Groaning (Part 2)

This morning in his message my pastor shared a story about some friends who have a young daughter. Around the age of two, she was diagnosed with multiple food allergies. As they were dealing with that reality, other diagnoses came taking them down a very uncertain and unpredictable path. His purpose for sharing their story was to illustrate that their shared journey through uncertainty brought them closer to each other and to God.

Theirs is a story of groaning. As parents, they groan. As children of God, they groan. As spouses, they groan. When they choose to groan together, recognize each other’s groaning, they are actively choosing to draw closer together.

Sounds perfectly natural for a couple to do. But you and I both know, that’s not what all couples do. Not all relationships survive such trials. And when you examine similar challenges that a larger group is facing together, the possible response scenarios are multiplied.

  • How might responses be chosen if the challenges were seen as “the whole creation groaning”? (See Part 1)
  • How might we listen to one another if we viewed other’s words as groaning prayers?
  • What if we shared groanings without trying to win?
  • What rewards would be received if at least once we chose to listen to another’s groans without demanding they hear ours?

Most likely, all the answers to these questions have a common thread-choosing grace. Grace says, “I hear you. I see you. I’m willing to listen to you. Your groans matter. You are allowed to groan however you want, how loud you want, about whatever you want.”

We are all born groaners. We all have the opportunity to become gracious groaners.

Who is a gracious groaner?

  • That person that you know is in pain, but they refuse to suck the life out of the room.
  • That person that shares their groans along with the lessons they are learning, the questions they are asking, and the hope they have anchored.
  • That person that understands everyone around them also groans and offers the grace they desire to receive.

How did that person nurture such grace? Most likely, they admired someone else with it. Or even better, they grew from being gifted undeserved grace in return for their lack of grace. They received the benefit of shared grace.

More about that in Part 3.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Groaning (Part 1)

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

These verses precede one of the most quoted verses from the New Testament. Back to that later.

Recently I’ve been meditating on this passage, particularly focusing on the groaning references. In the past I’ve always focused on two elements of this teaching by Paul (hint to where these verses are found).

  1. Creation is groaning. So the challenges of our physical world-storms, fires, droughts, etc.-illustrate this.
  2. The next two verses that follow (familiar verses about prayer) mention wordless groans through which the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Praying is groaning.

I’ve taken a third focus lately that has brought further peace and clarity to a believer’s identity. And the focus follows this thought pattern:

All of Creation is Groaning

>Humans are part of Creation

>Humans are Groaning

Strange as it may sound, I find freedom in that truth. Not necessarily comfort or satisfaction. But this different view of our status brings deeper understanding. I’ll put it in three points:

  1. We’re all born groaning
  2. Shared groaning births grace
  3. God chose to enter our groaning

Growing up in the church, I’ve heard “we’re all born sinners” all my life. I’ve never heard anyone say, “We’re all born groaners.” All of my being is groaning. My spirit groans. My mind groans. My body groans. I was born this way. And there’s nothing I can do about that.

Although that’s true, I can do at least two things according to these two verses. First, I can wait eagerly for the groaning to end. In other words, rather than sulk over my status I can look forward to what’s ahead in eternity. Second, I can foster hope. Yes, my groaning spirit and mind and body produce stuff I don’t like; but I have the option to choose to humble all of myself to the Holy Spirit who gives me hope by being with me in that groaning.

I was born groaning and continue. It explains much. But there’s more. Stay tuned for Part 2 & 3.

Photo by Felipe Palacio on Unsplash

Parent, You Are Chosen!

Read Judges 13 this morning and a question came to me. What would it have been like to be Samson’s parents?

Manoah and his wife display such a teachable, humble, surrendered, and reverent spirit. Neither of them give a vibe of bitterness, doubt, or frustration at their lack of having a family yet. Neither of them display disgust at being told that with the promise of a child came a restrictive vow. Nope. Instead they reply with awe and an outlook of being blessed.

No wonder God chose them to be Samson’s parents. Unbeknownst to them, Samson would make some irreverent choices. He would not follow in their steps of humility. His surrender came by force.

Does this mean Manoah and his wife failed as parents? No. There’s where my judgment has gone in the past when reading their story. But it doesn’t seem to be the best view.

Rather than view them through their son’s actions, it seems better to view them through the eyes of the angel of the Lord who interacts with them in this chapter. They appear to be chosen. They definitely were heard. Without question, they experienced blessing through a promise personally delivered by “I Am” and its fulfillment.

God chose them. Just like all uncapable-of-controlling-the-future parents, they were chosen. God saw something in them and said, “You are the right couple to birth the last judge of my chosen people. You have the spirit to stay with me when your son chooses otherwise. I choose you.”

Father, you were chosen to father your children. God knew what he was doing. You can trust him, surrender to him, allow him to teach you.

Mother, you were chosen to mother your children. God saw your spirit. You can trust him, follow him, lean on him to sustain you.

Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash

Pick Them Up

When a baby is distressed, they’re distressed because they are sleepy, hungry, uncomfortable, cold. And the way we respond to newborns is we pick them up…We are helping them begin to learn that when you are in distress you express your distress and someone comes to comfort you.

Curt Thompson, MD

Several takeaways from this statement in Episode 7, Season 1 of Being Known.

  • It’s normal to express distress. We were born doing it.
  • It’s normal to comfort someone who is expressing their distress. The majority of us have been comforted and can reciprocate it.
  • Comforting someone is picking them up. We pick each other up when we respond to distress cries with comfort.
  • The ultimate picker-upper is God. We express our distress through prayer. He comforts. He picks us up.

Are you in distress? Who are you sharing it with? Where can you trust to go for comfort? Have you expressed your distress to God?

Do you know someone in distress? How can you pick them up today? Have you prayed for God to pick them up?

Psalm 113:1-9 (The Message)

113 1-3 Hallelujah!
You who serve God, praise God!
    Just to speak his name is praise!
Just to remember God is a blessing—
    now and tomorrow and always.
From east to west, from dawn to dusk,
    keep lifting all your praises to God!

4-9 God is higher than anything and anyone,
    outshining everything you can see in the skies.
Who can compare with God, our God,
    so majestically enthroned,
Surveying his magnificent
    heavens and earth?
He picks up the poor from out of the dirt,
    rescues the forgotten who’ve been thrown out with the trash,
Seats them among the honored guests,
    a place of honor among the brightest and best.
He gives childless couples a family,
    gives them joy as the parents of children.
Hallelujah!

Photo by Heike Mintel on Unsplash

Courage Musts

Since he had turned his back upon the fight his fears had been wondrously magnified. Death about to thrust him between the shoulder blades was far more dreadful than death about to smite him between the eyes. When he thought of it later, he conceived the impression that it is better to view the appalling than to be merely within hearing. The noises of the battle were like stones; he believed himself liable to be crushed.

The Red Badge of Courage, chapter 6

To experience victory, hard must be faced.

To defeat fears, eyes must gaze forward.

To minimize dread, fight must be embraced.

To remain steadfast, battle must be accepted.

To resist surrender, better must be pursued.

To foster courage, will must be resolved.

Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

Regulating

We don’t control things; we regulate things. Human beings actually don’t control anything. We have agency, and we can regulate things; but we don’t absolutely, like dictators, control anything. I can’t control my heartrate absolutely. I ultimately can’t even control my breathing rate. I can regulate it-I can move it up and move it down-but there are going to be certain perimeters within which, you know, I can only hold my breath for so long and then I got to start breathing again.

Curt Thompson, MD

First I came across this graphic posted on social media. Within hours, I heard Dr. Thompson’s quote on his podcast, Being Known.

Our extremely accessible world tempts us to focus on the wrong things, to believe we can-or must-control more than is possible. When accepted, these temptations lead to overwhelming emotions that take us down roads we weren’t designed to travel.

This graphic states a helpful principle: focus on the things that matter that you can control. Everything else requires faith. Faith that all things matter to God. Faith that he controls all things. When I misplace that faith, I’ve given into another temptation-playing God.

These temptations need regulating. Working on regulating is less overwhelming than working on controlling. That I can work on. That makes me think of some of the Beatitudes-Jesus’ teaching on what blessing looks like.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

Matthew 5:3-9, The Message

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Welcome to Egypt!

“Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and the captain of the guards.” (Genesis 37:36)

“Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Now that your father and brothers have come to you, the land of Egypt is open before you; settle your father and brothers in the best part of the land. They can live in the land of Goshen. If you know of any capable men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.” (Genesis 47:5-6)

No idea what Egyptian road signs existed in 1700BC, but it doesn’t take much to imagine that Joseph and Jacob would have had different emotions if they passed one welcoming them to the country.

Joseph: “What just happened? I don’t want to be here. God, why did you let this happen?”

Jacob: “What is happening? I’m so glad to be here. God, how can I thank you?”

Genesis 37-47 recounts many of the most familiar biblical dramas. Dramas that were foreshadowed in dreams. Dramas that no one saw coming. Dramas with immediate answers to questions. Dramas where silence still lingers.

Our lives aren’t much different.

Rolling along with seemingly no problems, then WHAM! Welcome to hatred, to betrayal, to dysfunction, to lies, to prison, to loss, to loneliness, to misunderstanding, to abandonment, to…..

Or doing the best with what’s been handed to us, then SURPRISE! Welcome to blessing, to grace, to forgiveness, to renewal, to acceptance, to explanation, to honor, to peace, to hope, to…..

We can learn many truths from Jacob and Joseph’s lives. Today, wherever and whatever you’ve been welcomed to, know that God has walked with many of his children through their whams and surprises. He goes to Egypt with you. How do I know? Here are some other verses within these same Genesis chapters:

“The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, serving in the household of his Egyptian master.” (Genesis 39:2)

“But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him. He granted him favor with the prison warden.” (Genesis 39:21)

“Israel set out with all that he had and came to Beer-sheba, and he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. That night God spoke to Israel in a vision: ‘Jacob, Jacob!’ he said.

And Jacob replied, ‘Here I am.’

God said, ‘I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you back. Joseph will close your eyes when you die.’” (Genesis 46:1-4)

Welcome to Egypt! You are not alone!

Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash

Today, I Remember

May 31st was Memorial Day. A holiday to remember those who have given their life for freedom.

That morning I decided not to start my day with a run. Instead I felt led to have a Sabbath moment. Just follow the promptings and see where they led.

To begin, I picked up my Bible reading where I was. It just happened that I was reading in Exodus where the Israelites were first instructed about Passover. I’ve read that many times. But on this particular day, it mattered a little more when I read this verse:

“This day is to be a memorial for you, and you must celebrate it as a festival to the Lord. You are to celebrate it throughout your generations as a permanent statute.” Exodus 12:14

How could I ignore the connection, right? So, note to self.

I don’t remember how or why, but after I finished reading I came across a youtube video of Max Lucado sharing a personal story that I hadn’t heard before. The title read “Max Lucado Testimony: Jesus Healed Me From Sexual Abuse.” About three minutes into this clip, Max shared a unique communion experience he took upon himself to take when he was twelve years old. He described going to the refrigerator and finding what he could to observe communion right then and there. He felt like he needed to remember. He ended up with a glass of milk and leftover potatoes. And in his heart, he remembered and felt cleansed and embraced as he took that private moment to remember.

How could I ignore the connection, right?

Now it was more than a note to self. It was a call to remember right then. So I followed Max’s example and went to the refrigerator. I ended up with a bagel and a cup of fruit punch. Then with further scripture reading and listening to a playlist I put together of communion music, I had an hour or two of memorial and celebration.

It hit me that a further following of Exodus 12:14 could be that I make this a habit. I don’t have to wait on my church to dictate when I remember and celebrate. I can follow God’s direction and repeat this moment whenever I wish.

For now, I’m putting it on my calendar once a month. And this morning was that time. And I share this for you to consider how you might make remembering and celebrating a part of your home as well.

(From my time this morning) Today I remember that…

  • you were betrayed
  • you knew what you were doing
  • you desired to be glorified
  • through you your Father was glorified
  • envy was your enemy
  • you chose to give your life
  • you are the way to life now and forever
  • you knew the prophecies and surrendered to their fulfillment
  • you could have stopped it all
  • you were alone
  • you gave the charge to love one another
  • the shedding of your blood washes away my sin
  • you humbled yourself completely to the point of death

Photo by David Weber on Unsplash

Planting Seeds

It’s mid-morning and already a theme has emerged for the day.

The first reference came during our 7AM men’s coffee conversation. Two of the guys shared thoughts about how they have tried to follow nudges to help people in random or “not my job” situations. One expressed his perception of failure. We redirected him to consider that you don’t know if others have your same perception. Perhaps you did more good than you think, and it will reveal itself down the road. Consider your actions as a seed planted. You started the future of that seed.

The second reference came during our weekly staff meeting. Two staff members shared a musical performance of the hymn “Just As I Am.” Before they played, they handed out an article describing the story behind the lyrics. I just read it and had this thought. Ms. Elliott had no idea how many people would come to know her story and sing her song when she wrote it in 1834. Almost two hundred years later, people still are learning and growing because she planted a seed.

Planting seeds in other’s lives is pretty much a matter of following your heart, letting what’s in out. I believe it’s that simple. Trusting God can handle the future of seeds we’re given enables us to open our hearts and let the goodness flow.

May God bless your seed planting today.

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

Jumping Through Hoops

Hi. I’m John. I hate jumping through hoops.

Who else is in the circle? Where’s the next 12-step support group meeting?

Meditating on this life challenge, it crossed my mind to add to my musing Hebrews 4:15:

Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. (The Message)

So I seriously asked myself, “What did Jesus know about jumping through hoops?” And the answer was, “Sit down, John. You’re going to be here a while.”

One simple answer to this question is another question: Which one?

  • Becoming human
  • Teaching humans
  • Being a human son
  • Waiting for the “GO” sign to serve humans
  • Human praying
  • Observing human religious practices
  • Submitting to human authorities

More could be listed. Just one of these shut my mouth. But here’s the one that stopped my being.

  • Providing humans salvation

When moaning counting hoops jumped to buy a house, consider the number of Old Testament prophecies Jesus needed to fulfill to even get to Passion week. Scholars debate the number, but it’s safe to say it was dozens. Hundreds of items to check off.

Did he keep a spreadsheet? Swipe his brow after #78? Celebrate every 100? Resist temptation to stop a couple short? Decide we weren’t worth it after all? “Are you kidding me, Father? Do you see what I see?”

It’s unfathomable. But, to give it a try, think more in detail about the hoop jumping he endured Passion week. To get you started, here’s a list of words:

  • Judas
  • Lies
  • Arrest
  • Betrayal
  • Shame
  • Cursing
  • Mocking
  • Rejection
  • Thrones
  • Trial
  • Spit
  • Slaps
  • Nails

I challenge you to keep adding to the list.

And after each one, pause.

Then in your pause, whisper a prayer.

And finally, allow the Master Hoop Jumper to enter the circle.

Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find that a support group of two is just enough.

And it’s offered whenever and wherever you are.

Photo by Paul Zoetemeijer on Unsplash