_ Have you ever been told that you talk too much?  Me neither.  But I have definitely wanted to tell a few people that.  It seems like our culture is obsessed with having a voice and being heard.  There is some sort of entitlement issue that makes people think that what they have to say is more important than what others have to offer.

I also get the feeling that nobody is interested in listening.  When I walk across the campus where I work, I would say that three out of every five people I run into either have ear buds in listening to what the kids call “music” or they are talking on one of those blue tooth thingamajigs.  It’s like they want no contact with the outside world.  Or maybe they just don’t want to talk to me.  Nah, that couldn’t be it.  I’m just glad I don’t act like that.  Or do I?

While praying recently, it occurred to me that I am not as far removed from the “entitled” culture as I would like to believe.  When I pray, I talk, and talk, and talk making sure that I get the chance to say everything that is on my mind and heart.  Then, I say “amen” and go about my business.  I make sure my voice is heard, and then I don’t even give God the chance to respond.  I move right along with my day with my proverbial headphones on only paying attention to the things I think are important.

The only reason I came to this realization is that I honestly felt God telling me to stop talking during that prayer.  I was praying very hard about an issue that has been on my heart for many months, in the same way I had prayed about it almost every day.  Once God finally shut me up, He dealt very directly with me on that particular matter.  I also felt Him saying, “If you would take more time to listen, we could have taken care of this a long time ago.”  Ouch…very ouch.

I have been told by several people that I consider spiritual mentors that listening is a vital part of prayer.  However, our culture is so busy and so much about “me” that it is tempting to say what you have to say and move on.  We don’t want to take the time to let God respond to our thanks, our requests, or even our praises. 

We need to stop approaching prayer as “my” time with God, and start to view it as “our” time to talk specifically about our relationship.  If it becomes “our” time, we are more likely to give God His time to speak.  We are more likely to actually listen and let Him guide us.  We are more likely to actually experience God and allow the Holy Spirit to take hold of our lives in a very real way.  All we have to do is take the time to listen.  Pretty simple, huh?

You ever hear a friend tell a story, and hear the same story a few weeks later and the details are a little different?  Whether the details are actually forgotten, or they are simply altered to make the story more interesting or relatable, it is rare to hear a story that maintains the exact same details over time.  For example, I have seen my father catch a large mouth bass that magically grows six inches and three pounds during one stop at the bait shop. 

This really is an amazing phenomenon.  And it seems like it applies to almost every story ever told.  Just think about the Bible as it is written, and think about the way we portray those stories.  You think our portrayals are always accurate?  Challenge accepted.

1.  Noah’s Ark – You know the story.  God was going to send a flood so he instructed Noah to build a beautiful boat to preserve the existence of all animal species on the planet.  We see these majestic illustrations of the ark being boarded by two of each animal.  We think about the rainbow that signifies the promise that God will never send such a flood again.

But what part do we leave out?  Oh yeah, God annihilated humanity.  Every person and land animal on earth that was not on that boat was killed.  Men, women, and children.  Every living thing. 

Yet, we choose to focus on the image of the beautiful images of the boat and the animals.  We choose to celebrate God’s intervention in electing to save those on the boat.  That is an amazing lesson that tells us a great deal about the character of God.  However, it is definitely not the entire story.

2.  The Nativity – You’ve seen the images and all of the little cute figurines that demonstrate exactly what it looked like the night Jesus was born.  The truth is, though, we know very little about how this scene should actually look.  The only Biblical description we get of this scene is in the book of Luke, and even there the details are very limited. 

Basically, we know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and placed in a manger.  A little while later, some shepherds found them after they were directed there by angels.  Because a manger is a feeding trough for animals, it seems we have decided it had to be in a barn and there had to be animals walking around everywhere.  While that is very possible, it is definitely not a Biblical fact that Jesus was born at a petting zoo.

And how about those wise men?  We only see them in the book of Matthew.  And if you pay attention, it is very clear that they were not in the waiting room with cigars when the Messiah was born.  In fact, we read that after Jesus was born they showed up in Jerusalem asking if anybody had seen him.  We are then told that they follow the star and find him in a house with his mother, but it definitely does not indicate that they were still chilling by the manger.

3.  The Cross – The symbol of our salvation.  The amazing, glorious, old rugged cross.  We celebrate it each week and most churches have one hanging front and center.  What a beautiful representation of love and sacrifice.

However, we often ignore the fact that it is an instrument of death.  It was an ancient form of the gas chamber or electric chair, but with much more pain.  It was the devise that was so torturous and inflicted so much pain that the term “excruciating” was created to more accurately describe the agony it caused. 

In being commanded to take up our cross (Luke 9:23), we are not just supposed to rock the cross necklace so everybody knows we go to church.  We are called to risk our lives daily as the first Christians did in order to spread the gospel.  We are commanded to deny ourselves and make our lives about Him.

I know these images from the Bible are portrayed the way they are for a reason.  For some, it may be easier to make the messages more relatable to children.  For others, we feel like an image is important and we fill in the gaps where the details are not provided in the Bible. 

Believe me, I understand.  If it helps to spread the good news about Jesus Christ, I am usually all for it.  But if we forget the true meaning behind these stories and start leaving out or changing details that are an integral part of the complete story, then we are not going to be doing any good for anybody.

These are only a few examples of how our illustrations don’t necessarily match up with the Bible.  Are there any other Bible stories that you think are misrepresented?

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” 

(Matthew 25:35-40 NIV)

While there is some debate, most Christian scholars would agree that “the least of these” refers to other followers of Christ.  While we are called to minister to all and be a reflection of Christ’s love in all situations, it seems that we are commanded to give special love and attention to other believers.

You may remember the old hymn, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.”  The theme of this song seems to directly reference John 13:35: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.  So if the best way to show the outside world that we love Jesus is to love other Christians, why are we so bad at it?  Why do churches have a reputation for bickering and splitting over insignificant disagreements?  Why do we have people financially struggling in our church families when we are pouring out money to local charities?  Why are our brothers and sisters so lonely in hospitals and nursing homes when we spend so much time in front of the television?

I think it is pretty clear that we need to make some changes in the way that we show love to other Christians.  But I know that it can be difficult to figure out where to start.  Luckily, you have me to help with that.  I have a friend from college that was a good Christian example for me, even before I decided to turn my life over to God.  He was very clear about his beliefs, where he stood on all issues, and how his faith played a major role in every decision he made.

Recently, that friend of mine has fallen on some very hard times.  His name is Joe Riffe, and he has worked as a paramedic in Louisville, KY for six years.  He has felt blessed every day that he has had the opportunity to use the skills God has given him to save lives.  Almost a year ago, Joe was in a hiking accident and suffered some very devastating injuries, specifically to one of his legs.  After several surgeries and procedures, the damage was still unable to be corrected.  And just a few weeks ago, Joe actually had that leg amputated. 

Needless to say, Joe is currently unable to support his family and his career is currently in jeopardy due to his unknown future.  He wants nothing more than to get back to the work that he believes God put him on this planet to do.  He wants to get back to supporting his family.  However, as the medical bills pile up and his day to day bills keep coming in, Joe is still several months away from being back at work and having an income.  His family needs immediate financial assistance.

Any and all support would be welcomed with open arms.  And while prayers and encouraging words do go a long way, the greatest way we can help our Christian brother right now is through monetary gifts.  For more information on how to support Joe and his family, please visit his blog (The Prosthetic Medic) at the link below.  Let’s band together and show the world that we truly are disciples of Christ…by our love for one another.

The Prosthetic Medic - http://prostheticmedic.blogspot.com/.
_ 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)

You are created in the image of God.  I think we refer to this so often in Christian circles that we become numb to what it actually means.  Take some time and think about what it means to be made in the image of the Almighty God.  Go ahead, I’ll wait…

Mind-blowing, right?!  While we certainly don’t have the full capacity of God (and I’m not quite sure we can even comprehend what that means), we resemble the God that loves unconditionally, blesses miraculously, is all-powerful, all-knowing, and created everything in existence.  How cool is that?!  And even though we are not all-powerful or all-knowing, we are able to love, bless others, and even be a creator ourselves.

I am amazed every time I watch my children play.  They take these small, inanimate toys and somehow produce elaborate fantasy worlds where anything is possible.  And they do it completely from their own imagination.  My kids have never seen Avatar or FernGully (the 1992 cartoon movie that Avatar blatantly ripped off).  They have no idea what a fantasy world would even look like.  Using only their creativity, they are able to come up with something that, at least in their own minds, has never existed before.

I feel like our desire to create fades as we age.  Perhaps it is our fear of failure, or maybe we just think it's immature to "waste" time using our imagination.  When was the last time you did that?  Sure, I often daydream of fishing all day with an endless supply of Buffalo Wild Wings on hand.  But those are not new concepts, only a combination of things I am very familiar with.  I really can’t tell you the last time I even tried to create something new.  As a creator made in the image of God, I feel as though I am completely ignoring a part of who I was created to be.

Now, I’m not talking about inventing gadgets or writing fictional novels (while those are great examples of being a creator).  I’m talking about using your talents and producing something that is fresh and innovative.  I’m talking about utilizing your role as a creator to serve the God that created you.

Just think about how much impact a new ministry would have in your community.  While traditional ministries that have become part of your community calendar are amazing blessings to those that are served, try thinking about a demographic that is not touched by those programs.  What could you do that would be appealing to a group of people that don’t ordinarily come out to community events and may not need the assistance that the traditional ministries are providing?  How can you introduce people to Christ in a way that they may not have experienced before?

I’ll tell you what, let’s do this together.  Please comment below by either sharing a ministry idea that others can help you develop or a thought on how to put a new twist on an old idea.  People helping people.  Let’s do this!

_I have a confession to make. I’m scared of the dark.  There, I said it.  Ever since I was a kid, I could not stand to be alone in the dark.  It wasn’t the dark, necessarily, that I was afraid.  It was the things out there that the dark did not allow me to see.  Don’t lie, you know exactly what I am talking about.

While I still keep the Flashlight app on the home screen of my phone just in case, a friend of mine said something a few years ago that gave me a new perspective on darkness.  He said, “darkness does not exist.”  Apparently, he has never heard of blackout curtains…and he did not watch UK play football last Fall. 

Actually, he had a good point.  It is 100% impossible to produce darkness.  What we perceive as darkness is simply the absence of light.  Light, I might add, is very powerful and even the least bit of it can overcome a vast amount of so-called darkness. 

At the risk of being painfully obvious, allow me to directly apply the light versus darkness paradigm to the good versus evil discussion.  While saying “evil does not exist” feels wrong and even a bit scary, it seems fitting that anything we perceive as evil can be more aptly described as a lack of good.  Or, for us Christians, evil can be thought of as the lack of God’s presence in any given situation. 

If you are saying, “but God is everywhere, Jamie, there should be no evil at all according to your argument,” hold your horses.  I’m getting there.  Of course God is everywhere.  However, due to the free will He gives us, we can choose to exclude God from our lives.  We can choose to remove Him from the situations we are involved in.  When we do that, evil starts to creep in.  The lack of God’s presence in any circumstance leaves the door open for evil to have a fighting chance against us.

Luckily, God desperately wants to be a part of our lives.  He wants to be close to us so badly that He sent His only Son to die and be raised again so that we can have a relationship with Him.  Just like light, the presence of the Lord in any situation can easily eradicate any amount of evil.  But it is up to us to invite God into our lives.  It is our responsibility to put God first and be as Christ-like as possible so that the only true good, the only pure light in the world, can eliminate all darkness and evil that tries to latch onto our lives. 

What have you done to help brighten the place up lately?
_ I have heard it more times than I can count.  Whether it is during a spiritual discussion or when trying to comfort another believer, I have often heard Christians say, “God will not give you more than you can handle.”  I have actually heard Christians that I really look up to say this is a Biblical truth.  I had heard it so much, in fact, that I accepted it as fact.  It was only recently that I realized how untrue it is.

When asked what scripture people use to support this statement, they often refer to 1 Corinthians 13:10.  “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  Indeed, this verse says that God will not put more on you than you can bear…in regards to temptation.  We are promised that a way out will be provided to help us resist any temptation that may arise.  However, this passage does not refer in any way to trials, struggles, or stressful circumstances.

In fact, it doesn’t even make sense that God would protect us from these things.  As Christians, we are called to be persecuted.  We are called to suffer for the sake of Christ…and smile about it. 

“You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted….”  (2 Timothy 3:10-12)

“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:12)

So the next time you hear somebody say that God will not give us more than we can handle, please correct them.  This is not a Biblical truth, and it actually contradicts the command to take up our cross and sacrifice everything for our faith.  Not only will God allow us to suffer and be persecuted, He commands us to accept it.

Has God ever allowed you to face seemingly unbearable circumstances?

_ While I did not grow up attending church regularly, I feel like I have been told stories from the Bible my entire life.  At some point, it seems like these stories become so much a part of who you are that you become numb to the details.  And while the majority of the time the moral of the story is the most vital point to remember, the details are often more revealing than we care to remember.

I realized this recently as I have begun sharing those timeless stories with my young children.  Have you ever tried telling a Bible story to a young child?  How did that work out for you?  Here are a few reasons I have found it difficult to share the Bible with kids.

1.  Fairy tale confusion.  – We tell kids fairy tales all the time.  We tell stories of mystical lands where magical things happen and everyone lives happily ever after.  And then we tell them stories from the Bible set in far off lands where amazing things happen and God loves everyone. 

While I clearly understand the difference between the two kinds of stories, it can be difficult to work a logical disclaimer in when you are working with a preschooler’s attention span.  I try to be clear that Bible stories are true and the other stories are just for fun, but I usually feel like that is lost in translation.  That’s pretty troubling for me.

2.  Magic vs. Miracles.  – Again, I know the difference.  But how can I clearly show my son that God tying up the lions’ mouths to save Daniel means so much more than Tinker Bell using pixie dust to help Peter Pan escape from Captain Hook?  How can I expect my kids to see the truth in Jesus healing people when I can’t do the same for them?  I have no idea how to explain the difference between “magic” and the all powerful nature of God.  I hope that understanding will come with age and maturity (on my part and that of my children), but that does not make it easier to work with in the mean time.

3.Death. – Oh my goodness.  As I have become numb to the details of many Old Testament stories, I have apparently forgotten how much death and destruction takes place.  Do you remember how many people died in the beautiful story of Noah’s Ark?  EVERYONE!  I can try all I want to focus on the pairs of cool animals, the huge boat, and the promise of the rainbow, but I know it is only a matter of time before my son asks what happened to all of the other people. 

I understand that death is a part of life, and that is a conversation I will have with my children soon enough.  But as I teach them about a God that loves them and His Son that gave up His life for them, I’d prefer to let that marinate for a while before telling them about the just, wrathful side of God.

It seems this has turned into a “confess your fears” session on my part, but I am okay with that.  Surely I am not the only person concerned about the best way to share my faith with my children.  From what I hear, that is kind of a big deal.

What fears do you have about sharing your faith with your children?  Do you have any tips to help others in the same situation?  

_ Ever play the game Imaginiff?  It is a board game where you are presented with a scenario about an individual playing the game, and you are asked to comment on the scenario based on the characteristics of that person.  Example: “Imaginiff Kenny was a type of candy bar.  What type would he be?  1. Milky Way  2. Snickers  3. Baby Ruth  4. Payday  5. Whatchamacallit  6. Butterfinger.”  At that point, all of the players will display their selected answers simultaneously and those that vote in the majority advance on the game board.  Meanwhile, everyone is laughing at Kenny because everyone voted for numbers 1 and 3 because he is the short, pasty kid of the group.  It is good times had by all.

To be honest, I cannot stand the game and I only play it because I don’t want my friends that like it to think I hate them.  I’m a good friend like that.  However, the “what if” set-up is one that I think we all give in to a little bit every day.  It is almost impossible not to wonder how we would react if we were in the shoes of other people.  We cannot help but think we would handle a situation differently than somebody that seemed to react in the wrong way.  But how can we know for sure?

The pastor at my church uses an illustration every now and again that makes it easier for me to picture how I would react in certain situations.  Consider the sponge.  (That sounds all philosophical, right?  I thought so.)  Whenever you squeeze a sponge, what comes out of it?  Obviously, it is whatever the sponge has been soaking in.  However, that is not always obvious from the surface.  The sponge may feel dry and light, as if it was brand new.  But if you press it up against a wall, you will be able to see where it has been and whatever gunk in which it has been spending its time.

Similarly, when people find themselves in a pressure filled situation where they are forced to react, it is often easy to tell how they have been spending their time and what they have truly been soaking in.  If they have been spending time in the Bible and focusing on pure forms of entertainment, it is very likely that the love of Christ will ooze out of them.  If somebody has been soaking in things that are not pure (violence, anger, lust, judgment, gossip), it will be easy to see the filthy mess coming out when they find themselves in a tight spot.

So what does that mean for you?  You are the only person that knows what things you focus on when nobody else is around.  Are you soaking in pure, holy things, or do you spend your time in the muck? 

What types of things would we see coming out of you if you were pressed against a wall?

Boy, do I hate chick flicks.  I would honestly rather get a paper cut between my fingers than sit through a two hour movie about finding true love.  To be clear, though, it’s not the love part that bothers me.  It’s not even the ridiculous circumstances that are magically overcome that make me cringe.  It’s the selfishness.

Apparently any action is fair game as long as it leads to a happily ever after for whatever actor/actress that had to fulfill their contract with the production company.  I am always amazed at how the writers of these stories trick the viewer into cheering for these characters that lie, cheat, steal, ruin friendships, and manipulate everyone in their lives in the pursuit of love. 

Seriously?!  I’ve seen Kevin Spacey kill people for less.  But every time I watch one of these “romantic comedies,” I find myself in an argument with every woman that has ever seen it for the next week.  I try to make it clear how awful these characters are and argue that they should be viewed as villains, not heroes.  Yet, all is hear is, “but he/she was in love.”

FINALLY!!!  I have stumbled upon some scripture to back me up. 

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?  “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”  (Jeremiah 17:9-10 NIV)

As it turns out, following your heart is not all it is cracked up to be.  Your heart will deceive you.  This cannot be fixed.  Yet, God rewards us on our conduct.  So let me get this straight; even if we are following our heart, even if we are “in love,” God still judges us based on our behavior?  Huh…who would have thunk it?   

Let me see if I can follow the logic here.  The Bible says that the heart is deceitful.  Chick flicks are all about following your heart.  Would it not make sense, then, that God does not like these movies?  Hey, don’t blame me.  It’s in the Bible.

_ "For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face.” (Psalms 11:7 NIV)

God loves justice.  I like justice, but I’m not sure I’m ready to commit to loving it yet.  You see, justice is difficult.  I am not talking about some blindfolded chick holding a set of scales.  I am talking about true, bold, demanding, uncomfortable justice.

Many of us consider ourselves just because we are rarely guilty of purposefully committing injustice.  I have realized recently that this viewpoint is nothing more than a cop out.  It is much easier to avoid doing wrong than it is to do what is right.  Actually being just means taking it a step further.  Seeking justice means taking what you know is right, and doing everything you can to see that it is carried out.

Of course, it starts in your own life.  If you want to be “upright” as the Psalm says, you must focus on making the correct moral, ethical, and biblical decisions no matter what the consequences may be.  Of course, this sounds easy.  But until you are ready to admit that you don’t matter, you will always have trouble being selfless in difficult situations.

I find it interesting and equally shameful that we are called to take up our cross and risk our lives, yet we are unwilling to risk our reputation and even our comfort to do what is right.  If you know somebody is struggling with a particular temptation, it is your job to confront them and help them get on the right path.  No matter how awkward that may be, that is what you are called to do.  That is just.  If you see someone getting cheated, taken advantage of, or even abused, it is your responsibility to step in.  Saying “that’s none of my business” is just another way of saying “my comfort is more important than that person’s well-being.”  That is selfish.  Stop it.

I’ve been very tempted throughout this post to say that you should do what is right “as long as you do not risk physical harm to yourself.”  That would be pretty cowardly of me.  Justice is about so much more than what will happen to me if I stand up for it.  It is about doing what I know is right.  No. Matter  What.

I want to love justice.  I want to do right in all situations.  I want to stop being just a Christian and start being a just Christian.  Who’s with me?