When God breathes…

The day before I fell in love with Jesus I felt his breath on my cheek (OK, not literally, but it was no less real than literal). Several months earlier, in an effort to help me get to know Jesus, a guy named Joel had given me a Bible. “You’re going to make a good Christian,” he said. To be polite – but mostly to get him off my back – I took it and stashed it in my room somewhere. I forgot about it until God’s bread crumb trail led me to wonder what made those crazy Christians tick. Joel had marked the Gospel of John and told me that it’d be a good place to begin. So off I went a remote cliff overlooking Stilson Canyon in the foothills outside our town, a place I normally smoked weed and marveled at the picturesque scene. This time without weed I read the whole book of John. That’s when I felt his breath for the first time.

I was captivated by the story of Jesus, and it was as though he was sitting next to me, our legs dangling over the bluff, narrating the things I was reading silently. I didn’t realize it then but the one who had carved the canyon and dictated the words I was reading was enticing me by wonder into his friendship. Though I didn’t know whose it was, I’d always felt a “presence” (even without the artificial aid of inebriants) in places such as this where he’d painted his best pieces. The words I was reading (especially the red ones) gave me the same sense of “presence.” The words of the Bible and the spectacular vista proclaimed the same thing, and I felt a warm breath. The next morning (August 20, 1972) I inhaled and came to life.

Speaking of breath, I witnessed a guy getting extracted from the frigid ocean at Pleasure Point, a popular surf spot in Santa Cruz, on a day the swell was gigantic. Though an experienced surfer, when an overhead-sized wave broke on top of him, Ted, in the wrong position at the wrong time, was overwhelmed. He was knocked unconscious by his board as his leash, whipped it back and bashed him in the temple. Friends dragged his limp body onto the beach, laid him on the sand, and another surfer began forcing his own breath into Ted’s sea water-filled lungs. Relentless to get his breath into Ted before oxygen-depleted blood stopped his heart, I prayed quietly but insistently, “Come on Lord, do what you do! Bring this man back.” At long last Ted convulsed and coughed out a bunch of salt water. His eyes opened, “What happened?” he said hoarsely. Everyone on the beach cheered!

I suppose God had been breathing all along, but as far as we know he hadn’t ever shared his breath with anyone else until he exhaled into Adam and Eve’s spirits (Genesis 2). That’s when they came really alive. After that, every time he breathed his words appeared (2 Timothy 3). These words have the same effect as his breath that brought our first parents to life. And then when Jesus was sending his disciples out to change the world he breathed on them – investing in them the life that he commissioned them to invest in others (John 20). The lesson:  When God exhales you’ll want to be there.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17 

God “breathed” a Bible came out. He exhaled, and out poured his Word. May I advise you about what you might do with it.

Inhale… 

“…you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures..”

How ill-advised would it have been if Adam and Eve had felt his breath but not welcome it inside them? While God exhaled, in order for it to make an entrance, they had to, at the same time, inhale. Absorbing the words of God is not the same as learning math or history. I don’t want to just be able to recite spiritual data. Content with feeling God’s gentle breath on my cheek, but not letting it invade my inner person mistakes the reason for his breathing in our direction in the first place. When God breathes, inhale.

“The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.” John 6:63

Breathe deeply…

“…what you have learned and have become convinced of…”

When they want to listen to your lungs the doctors ask you to “take several deep breaths.” I guess shallow ones won’t give them a proper read on what’s going on inside. It’s one thing to “learn” what God says and even believe it, but when we’re “convinced” we’re not so susceptible to stop believing what we’ve learned and more apt to follow the inhale with an exhale. When hell broke loose in my life several people asked me if my faith failed. It faltered, but didn’t fail because I was “convinced” of what I’d learned. Earlier in this same letter Paul said, “That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12) It’s not that my faith was so strong, but that my knowledge had long ago become a conviction.

When God is trying to resuscitate you, it’s advisable to breathe deeply. If he’s extracted you from overwhelming circumstances and is breathing furiously into your lungs, it’s probably a good time to inhale with like ferocity.

Learning what the Bible says and believing what it means is wise, but it’s still quite elementary. Good for you if you’ve gotten that far in your faith, but when a torrent comes you’ll have to dig down deep and build our house on a rock. That kind of faith remains in spite of any storm, because it’s “convinced.” It occurs to me that “convinced” and “conviction” are part of the same family of words. What is a Christian without convictions (internalized values), but feeble and fragile?

In order to get his Word into your inner-regions, I suggest that you get close enough to him when he exhales his creative breath, and then breathe in deeply.

Exhale…

“… (it) is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”

There are too many “Sunday School Quiz Queens” in churches. In order to win prizes they can recite the twenty-third Psalm or tell you where to find the Sermon on the Mount, but they’re not very good at doing what the Bible says. Overfed and under-exercised they suffer from spiritual obesity. They know lots of stuff, they believe it, and unless their storms are more vicious than their faith is durable, they probably won’t stop believing. But what good is it if all it does is get them to heaven? How was the world helped by their pat Bible answers and proof texts? What good did they do while they were here? Paul says to timid Timothy that God’s Word, like a box full of tools, is “useful” to help people get connected and stay connected to God, and that someone who wants to make a difference here can be “thoroughly equipped” for every kind of good work by inhaling what God is exhaling.

Keep breathing (both in and out)…

“…continue in what you have learned…”

Continue learning, persist in believing, and persevere in doing what you’ve learned. Don’t stop learning, don’t quit believing, and above all, don’t forget to act on what you’ve learned and believe. There will always be lots of reasons to stop (intellectual, cultural, philosophical, and social), but keep going – keep breathing. No matter how difficult it becomes, inhale. If you’re choking on the world, take in his Word and let his breath become yours. Inhale. And once you’ve caught your breath again, exhale. Take in his life-infusing Word and pass it on to people around you. His breath that keeps you alive will also be life to them.

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