Why Are You Here?

I was sitting in my church when I was handed a flyer. In modern slang, it asked questions about God and life. I turned it over and saw an address stamped at the bottom.

I had to know where this came from so I made my way to this address that turned out to be a house in Detroit. I met some people that were doing something for God but, really, I couldn’t understand what.

Just stay and find out someone said. As it got later, different people showed up. When I say different, I mean very different from me. They sat on the floor mostly and conversed among each other. A guitar appeared and there was some singing. These were spiritual songs but very different from the church ones I knew. The enjoyment of singing these songs amazed me. People just loved singing these songs.

Eventually, a fellow, a few years older than most present, sat himself on a short stool between the living room and dining room. He began what I took to be a sermon. He said that something was happening among young people that was unusual. He described it as a movement. He had seen it in other cities and came to Detroit to be part of what God was doing here.

The young people there were those who had tried to find a different lifestyle other than a conventional one. But they had found that it did not deliver the freedom they wanted. In fact, their disappointment in the counter-culture left them without much. They put off their despair by using drugs but this only pushed the questions to their next sober moment without giving any real answers. And ‘Free Love’ took a toll on your soul as well.

Not that this was all explained at that time, but I will tell you what I learned later. This fellow was indoors now on a cold winter evening, talking to these young people that had been hanging out in public parks during the summer. A few lived there and I learned their stories as I returned in the following days. The comparing of life before and after was the main point. Before, they were wasting their lives and now their lives were full of meaning. It was that simple.

They stunned me with the news that Jesus had found them. Really? In a park? Among fellow drug users? Yes. Their clear-eyed accounts told of a shocking change to their life-style. “I stopped using drugs and started following Jesus.” Really? How? Maybe you should ask Jim to explain.

Jim was a fellow that sometimes went by Smiling Dog. He was called that because he had been like a famous drug dealer named Smiling Dog Henry. He answered to either name. He was quite serious now and said several fellows were going out to talk to others about Jesus.

To the original point, what had I learned about what Christians should do? One thing was: tell others about Jesus. Another was: gather with fellow believers. Yet, there was also: go somewhere and do something. This last was the most vague but maybe the most important.

All these things had some form in churches I knew about: Share your faith with your neighbors. Go to church often. Become a missionary!

I had been exposed to these ideas in churches without any inward response. They were uncomfortable at best. Risky and dangerous at worst. Yet, here were people doing them in a seeming natural way. Effortlessly, it seemed. I joined the group as it gained larger quarters in Detroit.

I learned that there was suffering involved. Jim said it was difficult talking to old friends who did not want to change their lifestyle. They felt they were to live counter to the ordinary as a revolt against something. They thought Jim was not doing this anymore and had betrayed the cause. It all made sense when you were high, I guess.

Several others found that their families thought they had just found a new way to waste their lives though they were glad drugs and sex were not a part of it. To be misunderstood this way made them unhappy at times. They were accused of being in a cult or being too extreme in religion.

They could not go back to either lifestyle, conventional or unconventional. The group multiplied in a form much like the original house. A married couple would be like house parents and several single people would live in the house with them. Some would work and others would be active in places like universities or just on the street where people gathered. Sometimes church groups wanted to know about how former drug addicts could so changed.

Not all had been drug addicts but most looked the part of unconventional Christians. Some conventional churches had become interested in hearing about this activity among young people. What did it mean? It was so different. How could you reject conventional society and embrace a different sort of Christian lifestyle?

Here are two conclusions that came much later: First, we are meant to suffer. Some will tell you that God only wants to bless you and there is no need for any suffering. But what God wants is for us to grow in good character. This can only happen with a certain amount of suffering. You must choose between easy happiness or a struggle to become as good as you can. Did you know God wants you to be good? Selfishness can only be overcome by following Jesus.

The second is to discover how God wants to use you in this world. I marveled at a man who had been a pastor for some years. He had an experience in his office as he was ready to give up on the whole thing. He came out of that room a different man. It was like Jacob wrestling with that man of mystery in Genesis. I thought he would leave the church but no. He put on the church vestments and he told the people how God had met him and changed everything for him.

Another lady who had rejected God had a second divorce and saw herself in her younger son. She became horrified that he was becoming like her when she knew she was unable to find happiness in life. She went to a church and wept as she listened to the sermons week after week. Then she got cancer. The treatment kept her alive but the cancer would return again and again. The treatment was brutal. She did not give up and continued to be somewhat healthy at times and enduring painful treatments at other times.

I knew her before as a rich woman in charge of her life and business. Now she had a simple job that had good health benefits and spent her healthy times working and sick times going for various treatments or tests.

Her change in character was great. She had become a different person. I learned that the suffering that seemed a cruel addition to her life had some incredible value. She had passed others, myself included, in becoming like Christ. This situation had troubled me a great deal. I asked why? Why was she chosen to suffer so much?

I still don’t have an answer for this. I do have questions. It is not ‘Why?’ anymore. They are: How am I conforming to Christ? Do I act and react like him? How am I working toward his kingdom on earth right now? Am I doing my part the best I can?

Then these questions became others: Do I love Jesus too little? Do I believe too little? Love believes all things. It’s the measure of our love for Christ Jesus that answers all the other important questions. Ones about faith, about serving God, about suffering, and about hope. Your relationship with Jesus will never find an end. The limit is your love. He who is forgiven little, loves little. But those that love much are forgiven much. We are forgiven all our sins. But if you love Jesus like the woman who poured out her expensive perfume on him, you receive much more than if you think you only need a little forgiveness and a tiny bit of help from God in your life.

The first command is to love God with all. The new command is to love others as I have loved you. Do you know why he tells us to love? He doesn’t know any other relationship. He only knows this: him loving you and you loving him. Our relationship is as large as our love for him and our service is as much love as we can receive and share with others.

Remember: love believes all things. Like maybe you believe some people are evil and want to harm you. Okay, but do you also believe God is all good and is well able to care for you in all circumstances? Love believes all things. Do you believe some things? Or do you believe all things?

Love Believes All Things


The Naked Soul

I was afraid
because I was naked.

We all have a sense of right and wrong. How did we get it? Our parents ate from the wrong tree according to Genesis. You might think their first experience of this reluctant gift of God would be positive. It wasn’t. It says their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked. It was uncomfortable. They wanted to cover themselves. This extreme self-awareness moved them to make some sort of clothing out of leaves.


They wanted something between them and everything else. Like a baby separated from their mother’s womb, they cried out in discomfort. The shock of their new ability brought responsibility and a feeling of separateness from everything else. As they felt the nakedness of their bodies, we eventually feel the nakedness of our soul. The small child shows all their feelings with their body and face. But what if those feeling are not good?


Instead of happiness for your friend’s gain, you feel jealousy. Or you want to hide your wrongdoing. You train your body and face not to reveal your thoughts and feelings.


How far do we go? Don’t show your fear. Don’t show your delight in your enemies downfall. Don’t show your disappointment at losing and don’t show the anger at the unfairness you feel. Don’t show your raw emotions at all. Soon our soul is hidden from others. Or so we think.


Now we know one thing about life after death: we don’t take our bodies with us. The body we trained to hide our soul is left behind. What you are is plain to all. All sophistication and fashion are of no use. Your soul is revealed. Does this frighten you? To be unmasked.


Or will you be like a butterfly that casts off it’s covering and reveals it’s colorful wings and marvelous new shape ready for new experiences.


Has your soul grown up into something good? What did you do in your lifetime that prepared you for the next life. Just because the door is closed to the living doesn’t mean there is nothing behind it.


Time has stopped and change has become more difficult. What can you do? You must be yourself as you really are. Some said to enjoy yourself but can you? Can you enjoy yourself as you really are?


Let’s look at a strange story Jesus told. Strange because it names the beggar.



A rich man lived in luxury. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus who was covered with sores and longed to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs would come and lick his sores. The beggar dies and angels carry him to Abraham’s side. The rich man dies and is buried.


In hades, in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus at his side. “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue because I am in agony.”


“Remember, in life, you received good things while Lazarus received bad. Now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides this, there is a great chasm between us. We cannot cross over it nor can you.” “Then, send Lazarus to warn my brothers of this place.” “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.”


The rich man had taken little notice of Lazarus as he went in and out of his gate. Yet, he knows his name and identifies him in the afterlife. He did nothing for Lazarus in life. But now, in the afterlife, he wants Lazarus to do for him. He still sees Lazarus as lower than himself and has elevated him from beggar to his servant.


This shows us how nothing has changed in the man’s character. He still thinks he should be served. What does not enter his thoughts is that Lazarus was there at his gate to help the rich man change. If he had shown mercy on the beggar, his character may have changed and he might have become generous to those in need. Every time he passed Lazarus, he hardened his heart toward him. He probably justified himself by thinking this was somehow God’s will for himself and Lazarus. He was to enjoy life while Lazarus was to suffer.


What of Lazarus? He is silent. He accepted his lot in life. He does not cry out against the rich man. He was carried to the rich man’s gate. He was carried by angels to be near Abraham. And what is his comfort? He is together with Abraham.


What is the torment of the rich man? First, he is alone with himself. All his relationships have failed him. He was not grateful for his good life. He deserved it. He never laid hold on the Giver of all good things. Who torments him? No one. His agony is internal. He has no relationship to help him. He is a son of Abraham but never grew in faith. He is not like Abraham at all. His dryness is lack of the water of life given freely by God.


The most terrible thing is that the rich man has not changed at all. He cares nothing for Abraham or Lazarus. He only is aware of himself. His soul is dry. He took no care for it’s condition in his life. He is simply a man alone without the gifts of God. He does not even acknowledge the one who gives to men that they might ask for more.

If you knew the gift of God
and who asks you for a drink,
you would have asked him
and he would have given you living water.

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.

– Jesus


Can a Person Become Good?

Blessed are those that hunger and thirst
after righteousness for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.

– Jesus

Let us define being good as doing good naturally from an unselfish heart. Now we can look at the two possible conditions of man in relation to morality or personal goodness.

Everyone born on this earth is a child of Adam. As such they inherit the knowing of good and evil. They know right from wrong. This reluctant gift of God was chosen by the first people. It meant the end of their innocent state.


Harmony turned to a separation which Adam and Eve felt as nakedness. They became independent of God, alienated from nature, and even in disharmony with each other as was soon shown by blame and accusation.


A person may try to follow this internal direction, now called your ‘moral compass’. If reinforced by society and family, you may act as a ‘good’ person in your life.


Does this mean you are now good? Not really. As Jesus said, “You, being evil, are able to give good gifts…” Even though you may act good, it doesn’t mean you are good. Motivation may be fear or pride or even cunning calculation to get what you want. Or it may even be weakness in that you just go along with what is expected of you.

why do you call me good

Before Jesus, people were considered either Jews or gentiles. The gentiles did sometimes hold up virtue and some reached to attain it. But all this is still the state of men without God. Made in the image of God, they retain the impression of the Good.


And the Jews had a clear definition of good behavior from God. The Law contained clear commands regarding living right. Sure, this helped the society function but did not make the individual good. Sacrifices were offered all the time for sin or wrongdoing. Big sacrifices once a year and personal sacrifices quite often.

In both cases, personal goodness did not result in the sense that good actions came naturally from a pure heart.


The idea of an ideal person lives in each one of us. The Jews were also given a hope in a coming savior who would be that ideal person. Jesus is the only one who fits this ideal. Jesus did not emphasize that keeping the Law of Moses was the way to eternal life. The fact was that even if you tried your best to do them, you would discover your heart did not match them.


So, life on earth after Jesus came cannot be just following rules of good behavior. It must be something quite different. And knowing good from evil had a fatal flaw; people don’t have the power to do good all the time. They can live somewhat good lives but they cannot bear up to an examination of their heart.


The heart is not pure. To be pure means to be only one thing. A pure heart does not contain two but only one desire. The heart of a man has never been pure. Even Adam easily desired something wrong. But Jesus said that the pure in heart are blessed. They will see God! So that one desire of the pure heart must be toward God.


How do you get there? There are three ways, I think. First, to try and be good. Eventually, you discover your heart is not good. You want God to change it. Second, you pursue evil and eventually your heart is so full of evil, you desire relief. Third, the injustice and deception around you moves you to call on God for relief.

In all three cases, the conclusion is the same. The heart of men is somehow wrong. In the first two, you see it in your own heart. In the third, you see it in others.

You have come to the right conclusion! Your heart begins to desire the one remedy that will work. God. Only he can change a heart. There is a promise made by God: ‘I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.’


This is repeated later with more detail: ‘I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

This is a big change. Maybe the biggest change of all. Those that heard Jesus speak were expecting an external change of circumstances from God. But he was always talking about internal change. The earth was fine in the garden of Eden. In that good environment, the two people chose to do the wrong thing. Good circumstances do not produce good people.


Let’s go back and look at the promise. Cleansing comes first. All the accumulated wrongness is removed by God. Some would call this forgiveness. But it also results in a clean conscience. God will change our heart from hardness to the kind we were meant to have: one that matches us as humans. More than this, he will put his Spirit in us. This will incline us toward good and motivate the best actions. We will become the kind of people we were created to become.

Maybe you are a Bible expert and say: this promise was to the Jewish people, decreed by their prophet, Ezekiel! That is true. But in The Acts of the Apostles, we learn that this is for all people because gentiles experience the very same transformation. Those Jewish people who would have doubted that this could happen were convinced by what they saw.


So we may be confident of two things: this promise is for all people and it is for right now. Better circumstances await us in the future. But our immediate concern is our heart. If our heart becomes right and pure, we may have all confidence in God to arrange everything else by his power.


Blessed are those that hunger and thirst
after righteousness for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.

– Jesus