Am I Learning Yet?

I was viciously attacked recently by one of the people closest to me…

Via email.

It was bad.  I was ripped this way and that, up and down, and then told by this man that he was done with me.  It was a stress induced, guilt-ridden preemptive attack.  He was positive I was going to mercilessly attack him for something he did, so he struck first, mercilessly.  I was accused, judged, and sentenced, all without seeing this man in person, although I tried to set up a meeting.

Most of his accusations were baseless.  Those that may have held merit were twisted to make me look worse than I should have.  But, my guilt or innocence regarding the matters he accused me of is not why I write today.  You see, in this situation, my bad behavior really began when I received the email.

I was seeing red; I was so angry.

Would it shock you to hear that I seriously considered finding him and knocking his lights out?  I guess it probably would, considering the type of stuff I write on this site.  Would it make it any better if I told you that it wouldn’t be the first time one of us punched the other?  That’s right.  We have had many physical altercations, he and I.  He is my brother.

You may think that putting this out there will add to this problem.  Considering he says he is done with me I am not sure that is possible.  But, right now, most of the people I know, including my brother and his family don’t know about this page.  For now, it is anonymous.  This may shock you folks–so brace yourself; My name is not really Average Joe.  It is an alias.

Don’t worry.  I didn’t show up at my brother’s house and ask him to step outside.  I didn’t even go tit-for-tat and blast him with an email counter attack.  Instead, I responded very kindly, refusing to go down that low road.  Now, that may sound very mature to you, very Christian, but it is the heart that matters and my heart was on a looooow road.

I am pretty sure if they knew the situation and saw the email, my family, my friends, even his friends would come in on my side and think that a bit of righteous anger is justified in this situation.  I wonder where Jesus would come in, though.  Would he say, “Yeah, A.J., go ahead and bust him in the mouth.”?   Would he tell me never to talk to him again?  Or, would he tell me what he has already told me, that I need to forgive him?  How many times?  As many times as he has wronged me.  How many times has God forgiven me?  As many times as I have wronged him.

It probably speaks to the condition of my heart but I find that anger is easy, and forgiveness difficult.  For a while after the email, I went back and forth between anger at my brother, and concern for him.  That kind of animosity doesn’t come from a healthy heart.  My needle is pretty well pegged on concerned right now.  I guess that means I am beginning to forgive.  As for my sin of anger, that has been forgiven too.

I love my brother.  Nothing will change that.  He is a good Christian man who is not hearing God’s voice right now, the voice that is telling him how much he is loved.  Please pray for him.

Thanks,  A.J.

 

 

 

 

 

Larry

000_0089A guy at work collapsed and died today.  No kidding. I have never been trained but I performed CPR and mouth to mouth.  I watch TV.

 

The paramedics were there within 6 or 7 minutes of our 911 call.  They worked on him for at least twenty minutes trying to revive him and get him stable before transporting him to the hospital.  When they finally took him away, it didn’t look good.  Word came a few hours later that he didn’t make it.  We haven’t heard anything official but we think it was a heart attack.

He was an older guy but not that old, in his sixties I hear.  A quiet guy, bachelor, who kept to himself.  His name was Larry.  I worked with him for years–and we hardly talked.

He seemed like he might be lonely.  I thought about trying to get to know him better but I never made the effort.  Years working within a few hundred feet of the guy, and I knew almost nothing about him.

Now it’s too late.  I don’t know if he needed it or not but I could have been a friend to him, could have made a difference in his life just by being someone who would listen, and care.

Worst of all, for me, I never told him what I know about God.  I hope he did, but I don’t know if he knew how much God loves him, and what Jesus did for him.

I may be writing about God, but I am not very saintly at this stage of my existence.  I am, like most of us, trying to work it out.  I am trying to be who God wants me to be, trying to care about who God cares about, which is everybody.  Sometimes, like today, I can look back and see that I am not trying very hard.

I can’t get it back, my chance to make a difference in Larry’s life, maybe even in his eternity.  All I can do is look for the next Larry and smile at him or her, and listen and care.    A.J.

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

thX5AIB933Let’s suppose for a moment that you are the totally Holy God.  You created this vast universe, chose a tiny planet, and made it habitable and beautiful.  You populated that planet with plants and animals, and finally, some beings created in your own image.  They were meant to love you and love each other purely, as you love them.  Now, real love cannot be forced, so you gave these beings free-will.  You wrote on their hearts what it means to love and honor you, themselves, and each other… and they have run amok.

As the one in charge of all things, what do you do?

Remember, this is your universe.  You created all things with something pure and beautiful in mind, and these free-willed beings did not turn out pure and beautiful.  Yes, some are much better compared to some of the others, but not compared to you.  None of them come close to what you envisioned and required.  You are utterly Holy.  You decided that there is not a single sin that would ever be okay in your universe, that justice would always be served, so they owe a debt they can’t afford to pay.  The only thing is, you love them more than they can possibly comprehend.

What will you do?  Will you banish them from your presence forever?  Or… could there be a way to take their penalty on yourself and give them a much bigger idea of your love at the same time?

Okay, come on back down to earth now.  You are not God, and neither am I.  Perhaps, though, this exercise can help us understand a tiny fraction of God’s dilemma.

Before I give away God’s solution, as if you haven’t heard, I feel the need to point something out.  Everyone believes in miracles.  Yes, everyone.  We are here; that cannot be denied by any rational person.  No matter what you believe about how that happened, it is a miracle.  Whether you believe an infinitely powerful God created this universe and all life-forms, including mankind to inhabit that universe, or you believe all the matter there is somehow either always existed or the matter popped into existence, and formed itself into the working, functioning universe we live in, and some of that matter “came alive” and evolved over time into all the life-forms this world knows, either way it is a miracle too great for words.

Let us then skip the notion that things such as virgins giving birth, or men walking on water, or men being raised from the dead are impossible.  Each of these miracles pales in comparison to the miracle of creation.  Miracles happen.  When you understand that, you will see a new universe of possibilities.  I am not saying we should walk off a cliff expecting to float rather than fall.  The law of gravity is still in place for us, just not for God.

As I said in a previous post, while there may be much about sin and judgement in the Bible, that is not its overall story.  It is a love story, and the most meaningful demonstration of love is sacrifice.

God’s solution to our problem was to send his own Son to pay our debt.  Now, timeout here.  I know that a whole lot of folks start to fall asleep at the point where things start to sound too much like church.  There are a lot of churches out there that can make God’s idea of atonement sound as significant as one blade of grass dying, and as much fun as watching dogs sleep.  So, don’t hear my words right now: hear God’s message.

Jesus was born in a small occupied nation of the first century BC Roman Empire–to a virgin.  We should recognize that miracle as possible, even if we don’t believe it.  God could have chosen anywhere for his child to be born.  His choice was the conquered and brutally oppressed nation of Israel.

Despite the impressions you may have gotten from hearing the Christmas story, Jesus did not come into this world with a silver spoon in his mouth.  As a child he was hunted by the murderous tyrant King Herod the Great, who had heard the Old Testament prophecies of a savior who would be king.  As an adult, the spiritual leaders of his own people would take exception to his popularity with the masses and try to undermine everything he was teaching them.  When that failed, they plotted to kill him.

There are four biographies of Jesus at the beginning of the New Testament,: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  They are called the Gospels, which in that day meant “good news”. There are a few chapters in Matthew and Luke telling how Jesus came into the world.  Besides that, all four gospels focus on Jesus’ last three years.

The Gospels say that Jesus, with a group of friends by his side, went from town to town teaching the people about God, and healing the sick, and the lame.  Blind men were receiving sight, paralyzed men were walking, dead men were raised, and the people were being told that God loved them.  Though Jesus never softened the requirements of God’s law, he told the people of a Father God who longed to forgive them, not condemn them.

Modern day preachers can sometimes make Jesus sound weak and boring, but the Gospels tell a different story.  In the Gospels, we hear of Jesus being followed around by huge crowds who press around him so tightly that he would sometimes speak to them from a boat offshore so he had room to breathe.  He was dynamic, revolutionary, magnetic.  The people of his time couldn’t get enough of him.  At times, they wouldn’t even leave him to find something to eat for fear they might miss something important.

There was, however, one group of people who had heard enough from Jesus, the Pharisees.  Jesus brought out their hypocrisy for all to see every time there was an exchange between himself and them. The Pharisees were considered the spiritual leaders of the people and enjoyed their exalted status so much that they planned to kill Jesus rather than listen to him, or allow others to.

What they didn’t know was that their plan would play into God’s plan perfectly.

Stay tuned.  I promise we are getting there.   A.J.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basics of Christianity: #6 – Incomprehensible Love

th1HPGL53NFor many of us, the words have lost their meaning; God loves you.  We have heard it so many times.  It’s on every other church’s billboard.  The weird lady around the corner won’t stop telling you, not to mention your great-aunt.  Okay, okay, my great-aunt.

But, stop for a second.  If you can calm your busy soul and relax your mind a bit, you might be able to look at those words differently.  Let all preconceptions about what that statement could mean melt away.  Try to forget the annoying guy with the “God Loves You” sign outside the mall.  Forget for now, the Christians you have known who have told you that God loves you, but showed no signs that they themselves cared at all.

Look at it for what it is, a simple three-word statement.  God loves you.  The magnitude of that statement cannot be overstated, if it’s true.  The Bible says that God’s love surpasses all knowledge. It is indescribable, beyond measure, incomprehensible, and the best part; it won’t change.  It doesn’t matter what you have done, or left undone, you can’t make God not love you.  Unfailing seems to be the adjective most used to describe God’s love for us.  Love without fail.

I have a pretty good idea what runs through our minds at this point.  But what about that time I said those mean things to my friend, or that time I took advantage of my boss’s trust in me, or that time I didn’t help that poor girl on the highway?  What about my constant angry thoughts, or my jealous heart, or my lustful eye?  How could a perfectly Holy God still love me?  Often, we have such a hard time forgiving ourselves, that it becomes impossible to believe that God could possibly love us.  

There’s this guy in the Bible named Jesus.  I mentioned him once or twice.  He told a story to the people of his time to illustrate God’s love for us.  It is the story of the “lost” or “prodigal” son.  It’s a lengthy passage so I will paraphrase:

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 he had spurned, just hoping his father might give him a job.      When he arrived though, his father was overjoyed and he welcomed his boy home with open arms, and he staged a great celebration.  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.”

With respect for the older generation at all-time lows, it might not surprise us to hear of this type of disrespectfulness in today’s world, but in first-century Roman-occupied Israel, this wasn’t done, and Jesus’ audience would not have overlooked the immensity of the offense.  The sins of the son couldn’t be worse in their eyes, so the unbelievable mercy and forgiveness of the Father would have jumped out at them.  If God could forgive that….

The religious teachers of that place and time were telling the people of a harsh and stern God that was eager to judge and condemn.  But from Jesus they were hearing of a Father God who loved them so much that he would forgive anything if they would just turn to him, and trust him.

We should not overlook the image of God as the Father.  Even an earthly father can forgive his selfish, disrespectful child, so how can we think our sins could keep The Father from loving us, his children.  

We are humans in what can feel like a finite world.  We have only seen so much goodness, only so much mercy, only so much love.  So the god we try to imagine is only so good, only so merciful, and only has so much love to give.  The God of the Bible has a capital G.  He is not weak in any way.  Let’s stop trying to limit a limitless God.  If there is a God capable of creating everything, then obviously he has limitless power.  So, why should we try to put limits on this God’s love, or forgiveness, or mercy.

For his children, the inventor of love feels “a love that surpasses all knowledge” and it is unfailing, endless.

No doubt, Christians can be weird when trying to tell people of God’s love, though their hearts are often in the right place.  But, I hope you can look at the words a little differently now.  Because, if you believe it, the knowledge that “God Loves You” beyond all you can fathom will change everything, and it can get you through anything.

This is awesome news, if true.  God loves us and wants to forgive all, but there is one giant attribute of God that needs to be satisfied, his Justice.  Though he loves us beyond measure, his Justice demands a price for sin, all sin.  So, God himself is seemingly at a crossroads.  He is the righteous judge of all mankind, and as our Creator, that is his right.  But, he is also that Father waiting on the porch for his wayward child to come home.  Almighty God has a dilemma.

Stay tuned. It gets even better.    A.J.