Excess Baggage

Some time ago the city of Waco was selling compost this past Saturday. Having recently become the owner of a truck, I was looking forward to getting a load for my yard.

They told me that my truck could probably not carry more than half a yard. Since I didn’t know otherwise, I figured I could take their word for it. They were right. It weighed my truck down enough that the mud flaps dragged the ground sometimes. It was almost more than the truck could take.

I took my time getting home from Waco, and as soon as I got here I did exactly what my truck needed; I unloaded it. There was no sense carrying that compost around for the rest of the day. The truck ran better and easier without the load. It was that easy.

Then I got to thinking about carrying loads. As people, we tend to carry hurts and failures around with us like a load of compost. These things weigh us down so much that we cannot go as well as we could otherwise. Yet, instead of unloading them, we often carry them for years.

Over the years, if you continue to add to the load, it gets to be too much. People suffer breakdowns. At best, many people give up any hope of knowing joy in their lives.

It is time to dump the load. Get rid of the burden that keeps you dragging
through life. Find a friend. Friends are glad to share the burden and lighten your load. True friends won’t pass it on, won’t spread your stuff, and won’t break your confidence. If you need some of these, I have a church full of them. We share the weight and lighten one another’s load.

Proving God’s Existence

“Prove God’s existence to me” is the request, even the demand, of many unbelievers. Many Christians have tried over the years to do exactly that. The great Thomas Aquinas offered five proofs for God’s existence. I don’t.

When challenged to prove God’s existence, I respond by asking what the challenger accepts as evidence. Miracle stories, of course, are out. “Stories” and “myths” from the Bible they will not accept as proof. As it usually turns out, the only acceptable evidence would be on the level of calling down fire from heaven. Not that hurts anyone, of course, but that puts on a really good show.

While I have no doubt that my God could easily send down fire from heaven that doesn’t damage a thing, I have never felt the call to ask God for this. Neither do I think God is interested in being treated like a dog that does tricks.

What I offer as proof is this: I am part of a body of people whose lives are based in finding hope and peace and forgiveness in God. These people live their lives in response to God’s love. Were it not for the love of God, we would be without hope, without peace, and without joy. We would know moments of happiness. We would know times of laughter and light-heartedness. We would not, however, know the deep-seated joy that comes from knowing and living in the love of God.

They would, and they have, then challenged me to “prove” to them how this group of people, the church, is better than other groups of people who worship other Gods. They want me to prove to them why my God is the right one.

The only proof I can offer is the proof some are unwilling to accept. “Come and join us,” I say, “and you will find all the proof you need.”

Heaven is not about you and me!

I was discussing heaven the other night with a friend. For over twenty years I have thought of heaven as a place of Mrs. Johnson’s doughnuts and flag football. Mrs. Johnson’s was a bakery in Austin that we frequented while I was at Southwestern. The doughnuts were incredible; so incredible I figured they must be available for eternity.

My friend mentioned that there must be cats in heaven. I tried to be polite, but I had to admit that my vision of heaven had no place for cats. Well, on second thought, heaven will be a big place; so maybe cats can live on the other side.

That’s when the theological light went on in my head. For years I’ve thought of heaven as made up of things I love and that bring me peace, comfort, and happiness. But what happens when things that bring me peace, comfort, and happiness don’t get along with what brings others these same feelings? How could heaven me full of mutually exclusive things?

All of a sudden I realized how selfish it is to think that heaven is made up entirely of things I love. The motivation behind this theology is honorable. There will be no pain, suffering, or sadness in heaven. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4).

But I have had it backwards for two decades! The reason for the ultimate peace and joy of heaven is not that it will be filled with what I want or what you want; the reason is that we will be entirely in the presence of God!

I may be able to play touch football and eat doughnuts there. You may have cats with
you. Whether or not we do, we will have the very presence of God, and, by comparison, football, doughnuts, cats, or anything else, will pale by comparison.

Called to be More

“Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” reads a popular bumper sticker. What a travesty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to summarize it this way! I think the bumper sticker is correct, but it goes about it all the wrong way. Take it from someone who is good at saying the right things the wrong way.

The truth of the statement is solid. Christians do not rely on achieving perfection but rather on the grace and mercy of God. We do not live by a list of do’s and don’ts, but by knowing from day to day that God has forgiven the sins of the past, and that God offers his people the power to resist and overcome temptation.

Sometimes we accept this power given by God, we resist temptation, and we do not sin. Sometimes we ignore the power and free gift of God and give in to the fleeting pleasure of sin.
Unfortunately the phrase sticker too often becomes a cop-out for Christians to ignore the power God offers us to turn our backs on behaviors we know we ought not be involved in. Even if we are not perfect yet, that is the direction God is calling us (Matthew 5:48).

John Wesley gave us a phrase that captures the way Christians ought to look at perfection. “Are you going on to perfection?” he would ask disciples. If we are not moving toward perfection; if we are not living more Christ-like lives now than last year, then we are forsaking the power of God.

The more we tell ourselves that we are not perfect, the more convinced we will be that we will not be, either. On the other hand, the more we remind ourselves and one another of the power and victory over sin that God has for us, the more joyful we will find our lives. God calls us to be more than we were when He found us!

Afraid to Die? Afraid to Live?

I’m not afraid to die.
I’m not afraid to live,
and when I’m flat on my back
I hope to feel like I did
—U2, “Kite”

The thought of being afraid to live seems odd, even laughable, at first glance. But how many of us feel like we are just getting by, just making it, just holding on?

Jesus told his disciples that he came that they might have life and have it to the fullest. This promise counts for his disciples today as well as two thousand years ago. Do we live life to the fullest?

I fear that too many Christians have bought the argument that living as a Christian is boring and dry; that you may as well be dead. These Christians see God first and foremost as a judge who sternly watches his people and who is usually frowning or even angry with their failures to live up to His standards.

Many of these people long ago quit coming to church. Why be reminded of an angry God? Many others come to church to assuage their consciences, and offer up prayers that God may be too busy in New York and Afghanistan to bother checking up on their behavior.

But is God first and foremost a stern judge who cannot wait to get his hands of punishment on us? The best image of God we have is the closest one to us—Jesus. Jesus took on human flesh and became human to show us the character and love of God. Jesus spent far more time helping people learn how to live than he did making them afraid to live.

Go and do likewise.

Sometimes Nothing Is Best

Let me pass on to you all some of the best advice I ever received. It was given to me in the context of counseling hurting people; but I have found it useful in many situations. The advice is simple. When you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything.

Whether sitting in the ICU waiting room with a mother whose daughter just died, or comforting young parents after a stillbirth, to listening to someone pour out the unfairness of life to them, our tendency is to try to offer answers. We want to calm, to soothe, to comfort. Too often we try to counsel so with words that pass blame to others. We offer up explanations for things we cannot and never will understand.

Instead of offering answers, hear beyond the questions. Instead of placing blame, share the hurt. Don’t think that some words must be better than none. Being willing just to listen. It is ok not to have answers.

Let us learn this lesson with Job: God is not at all offended by our questions and doubts, but we may not get answers. Humanity may have advanced over the centuries, but there is and always will be much we do not understand. Let us also learn with Job that God’s presence and blessing do not depend on our understanding.

You don’t have to have answers to listen to questions. You do not have to have solutions to share the weight of problems. Listen. Be there. Many times, this is enough. The one who listens never ends up with one’s own foot in one’s mouth!

Does Spirituality come easy to you?

Do you wonder why it seems some people have more of a spiritual connection than others? I don’t mean that other people are more religious than you are, but that some, it seems, are more comfortable and confident with the things of God.

I have a couple of fruitless mulberry trees in my yard. They are fast growing trees that provide quite a bit of shade. I’ve already had to trim them twice this year they are so fast growing.

There are two traits of fruitless mulberry trees that stand out for me, one of which is relevant to the question I opened with. The other is that they tend to grow with quite a bit of their root structure exposed.

The significant trait for now, though, is the variety of leaf sizes. The leaves on the top and outer reaches of the limbs are relatively small compared with the leaves underneath the canopy of the tree. Lower leaves may be twice the size of outer and upper leaves.

My guess is this is because the purpose of leaves is to soak up sun, and by the process of photosynthesis, turn it into energy for the tree to grow. Lower leaves do not get as much direct sunlight, thus to accomplish the same task, they must be larger.

Paul writes in Romans that each of us is given a measure of faith. Our God would not leave anyone without enough faith, so while each person’s measure is different, everyone has enough.

Some of us are like the lower leaves on fruitless mulberry trees, though. Some of us spiritually are the upper leaves, easily accepting the Son’s energy, while others are like the lower leaves, taking more effort, and perhaps more time, but nevertheless accepting what the Son has to offer.

How to change your undercurrent

Last week I wrote about making life’s undercurrent. For many people, no matter how good things may be at the moment, the undercurrent is sadness or anger or despair. For others, no matter how difficult life may be at any given moment, the undercurrent is positive, happy, and hopeful. Enough of you asked how one changes undercurrents that I felt led to write a follow-up column.

It was good practice for me; I had not thought very deeply about how I made the transition myself, only that I had changed in the past couple of years. I have come up with two very important steps that I’d like to share with you. If your life has an undercurrent of sorrow or frustration, if for you life is “just one dang thing after another,” try this first.

I think the most important thing you can do is to stop viewing your life as something that happens to you. Take the active perspective instead of the passive. For years I lived my life in response to my surroundings. I felt like I had no control over what I did, and sometimes even over where I went. I was a cog in someone else’s machine.

I am no longer anyone’s cog. Things still happen to me that are beyond my control, but I approach life as though my actions and decisions will make a difference. You know what? They do.

The second step to changing your undercurrent is to get really clear on who you are responsible for. You are only responsible for you. You cannot make anyone else do anything or feel any certain way. Likewise, no one else is responsible for what you do or how you feel. Take responsibility for you and your own undercurrent. No one else’s undercurrent is your fault or your responsibility.

What is your undercurrent?

Though I wrote this at least three years ago, it is still my favorite of all I’ve written. Enjoy:

When was the last time you were happy? I mean really happy. I’m not talking about “call from your girlfriend” happy, “the radio just played my favorite song” happy, or even “my football team won state” happy.

I’m talking about the kind of happy that flows from a river of contentment deep in the soul that bubbles up even in the bad times and reminds you, “Everything is going to be ok.”

If it has been a while since you have known this kind of happiness, then don’t wait any longer than you have to. You deserve it, because this is the depth of happiness that God wants for all his people.

I lived for years without knowing such happiness. Like most people, I had good days and bad days, but the assumption was always that something was about to go wrong, or the other shoe was about to drop. The river running in the depth of my soul was the river of sorrows. This river bubbled up to remind me that “Life is just one dang thing after another.”

I don’t have the space here to tell you the whole story about how I changed rivers, but I will tell you this: I can read on so many faces that so many people have given up on any hope of real, deep happiness for the rest of their lives.

This just grieves my soul because I know God wants so much more for us! Jesus said that he came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. Do you want abundantly more of the life you have right now?

I understand my mission and purpose in ministry to be to life the abundant life as much as possible, and to bring others with me! I’d be glad to help you change rivers. Find the happiness that God wants you to live in. It doesn’t mean everything will suddenly go your way, but it does provide the peace and hope you may need to get beyond feeling like “Life is just one dang thing after another.”

Welcome to my blog!

Everyday Theology started as a weekly column for The Mart Texan newspaper. I have always been interested in writing a regular thought piece, and in Mart received the invitation and opportunity to do so from the publisher of the Texan, Mrs. Carolyn Potts.

I balked at the opportunity for a couple of years, mostly because I was unsure I wanted to make a regular, weekly commitment to write something. I didn’t even remember when I had started until I went through back issues to make this collection.

One of the things I enjoy about writing is coming up with titles that reach out and grab the reader and yell, “READ ME!” I realize that “Everyday Theology” is not such a title. For this regular, weekly column, I thought it more important to choose a title that was broad enough to cover every week. I wanted to give readers something easy to find.

I choose this title because so many people say they are not theologians. While this may be professionally true, we do all understand God in terms of our lives, and vice versa. For those of us who believe in God, we each face the world with what we understand of God. When we say we believe one thing about God and we act differently, our actions speak more truthfully than our words.

I want to connect God with the everyday lives of Christians. There is nothing God wants more than for his people to live everyday in his love and presence. How we deal with everyday experiences offers evidence of what we really believe about God’s presence and love for us.

I have said previously, and believe more strongly all the time; “if we say we believe in God, then God must make some difference in our lives.” Can anyone tell from how we live our lives that we believe in God? What do others see in you and me that others will find to be credible evidence that we believe in God?

Beyond mere belief in God, a belief which is about as useful as belief in air, Christians have a God worth believing in! We have a God who became human for us in the person of Jesus Christ. We believe in a God who has been where we are; He was in the midst of a human life filled with happiness, sadness, frustration, elation, betrayal, loneliness, hope, and joy.

You may be wondering why I included loneliness above. Jesus willingly took on Himself separation from the Father when he came to earth. He felt full separation from from the Father when on the cross he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus had access to the Father in exactly the same way we do. Like us, Jesus prayed and worshipped the Father. Like us, Jesus also thrived in being surrounded by friends who shared his vision. He thrived, also, by knowing the Father was at work in the world all around him.

We ought to be able to see God’s work all around us. I hope these columns help you to do that a little more than you did before you read them.

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