Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

Is your life swirling counter-clockwise around the toilet?  Have you burned the bridges between you and a meaningful life, between you and happiness?  Have you hurt the ones you love, hurt yourself?  Do you think you are unlovable?  Well–get in line, take a number, join the crowd.  You are most definitely not alone.

There are very few people whose lives haven’t been a wreck at one time or another.  Most of us look upright and respectable but we have just learned to hide what shames us the most.  I know I don’t want anyone peaking in my closets, or digging around in my backyard.

But, whether we have buried our sins away in the deepest caverns, or they are out in the open and obvious to all; whether we have America’s dream family with a house in the suburbs and a spot on the city counsel, or we have all our belongings in a tattered backback next to our cardboard sign — we are all in the same boat.  To paraphrase a metaphor from Max Lucado: We are all jumping for our salvation.  Some of us can jump four feet while others only one inch, but what difference does it make when we are jumping for the moon? We all missed by 280,000 miles… give or take a foot or two.

Without some serious help, all our lives are swirling down the toilet.  Whether it’s a toilet of gold in a perfect home or a puke-stained toilet behind the gas station in the projects makes no difference; we will all end up in the same sewer.

It doesn’t matter how badly we have screwed up, how low we have fallen, if the one who created us cares–there is hope.  Jesus told a parable about an unbelievably disrespectful, greedy, and selfish son going away and squandering much of his father’s wealth on “wild living”.  Yet, the father never stopped searching the horizon for a sign of his son’s return, and when he finally did, he staged a great celebration.  “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

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, “seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”. That means, if you are honestly searching, God will show you that He Is, and who he is.  Don’t expect a thunderbolt.  It might take seconds, or it might take months.  Just keep your eyes and heart open because he WILL show you.  Count on it.

A.J.

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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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: #9 – Grace and Obedience

DSC_0432You don’t have to be good to get to heaven.

Does that statement surprise you?

Aside from Christianity, every other major religion in the world depends on man working their way to God, justifying themselves in some way.  Each person must do something, reach some level of goodness or higher-consciousness to eventually make themselves worthy of whatever reward is supposedly there for the taking.

This makes sense to us, for we are used to working for what we get; If we behave we get ice cream, if we get good grades we get to go to the water park, if we work hard we get a raise or promotion and a nicer house, car, and toys.  The flip side is the same in reverse; don’t behave and you don’t get ice cream, bad grades make you stay home on water park day, don’t work hard and you get fired, no raise or promotion.

Reward and punishment, the merit system.  We have been playing by these rules our entire lives. It is what we know, it makes sense to us even if we don’t necessarily like it.  Therefore, this idea of heaven for free does not compute easily for most of us.  There must be something required of us, some sacrifice– give more to the poor, fix a single mom’s car, quit drinking, help little old ladies across the street, give up our golf day to feed the homeless… something.  There is a cost for everything, so the ultimate reward cannot be free.

But Paul, who calls himself the worst of sinners(he persecuted, imprisoned, and executed Christians before his own conversion) tells us in no uncertain terms that our salvation has nothing to do with our own efforts.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.  Eph 2:8-9

If it isn’t computing yet, let me make it crystal clear; Heaven is not earned–it is a gift.  You don’t have to be good.  I know!  Crazy, isn’t it?

There is not a never-ending line of holiness hoops you have to jump through.  Your good deeds do 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 that 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 judgement.

Not by works… entire Christian denominations miss those three little words and hence try to put the crushing weight back on the believer that Jesus died to take off.  The believer is saved by grace alone, not by the good things he does, not by works.  Look at that passage again.  From front to back and top to bottom these two verses say it six different ways.  Salvation is free to all who believe, all who have faith.  Not a single one of us can boast that we earned what Jesus did for us.  It is a free gift of grace.  All you have to do is reach out and take it–you have to believe.

Completely free.  But, once we believe, if we don’t want to live like Jesus told us to live after what he did for us, then there is something wrong.  If we Christians think that floating in an ocean of grace frees us to stay as we are and live like he did nothing for us, then we have missed the point and we are definitely not listening to God’s Spirit within us.  Or, we never truly believed in the first place and God’s Spirit does not live in us.

Someone who sees grace as permission to sin has missed grace entirely. Mercy understood is holiness desired.  Max Lucado

We Christians are called to live differently.  From cover to cover the Bible tells us how we should behave. We are supposed to stand out as lights in this dark world.  Why? Not to get to heaven, our ticket is punched.  Then why, if we know beforehand that we will be forgiven, should we behave like God wants us to?

Love

If we truly love Jesus because of his great love for us, then we will want to do what he asks of us.  Our lives should steadily change, and God has put his own Spirit in our hearts to help make that happen.

Thus, if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him.  But trying in a new way, a less worried way.  Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already.  Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of heaven is already inside you.  C.S. Lewis

Belief in the Gospel won’t suddenly turn you into Jesus Junior, growth takes time.  But your heart is changed.  Jesus calls it a hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Our old ways of life will not satisfy us anymore.  We have far more important business ahead of us.

A.J.

 

P.S.    We have only one or two more posts to go in this series.  I hope you have been enjoying it.  I have.  If you just jumped in, I encourage you to check out the rest.  It is the Gospel in plain language.  You can find the first post in the series if you scroll to the bottom of the main page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will I Ever Learn?

I was 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, for I am covered by grace.

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.