Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Father's house

“No, you don’t understand. I have to get in there!”
The guard stood his ground and blocked the entryway.
“No, I don’t think you understand. Unless you have been invited you are not getting in.”
I extended my hand to the wall of the outer courts and leaned against it.
Exasperated, I rested my head against the cool clay wall and closed my eyes.
I ached with the desire to be in the presence of the one who, when everyone else deserted me, comforted me through the darkest moments of my life.
All of a sudden anger welled up in me. I pushed myself off the wall and stormed off away
from the light and noise of the gathering and stood in the darkness next to a palm tree.
I looked up at the stars and a breeze lazily lifted my hair of my forehead.
Looking at the stars in the silence of the night had always given me peace before, but
now I was seized with rage and my whole body was tensed.
Don’t my deeds count for something? All my life I’ve tried to be a good person.
I was faithful to my family, obedient to my parents, I followed all the laws that
were set before me.
In hopes of getting to be in the presence of the one I loved most I tried
everything to win favor with him.
And finally when I have the chance to be with him he does not let me in.
The sight of the night sky eventually calmed me and my anger turned into despair.
“So I guess this is it. I’m always going to be on the outside looking in.”
“Why is your heart cast down, child?”
I lowered my eyes from the sky to the silhouette of a man standing by me.
“I didn’t see you walk towards me. Why aren’t you inside?”
“I ask you the same question. Why are you not dining and singing joyful
songs in the home of my father?”
I squinted my eyes and tried to get a better a look at the man.
He turned and gestured towards the lit building in front of us.
“Is not that a better place to be then out here alone and in the darkness?”
I sighed and again I felt an ache in my heart.
“Believe me when I tell you that that is what I want more than anything.
But just a while ago I tried to enter in and I was stopped.
I explained to the man blocking my path that I knew the man inside
and that he would be pleased to see me.
The guard, however, said that I was not on the list of those he was allowed to let through.
I then told the man that I, more than one else, should be let through.
I was a good citizen and a righteous man.
“And as I was speaking to him this man in worn and ripped clothes came up.
The guard asked for his name and the let him through.”
“Good sir,” I addressed the mysterious man next to me. “Am I not clothed more finely than a king? My robes are of the finest cloth and crafted by the most excellent of cloth workers.
“How is it that this poorly looking man was let in and I was not? If you know the answer then please tell me because I am at a loss.”
“It is not the things that you do or the clothes that are on your back that will get you into my father’s house. All are worthless in my father’s eyes. He asked for obedience and faithfulness from those who serve him and all have fallen short of that. I tell you the truth, no one comes to my father except through me. For those who seek to be with my father, they must also seek me. For those who love my father, they must also love me.
Those who do not know me or do not love me my father will say he does not know them.”
The man turned and light illuminated his face. He resembled his father remarkably.
I bent down on one knee and bowed my head with respect.
“I am your father’s servant and now I am yours. Whatever you tell me to do, I shall do.”
The man put his hand on my shoulder.
“Arise and follow me.”
I stood up and the man led me towards the house I had failed to get into.
The guard saw us coming and moved out of the way with a bow.
A grin spread across my leader’s face as he entered the room.
“Father! I am home and I have brought a guest!”
The one who I had been trying to see my whole life stood up from the head of the table and
let out a bout of laughter.
“A guest of my son’s is a guest of mine! Come child,
I gladly welcome you into my home.”
He walked towards me and gave me a giant bear hug.




“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. 
No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
John 14:6

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Prerequisites


Before I can finish my story we need to discuss a few things that are pretty essential for you
to grasp so that you can understand where I am coming from.

God is real
That’s probably the biggest thing you need to grasp and accept because if you don’t believe in God then anything related to the subject of God is going to be make-believe to you.
Let’s narrow it down a bit. I’m not talking about Allah or Buddha or any minor gods.
All other gods than the LORD God talked in the bible are idols.
I’m talking about the God who is the creator of the universe and everything in it;
the self-existent one; the God who created me and you.
Right now you might be thinking, “How do you know that there’s a God?”
 I could probably go into a long explanation about why I believe there is a God,
but I’ve got some other things I want to say (although I may come back to this subject on another day).
I will say this, however – it is the utmost importance that you take the investigation of whether or not God exists seriously because if He does exist (and I believe he does) then that drastically changes how you ought to live. And to help you in that investigation I suggest to you a brilliant book written by a brilliant author. In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis makes a superb case for why God exists and how we should then respond to that fact.
Read it. Ponder it. And weigh with an open mind what C.S. Lewis has to say.

The Bible is truth
If you accept the fact that God is real then you need to know that He isn’t just some floating
deity in another realm who has nothing to do with us. He didn’t just create the earth, stick a bunch of people on it, and leave us there to do whatever. He is very much involved in our lives and He communicates with us. He has communicated with humans in several different ways throughout the existence of mankind, but now in modern times he communicates with us primarily through his written word, the Holy Bible.
  One reason why I believe the Bible is true is how the bible came to be and how it has survived over thousands of years.
The bible was written by 40 different authors over a span of 1, 500 years and was written in 3 different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). I think that the history of the bible is so amazing because, despite all of the diversity in how it was written, it is so unified! When you zoom way back and look at an overview of the bible you can see one coherent theme running through the whole thing. And when you zoom way up close, even down to individual verses, they fit in with the whole story of the bible. 
  Another reason why I believe the bible is true is because there are no contradictions. There may sometimes seem to be contradictions between passages in the bible, but with thorough study those contradictions are really just proven as misunderstandings. If you type in google search “contradictions in the bible” it’ll come up with a lot of websites that explain those tricky, seemingly inconsistent, passages of the bible. There are also books that were written that have a collected bunch of popular bible misunderstandings.
  Finally, why is it that the bible can be so accurate and without error? It’s certainly not because of what man has done! Humans are very imperfect so there’s no way they could make a perfect book. The bible was written by men, yes, but the words that they wrote were inspired by the perfect God.
What is written in the bible is the accurate history of God and man. It is reality. It is truth.

Jesus is who he says he is
   “Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’
‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’” (John 10:31-33; Emphasis mine.)
  To believe that Jesus is the Son of God is just as important as it is to believe that God exists because Jesus and God are one and the same. While Jesus was 100 % man, born of a woman, he was also 100% God. Again, I could go on to explain how that can be possible, but there are many books that do just that and better than I could. The first (and best) book I recommend reading is the bible. Another book that I highly recommend is The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. Lee Strobel is a journalist and The Case for Christ is the record of his investigation of Jesus’ divinity. It’s an interesting book and reads more like a story than a compilation of facts.
This article looks like it does a good job of explaining Jesus’ humanity and Godhood as well, if you don’t have the time to read a book.
  I’ll explain later on why it’s so crucial to accept the fact that Jesus is the Son of God.

Sin: Not just some button on a calculator


Previously I had talked about how imperfection separated me from being in a right relationship with the perfect God, but there’s more to it than that. Imperfection is
just a side effect of the bigger problem. The bigger problem, the root of all problems,
is my sinfulness.
The 1913 Webster Dictionary defines sin like this: “Transgression of the law of God; disobedience of the divine command; any violation of God's will, either in purpose or conduct.”
The word transgression means to pass over or violate. So basically, to sin is to violate or disobey God’s law. Just sinning once makes us sinful. Just one stain on a perfectly white couch makes it blemished. And we don’t just sin once. We are born with a sinful nature. And although we have free will to choose between sinning and not sinning, we are inclined to sinning. We have ingrained in us the desire to rebel against God. (You can read the story about how we got our sinful nature in the first few chapters of Genesis in the beginning of the bible). The bible says everyone has sinned (Romans 3:23). Yes, even Mother Theresa sinned. And those people who you think don’t have a single bad bone in their body? Yup, they’ve sinned too.
  There are so many laws of God that we’ve broken. One of them is that we shall not lie. Do you we follow that law? Hardly! And you could say, “oh well, lying isn’t that bad!” But you know what? James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”
So a liar is just as guilty as a murderer. Now that’s a big pill to swallow!
  Some of you reading this may already recognize and accept that you are guilty. And some of you may be feeling somewhat defensive about what I’m saying and think that you’re a pretty good person and don’t think you fall into the “bad guy” category. However,
in Romans 3:12 it says,“…There is no one who does good, not even one.”

Why sin is such a problem
Being called a bad guy isn’t the worst of it.
God hates sin because He is so holy. In Habakkuk 1:13 the prophet Habakkuk says to God, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness…”
Our sin also causes us to become enemies of God. Could you imagine being an enemy of God?
It’s actually a pretty scary thought to think. You don’t want to be on the bad list of the creator of the universe! And yet because of sin that’s where it puts us.
Unfortunately we’re not done with the all the bad news yet.
  In our country, there are consequences if you break a law. Depending on what law you break your punishment may be a few years in prison or the death penalty. But as I said earlier, breaking just one of God’s laws (regardless of which one it is) makes you just as guilty as if you broke all of the laws.
God is perfectly just so he gives us the punishment that fits the crime, and the punishment for sinning is death (Romans 6:23). And it’s not just physical death I’m talking about. I’m talking about spiritual death; a death that will separate us from God forever.
  It was the first time that the first people, Adam and Eve, sinned that sealed the fate for all mankind to come. All people born after Adam and Eve are born dead because we inherit Adam and Eve’s sinfulness. Our fate is sealed and there is no trial for us. God was very clear in the bible about what would happen if we sinned and He follows through with making it happen.

“And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden;  but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’”
(Genesis 2:16-17)

God gave just one command and man broke it. Because they ate from that particular tree they died. They didn’t die physically right away, but they did die spiritually. They were no longer good enough or perfect enough to live with God. When we were born we were not born physically dead. We still have air in our lungs and we still have a chance at life on this earth. But we were born spiritually dead. We don’t have a chance at life with God. We can try and try in this life to be perfect so we can be with him, but all that trying just makes us depressed and makes us want to give up because we know we can never reach perfection.
  And if you remember, that’s where I was at. I tried being perfect and it just didn’t happen. That’s when I realized that I can’t make myself perfect, I need someone else to do that for me.
If I was ever going to live again and be set free from my death sentence I needed a bail. And that bail needed to come from someone who wasn’t in the same state as I was because no matter how hard I tried, I could never do enough good to redeem myself.

  So here’s a gloomy list of the consequences of sinning:
  • Not a good person like we thought we were
  • Enemy of God
  • Sentenced to the death penalty
  • Eternal separation from God

While we’re still here in this life we still have a chance to be set free, but once we physically die our chances are up and we’re sent to hell.
And you may not give a crap about God, but hell is not a pretty place. With the absence of God is the absence of goodness. Could you imagine a place without any good in it? And there’s not just the absence of good, but an absence of light. It’s completely dark; completely void of goodness. We would be in that environment for eternity! It sounds torturous to me, and I’ve just scratched the surface of what hell would be like. So I’d think twice before completely disregarding God because if you think this life is bad, you don’t want to see what it’s like after you die.

 I hate to be a bearer of bad news, but with the bad news I also get to talk about the good news! And man, this good news is good! There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s so bright and beautiful! Better than any sunrise you’ve ever seen!
But I want you to first think about the state that we are in without outside help getting us out of this mess before I tell you the good news.
When we realize how bad it really is, only then can we realize and appreciate
how good it can be.




Some things to think about:

  • How important is it to you to know where you’re going to go after you die?
  • What are your thoughts about God? What are the things that you don’t like about God?  
  • Have you ever thought that the problem might be with how you perceive Him and not how He actually is?
  • If you don’t believe in God, What’s stopping you from believing in Him?



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Where I was

Although the scene in my last post is fiction, those thoughts and feelings and actions are very much real. There are people out there who feel completely alone and completely worthless.
It may even be you. Sure, you can say that you have a ton of people in your life who you know love you and care about you. People who invite you to events and activities, people you laugh with and cry with.
But it’s when you’re by yourself that it’s quiet enough for you to hear and feel what you are really thinking and feeling. What goes through your mind? What feelings do you feel? Do you feel content with your life and secure in who you are? Do you feel beautiful?
Three years ago my answers to those questions were no. And it’s not because there wasn’t anyone in my life that didn’t love me. I was surrounded by family and friends who cared very much about me.
I even had God in my life who I knew loved me and cared about me more than anyone. But I was keeping my family and friends and God at arm’s length. I believed that I wasn’t good enough for them.
I thought that my thoughts and dreams were stupid and that they didn’t need to be shared. I had a longing to be accepted by people, and that longing was so deep that it created a fear of rejection. I was very unstable in who I was and found my identity in others. How I felt about myself was largely dependent on if people accepted me or rejected me. But even if people did accept me, there were those words in my mind that spoke louder to me than anything else.
I didn’t appear to be completely broken, however, because I thought that I could make myself good enough for others. I would make myself smart enough, pretty enough, and strong enough for everyone. And while I was doing that I would put a fa├žade on to hide my flaws and weaknesses. Then, when I was good enough, I would be loved and accepted and my life would be amazing.
But guess what? That task of making myself good enough was an impossible one.
First, I can’t please everyone. I may be able to make a certain group of people happy, but there’s always going to be that other group who is completely opposite and who will be displeased with me.
Second, I’m not perfect. No one is perfect. And what I was requiring of myself was perfection.
It only hurt me more when I failed to be perfect. All it would accomplish to do was make me depressed and make me want to give up.
That’s how I was with people and throwing God in the mix made it so much worse.
I tried to please people, but what I wanted more than anything else was to please God. I loved Him so much because through the years of loneliness that I experienced before this point He was my rock through it all. He was the one I could go to when my heart was broken. He was the one who saw all of my tears and who I cried out to when I couldn’t take it anymore. He was my best friend and someone I wanted to be pleased with me. And I thought perfection would please Him too.
It’s not too difficult to fake perfection and to play the act of having it all together in front of people because all they see is me on the outside. But with God, he saw my heart. He saw my motives and desires and things that I didn’t do in front of people. He saw who I really was, and it wasn’t pretty.
So I continued in the cycle of trying to be perfect for God and people and failing to be so for a few years until the point that it caused me to fall into actions that were breaking me. Looking back at who I was, I know that continuing what I was doing would destroy my life eventually. It was at that point that God took ahold of me and called me to do something for Him in obedience. He wanted me to be real with people and myself for once. That process of breaking away from what I had always thought about myself and exposing myself to others was very hard and painful. It was so hard because I had to chip away at the shield of protection over my heart that I had built to protect it from rejection. Not only did I have to break through it from the outside in, but I had to break it from the inside out as well. I had built a shield over my heart to protect it from rejection from God too, so I had a double layer wall to get through. I had to get to the core of my problems that caused all of this pain in my life and to the source of who was feeding lies of worthlessness into my mind.
Eventually I came to the answer to my problems, and it wasn’t that I had to accept that I wasn’t perfect and that I could never be accepted by everyone. It wasn’t that I should just try to live the best life I can and try to be the best person I can and that is all I can do. That probably does seem like the solution to it all because how could God or anyone else ask for anything more? But because of my Christian upbringing I knew that there was more to it. I knew that that wasn’t enough. God is perfect and he demands perfection in his presence. It’s not because he is cruel. It’s because the sight of anything less than perfection is repulsive to him. His very character is perfection and holiness and for us to ever be able to be in a true relationship with him we have to have those qualities. When you see a pure white couch with a stain on it, where do your eyes go to? They go directly to the stain. All you see is that stain and you can’t pretend it’s not there. That’s how God sees us. We’re white couches that have been horribly stained. Stained by lies, by disobedience, by pride, and so many other little or big stains. Regardless of the size of the stains, they’re still there and they still cause the couch not to be perfectly white. And for us to really enjoy looking at that couch without our minds being completely consumed and displeased with the stains, those stains need to be removed.
So going back to my problem, what more could I offer than my best?
How could I possibly measure up to the perfection and holiness that I needed?
And the conclusion I came to was it can’t be me. I knew I wasn’t perfect. I knew there was no way I could please God by myself. So what could I do? Should I have just given up the idea of trying to please God and just please people? But I knew I couldn’t do that because I knew that my soul longed for more than what people could offer me. I had experienced God’s love and it filled me up more than any love from anyone else could. So what then?

I’m going to pause my story there. I don’t know where you are in your life. If you are where I was at, questioning your worth and wondering if anyone loves you, or if you feel loved and confident in who you are.
I give you a challenge though. I want you to take a good, long look at your life. Really look at it.
Ask yourselves these questions:
Are you content with your life and secure in who you are? Do you feel beautiful?
Do you feel loved? Do you feel wanted? Do you feel good enough?
And however you answered these questions then ask yourself – Why or why not?
 Why do you feel loved? Why don’t you feel good enough?
I’ll come back to my story and let you know how I answer these questions now.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Silenced by His love

I’m completely alone. No one loves me. No one notices me. No one cares.
Those words keep running through my mind constantly. There seems to be no end
to those words that pull me down. At times the weight seems unbearable.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. What a joke.
Words hurt me more than anything physical could ever do.
Physical hurt is just for a moment, but this emotional hurt and mental game goes on and on.
Those plaguing words weaken me now as I stand in a crowd.
Some are strangers; some are friends. It makes no difference because all they are to me are
people who don’t notice my hurt, people who ask “How are you doing?” but don’t care to
hear the answer. Or if they do, they accept my fake “good” and move on. I look around with emptiness in my heart and words screaming through my mind. Words directed to anyone who might take just a moment to look into my eyes and see a glimpse of them. Do you see me? Do you care about me? Do I matter?
But nobody notices the questions in my eyes. Nobody ever does. Some catch my gaze and hold it for a second, and it gives me hope that they may have noticed something; that they may have noticed me. But that second goes by and with it the gaze of that person moves to someplace else. I’m ready to give up the search and return to the words in my head. At least there’s something paying attention to me. With just one last sweep of my eyes across the room I let my hope die. It was a lost cause anyways. There’s always someone out there better than me to take hold of people’s attention.
Just then my eyes come to a startling stop on someone who is looking back at me. His stare so intense that it makes me feel like he was staring like that the whole time and that it was not just a nonchalant glance towards my direction. It’s as if he knew me, as if he had known me forever and so well that with just one look he could say to me what I had always wanted to hear. A doubt rose in my mind and I turned around to see if maybe he was staring at someone behind me, but when I did there was no one there. I turned back and saw that he was walking towards me through the crowd. Along the way many greeted him. It seemed like so many knew him. How come I had never noticed him before? All the while his gaze was on me. My hope began to flicker back. Did he really notice me? Does he care about me? Do I matter to him?

I watch you through the crowd. People pass by me and block my view sometimes, but every time I catch sight of you again your stance is the same. You stand there trying to make yourself as little and out of the way as possible with your shoulders hunched, your head down, and your hands in your pockets. Every once in a while you glance up to see if anyone has noticed you, but when they don’t I see you hunch even more and another crack forms in your heart. I want so much to reach over to your heart and bandage it and make it better than it ever was. But I know that the time has not yet come for me to do that. And so I wait. The scene before me is the one I’ve seen play out so many times before. I watch you day after day being beaten by those words that go through your head. Those words are such wretched, disgusting words. How did they get there? Who told you that you didn’t matter? Who told you that nobody cared? And even deeper than those word I see things that have taken root. They’ve been there for so long that you think that they’ve always been there – roots of worthlessness. Roots that are so thick and entangled that they smother and choke out any good that was planted there. Only your hope has been able to reach through those roots and grow. But I can see now that the hope planted in your heart is starting to turn brown and whither. So much work needs to be done in your heart and mind to restore what has been destroyed or what is near death.
Look at me, child, look at me! My heart breaks for you. If only you knew how much I cared! I would do anything to see you smile! I would even die, if only to give you a chance to live again! To see the garden of your heart flourish would be a joy to me.
There! You had just given up your search when you caught my eye. Yes, look at me! Don’t look away.
 I see a look of astonishment and then one of disbelief. I see the unanswered questions in your eyes that you’ve asked so many times to others. Now listen to my answers! You do matter! I do care!
You turn around to see if my attention is for someone else. How far away from my love you have gone! My voice has become unfamiliar to you, my face unrecognizable. When you were a child you so eagerly listened to my words. You heard my singing over you; you saw my gladness I had in you. When you were hurt and you cried I whispered words into your ear and your wails were silenced. I could freely hold you and freely love you. You were so full of joy! So much time has passed since then and the distance between us has widened until I was gone from your life completely.
But now, as I walk closer to you, I can see that your heart is ready for me again. You are ready to hear my songs and my whispers of love.
Your eyes fill with tears and your hope is coming to life again.
I reach out my hand to your cheek and your face willingly leans into it. Your tears spill over my fingers.
Listen! Your eyes lock with mine.
 “Year after year I have watched you suffer because of lies. Lies of worthlessness, lies that told you that you didn’t matter and that no one cared about you. You’ve suffered with lies that told you that your existence was unnecessary and unwanted.
“Now is the time to listen to the truth. I care about you. I delight in you. You are worth more to me than my very life! I love you.”
The tears had ceased to fall from your eyes and a smile I had waited so long to see crept over your face. I could see the roots of worthlessness wither away and in its stead spring up roots of love and peace and joy that were lying dormant, waiting to be awakened.
And those words, those distasteful words of lies that had constantly been played in your head like a broken record, were silenced.
My heart leaped with gladness and a song of rejoicing was ready on my lips.