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.

 

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

Expanding An Old Analogy

Picture this; A master painter completes a masterpiece. He takes it outside his home because he wants to see it in the sunlight. His yard is too shady, so he takes it to the park across the street, places it on his easel and turns it towards the sun. He takes a few minutes to examine his artistry. After a thorough examination he decides that it is very good and he sits down on a bench to rest.

People start to wander by and they all stop to look and converse about the painting. Soon there are many people and they all seem to be in agreement that the painting is breathtaking in its beauty, but none of them seem to notice the artist on the bench who hears every word.

There are many people who want to know the artist and tell him what a wonderful painter he is. But, there are also many people who seem to think that there is no artist, that the painting must have painted itself somehow.

Some of these people are scientists, and they rush off to get all of their tools. When they return they take all kinds of measurements. Besides the length and width of the masterpiece, and the thickness of the canvas, they measure the brush strokes and take notes on the length and angle of each one. Each and every different hue of color is catalogued. They compile data on every single aspect of the masterpiece. Even though none of the scientists had ever painted a single painting, let alone a masterpiece, they all get together to examine the data and determine that it took a very long time but the masterpiece did, after all, paint itself.

Many in the crowd say that the scientists are wrong, that it is impossible for art to create itself. They ask where the canvas and the paint came from. They say that there must be a master painter out there somewhere and that we should find out who he is and thank him for the opportunity to experience his masterpiece.

The rest of the crowd scoffs at them, saying that the scientists have proven what they already knew, that there is no one capable of such amazing artistry.

Meanwhile on the bench, the artist sadly shakes his head. He, himself, is amazed at how foolish the scientists are and the crowd that puts their faith in them. To the rest of the crowd he determines he will introduce himself to them, accept their praise and become their friends. He will introduce them to his son. Then he will show them his greatest masterpiece; He calls it Heaven.

 

 

 

Pick a Side

I am staunchly pro-Israel.  I don’t pretend to follow the situation in the Middle East very closely.  But, like most mature adults I do try to have an idea what’s going on around the globe, although I do prefer my sports section.  That’s right; I still get a newspaper.  My dog gets the paper from my driveway every morning.  It is his only job. If I got all my news off the internet, he would be a free-loader.

Though I cannot claim to have great knowledge of the situation there, I do know enough of the history of Israel and its people to care a great deal.

In the history of our planet, there is no story like theirs.  Since the falling of both halves of their divided kingdom in the 8th and 6th centuries BC, there has never been a people so misunderstood, degraded, oppressed, persecuted, and terrorized as the Jews.  There is not even a close second.  Yet somehow through all the horrors of the last twenty-eight centuries, up to and including the Holocaust during World War II, they have kept their identity.  They are still the Jewish people, descendants of Abraham.

Wherever Jews have been, and they have been, and still are, all over the globe, they banded together, largely avoiding intermarriage with the people of the land they were in.  They clung to the idea that they were God’s chosen people, set apart to be different than the rest.  They believed that all their woes and heartaches were their penance for not honoring God the way they were taught.  Their Bible told of a Savior who would come and deliver them from all their suffering and they believed that someday that would happen.  So, wherever Jews were, they stuck together like their lives depended on it.

They didn’t even have a country for 2,500 years!  How does that happen?

The answer is; It doesn’t.  There is nothing to compare it to.  Countries come and go, and when they go, the remaining people of the conquered country meld with the conquerors.  Sometimes it takes decades, even a century or more for the conquered nation’s peoples to fully integrate with the conquerors but it has always happened, except to the Jews.

Imagine if America were conquered by another country or a coalition of them, and it’s remaining people banished to foreign lands.  Would Americans cluster together for 2500 years in whatever country they were banished to, stubbornly clinging to American customs for centuries, millenia, largely refusing to intermarry with their conquerors or anyone that is not American?  Would we call ourselves Americans 2500 years after America ceased to exist?

After World War II Palestine was given back to the Israeli people by the British government which “owned” approximately 70% of that land.  After 2,500 years the Jews had a place to call home again, a land where they were not outsiders, and they were determined to keep and defend that land with everything they had.  Remember, most of the remaining Jews in the world had just been systematically exterminated in the Nazi death camps of that awful war, over six million of them.

Today surrounded by a billion people who want them out or dead, they cling to their land like it was given to them by God.

I have little doubt that the Palestinian refugee situation is made worse by the strict Israeli security that is necessary because of the countless terrorist attacks on their country.  I know innocent children get caught in the crossfire when terrorists hide among the civilian population.  More than likely Israel has overstepped their boundaries and taken land that they could have done without.  But, considering what they are facing, I have a hard time blaming the Jews for anything they do.  Because there is zero chance, if they let down their guard, that terrorists don’t come in and kill Jews by the thousands or millions like the Nazis did.  Zero, unless God Himself protects them.

Therein lies the fate of Israel.  It won’t be decided by the leaders of adversarial countries.  It won’t be decided by the strength of their own resolve or their military might.  It won’t be decided by the American president or people.  Israel has a leading role to play in the future of our world, and I would not want to stand against them in that future confrontation.  Because God will decide the fate of Israel.  Standing against Israel will be standing against Almighty God himself.

A.J.