Why?

I had a buddy who was drinking himself to death, or so we thought.  He has died but it was cancer that took him out, and it took him quick.
 
Not long before he died, he and I bought some takeout and drove out to this lake I know with an incredible view.  We sat and ate and soaked in the view for awhile and eventually the conversation turned to God.  He was not a Christian but he enjoyed talking about God, or his version of God anyway.
 
I took some time and told my pard what I believe about God’s love for us, for him in particular.  He listened carefully and when I was done he thought for a moment. Then he looked me in the eye and said, “But A.J., why?”  I tried to explain that he was God’s child, but he blew off that answer and only repeated; “Why?”
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Allow me to paraphrase a long passage from Luke:
 
A rich man had two sons, and the younger couldn’t wait to get his hands on his inheritance.  He coldly asked his father for his share of the estate.  For reasons known only to the father, he gave the ungrateful son what he asked for.  The spoiled young man then left his father and brother and went and completely squandered the fortune “on wild living.”  Poor and starving for the first time in his life, and realizing what a fool he had been, he tucked his tail between his legs and returned home to the family that he had spurned, just hoping that his father might give him a job. 
When he arrived, though, his father was overjoyed and welcomed his boy home with open arms and he could not be kept from celebrating.  The older brother was mad as could be and would not join the party, so the father went to explain to his older son why they had to celebrate…“because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found.”
For years that parable has touched my soul in a special way.  I have seen that disrespectful, unloving, hard-partying younger son in myself, and I have been that son when he ended up broken, starving, full of regrets, lost.
For some reason it is easier for me to admit to identifying with the younger son, but to be honest I have seen that older son in myself as well: proud, self-righteous, judgmental, jealous, resentful… a Pharisee.
It is because I see so much of the two sons in myself that the father stands out in such stark contrast, like a mid-autumn stand of aspen trees in a sea of dark pines. The father had been treated like dirt by his son, yet he never stopped searching the horizon, waiting and hoping that his boy would return to him.  The son had a speech prepared, but he could scarcely get out a word of it before he was engulfed in the embrace of his joyous father, a kiss planted on his cheek and the best robe put across his shoulders.  If all that wasn’t enough, the father then staged a great party to celebrate the homecoming of this son who was lost.
Jesus was using the most extreme example of disrespect to show us that no matter what we’ve done, we are loved so much by God that he would jump off his throne to run and embrace us with tears of joy in his eyes, if we would just turn to him.  You would be led home and heaven would have a great celebration in your honor.
This is the kind of love that Christians believe God has for each one of us, a love that wishes to forgive all and bring us home to him, to a place of eternal joy, eternal peace, Heaven.  Why? Because God’s love “surpasses all knowledge”.  Our love is the size of a mountain, but God’s love for us is the size of all mountains on every planet in His infinite universe!!!
What a difference it would make if we could only believe that.
A.J.

Laws Within

 
We screwed up!  We can try to hide from that truth but how–when it is written inside us? 

I believe we all know in our hearts the difference between right and wrong and we did not need our parents, or teachers, or the laws of our society to tell us this. There is something inside us, something we are born with, that is weighing each thing we do and each thing we say with some cosmic standard of right and wrong; our own interior goodness meter.

Suppose there were only two people on earth and without provocation one hurt the other by intentionally chopping off the other one’s hand, both the victim and the perpetrator would know that a wrong had been done. If you think the perpetrator may not have known, turn it around. Would he have believed that a wrong was done if he were instead the victim?
Put yourself in the place of the perpetrator. Would your conscious bother you? Would you have felt convicted inside? Of course you would. Your conscious would be screaming in your head; “What the heck have you done? Why would you do something like that?”  Your brain on the other hand might be working overtime to come up with an excuse for your unfathomable cruelty.

Let’s say instead that some large sharp object fell on the only other person in the world and chopped off his hand. It was an accident and you had nothing to do with it but you did your best to help the other. You stopped the bleeding, did your best to ease the other’s pain, cared for the wound as well as all the needs of the person while the wound healed, and after it did you helped the other adjust to life with only one hand. Would you not then feel within your heart that you had done the right thing, that what you did was what you were supposed to do?

Where could this inherent knowledge of right and wrong come from? In Romans 2 it says that the law is written on our hearts, the law meaning God’s idea of right and wrong. It says that in our own thoughts we are either accusing or defending ourselves based on these laws that we find within us. Meaning our conscience is beating us up over something we did or left undone, either that or in our heads we are defending something that we know we shouldn’t have done.

We have all done something or said something to someone and then asked ourselves why we did that. How could I be so insensitive, so mean? What’s the matter with me? Then in the next instant we come up with “reasons” that we think excuse our behavior in that particular circumstance. That may have been a mean thing I said but that guy was incredibly rude. He provoked me so he deserved it. Someone needed to put him in his place! I wouldn’t normally have cut that lady off in traffic but I am late for work.

Or perhaps we don’t make excuses at all. We say to ourselves, “there is no excuse for me” and we simply live with guilt, sometimes a guilt so heavy that it crushes us, cripples us and keeps us from being productive in any way.

I never needed the Bible to tell me that there was a moral law because I have felt it within myself for as long as I can remember. It wasn’t because I feared the wrath of my parents that I felt guilty for stealing from my brother, because long after the spankings were done and forgiveness given for my childhood thievery, I still felt the sting from the knowledge that I hadn’t been the boy I should have been, and the innocence was gone forever. I would always know that I had stolen from someone, that I was a thief.

Where do we go from here, my fellow thieves?  Well, get this: Rumor has it that God loves us anyway.  Not love like we know the word, but a “love that surpasses all knowledge”.  Word is; He knew we were going to screw up badly and He has a plan to bridge the chasm between us and Him.

Jesus

Stay tuned…

Poets Don’t Know It

There was a time I thought I could write poetry. I wrote this then…

 

I would like to say that I found Him, but… it wasn’t me.                                                                I couldn’t see my God.  He showed me.

I would like to say that I figured it out, but… it wasn’t me.                                                           I couldn’t see my sin.  He showed me.

I would like to say that I found the Truth, but… it wasn’t me.                                                       I couldn’t see my salvation.  He showed me.

I would like to say that, in response, I changed my life, but… it isn’t me.                                 I can’t be righteous.  He is changing me.

Now, through Him I can say, and I know that it’s me:                                   I Love You Jesus–  My God,  My Savior,  My King

 

A.J.

 

Christmas Writer’s Block

How can one describe the greatest event the world has ever known?  Not the facts of the event itself, but the meaning of them.  How do you tell of something that may have more meaning than creation itself?  Christmas.

The words aren’t there.  I have been searching for them but our language doesn’t have the depth.  Perhaps another human language can come a tad closer but it doesn’t matter.  It would only be like a having a calculator capable of more digits when you are trying to write out infinity.

I have had many shallow Christmases, where it feels like I run around for a month straight getting everything done that needs to be done, but my heart knows; I am missing something.  I may even do some kind or thoughtful thing to brighten someone else’s Christmas, but my heart still knows; I am missing something.

The truth is, my wife handles most of our Christmas to-do list, and though I do feel some stress about getting things done, they do get done, and there is time to find what I am missing:  To find Jesus.  Not that he is lost, but that I am lost… again.

I get lost in all the hubbub–in the busyness of Christmas, and the business of Christmas. Oh sure, I pray a little, and I go to church and sing praise to Our Savior, and I mean it.  It’s just that I never quite get to where I know I need to be, where it feels like it is just He and I, one on one.  It feels shallow.  I am bobbing on the surface when I know there is an ocean of God’s love and knowledge and joy underneath me if I would just take a breath and dive.

Christmas

The birth of a savior… The birth of Our Savior… The Birth of My Savior… THE BIRTH OF MY SAVIOR!

Though all the words of mankind lack the depth to describe Christmas and Jesus, God’s Spirit fills in the blanks.  Through Him we can understand far beyond the limits of human understanding.  It doesn’t matter if this is our ninth Christmas or our ninetieth, within us is The Power to understand, in all its infinite depth, the true meaning of God’s love for us, the true meaning of Christmas.

I am dead-dog-tired of shallow Christmases, aren’t you?  I don’t want to float on the surface anymore.  I want to take a deep breath… and dive deep.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the lord appeared to them. and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.'”

Have a Merry, Meaningful, and Deep Christmas.     sam-beasley-327822-unsplash.jpgA.J.

denise-johnson-426641-unsplashI am always a little edgy around Christmas, sort of “humbuggy”…

It has been commercialized beyond Ebenezer Scrooge’s wildest dreams.  By the time it gets here we have been bombarded with everything Christmas for two months, only it feels more like Chri$tma$.  Bah, Humbug!

There is the problem of stress–to get a thousand things done, made, shopped for, bought, cooked, baked, wrapped, written, mailed, assembled, and delivered… all by Christmas Eve.  And if you forget someone, they will be crushed and need therapy and meds for the rest of their life.  No pressure.  Bah, Humbug!

Mostly, though, I hate that Christ has been taken out of Christmas.  We are left with just “mas”.  How sad.  Supposedly, years ago when someone came up with the term “Xmas”, it wasn’t being done to disparage Christ.  I don’t believe it myself, but the original intention of the term no longer matters.  Secular society has jumped all over it.  Xmas is their favorite holiday.  They have washed it clean of Christ and changed it into something they love, something frivolous and meaningless.  At work, I was looking at all the cards sent from vendors and clients, and everyone of them says Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings, all of them; no mention of Christmas, let alone Christ, the one whose birth this is all about.  It saddens me, and… it angers me.  Xmas!  Bah, Humbug!

I know, I know.  I sound like Christmas Eeyore, right?  Don’t worry about me, though.  I have a Christmas Tigger side too and he is warming up in the bullpen.  Cue the music:  …..but the most wonderful thing about Jesus iiiiisss….. Heeeee’s the only one!!!

I am not trying to squash anyone’s Christmas joy.  Of course I know that Christ cannot be taken out of anything, especially Christmas.  He is King forever.  Amen?

Hmmm…

King Forever…  soul lover…  punishment taker…  mercy giver…  grace extender…

Whose soul does he love?  Mine–and theirs.  Whose punishment did he take?  Mine–and theirs.  Who does he give mercy to?  Myself–and them.  Who does he extend limitless grace to?  Myself–and them.

When my heart is not centered where it should be, it is easy to forget there was a day when I would have replaced Christ with an X, easy to point the righteous finger, easy to become an angry Pharisee.

Jesus loves the Xmasers.  So much so–that he would die for them.  Christmas is actually for them, Christmas and the cross.  For them, and us.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

A.J.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Manger and the Cross

People tend to hate the notion, even many Christians, but Christmastime always makes me think not of the manger, but the cross…

We like our peaceful vision of a newborn baby swaddled in a feeding trough, with a choir of cuddly angels singing softly in predictably perfect harmony; A warm yellow glow surrounding the young family as they accept praise from quiet shepherds, gifts from faraway wise men, and a song from a little drummer boy. Pa Rump A Pum Pum…

Let’s not think about the excruciating pain of giving birth in the dirt of what may have been a cold dark cave. Forget the fact that every person who ever saw an angel had to be told not to be afraid. Certainly we don’t want to remember that a homicidal king had people scouring the territory so he could murder their baby. Most of all though, don’t mention what he was born to do.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that Joseph and Mary were frozen in fear when Jesus was born. On the surface the Gospel accounts do seem peaceful. I tend to think that at least on that night, they were at peace, knowing that they were in the middle of God’s will and that He was protecting them. It may very well have been as serene and peaceful a night as the Christmas cards depict. Maybe.

What I am saying is that Jesus was not born into a peaceful situation. Joseph and Mary escaped with Jesus to Egypt just ahead of King Herod’s dragnet and vicious decree that all boys two years old and younger would die within the vicinity of Bethlehem. That is never on the Christmas cards. No, Jesus was not born with a title of nobility, not one that mankind would recognize anyway. He did not come to live the life of a king, but rather to die the death of a criminal.

Make no mistake about it; Christmas is about the cross. Christmas is about our sin and the unfailing love of an unfathomable God.

“For as in the days of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.”

Stay tuned. A.J.

 

 

 

If God is so great… why would he hold things against us that we did down here in a world full of people who have done worse things?

We have all heard a version of that question at one time or another, haven’t we?  Maybe even in our own heads?

If you were the totally Holy God, how would you save the flawed, free-willed people of this world? Would you just forgive every wrong and welcome the undeserving into heaven? Would Hitler get a free pass? Okay, maybe not him, but how about smaller scale mass murderers, you know, like schoolyard shooters? Would they get in? How about the guy who only murdered one other person? What about the rapist, or the thief, the swindler, the liar, the cheater? Heck, even the very best of the people you created have done things, said things, felt things that turn your holy stomach.

Do they all get to come into the heaven that you created for those that love you? Or, would there be a price to pay for disregarding the laws that you wrote on their hearts and wronging others? Where do you draw that line between right and wrong? If you literally draw it between right and wrong, then all right is on one side and all wrong is on the other. That would put every one of them on the wrong side of the line.

And if there is a price to pay, can the people afford that price? You are God. You don’t need anything and what you wanted from them they failed to deliver. All you required from them was to believe that you were there and that you loved them, and to honor you and honor each other, and to different degrees they all failed.

As God, what do you do?

Okay, you are not God and neither am I.

alex-iby-198979-unsplashWhere does that leave us? We cannot live up to God’s standard, Himself. We cannot earn our way to heaven. We know that a price must be paid for our sin. We wish to leave it behind, but it clings to us like seaweed. We are adrift just off the shore of the wasteland with no way to the paradise that we know is across the great ocean. We can’t make it by ourselves. We are becoming aware of how helpless we are. We are humbled, which is exactly where God needs us to be. If, through pride, we are so focused on patching the holes in our blowup, floaty, ducky innertube, we will never see the boat that has been provided for us.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned…”

A.J.