All our lives people have been telling us, “It’s not about you!” But it turns out… It Is About You after all, at least for God it is.

You don’t have to be good. Heaven is not earned; it is a gift–for you. It does not matter how bad you have been, and the gift does not depend on how good you are now. It does not even depend on how good you are after you accept the gift.

Crazy, isn’t it?

There is not a never ending line of holiness hoops you have to jump through. Your good deeds to not have to outnumber the bad. There is only one thing required of you; faith. You have to believe that Jesus aimed his earthly life towards the cross for YOU, that he purposely laid down his life to pay YOUR debt to God–to free YOU from guilt, to free YOU from shame, to free YOU from judgement.

God Himself came down from heaven in the person of Jesus–for YOU. It is personal. HE died for YOU. HE loves YOU.

Believe it.

A.J.

 

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Saying the Lord is my Shepherd implies that I am a sheep…

I don’t want to be a sheep.  They are weak, dumb, and helpless.  Whereas, I am a strong, smart, independent creature, right?  Or am I?

I work hard and pay my own way in this world.  I shield those in my care from many dangers.  But if the sun varies in its intensity by a small fraction of its current strength,  myself and everyone in my care would die along with the rest of the creatures on Earth.  I will admit; I don’t have any control over that.

If the moon’s orbit changed and it were suddenly much closer to us, the earth would be inundated with apocalyptic global floods multiple times per day.

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Ummm… okay, I can’t keep the moon in its correct orbit either.

If anything happened to the magnetic field surrounding the earth, we would lose our atmosphere and all die.  If just one contagious disease cannot be contained, we could all die.  If mankind’s immune systems stop working we will all die.  If, if, if…

Any of these things could happen.  What has kept our planet and mankind functioning for as long as they have?  It wasn’t me, and it wasn’t you.  Could it be someone looking out for us, like a Shepherd?

Do you think some of the sheep in the pasture think they are strong and smart and independent.  They protect their lambs from bigger sheep, they are smart enough to bend their neck down to eat the grass, and they don’t rely on any of the other sheep for anything, right?  Maybe a few of them even follow their dreams and try to fly.  But, if they venture into the woods it is only a matter of time until they are devoured.

I think of this world as mankind’s pasture, in a way.  Sure, some of us are very competent.  We work hard and keep our lambs safe and we travel all around our beautiful pasture doing great things and thinking great thoughts.  Some of us have even ventured into the woods for a minute and lived to tell about it.

Not one of us, though, can keep us safe from solar storms.  We can’t keep the Earth from tilting off its axis or from falling out of its orbit around the sun.  We can’t keep moon sized meteors from wiping out our world.  We can’t make the rain start when we are thirsty or stop when we are drowning.  We are as dependent as it is possible to be.

We are so much more than sheep–compared to sheep–but not compared to God.  Like a little lamb in the woods with a thousand mutton-loving carnivores ready to pounce, we are helpless without Our Shepherd.

A.J.

Who Do You Help?

As you might expect from an average joe, I have only an average amount of compassion.

Most of the time I see someone out on the street corner with a cardboard sign, I am dubious.  I doubt whether they have really tried to get and hold a job.  I don’t believe that whatever money I give would not go towards alcohol or drugs.  I doubt whether the burly and somewhat overweight, twenty-something guy (he looked like he could benchpress a truck) hanging outside the restaurant really needed my box of leftovers.  He was angry when I said no.

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I wouldn’t call myself selfish or stingy exactly.  I have helped people on the street before, or tried.  I even developed a friendship, sort of,  with a one legged guy who used to panhandle outside our church every week.  He had burned most of his body in a drug accident much like Richard Pryor did decades ago.  His name was Steve and I would slip him some money occasionally.  Most of the time, though, I will not give.  To me, it doesn’t usually feel right to put money in the hands of someone I don’t know, but I confess it also doesn’t feel right not to.

It’s just that I know a few things.  I have a friend who was homeless for three years.  He says he never begged on the street corners but lived on the generosity of a few friends while he tried to find a job.  This friend was often among the street corner crowd, though, and he has some stories.

My daughter works at an inner-city homeless shelter helping both the abused and the abusers.  She has even more stories, some of them pretty scary.

Someone I love lived on the streets for years, mostly drunk.  “On the streets” doesn’t necessarily mean homeless.  This person, along with several others, pooled their street corner money and rented a place close to where they did their panhandling.  At least once I heard it referred to as their jobs.  Had I seen this loved one with a cardboard sign one day, I might have gone and brought back groceries, or I might’ve taken the loved one for a meal, but the most irresponsible and unloving thing I could’ve done is give money that would be used for alcohol or drugs.

Listen: Let me make something clear– I am not telling anyone not to give to panhandlers on the street.  It is not my place and I know, without a doubt, that we are meant to help some of those people.  I have done so and once or twice it felt like the right thing to do. But if I gave a dollar to every begger on the street, it wouldn’t be long before I was one of them, jostling for the best street corner

I guess I have always been a bit confused.  In 2nd Thessalonians it says if a man will not work, he shall not eat.  But all over the Bible it says to help the poor.  I don’t have jobs to offer these people so how exactly am I meant to help them?

I think it’s all about God’s Spirit, isn’t it, listening for His voice.  When we are in tune with Him–He will show us who we are meant to help with the blessings He has given us.  And the others we must leave in His hands.

A.J.

Renounce Jesus or Die

It’s easy to be brave from a desk chair; easy to say bold things when there is nothing at risk, easy to say I would die for Jesus when I don’t believe it will ever be necessary.

If it is necessary, though…  What will I do?  What will I say?

If today, someone sticks a gun in my face and tells me to denounce Jesus or die;  Will it say more to my children and their children and their childrens’ children if I say the words that save my life so I can teach them for fifty more years about the God I wouldn’t die for, or if I look up the barrel of the gun and say, “Do your worst–Jesus is my King.”?

The answer is obvious.  Do I have that courage?  Do I have that faith?

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The Question of Evil

As far as you are able, imagine that you are God.  I will wait while you get in character.  Tic, tic, tic… Are you there yet?  No?… Tic, tic, tic… How about now?  The robe doesn’t fit, does it?  Or the shoes?  Not easy, is it?  That will have to do.  You’re as close as you’re gonna get.

So, as God, how would you save us from ourselves?

I suppose one could say, “If I were God, the people wouldn’t need saving because everything would be perfect already.  There would be no suffering because I wouldn’t allow it in the perfect world I created.  The people I created would have pure hearts, so they would not be inclined to evil. There wouldn’t even be a word for evil because it would not exist.  No murders, assaults, or even anger.  No rape or even lust.  No theft or even the thought of it because the people would never be jealous of what someone else had.  There would never be a reason for theft because everyone would have everything they could ever need or want.”  And that is right, because you are God. Your game, your universe, your rules.

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Let me ask you this though: Do the people have free will?  If there is no evil, they could not have made the choice to do good.  It was their only option.  So, you deserve credit, but do they?  Aren’t they a bit robotic?  And isn’t it hard to love a robot?

Do the people love you?  Maybe they love their perfect life, and you gave it to them so they appreciate you to a degree but they didn’t choose you over something or someone else.  They had no choice.  Is that love?

My meandering imagination has taken me up and down paths like this one and many others.  If I were God, could I have done it better?  If I did it this way or that way, what would the end result be?

I hate the fact that there is evil in this world, and, though I don’t believe God created the evil, I do believe he created the beings that created the evil.  Unspeakable things are being done to people by other people.  That is messed up.  Obviously, mankind is to blame for what mankind does.  We messed up this world.  We are the ones who are stealing, raping and killing.  But can we blame God for allowing it?

He could have created a world with no possibility of evil as in the above scenario, or he can snuff out all evil with a thought right now.  But God has chosen to let mankind as a whole choose its own way and suffer the consequences of our choices.  He is treating us like grownups, and mankind as a whole is acting like the civilized children in “Lord of the Flies” who quickly turn into savages when they find themselves on a deserted island.

It seems to me that the only reason God would allow evil or wouldn’t wipe out evil right now is free-will.  Why would God want robots or puppets as children or friends? Why would he not want authentic relationships with those he created?  Can any relationship be authentic without free-will?

So, the question now is, could he have created us with free-will but without the possibility of evil?  I don’t know, but what good is free will if there is no choice to make with it?  Having free-will implies that there will be reason to use it, choices.  If there is no alternative other than goodness, then we didn’t choose it.  If there is no alternative other than God, then we didn’t choose him.

I trust God.  I trust him because I have an inkling of the enormous difference between his knowledge and mine, between his wisdom and mine.  I trust that despite the heinous things WE are doing to our fellow man and ourselves, God will work it out, and His Kingdom WILL come for those that choose Him.

It has always been our choice.  God has put enough knowledge in each one of us to reason that he exists and to understand his absolute right to judge what we did with the life of free-will He gave us.  We all fell immeasurably short: that’s no secret.  Nevertheless, he still allows it to be our choice.  Will we trust him to save us?  Do we choose Him?  What will we do with our free-will?

I am light years from being a perfect follower, but my choice is made.  If I am to be insulted and ostracized, shunned and persecuted, tortured and murdered;  Let it come.  I choose Him.  I choose Jesus.

A.J.

 

 

 

 

The Lie of Wealth

Suppose for a minute that you have a billion dollars…

Being the thoughtful and generous Christian that you are, you give a lot–100 million–to help the poor around the world, but afterwards you still have 900 million dollars left.

So, since you care about your friends and family, you decide to take away their financial burdens by giving them each five million dollars.  They are not rich like you and five million will go a long way for them.

They are all ecstatic and very grateful and you feel good, thinking that hard-working Uncle Archie and Aunt Ellen will have what they need to finally get the family farm fixed up, the one that has been in the family for almost 200 years.  Your friends Bob and Roberta can afford to see that doctor about their fertility problems, or at least they will look good to adoption agencies.  Henry can start that business he always dreamed about.  And that niece of yours who doesn’t believe in God… she is sure to see this as a gift from Him.

Thinking your loved ones are well taken care of, you go on an extended mission trip helping feed kids in one of the poorest places on Earth.  Six months later you return feeling good about yourself and your giving.

Then you find out your aunt and uncle decided to retire early, sold the family farm, bought a cookie cutter condo, a time-share on the beach, and Uncle Archie has fallen off the wagon.

Bob and Roberta separated after quitting their jobs and jet-setting at the clubs looking for better relational options.  Rumor has it that Roberta is pregnant now–by some other man.

Henry, instead of starting his business, bought the most powerful and expensive motorcycle money can buy, took it up in the mountains to see how it handled the curves, and died after hitting a patch of gravel and sliding in front of an F-150.

Your niece was the only one who did what you had hoped for all of them.  She bought a modest home, made a couple wise investments, and thinks she may be set for life. She couldn’t be farther from God, though, and now believes she has everything she will ever need.

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At one time or another most of us have dreamed about being rich.  What we don’t realize is that we may have been hoping for own misery.  Wealth is far from a guarantee of lasting happiness or peace, in fact in might just guarantee the opposite.  Many of the richest people around are some of the most miserable people on Earth.  Great wealth is a great liar.  It tells people they have everything they need, and most believe it, even though their hearts tell them otherwise.

There are exceptions, of course, but I believe there are very few of us, Christian or not, who can handle much wealth because that wealth drives a wedge between us and God.  When we have everything we believe we need, mankind tends to forget we are totally dependent on God.  When a problem arises we tend to look to our checkbook for answers, rather than the God who blessed us with that checkbook.

I understand, some of us are in a bad way, financially speaking, and a bundle of money could help us keep our homes or feed our kids.  But, I’ll bet we are on our knees a whole lot more than the folks who think they have it made.  We are more thankful for much less, understanding that the God who loves us will provide what we need.  That is true wealth.

A.J.

You are not alone.  There aren’t too many people whose lives haven’t been a wreck at one time or another.  You aren’t the only one lost in the desert.  But, if you meet up with all the others who are lost out there, does that make you found?

There is a way out, no matter what you have done, no matter how long you’ve done it.

Knock.  It is not too late.  The door will be opened.redcharlie-672182-unsplash.jpg

The church down the street might not accept the heartless jerks, or the sexual deviants, or the selfish, or the drunks, or the thieves, but God’s church will.  If you are searching, you don’t have to enter a building with a cross on it to say; God, I need help.  Are you there?  Are you real?  Jesus said knock and the door will be opened to you.  That means if you are honestly searching, God will show you That He Is, and he will show you Who He Is.

A.J.