Monday, June 20, 2011

Reflections on God's Love

It was this past Friday, June 17, 2011.  I was sitting in the J93.3 tent at Atlanta Fest.  The rain had come and gone and thousands of people were making their way back to the main stage area, waiting for the music to begin again.

I was intrigued by the diversity of the crowd.  (Not so much the diversity as it pertained to ethnicity, cause for an event in a place as ethnically diverse as Atlanta this one was pretty homogenized, but that may be a subject for another post.)  There were people of every shape and size.  Some had obviously gone to great lengths to perfect their "look" while others, well others made me wonder if they even owned a mirror.  Every age was represented.  There were families, older couples, younger couples, single parents with the kids for a special weekend, and groups of teenagers and twenty-somethings.

As I thought about how different all these people were I also pondered the things that they had in common, beyond being in the same place at the same time.  The first two things are so closely related as to be nearly indistinguishable:

1. God loves them.
2. Jesus died for them.

And the next two are corollaries of the first two:

3. Not one of them could do anything to make God love them any less.
4. Not one of them could do anything to make God love them any more.

These things are true not only of those who were at Atlanta Fest this past week, but of every person who has or will ever walk this earth.  God's love for us is not dependent on us.  It is totally dependent on God.  No matter what you look like, what you've done or what you want to do, God loves you.  And the level or intensity of that love will not change, no matter what you say or do, because God's love is based on who God is, not who you are.  And since God will not change, neither will His love for you.

I've heard it said that God's nature is love.  I'm not sure I totally buy that, at least not the way I understand the use of the term "nature".  It's a fish's nature to swim, a bird's nature to fly.  They can't help it.  And to say that God "can't help but love you"  seems, in my thinking, to render Him less than god-like.  If God "has" to do something, if He has no choice in the matter, then that something He has to do isn't really so special after all.  And if God is subject to anything, even His own nature, how then can He be God?  

I love the line from the Humphrey Bogart movie "The African Queen".  Bogey plays gin-soaked river boat captain Charlie Allnut, who is taking missionary Rose Sayer, played by Katharine Hepburn, down a river in Africa to escape the Germans during World War I.  At one point Rose verbally objects to Charlie's drinking, and Charlie says, "A man takes a drop too much once in a while, it's only human nature."  Rose responds with, "Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above."

So I'm not too sure about limiting the miracle of God's love for us by calling it His "nature".  I think God made the conscious decision, the willful choice to love us.  He didn't "have" to love us, but He chose to anyway.  And, in the words of the apostle Paul, "God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  (Romans 5:8)

Since God's love is based on who God is and not who we are, we have great hope and security in that love.  Nothing we do can change that love or cause us to lose it.  Once we realize that it begins to free us to love as God loves, with a love that is not based on those we love but on the One who loves us.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Lost Are Found

I was maybe seven or eight.  We were living in New Jersey and shopping at Two Guys, a department store chain that went out of business in the '80s.

  Two Guys department store, a pretty big deal back in the 60s and 70s in north Jersey and greater NYC.

Somehow I got seperated from my parents.  I turned down aisle after aisle and couldn't find them.  I started running, and remember some corny music playing over the PA system that made me say out loud, "Great music to play when you're lost!"

One of the employees must have noticed my distress.  He came over to me and asked if I was lost.  No, I thought, I always run around department stores like a maniace, crying my eyes out.  "Yes," is what I uttered.  A few minutes later that corny music was interupted by an announcement, "We have a little lost boy..."  Within a couple of minutes I was joyfully reunited with my family.

Being lost like that is one of the worst feelings I've ever experienced.  Losing someone ranks right up there too.  Many years after my Two Guys adventure, after I'd gotten married and had a son of my own I was again shopping.  This time at a mall on Long Island.  My wife and I were in different sections of a store, each believing our son was with the other parent.  When we came back together and realized that neither of us had Caleb, panic set in.  I don't think I've ever run faster, up and down that entire mall, twice.  What seemed like an hour later, though it was probably five minutes at most, Caleb, around three at the time, came wandering out of another store.  That initial panic was replaced by relief and joy.

The Lost Sheep, the first of three "lost" parables of Jesus from Luke chapter 15

Whether we realize it or not, we've all been lost.  Some of us still are.  The sad part is that many folks don't even know they're lost.  But there's someone looking for them nonetheless.  It's easy to look down on the lost once you yourself have been found.  That panic of seperation fades pretty quickly once you've been safely reunited with those who have been looking for you.  Remember how the older brother reacted to his younger sibling in Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son.

The Lost Son, or Prodigal Son, is the third of three parables about things lost and found that Jesus tells in Luke chapter 15.  Jesus knows what it feels like to lose someone, and He knows the joy of finding us again.  And the truly amazing thing is that He allows us to share in that joy of "finding" the lost.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Oh The Games We Played

In keeping with the spirit of the last post on Vacation Memories, today I thought I'd share some of the games we used to play in the car to help pass the time.  As a parent I've employed some of these games on long road trips with my kids, when they were much younger of course, and look forward to playing them with my grandsons.

Let me first paint the picture of the typical Williams family vacation when I was kid.  We'd pile Mom and Dad, three kids and a dog into the '63 Rambler.
A close approximation of the Williams family Rambler

Nine hours, 400 miles and seven tunnels on the Pennsylvania Turnpike lay between us and our destination.  Remember now, this was before FM radios were standard in automobiles so all we had was an AM radio with one speaker.  It was before iPods, the Walkman; even before cassette tapes.  (I did have a little AM transistor radio with one of those hard plastic single ear earphones.)  Summer heat and no air conditioning in the car.  We were barely on the Garden State Parkway before the "Mom, he's on my side of the seat," ruckus would begin in the back seat.  So we played games to pass the time and keep the peace.

Car Colors:  Easy game, especially when we were younger and not all of us were of reading age.  We would each choose a color and then count the number of cars on the highway that were our color.

The License Plate Game: Everyone tries to spot as many different state license plates as possible.  Once a state has been spotted and claimed by someone no one else can claim it.  Extra points for foreign plates.  Alternately you can play as a family unit and simply try to spot one plate from every state.

The Minister's Cat:  The first player describes the minister's cat with an adjective that begins with the letter "A", like "The minister's cat is an adventurous cat."  The next player has to come up with another adjective beginning with the same, and so on until one player either repeats an already used word or can't think of one.  Then you begin with the next player and the next letter in the alphabet.

The Alphabet Game:  The object of this game is to be the first person in the car to complete the alphabet by "claiming" words on billboards or road signs that begin with each letter of the alphabet.  You have to go in order and can only claim words that begin with the letter you need.  So around here you'd hope to see a sign for "Atlanta" to get you started.  Then you'd want to see something like "Birmingham" and so on.  We didn't allow letters from license plates unless it was the state name or a vanity plate that spelled out an actual word (though back when I was a kid there weren't vanity plates).  You couldn't claim words that were inside your own car and the game was paused during rest stops whenever you got out of the car.

Who Can Keep Quiet The Longest:  When we'd tired of all the other games Dad would revert to this old "game".  To be effective there really needs to be some sort of prize.

The Jujube Game:  When even the "Who Can Keep Quiet The Longest" game didn't work, Dad (and I have to admit that I've used this tactic a few times myself) would pull out a box of Jujbes or other chewy candy and give each of us a mouthful.  Very tough to argue with your siblings with a mouth full of Jujubes.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Vacation Memories

My dad had a knack for finding out of the way vacation spots.  Now most years we did the visit the relatives in Ohio and/or Wisconsin thing, which was a pretty major undertaking, driving from New Jersey in the days before the Interstate system was as accessible as it is today.  Back then it was mostly the Pennsylvania Turnpike and then the state routes.

But every few years we'd try someplace a little different.  Often my Grandma Williams and Aunt Margaret would accompany us.  We did the Poconos one year.  In 1969 we were on the Virginia side of the Chesapeake Bay.  We saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon during that vacation.

One summer we rented a little cottage on Lake Hopatcong, NJ.  The largest freshwater body in the state.  We rented the place from a lady named Beatrice Brady.  I don't remember why, but she rubbed Grandma Williams the wrong way.  Sometime in the autumn of that year my dad sent Grandma a letter, purportedly from Beatrice.  He laid it on pretty thick, saying how much Beatrice had enjoyed having us rent her place on the lake and hoping we'd be back the following summer.  Grandma thought it was a nice gesture and began rethinking her opinion of Beatrice.  That is until my dad called her and asked, "Hey Mom, you hear anything from Beatrice Brady?"  That, of course, gave him away.  We laugh about that every time we get together and tell stories about Grandma.

And then there was that one summer when dad rented an old farmhouse in Hope, PA.  To this day I don't know how he found it.  It was advertised with a "swimmin' hole" on the property that turned out to be an algae covered cow pond.

But the weirdest thing about the farmhouse was that one of the rooms in the middle of the house was locked and a phone in that room rang at all hours of the day and night.  I do remember perfecting my knuckleball in the backyard of that old farmhouse that summer though.

There are many more stories I could tell, but I'm saving them up for my next book ;)  The crux of all my vacation memories is really centered more on the "who" than the "where" or "what" or "when".  This summer we're celebrating a Summer To Remember on J93.3.  We hope you take some time to make memories with the people who matter most to you.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What If...The South Had Won The Civil War?

In the interest of full disclosure, allow to start by saying I am not a Southerner.  I live in the south, but that doesn't make me a Southerner.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, or as some here in the south still refer to it, the war of northern aggression.  The History Channel is running a week of specials under the banner Civil War Week.  So far "Gettysburg" and "Grant and Lee" have been very interesting, though some of the experts have leaned a little to the left in their analysis; this is the History Channel after all.

I've been thinking about how things may have been different had the south won the Civil War (cause I have that kind of time).  I've actually researched this a little bit, but as a history buff I'm entitled to express an opinion without needing to fully support it with the facts.

A couple of interesting opinions I've seen include:
  • Our involvement in World War I would have been much more limited, which may have meant that Germany wouldn't have been so convincingly beaten and the Treaty of Versailles would not have been so harsh.  So Germany would not have fallen onto the desperate times that paved the way for Hitler to come to power, which may have averted World War II, at least the European portion.
  • Slavery would have been abolished in the south anyway.
  • The south (or CSA for Confederate States of America) may very well have established a government much closer to what the authors of the Constitution had in mind, placing much more power in the hands of individual states with a weaker federal government.
If we had become two separate nations, the CSA may have remained more conservative politically.  South of the Mason-Dixon line prayer in schools might have remained a reality.

We're taking your calls on the air this morning on this topic.  You can also post your feedback in the comments section below, or on our Face Book page.