Infinity and Forever

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Folks keep telling us to do the math…

So, let’s do a little math to drive home a crucial point about God; A point so strong that grasping just a fraction of it drops me to my knees.  It will do the same to you.

My apologies to the math haters, but I promise you will see a tiny bit of God’s infinity.  Here we go…

Light travels at 186,000 miles per second and there are 31,557,600 seconds in a year. If you multiply those two numbers you come up with almost six trillion miles.  That is one light year. That’s a huge number, so huge in fact that most of us don’t realize the immensity of it.

So, let’s get some perspective with–you guessed it– more math. Buckle up now, cause this will blow your mind.  A standard piece of notebook paper is around 5/1,000 of an inch thick or .005 of an inch. So, one thousand sheets measure out to five inches, one million sheets is five thousand inches or almost four hundred seventeen feet, one billion sheets is almost four hundred seventeen thousand feet or 78.914 miles. Are you following me?  A stack of one billion sheets of paper would reach almost seventy-nine miles into our stratosphere, beyond it actually, into our mesosphere.  I just learned that word.

Okay, brace yourself.  A stack of one trillion sheets of your standard notebook paper would stretch almost 79,000 miles into space, a third of the way to the moon. Six trillion sheets would reach almost four hundred seventy three thousand miles, twice the distance from the moon to the earth.  That is six trillion times the thickness of a piece of paper.  I am not wrong; check my math if you like.

Now… try imagining six trillion miles!  That is one single light year; ONE!

You better sit down.  I don’t want to be responsible for any injuries if you pass out… According to NASA, this picture is of a dwarf galaxy one hundred million light years away!  Multiply that one incredible distance of one light year by a hundred million!

No human can say for sure but it appears from our spec of a galaxy that our universe is infinite; it never ends, unimaginable as that is.  So, really, the numbers don’t matter at all.   A space telescope capable of seeing a hundred trillion times as far as the Hubble will see no closer to infinity?

Sometimes, when I ponder the unending immensity of this universe, I feel like I am shrinking.  The further my imagination travels into infinity the smaller I become and soon I will be in danger of disappearing altogether.  If you walked that mathematical path with me, I know you understand.  I think, though, that feeling smaller because we have a slightly better understanding of infinity is backwards.  Because the Creator of Infinity treasures us.  That is awesome enough, right?  But that is nothing, because the love He has for us is as infinite as this universe, as infinite as forever!  We shouldn’t be shrinking–we should be growing, because the Infinitely Powerful God has a love for us that never ends.

How Awesome Is Our God?  There are no words.  Let’s just say–INFINITELY AWESOME! It is as close as we can get.

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 joe like me to tell you about him, on social media no less.

I remember as a twelve-year old, because I couldn’t be trusted to stay out of trouble if she left us behind, my newly divorced mom would drag my little brother and I to these prayer meetings she attended.  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 obviously eight-year-olds are plenty old enough to take care of themselves.

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 or will 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?  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 price 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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Basics of Christianity: #8 – Beyond

 

 

So that’s it?  Jesus is dead.  End of story?

In the words of Jacob McCandles; “Not hardly.”

He is just getting started. Those last four posts were  a super-condensed version of the Gospels, Jesus’ human story.  Not one of the four Gospels end with Jesus in his tomb.

There are many recorded appearances of Jesus after his tomb was found empty. He appeared to a woman named Mary at his tomb, to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus, to at least twelve in Jerusalem, to at least eleven in the same house a week later, to seven at the Sea of Galilee…

Most believe that Jesus only appeared to a few people here and there, and only to his disciples.  Paul tells us though, in his first letter to the Corinthians that he appeared to over 500 people at once.  In that letter, Paul basically tells the Corinthians that if you don’t believe Jesus showed up alive–go ask the witnesses.  There are hundreds of them.

Risen?

What do you make of it? Do you think me a fool for believing it?  Or, could this be possible?  If miracles never happen, then no, this is 100% impossible.  But we have already determined that one way or another a universe-creating miracle happened. Either everything came from nothing, obviously miraculous.  Or, everything came from God, again miraculous.  And… life began!  Whether it is God’s doing or chance, either way it is an AWESOME miracle.  Describe it with a hundred superlatives but words still can’t convey the enormity of the feat.  This universe’s existence is a miracle.  There is no way around that fact.  Our existence is a miracle.

So, we should know that we cannot dismiss things as impossible simply because it is not what usually happens.  Usually, universes don’t come from nowhere, made from nothing.  Usually, life doesn’t spark from inanimate things.  No one can prove that Jesus actually rose from the dead, and no one can prove that he did not.  On their own, our brains cannot say for sure one way or another.

Luckily for us, we have another way to determine truth from fantasy. We need to ask ourselves something.  What are our hearts telling us?  What do we feel is true?  Push aside preconceptions.  When your head hits your pillow at night, what feels like the truth?  Do you have a gnawing in your gut as if you might have missed something? Do you feel like someone is trying to tell you something?  Because if the Bible is true, someone is.

If you believe this was all a hoax, ask yourself why.  Jesus remaining disciples ran in fear the night Jesus was arrested.  The Pharisees were on the hunt to snuff out anyone who would continue the “lie” that Jesus was God’s Son.  Yet, these scared disciples go on a crusade, not only risking their lives–but giving up their lives–to make a “god out of a man”?  All but one of the remaining disciples died violent deaths rather than stop proclaiming that supposed lie.  No.  These men believed it with all their hearts, and their willingness to die should tell us something.

2,000 years later, the Church started by God through these ordinary men who somehow tapped into extraordinary courage, lives.  Through the centuries, all over the world, brilliant men and women, idiots, and millions in between have heard the Gospel and believed.

Most would suffer some degree of persecution.  They believed and would not let go of their belief despite losing friends and family, being insulted, laughed at, called fools. Millions, over two millennia lost their rights, their homes, and their property. Millions more have been beaten, imprisoned, tortured, and even executed.  The persecutions that Christians faced in the first three centuries alone were horrifying as Roman Emperor after Roman Emperor tried to extinguish the light of Christianity.  Tortures were invented specifically for Christians during those times.  Nero would have Christians coated with wax and pitch, hung by a hook under their chins and burned alive at night to light his gardens.

Even today, everything from simple insults to torturous executions, still happen to Christians.  In countries such as North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and many others, letting it be known that you are a Christian could easily cost you your life.  You risk your life to speak of Jesus, just as his disciples did in the first century.  For many in those regions today, their earthly stories end in violent deaths just as they did for Jesus and his companions.  Sad but true, look it up.

Not that we need any more affirmation, but all these things shout to our hearts that what we believe is true, that God IS, that Jesus was and is the savior the shepherds and angels proclaimed him to be, and that no amount of persecution can stop the Good News from being proclaimed and spread as long as his children need to hear it.

Stay tuned.  A.J.

P.S.   I cheated.  Half of that was from my book.  Hope it rings true, because it is.

Basics 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.

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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.

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.

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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 there.  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.

 

 

 

 

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.  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, It doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do tomorrow.  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, who coldly asks for his share of his father’s estate.  Jesus portrayed him as a selfish, ungrateful, greedy hedonist, yet the father never stopped loving him and watching for his return. The sins of this son couldn’t be worse in the eyes of Jesus’ audience, 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.  But, the God of the Bible has a capital G.  He is not weak in any way.  We have to stop trying to put limits on The 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.  God Almighty… has a dilemma.

Stay tuned.     A.J.