Open up!

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on Clay

Below is the next installment about do-it-yourselfing I’m calling “The Lizard Lounge Series on Clay.” Here is a link to the first one, Old Jockey Shorts, if you’re just tuning in.

Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?

• • •

Sliding glass patios doors – who thought these marvels of engineering up? (“marvels of engineering” – I jest.) If you have sliding doors and love them, then just stop reading right now. It’s about to get ugly.

When I moved into the Lizard Lounge, sliding glass doors were the primary method of egress from the kitchen to the back porch and, subsequently, to the carport, where the groceries typically ended their journey from the store. Now reverse that process – trunk, groceries, back porch, kitchen via heavy, stubborn sliding glass doors – and therein lies the rub. Ever try to open a heavy, stubborn sliding door with hands full of grocery bags and a watermelon? Can’t be done – at least not without cussin’.

Poor sliding door – and poor anybody who tried to open and close it. And no amount of slicky stuff squirted or sprayed in the sliding track made that chore any easier, either – all that goop just tended to gather a lot of fuzz and dirt and get all gloppy and taunt me when I tried to vacuum it out. (I used to blame the dogs for all the lint and wads of fur in the house, but now that they’re both gone and there are no fewer of those golf ball-sized balls of fluff, I realize it was me all along, with my Sasquatch-ian propensity for hirsutism. I’ll have to apologize to Rosie and Hardy when I see them in Heaven… “Kids, it was daddy – he was the one shedding.”)

And now for the rest of the story…

“M” is for…

M is for

Where would we be without mothers? Biologically, of course, we wouldn’t—be, that is. But mothers have contributed a lot more to the world than just the fruits of their loins. No doubt we’ve all learned a lot from, and been blessed by, the various mothers in our lives. I know I have.

In addition to my real mother (more on that sweet thang later) I’ve had heaps of surrogate mothers in my life. (Turns out, I needed a lot of nurturing and guidance growing up.) They fed me and did my laundry while I was off at college; convinced me that opening car doors for their daughters was a sure-fire way to receive a to-go box of homemade baklava; patiently explained why we can’t wear the red stoles with our choir robes at Christmas—a liturgical calendar no-no, even though it seemed like a festive idea to me, a Baptist, who had no idea there was a liturgical calendar; and taught me to read music, use the correct fingering when playing the piano, and eat the English peas in a TV dinner without gagging.

It took a village.

And now for the rest of the story..

Why are you crying?

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“After three days I will rise again.” Matthew 27:63 NIV

It was Friday. The day before, she had spent Passover with family and friends in Jerusalem, feasting and celebrating like hundreds of thousands of other Jews in the city. Today, however, there was no celebrating. Today, she stood huddled with several other women watching a barbaric execution.

She was at Golgotha—“the skull,” an apt name for such a foul, place of death—helpless, trying to be strong, watching as He hung there dying. When He told His followers they would have to take up their cross, she never dreamed He would be the first to set the example.

For months she had taken care of His needs and those of His disciples, using her own money and resources to support Him and His ministry. He gave her her life back; gave her new life. Just like each of us who are His followers, she owed Him everything she had.

Most of His disciples ran and hid in fear; but not her. She forced herself to watch the Light of the World hanging there like a common criminal, determined to stay until that light was extinguished.

That Friday, Mary Magdalene was a witness to Jesus’ crucifixion.

And now for the rest of the story…

At a Loss

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Philippians 3:8 (NIV)

I remember standing on Main Street, U.S.A. in Magic Kingdom Park at the Walt Disney World Resort one night when I was about 15 years old. I had spent the day watching life-like robotic parrots and pirates sing, taken a simulated rocket trip to Mars, watched talented singer/dancers put on a spectacular show in front of the iconic Cinderella Castle singing every Disney song ever written, and watched Abraham Lincoln stand up and deliver a stirring speech. It was an unforgettable day.

As I stood there that night watching the glittering Main Street Electrical Parade and listening to its catchy musical soundtrack, I was struck with the realization that I had experienced something that day I couldn’t articulate at the time, something exemplified by the parade I was watching and listening to. While the bouncy and repetitive main melody played nonstop throughout the half-hour parade, never ending and never missing a beat, I noticed that, as every themed parade float wheeled into earshot, it overlaid its own unique tune, totally in sync with that main soundtrack, matching its rhythm precisely, beat-for-beat. As one float moved on another would turn the corner, broadcasting “Whistle While You Work” from the Seven Dwarfs float or “When You Wish Upon a Star” from the Pinocchio float. Float after float and tune after tune came and went, always in perfect synchronization with the main soundtrack.

It was one of those defining moments. After all, the Magic Kingdom wasn’t the rinky-dink county fair back home with its rickety Ferris wheel and merry-go-round; and the Main Street Electrical Parade wasn’t the tacky little homespun Christmas parade – this was something in a class by itself, a level of excellence and technology I had only imagined existed. I had never experienced anything quite like that in my 1970s small-town existence.

I left the park trying to get my arms around what I had seen and heard that day. I didn’t believe in actual magic, but if it existed, this was where it lived. Every time I set foot in the Magic Kingdom or see that parade, I’m transported back to that first visit 40+ years ago.

I thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

Later, when I was in college, I spent a couple of years writing, arranging, orchestrating, and choreographing some major pieces of choral music for my college show choir, the best in the Southeast – some of that music inspired by what I had seen at Disney. (I loved those years in college. I came into my own during that time and discovered musical and writing abilities I never knew I had. I also discovered I could dance, which was really astonishing for a Southern Baptist boy. I didn’t want to leave after I graduated. They had to take away my key to the music building and usher me off campus…just kidding.)

While a senior and then a graduate student there, I created four 15-20 minute musical extravaganzas, two with original theme songs I had written. My senior year we toured the Northeast, including a couple of nights in New York City. I’ll never forget performing one of those pieces, a quasi-patriotic medley about America, in Rockefeller Center Plaza. As we sang about “tall buildings that touch the sky” I glanced upward, surrounded by (at the time) the tallest buildings in the world, buildings that illustrated beautifully the song I had written.

Although I couldn’t say exactly why, I cried a little bit.

Again, I thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

Several years later, I played Benjamin Franklin in a production of the musical, “1776.” The play was about the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress, and portrayed such famous founding fathers as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and of course, Dr. Franklin.

I know that sounds yawn-inducing, but the members of the Continental Congress, as I said in my role as Benjamin Franklin, were “not demigods” as we often think of them today; they were just guys – and most of the time, rowdy guys who just liked to drink rum and fight. This lent itself to a rollicking and often hysterical reenactment of a pivotal moment in our country’s history. (Of course, it transcended all that testosterone and was elevated to the sublime when, one-by-one, they all signed the Declaration document during the final scene as the music swelled and the sound of the liberty bell rang out through the theatre. Gives me chills thinking about it.)

I had the best part in the show. (Don’t tell the guys who played Adams and Jefferson I said that.) As Ben Franklin, I had the whole bald head and fringe of hair (two hours in makeup) and limped about the stage with a walking stick as though I had gout. (Something the real Franklin suffered from.) I perfected the (temporary) loss of my rural southern accent and spoke in what I imagined was an 18th century manner. I also had all the funny lines and sang about making the turkey our national bird and danced with Thomas Jefferson’s wife in a hoop skirt. (She was wearing the hoop skirt, not me.) I became Benjamin Franklin for the run of the show and had a grand time doing it.

I’ve done a lot of theatrical productions, but that was by far my favorite. It was like I was made for that part. I could have been one of those people like Carol Channing, who spent the rest of her life starring in productions of “Hello, Dolly!”, a role she made famous. Give me a walking stick, a bald wig, and an orchestra in the pit and I could be playing Franklin to this day. I hated to see it end.

I definitely thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

There have been other times like that…

  • Singing the moving and emotional Verdi Requiem with a massive choir and symphony orchestra.
  • Standing above the clouds at 10,000 feet at sunrise and looking down into the alien landscape of the Haleakala volcano crater on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
  • Attending a lavish banquet for recipients of the highest honor awarded by my company and listening to guest speakers like the legendary Julie Andrews and Sidney Poitier.

…and each time I felt as though I had reached some sort of pinnacle moment; each time I just wanted to revel in that moment, to sear it onto my brain so I would never forget it; each time, I thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

And each time…

…I was wrong.

When Philippians 3:8 rose to the top of my memory verse stack recently and I began studying it – even after reading it many times before – the Lord suddenly put Paul’s words into perspective for me. Paul said:

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Before his encounter with Jesus, Paul considered himself to be the quintessential Jew – a “Hebrew of Hebrews” from one of the best tribes of Israel, faultless in his observance of Jewish law. But once Jesus took control of his life, all that changed; none of those things held the same importance anymore. After his conversion, he realized that, compared to knowing Jesus, all the things he had prized – his “blue-blood” Jewish pedigree, his obedience to the law, his reputation among the Jewish elite – were, in his estimation, no better than human waste.

Not that there is anything wrong with cherished memories and moments that shape who we are; after all, God is the author of every moment. But for me, singing and making jazz hands don’t compare with knowing Jesus. Having a leading role in a play? That either. (Even a really cool play where you get to wear a Ben Franklin wig and scold John Adams.) Of course, Disney is really awesome, but – again, no comparison. Compared to knowing Jesus, nothing else is even in the same universe – not even writing about Him in a blog.

Although Paul is not saying I have to give up the highlights of my life to know Jesus, writing this has made me wonder – could I? Is He that important to me? Would I give it all up – memories, music, family, friends, comfort – if that’s what it took to know Jesus fully and completely?

While I’ve never felt His plan was to leave me destitute, He wants me to be willing to give Him all that I have, to prize Him above everything else – and not just my spare time or whatever I have leftover in my checking account or just an hour or two in church each Sunday. He’s worthy of every part of me – even my life – and expects me to understand that. He expects all of His followers to understand that.

Though it’s not likely any of us will ever be required to physically die as a follower of Jesus, we should be willing to symbolically die to our own wants and needs, to give up our homes, our families and friends, our pleasurable pastimes, or our bank accounts, if that’s what it takes to know Him fully and love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

So back to my question: Would I be willing to give it all up to experience the “surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord”?

Based on my experience these past five years with being His follower, plus the relationship God has nurtured and developed with me, and the always-present Holy Spirit with His divine council and comfort, how could I answer any way but, “Yes – take it all. You’re all I want.”

Because when I surrendered my life to Him and finally knew Him – really knew Him – I thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

And for the first time ever… I was right.

Jesús en mi corazón

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. 1 John 3:16

It was a warm, but not uncomfortable, day in the tiny village of El Rodeo, Guatemala. Actually, El Rodeo is less a village and more a scattered collection of shops, churches, and dwellings, some rather makeshift, nestled in the shadow of the volcano Fuego, which means “fire.” That fact, added to the ever-present, smoky aroma of tortillas cooking on the griddle and the occasional staccato clucking of an errant chicken punctuating the still air, definitely gave it an “I’m not from around here” feel – at least to my city-boy sensibilities.

I was part of a team that had just finished dedicating the small but sturdy home we had built for Iola and her family a few days earlier as part of a mission trip. Just like most of the people we encountered while we were there, Iola was small with dark eyes and jet-black hair, with a lovely burnished-brown complexion. While I felt like King Kong when I entered the 12’ x 12’ wood and corrugated tin house, her entire family of five practically rattled around inside it, making it look cavernous and roomy.

I had hardly noticed her during the two days we were there to build. While her husband, Edgar, pitched in to help hammer nails to attach the tin siding, she stood at a distance, curiously watching our progress. Occasionally she would come retrieve an escaped toddler, giving us a much-appreciated break to pass out candy and coo at the baby.

As part of the dedication service, we hung a hand-crafted cross inside the new home and presented her and her family with some food, clothing, and a Spanish-language Bible. Afterward, our interpreter, Lisa, shared a brief Gospel message, reading from the book of San Juan (St. John). As with all of our new homeowners, Lisa asked if they knew, or would like to know, Jesus as their Savior. Neither Iola nor her husband responded in the affirmative.

As our team concluded the service and gathered our backpacks in preparation to continue on to the next house, I silently prayed that somehow we had at least planted a seed that day and that someone in the family would one day know the amazing gift of God’s grace.

Little did I know…

We formed a sort of receiving line on our way out, each hugging Iola and her family in turn on the porch of their new home. Everyone had hugged and gone on to the truck except for me and my two dear brothers in Christ: David, our team leader, and Johnny, an evangelist and head of the ministry organization that sponsored the trip. When it came my turn to hug Iola and say adios, she hugged me back – tightly. Hers was no mere cordial hug, though; she clung to me, breathlessly murmuring a stream of Spanish punctuated by her tears.

My Spanish is practically non-existent – greetings, pleasantries, counting to ten, “Please stand clear of the door” (something I learned from riding the monorail at Disney World), a few mission-trip phrases like “God bless you” and “Jesus loves you” – so I had no idea what she was telling me. I assumed she was just tearfully thanking me for what we had done for her family, for my kindness to her children, for showing her husband respect.

But I soon discovered that wasn’t what she was telling me at all. What she was telling me and what I didn’t know at the time due to my limited Spanish, was that she wasn’t a Christian – and that she really wanted to be.

Obviously I can’t speak with any certainty, but remembering the almost frantic tone in her voice, this is what I now imagine she was telling me:

“Please don’t go yet. I heard the lady who read from the Bible say that I could have Jesus in my heart. I want that, what you have – what you all have. But I don’t know how to get it. Will you help me? Can you help me get Jesus in my heart? Please don’t leave without helping me find Jesus.”

Sadly, in that moment I didn’t comprehend any of that. However, when I finally broke away and moved to go, clueless to her pleas for help, she didn’t give up. I know that feeling well, having felt that same sense of urgency prior to my own salvation experience a little over four years ago. When the Holy Spirit truly gets a toe-hold in your heart as he had Iola’s – and mine – there’s nothing to do but keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle, secure all loose items, and hang on.

Since David was next in line for a hug, she repeated her cry for help – and this time, the Holy Spirit (who is obviously fluent in Spanish, more than just “Please stand clear of the door”) broke through the language barrier.

When I heard David calling for Johnny, the evangelist, I knew I didn’t want to miss what was about to happen. I did an about face, ducking under the clothes she had hung out to dry, and hurried back to the receiving line, determined to be a witness to the new creation about to be reborn on that front porch.

You see, that’s why I went to Guatemala, why I begged friends and family to help me financially, why I worked in the hot sun in the morning and in the rain and ankle-deep mud in the afternoon. I didn’t go to build houses, although that’s what I did most of the week. For me, building a house for someone was just a way of getting a foot in the door (so to speak), an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus, an entrée into the lives of people who don’t know the full measure of the sacrifice Jesus made for them. I went to Guatemala to testify to the widespread power of God’s amazing grace, given freely to anyone who asks for it – including Iola – even if those she’s asking barely know how to count to ten in her language.

Thankfully, though, having taken groups on mission trips to Spanish-speaking countries for decades, Johnny spoke enough Spanish to communicate with Iola, although that whole scene brought to mind what Paul said in Romans 8:26:

The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

Johnny and Iola prayed with words that the other didn’t understand. But the God of all creation, the good and gracious God who is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,” the God who sent His only Son to die in our place – He understood. And in Iola’s confession of faith, we understood two Spanish words: Christo (Christ) and corazón (heart). Iola finally had Jesus in her heart.

John, the apostle Jesus loved, wrote:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. (1 John 3:16)

Jesus laid His life down for Iola and for me and for you. His life wasn’t taken from Him. Not in one single moment leading up to His death on the cross was he helpless to prevent what was being done to Him; at no time was He an unwitting victim. He gave His life freely and willingly. That’s what love is. That’s the power of the cross.

So did ­­­Iola see that love in us as we worked on her new home (itself a special kind of fellowship)? Did God use that act of service to her family to show what happens when Jesus becomes Lord of someone’s life? Did that love somehow shine through us, eventually washing over Iola by way of the Holy Spirit to the point that she was not going to let those enormous gringos go without helping her to know that love as well?

Two words: Christo corazón.

Iola has a new home built by hands who traveled a great distance to share Jesus with her; but as David said later, “We witnessed the gift of a temporal home lead to the free gift of an eternal home.”

Beautifully said, my brother…

So I’m boning up on my Spanish so that when I see Iola in heaven, I can say a lot more than “Please stand clear of the door.” I want to be able to tell her what her salvation experience meant to me; how it tied the most beautiful bow on the gift that so many friends and family members gave me by making it possible for me to travel to Guatemala and meet her.

Most of all, though, I want to tell her that seeing her receive Christo in her corazón was worth the miles and the fund raising and the hours of labor that week. I didn’t have to understand her words – the language of grace is universal.

Until then, Iola, just know that Jesús te ama – Jesus loves you: He proved it long ago…

Adop Me

adop me

From the CLAY “Story” Series

In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will… Ephesians 1:4,5

“Why not?”

“Because I said so.”

He stamped his small foot, the volume of his voice increasing. “That’s not a reason!”

“I’m your mother—that’s all the reason I need.”

“You’re not my mother! I hate you!” Tears… Running… A slamming door…

A sigh. One of those days, she thought.

He appeared in the doorway a few minutes later with his favorite stuffed animal, carrying a hand-lettered sign made from a piece of cardboard. She looked up from what she was doing. “Where you going?”

“I’m running away. And Sharky’s going with me.”

“What does your sign say?”

He turned it around without looking up. “‘Adop me.’”

She paused for moment, dashing off a quick, silent prayer for wisdom. “Be sure and zip your jacket up.”

Another slamming door…

Another sigh.

She opened the blinds on the front door just enough to keep an eye on him without being obvious. He sat down on the top step at the end of the walk—small, mad—his toy in his lap and his paper sign propped on his knees in hopes of flagging down a more lenient parent.

After giving him a few minutes to cool off, she slipped on her own jacket and made her way down the walk.

“Your sign is very neat. You have good handwriting. ‘Adopt’ has a ‘t’ at the end, though.”

He turned it around and frowned at it. “It isn’t ‘adop’?”

“Adopt—a-d-o-p-t. Here—I brought a marker so we could fix it.” She sat down beside him, took the piece of cardboard, and corrected his spelling. He watched her write. “If someone drives by, I would hate for them to not stop because you had a misspelled word on your sign.”

She handed it back to him. He sat staring down at it, his brow furrowed.

“How long do you plan to wait?”

“I don’t know. ‘Til somebody stops.”

“What if they’re just as mean as me?”

He shrugged.

“You wanna come back inside?”

He shook his head.

“I don’t want Sharky to catch a cold. Sharks can be really mean when they have the sniffles.”

“Sharks don’t get colds,” he mumbled, tracing the newly-added letter ‘t’ with his finger. After a minute he asked, “Why did you and daddy adopt me? I don’t even look like you.”

“It wasn’t about how you looked.”

“Then why?”

“Because we loved you. We knew before we ever saw you we would love you, that you would be our little boy.”

“I’m not little.”

“Our big boy. We asked God to send us the perfect son. He had a perfect son, so we figured He knew perfect when He saw it.”

“Am I perfect?”

“Not even a little,” she said, chuckling. He looked up at her for the first time. “As it turns out, we didn’t need a perfect son—we just needed you.”

“But what if you didn’t like me? What if I was handle…handed…”

“Handicapped?” He nodded. “It wouldn’t matter. I love you just the way you are and would love you just as much no matter what. There’s nothing you can do to change that—I’ll always love you.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why do you love me?”

“Because God loved me first. Because He adopted me into His family.”

“God adopted you?”

“Umm-hmm. That’s what the Apostle Paul calls it when we become Christians.”

“Why did God adopt you?”

“Well, it wasn’t because I looked like Him, because when He adopted me I wasn’t anything like Him.”

“Then why?”

“Because He promised He would. He said that if I trusted in Jesus He would make me part of His family.”

“Did you?”

“I did. I didn’t even have to do anything to earn it—there was nothing I could do. Jesus did the hard part.”

“What about Mimi and G-Daddy? Were they sad you were going to be adopted?”

“No, baby—they were really happy, because I was going to be part of their family and God’s family. It was the best gift ever.”

“Better than me?”

“God gave me you, too, which was a pretty awesome gift. But, yeah—even better than you.”

He was quiet for a moment. “Do you ever yell at God?”

“Sort of, but not in the same way you yelled at me today. When I don’t do what he wants me to do or do something He doesn’t want me to do, it’s kind of like yelling.”

“But you said you didn’t have to do anything for God to love you.”

“I don’t have to: I want to. He’s given me everything that’s good in my life—His Son, my son. So I want to show Him how much I love Him for that.”

“Does God ever yell at you?”

“No. Sometimes He asks me to do things I don’t want to do, though. When I ask Him why, sometimes His answer is just like mine today: ‘Because I said so.’ He knows what’s best for me even when I don’t understand why.”

“Mama, do you think God would adopt me?”

“Absolutely He would. Daddy’ll be home soon—do you want us both to talk with you about it?”

He nodded. His small hand found hers. “I’m sorry I said I hated you.”

“I know, sweetie. But that didn’t hurt me as much as when you said I wasn’t your mother. Because I am your mother—and you’re my son.”

“For how long?”

“For always.”

“I love you, Mama.”

She squeezed his hand. “I love you, too, baby. Are you ready to go inside now?”

“Yeah.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Is Sharky hungry?”

“He could use some tater tots.”

“How ‘bout peanut butter?”

“He likes jelly on his.”

“Grape?”

“His favorite.”

He gathered his toy shark and hand-made sign as they both stood up. She reached for the sign. “Do you still need this?”

He shook his head. She tore it in half and dropped it in the trash bin on the curb. They made their way up the sidewalk, small hand in large hand.

“Mama?”

“What, hon?”

“Are you sure there’s a ‘t’ in ‘adopt’?”

“I’m sure.”

“‘Cause it doesn’t sound like there’s a ‘t’ there…”

A smile…

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

• • •

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10 Ways to Live a Holy Life, Part 4

[God] has saved us and called us to a holy life. 2 Timothy 1:9

I hope you’ve had the chance to read at least some of the first three installments of this series on living a holy life. Maybe, though, these last two list items will be just the ones you need to read. God has a perfect track record for getting us where we need to be, when we need to be there.

In Part 3, I included a powerful quote about holiness from a sermon by the late Oswald Chambers, one of my favorite preachers of yore. During that same sermon he went on to say:

God…did not come to save us out of pity – He came to save us because He created us to be holy. Holiness is not simply what God gives me, but what God has given me that is being exhibited in my life.

So don’t get the idea that living a holy life is some sort of means of earning salvation – that ain’t happening. But once we come to faith in Jesus and accept the free gift of salvation God has so graciously offered, then the desire to meet His higher standards for us should come naturally due to being filled with His Holy Spirit. In other words, we can’t not want to be holy.

If you’re indifferent to that desire, then you may want to do some deep searching, kind of like a virus scan on your computer – and not the “Quick” scan but the “Full” one. Not that these 10 ways to live a holy life are definitive or on a par with inspired scripture, but you should find yourself doing or wanting to do some of them. If not – “Full” scan.

The first eight ways to live a holy life are:

Part 1

  1. Go to Church
  2. Read the Good Book (and other good books)
  3. Pray

Part 2

  1. Be Honest
  2. Be a Giver
  3. Be Peculiar

Part 3

  1. Watch What Goes Into Your Body Temple
  2. Watch What Comes Out of Your Body Temple

Just as we did for the first eight, for the final two we will use the only yardstick by which any of these ways to be holy should be measured: Jesus.

The Holiness Listicle (9-10)

9. Don’t Turn That Dial

I know a fine Christian individual – grew up in church, loves to dig deep into the Bible, supports all manner of ministry opportunities. Great sense of humor, loves to laugh – which leads to watching a few sitcoms on TV. In my best “speak the truth in love” voice, I pointed out that one of those sitcoms, while hysterically funny, presents a world view that’s the exact opposite of this person’s world view.

“You know,” I said, “all the characters on that show are sleeping with other characters they aren’t married to. One of them is an atheist and has spoken sacrilegiously about Jesus on several occasions.”

The response: “I know, but it’s just so funny and there isn’t much else on TV I like to watch.”

Apparently, turning off the TV and not watching that program wasn’t an option.

I don’t have a TV, so I can only go by the names of some of these, but with names like “Good Christian B-tches”, “Californication,” and “Dating Naked” I know all I need to know. Shows I used to watch, like “Glee,” “Modern Family,” and “Big Bang Theory,” may not have been as overtly offensive as the others, but they still present a world view that is anything but Christian.

I know there are some fine programs on TV – sports, news, arts, and DIY shows – but for every minute I sit aimlessly scrolling through the channels, I could be writing for this blog or reading my Bible or just getting alone with the Lord. And every dollar I spend on cable just to watch HGTV could be used to feed hungry children in my county, a much greater need than my being entertained by the Property Brothers.

As far as movies, although there are some fine Christian-themed ones that have come out lately (not Noah), thanks to the 21st century obsession with sharing every detail of one’s life through social media I know of Christian brothers and sisters who go to decidedly non-Christian-themed movies, some of which cause them to comment: “They used the ‘F’ word so much we almost got up and left.” (“Almost” – that only counts when playing horseshoes.)

We all have to (or should) listen to that still small voice inside us. And that voice has told me I’m not to go to movies with cursing or other things He doesn’t approve of and to totally do away with my TV. Why? Actually the owner of that still small voice doesn’t ever owe me an answer. “’Cause I’m God and I said so” would work just fine. However, venturing a guess, I suspect it would relate to what Paul told the folks at his church plant in Philippi:

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Philippians 4:8

And that doesn’t include sitting in front of the TV laughing at sacrilegious atheists who sleep with their neighbors across the hall.

Would Jesus watch “Big Bang Theory?” No, but He might enjoy watching a YouTube video of a cat wearing a shark suit while riding a Roomba and chasing a duck.

You don’t know.

10. Save it For Marriage

No one reading this needs a detailed dissertation on sex and sexual immorality in the 21st century. It’s up in your face just as much as it’s up in mine. Likewise, no one reading this can claim to be unaware if they happen to be dabbling (or drowning) in sexual immorality. If you are, you know it.

These Bible passages were all written to and about church members:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans…And you are proud! 1 Corinthians 5:1,2

Neither the sexually immoral…nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders…will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 6:9,10

Flee from sexual immorality. 1 Corinthians 6:18

(Those 1st Corinthians must have been a rowdy bunch.)

Sex is everywhere – it’s used to sell everything. Sexual innuendo is so prolific that we’re fast becoming immune to it and we’re so inundated with sexual imagery that it’s almost to the point of having to gouge our eyes out to avoid it. Jesus said that was actually a better choice than ending up in hell, but there are ways to be sexually undefiled and still keep your eyesight.

Regarding sexual immorality, the Bible is plain: JUST STOP IT. And while I can’t really quote many actual words from Jesus about sexual immorality, let’s use this as a benchmark: If you would be OK with Jesus sitting right outside knowing what you are doing right inside, then go for it. Otherwise…

JUST STOP IT

No sex outside of Biblical marriage – period. That should make the rest of these reasons unnecessary, but so many, including Christians, have begun to justify their proclivity to do some of these things with statements like: “We love each other; besides, we’re soul mates.” Jesus cares about your soul, not its mating practices.

And no living together before marriage. Pictures posted by one member of a romantic relationship of the other member still in bed asleep with the caption, “Look who was being a sleepyhead this morning” and photos showing “how nice the view was from our hotel room” scream trash. “Besides, we’re get married soon anyway.” I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t care how soon your wedding is.

Stop watching or reading porn. The statistics on porn usage among Christians are staggering. Men, it’s demeaning to women and is ruining marriages and destroying families. Would you want someone to watch your daughters or your sons doing what you’re watching someone else’s daughters and sons doing in those movies?

And women, that includes reading “50 Shades of Gray.” If a “Search inside this book” on Amazon.com turns up 17 hits for the word “orgasm” and 10 hits for descriptions of the 21-year-old female lead character being tied up – and not tied up as in “I’m busy” but as in sadistic bondage – then it’s porn.

Stop flirting with/messaging/sexting someone else if you’re married. Would you hand your phone password over to Jesus? Guess what – He already knows it.

Sex is beautiful, sex is amazing, sex is FUN, but only when it’s enjoyed by a husband and wife – you and your husband or your wife.

Otherwise… (Don’t make me say it again.)


 

I’m kinda glad this series is over – sometimes it felt a little harsh. I had much rather write about love and joy and blessing, but this is what the Lord laid on my heart.

I’m not sure what you believe about the end of this life as we know it, but I believe we’re getting close. It’s time to put up or shut up. It’s now or never.

Are you ready to see Jesus face-to-face? There may not be a second chance. I don’t want to meet the Lord jacked up on caffeine or in the middle of watching porn or doing anything that does not bring absolute glory and honor to Him. I want to hear, “Well done.” If you don’t really care – “Full” scan.

Don’t make these 10 list items into a check list or print yourself a holiness certificate once you’ve conquered them. They’re just for starters. However, they all boil down to one thing: make God first and most important in your life.

  1. Go to Church because God says to “not give up meeting together.” (Hebrews 10:25) The Church (capital “C”) is Jesus’ body, meant to travel through this life together.
  2. Read the Good Book because God says that we are to live “on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) Every word in it – whether penned by Isaiah or Malachi or Paul – is “God-breathed.”
  3. Pray because God says to do so “continually.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) Who do we generally want to talk to when something good or bad happens? The person who’s most important to us.
  4. Be Honest because God hates “a false witness who pours out lies.” (Proverbs 6:19) Hates it. Period.
  5. Be a Giver because Jesus said that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) Give because God has given you everything.
  6. Be Peculiar because God said that we should “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” (Romans 12:2) If you’ve been called to salvation God has set you apart.
  7. Watch What Goes Into Your Body because God said His “temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” (I Corinthians 3:17) Don’t let your god be your stomach.
  8. Watch What Comes out of Your Body because God says “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34) It literally defines who you are.
  9. Turn That Dial because God said to “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:2) What we fill our minds with affects who we become: garbage in; garbage out.
  10. Save it for Marriage because “God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Is that few minutes of pleasure really worth it?

If you only remember one thing from this series, remember this: God said, “Be holy because I am holy.”

And He never said anything he didn’t mean.

10 Ways to Live a Holy Life, Part 3

[God] has saved us and called us to a holy life. 2 Timothy 1:9

By now, I hope that Part 1 and Part 2 of this series have convinced you that setting our sights on living as holy a life as humanly possible is God’s will for us. Oswald Chambers, the early 20th century preacher, said it perfectly:

God has only one intended destiny for mankind – holiness. Holiness means absolute purity of your walk before God, the words coming from your mouth, and every thought in your mind – placing every detail of your life under the scrutiny of God Himself.

These words are just as relevant today as they were 100 years ago when he preached them. Putting everything we do, say, and think under God’s holiness microscope is the only way to live the life for which He created us.

Part 1 in the Holiness Listicle included three things to do – or start doing – to inaugurate your holiness journey:

  1. Go to Church
  2. Read the Good Book (and other good books)
  3. Pray

Part 2 included three “Be”-haviors from the lifestyles of the saved and holy:

  1. Be Honest
  2. Be a Giver
  3. Be Peculiar

Continuing on with Part 3, we’ll look at two things to watch out for, while continuing to use Jesus as our benchmark. In my own experience (as you’ll see), these two items may require a heaping helping of enablement by the Holy Spirit.

The Holiness Listicle (7-8)

7. Watch What Goes Into Your Body Temple

Although I think total abstention from liquor is a pretty good idea, this list item isn’t really about that. After all, Jesus drank wine. (However, I can’t imagine that he would sit out on the back deck with you and split a case of cold ones.) The Bible doesn’t condemn drinking – drinking too much, though…

Do not get drunk on wine… Ephesians 5:18

Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks. Isaiah 5:22

(That would definitely rule out Mai Tais and Margaritas.)

What this item is about is socially acceptable and the next-best-thing to drug use; notably, the use and abuse of caffeine and other chemical stimulants.

Maybe I’ve just never paid attention, but I’m seeing brothers in Christ coming into Sunday school with the largest cups of coffee McDonald’s sells – one in each hand – that are gone by the end of the 45-minute lesson. I see dear sisters in Christ posting cellphone pictures of enormous whipped cream and caramel drizzled concoctions from Dunkin’ Donuts that are almost too big to fit in their automobile console. When they’re not posting pictures of coffee, they’re posting humorous cartoons about not being able to face the day without coffee.

When caffeine and sugar addiction is a reality in someone’s life, it’s hard to laugh at it.

We (Christians) have joined the world in allowing ourselves to be super-sized, Big-Gulped, venti-ed, and Red-Bulled literally to death. After all, energy drinks are just a little jaw grinding and a couple of dilated pupils away from a bump of crystal meth, and sugary soda is the one thing that has been definitely linked to obesity. And companies catering to the ever-growing market for those things are more than happy to pump our bodies full.

In short, we’ve become a chosen people jonesing for caffeine and chemicals and sugar and saturated fat.

While I don’t expect that everyone reading this holiness series will see themselves falling short in all 10 of these items (maybe even none of them), I certainly did. I found my “aha” moment while writing this very one (and the next one).

I don’t talk much about the details of my pre-salvation life here on “clay,” because I’m not proud of it and want to make this blog about God’s grace and not my sin. For a few dark months during that prodigal period, though, I became fairly well acquainted with recreational “stimulants.” (That jaw grinding and pupil dilation I mentioned was something I lived with for a while.) Although I was not seeking God at the time, I know now that it was Him who gave me the strength to just walk away from it one day – no lasting effects, no need for a 12-step program. I quit and never looked back. Several party buddies from that era weren’t so fortunate.

But caffeine soon took its place. (I could easily chug a two-liter bottle of Diet Mt. Dew during the work day.) When God made me a new creation, though, I realized that I was using caffeine for the same reason I used those other chemicals – to alter my mood, to make me feel like something I wasn’t. He showed me that I didn’t need chemical stimulation – His grace was sufficient for me in every way. So I ditched the sodas and switched to decaf.

Over the past few months, though, I decided – all by myself – that I was ready to handle drinking regular coffee in the morning. Then I decided – again, all by myself – that I could repeat that in the afternoon. (We have an industrial-size Keurig and unlimited K-cups in our kitchen at work.) I also decided I could start drinking sodas again, as well – all by myself.

I’ve mentioned before that quite often I think what I write here on “clay” is as much for my benefit as it is for anyone else’s. This is one of those times. Right in the middle of writing this sermon on caffeine use I got the “practice what you preach” speech from the Lord. I realized that I had gradually justified falling back into those old habits.

The Lord reminded me that I wasn’t living for myself anymore – I belonged to Him. As Paul told the 1st Corinthians:

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

So a few days ago I switched back to decaf. Other than a couple of headaches, the Lord has done for me just what He told the Israelites He would do for them in Isaiah 41:10:

I will strengthen you and help you…

How about you? What would you do if you woke up to a broken coffee maker tomorrow morning? What if there was a sudden sugar shortage, or if Red Bull was banned by the FDA?

None of those things are nourishment; they’re not what God had in mind when he created food for us to eat. It was not named the McGarden of Eden.

How can we set ourselves apart from the world if we can’t face life without mood-altering chemicals? The potential short- and long-term effects of even moderate caffeine and sugar use range from anxiety to heart disease and cancer. Is it worth that? It appears God doesn’t think so:

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16,17

What are you filling your temple with? What does your waistline say? What does your coffee house spending say? Does it say, “What would happen if you took as good care of the inside of your temple as you do the outside?”

If it does, listen.

Can you picture Jesus stopping by the Jerusalem Starbucks for a double-shot Caramel Macchiato because he needed all that sugar and caffeine to help him stay awake while He prayed all night in Gethsemane?

Neither can I…

8. Watch What Comes Out of Your Body Temple

David wrote:

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14

Had he lived today, he would have most likely added “…and the things I type or share on Facebook…”

As Christians, it’s important that everything we say or otherwise express is honoring to God – which requires constant vigilance, as we’re inextricably entangled in an age of immediate and never-ending communication. We can share instant messages, tweets, status updates, and have phone conversations to and from anywhere on the planet any time of the day or night. Within seconds everyone from your close friends to the entire Twitterverse can watch that video you liked or know where you were 35 minutes ago or that you call your pets your “fur babies.” And with ever-increasing and alarming regularity, I’m seeing respected brothers and sisters in Christ carelessly saying, texting, and sharing things that are crude and off-color.

Sometimes it’s from a lack of information; other times, it’s because we’ve just gotten used to talking and tweeting like the world around us.

I grew up in an era when Wally and the Beaver were innocently “gee-whizzing” their way through every TV episode. However, a quick visit to dictionary.com confirms that:

  • “Gosh” and “golly” are actually just euphemisms for “God.”
  • “Darn” is a euphemism for “damn,” as is “dang.”
  • “Dadgum” and “doggone” and other variations are euphemisms for “God” and “damn” combined.
  • “Gee whiz” is a euphemism for “Je-sus.”

C’mon – really?! It’s “Leave it to Beaver” for crying out loud – which is a euphemism for “for Christ’s sake.”

The sad thing is that most people who say “oh my God” or “gosh darn it” are not trying to insult God. It’s just that His name doesn’t mean anything to them and has become nothing more than a trite way to express a negative emotion.

And then there are the various digital communication abbreviations, like “OMG” for “Oh My God.” You can say that you mean the “G” to stand for “gosh,” but even when trying to soft-pedal and substitute “safe” words for the real ones, the intent remains the same. No matter which combination of “G.D.” words you use, the meaning doesn’t really change.

Additionally, simply by “Like”-ing, commenting on, or sharing a video, status, photo, etc. that is off-color to any degree or has cursing in the content, the title, or even the name of the page you shared it from, is basically the same as saying, “I, John Q. Christian, approve of everything you see written, implied, or displayed here.” If we wouldn’t say it or show it to Jesus, we shouldn’t show it to all of our friends, some of whom may be looking at our lives as representative of our faith.

So what do we – I – do? I say “for crying out loud” all the time and am just now learning what it means myself.

I do what list item #3 in Part 1 says: I pray. More specifically, I pray that God will help me change my language – even the mild stuff. And since I pride myself on my vocabulary, surely with God’s help I can manage to express myself effectively without using His name for any other reason than to express thanks and praise and honor and glory.

Of course, the easy way out would be to say, “Who’s even going to care?” But if we stick to our benchmark test, then we have to face this fact:

“Gee whiz” will care…


 

Just be careful what goes into your “temple” and what comes out. Jesus said:

Men [and women] will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. Matthew 12:36

But if you always make sure your heart is full of Him, you’ll find it much easier to answer to Him on that day.

Look for Part 4 soon…

10 Ways to Live a Holy Life, Part 2

[God] has saved us and called us to a holy life. 2 Timothy 1:9

In 10 Ways to Live a Holy Life, Part 1 I introduced the idea of personal holiness in the life of the Christian. The Bible is plain that aiming for holiness should be the goal of every person who has been saved by God’s grace.

For some people, however, the concept of God’s grace is treated as more of a “license to kill,” the thought apparently being that, not only is there nothing we can do to earn God’s grace (true dat) there’s also nothing special we have to do afterward, sort of like having a reserved seat at a baseball game – even if you don’t wander in until the bottom of the ninth, you’ve still got a seat waiting for you.

But looking at 2 Timothy 1:9 (above), there are definitely two parts to the “Livin’ La Vida Christian” equation:

SALVATION + HOLY LIFE = GOD’S WILL FOR US

Living under grace includes a reserved seat all right, but you need to be there for the whole game – and not to just drink beer. To quote myself from Part 1, being holy means that:

…now that I know Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I’m supposed to be different from the average non-Christian guy on the street – different in the things I do, the things I say, and the things I think about.

True dat, as well.

The first three items in Part 1 of the “Holiness Listicle” dealt with things to do to aid you in your quest for holiness:

  1. Go to Church
  2. Read the Good Book (and other good books)
  3. Pray

Part 2 deals with three BE-haviors. And, just like with the first three items, we’re using Jesus as the benchmark. If He would be it, then we should be it.

Continuing on…

The Holiness Listicle (4-6)

4. Be Honest

I’m not talking about grand theft auto or “if you like your health plan you can keep your health plan” types of dishonesty. I’m referring to the everyday things we do without thinking, like making up excuses when we return something to the store we just didn’t like or not correcting the grocery checkout clerk when he charges you for cucumbers instead of zucchini, their more expensive twin. Solomon in his wisdom wrote:

The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful. Proverbs 12:22

Can’t get no plainer than that. So…

  • Don’t “forget” to claim some bit of income on your tax return or inflate your charitable giving (especially not your giving to the church).
  • If the cashier gives you too much change back, return it – even if you have to get in the car and drive back up there. Even if it’s just 50 cents.
  • Drive the speed limit; come to a complete stop at a stop sign; yadda yadda. Those are the laws of our land. Romans 13:1 says we are to obey those laws: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities.” Of course, if a law contradicts God’s law, then we are to obey God first. Interestingly though, God is strangely silent on driving down the interstate like you’re demon possessed…
  • If you agree to do something, do it. If later you can’t or just don’t want to do it, don’t make up an excuse – simply initiate an honest apology: “I know I told you I would do this, but I just don’t want to do it. I’m so sorry; I don’t have a good excuse. I hope you can forgive me, but if not, I understand. Please don’t key my car…”
  • Sick days aren’t meant to be taken just because you’re sick of working; and there is no such thing as a “mental health day,” at least not in any company policy manual I’ve ever seen. If you just can’t bring yourself to come in, ask for last minute vacation day or a day without pay. Better yet, ask God for strength, put on your big boy underwear, and go to work.

“Little white lies” are not little; “fibbing” is not cute; and “fudging the truth” is in no way related to that creamy, delicious, chocolaty confection. Be honest. And that includes not trying to make yourself look more exciting or more interesting than you are on social media. If you’re quiet and kind of uninteresting, just know that no one ever went to hell for being boring.

Simply let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No”. Matthew 5:37

So be totally honest, even if no one will ever know. Actually, you know who will know?

Yep – Him.

5. Be a Giver

When we become followers of Jesus, part of the process of becoming a new creation is the development of traits or abilities we can use to serve the Lord and further His kingdom (or the re-direction of abilities we already have). In Romans 12:6 Paul says:

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.

There’s no other way to read this – we should all have a gift (some of us more than one).

Paul lists those gifts in the next two verses:

  • Serving (Singing in the choir, passing out church bulletins, working in the nursery, going on mission trips)
  • Teaching (Sunday school, vacation Bible school, classes in managing ones finances in a Biblical manner)
  • Encouraging (Emails to your pastor, “Six months sober – that’s awesome, bro!”, “You go, girl – that song touched my heart!”)
  • Contributing to the needs of others (Giving money or – even better – food or clothing to the “least of these”)
  • Leadership (Pastoring, leading a church committee, holding a Bible study)
  • Showing mercy (Visiting those who are sick or just being a good listener)

No doubt there are others. As the saying goes, “It takes all kinds.” Be sure whatever kind you are, you’re using what God has given you to serve Him in the manner and amount He specifies.

Was Jesus a good steward of the gifts He possessed?

Well, duh…

6. Be Peculiar

Nobody likes to feel different from everyone else around them (except maybe Miley Cyrus). That’s one reason personal holiness can be a tough journey. But as Christians, that’s our calling. Paul said:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world… (Romans 12:2, NLT)

A few weeks back I read an article written by Christian writer Roberto Rivera who had some really spot-on things to say about separating ourselves from the world:

People [referring to Christians] who couldn’t begin to tell you about the biblical Noah can talk your ears off about ephemeral pop culture matters. In our desperate desire to seem “relevant,” Christians are clamoring to join this vacuous conversation.

I love to talk about the Lord and the (hopefully soon) return of Jesus. I love to talk about what I’ve read in the Bible and a bit of commentary I thought was really compelling. I love to talk about why we shouldn’t be surprised at what’s going on in the world, because the Bible pretty much lays it out in detail for us. But in my circle of close friends, I can only count on two of them to not glaze over or get that “I’ve just been Jesus juked” look on their face while mumbling the obligatory “God is good, all right” when I try to start that conversation.

How can we as Christians not spend more time talking about the Lord than we do about the new season of “Downton Abbey”? David says this about God:

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:11)

He’s done – and will do – that for me, too – and I can’t stop talking about it. It saddens me and sometimes makes me feel like I’m the only person in the world (besides those two friends) who can’t get enough of talking about the Lord.

Would Jesus be the third? You betcha.


So “be” all that God has called you to “be.” If He’s truly made you a new creation, He’s placed these things in your heart – you can’t not do them.

From here on out the list gets a little hairier – Part 3 will detail a couple of things we need to watch out for in our holiness journey. Buckle up…

Free

Maybe you’re someone who reads “clay” regularly, or maybe one of those regular readers forwarded a link to this particular page to you for some reason. Whatever the reason, I’m just glad you’re reading. And not because my blog stats will register another tick mark on the “Today’s Views” graph but because I believe everything happens for a reason.

You see, I’m a Christian; a follower of Jesus Christ. And as a Christian, it’s pretty much a given that I believe in God. And in the time since I’ve been a Christian (which isn’t that long, actually), I’ve experienced first-hand that God is no light-weight when it comes to being able to do anything – even being able to direct someone to a blog post on how to become a Christian (the point of this post, just so you know).

So, yea – I believe you’re here for a reason.

My goal here is to tell you what being a Christian is all about without using a lot of unfamiliar words and phrases that Christians typically like to bandy about when we get together. I confess that some of the other stuff on this blog is full of “Christian-ese,” but this piece is meant to be much more plain and simple.

But in order to keep it simple and to the point, I need to ask you to agree to accept some basics up front. Actual proofs for these things have been the topics of entire books – multi-volume books – written by scholars and theologians with way more credentials than some guy with a blog; but this will go much quicker with less head scratching if we agree to agree that, for example…

There is a God

After all, you can become a Christian without knowing who Moses was or the names of all the apostles (I still get stuck on a few of them myself) but we need to agree that God is real – and that He’s nothing like you and me. (If you knew me, you would breathe a sigh of relief at that.)

No doubt you believe that all people deserve the same rights and opportunities, that we’re all created equal. And that’s true. But God isn’t the same kind of person we are. He’s not equal to us: He’s infinitely more than any of us could ever be. He’s holy, meaning He is pure good; there is nothing bad in Him. He’s perfect. He never makes mistakes. (Even creating mosquitoes.)

If one of us said, “I’m worthy of your praise – worship me” that would be the height of arrogance, because none of us is worthy of anyone else’s worship. God is, though, so He can say that. That doesn’t make Him arrogant – just truthful. He knows who He is and is honest about it.

Think of it this way: Suppose you were in a room with nothing but newborn babies; just you and a room full of day-old infants. You could say without any sort of conceit that your math skills are infinitely superior to anyone else’s in that room (even if you need a calculator to add 2+2). Each of those babies has great worth as a person; it’s just that, in the area of mathematics, they can’t hold a candle to you – not by a long shot. If you said, “I rock at math compared to everyone else in this room,” no one would think you are just being full of yourself.

That’s God. Think of us as the newborns and Him as the one who created math. He loves us and ascribes great value to each of us, but He’s never going to say, “I’m OK – but I’m no better than you guys.” He can’t, because that wouldn’t be true; He never lies or even fudges the truth a little. He knows who He is, because He knows everything.

Not only does He know everything, He can do anything. In fact…

God created us

…so it’s His prerogative to choose how things will be. (But because He’s perfect, those choices are perfect, too.) He gave Adam and Eve, the original people He created, a beautiful place to live and everything they needed. But He gave them the freedom to make choices, too – and they chose to defy Him, to deliberately disobey the one thing He told them not to do. No doubt you know the story. Eating that fruit when He told them not to may seem like a small thing, but to a perfect, holy being like God, it went against everything He was.

If, as a child, you ate a cookie one of your parents specifically told you not to eat, there might be some sort of punishment, but – because your parents are just people like you – that offense wouldn’t be worthy of death. A smack on the bottom or a time out – definitely. But not the death penalty.

But because it was God that Adam and Eve defied – perfect, holy, way-superior-to-mankind God – that offense took on a whole new meaning. It became a sin, an act of breaking God’s law. And because He is perfect and superior to us in a way we can’t even imagine, He couldn’t just overlook it and give Adam and Eve a time out. Breaking God’s law is an act that’s worthy of the worst punishment – death.

As a result…

We (the human race) brought sin and death into the world

When Adam and Eve defied God, something in them changed. And that change affected them and all of their descendants – which includes all of us. No longer were they perfect and innocent; no longer were they free from the cares of the world. The sin they committed separated them from God; the same God they knew intimately; the perfect, holy God who walked with them in that paradise He created for them.

It separated us from Him, too. Because we’re descendants of Adam and Eve, that separation is part of who we are as human beings. Although there isn’t a physical “sin” gene, our alienation from God is definitely a reality as far as our spiritual genetic makeup goes. You may be a good person and give to charity and drive the speed limit and treat all people and animals with kindness, but none of those things will cancel out the built-in sinfulness that keeps us from God and the good things He has for us.

But God loves us and is patient with our humanity; and because of His patience and because He loved Adam and Eve, He let their death sentence be carried out over the course of the rest of their lives, growing older until they finally died. They had to give up that beautiful place and struggle the rest of their lives for food and shelter and all the things God had previously provided for them. The same goes for us.

To sum up…

A real, perfect, holy God created the human race to have an intimate relationship with Him. (Be sure you understand that: God is not sitting way up there somewhere uninterested in us or our lives. His intention for us has always been to have a relationship with Him – to once again walk with us in a beautiful place He created just for us.) But because of Adam and Eve’s defiance and disobedience to Him, they and we and everything else God created are cursed with an innate sin nature; destined to be prisoners to our sinfulness; doomed to live and die without ever fully knowing Him.

One more thing: death does not mean we just fade into oblivion – it means we have to face the never-ending punishment we deserve because of our human nature. Maybe that doesn’t sound fair, but remember – God is holy and perfect. He can’t look the other way or wink at our sinfulness. He can accept nothing less than perfection.

Which makes the situation seem hopeless, because we can’t be perfect. I can’t, you can’t – no one can. We don’t have it in us.

But if we’re to keep from having to pay that debt we owe God ourselves (which we can’t, except with our lives) and suffering that never-ending punishment, someone has to die in our place who can pay for everything we’ve done…someone perfect.

The good news is someone has…someone perfect.

Which brings me to our final basic fact to accept…

Jesus is the answer

Everybody knows about the baby Jesus: we see Him lying in a feed trough in the manger scene in front of the church at Christmas surrounded by plastic wise men or played by someone’s baby brother (or sister) at the church Christmas play. But the Jesus depicted there grew up; and when He did, He was perfect and sinless – which means there was much more to Him than just being human. This is hard to explain but Jesus was God in human form; God who came to earth as the man Jesus. Again, multiple volumes have been written explaining that, but the best way I can say it is that Jesus was totally God and totally human.

So since God was perfect, Jesus was, too. He wasn’t just a good man – although, because He was God, He was good. He wasn’t just a great prophet or teacher – although He was great. He wasn’t just another religious figure like Krishna or Buddha or Mohammed or Joseph Smith or anyone else who ever lived. He wasn’t just anything.

What He was was God – God in the form of a flesh and blood man. And because He was totally human, He was an acceptable substitute to die in our place, freeing us from the debt we owe God, the debt we could never pay on our own. Because He was totally God, He was perfect and could satisfy the high cost God required for payment because of our sinful nature.

The death He died on our behalf was in the form of an excruciatingly horrible execution; He could have prevented it but He didn’t. It was what He came to earth to do, what God sent Him here to do. He knew what He was doing and He did it gladly: He was dying to free a world full of sinners from never-ending punishment.

Personally, I can’t imagine that. If someone told me I had to choose between dying myself or letting someone in my family die, I would gladly do it. But if they told me I had to choose between dying myself or letting some guy who had murdered a bunch of children die, I’m not sure I could. He committed those horrible acts; let him die for them.

I’m glad that’s not how Jesus felt. In spite of all the bad there is in the human race (and you know there are some bad people out there), He loved us; God loved us – loves us. He gladly died for all the murderers, pedophiles, and terrorists. He gladly died for all the drug dealers, televangelists who cheat the elderly out of their life savings, and lying politicians. He gladly died for all the people who give to charity and drive the speed limit and treat all people and animals with kindness. Somewhere in that range, you and I fall – and He gladly died for us, too.

When Jesus died, He made it possible for us to be saved from eternal punishment. But He also made it possible for us to start rekindling that intimate relationship with God that was lost long ago. When I became a Christian, I was just focused on not dying and going to hell. I never imagined that, even more wonderful, I would also have the chance to talk to God and feel His presence in my life. That part is amazing… Plus, I will get to do it forever.

So how do I know this…?

The Bible Tells Me So

You need to know that these aren’t just my ideas – I got all this from the Bible. And even though the Bible is written by a bunch of dead Jewish guys, these aren’t their ideas, either. They got everything they wrote from God Himself. If you’re going to believe He exists and that He can do anything, then it shouldn’t be too hard to believe that He inspired real people to write down what He wanted the world to know about Him and what He’s done to save us from ourselves.

I haven’t quoted anything from the Bible up to this point, but it’s time to let God speak for Himself. Here are some of the things He said and inspired others to say, all written in a pretty easy to understand way using contemporary language (No “thees” and “thous” and “hasts” and “haths”):

Are human beings really the reason there is sin and death in the world?

Death came into the world because of what one man (Adam) did. (1 Corinthians 15:21, The Living Bible)

I’m not that bad a person (at least not as bad as some) – isn’t being as good as I can be enough?

We’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners…and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us. (Romans 3:23, The Message)

But I don’t deserve to die for that.

Everyone dies because all of us are related to Adam, being members of his sinful race. (1 Corinthians 15: 22, The Living Bible)

So what’s the answer?

God showed his great love for us by sending Christ [Jesus] to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8, The Living Bible)

Is Jesus really the answer to our dilemma? Is there another way?

[Jesus said] “I am the Way… No one can get to the Father [God] except by means of me.” (John 14:6, The Living Bible)

Salvation comes no other way; no other name has been or will be given to us by which we can be saved, only this one [the name of Jesus]. (Acts 4:12, The Message)

Why would God do this for us?

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. [God referred to Jesus as His son.] And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted… (John 3:16-18, The Message)

Powerful words…words of hope…

So… Do you feel something tugging at you right now? Something like a hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach? An emptiness, a feeling that there is so much more to life than what you thought you knew? Not sure you want to believe it but afraid not to?

Don’t ignore that feeling – that’s God speaking to you. That’s what it felt like to me in the days before I finally stopped trying to hide from God’s truth and surrendered my life to Him.

If this is all new to you, or you’ve heard it before and just never taken it seriously, take it seriously – right now.

Now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped. Don’t put it off… (2 Corinthians 6:2, The Message)

If everything I’ve written here is true – and I’m convinced without any doubt it is (plus, if you’re thinking – even a little – that it might be true, then you’re convinced, too) – then where does that put you?

What if you were to die before the end of the day? What would you face next – eternal punishment or eternal life and happiness?

There’s an answer to all those questions. Just like John said above, God sent Jesus “to put the world right again” – one person at a time.

Becoming a Christian, a follower of Jesus, means you understand that nothing you could ever do will be good enough to meet God’s high standards. You could build a church and give all your money to charity and memorize the Bible, but that wouldn’t make any difference. The only thing that will make a difference is accepting and trusting that Jesus is the only way to God and, ultimately, to an amazing life in Heaven, just like He said.

And the best thing of all? It’s yours for the asking, a free gift from Jesus to you. Do you want that? Do you want to respond to that tugging you feel? Do you want to surrender control of your life to a good and perfect God? Do you want what He wants for you and not what you want?

The choice is yours. Choosing Jesus will make you truly free, free from sin. Choosing otherwise will leave you right where you are: a prisoner of sin. Choosing otherwise long enough will leave you with no hope but to face death and punishment.

If you want the freedom Jesus offers, then just ask God for it. That’s where prayer comes in. Prayer is how we talk to God. There are no magic words or phrases you have to say – just talk to God like you would a good friend.

If you’ve never really prayed before or need someone to get you started, here are some thoughts you can put in your own words:

  • I understand that I’m a sinner – I accept the fact that it’s a part of my human nature.
  • I know there is nothing I can do by myself to change that.
  • I’m sorry for the things I’ve done that were anything but Christ-like. Please forgive me for those.
  • I want to let go of any control I may think I have over my life and turn it over to you.
  • I want the free gift of salvation that Jesus made available to me when He gave His perfect, sinless life.
  • I trust in the fact that Jesus is the only way to you and to heaven.
  • I want to be a follower of Jesus Christ – a Christian.
  • I want to be free from a life of sin. Please help me.

God will hear you – I promise. So does He:

 Everyone who calls, “Help, God!” gets help. (Romans 10:13, The Message)

What’s Next?

If you’ve asked God to forgive you, surrendered your life to Him, and trusted His freely-given gift of salvation because of Jesus’ equally freely given life, then that’s what’s happened: He’s forgiven you, agreed to be in control of your life, and saved you from eternal punishment. Now life really begins!

When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17, The Living Bible)

Here are some things I found worked well for me:

Tell someone what just happened to you

…Preferably another Christian. (Another Christian – do you like the sound of that?) Someone who has experienced salvation will understand and be able to celebrate what’s happened to you. If you don’t know any Christians (or even if you do)…

Ask God to help you find a Bible-believing and -teaching church

Church is not just about sitting in a service and listening to someone preach (although now that you’re a Christian, you’ll listen to what the pastor says in a totally new way): it’s about being a part of a group of people who can encourage you and help you while you grow in this new-found faith. Don’t go it alone – listening to preaching on TV or the internet is fine if you can’t get to a church or just want to hear someone teach in addition to your own pastor, but it’s not a substitute for being with other Christians; it’s not what God had in mind.

Be baptized

Your new church will be able to take care of that. Think of it as making your “splash” as a Christian.

Get a Bible and read it

Find a translation that you can understand. Websites like Bible Gateway will let you read single Bible verses or entire chapters in dozens of translations in over 50 languages. Read a verse like Romans 5:1 (even better, read the whole chapter) in several translations and see which one God speaks to you through. I’ve included verses here from The Living Bible (TLB) and The Message (MSG), but I usually read the New International Version (NIV). My pastor preaches from the New American Standard Bible (NASB). I have an excellent Bible study guide based on the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). All of these versions are different, but all are good options.

Google “bible study guides” and follow some of the links to online programs for reading the Bible. Or just start with the book of John, who was a follower and close friend of Jesus. The story he tells is a beautiful presentation of Jesus’ life, the good news He brought us, and the gift He gave us through His death.

If you think reading about someone else’s real-life Christian experience would be helpful, then you’re in the right place. I’ve been a Christian since June 17, 2010, so this blog is pretty much a history of my time as a follower of Jesus. Click on the link at the top of this page that says “This is My Story” to learn about the days leading up to my own encounter with Jesus.

Pray – a lot

Paul, another follower of Jesus, wrote:

Always keep on praying. (1 Thessalonians 5:17, The Living Bible)

Ask God every day to guide you in your new life. Again, there are no magic words; just talk to Him. He doesn’t care if you use good grammar or if you admit that you have no idea what you’re doing. If you listen to Him as much as you talk to Him, you will begin to get a clear picture of the direction He wants you to go.

I can attest to the beauty of prayer, because I pray – a lot. In fact, I’m praying for you even as I write this; I don’t know you, but I’m praying for you. I want you to have what I have, to find what I found – and more.

Finally…

You’re free

If the Son [Jesus] sets you free, you are free through and through. (John 8:36, The Message)

Trust in God and His goodness

Open your eyes and see how good God is. (Psalm 34:8, The Message)

God is on your side – always

I won’t give up on you; I won’t leave you. (Joshua 1:5, The Message)

And He never will. May God bless you.