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Jesus knew he was going to be crucified; he was actually crucified. Peter stood up in Jerusalem and told the people there — who at first thought he was drunk for shouting in public like that — that Jesus was crucified. For Peter, that’s a significant change — the kind of change we all really need to get involved with. It’s not a small change of mind to go from a guy who wanted Jesus to stop talking about going to Jerusalem to be killed to being a guy who wanted the city of Jerusalem to stop what it was doing — in very proper religious solemnity — and face up to the fact that this Jesus was crucified. It was a massive change. And Peter knew it required these people who were calling on the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to get changed as well.

After he got changed like that, Peter said: “Men of Israel, listen up: Jesus, from Nazareth, who worked out things we can only explain as signs of God — things he did in public, because you yourselves saw them — this Jesus was crucified and killed by you because that’s what God wanted.

We don’t often think of it that way, do we? We read Stephen King’s The Green Mile and we think of Jesus being like John Coffey, an inmate on death row who was wrongly accused and tragically executed, and that somehow for Jesus things went terribly wrong that day. And in one sense, they did: because even Peter knew that Jesus was the son of David, the Messiah, and he deserved worship, not humiliation and punishment and death. Back when he was telling Jesus what kind of Messiah he was supposed to be, he thought it was simply wrong that Jesus should die for any reason. But at that moment, after the crucifixion, Peter was unafraid to tell all of Jerusalem, “This Jesus was crucified because that’s what God wanted.

That’s not the end of what Peter said that day, and we’ll get back to that in a minute. But I think that we have to admit something to ourselves since we know we are like Oprah Winfrey. We have to admit that often, we don’t care about what God wants.

I think there are two reasons for this. For us, God isn’t real in the way we see ourselves as real. I have no idea if you have muddled through any of the self-help books Oprah has proffered through the years, but one thing is glaringly obvious in the religion of all of them: her philosophy is centered on the fact that she is a real person with real needs who can take real action. Anything other than that which might intrude on her choices and her self-actualization cannot be real in the same way. Because we are like her, we do the same thing to God — we make him into something abstract that might be true, but cannot be useful. For God to say something like, “be subject to one another,” or “mature believers should love and teach immature believers, and the immature believers should listen,” is unthinkable. It causes us to say, “yeah but ...” in a thousand different ways. And while we might say that we believe in one God, the Lord and giver of Life, we treat Him more like the Prime Directive in Star Trek — a pre-eminent ideal which we say we order our lives around, but in daily practice we do what seems right to us, and nobody ever calls us on it.

We are exactly like Oprah, dear reader. Even those of us who are very conservative Christians, very serious about the historical and factual nature of the Bible, have a problem. While the Bible may be real, and we have all the copies of it we can manage in our homes, the Jesus it talks about and the God he is begotten by, and the Spirit who proceeds from them, are not. They are certainly not as real as a police officer we see in the rear view mirror — because for him, as soon as we even think about him, the traffic speed changes from 55 to 40 in a 40 MPH zone.

But why are we like this? I think it has to do with our second problem, which is that we have a lot of stuff. My wife and I used to live in a great place among fantastic people, and we moved there so we could raise our children there. Before moving there, we had plenty of stuff. When life did to us what it has done to many of you, and we found we had to move in order to continue putting food on the table, we found that we had accumulated far more stuff than we imagined. During those years when we thought we were just getting by, we were in fact living high on the hog, way above the mud line on the economic sow — and it was manifest in a collection of junk which two garage sales and a retail liquidation sale could not get rid of.

The problem with having a lot of stuff is that it takes a lot of discipline and fortitude just to throw things away. Just as an example, I have cases of greeting cards in my garage which we could not liquidate when we closed our business. Cards and envelopes — by the case, just colors on paper which are apparently not even worth 50¢ each. And yet, rather than throw them out, there they are in my garage.

What would it cost me, really, just to throw them away? I will never use them all — there are not enough days left in my life to use them all. But rather than toss them out and make room for, well, my car to go in the garage, I keep them sitting there. And sitting there. And sitting there.

See: those cards are real — I can touch them, and therefore I can imagine what I can use them for. Because they are actually in my garage, I think about them as things which either can cause me to take action, or things that I can do something to. They make sense to me because they belong to me, and they will do what I want them to do insofar as I want to keep track of them. You just can’t imagine what it would take for me to throw away those cards. I certainly can’t imagine what it would take.

And I am embarrassed to admit it: that’s just about cleaning out the garage, and being able to put my car away where any sensible person wants to put his car. Imagine what it would take for someone to spell it out for me that I should do something more substantive for an invisible God which would cost me more than a couple of boxes of greeting cards with zero resale value.

You know: me, the guy who is allegedly qualified or “gifted” to write on a blog like this for you so that you can garner some spiritual profit. It’s obvious that God is not real for me, and that I have too much stuff. How about you?

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