Are you concerned with your reputation?  I think most people are.  I am.  I really want people to think that I am caring, intelligent, and fun to be around.  So I draw attention to the things that I do that make me look that way, and I tend to hide the things that don’t.  And yes, that means I hide the vast majority of what I do.

I am too worried about what people think about me, and that often leads to me getting defensive when I am confronted about anything I am not proud of.  I don’t want to be judged based on one bad habit (or two).  I want to keep rocking my swagger mask.  So I go into defense mode.

When we start to get defensive, we find ways to justify what we are doing even if deep down we know it is not in line with our Christian values. Think about the things you spend your time on:  the movies and television shows you watch, your hobbies, the music you listen to, and the people that you hang out with. 

If any of these things were less than holy and somebody called you on it, your first response would probably be, “what’s wrong with that?” After asking this question, it is very easy for you to justify your actions by saying “there’s nothing ‘that bad’ in that movie,” “everybody listens to that kind of music,” or “he’s not as bad as everybody says.” Excuses for tiptoeing the “in the world, but not of it” line are never in short order.

But let’s go back to that original question. “What’s wrong with that?” Is that something you think Jesus would say? Think about a strong Christian example in your life. Have you heard them ask that question? I certainly hope not. The key to finding purity in your life is to change the question. 

Instead of trying to figure out what is wrong about a decision, we should focus on how that decision could glorify Christ. We should ask, “what is good about this situation?” or “how does this decision bring me closer to God?” If this becomes our immediate reaction, we will begin to put the focus on Jesus and take it off of our selfish desires, whatever they may be. 

The next time you are faced with a tough decision, practice asking the right question and see how it changes your focus. 

 
Wow.  Every time I watch this clip, I am amazed at how well they captured my disorder.  It is not so much a fear of cameras or being photographed, but more of an involuntary reflex where my face looks like somebody is pinching my spleen.  Any time a camera is pointed at me, it is as if any attempt to smile results in a cramp in every muscle in my neck and face. 

My face has enough problems as it is, but any formal photographs taken of me are embarrassingly hideous.  I try my best to smile and look happy.  I want to be like every other human on earth and look like I enjoy my life.  Instead, I end up looking like somebody slipped a dill pickle in my milkshake.  It is painful.

Growing up, I got similar impressions from many of the Christians I interacted with.  They rarely seemed happy, especially when talking about their faith.  They seemed so concerned with fearing the rapture and convincing everyone they were right that they seemed miserable.

That is incomprehensible to me.  How on earth can you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, interact with the Creator of everything, and be filled with the Holy Spirit and still look so unhappy? 

Having gone from certain death to eternal life, we should be full of joy all the time.  That doesn’t mean that we always have to be smiling.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t hurt or go through tough times.  It means that we know how it all ends, and in the meantime we are constantly wrapped in the loving arms of our Father. 

We can show our joy through our perseverance, our faith, our giving, and our dedication to doing His work and serving our neighbors.  Our joy becomes evident when we tell our stories (testimonies) and share what He means to us.

We have no reason to be afraid.  We have no reason to worry.  But we have every reason to rejoice with every fragile breath with which we have been blessed.  We have every reason to tell everyone we see about His love and how awesome our God is.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  (Philippians 4:4 NIV)

 
More, more, more.  We are never satisfied.  If we only had a job that paid a little more, we’d be happy.  If we only had a house with a bigger yard, we’d be happy.  If our car was just a few years newer, we’d be happy.  If we had just a little more hair, we’d be happy.  Wait…that last one is just me, isn’t it?

Our selfish nature does not allow us to settle for anything less than “more.”  And the more we have, the more we want…a vicious cycle.  Sometimes it seems as though contentment can be as elusive as perfection.  Yet, being content is a very common theme in scripture.

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5 NIV)

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13 NIV)

But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. (1 Timothy 6:6-8 NIV)

This is some very powerful language suggesting that it is possible to be content, as long as we learn to fully rely on God.  In fact, being content seems to be essential for following Christ.  Anything but contentment appears to stem from the sinful temptations of greed and worry.

Speaking in terms of material possessions and personal comfort, I could not agree more.  We should be content as long as we can provide food, water, and shelter for those that we are responsible for. 

However, we need to be very careful that we do not cross the thin line from contentment to complacency.  We often seek contentment in Christ, and find ourselves settling for less than our best.  When we feel like our needs have been met, we tend to rest on our laurels and assume our work is done. 

Unfortunately, we tend to seek God the most out of desperation and conviction.  And contentment is essentially the antithesis of both of those things.  When we feel comfortable, it is easy to stop seeking God and what He really wants for our lives.

Avoid the lukewarm danger zone we call complacency at all costs.  Be content.  Be satisfied with the ample blessings God has surely given you.  But stay hungry.  Stay passionate for His work and His will for your life.

 
Sweat stinks.  There is no way around it.  From the time you hit middle school until the time you die, sweat is one of your worst enemies.  The stains, the stink, the bees.  It’s a hot mess.  (Note:  That is possibly the worst joke I have ever made.)

Poll question:  What do you apply to your body to avoid the horrific aroma of sweat?  Chances are that 98% of you said deodorant.  Whatever the other 2% said, please say it from a distance.

One of the first awkward moments of my marriage was when I went grocery shopping and bought deodorant for my wife.  I knew it was the same brand I had seen her use, so I grabbed a stick and threw it in the buggy.  (Note:  Feel free to call it a “shopping cart,” but where I am from it’s a buggy.  Back off.) 

I didn’t think about the deodorant again until the next morning when she went to use it.  Apparently, there is fine print on each stick of deodorant.  By fine print, I mean bold letters under the brand name.  If the package did not say “Deodorant and Antiperspirant,” my wife refused to use it.  The stick I bought only said "deodorant."

I may be the only person in this boat, but it was a shock to me that those were two different things.  I had always assumed that "deodorant=antiperspirant."  Luckily, my wife was ready and willing to give me a very direct lesson on the difference.  Apparently, deodorant does nothing more than cancel out and cover up the smell of sweat, while antiperspirant prevents the sweat from ever making an appearance.  (Note:  I am still not convinced that this difference actually exists.  I believe it may just be a marketing ploy.)  (Note:  I think I just set a record for the number of “Notes” in one post.)

I believe that we live in an era of “deodorant Christianity.”  Instead of trying to help each other become pure and just by holding each other accountable, we come up with creative ways to cover up the stink of our sinful nature. 

Think about it.  When was the last time when you heard somebody stand up and confess their sins in public?  When was the last time you saw a fellow Christian directly confront the sinful behavior of another Christian?  Is that not what we are supposed to be doing? 

We are all called to be Christ-like; as sinless and full of love as possible.  But instead of going through the pain of such purification, we mask our faults and struggles so others will not know that we have fallen short of perfection. 

We have confidential giving statements, unspoken prayer requests, spectator-style worship services, prosperity gospels, secret internet lives, destructive sinful habits, and a mind-your-own-business mentality.  I’ll handle my relationship with God, you handle yours.  Let’s leave it at that.

How on earth can we read the Bible and come away with the conclusion that any of that is okay?  Jesus loved people enough to tell them when they were straying from the Way.  He called out the Pharisees, He turned over tables, and He cursed the fig tree for not producing fruit.  He pulled no punches.  He wanted people to be righteous and just.

The early churches literally pooled all of their money together and shared as they had need.  Paul’s letters are full of loving accountability to be sure that the churches were accurately following Christ’s teachings.  Many early Christians gave up their lives for their faith, and we are too proud and selfish to risk our comfort and reputations.

THIS is not the way we are commanded to live.  This is NOT the life of sacrifice and persecution we are called to.  This is not CHRISTIANITY.

Try and justify it however you want, but we are doing something wrong.  I pray that God will help me to be different.  I’ll pray for you, too.

 
As I’ve said before, I love movies.  Not all movies, but most.  I enjoy watching them, talking about them, researching the stories of how they came to be, and reading ahead about the movies currently in production.  I am apparently pretty fascinated by the entire industry.

One theme of the industry that boggles my mind, however, is the tendency to remake movies.  You take an old movie that was popular, perhaps change the time aspect of the setting, and then use modern technology to bring the story to the 21st century.  Being a person that enjoys variety and thrives on surprising twists, the general idea of remaking a film bores me.

And with the recent examples of The Karate Kid and Footloose, and upcoming copies of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Robocop, I feel as though my childhood is being personally attacked by those remaking these films.  I hate to be the old guy that always defends the old stuff, but geez, some things just need to be left alone.  Seriously, raise your hand if you can think of a single remake that was better than the original.  See, that’s what I thought.  (Note:  If you just raised your hand, chances are we aren’t that close anyway.  So what do you say, no hard feelings?)

I get almost as frustrated when I see my Christian brothers and sisters constantly trying to make up for the mistakes they have made or re-do a missed opportunity.  Many people seem to think that the only way to have a bright future is to overcome the past.  If I am interpreting the Bible correctly, it seems pretty clear that, once I accept Christ as my Savior and acknowledge Him as my Lord, my past is not only forgiven but forgotten.  “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12 NIV)

Sure, it is very difficult to move on from your mistakes and even to forgive yourself sometimes.  But when you start putting your focus on who you were, it becomes increasingly more difficult to become who God wants you to be.  Until you can accept His forgiveness and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you in His plan, you will spend all of your time spinning your wheels. 

Just like it was a horrible idea to remake Footloose just to teach somebody how to Dougie, you will be making a huge mistake if you spend time trying to make up for your past.  Seek God’s face and submit to His will.  When you find yourself doing these things every day, you will quickly realize that the past is nothing more than a weapon the enemy uses to distract you from your eternal journey with the Creator.

So I plea to all Christians (and movie producers), please stop working on remakes.  Nothing good can come from it.

 
Being a sports fan, I love cheering for the underdog.  I love watching teams and individuals that don’t seem to stand a chance somehow find what it takes to come out on top.  It’s fun, entertaining, and always inspiring. 

Some of my favorite moments are when people overcome being outnumbered.  Like when a basketball player is being double or triple teamed and somehow finds a way to score.  Or when a wide receiver goes up around several defenders and pulls the ball down.  These things should not happen, but they do.  That is what makes them so amazing.

According to the Bible, God seems to be a pretty big fan of underdogs as well.  David beat Goliath.  Abraham beat old age.  Noah beat the flood.  Those are some pretty big odds that were conquered. 

He also seems to enjoy see people overcome being outnumbered.  When the Israelites were finally ready to enter the Promised Land, they defeated several enemies that were much larger than they were.  And they did so with ease. 

When Joshua tells them how important it is for them to remember how great God is, he reminds them of how outnumbered they were.  “One of you routs a thousand, because the LORD your God fights for you, just as he promised.”  (Joshua 23:10 NIV)

When we think of overcoming odds, we talk about people succeeding who have a four or five to one chance.  Or if we want to be completely ridiculous, we bet on the guy that has a ten to one shot.  (Note:  I am not talking about actual gambling here…so put away your torch and pitchforks.)  But here we see that, with God on their side, the Israelites were victorious despite being outnumbered one thousand to one.

Usually, when we talk about wars, we talk about soldiers in terms of tens and even hundreds of thousands.  That is very difficult for us to visualize.  It just doesn't seem real.  But if you can picture yourself going up against a thousand well-trained soldiers, it becomes a bit easier to see how awesome this feat would have been.

God’s power is truly limitless.  But because our perspective is very limited, His power somehow gets lost in translation.  Even though we are quick to say that He performs miracles every day, it is so hard for us to truly believe it. 

One of the primary reasons that we do not see the miracles we claim to believe in is that we are scared to ask for them.  We are so afraid that God won’t or even can’t answer our prayers that we often end up lowering our expectations so we won’t be disappointed in Him.  How ridiculous is that?

Because of their faith, God gave each Israelite soldier the power to defeat a thousand enemy soldiers.  “The LORD is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?”  (Psalm 27:1 NIV)

The next time you need a “big” prayer to be answered, ask God for a “big” blessing.  Pray for safety, pray for strength, pray for healing, pray for a miracle.  Do your part and ask, and then let Him do His.

 
I have spent most of my life trying to be cool.  Since the majority of the time I feel like a moron, I often over-compensate and try too hard to fit in, making me look even more ridiculous.  It’s a vicious cycle that I have come to terms with.  Well, I had come to terms with it…until I had kids.

Use whatever word you choose:  silly, ridiculous, stupid, goofy, awkward, embarrassing.  Any of those words can describe the way I have always felt about myself, but you would have to add them all together to illustrate what I have become now that I am a father. 

I have gone from telling corny jokes and being the guy that will take one bite of anything to the dad that would rather sing, dance, and play dress up than watch a ball game or go fishing.  But out of the all of the embarrassing things I do with and for my children, I never feel more absurd than when I have to spell out words to put one over on a three year old.

Of course, the reason I spell words out is so my wife and I can discuss things without our children knowing what we are talking about.  Sometimes we don’t want our kids to get too excited about something before we are ready to do it.  “It’s a nice day, maybe we should go to the p-a-r-k after dinner.”  Other times we are trying to avoid confusing or scaring the kids.  “Avery has an appointment with the doctor on Monday, and she is due for more s-h-o-t-s.”  But there are also instances when we do it to protect them. 

As I study the Bible, spend time in prayer, and listen to fellow believers share their experiences, I feel as though the more I learn about the character of God the more there is for me to learn.  I am becoming more and more aware of the fact that the finite potential of my brain cannot comprehend all that He is. 

I don’t think that He is intentionally withholding information as some part of game.  I don’t think He is selfishly keeping things from us because it helps Him feel more powerful.  I think it is more like He is spelling out words like I do with my kids. 

While I doubt He feels as goofy about doing it as I do, I believe it makes perfect sense.  He says and does things in ways that we cannot understand to keep us from getting confused and scared.  He understands how little control we have over our feelings, so He is discreet about things to help us keep our emotions in check.  He does not completely reveal Himself or His plan to us because He wants to protect us.

So as I grow and mature in my faith, I become more comfortable with the fact that I am not meant to know everything.  I am also starting to realize that I don’t want to know everything.  God is in control, and that is all that I need to know.

 
Remember the time Moses parted the Red Sea?  That was alright, I guess.  And then the time he talked to a burning bush?  Yeah, not bad.  How about when he hung out with God on the top of a mountain and God carved out some custom commandment stones for him?  No big deal.

Man, Moses had some pretty cool experiences and was a part of some of God’s most famous interactions with people.  But there is one story that I feel we often overlook.  One that I feel shows the power of God in a way that we must never forget. 

So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him.  He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?”  Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.  (Numbers 20:9-11 NIV)

Water from a rock.  How cool is that?  Sure, manna gave them sustenance.  But you can live longer without food than you can without water, right?  Come on.  Water.From.A.Rock.

Most people wonder why God does not perform miracles like that anymore.  Why doesn’t He wow us with His power?  Why doesn’t He make it obvious to us that nothing is impossible?  Why doesn’t He produce something from nothing like He did so often for Moses? 

In my opinion, He still does those things every day.  The difference between now and then lies in the fact that we view the world differently.  We feel powerful, entitled, and far too intelligent to rely on miracles.  We want to be in control, and we can manipulate any situation to make ourselves feel like we are.

Let me tell you, God still brings water from rocks all the time.  You and I are living proof.  If anything good can come out of any of us, that is a miracle.  We were born as slaves to sin and destined for failure in all things.  But God chooses to use us for His glory.  Sure, we get in His way more often than we’d like to admit.  But that does even more to prove this point.  If we are so flawed and incapable of producing good fruit, then anything Godly that comes from our existence must be a miracle. 

Each day, He is putting His power on display through our weakness.  By using us in His plan, He is constantly proving that nothing is impossible.  In producing good works through our meager efforts, He creates something from nothing every single day.  Water from rocks.

If you want to see a miracle, just open your eyes.  His power and glory are all around us.  We are usually just too selfish to see it.

 
In my first job out of college, I worked with a nice young lady named Angie (Yes, my wife’s name is Angie…not the same person.).  Angie was a super sweet gal, but she could really get down to business when she needed to.  Listening to her talk on the phone was one of the more entertaining things I was able to experience in that job.  Her phone conversations were so entertaining, in fact, that they received a nickname. 

My friend Steve dubbed these conversations as the “Angie Sandwich.” 

When she answered the phone, it sounded as if an angel was saying, “Hello, this is Angie.  How are you?” 

The next three to five minutes would include words and tones that sounded like they came straight out of a prison movie.  I usually assumed the individual on the other end of the line was in tears.  It could go from being funny to offensive in an instant.

And just when it got so bad you would get up to leave the room, Angie would wrap up the call with a darling, “Thank you.  Have a nice day!  Byyyeeeee.”

That is an Angie Sandwich.  You get a quarter pound of verbal abuse in between two slices of heavenly courtesy.

I think back on those Angie Sandwiches often.  The memories usually come flooding back each time I find myself reading a vicious email.  Man, people can be so brave on a keyboard.  Sure, they are usually formal and address me as Mr. (or Ms. for those of you that love the fact that I have a girl’s name) Boggs.  And then they proceed to act like somebody dropped a house on their sister, tossing out accusations and making threats left and right. 

Once they have all of the venting out of their system, they sign the email, “In Christ, Disrespectful Emailer.”  (Note:  I have never met anyone named Disrespectful Emailer.  But if I did, I would probably give them a break since their parents hated them so much)

So…wait.  You send a mean, hateful email and then sign of in the name of Christ?  Do you really not see the hypocrisy in that?  Do you think that makes it okay to say whatever you want?  And do you really think that is going to bring people closer to God?

Maybe you have never received an email like this, and I hope you never do.  I certainly hope you do not send emails like this. 

Whether it is an email, a Facebook post, a Tweet, or any other public display of our opinions, we all need to be careful about how we come across.  Regardless of whether or not we put God’s name on it, as Christians we are always representatives of His kingdom. 

People are supposed to see Christ when they look at us, and that includes anything we write, type, or say.  Just try to keep that in mind the next time you get ready to click send.

 
I was a pretty good student in school.  I never got in trouble.  I got good grades and performed well on standardized tests.  I got into a great school that was completely paid for by scholarships and grants.  I would say I did pretty well for myself. 

But no matter how well I did or how confident I felt, I always hated getting called on in class.  I would occasionally raise my hand just to let my teachers know I was paying attention.  But I spent the rest of the time avoiding eye contact and praying that my name wasn’t called.

Unfortunately, I still find myself trying to avoid getting called on.  But this time it is not about knowing the correct answer, it is about the anxiety that comes with praying in public.  What if I say something stupid?  What if I stutter?  What if I forget that I am praying in public and I start saying all kinds of personal stuff?  What if I completely mess this up?

To be clear, I am always honored when I am asked to pray in public.  When a Christian brother or sister respects me enough to ask me to lead a group in speaking with the Creator of the universe, I am honored and humbled beyond belief.  It truly blesses my heart. 

However, that does not go very far into helping my anxiety about the matter.  So to make myself feel better, I’ve decided to make a list of the most common types of public prayer.  Hopefully, I can use this list to guide my own public prayers.  Or…I can use it as a list of techniques to avoid.  Either way, let’s get started.

1.  The Wordsmith – This one is possibly my favorite, as I am a huge fan of rare and interesting words.  When a Wordsmith prays, it feels like the entire congregation is taken on a magical journey through the missing pages of a dictionary.  The adjectives with which they describe God and His work are so unique that you must simply accept that they are real words in order to avoid being judgmental during prayer.  And when context clues do not suffice to provide you with a definition, you find yourself nodding in agreement based solely on the assumption that God loves big words.

2.  The Norman Martin – For those of you that do not regularly peruse random Wikipedia pages, Norman Martin was the writer/composer of “The Song That Never Ends.”  It is not that Norman Martin prayers are not important.  They just tend to get repetitive and go off on tangents.  It can feel like they go on forever, even if it is just a few minutes.  (Wait…did I just describe this blog?)  When a Norman Martin prays, you start to notice others in your pew leaning on the pew in front of them, sitting down, and yawning.  Then you find yourself trying to nail down what you are having for lunch.  This is a sad, but true reality.  Norman Martins...bless their hearts.

3.  The Racer – Racers are normally only identified at the end of a service.  Their prayers are very short and sweet, and they often speak more quickly than they do in normal conversation.  It is very common to find out later on that a Racer is in a hurry to get to a meal, a game, or a fishing pole.

4.  The Philosophizer – Philosophizers have their heart in the right place, but they often tend to out-think the room.  Feeling the need to relate their prayer to the message they just heard or the focus of the meeting that is wrapping up, they often speak in circles about the general topic as they search for a clever way to tie everything together.  Sometimes they get there, sometimes they don’t.  But waiting to see where they end up is always an entertaining venture.

5.  The King James – I have a news flash for all of you, Jesus never said the words “thee” and “thou.”  Those are words from England in the 1600’s that represented a translation of the other Bibles that were available at the time.  Contrary to popular belief, Jesus Himself did not carry a King James Bible around Rome.  So when you start praying in Ye Olde English, please be prepared for some medieval heckling.

Regardless of what type of prayer you are, you should never feel ashamed or embarrassed about what you say or how you say it.  You have been asked to speak to your Heavenly Father.  It is an honor and a blessing that we can communicate directly with Him.  Say what is on your heart, and do it in Jesus’ name.  Amen.