__(This is your weekly "Top 5 Tuesday" post.  These entries will always be in list form, just to mix things up a bit.  Enjoy!)

I recently had a reality check about my age.  You see, my only jobs since graduating college have been at colleges and universities.  So, in a way, I still feel like a college student.  At a recent youth event, however, one single phrase changed my entire perspective about my age.  That phrase came as a response to a simple question:  “What time is it?”.

Typical responses to such a question could range from “time to get a watch” to the actual time of day.  However, our youth pastor and I simultaneously shouted, “Game time, hoo!”  The room went completely silent as all of the teenagers looked at us as though we had been arguing about the significance of the BABIP statistic in evaluating a switch hitter at the bottom of a baseball lineup.  Yeah, that’s the same look they had.  They had no idea what we were talking about.  (Just in case you have no recognition of the mid-1990’s, that was the primary huddle cheer of the Chicago Bulls dynasty, and is a very acceptable response to the question, “What time is it?”.)

I instantly realized the age gap between myself and our youth group members.  I mean, I knew the numbers before, but that made it very real.  I then had a very intense series of epiphanies about my age, my stage in life, all the things I need to accomplish, and finally the fact that my own children will be teenagers far sooner than I care to think about.

Before I knew it, I was thinking about my daughter (about a year old at the time) starting to date.  At that point, I started to make a list.  When my daughter has her first date, sometime shortly after she finishes her Master’s degree, I want to have some questions prepared for the guy that thinks he is good enough to spend time with my little girl.  I truly hope that I will raise my daughter in such a way that she will be a great judge of character and she will be seeking a Godly man.  However, I will need a few answers for my own peace of mind.

1.  What is your schedule for the evening? – I want to know everywhere they are going, and how long they will be there.  No, I am not going to follow them (at least not detectably).  I just want to know where to find them in case of an emergency.  (Note:  Emergency is a very vague term and may be interpreted at my discretion.)

2.Where do you go to church? – Hopefully I will know the guy and I will have been able to investigate…er…inquire about him before the night of the actual date.  If not, the church he attends will tell me a lot about him.  By that, I mean it will give me some references I can call to ask about his trustworthiness.  (Question #4 covers what happens if he does not attend a local church.)

3.How are your doctoral studies going? – Since she should have finished her Master’s degree by now, he should probably have already made strides toward becoming a doctor.

4.Tell me about your relationship with Jesus Christ. – I know, that is not necessarily a question.  But it does require a response that I will be very interested to hear.  If the young man is not a Christian, I will have a hard time giving him my full support.  At that point, I may have to introduce him to the Fear of God, which is what I call my pistol.

There are so many follow-up questions to #4 for that I will spare you the details.  Let's just say I hope it looks very similar to the Courageous clip below.  However, it is very important that he knows where my family stands on our faith.  Not only is that a part of who we are; it is the basis of who we are.  He needs to know that.  This interview is just as much about informing him of that as it is about me determining if my son is bigger than he is so I can adjust my level of involvement.

Now, if you are asking, “what if your daughter has not accepted Christ as her savior?”, I really have no answer for you.  I need to chew on that possibility a little more before I write about it.  Regardless of her relationship with Christ, though, the standpoint of my household will remain the same. 

“But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15 NIV)

_ The gyms are always pretty crowded this time of year, since most people still believe they can complete their New Year’s resolutions.  It's kind of cute, though, right?  They try so hard, but then as January turns into February and Valentine's Day turns into a few extra pounds, all of their momentum and motivation magically disappears.  I take pride in the fact that I don't only go to the gym for the first few weeks of January.  I’m more of an every other Thursday in months that start with “M” kind of guy.

Some people want to lose weight, some want to gain muscle, there may be some training for a marathon, while others are just trying to keep their physical ailments in check.  Pretty much anybody you see at the gym is there seeking some combination of results.  They know that they won’t achieve those results sitting at home on their couch. 

If you want to make any positive changes to your physical health, you are going to have to put some work in.  Despite what you see on 3 a.m. infomercials, there is no secret elixir that will make you “beach ready” overnight.  It takes hours and hours of discipline, hard work, and discipline to even begin to be physically fit.  (Note: I know I said discipline twice, it’s doubly important.)  If it is so difficult to maintain our temporary, physical bodies, why do we act as though our spiritual health will just take care of itself?

We claim that we want to be closer to God.  We say we want to be Christ-like (in case you are unaware of what that actually means, it means trying to be sinless, just, loving, and willing to sacrifice everything).  Yet, most Christians plan to reach these goals by spending a few hours at church each week, listening to Christian radio, and praying before meals.  That’s like saying you want to run a marathon, but your only training is walking back and forth to the pantry to get more potato chips.  You are setting yourself up for failure.

If you really want to be spiritually fit and make positive progress toward your goals, you have to work at it.  You have to spend time in the Word, dedicate yourself to prayer, share your life with other believers, and eliminate all of the spiritual “potato chips” that can weigh you down.  To truly get closer to God and become more like Christ, it takes hours and hours of discipline, hard work, and discipline.

Are you willing to put the work in to be spiritually fit?

On December 15, 1998, I was absent from James A. Cawood High School.  How do I remember that?  Well, with a simple Google search I found out that on December 14, 1998, professional wrestler Ric Flair had an apparent heart attack on Monday Nitro.  That happened to coincide with me contracting strep throat, but for months afterword my friends accused me of missing school so I could stay updated on Ric Flair's status.  Yeah, I was that guy.  For the first twenty years of my life, professional wrestling was part of my DNA.  I was the guy that everybody in high school looked to when they missed a show or forgot a trivial fact during a conversation.  Pretty sad, right?

Looking back, I wasted a lot of time watching professional wrestling.  However, it wasn’t a total loss.  I learned a ton about human nature.  It is genius how they suck people into a presumably competitive sporting event with spectacular athletes, draw them in further with dramatic storylines of good versus evil, and then make them fall in love with characters that are built solely to evoke emotion.  The characters, that is truly what it is all about. 

In general, characters are established as either good guys (faces) or bad guys (heels).  As a good guy, I was always drawn to the good guys.  They stood for what was right, always played by the rules, and were quick to get up every time they were knocked down.  They were my heroes:  Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, Sting…the good guys.  I often considered myself their biggest fan.

You know what happened, though?  The good guys didn’t stay good guys.  Sting got all weird and emo.  The Ultimate Warrior disappeared, reappeared, and disappeared without anyone really noticing.  Then Hulk Hogan, the real American hero, the main reason I said my prayers and took my vitamins as a kid, dropped his big leg on the souls of millions of Hulkamaniacs around the world.  Hearts.Were.Broken.

I guess that means I never was their biggest fan, or else I’d still be watching their elderly bodies wobble around on the Spike channel.  When the good guys are not good anymore, they lose fans.  Fans move on to the new hero that steps up to replace the old one.  As fans, our loyalty is very limited.

Fortunately, God is not like that.  God loves me when I’m a “good guy” and gets super excited every time I have a victory.  He gets excited when I step in and help those in need and cheers me on when I feel down and out.  But what about the times I mess up and break the rules or hit somebody in the back with a steel chair?  What about the times when sin gets the best of me?  He still loves me.  He forgives me.  He encourages me.  He is still my number one fan.

God is definitely my biggest fan, no matter what.  He wants the best for me, and never stops loving me.   The good news is that He is your biggest fan as well.  If you take time to listen to Him cheering, you will feel encouraged, loved, and supported more than you ever thought possible.  I would even be willing to bet that God still roots for Hulk Hogan.

How has your number one fan supported you lately?

_ Do you ever feel like Christians speak in code?  To be honest, I feel like it gets out of hand sometimes. I guess it is a way that we try to fit in with other Christians.  I understand that.  But I think we get so caught up in trying to be “Christian,” that we forget to try and be like Christ.

Being Christ-like.  That’s one of those cool Christian terms.  It is not too hard to decipher, though.  We should strive to be just like Jesus Christ.  He lived a perfect life and set the perfect example for how we should live.  So we should try to be like Him in every aspect of our lives, right?  I’m not so sure.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 NIV)

Talk about consistent.  Jesus is the same every day.  Always has been.  Always will be.  That’s an amazing quality that gives us a fighting chance at understanding who He is and what that means for our relationship.  However, I do not believe that is a trait that we should mimic.

As we mature in our faith, we should be constantly growing, changing, and developing into the child of God that we were created to be.  When we accept Christ into our lives, we become a new creation that should always be seeking to become more full of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  While we should be consistent in our pursuit of God, transformation should be a staple in the life of any Christian.  We should be constantly growing closer to God and becoming a better reflection of who He is. 

Do me a favor.  If you see me in six months and I am the same person that I am today, you have my permission to punch me in the stomach.  I do not want to become stagnant.  Unlike Christ, I want to be different than I was yesterday, different tomorrow, and different every day for the rest of my time on earth.  I feel like my best shot at becoming more like Christ is to do the one thing He never will…change.

Is change a consistent part of your walk with God?

_ "Share” is a word that I say out loud as much as any other.  I am constantly telling my kids to share their toys.  Every day, I ask the college students I work with to share their goals and successes with me.  And to be perfectly honest, I use it most often when I am trying to “share” my co-workers’ desserts and snacks at the office.  But do you know where I rarely hear the word used by anyone?  Church.

Now, I’m not picking on my church.  I absolutely love my church or my family wouldn’t be there.  I’m talking about a larger issue in the Church, which unfortunately manifests itself in most churches.  It isn’t that people are selfish and won’t share what they have, I often see people give generously to help others.  The problem is that Christians are generally not so good at sharing their lives with each other.

The New Testament seems to have a common theme of sharing in the lives of other believers.  Paul often shares his triumphs, as well as his struggles and failures.  However, that is one practice that we seem to ignore in modern Christianity.  I don’t know if it is the fear of embarrassment, desire to fit it, or just our pride, but far too many Christians tend to keep their personal trials and downfalls to themselves.

It seems obvious that isolating yourself would make it more difficult to live a Godly life.  If we were more willing to share our personal needs, we would probably have more help offered to us than we could ever imagine.  If we would share our fears, we would be surrounded by encouragement and love.  If we would share the temptations that we struggle with, we would have people to help us avoid certain situations and to hold us accountable.  If we would share our sins, we would have people to pray with us, let us know we are loved, and to help us forgive ourselves as we ask for God’s forgiveness.

I’m definitely preaching to the choir on this one.  I know how hard this is.  But just think about how close we, as a local church and as the Church, could grow together as family and closer to God.  Isn’t that the point of having a church family?

In the book of Acts, the first Christians sold everything they owned, put the money it one big pile, and took only as they had need.  While that isn’t as practical in today’s world, it is a great principle.  So let’s try to share our pain, sorrow, and struggles as well as our triumphs and victories with other believers so that we may all be stronger in our relationships with Jesus Christ.

Are there people in your church family that you are able to truly share your life with?

Don’t get me wrong, I loved elementary school.  Between recess and school cafeteria pizza, it seemed like all of my hopes and dreams were coming true.  In fact, I loved elementary school so much that I continue to write today with the same dexterity that I did back then.

While I truly appreciated the experience and all I learned at Rosspoint Elementary, there are many aspects of being in school that should be left behind.  Unfortunately, far too many churches continue to display the following elementary school traits that prevent us from “growing up.”

1. Assigned seats –  Sometimes I feel like the last five minutes before a church service can look like the school bus scene from Forrest Gump.  “Can’t sit here.”  “Seat’s taken.”  Unfortunately, far too many visitors have already decided they won’t be coming back before they can meet their Jenny. 

How about this?  For the next two months, sit in a different pew every Sunday.  I think you’ll find that you get quite the blessing out of it, yourself.  Getting out of your comfort zone, mingling with members and visitors alike that you don’t speak to very often, can make each worship service feel fresh, new, and exciting in ways that you haven’t experienced in quite some time.

2. Fear of hand-raising – I understand that people worship in different ways, and that’s great.  Some people feel led to praise the Lord by lifting their hands and shouting.  Others worship silently in their seats with their heads bowed.  The rest of us, though, fall somewhere in-between.  As long as people are worshiping as they feel led, that’s all that matters.

However, just like the kid that is always afraid of giving the wrong answer, some church folk tend to get scared of how they will be judged and refrain from lifting their hands.  Feeling as though everyone is looking at them, people tend to worship however they want…as long as it won’t draw any attention.  It seems that pride is a much bigger barrier between us and God than we are willing to admit.

3Keeping up with the Jones’ – Okay, I couldn’t figure out an elementary school term for this, even with the help of my elementary school teacher wife.  But the principle still applies.  If I didn’t have the latest G.I. Joe figure or Gameboy game when I was a kid, I felt completely left out.  I feel the same way at church when I hear anybody use the term “Sunday best.” 

In my opinion, there are very few terms that are as condescending and un-Christ-like as this one.  Assuming that people should wear the best clothes they can find to come and worship is both arrogant and off-putting to those who may not have a “Sunday best” or those that may already have a negative view of “church people.”  Not exactly the Great Commission, is it?

4. Lunchtime Rocks! – Not everything on the list has to be negative, right?  Seriously, though, how awesome is lunchtime?  Whether you are in the cafeteria talking about your favorite cartoons (Transformers, here) or at a fellowship potluck planning the next fellowship potluck, it’s good times had by all.  Some of my greatest memories, both at school and church…and work…and my house, revolve around food. 

Do you see any “elementary school” traits at your church?

_ I don’t know about you, but I think the story of David and Goliath is the one of the most under-utilized stories from the Bible.  I know we hear it all the time, but I really don’t think we take the time to see passed the “underdog story” part of the lesson.  To be honest, David and Goliath references are probably heard more often on ESPN than from the pulpit. 

Here is a summary of the David and Goliath story and the lesson we typically take from it:

Israel is at war with the Philistines.  In the main event, you have the giant Goliath going up against an Israeli mystery opponent.  All of the soldiers are scared even though God promised they would win, and nobody wants to fight.  Then a little shepherd boy named David comes to deliver some food.  Trusting God, he volunteers to fight Goliath.  Instead of wearing the clunky armor the Israeli soldiers offered him, he decides to freestyle it with his sling and stones.  With a fastball to the forehead, Goliath goes down and loses his head.  Because of David’s victory, we should feel confident enough to take on anything.  With God’s help, we can roll up on any of the “giants” in our own lives and walk away unscathed.  We should not be scared of anything.  We can be just like David

A few years ago, I went to a Todd Agnew concert and he told the story a little differently.  (Note: There is no Todd Agnew version of the Bible.  People probably wouldn’t accept the Gospel in a deep bass.)  In his version, we do not play the role of David.  In fact, we are the scared, shivering, cowardly soldiers.  How’s that for a pick me up?

Let’s assume that Goliath represents the greatest enemy that any of us have, the giant that separates us from our Creator.  Goliath is sin.  If any of us try to take on sin by ourselves, we will surely lose.  It is absolutely impossible to defeat sin on our own.  So it is fitting that we play the role of the frightened soldiers.  We should be scared.  We.Can’t.Win.

Luckily, there is One who can defeat sin.  While we are sitting on the sidelines shaking in our booties, Jesus Christ goes all David on sin and puts it down for the count.  He is the true hero in this story.  Without Jesus riding in to save the day, we would have no chance against the giant sin standing between us and God.

While most people will encourage you to be like David and conquer the world, when it comes to sin you should never go into battle alone.  That’s one fight that none of us are equipped to win.  Sometimes we just need to step aside and let Jesus take out the giants for us.

Are there any battles in your life that you need to let Jesus step in and fight for you?

_ Do you ever feel awkward?  Sure you do.  Society provides ample opportunity for you to feel that way.  For example, have you ever been completely comfortable in a crowded elevator?  Do you enjoy getting intimate with airport security?  I’m sure auto correct has created its fair share of embarrassing moments for you.  But one of my all time favorite awkward moments is the first time you meet a friend’s newborn child.

If you don’t say anything, it is insulting.  If you give too many compliments, it seems like you are trying to cover up the fact that you think their child looks like Yoda.  Luckily, there is a universal “get out of jail free” card when it comes to talking about babies.  It’s called:  “Who does it look like?”.   (For the record, I am adamantly against calling any human being “it,” but the he/she replacement just didn’t fit here.)

“Aw, she looks just like her mommy.”  “Wow, he has his daddy’s eyes.”  Even if these things are blatant lies, they are always considered compliments and are usually safe.  But if things are still a bit awkward at that point, I always throw in a “What color is your mailman’s hair?”  just to lighten the mood.  I’m batting about .500 with that one, by the way.  You might want to make sure the grandparents aren’t in the room.

Anyway, why is it so safe to compare the child to a parent?  Quite simply, it usually has some bit of truth in it.  Before I “decided” to double my weight and lose all of my hair, people used to tell me I looked just like my mother.  Both of my children look exactly like their mother’s family, aside from that beautiful cleft chin I gave them. 

So what does that mean for us spiritually?

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 NIV)

Just as children resemble their earthly parents because of their DNA, we should also resemble our Heavenly Father because He created us in His image.  Now, I for one do not interpret this scripture to mean that we are physically created in the image of God.  I believe it is referring to our characteristics, our abilities, and the fact that we are eternal, spiritual beings.  We resemble God in our ability to love, to make decisions, to connect spiritually to God, and to be creators ourselves.  While we are certainly limited in our capacities, God has blessed us by making us like Him.

If somebody were to look at you as God’s child, how would they say you resemble Him?  Do you think they would say that you love people in a Godly way?  Would they talk about your passion for connecting to God and other believers spiritually?  Would they say you make sound decisions based on God’s word?  If we are called to be like Christ (and we are, by the way),

How do you resemble your Heavenly Father?

_ "I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move.”  -Jesus of Nazareth

This scripture blew my mind as a kid.  I grew up in southeastern Kentucky, where mountains were everywhere.  Every time I heard this scripture, my train of thought went something like this:

“If I could maneuver those bad boys around a little bit, I could get to Druther’s and K-Mart twice as fast.  Wait, if I could move a mountain, I could definitely move a person.  I could make people fly.  Wait!  I could make myself fly.  All I have to do is have a little bit of faith, and I’ll be able to fly!”

Man, to be eighteen again…

Anyway, think of the possibilities this passage provides.  If we have even a teeny tiny amount of faith, we can perform miracles.  Wow…that’s awesome.  But hold on a second.  Jesus said this to the Apostles, who gave up everything they had ever known to follow Jesus.  They did everything (most of the time) that He asked of them.  They cast out demons in His name.  If their faith wasn’t even as big as a mustard seed, what does mine look like?  It seems like Jesus is saying that our faith is so little that it is next to nothing.  Doesn’t it?

What if he isn’t saying that at all?  Jesus was known for speaking in parables that could sometimes be difficult to comprehend.  What if He was actually saying that anybody can have faith the size of a mustard seed, but we are called to have more? 

You can move mountains if you want to, but showing true faith is acknowledging that God put those mountains there for a reason.  You can hang out and do some cool party tricks, but if you are for real about your relationship with God you will focus on what He wants you to do.  If you spend time in prayer and fasting, focusing on God, you will stop concerning yourself with things you can or cannot do because you know God will provide for the work He wants to do through you.  Hmmm…

However Jesus intended for this passage to be interpreted, I know one thing.  I have a long way to go.

How big is your faith?

_ What are some words you would use to describe Satan?  Evil?  Destructive?  Powerful?  Scary?  These may not be the words you were thinking of, but they are very common responses that I have heard from Christians on this topic.  But during a lesson with the teenagers at my church, our youth pastor used some different words to describe the evil one.  Weak.  Powerless.  Defeated.  Is that the perception you have of the devil?  Should it be?

Far too often, we give Satan more credit than he deserves.  It’s like we view Satan as just slightly weaker than God.  That is not even close to true.  God is omniscient (he knows everything), omnipresent (he can be everywhere at the same time), and omnipotent (he has unlimited power).  Satan is none of those things.  Satan has limited knowledge, limited power, and he can only be at one place at a time.

Take a moment and let the implications of that sink in.  How often do you hear people saying that the devil is trying to interfere with their Christian walk?  But if he can only be in one place at a time, how many people can Satan be personally responsible for deceiving?  (Note:  I know very little about the average speed of evil beings, and thus very little about their travel capacities).  If he has limited knowledge, then he definitely can’t know everything about every person.  In fact, this makes it seem unlikely that he would use his limited knowledge on any Christian that does not pose a major threat to his purpose (turning as many people as possible away from God).  So…what are the chances that Satan even knows that you exist?  For the vast majority of Christians, I would say the chances are not very good.

To go a step further, it seems very unlikely that he even cares that you exist.  I believe that most Christians do so little to advance the Kingdom of God that Satan would not even bother wasting his limited resources on them.  Is that an insult?  I sure take it that way.  It should be a goal for all Christians to get Satan’s attention by leading people to the Lord. 

For some, though, it is easier to believe that Satan is more powerful than he is.  Think about it.  If you can blame some of your sinful behavior on the devil, it is easier to look yourself in the mirror.  If you use him as your person scapegoat, you tend to avoid taking responsibility for your own actions. 

There seems to be one aspect of this debate that we all tend to forget.  Through Christ, we are stronger than the devil.  With the power of the Holy Spirit, we can overcome evil.  The enemy has already been defeated.  The battle has already been won. 

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”  He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20)