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

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

It’s a New Day!

Something happened last night.  You were sleeping.  Perhaps you were awake and pondering life’s uncertainties?  Maybe you were in the ER waiting for news?  Could you have been driving down the road of despair?  We all were in different places, experiencing a moment of life completely separate and apart from each other.  But it happened all the same.

The sun rose.  Dawn happened.  The light came up and forced back the darkness.  And now each of us… all of us… every last one of us, faces a new day.  Whether you roll out of bed and curl your toes on fresh, clean carpet… or if you stand drenched in rain as an outcast in the world’s gutter… we all get a new day.

What is a new day?  Hope.  Opportunity.  Wounds will scab over.  Spoken words will sting less.  Perspective will settle in.  Deep breaths will draw attention to purpose.  Heads may dare to look up.  It’s a chance to roll up yesterday and mark it forever where it belongs to live… the past.

When your fingers clinch the dirt you can push yourself up knowing that today isn’t a mock-up of anything you have experienced before.  The fresh smell of this new day confirms one thing to each one of us.  Days aren’t templates spit out by machines forcing us to jump from day to day, learning patterns of life and accepting the mold dealt out to us.

No, we know better.  Days are born.  We get to mold them.  And a new day… a fresh day… a morning untainted by yesterday’s mistakes is the best time to realize that we get another chance.  A fresh start.  A new beginning.  We are not bound to yesterday’s mistakes.  We are not condemned to the folly of our youth.

Today, on this new day, we can explode into a life that we cherish.  We can create moments that we love.  We can push forward out of trials and into tried.  Learned from our experiences and ready to conquer.  Today… we can.  We get to.  We have.

Pity is weak.  Regret is banging on the locked door of the past.  Lets take this new day and write out new legacy’s for ourselves.  We can charter in a new era of positive thinking, success, and good memories.

The biggest mistake you could make is to assume this day isn’t yours.  That it isn’t for you.  That you can’t participate, NAY!  Commandeer the day and make it perfect.  Or… you can roll over, close your eyes, and see if maybe another one comes along tomorrow.  It might.  It might not.  Today is at hand.  Grasp it with yours and own it.

Gut Check for Christians

Christianity gut check:

Let’s say that Christ is coming back today!  What is your immediate reaction?  Excitement?  Fear?  Questions?  Concerns?  Need a moment?

Today’s homework is to ponder that simple question.  What is your reaction if you were told, today is THE day?  And its quite easy to determine where your relationship is with God based on your immediate response (not the one after you think about it for a few minutes… but the knee-jerk, instant, first response).

Is your response, “huzzah, I’m ready!”… or are you hoping that there is an essay portion to explain your current status?  Don’t read into this a doomsday, better hurry, you aren’t right with God, etc. post.  This is merely something you can do on your own, and your own response might surprise you.

If you reflect properly, you might catch some patterns that need tweaking.  When you constantly ask the question, would God approve?  your outlook changes.

Some of us get stuck in ruts and it takes someone shaking our shoulders and smacking us around a bit before we realize that life on autopilot is not the life God called us to live.  I’m not even going to try and presuppose your position in life right now.  But you can.  Is God on your mind’s speed dial?  Does your heart belong to Him during the good AND bad times?  Are you excited at the thought of His perfect plan completing with the triumphant return of our King where eternity finally begins?

Be honest… you only have yourself to fool.  Are you where you need to be today?  If not… save yourself the panic, save you from desperation, prevent the cries for more time and the begging for another chance.  Today is a chance… use that.

Opting out of Grace does not Mean God Can’t Forgive

There are frequently two incorrect assumptions many assign to God.

1.  I’m not good enough.

2.  My sin is too great.

First, you may notice I said we assign those assumptions to God.  That was not a typo.  We may be sulking in our own history of mistakes, but we are effectively saying, “I have dug a hole so big even God can’t reach me!”

Do you really believe that is possible?  Are we so great that our mishaps can limit our creator?

Secondly, lets revisit what God did to forgive our sins.  He let His Son live a homeless, nomadic life on earth, allowed him to be mocked, tortured, and killed, and put all of our sins on Him in our place.  Do we really believe that after all of that, His plan to save US had a flaw?  Are we so clever we found a loophole?

When you claim your sins are too big, you are also saying God is too small.  And incidentally, you are kind of saying the whole death on a cross thing was a bit of a dud.   Equally so, if we assume our merit, in any way, affects God’s relationship with us, we have a gross misunderstanding of God’s plan from the beginning.  Jesus came to save the sinner… of which we all are.

We cloak our statements so it sounds like we are so bad and unworthy…. but what we are really saying is that God can’t.  Or God won’t.  That line of thinking has a problem with tense.  God did!  It’s already done. The price has already been paid.  To know that Jesus already died for your sins and then to believe you are exempt from that salvation is to call God’s plan a failure.  You think you are saying, “no, I failed… ME!”  but that is exactly why you have been forgiven… because we all fail.  We all seek forgiveness… and God will give that grace-filled forgiveness to any and all who ask sincerely.

Why would He go through the agony of letting His Son die…  Why would Jesus go through the whole of it… if it wasn’t a complete package deal?  Did God tell Him, “sorry, Son, the liars and thieves can be saved but the adulterers and murderers are on their own?  No.

No matter how sick, how disgusting, how repulsive you find yourself… Jesus bought those attributes from you.  There might be something holding you back or keeping you from letting go of those sins… but nothing held Jesus back from dying for them.

So instead of shrugging off your Savior and condemning yourself… try asking for a little grace.  Grace is that thing that NONE of us deserves, but He gives it to us anyway because He loves us.  You don’t require MORE grace than anyone else.  We all need grace.  And to all who ask, all will receive.

One final reminder… One of Satan’s biggest lies is in the mirror.  Its how we perceive ourselves.  God loves us and wants us to be with Him.  He payed dearly so we could be with Him.  If you are feeling unwanted, useless, unworthy, or unloved… you are being deceived.  God follows His own commands, of which the greatest is, to love all.

Here is the sad summary… you can choose not to accept grace.  Many do.  But it isn’t because it wasn’t offered.  Can you get so hungry that food won’t help?  Can you get so thirsty that water won’t work?  Can you be so poor that you turn down money because it will just make things worse?  I hope those all sound ridiculous to you.  Because it seems quite silly to God that you would find yourself in a predicament that He can’t solve or forgive.

Wonder Woman, Feminism, and the Asterisk

This isn’t a traditional post of mine, but its also not a full blown movie review either.  I hope it finds you well whatever your expectations may be.  (warning, this may delve more into politics and social issues than both of us would prefer… It’s on my heart so I am letting it out… a tad).

@PattyJenks tweeted a list of responses from kindergarten girls that had seen the film.  While some are cute, I noticed a trend in many of the responses from the children, the press and reviewers around the world.

Female empowerment.  Many are praising the films recognition that a woman can do great things.  And quite frankly, this isn’t an issue that anyone should be on the other side of.  Simply put, they can do great things, they have and they will.

What I wish people would focus on is the real accomplishment of the film.  The lead actress, Gal Gadot, brought a level of genuine emotion, sincerity, and empathy that super hero fans aren’t used to.  Not only did the plot build up why the Amazons were empathetic to the plight of mankind, but her specific story provides a greater level of compassion towards them.

Then, when needed, she flips the switch and pulls off epic ferocity, at least on par with, anything we have seen to date.  The supporting cast (Chris Pine, et al), visuals, storyline, writing, directing, score, audio… you name it, nothing detracted from how amazing this movie was set out to be.  And the world has responded.  It nearly doubled the opening weekend sales of Pirates of the Caribbean 4:  Dead Men Tell no Tales.  (which preceded it the week before).  (103 million, vs 62 million respectively – boxofficemojo).

Simply put, this was an amazing movie in every categorical possibility.  This is, of course, in my opinion. (but various sales figures help back that up from an argumentative standpoint as well).

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What I find interesting in it, is our seemingly inherent ability to divide ourselves over every possible issue we face… even those found in entertainment.  Some may say this is just the god Ares (god of war) having his way with us (see I watched it!).  If you aren’t aware some places have shown “women’s only screenings“.

Those screenings were henceforth protested by men wondering what happened to equality.  There was a ban in Lebanon seemingly over the star actress’ heritage.  And, as mentioned above, when asking a great many people what they thought of the film, an overwhelming number of woman felt it sparked positive movement for women (which isn’t meant to be listed as a negative attribute, but does mean that they graded the film more on political issues than the wonderful content that filled it).

When I walked out of the theater, I knew this was my new favorite movie.  I had no clue that it was directed by a woman.  I had no idea the actress was from Israel.  I didn’t know about any political or social issues that it might be tied into.  It was classic good versus evil and good won.  It was a beautifully scripted and decorated picture, played over 2 entertaining hours that is worthy of praise.  The current IMDB score is 8.2/10 and I find that low of a score insulting to the art that resulted from this movie.

But I would call myself a Martin Luther King-ian.  I want equality.  Patty is getting her accolades.  That she is getting more for being a woman, IMHO, seems to be regression in that movement.  Isn’t the idea for her to excel on her merit alone?  I wanted Obama to be a good president… not a black president.  I want Wonder Woman to be a highly successful movie, not a great movie… for a woman (which is what comes out when we laud and praise based on that fact).

What would you rather hear:

“Great job!, you put on the best performance”  or…

“for a woman, that was really good”.

We all fit into our niches no matter how badly society wants to group us up just so they can tear us apart.  How would you feel being graded not only on your accomplishments, but on every other distinguishing factor that makes you unique?  I want black boys and girls playing with white boys and girls.  I want that without having to sacrifice personality, heritage, traits, beliefs, or any other factor.

One of the many issues with trying to fix problems with the past is we tend to over-correct and that causes, in some ways, worse problems than we started with.  There is a computer game coming out soon where the goal is to kill white southern Biblical based occultists.  While that fits my demographic (except for the cult part 😉 ), its not offensive to me.  I get it.  I understand entertainment, fantasy, and what the developers of that game are going for.

What does frustrate me, are the people on the other side of the fence stating, “now its your time!”.  What they are referencing are the Christians who are questioning the game’s motives.  And the people answering are the same people who were against games that targeted terrorists (and so all the enemies in the game looked like middle easterners).  Or the protesters that didn’t like another game set in Africa (where most of the enemies were black).

Instead of being consistent and also boycotting yet another game that seems to stereotype, or instead of learning their lesson and backing off… they are now openly cheering on a game that sticks it to their opponent.  Once again, man kind doing what we do best.  Fighting each other.  They can’t judge the game based on its entertainment value, they have to dig deep until they find something to argue about.  And once they do… the gloves come off.  We can call names, insult, and even send death threats online over how our views differ.

Incidentally, the game isn’t even out yet… which really helps the biases to shine over the controversy.

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I was just thinking about the song “I will always love you” by Whitney Houston (428 million views on Youtube).  And how many men have successfully sang this song.  Arguably some have.  Arguably, the best man’s performance of this song pales in comparison to the plethora of females that have had various success.  Would I like to be the one who sings it OK… for a man?  no.  Would I like to be the first man to sing it great?  no.  Would I like to be known for any achievement based on physical criteria granted to me at birth?  no.

That is called an asterisk and I hate asterisks.  One of the most quoted verses in the Bible is John 3:16.  It says, “for God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son…”.  There is no asterisk there.  He did that for the world.  Everyone.  All of us.  Each one side by side and equally loved as the next.

Hatred is the opposite of that.  Hate divides.  Hate excludes.  Hate categorizes.  The first child, the best black, the only woman, the fastest foreigner… all asterisks.

Without trying to take anything away from those who have achieved in this world… wouldn’t it be much more rewarding to just be the best?  Period.  Let me ask it another way.  Why does it feel rewarding if you have to compartmentalize yourself down into groups in order to weed out the pack you are competing against?  In other words, if we are all swimming in different pools, it doesn’t mean much if you are just the best in your pool.

I loved the movie, Wonder Woman, because it was one of the best I’ve seen.  I was impressed by the action sequences performed by Gal because she is one of the most talented I’ve witnessed.  I’m not trying to say to women… that you shouldn’t enjoy that victory.  I’m encouraging you… that the victory is greater than you are celebrating for.  Don’t diminish the achievement into a subcategory which lessens the phenomenal accomplishment.  Get rid of the asterisk and accept the true, raw, unaltered stats.

God didn’t create asterisks.  He created unique and “wonderfully made” individuals that He loves equally.  Our competition, our bias, and even our hate… that didn’t come from Him.  That is where we have to overcome.  That is where we have to step up.  Don’t be the first girl to ignore sexism.  Don’t be the first man to step above racism.  Instead, be a hero.  Be all that God made you and love the world the same way He does.  Show compassion to all.  Love all.  Help all.  Pray for all.  As soon as you stop looking at the whole and start seeing parts… well then you become just like everyone else.

With Jesus’ death imminent, He prayed to God.  “let them all be one as you and I are one”.  He asked for unity.  He spent enough time with mankind to know that this is what we needed most.  It was there where we were weakest.  We just can’t stop sizing each other up and putting each other into lists long enough to appreciate the wonderful gift we each are.

At the risk of getting into more political and social issues than I enjoy, I can’t think of a more perfect ending than Morgan Freeman’s response to baited questions about racism.  His response would make MLK Jr. proud.  When we stop looking at each other outwardly, and start looking into our hearts… perhaps then we can heal.  (incidentally, 300k views on Morgan’s video.  428 million on Whitney’s.)  Its almost as if people don’t want to solve our bigger problems.  Do you?

Then I would encourage you to be like Wonder Woman and look past feminism completely.  Be like Morgan and look past racism completely.  Be like Jesus and look past classes completely.  Stop talking about it.  Stop looking at it.  Start living like you wish everyone else would live towards you.


Am I trying to take away a female icon, role model, or success story?  No.  Dress as her all you like.  Look up to her as young girls.  My attempt is to only ask the questions that haunt all of us… who will we become if we can’t exist in a middle ground of understanding and acceptance?  If this amazing movie can be made without spelling out that women were involved, why can’t the rest of life be lived out the same way… and across all issues.  Why can’t we just enjoy what we like?  Why do we insist on creating asterisks?