Stumbling Through Life

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Please, God – Don’t strike me with lightning! I’m just trying to figure this world out. Sometimes I think and say things that are stupid. But sometimes, too, You tell me things that are so meaningful that I simply have to write them down. This blog is nothing more than a diary of some of these thoughts.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

This Story Has a Happy Ending

I watched a friend dying yesterday.
As I write this, I assume she's still alive because I haven’t gotten a call otherwise, but I assume she will "pass on to the other side" as I’ve heard it said, any day – any moment. I hope she goes soon. Her breathing was labored, she can't swallow and therefore can't eat, and she's clearly in pain or discomfort. She may understand what people say to her. When I told her hello, she groaned and briefly focused her eyes. But I didn't know what to say next. How are you? ... I hope you get better? Finally, after telling her briefly what I'd done recently, I told her "I know you'll feel better soon."
This lady has had a long and interesting life, so it's time for her to go. I have no doubt of that. But does her story have a happy ending? In this world, it doesn't. Her last years were frustrating. She used to be very active. She loved to hike. As she aged, she lost her balance and her ability to walk far. She lived in a neighborhood she didn't like, she became house-bound, and she grew bitter. Not a happy ending.

A few years ago, I became somewhat obsessed with the end of life. I realized that every life has an unhappy ending; either quick and painful, as in a car accident, or long and painful, as in cancer. Not a pretty picture. I didn’t tell anyone about my thoughts (what a downer!) but I dwelt on it a lot and I became depressed. After a while, I realized how pointless this was, and through prayer and re-thinking, I snapped out of it. It hasn't quite left me, this worry about how I’ll go, but I don't obsess on it any more.
Today, while praying, I realized something. My life won’t have an unhappy ending. In fact, it will have a happy ending; I'm sure of that. After all, I'm going to meet Jesus! Will I feel pain as I die? I don't know; I might. But there's nothing I can do about it, (except live a healthy lifestyle) so why dwell, on it?
Does my friend's life have a happy ending? I don't know. She went to church, but I don't – can't – know what her relationship with Jesus is. I'm in no place to judge anyone else, and I don't try.

Does your life have a happy ending? Only you know that... or maybe you don't. If you want to, you can re-write the ending, you know. You can do it at any time. Say hello to Jesus, or get reacquainted with him if you haven't talked to him recently. He is willing and eager to forgive those who come to him; at any time, young or old, even if they've lived a terrible life, (Luke 15:11-32), and even as they're dying. ...Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." Luke 23:42-43

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
Revelation 3:20

Peace, Love and Happy Endings

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Proof that God Exists

I’ve seen the argument all over the internet:

"I can prove that God exists."
"No you can’t."
"I can prove that God doesn’t exist."
"You can’t prove that God exists/doesn't exist."
"Yes I can."

Then comes the "proof." The proof is usually something scientific, like the big bang or cells dividing and turning into humans. There it is; PROOF!

But, no. It’s proof to one person, but not to the other... Neither person sees what is SO CLEAR to the other person, and the argument goes on.
Well, I have “proof” that God exists, but here’s the problem; it’s inside my head. I can’t take it out and show it to you. In fact, it’s not actual proof at all. It’s faith. I can tell you about my faith, I can demonstrate my faith, but I can’t give you my faith, and therefore it’s not proof.
To me, when I look at a tree and I believe it was made by God, that’s all the proof I need. When I see a baby born, when I see a person forgive someone who hurt them badly; that’s proof of God’s presence. When I spend time in prayer, and an idea comes to me, or I feel a sense of peace that I can’t explain...
...but that’s it right there! I can’t explain it! No matter how much I want to, I can’t transfer that feeling of peace to another person, (not by myself,) especially if that person is looking not for peace, but for PROOF.

In fact, as soon as I see "Show me proof..." I think, here's someone who doesn't want to hear what I'd have to say anyway. It's a set-up. They'll wait for me to say something, then attempt to shoot it down. Then they can feel smarter than me, I guess.

I'm not worried. My goal isn't to feel smart. This is faith, as defined by the Bible: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:2 (italics added.)

So... God doesn't want to give us proof! He wants us to have faith. Why? Because proof is the illusion that you're in control of your world. And He wants us to put our faith in Him.

That's scary. It's like getting on a roller coaster ride and putting your faith in the engineers. It's like getting in an airplane and putting your faith in the pilot. It's like doing what you know is right, even in a confusing world, with people all around trying to pull your faith right out from under you. It means YOU'RE NOT IN CONTROL!

Everyone has faith in something. Think of a chair. When you sit down, you have faith that something solid will be under you, even if you’re not looking as you lower your body. (Ever have a chair pulled out from under you as you’re sitting down? I have. Believe me, we all use faith as we sit down. It’s a strange sensation to suddenly lose faith in a chair!)

Are you waiting for proof before you believe? Read the verse from Hebrews again. In fact, read the whole chapter, Hebrews 11. Go ahead. There’s not one mention of PROOF. It’s all about FAITH.
When it comes down to it, faith is a choice. (or it wouldn’t be faith, now would it?) The Bible talks a lot about faith but not about proof. Why? Faith is what God wants of us. Go ahead, stop looking at the roller coaster and defining physics. Stop looking at the chair and wondering if it will hold you. Get on and have experience it.

Try this: Stir some sugar into a glass of water. You can’t see the sugar. It still looks like water. There’s no proof that it’s there; until you taste it. So if what you really (really) want is to experience God, stop asking for PROOF. Try Him for yourself.

Psalm 34:8 Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.

Peace, Love and Faith

Monday, February 15, 2010

What I've Learned From My Dog

I’ve learned a lot from my dog. I’ve learned about my own relationship with God. See, my dog is completely dependent on me in many ways. I feed her, walk her, clean up her poop, and scratch her behind the ears. Without me, she’d be a stray on the streets, and she’d probably get hit by a car in no time... probably while she’s chasing a cat across the street.
Sometimes she wants to please me; sometimes she wants to please herself. She does both at times. When we go for a walk, she stays by me sometimes, looks up at me sometimes, and sometimes she tries to go off after cats. Let me tell you, at those times, all that matters is the cat. In the moment, she doesn’t even know that I exist. You might say she’s, um, sinning.
She doesn’t even notice if there’s a car coming, she’s so focused on that cat. She could get squished flat before she knows it, so it's up to me to correct her and to teach her how to behave. In fact, it's my responsibility.

So, let’s just say I’m like God (big stretch, I know) and my dog is like a sinful person. What’s going on here?
Do I love her even when she’s sinning? Of course!
Do I get mad when she steals tissues from the bathroom trash can, tears them to shreds, and spreads them around the house? Of course! (Ewww.)
At those times, I just have to fold my arms and look at her and she runs under the bed.
Once, she stole a box of chocolates and ate it. I know this because there were bits of foil in... well... I found evidence that she’d eaten it. (Dumb dog. I’d explained to her that this could kill her, but did she listen? No!) Oh, I got maaad. I folded my arms and glared at her, and she ran under the bed.
Now, wait. I’ve read that if even a minute has passed, a dog doesn’t know it’s done something wrong; it’s simply reacting to its owner’s emotion. I can’t tell. She knows she did something wrong, or she knows I’m angry. I’m not sure if she puts the two together. But I do it anyway.
Am I a spiteful, hateful master? No! In a few minutes all will be forgiven and I’ll be scratching her behind the ears... then she’ll go out back and dig a hole in the garden, and I’ll get mad again, she'll be sorry - I think - and I’ll have to forgive her again.

My analogy doesn't quite fit, of course. The biggest difference is that I’m not like God... but to my dog, I might as well be. I provide her with all that she needs; food, a home, love, and a few squeaky toys.
God provides me with all that I need, and then some. He’s even provided me with a manual, the Holy Spirit, and the ability to reason, which my dog doesn’t seem to have. And yet, often I go chasing after... well, not cats, but my own selfish desires.
Does He still love me? Of course!
Does He still want me to stop sinning and look lovingly at him? Of course!
Will I be obedient and ALWAYS look lovingly at my God? I have to say it... no. At times, I want my own way; I forget to pray; I do stupid, selfish things. I sin. (for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God... Romans 3:23) The good news? He forgives me. (...and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:24)
I don’t believe God punishes us directly for our sins, but lots of times my sins have bad consequences. And when I know I’ve sinned, I figuratively run under the bed.
Then out I crawl, I pray, and we start over again, my God and I; my loving master.
Peace, Love, and Squeaky-toys

Monday, February 8, 2010

What’s so Bad About Sin?

Which do you want to hear first; the bad news, or the good news?
Okay, first the bad news: you’re a sinner. So am I. Wait! Don't go away yet; hear me out!
Nowadays, I think the concept of “sin” trips us up. I’m not about damning or hellfire – not at all – but I am all about grace, and grace is no good without admitting that I sin.

Sin is not a popular concept. Many belief systems exclude sin, or at least dance around it. There’s Carl Rogers and secular humanism. (In a nutshell; the idea that nothing you do is wrong, unless it hurts you or someone else.) Actually, I’m in favor of humanism... and I love Carl Rogers and what he started, because it emphasizes unconditional love. I strongly agree with this concept. But the idea of sin has been pushed aside. Eastern religions don't talk about sin. instead, they have the idea of karma... what you do, good or bad, has consequences. Even in atheism, there's the idea of good and bad ethics. So, most everyone admits that we do wrong sometimes.
If you do something that hurts you or someone else, what could you call it? Hmmm... how about sin? There. That wasn’t so hard was it? I just gave a name to the things we do that are hurtful.

"But wait," you say, "are you saying I’m a sinner? What are you implying, pal? Don't tell me I'm going to hell!"
No, I’m not one of those to name your sins. That’s between you and God. I’m not going to stand on a street corner with a sign that says “God hates you.” (He doesn’t.)

So call it hurtful actions, mistakes, unethical conduct, bad karma, bad ideas... no matter what you call it, we do things that are... wrong. I call it sin.

Okay, I told you there would be good news. Here it is:
If you admit you’re a sinner, you can accept forgiveness, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9 ...and... grace.

What’s grace?
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—." Ephesians 2:8
"Grace" in Greek, charis (χαρις), means "that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness"... and good will, loving-kindness, favor of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.

I don’t know much about eastern religions, but I think that grace, or the nearest thing to it, must be earned. I won't speak for anyone else, but I’m not good enough to earn my way into heaven or nirvana.

(If you want to know what God thinks of sinners, read the story of the "Prodigal son." Luke 15:11-32)

Isn’t that great? All you have to do is admit you've sinned, and stop doing hurtful things. With grace, it’s as if you’ve done nothing wrong. That’s far better than pretending you never make a mistake, isn’t it?

Peace, Love and Forgiveness

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Learn to Float

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. Ephesians 2:8-9

Why is it so hard to understand grace? I believe it’s because grace is a balancing point between effort and effortlessness.
On the one hand, we need to do what’s right; That’s the LAW.
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 1 Corinthians 15:56

But... He’s offered us a free gift – a free pass into heaven – even if we don’t obey the law.
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 1 John 2

Huh? Is He allowing us to sin, or not? Why is God so confusing???
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:17

Grace shouldn’t be so hard to understand. We use it with our kids all the time, and with our friends, and with our spouses. “Don’t do that,” we say. But the kids leave a mess all over the house anyway... or they pick their noses, or they refuse to do homework, or they stay out past curfew, or they...
Where was I? Oh, yeah. I’m a parent. I get mad, but I love my kids anyway. “Do it better next time, okay? You don’t want me to ground you; I don’t want to ground you.” But they disobey, again, and I ground them... again.
Why do I punish? Because I want them to learn. I want them to grow up to be good people. Because I love them.

So why should it be different with God? I don’t believe he punishes directly. (Read the book of Job.) But I do believe He gets angry with us, and He loves us. He can do both at once. It’s not such a stretch.
“Please forgive me,” you pray. “I’ll try harder next time. I really do mean it.” You don’t want to do it again, right? So, rely on grace. Go ahead.

In fact, if you’re a Christian, and you try to rely on the law to “save yourself,” you lose it.
You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. Galatians 5:4

There’s a line there somewhere. Cheap grace is wrong. (If you’re into a little heavy reading, try The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.) Abusing grace is like when an addict goes straight for a while to appease someone, but they don’t mean it... They’re only waiting for their next chance. That’s not real grace. And, come on... God knows if you mean to sin again or if you don’t.

Depending on God is like learning to float. You can’t do it if you thrash about. People drown that way. You can only float on the water if you relax.

God loves you. Depend on Him. Relax... That's it.. You’re experiencing grace.

Peace, love, & grace