Uncle Ralph

 

This is my Uncle Ralph.

 

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People say I look like him but I don’t see a resemblance.

This photo was taken years ago.  He is older and grayer now and he has put on a few pounds.  His double chin has doubled making it a quadruple, I guess.

I am afraid we have not been very respectful of Uncle Ralph these last few years.  We make fun of him cause he falls asleep with his Bible at every family gathering.  He has chronic bad breath, his body makes weird noises, and the smells–oh man, don’t get me started.  Worst of all, he will drone on and on about his glory days, how he once did 784 pull-ups, how he used to swing from tree to tree and all the girls couldn’t take their eyes off him.  Probably true.  Just look at that picture; The guy had movie-star good looks.

Uncle Ralph was pretty smart in his day; ran his own banana sales business and it prospered for years.  Nowadays, though, his mind is not so sharp and his memory is not good at all.  Half the time he calls me by my sister’s name, Average Josephine.  We tend not to expect much from Uncle Ralph, we overlook him and marginalize him.

When all of us are sitting around, though, trying to ignore the smells coming from Uncle Ralph’s chair, talking about the recent events in our lives and what they might mean and how we should deal with them, Uncle Ralph will invariably have the wisest and most relevant and helpful advice.

He does it all the time and every time it surprises us because we think we are the smart ones.  We don’t believe that someone so old, someone who can’t remember our names could possibly help us deal with any modern-day problem.

We might be right.  Maybe we are smarter than Uncle Ralph is now… but we aren’t wiser.  He may forget our names but God’s Word is part of him which makes him wiser than all of us who look down on him.

Do you have an Uncle Ralph?  I’ll bet he is not as handsome as mine.

A.J.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free To Obey

In a grace crowd, mentioning works could get me tarred and feathered.  Most of you can’t reach me, though, so I will risk it.

You must understand–I am talking to me as much as anyone.

If I write about anger, jealousy, or lust, there’s a good chance I am struggling with those things in my life.  Pretty much every Christian will agree that those particular sins need to be rooted out of our lives.  But, if I mention our laziness as Christians (again, because I notice that laziness in myself), there are always some who take offense that I could say anything that might make them feel guilty, and they can be quick to remind me that their guilt has been taken away.  The thing is, I would agree totally; our guilt has been taken away — but our responsibility hasn’t.

Seems like every time I write something about the way we are called to act, somebody takes exception as if I have forgotten grace.  If I say something about needing to get off our spiritual butts, Christians rebel as if Jesus did not say;  “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I say?”

Grace is not a permission slip to skip everything we are called to do.  In Ephesians 2, Paul rolls immediately from the clearest possible statement that we are saved by grace alone–straight into a call to do good works.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared us in advance to do.”  Verses 8-10

Grace and Works are not opposed to each other.  They are like bacon and eggs, peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper, bagels and cream cheese… they compliment each other perfectly.

I do not forget grace; I write about it often.  I am never saying we should get off the couch SO we can be saved.  I am saying if we are saved–let’s get off the couch.  God wants to put us in the game.

A.J.

 

 

Humble Vision

What would it take for the skeptic to believe? Proof, right?  Wrong!  Humility is the corrective lens we all must look through to see things clearly.cyrill-hanni-531923-unsplash.jpg

Proof of something should cause all to believe, but strangely, that is not how it works. Often, people will believe or claim to believe what they want to believe, regardless of evidence.

You doubt that? Look around. Everywhere, I mean absolutely EVERYWHERE, there is proof of a creator. Yet, proud people who cannot accept the fact that there is someone greater than them–claim there is none. Desperate to believe they have no one to answer to, people claim that nothing must have created everything, and that inanimate things came to life. First-grade common sense tells us this is impossible yet they will stick by absurd postulations, attacking the integrity and intelligence of any who disagree rather than admit God exists. God is not Tinker Bell, though. He does not need our belief to BE.

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Some fell on their knees and worshipped him while others plotted to kill him.  All had seen proof.

Thousands were fed from food that would have fit in a child’s lunchbox, lepers were healed, the lame walked, the blind were seeing, and the dead… lived.

But only the humble believed.

A.J.

Craziest Thing About Jesus

The most unbelievable thing about Jesus was not his wisdom or power, but his humility.

On his final evening Jesus sits down and eats with them. The “last supper” it is called, though that phrase is not used in any of the Gospels. Before they eat though, Jesus blows their minds once again, not with an astounding display of power but with a shocking display of humility. John begins his account by saying Jesus “now showed them the full extent of his love.” While the disciples sat at the table he got up, wrapped a towel around his waist, filled a bowl with water, and one by one Jesus washed their feet, drying them with the towel.


If that last sentence doesn’t blow you out of your chair then you are not really listening, not really getting the situation. Remember everything these men had seen from Jesus? It’s one thing for a man to wash another man’s feet, although outside of hospital workers probably very few men ever have. But this was Jesus! The one who silenced a ferocious storm with a word was washing the dirt and manure of Jerusalem’s streets from their feet! The Messiah was stooped in front of them like a servant washing their feet! God was washing their filthy feet!


Has there been a more awkward moment in human history? How could this be? What did it mean? Imagine their reaction! Were their mouths agape? Were they staring at their clean feet, avoiding eye contact with Jesus and each other? Typically, it was the volatile Peter who couldn’t accept the situation; “No, you shall never wash my feet.” he said, refusing until Jesus says he can have no part with him unless he allows his feet to be washed.


Obviously, on his last night on earth Jesus didn’t look at his disciples feet and think; “Holy Bethlehem, that’s some nasty looking foot fungus you guys got going on! I better wash them feet.” No, as always he was teaching them a lesson, showing them that if the Son of God could humble himself to help and serve others then there was no one who should not do the same.


It was never about washing feet particularly, but about helping others according to their needs, whatever those needs may be, and however low we might have to go to provide the needed aid. Jesus was giving them a lesson, a huge demonstration on humility. He was teaching them that the needs of others should come ahead of our own desires or even our own needs. Humility 101. The more advanced course would come later that very night and into the next day.

From my book.     A.J.DSC_0104.jpg

Training the Young

Picture the cutest 10-week-old puppy EVER sitting by himself…. andre-spieker-238-unsplash

by a grove of trees out beyond centerfield at the ballpark.  You and some buddies are walking past after your game and you see this little guy sitting there staring towards the parking lot a hundred yards away.  Your heart breaks for the poor abandoned pup and you and your pals start to fan out around him so you can save him from a life on the streets.  Then, from the parking lot you hear a whistle and the tiny lab shoots a gap and runs straight for a man waiting by his car.  The man gobbles the ecstatic pup into his arms, tosses him into his car, nods in your direction, and drives off.

I was the whistler in that story.  The pup was my boy, Bandit.   Beautiful, loyal, protective but gentle, and super smart.  His list of tricks was loooong.  Turned out to be a giant, the biggest black lab you ever saw.  He played hard but he was a serious dog, always focused on his job, whatever he decided that was.  When the family was hiking some trail in the woods, it would drive him crazy when we started to separate and he would constantly run back and forth making sure he didn’t lose any of us.

He died a few years back but he will forever be the one all our future dogs will be compared to.  My son and I each have another male lab, mine a yellow and his a fox red.  They have their own names but they are both often referred to as not-Bandit.

A few times lately, my wife and I have heard a few people say that we did a fantastic job raising our kids, that we are great parents, one even said she wanted to raise her kids like we raised ours.

While it is true our kids are awesome people, I told my wife last night that it is kinda like with Bandit.  He was the best and I trained him so I must be a good dog trainer, right?  But his successor, Not-Bandit the 1st, has proven conclusively that I am not a great dog trainer; I just had a great dog.  By the same token, maybe it is not that we are such great parents but we just had great kids.

All we did is love them and point towards Jesus.  Maybe that is all it takes to be a good parent.

A.J.

Looking Through Root Beer

You are a blur to everyone who think they know you.  Some may see you slightly clearer than others but still no better than if they were looking through a bottle of root beer.  There is only one who truly knows you, and get this–it isn’t you.

Indeed, some of us don’t know ourselves at all and we don’t understand why we do and say what we do and say.  Our own actions and the reasoning behind them is a mystery to us.  We are like Paul in Romans 7… “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

Often, others see us better through the root beer than we can see ourselves.  The people around us can see the inclinations, motivations, flaws, and insecurities of our character that we ourselves refuse to recognize and admit.  We, looking through our own bottle, believe we see everyone else’s flaws so clearly but we are blind to our own.  It is self-righteous, self-blindness.

There is a remedy for this blindness, though.  Well, remedy is the wrong word.  There is a miracle-cure.  There is one out there who has on multiple occasions caused the blind to see.  Jesus.  We need to find Him.

Something keeps hitting me lately, rocking me like a punch to the jaw.  How did I not see it years ago?  Pretty much every problem mankind comes across is made better or cured by one thing:  Getting to know God better, getting to know Jesus.  It makes EVERY problem easier.  It doesn’t matter how bad the problem; it doesn’t matter how much we already know about God, knowing Him better will help.

Take this self-blindness I speak of:  Learning more about God and understanding how he sees us, can only help us see who we truly are in his eyes, and our own.

A.J.