Another Tough Day

I wish I had the knowledge to show the world how to stop our own from killing our own.
I wish I had the words, to comfort the families, the friends, the communities of murdered children.
I wish I had the influence to change the way we teach our kids, love our kids, and lead our kids.
I have none of these things in abundance, not enough to make a difference nationally or globally.  Not many of us do, but we can make a difference in our own homes, in our own neighborhoods.
It can be hard; we get so busy and have so many things on our minds.  It can be easy to think our kids’ issues will work themselves out.  But, clearly, sometimes they don’t.  A happy toddler can turn into a worried seven year old, who turns into a confused eleven year old, who turn into an angry teenager, who turns into a dangerous adult.  Dark thoughts usually turn into dark actions at some point.
I will tell you, though, it is hard for you to show your kids the right path if you don’t know what the right path is.  We parents need to figure it out or we will lead our kids the wrong way.
Some parents, especially single parents aren’t equipped to deal with their own troubled children.  Some of them could use some help.  That is where we are supposed to come in.  We can know the neighbor kid needs love and guidance if we know the neighbor kid, if we talk to him or her, if we smile and say good morning when the kid is heading out for school.  Sometimes, all it takes for a confused and lonely kid to find the right path is to see that someone cares.  How many of us can name all the families on our own street?  I can’t.
I don’t blame myself or any of you for school shootings or any other crimes that others commit.  People are responsible for what they do.  I am saying that we can make a difference, and I truly believe that many of you are.  Some of us never get out of our chairs though.  We decry the injustice of our world but never make a difference in the lives of kids who grow up to commit these injustices.
Believe me, I am speaking to myself more than you.  Kids that I don’t know walk by my yard all the time, and I hardly notice.  If one of them is troubled–I wouldn’t know because I don’t look up from my rake half the time.  These days, I am afraid kids will get the wrong idea if I am too nice.  We don’t want to be known as that creepy guy who talks to all the kids, but the alternative is being that grumpy guy who doesn’t.  Which is better?  Which do we think God wants us to be?
Now, more than ever, kids need to see loving, kind, and joyful people doing loving kind and joyful things, for them, even if it’s just a smile or a few kind words.  You never know, it could turn into a friendship that helps a confused kid see life as a gift, all life.  Then he may want to know the Giver.  That kid may help other kids…
How do we start?  First of all–eye contact, and a smile.  That’s my plan.  It is a seed that will grow if watered.        A.J.

Visitor

thX5AIB933

Jesus came to my house one day and I bounced him, turned him away, sent him packing, gave him the boot.

Strange statement, I know.  I will explain and I think most of you will understand but not all.  You may not like me after I tell this story though.  I don’t like me much when I remember it.

Many years back my wife and I had a party.  Our football team was in the playoffs and we invited a bunch of friends over.  We had an amazingly warm and sunny day for January and before the game we were outside with our beers throwing the football and probably kicking the hacky-sack around as well, just enjoying the day and the company. It was everything a party should be, good friends, cold beer, bbq, the anticipation of the game.  At the time, our backyard was a wasteland so we were in the front yard and probably spilling into the street as well.

I did not see him coming.  I guess the man asked someone whose home it was, because he came up to me from behind.  I was talking with a group of four or five of my buddies at the time and I don’t remember how the guy got my attention.  I think it was the look in my friends’ eyes that alerted me.  I turned around and there standing before me in my yard was this dirty, disheveled, sad looking man, perhaps thirty-five or forty years old. His clothes were filthy and ragged and he looked like he hadn’t a bath in a very long time.

Now you have to understand that our neighborhood was by itself four miles outside of town and not on a common route for coming and going to or from town.  My home was in the far corner of that neighborhood on a dead end street, bordering huge wheat-fields.  We never saw anybody walk onto our street from those fields unless they lived in the neighborhood and even that was rare.  In the years before or the years since I have not seen anyone walking down my street who looked remotely as poor, ragged, and homeless as the man who stood before me that day.

The voice that came from him was soft and humble.  I don’t remember his exact words but the poor man asked me if he could watch some of the game, he said he could even watch through the window if I would let him.

Everyone noticed the man and every eye was on the two of us.  I was sort of in shock.  My mind was racing.  Where had this guy come from?  Why is he here?  Everything was perfect and now suddenly it wasn’t.

Everyone was silent but it was my silence that everyone was listening to. I didn’t know what to say.  I think I felt compassion but selfishly I didn’t want to “ruin” the perfect playoff party by allowing this man to join us.  My silence dragged on and it surely told my friends and wife the story of where my heart was concerning this man in need of food and companionship.

What happened was that one of my friends stepped in and rather rudely sent the guy on his way.  I was mad at my friend for doing this and in my mind I used it as an excuse for not being kind to the homeless guy, but the truth is that I was glad the man was leaving and I was glad that I was not the one to actually say the words that expelled him from my yard.

It did not save my party, however, not for me.  The heartless words came from my friend’s mouth but they were from my heart, and I felt like the heartless snob that I clearly was.  My friend should have kept his mouth shut.  It was my home and it was my place to say who was welcome and who was not welcome there, but for five long seconds I hadn’t said a thing.  My friend was surely a jerk, but my silence had spoken just as loudly as his words.  The man was not welcome, and my continued silence as he dejectedly walked away spoke very clearly as well.

To this day I don’t know what I would have said if I would have had a few more seconds.  I cannot picture myself saying no to such a humble request but honestly I had a lot of extra seconds as the man walked away and I stood there, still silent as an uncomfortable murmur started amongst my friends.

Obviously, this sad experience has had a lasting impact on me. I do not remember the man’s exact request.  I remember him asking if he could watch a little of the game through my window.  My wife remembers him asking for a beer and something to eat as well.  What I remember, and it seems to me like it might be the ragged man’s voice I hear in my head; “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink.  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in.”

According to the Gospels, those were Jesus’ exact words.  I violated all three of those offenses in one memorable minute.

I’m not exactly sure what you will make of this, maybe nothing.  I am not a man who is prone to religious exaggeration, though, not a guy who thinks every idea in his head came from God.  Quite the opposite in fact.

I know there are plenty of people who will say that this is just another case of a Christian reading something into a situation that isn’t there, making something supernatural out of something ordinary.  Certainly, on the surface it was ordinary.  Not that I turned away needy people all the time, but there is nothing in the circumstances of that day that appears miraculous in any objective way.

But in my heart, I felt something, and it goes beyond mere compassion for the man I didn’t help, and it goes beyond guilt for not helping him.  I believe most of you have had experiences in your lives that have made you feel the same way, even if you were not as blatantly heartless as me.  Maybe you have swept those memories under the rug of your mind or perhaps they come to mind easily.  Is there a time when you felt someone may have been trying to show you something through some experience?

So, are you disappointed in me?  I did warn you that I was just an ordinary guy, not especially nice, or good, or smart.  Are you asking yourself; Why would I want to read any more from this heartless bastard who would turn away(or weakly, let his jerk of a friend turn away) a lonely, hungry man without so much as a morsel to eat or a sip of cool water or beer to drink?

I can’t blame you.  As I read what I just wrote and my regret, shame, and guilt from that day come flooding back upon me, I can’t say that I would want to read anymore from me.

Perhaps you can see that my words are honest, that I am not trying to portray myself as something better than I am.  I am a regular guy who makes mistakes and tries to learn from them.  Sometimes I even do, but not always. I suspect I am not much different than most people in that way, Christian or not.

Does my openness and honesty mean you should hang with me a little longer?  I don’t know.  Do we in life learn more from people who are nicer and have it all together? Don’t those people have more wisdom to share?  Or can we learn more from someone who has been in the gutter and crawled out of it but still slips back in from time to time?

Your call, obviously, but if I were answering my own question, I would say that the ones who really do seem to have it all together have gone through their fair share of gutters themselves, or trials.  Or, more often, those who seem to have it together really don’t. They may have nice jobs, houses, cars, and clothes.  Their kids may be well behaved and they have the coolest friends but inside they too are tied up in knots with their own worries, doubts, fears, and shame.  I have on several occasions found that the people who I thought had their act together were struggling with the same type of regrets, unsurety, and disillusionment as I was.  On a few occasions when I opened up to friends about my own doubts and insecurities, they expressed shock because they thought I had it all together.

I think most of us are pretty much the same. We’re all nice, kind, considerate people… and we’re all selfish and heartless jerks.

^^That was an excerpt from my book.  I was thinking about calling it Blue-Collar Christianity or the Blue-Collar Gospel but both those names are taken. ^^

I am interested in your thoughts.  My “Basics” series is a very condensed version of the book.

Thanks,  A.J.

Shameless

Let’s live a day without shame. Can we, for one day, see ourselves as God sees us?DSC_0429

There are soooo many people out there who reject the Gospel as truth, not because it is too hard for them to believe, but because they are ashamed to admit to themselves that there is a God and that they have not lived a life that honors him. To those people I would say; The Bible is clear–everyone has dishonored God, even the most saintly of us. If you are locked up by shame, then you have missed the whole part about being God’s beloved child.

We need to stop thinking of ourselves as unworthy of Jesus’ sacrifice and focus on the fact that He, along with the Father, chose the cross because we are worth it to them, regardless of what we have done. God the Father treasures you and aches for you to come home. Jesus values you so much that he would go through hell on earth to bring you home, and if it was needed, he would do it again. And God’s own Spirit is longing to enter our hearts and show us how to be more than we ever believed we could be, for God’s glory, not our own.

He has amazing things to show us, but we can’t see it if we are hanging our heads in shame. He has places he wants to send us, but we can’t see the road if we are staring at our shoes.

We are treasured by the One True God. Let’s hold our heads up. One day without shame could lead to another…

A.J.

I said something like this in a recent post. I felt the need this morning to drive that point home.

Basics of Christianity: 7D – The Stumbling Block

DSC_0304

 

Here we are, at the crossroads.

People can skip along the seemingly happy path of Jesus’ life, tra-la-lalling along as he laughs with his disciples, feeds the masses, teaches the people of God’s love, heals the diseased, and calls out the hypocrites.  The sky is bluer than blue, the grass greener than green, the meandering stream is crystal clear, flowers are everywhere, and the birds are filling the valleys with song.  We skip even higher and faster as our smile widens to world-record dimensions, then… we fall flat on our face, loosening our teeth and smashing our nose.

Dazed, we start to swear, before we remember that Jesus is right there,  “What the hellll…p me up please Jesus,” we slur through smashed lips.  “Who put that big ugly block in the middle of our heavenly path?”

But, it is not a block that we stumbled over.  It is an instrument of torture and execution devised by the Roman Empire of ancient times.  It is a cross, and strangely, Jesus is not at all surprised to see it here–on his path.

The cross is what makes us stumble.  It is the fork in the road.  Do you doubt that?  I guarantee: people will click on this post and bail on it right here because I mentioned the cross.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.. 1Cor 1:18

It isn’t the virgin giving birth that people can’t believe.  That is nothing compared to creation itself.  It isn’t all the miracles–blind men seeing, paraplegics walking, dead men living.  That is all child’s play for the God who set the universe in motion.  Our reason for not believing that Jesus is who he claimed to be is not that we can’t believe in miracles, it is that we can’t accept the gruesome picture of Jesus on the cross, knowing it was our sin that put him there.  So we deny it.

I get it.  It is a hard thing to think about, even when you believe it is ultimately the best thing that could have happened, for you.

——————————————————————————————————————-

The details are gruesome and I will skip them for the most part, but it won’t be tame.  The Gospels themselves skip the details, but then, the people of first-century Israel had seen these things before.

Pilate had Jesus flogged, or scourged, hoping it would satisfy the bloodlust of the Pharisees and their supporters in the unruly mob.  First-century Roman floggings were notoriously brutal, and often the recipient of these floggings did not survive.  Yet, despite the ghastly sight of a freshly scourged Jesus standing next to the Roman governor, and the very good chance that he would not survive without a miracle, the Pharisees would not relent.  They screamed at Pilate, “Crucify him!”

Jesus would not make a case for his life, and the crowd made Pilate nervous.  In Matthew, it says that an uproar was starting.  Finally, after repeatedly trying to get the Pharisees to back down, he surrendered Jesus to their will and ordered his soldiers to crucify Jesus.  So, after the soldiers, inconceivably, beat him yet again, they marched Jesus to a hill outside Jerusalem’s walls.  There, Jesus laid down on a cross and allowed himself to be nailed there, feet and hands.  The soldiers then wrestled the cross upright somehow and presumably dropped it into a well-used hole.

The wounds and pain of the scourging, the beatings, the crown of thorns mashed onto Jesus’ head, and the loss of blood all combined to weaken Jesus considerably before he ever made it to this bloody hill.  So, within a few hours he was near the end.  Still the Pharisees mocked him, trying to justify the unjustifiable.  Yet, Luke quotes Jesus as saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Throughout Jesus’ earthly life he was connected to God the Father; they were one.  However, in his final moments, Jesus did not seem to feel the Father’s presence.  Matthew says he managed a loud voice to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  John, the only one of Jesus’ disciples who wasn’t hiding behind a bush somewhere, records Jesus as saying, “It is finished.”  Then he died.

I believe there is a perception out there that Jesus was, or is, weak.  Let me ask you this; What requires more strength; to endure horrible suffering to save those you love–or to crush your enemies, ending your own suffering while knowing it will cost your loved ones their lives?   Laying waste to your enemies–knowing you can’t lose, or sacrificing yourself to pay their debt.  Do you see great love as weakness?  A debt was owed, and Jesus stepped in to pay it.  A stronger thing was never done.

The Gospels are the beating heart of the entire Bible.  This is what it is all about.  It is not about a surly and vengeful God wanting to condemn us.  It is about a God who loves us so much that he would do anything to save us.  It is about Jesus loving us so much that no matter how badly he wanted out, he walked towards it all, fully knowing what was in store.

Stay tuned.  We are not done yet.   A.J.

 

 

 

Life is Serious. Right?

thPSBAH1T1I never used to take myself very seriously.  Life was all about fun for me.  I was all about playing sports, or watching sports, playing games, or making up games.  Then, of course, there was beer.

I was a funny guy who hung out in a funny crowd.  We would do just about anything for a laugh.  Sure, we had our serious moments, our hard times, but we got over them quickly, and got back to the serious business of having fun and drinking beer.

But, time changes everything.  Love and family came for most of my gang; responsibility.  We got serious.  We worked our jobs, paid our bills, and taught our children.  Most of us dealt with financial hardships, some of us had marital problems, addictions, illnesses, childrens’ illnesses or death.  Life wasn’t all beer and fun anymore.

Shed no tears for my pards and I, though.  We may be slow, but we are growing up.  I never thought I would say this about us; We are becoming mature adults.  But, becoming less of a goofball and more of a serious person doesn’t necessarily mean we take ourselves seriously.

My wife said something to me some years back, before I was ready to hear it.  She said that we would have to be the patriarchs of our family one day.  I guess that should be pretty obvious, but to a beer-loving, fun-loving, twenty-something guy — it was an eye-opener.  I was never more grateful for our parents and grandparents than I was on that day, because I was not ready.  I never thought of patriarchs as being just the oldest remaining person in the family.  In my mind, it always meant being a role model, the wisest, most trustworthy example of humility and grace that we could be. It meant leading the entire family, not just my little branch of it, through whatever tough times were in store for us.

Now, that revelation didn’t exactly set me on the path of wisdom and charity.  I got serious about being a better ballplayer long before I thought seriously about having a positive influence outside of my own little world.  I never forgot her words though.

I didn’t really believe in myself, in my ability to make a difference.  I thought that raising my kids right would be enough.  Someday, they might make a difference, meaning I made a difference, right?

Wrong!  I live in this world, meaning I meet people all the time who need a helping hand, or a kind word, or a meal, or a blanket.  Should I get my daughters to handle these things for me?  If my eyes see injustice, should I call my son to stand up for the oppressed?

I still don’t really believe in myself.  I don’t trust me.  I am, however, learning to trust the God who made me.  He is teaching me day-by-day that he can use me to make a difference in this world.  I don’t have to be the sharpest tool in God’s toolbox.  I just have to be available when he reaches for me, and in God’s hand there is no telling what He might build with me, or you.

We still have a lot of fun.  Knowing that life is serious doesn’t mean we should lose our smiles forever.  There is fun and games, love and laughter, tears and prayers in our home, and we are learning to take all of these things into the world with us.

As for being patriarchs in our family, my wife and I are both learning that the way to lead our family is by following the Real Patriarch.

A.J.

 

 

 

 

Basics of Christianity: #7C – The Stumbling Block

thXJC0EBBFBasics of Christianity: 7C – The Stumbling Block

Supposedly over 80% of all people believe in a creator God.  You may not, but for most it is not a stretch to believe that much.  People can believe that God can create all the matter the universe consists of and order it in a way that it can function and continue to function for as long as He wants it to.  They believe that he can populate his universe with all kinds of plants and animals and plan it out so each of these living things can survive, for a time.  Finally, most people believe that God can create us and allow us to live as we feel inclined to live here in his universe, again, for a time.  But, when we get to Jesus, things fall apart.

The Bible itself calls Jesus the “stumbling block”.  He is where the road splits.  When we get to Jesus, we must make a choice, and it might be an unpopular choice.  The ones whose approval we crave might take the other road.  Maybe we are not sure if we believe as they do anymore but we are comfortable with them, we know what it’s like to travel with them.  It may not feel right but at least it doesn’t scare us.  There is something about this other road though; It does feel right.  We are drawn to it.  We look up that road and long to see where it leads.  We may have to go on without our gang though, which seems terrifying.

————————————————————————-

They came for Jesus in the middle of the night; a detachment of soldiers and officials sent from the Pharisees, carrying torches, lanterns, and weapons.  Jesus didn’t sleep that night, so he would have heard and seen them coming long before they arrived.  It was dark, he could have escaped, could have run.  Instead, he walked towards them and asked who they wanted.  Why?

They hauled Jesus to the compound of homes where the chief priest lived, and hastily arranged a sham of a trial, while the guards beat him.  The Pharisees had many false witnesses testify against him, but Jesus himself kept silent.  Caiaphas, the high priest, seemed to be getting frustrated by Jesus’ lack of response.  The trial wasn’t going as he had planned.  Trying to have him executed by the testimony of unreliable men would  give the wrong impression.  Finally, though, Jesus did answer a question.  He told them that he was the Son of God Himself, a capital crime, and unforgivable blasphemy in that place and time… unless it was true.

Jesus, knowing the Pharisees were having trouble making their case against him, gave them exactly what they wanted, sealing his own fate.  Why?

The Pharisees were not allowed by the occupying Romans to execute anyone, so they marched Jesus to the palace of Pilate, the Roman Governor.  With a large unruly crowd at their back, the Pharisees shouted their accusations.

Pilate tried to set Jesus free, having a clear sense that Jesus was not your average man, and certainly not a criminal.  The crowd made him nervous though.  They were in a frenzy, spurred on by the chief priests and other Pharisees.  Still, Pilate wanted to free him, and if Jesus had only defended himself against the accusations of the Pharisees, it seems as if he would have.  Instead, Jesus seemed resigned to take an unspeakably horrific punishment and death, punishment which he did not deserve.  Why?

It is the “why” of all this that makes men stumble over Jesus, because we are the why.  Our shame over the idea that we put Jesus in that position causes us to deny it altogether. We must get past the shame though, because we are missing the point.  We are looking at it backwards.  Instead of shame, we should be feeling an incredible sense of worth, because we are the why.  We are the reason for it all.  That is how much God loves us, how much Jesus loves us.

Too good to be true?  That is for you to decide; No one can decide for you.

The next post will be difficult, if you think it could be true.  It is whole lot easier though, if you remember that You Are The Reason Jesus would go through it all.      A.J.

P.S.  The first eight posts of the “Basics” series are further down this page.

 

 

 

 

The Basics of Christianity: #7B – The Stumbling Block

thVA96KL9JThere is a group of arranged letters that has proven to be the most divisive in every language that it has ever been translated into.  This grouping has caused more separation or strife among people than any other word or name in the history of languages.

Jesus

Why would this be?  Two thousand years after he walked this earth, the biggest controversy of every generation since that time has been whether or not Jesus is who he claimed to be, the Son of God himself, and actually One with God.  It’s lunacy, right?  How could this still be talked about?

Why do people rise up in angry protest when that name is mentioned in public?  Why is there such a large effort to keep this name from being mentioned at all in our schools, courtrooms, or any other public meeting places, even in our streets?  Why, when I was silently reading from a Bible in a bagel place did I get a look from people like I am reading from a terrorist handbook(true story)?  Why are people afraid of, or resentful of, the people who believe Jesus’ story?  Or… why are they afraid of Jesus himself?

Sadly, I fear the answer is that they are afraid his story could be true.  Sad, because it means people are making a choice about Jesus without understanding his purpose.  Should a drowning man be afraid of a lifeline being thrown from a boat?  Grab the rope!  Nobody is going to pull it away if you reach.  Maybe people have let you down, maybe for your whole life, but God will not.  The lifeline is there, and that boat will take you where you want to go, even if you don’t know where you want to go yet.

This isn’t just good news; It is incredible news, news that dwarfs all other.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or how many times you have rejected this news in the past.  Truth won’t go away, if it is true.  God will not stop hoping for you.

————————————

Back to the Gospel story.  If you missed the first post of “The Stumbling Block”.  I encourage you to read it before going on from here, but it is not essential.

His disciples didn’t understand but Jesus was walking toward something all along.  His primary purpose was not to tell people of God’s love but prove God’s love to us by fixing our biggest problem, our separation from Him.

Without a thorough study of the history of that region and time, it is difficult to understand the moods of the people.  I have already told you of the adoring crowds trying to follow Jesus everywhere he went.  But, it was a violent time, the crowds were fickle and could turn on a dime, and there was a group who knew how to play the crowds and use them, the Pharisees.

The Pharisees authority and influence over the masses was significant despite the fact that Israel was occupied by the mighty Roman Empire.  The Romans used whatever they could to keep the people from rebelling, including the Pharisees.

For some time Jesus had been avoiding the city of Jerusalem because there had been more than one attempt to kill him.  But, as Passover(the biggest Jewish holiday) neared and tens of thousands, some say hundreds of thousands of people, swarmed on Jerusalem for the weeklong festival–Jesus went there as well, along with his incredulous disciples.  They didn’t understand completely, but Jesus had made it clear that he was going there to be killed.

We have been in this series for seven and a half posts, so let’s not miss this, or gloss over it.  Jesus’ purpose for going to Jerusalem was to die. He knew what was coming and went anyway, not in spite of what was coming, but because of it.

But, even though he went willingly, on purpose, don’t think that Jesus was okay with it.  The Bible is clear, he wanted out.  He prayed repeatedly for God to take away the coming trial.  He was in such a state of anguish, and, dare I say it–fear, that he was sweating blood.  Even so, his prayers closed with the words, “yet not my will, but yours be done.”, and he meant it.

Does that sound like weakness to you?  Okay Father, if that’s what you want me to do, I will do it.  I can see how it could, until you realize the horror of what Jesus was facing.  What could be sooooo important to both God the Father and Jesus the Son that they would allow wicked men to control Jesus’ earthly fate?

You know the answer.

Stay tuned anyway.        A.J.