Basics of Christianity: #11 – End or Beginning?

Why are you reading this?  How did you get where you are?  Is it all by chance that you ended up on this page, or could there be a reason that things worked out  for you to be where you are right now, reading this post?  Is he way more dramatic or would God use an average guy like me to tell you about him, on social media no less.

I remember as a twelve-year old, my newly divorced mom would drag my little brother and I to these prayer meetings she attended,  mostly because I couldn’t be trusted to stay out of trouble if she left me behind.  But, one time she did leave me behind and, true to form, I found trouble.  That evening I was supposed to babysit my eight-year old brother but I knew that eight-year olds were plenty old enough to take care of themselves, obviously.

With a directive to stay in the house and a threat that I would beat him up if he told on me(I wouldn’t have, but he didn’t know that),  I left my brother behind and went out with my friends.  An hour later, we were crossing a busy highway when I saw a gap in traffic that wasn’t actually there, and I ended up running into the side of a car that was going fifty miles per hour.  I don’t remember this part, but my friends told me that I was limping around, screaming in the middle of the road, as horrified drivers swerved and slammed on their brakes.

Had I been an instant faster, this page and this post would not exist. The smallest things we do or don’t do can change things forever.  If I had been an instant faster across that street, none of my children would exist and every influence they have had or will have on situations or people throughout their lives would never have happened. Who knows how many others would not be born, all my future grandchildren and great grandchildren and so on, possibly all because my foot slipped slightly on the gravel before I started my sprint across that busy highway.

Is it all chance or did God work everything out for you to be you?  Don’t you feel like you were always meant to be?

Is it chance or did God find a way for me to write this series?  Is it chance that you are reading it?  Today, right now, is God talking to you?  Is it possible that he would use a semi-struggling sinner like myself to tell you about Jesus?

Is this a special page?  Am I a special author?  I don’t think so, but I believe God will use anything and everything to tell us what he wants us to know.  The apostles were nothing special as men go.  But, God used that unlikely group of men to spread the word about his son, the same word that is being spread around the world two thousand years later despite all odds.  The same word I am spreading with this page.  God can use anything for good and letting you know about Jesus is the greatest good–for you.

God does not want to condemn you.  He never did.  He always wanted to free you from judgement, and take away your shame.  But, it is your choice.  Jesus paid a terrible cost for your sin because he chose to do so.  Is that so unthinkable?  It is good news;  hear it that way.

Your call.  You are the only one who decides what you believe.  What feels true to you?  Think it through, but pay attention to your feelings.  Use your head, obviously, but make this choice with an open heart.

A.J.

 

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Got Guilt?

Carry a load of guilt? Many do. So many do. Suitcases full of guilt. Bags bulging with binges, blowups, and compromises. The path of righteousness is a narrow, winding trail up a steep hill. At the top of the hill is a cross. At the base of the cross are bags. Countless bags full of innumerable sins. Calvary is the compost pile for guilt. “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (I Peter 3:18 NIV.) — Max Lucado from “Traveling Light”

Time

God made this day, and, like all the others–it is not long enough.

There is always a plan.  I have to run these errands, work on that project, exercise for this amount of time, and fix those broken things.  There is writing to do, the lawn to mow, a tree to trim, and a friend to meet.  My wife needs my help, my truck needs a part, my dog needs exercise, and I need sleep.  And, oh by the way, there is a full time job to go to every day.

I have no time for God.  To sit and talk to him means my list is not getting done.  Don’t talk to me about God’s list.

I am not alone.  Hopefully, you wake up every morning praising God, and rejoicing in the possibilities of this new day that he has made.  Hopefully, you are eager to get to work on “His list”.  But, so many of us bury ourselves with so much stuff to do that we don’t take the time to stop and be with God.  We let the stress and responsibilities of the life that he gave us keep us from really giving that life to him, and living it with him.

It is messed up.  We tell ourselves we will get back to that special relationship we had with God just as soon as we get our lives back in order.  The thing is–our list never ends.  Just as soon as we get one thing fixed, something more important will break.  We mow the lawn, but it just grows back.  The dog still has too much energy.  After this workday, I will have to get up and do it again tomorrow.

It is about priorities.  God made the day exactly as long as he intended it to be.  He made it so we have to choose what we have time for, to prioritize.  We are not supposed to spend time with God because we have plenty of time to do so.  We should want to spend time with him more than we want our lawn cut to two and a half inches.  Nothing on our list is more important than spending time with God, than getting off on our own, away from distractions and talking with him, and reading our Bibles.

So, when we feel short on time–let the lawn grow and the dog get fat.  Be still.  Quiet your busy brain and just appreciate God.  Think of who he is, his awesome power and unfailing love.  Think of Jesus, and know that he has you covered.  DSC_0379

The more we take the time God gave us to be with him, the more we will feel him with us the rest of the time–when we are trimming our trees, or walking our dogs, or meeting our friends.

A.J.

 

King of Hearts

Remember playing “king of the hill”?cropped-cropped-000_00891.jpg

After the snowplows cleared the school parking lot following a big snowstorm, they would leave behind a gigantic wall of snow probably 30-40 feet long and ten feet high.  As a boy, I remember fighting my way to the top many times only to be thrown headlong from my pedestal within seconds by wicked usurpers to my throne. I would have their heads–if it weren’t for the fact that as soon as they threw me from the peak, I was no longer king.  So, I would turn and fight my way back up dodging the plummeting bodies of newly deposed kings as I went.  Kids would get hurt every time–and we loved it.

This mayhem is what I imagine going on within us when we allow money, or our homes, careers, sports teams, vacations, or our grown-up toys to become king in our hearts.  Even the people we love do not belong on the throne.

“In the deep heart of the man was a shrine where none but God was worthy to come. Within him was God; without, a thousand gifts which God had showered upon him.”  A.W. Tozer

There may be nothing wrong with these things or loved ones that we value so much but when we try to crown them king, it is high-treason of the heart.  There is a place within us where only God belongs, and when we allow anything else to enter that place, it is nothing short of idol worship.  Something is deeply wrong when we value our gifts more than the Giver.

As the creator of all hearts, only God is worthy to be King in any heart.

A.J.

 

 

 

Basics of Christianity #10 – The Fog is Lifting

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How do you picture God if you believe in him at all?
What does he look like in your mind’s eye?  Is he tall and skinny, short and stocky?  Is he a giant?  Does he have long flowing hair or wear a marine sergeant buzz?  Blue eyes or brown?  Do you picture him old and gray or young and vibrant?  Do you even picture him as a him?
More important is how you imagine his countenance.  Do you see him as a brooding, number crunching, no-nonsense CEO type God, or a happy go lucky, let’s have a party kind of God?  What is his disposition toward you?  Would he give you his undivided attention or is he too busy to give you the time of day?  What kind of expression does he wear in your head when he focuses on you?  Is it a stern, judgmental stare or a loving, joyous grin?  Is he ready to slap you down or gobble you into a loving embrace?
Most of my life when I have thought about how God looks at me, I have pictured him with a disappointed scowl on his face, like the one my father-in-law wore the day his daughter married me.  Even now, after all these years of being a Christian, I often picture God giving me what I deserve, starting with that scowl.  But I am slowly learning to feel his love for me, to see him as a strong and loving father who actually loves his time with me and delights to shower me with gifts, like grace overflowing my cup so much that the cup is floating next to me in an ocean of grace.
Here is a question you never hear: Do you think God is happy?
For me it is hard to imagine.  I mean, running the universe is serious business.  Isn’t it?  Mankind as a whole has been disappointingly indifferent to God’s purposes and even his very existence.  I mentioned my friend Mike in the fourth post of this series.  His words come back to me now:  “Even if there is a God, who cares?”  It shocks and saddens me to know that not only are there people who say they don’t believe in God but there are many who say he doesn’t matter, that God, if he does exist, is insignificant.  So, I think to myself, how can God possibly be happy?  How can he not wear a disappointed scowl?
I often forget that God sees all the good, too.  He sees a busy girl cancel appointments to sit and talk with a lonely old man, and it warms his heart.  He sees a freezing, homeless man give his only blanket to another, and it delights him.  He sees a financially strapped young woman take a job without pay to help at-risk women in her community, and his eyes light up.  He sees a young couple choose to teach their child about him, and he nods his approval.  He sees a young man warmly welcome a vagrant into his football party, get him some food and drink and give him the best seat in front of the TV and God says, “Yes!  That is what I want from you,” and he smiles joyfully.
Mankind did not invent the smile or laughter.  We didn’t invent joy.  It is an attribute of God, and to us, a gift from him.  We didn’t invent compassion or hope or mercy or grace.  With these good things naturally come the emotions they are tied to, namely love and joy.  Love and joy can flow only from a loving and joyful source.  So yes, God is happy. He smiles and he laughs and he loves.  That doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel pain and disappointment when we choose to sin, and it doesn’t mean he isn’t hurt when people turn their backs on him, but he won’t love us any less and he will not lose his hope for us.  He will leave the flock to search for you to show you the way home so you can share in his joy.
A.J.
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That was another excerpt from my book, which is still nameless at this point.

We Are Not Dead Yet

Ever since I can remember I have been trying not to die.  When I approach a cliff–I always stop.  Not once have I walked off the edge.  When I get near a busy street–I look both ways.  When I see a Gatorade look-alike container of anti-freeze–I never drink it.  When I have to take a pill–I never take the whole bottle.

I don’t think I am afraid to die.  It is hard to know if you aren’t facing it.  But, I actually believe, despite all the blessings I have in this world, that we will not be able to compare the joys of this one to the next.  Nevertheless, I don’t try to climb the fence to the grizzly bear enclosure at the zoo.

We live in this world.  Whether it feels like home or not, it is where we are, and we are not supposed to try to rush out of it, or pretend that only the next world matters.  As Christians, our new life doesn’t start when we die and go to heaven; It started when we first believed the Gospel message of Jesus.  While we live here we are supposed to be new people, engaged in God’s work, which is loving people.

There is a reason we are here, wherever that is.  Going halfway around the world to help the poor is a good thing, but today, we are where we are–for a reason.  There is an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people we meet, right here.  It might be hard to see at times, and hard to do, but the opportunity is there.  I can’t tell you how many opportunities I have squandered, myself.  Too many.  But tomorrow, there will be another.  I don’t want to squander that one.

This life that we are still living; We are supposed to live it for God.  He is to decide how long we stay here.  We are supposed to eat well and exercise to stay healthy for as long as we can in this life, not to cling to it, but to be strong enough to help others for as long as we are able.  In doing so, those others may see God in us and want to know His story.

A.J.

People Are Watching

Whether we know it or not, we influence others. People may notice when we feed the poor, but they also notice when we put down our neighbor, We live in a world full of skeptics, and God loves every one of them. What do they see from how we live?

A skeptical world judges the truth of what we say by the proof of how we live. Philip Yancey