.

The greeting depended on the person and the mood.  With most people, they would ask, “how was your weekend?”.  And the general consensus is that they didn’t really want to know but it would be rude not to ask.  So the universal answer was, “fine, how was yours?”.  They too were obligated to answer in one positive or up beat word and move on.

The exception were your true friends.  These were much rarer.  When asked how your weekend was, you could freely answer… and then some.  And we would often joke about the silly social structure where everyone asked but most didn’t care.  My friends and I decided that, just for fun, we would unload all of our deepest, darkest, most terrifying secrets, hopes and dreams on the next person to insincerely ask.

We never did… but we laughed out loud every time someone brought it up.  “hey!  how was your weekend?”… “sit down, this will take a while… you don’t have any plans, right?  Where should I start…”  Can you imagine?  😉

How do we greet God?  Public prayers are interesting.  It seems a very popular opening is the “Dear God…”.  Which to me, sounds like a letter.  And the last time I used “Dear anything” in a letter the contents were equivalent of a “to whom it may concern” document.

It just doesn’t seem right, if I’m addressing my friend, I would not say, “dear friend”  as an opening.  I usually just call them by name.  Then we get the formal prayers.  “Almighty God in Heaven….”  Nothing wrong with that either.  But how natural feeling is that?  Do we greet anyone else with a name, descriptor AND location?

My starting point of choice is, “Father”.  But if I’m honest with myself, that stands out too.  I don’t call my father on earth, ‘father’… I call him dad.  Most times, I just start talking and don’t really call anyone anything.

The point is that I think its a good exercise to think about our relationship with God.  In short, have you prepared enough during the good and restful times, that you can communicate properly during the desperate and painful times?  Do you struggle sometimes to address Him at all?  Perhaps nothing important is going on?  Maybe you feel like you bug Him too much?  You have already asked for this once before?

The quick Bible reference for today is, “pray without ceasing”.  I’m going to take that literally.  Your next sentence to God shouldn’t start with a long proclamation and greeting… because you should have been talking to him just a few minutes ago.  Building God up is part of any good prayer, but I hope you get the point in that we should always have the phone off hook (so to speak).

I was talking to my wife on the phone.  She put me on hold when someone else called and when she came back to me… we just kept talking.  She didn’t have to identify herself again or undergo any assumed pleasantries.  Is God different?  Allow me to share one way that I approach God when things are not going well…

I throw myself at God.  Not because I need to.  Not because I deduce it logically.  But, because it is the only option my body, mind, and soul instinctually know.

Red light and danger signs with alarms start going off… what is our instinct when that happens?  I need safety.  I need comfort.  I need love.  I need compassion.  I need someone that understands my side… my perspective.

I leap straight up and into His arms and do not let go.

This is like falling to your knees, crying or laughing…  You don’t plan on it, you respond to the momentum in your heart.

Do you know what God does when you jump into His arms?  He holds you tight and protects you.  (2 Samuel 22: 3-4).   When you shout God’s name, there is never the chance of an awkward moment where He doesn’t hear you but everyone else does.   When you approach with an arm up in the air… He won’t leave you hanging.  That is right.  I firmly believe God is a high fiving type of Lord.  Sacrilegious?  Not according to the Bible.

We are made in the image of God.  Our traits come from Him.  His joy is in us.  He went to great lengths to save us.  Maybe a high five is too specific.  Perhaps He will have a secret handshake involving the chicken wing or a 3 pointer fade away?  Silly?  I think its silly to think that God loves us enough to give up His Son and then wouldn’t physically and visibly welcome us to the Kingdom with an expression of affection.

In all seriousness, I think the high fives and other expressions will come later.  When I first meet my Lord, I believe we are going to hug.  We are going to shed tears.  He is going to claim that I was worth it, and I am going to thank Him and praise Him.

God is God and He deserves reverence.  God is also Jesus.  Man.  And He understands weddings.  He attends parties.  He laughs.  He loves.  He has joy.  How is your relationship with Him?  I’m not at all asking anyone to drop the reverence from their relationship… but I also think that we are family.  Our God Father and Jesus Brother know us on an intimate and personal level.  Lets get to know them.  Lets speak to them with love.

Lets speak to them often.  Consistently.  Thoroughly.  Without ceasing.  Talk to God about your dreams, your sins, your life.  Praise Him for who He is and what He has done.  And then… talk about basketball.  Talk about boys.  Talk about women.  Discuss politics.  Facebook Him.  Tweet Him.  Instagram with Him.  He is most certainly a rare and good friend worthy of your full story.