He’s A Wonderful Life

baby jesusThis time of year you will often hear the religious folks say that “Jesus is the reason for the season” but you wouldn’t think it if you have been out in the world over the last few days.  The stores, the traffic and all of the holiday activity makes that notion a bit hazy.

Now that all the shopping, parties and rushing around is over, we have a day to catch our breath. Take a time out from the world. Some of you are enjoying watching children open their presents while you spend time with you family.  It is a day to reflect and maybe think about this day.

The excitement from watching the results of us buying gifts for others arrives and soon it will be over in a flash after weeks of anticipation.  The gifts that were open under the tree will eventually lose its excitement and our days will find its way back to the routine of our lives.  We are reminded that the gifts aren’t what makes us happy but it is the relationships with the people we care about that last.

In spite of the evidence we see, the birth of Jesus is the reason we have Christmas. No, it isn’t his actual birth date and there has been a lot of pagan rituals mixed in over the years but the birth of Jesus over 2,000 years ago was the most significant birth in the history of the world. Of course today people get so easily offended if you say anything about Him or wish someone a Merry Christmas.

That’s crazy. The birth of Jesus shouldn’t offend anyone. The problem is the people who try to sell Jesus or push their version of Him on people.

You can have a relationship with Jesus without having to be super religious. Sadly too many religious folks give Him a bad rap. Don’t be turned off by the crazies. You don’t have to act weird to have a relationship with Him.  He wants to have a relationship with us.

A relationship with Jesus Christ is the gift that many fail to open but can be the greatest gift of all. I won’t lie to you, your problems won’t be over but it will be different. I can’t possibly convince you with my words, you have to experience it yourself.

My own life has revolved around the church and being taught about Christ. It has just been the past ten years that my relationship with Him has changed and evolved into a more personal experience rather than the emotional cheerleader experience of the previous years. I have found a God that you don’t have to yell and scream (or speak in tongues) at to get His attention.  It has been a gamechanger for me.  I like this version of Jesus much better and He is more like the one I read about in the Bible.  No, my life hasn’t been perfect and I haven’t always done the right thing but life with Christ has been wonderful for me. His grace and mercy has helped me through the many ups and downs and twists and turns in my life.

The birth of Jesus is a gift to us from God.  2 Corinthians 9:15 says “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.”

Merry Christmas Everyone!

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Would Jesus Wear A Jesus Tie?

Ever been around someone who is extreme or gung ho about Jesus? Yep, I can see your eyerolling right now.

I have recently been around someone like this and it’s annoying.

I have no problem with someone being excited about their relationship with Jesus but some folks take it a bit too far. Believe me, I have been around people who were the extreme before and would take any conversation and direct it back to talking about the Bible or Jesus. It’s just too much. I have also seen people who get wound up about their Jesus experience and later when they had a situation where God wasn’t as good to them all the time that they flamed out.

There needs to be a proper balance in one’s relationship with Christ. Let’s don’t embarrass Him and make His work even more difficult than it already is. I can tell you that it does more harm than good to be all gung-ho about your Jesus experience.

I worked with a lady once who wore an assortment of Jesus pins, played an audio Bible or preaching in her office all the time and was just all out there about her religion. People would go out of their way to avoid her. She also had a rotten attitude. She was difficult to deal with. Now what good did all those Jesus pins and preaching do?

I was in a meeting recently when I looked across the room to see someone wearing a tie with John 3:16 all over it. Is that really necessary? How is that “witnessing”? It is unbelievable how these folks are clueless as to the effect they are having on others. In their minds, they think it is a “tool” for witnessing to others. They think if they show Jesus or advertise Him in some way that they will come to Him. I hate to tell you but it repels people and having the opposite effect.

The thing that speaks to people isn’t that you wearing Jesus pins or ties. It is how you live. People look at your life, not your Jesus billboards. Let’s just stop this nonsense and just be a good person. Be a person with integrity. Do the right thing and treat others fairly.

I can tell you that I have never been the kind of person that puts Jesus up in people’s face. If you ask me I will tell you but I am not going to slap you in the face with my John 3:16 tie. Jesus doesn’t expect that from us. Yes, He did say to go into all the world and preach the gospel but He never meant for the gospel to be a sideshow. The world needs more people who are decent and have integrity in how they live. They don’t need another Jesus freak.

Many years ago when I was in the Air Force and serving in a remote location we had this guy that was the extreme. If you asked him about the weather he would turn that conversation into something about God. He was quite difficult to be around. You couldn’t carry on a normal conversation with him ever. He also thought it was his job to knock on my door every Sunday to remind me to go to the chapel. One morning I had enough, I answered the door and told him – in a nice way – that I had grown up in church all my life and really didn’t need him reminding me about going to the chapel. I asked him to live in the real world with the rest of us. He stopped knocking on my door but he continued to live life in the heavenly realm. He was the classic example of people who are “too heavenly minded but no Earthly good.”

We are not clones of Jesus walking around here. We are humans and real people with real problems. We need to relate to people, not scare them off. If you are going to wear your Jesus flair, you’d better live the example of what you are advertising.

Here’s My Jesus Story

Friend-with-Jesus-clearBack in the days of the church,  people would ask about your testimony and how you “got saved”. Some would have dramatic tales of their conversion experience and others would testify to God’s amazing grace. I am hesitant to share my own story because I don’t have a stirring story to tell of my own experience of salvation. I’m fact, it isn’t very exciting and not what people would assume.

I grew up as a preacher’s kid and was raised in the church. My life revolved around church. I went to church Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night and other times mixed in. Church was my dad’s business.

Most would assumed that I was “saved” under my Dad’s preaching. I was not. For the first 14 years of my life, I sat on the pew every Sunday and listened to his sermons. Sometimes I was even the subject of them. The fact of simply growing up in church and being there every Sunday did not automatically earn me salvation. Salvation also wasn’t something that I inherited simply because my father and my grandfather were preachers. I also don’t have a story to tell of when Jesus reached His hand way down to me and pulled me out from my sinful ways as I often heard others testify about. Not that I was perfect – far from it – but my story was different from others.  I even had a pastor once who belittled my experience by saying that I cut my teeth on the church pews. While I may not have been the typical idea of what a sinner was to look like, I still had my own experience.

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Evangelist Bruce Scotton in the 1980s

While growing up in church I knew about Jesus and was taught about Him but I never had a personal experience until 1978 when my dad scheduled a revival with a young African-American man named Bruce Scotton. At the time, Bruce was an evangelist who was in high demand for revivals within our church denomination in Georgia. The best description I could give you of Bruce was that he looked just like the character “Rerun” on the 1970s “What’s Happening” television show. While we had evangelists in our home before but Bruce was different. When evangelists would come stay with us, I would be forced to give up my room for the evangelist during the week they were with us and was mostly ignored. Bruce was different. During the week Bruce was with us, he spent time with me. He didn’t ignore me like others had done. He took an interest in me. I clearly remember how we would play games with my Mattel Handheld football game as he would rock back and forth as he was trying to score a touchdown.

During the week he ran the revival out our church and preached, I saw another side of God. One that was personal to me. A God that knew me. God was finally relatable to me and not just a church.  I think the example Bruce showed me during his stay with us helped me to see that God could be a friend.

My dad wasn’t a bad man, he was just really strict and more of a preacher than a father in those years. My image of God and relationship with Jesus was not real until Bruce was there that week. That week I felt like I connected with Jesus for the first time in my life.

I eventually lost contact with Bruce in the years that followed but I will never forget the impact he made in my life and how he helped me to my first experience with God.  My relationship with God has grown since then.  It has been a journey of ups and downs.  I have also had to unlearn things that the church taught me.  It hasn’t always been easy but I have relied upon my personal experience with Jesus.  I know people feel a bit uneasy when you say “Jesus” but when you have had the experience I have had and gone through what I have gone through, you know the one who has been there and not ashamed of it.

I may have cut my teeth on the church pews and may not have a dramatic testimony of being saved but I needed a personal relationship with Jesus too. The key word is “personal” which I did not have until that revival week. Perhaps the worst thing of all is to go to church every Sunday and never have a personal relationship with Jesus. To be so close yet not know Him.

We all have our stories of salvation. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God whether we are sitting in the church or in the gutter somewhere. People need to drop the pious, self-righteous attitude and realize that we are not perfect and we all make our way on this journey the best way we can.

 

I’m Not A Christian…I’m A Believer

believerYes, there is a difference.

I was raised in a church/religious home and was told that we were “Christians”.  Tell someone you are a christian and see what kind of reaction you get.  It isn’t a positive response, especially today.

Many years ago when I went with a fanatical group on an Israel tour of the Holyland, our guide told us that people who believe in Jesus over there don’t referred to themselves as “christians” but “believers” because there is a history of bad things with Christians such as the crusades.   He said they were called believers.  I liked that and I have adopted that change in terminology since then.

Honestly Christians have really given God a serious public relations headache.  My wife and I passed a guy recently who was preaching and condemning anyone who walked by.  Yeah, that’s really getting the job done.  I’m really sick of Christian people embarrassing God and making things more difficult for the rest of us who aren’t the weird, radical fringe.

It’s not about a church either.  Been there done that and had the church flag to prove it.

It’s about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  That’s it.  Either you believe in Him or you don’t.  I’m not going to get in your face and yell at you.  I’m not even going to debate you.  If your mind is set against it then what words could I possibly use to convince you?  Really, unless you have a relationship with Christ, how can you possibly know?  This is something you have to experience.  I can’t open my Bible app and read you the thees and thous and hope that some spooky magical spiritual spell will cause you to turn from your heathen ways.

I was in the weirdness of a church for way too many years.  It wasn’t until I left that I was able to remove all the clutter that separated me from a true personal relationship with God.  It wasn’t in the yelling, tongue-speaking or Bible quoting but in the stillness of God’s presence.  It isn’t some Eastern meditation crap either.  It’s discipline to sit still and actually listen to God.  It’s not about asking a bunch of stuff for Him to do either.  I had to unlearn a lot of things I was taught and a lot of things I thought I knew about God to finally find who He is to me.

I’m a believer.  Pure and simple.  If you don’t like it I’m not going to hate you for it.  This is me and who I am.

Church.  I don’t need it.  Shocking I know.  I spent many years doing the church thing and feeling worse when I left then when I walked in.  I’m done with that feeling and not going back to that.  I’m not saying church isn’t important.  Some people need it.  Whatever folks need to survive I am not going to judge.  Some people need a preacher to stand up behind a pulpit to give their interpretation of the Bible.  I have learned that people will slant it the way they want.  That’s human nature.

I believe that God loved this world so much that He sent His son to die for my sins.  Now I can’t explain everything about God.  How can God have a “son” and how the Holy Ghost is a part of this trinity?  Sometimes you just can’t explain everything.  I save the theological debates for people who are into that kind of thing.   I don’t have a doctorate degree in theology.  My only experience is my own and real life.

You can think what you will about all of this but you haven’t walked in my shoes.  No, I’m not perfect and I have sinned.  We all have.  I have done the stone casting before the stones fell back on me.  Christians have a difficult time admitting that they are wrong.

Maybe I’m splitting hairs here with the definitions of Christian and Believer.  To me there is a difference.   When I Google “Christian vs. Believers” there are a lot of folks out there who score the term “Christians” higher on God’s food chain than “Believers”.  I know the difference.  I have lived it.  I want no part of Christian.

Sorry if I rocked your boat about this.  That’s okay, I believe that Jesus can walk on water to pull you back into the boat.

 

IMHO…Death Is Not The End!

paradiseAsk anyone their opinion about life after death and you’re going to get a variety of answers to this question that has puzzled mankind since the beginning of time.

What happens when you die?  Is that the end?

Here are some theories about life after death:

  • According to some, life starts over immediately after death.  This belief is an explanation of feelings of deja vu we experience throughout our lifetime.
  • We move into a paranormal realm where we become ghosts or other spirits
  • Hindus believe in reincarnation and that we will be reincarnated 52 million times as a plant, animal, etc. before returning to human form.
  • One of six destinies awaits Buddhists when they die.  They may be reincarnated as gods, demi-gods, humans, animals, ghosts or sent to the realms of hells.  If you were a good person, chances are you will be reborn in one of the first three categories.
  • Some believe that when you are dead, you’re dead.  Period.
  • According to the movie Beetlejuice, when we die, we continue to live in the form of ghosts stuck in a parallel dimension from which only an iconoclast exorcist can free us.
  • Plato had a theory that after death our souls were judged.  Good souls were placed on islands of the blessed and bad souls were punished.
  • For the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, death was temporary.  This is why it was so important to them to properly preserve bodies by mummification so they could be in their best possible state for their second life.
  • If you believe the Stranger Things theory, the deceased aren’t truly dead.  Some of them simply go to “The Upside Down” which is a parallel universe from which you can communicate through light bulbs.
  • For about $300,000 your body can be preserved at an extremely low temperature to stop your cells from evolving until medicine finds a cure for your death and brings you back to life.
  • Quantum physicists believe that life creates the universe and not the opposite so when bodies die our consciousness continues to exist.
  • The egocentric theory is you are the only person who exists and the entire universe is your own imagination so when you die, the universe will no longer exist.

There are some wild theories out there.

I have read and heard opinions out there so allow me to add my own here.  I mean this is MY blog and I am free to express my own opinions about this.  If you don’t agree, that’s okay.  Don’t be mean about it.  You are entitled to your opinion too.

I have had years of Bible teaching throughout my life.  No, I do not hold a degree in theology but I am capable of making up my own mind and attempt to sort this out myself.  So, with that disclaimer, let’s take a look at my own view of death.

I have concluded that my own personal belief about death is based upon one of the most popular Bible verses.  John 3:16.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

If a person believes in Jesus Christ this verse guarantees us eternal life.  It isn’t a requirement that you have to be Baptist, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist or any other named religion.  As shocking as it may be to some, there isn’t a “Baptist Heaven” or a “Catholic Heaven” or “Church of God Heaven”.  This is a place is simply a place that Jesus has prepared for believers.

It is my belief that when we die, our soul separates from our physical bodies.  A believer goes immediately to be with Jesus in paradise.  That’s what Jesus told one of the thieves on the cross next to him when he said “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”   Paradise is a temporary heaven because, according to the Book of Revelation (which I am not even going to try to explain) tells us that there will be a new Heaven and a new Earth.  There’s a lot of other things that is supposed to happen but I’m just narrowing this to what happens when we die.

When our soul separates from our physical bodies, we go to paradise.  Before we can fully enjoy paradise, we must spend time in an “in-between place” which Catholics refer to as purgatory.  It doesn’t matter how good of a person we are or how righteous we are, none of us are perfect and we all have issues that must be resolved before we can move on.  This in-between place allows us to resolve these issues.  For the religious folks out there, I’m not saying that sin is okay but we all have things that are imperfect about us.  In order to enter into a perfect place, these things have to be cleansed.  I think of it as TSA to get into paradise.  So if we have any unresolved issues we will be forced to deal with them at that time.  All who die in God’s grace are assured of their eternal salvation but still must undergo a purification.   I’m not really sure what goes on in the in-between place but I envision it as a video replay of things we need to resolve.  It could be a time of deep soul searching and confession.  How long we spend in the in-between place depends upon how long it takes us to resolve these issues.

Once we have passed through the in-between place, we then enter into the main population of paradise where we will be reunited with our loved ones who have gone before us.  I think this paradise is a place that is beyond any beauty that we have seen on Earth or could even imagine with our minds.  We will also have no concept of time.  There really won’t be any need for it.  Most people think of heaven as a place where people are floating on clouds playing harps.   Now that would be pretty boring don’t you think?  Some have said that we will have jobs or hobbies that we will enjoy doing.  I believe we will do things that we enjoy as well as being in the presence of the Lord.  I don’t think any of us can truly comprehend it.

So will we have bodies or floating around as spirit beings?

I have pondered on this a lot and I have mixed thinking about it.  Since the Bible talks about us being reunited with our physical bodies and resurrected when the Lord returns to the Earth, I’m thinking that when we die that it will be our souls in paradise and not some physical recreation of our bodies.  Our souls will recognize our loved ones but not necessarily the physical attributes that we remember such as the last time we saw them.  I also have no idea what a “soul” could possibly look like.  I don’t think it will be a like a ghostly existence but possibly some form.  Like I told you earlier, some of this stuff is a little hard to explain.  I’m not saying I’m right but no one really knows for sure.  Even the Bible can be a bit difficult to translate into something we can understand.

The other question I have had was if our loved ones can see what we are doing here on Earth.  Can they watch us?  How can they see what we are doing?

Most people think that when we die we become angels but that is false.  Angels are separate created beings.  None of us get wings or become angels who watch over those back on Earth.  I believe that God allows them to see what He wants them to see.  I don’t think they are looking down on us 24/7 because that would be a little creepy wouldn’t it?  I honestly don’t think they have time for that anyway.  I have a feeling that they do get updates on us.  Maybe it’s something like heavenly mail or newsflash about us.  I also think they are praying for us.  Maybe they have knowledge of what we are praying and what we are going through.  I really can’t give a definitive opinion on this.

So what about hell?  Do people go there?  Is there such a place?

I would have to think that people who are completely void of a conscious will go to a place of torment much like the rich man in the story of Lazarus.   Luke 16 says that in Hades he was in torment.  While this passage is a parable and not an actual experience, I think it gives a clear message on what happens to evil people.

This is all my own personal opinion.  I have no proof for or against what I have posted here.  We all have to make up our own minds.  I’m certainly not going to convince you.  We all have to figure it out for ourselves.  We are all shaped in our opinions based on something.  While mine is based mostly on Christian beliefs, others might base theirs on science or other spiritualist reasoning.

Whether you believe my version of life after death or not I urge you to think about it.  We’re all going to die sometime.  Figure it out for yourself.  Do some soul searching and ask yourself why you believe the way you believe?  For me, my opinion hinges upon the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He said:  “I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and  believes in me will never die.”  (John 11:25-26).   I don’t think that’s too far-fetched compared to these other theories do you?   Sure, I might be wrong on certain details but I do not believe that death is the end.   Easter is one of my favorite times of the year where I experience the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It encourages me and gives me hope of eternal life.

This is my belief and I won’t apologize for it.   In the end, whatever happens will happen and I have absolutely no control over it.  Maybe that’s why we fear death.  We fear the unknown and we try to explain it with all of these beliefs.

For me, I choose faith.

 

 

Keep The Faith

For Easter my wife got me this necklace and it has meant a lot to me.  The message to “keep the faith” is now more of a reminder than ever before.  It also means a lot that she knows how important keeping the faith is to me.

So what does it mean to keep the faith?

It means to always strive to live a life that is pleasing to God and keeping my faith in Jesus Christ.  Now I know today people cringe and look at you sideways when you say the name of Jesus Christ but a life with Jesus means hope.  It never means I am perfect.  I am far from that.  I need God’s grace and mercy everyday.  That also means I need to show it to others which can be a challenge.  Keeping the faith doesn’t mean that I have the license to condemn other people or lifestyles that I don’t agree with.  It means that I live the best life that I can live because I can’t possibly live someone else’s life or debate anyone into living their life in a certain way.

There are challenges of keeping the faith.

It isn’t easy to keep the faith. The most difficult times are when you are trusting God when everything is going against you or what you are praying for.  Those times are the toughest of all.  Praying for people is the most difficult challenge for me because no one can force another person to change. God can’t even make someone act or do a certain thing.  As much as I want to reconcile with a person in my life, I can’t make it happen or pray enough to force God’s hand.  That’s not how it works.

It’s also difficult to be consistent in keeping the faith everyday.  I will be honest and admit that I get tired of praying sometimes. It’s not easy to pray when nothing changes or when things go totally in the opposite direction and when God doesn’t speak to me audibly.  He never has.  So, yes, the keeping part loses a little steam at times.  But, when those times come, I have to find ways to encourage myself which, for me, it comes from a song or the silence of mediation.

I will always, always remember the time that my Pa Pa said he liked my testimony at a surprise birthday celebration we had for him many years ago.  He said he liked my ability of sticking with God.  That has encouraged me many times over the years through some of the darkest times of my life.  Sticking with something means you have to put forth the effort.  It’s not a passive experience to keep the faith.

Keeping the faith doesn’t mean I have always had it easy.

It bothers me when I hear other believers complain of experiencing setbacks that is common to us all.  Just because we are believers doesn’t mean we won’t have a flat tire or have to deal with sickness.  Stuff happens regardless how strong our faith is. Sometimes it is a test but most of the time it’s just life.  Instead of asking WHY, I have learned to ask God HOW to get through it.   No, I don’t always get it right but I do the best I can.

Keeping the faith has always been who I am.

My parents did a good job raising me and teaching me how to act.  I developed my own faith from the foundation they poured for me.  Although our relationship has suffered setbacks in my adult life, I am eternally grateful for what they started in me.

I have always believed in God differently than most others do.  Unfortunately, I had to unlearn some things that the institution of the church taught which made God more like a perfectionist than one who is a loving father.  I was once a part of a church that focused more on keeping their rules and laws than a God that could be my friend.  It took a while to reboot my thinking and find a God that lives in the silence rather than the noise that I grew up with.  I learned that you don’t have to holler and scream to get God’s attention but that it comes with a quiet and listening mind.  

People may think I am crazy enough to believe that God can still perform miracles and do the impossible.  Sorry but I won’t apologize for it, that’s who I am.  One person even told me to my face that God doesn’t do things the way I believe that He can.  I guess they have their God in a neat, tiny box.  God can do whatever He wants to do whenever He wants to do it.  No one will ever take that away from me.

Keeping the faith means that I strive to be an anchor for my wife and family.  It took some hard times to get here but I am thankful for a God who has given me a second chance to be a better man and a woman who fits God’s description of a helpmeet.

So, I wear this necklace with determination and commitment.  I am not ashamed to do so.  It’s funny now wearing this necklace that speaks of my life’s statement would have been against the church teachings in my past.

Throughout my life I have been driven to keep the faith.  From times when I faced the lowest parts of my life and even wondered about living life at all to the times when keeping the faith has led me to what a good father God has been to me.

No, it’s not an easy thing to keep the faith but I can assure you that for me it has been worth it.