Have you ever taken a road trip with two toddlers after their bedtime?  If you have not had the pleasure, and you are a glutton for punishment, I highly suggest that you do so.  I had the opportunity recently when I took my kids to their very first concert.  The plan was to drive down early, let them expend all of their energy at the concert, and then have them sleep on the way home. 

Oh, how I wish this post was about things not going as planned.  However, today I feel led to talk about suffering.

Gavin (my 3 year old son):  An odd mix of excitedly reflecting on the concert and fighting sleep, he is constantly whining and asking for things we do not have.  Refusing to watch the DVD’s we rented for the trip, he insists that we go to another concert, the mall, or even a gas station instead of going home.  The more tired and whiney he gets, the more he talks to avoid going to sleep.  He is a pro at this.

Avery (my 18 month old daughter):  Possibly a bit more slap-happy than her brother, she decides to turn her fussiness into a game.  She asks for a toy, and then throws it in the floor just out of my reach.  I find another toy to give her only to see it join its friend behind her seat.  I offer her a snack consisting of Teddy Grahams.  She literally bites their heads off and gives them back to me as she continues to cry.


When Jesus told the disciples to take up their cross, what do you think He meant?  We are often taught that Jesus was referring to the fact that we must be ready to die for our faith.  Just as He was killed as a sacrifice for us, we must be willing to dedicate ourselves to His work, even if it means losing our own lives.

I believe Jesus meant more than that.  If you read the story of the Christ’s crucifixion, you will see that it was not a quick execution.  He was beaten.  He was tortured.  He suffered greatly for a very long time before He proclaimed, “It is finished.”  The pain He endured cannot be comprehended by someone that has not experienced it.

So if we start to look at our call to die as also a call to suffer, does that change anything?  Isn’t dying worse than suffering?  People would be much more willing to suffer than die if given the choice, right?  Well, I sure wouldn’t.

Folks are often pretty quick to say they are willing to give their lives for something.  Many people are ready and willing to die for their country, their family, their friends, their faith, and in some cases even their possessions.  And I think most of them believe their claim to be true. 

When we think of sacrificial death, we think of a gunshot that leads to an instant death or jumping in front of an 18-wheeler that would be quick and painless.  We usually picture an unexpected situation where we make the snap decision to sacrifice our own life and then it is all over.  We make it sound as though we will have complete control over the situation.  We make it sound easy.  We make it sound convenient.  It's like Woody Allen once said, “Dying is one of the few things that can be done as easily lying down.”

Suffering, however, cannot be made easy.  Suffering means that you have to endure overwhelming pain and discomfort.  Suffering means that you may not know what the future holds.  When you suffer, you have no power to stop it and no way to control its impact on your life.  When some people suffer, in fact, they see losing their lives as a graceful option to end their suffering.

Jesus did not use His power to avoid suffering, but chose to endure it so that our suffering may be temporary.  So are you ready to follow His lead?  Are you still willing to take up your cross, even if it means that you have to suffer?
I really enjoy holding doors for people.  I don’t know why, but I get a kick out of it.  I guess it is just one thing I can do that is helpful, polite, and super easy.  Opening doors is a way that I can love people with minimal risk of screwing it up.  However, like my friends Poison used to say, every rose has its thorn.

For whatever reason, and I know this is petty and selfish, I tend to get pretty frustrated when people are not thankful for me opening the door for them.  I don’t need a scene or a dramatic production.  I don’t even need a verbal thank you.  A smile, a nod, or any combination of the two would more than suffice. 

And the thing is, I know that I do not need the thank you.  I think I just get disappointed that they do not feel the need to give one.  I realize that is judgmental and that I usually know nothing about what kind of mood they are in or what they have been through that day.  That is on me and I am not proud of it.  However, I have to wonder if God ever feels frustrated when we do not give thanks.

In Luke 17, Jesus heals ten men that have leprosy.  They approach Him asking that He will have pity on them, and He tells them to go and show themselves to the priests.  When they do, they are healed.  Of the ten men, however, only one returns to say thank you.  A Samaritan, who would rarely have even spoken to a Jew, came and threw himself at Jesus’ feet, giving thanks.  Then Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?  Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:17-19 NIV)

There have been a couple of situations in the last week in which God has greatly blessed my family.  In one in particular, he answered a prayer that has been a burden on my family for several years.  As I yelled out “Praise God!  Thank you Lord!” at the top of my lungs, I started to feel inadequate as if my thank you’s were not enough.  I started to wonder what it would be like for God to deserve eternal thanks and only receive my meager words. 

It was at that point that I realized that God does not need my thanks.  His ego does not depend on anything I do or say.  Jesus was not frustrated by the other nine men because He was offended by them, but because His heart broke for them. 

You see, giving thanks to God gives us the opportunity to truly experience humility, to immerse ourselves in His love and blessings, and to prepare our hearts to funnel those blessings to those in need.  Make no mistake, giving thanks did much more for that Samaritan man than it did for Jesus. 

Saying “thank you” is for our benefit, not God's.  And as much as He has proven that He loves us, I can only imagine how much it hurts Him when we pass up that blessing. 

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.  Let the whole world know what he has done. (1 Chronicles 16:8 NLT)

I have a pretty obsessive personality.  When I get excited about something or really start getting into a new hobby, it quickly becomes all I think about.  I talk about it to everyone I interact with.  I research it online.  I use my entire lunch hour doing it or making plans to do it.  I sometimes even dream about it. 

Do I like the fact that I am obsessive?  Absolutely not, it is one of the many things in my personality that I would like to change.  However, the fact that I am aware of the issue and acknowledge that I have trouble with it gives me a chance to work on using it for good things, even for Godly things.

What about you?  Do you obsess over anything?  Do you have any small addictions?  I have noticed that a lot of people have at least a moderate addiction to gaming.  I’m talking Farmville, Angry Birds, Tiny Zoo, Draw Something, Tapfish, Mob Wars, Texas Hold ‘Em, Snake (just in case somebody an early 1990’s phone), Tetris, Words with Friends, Scramble with Friends, Hanging with Friends, Fruit Ninja, and Temple Run.  And you and I both know that list is nowhere near exhaustive.  (Note:  I am not talking about big addictions like drugs, alcohol, and gambling.  Also, I do not recommend playing Angry Birds while doing any of those things.)

Game addiction is such a strange feeling.  It’s like the only thing you want more than to play another round of the game is to not feel the need to constantly play the game.  “I have to get a new high score.”  “I have to see if it is my turn.”  “I have to beat that stage.”  “WHY CAN’T I STOP!?”  “HELP!!!”

What if we had that kind of “addictive” feeling about prayer, reading the Bible, or ministry?  What if we just couldn’t get enough of feeding the hungry or meeting the needs of widows and orphans?  Wouldn’t it be cool if you just could not wait to be alone so you can pray?  Or you cannot help but to use your entire lunch break to plow through the book of Numbers?

The sooner that we realize we are an addictive, obsessive culture, the sooner we can take that negative trait and turn it into good work for the Kingdom of God.  Once we begin to focus our obsessions on fruitful tasks, our actions will finally reflect the Biblical principles we claim to believe.  Before we know it, we will begin to change the world.  We will start to look more and more like disciples in the book of Acts.  Wow…how awesome would that be?

Yeah, I am a former athlete.  By that, I mean that I played sports growing up and now I am lucky if I can make it through a youth group event without a major injury.  Regardless, I learned many lessons during my athletic “prime” as a backup quarterback and utility infielder. 

First of all, I learned that big people can easily hurt you.  Either make friends with them, or avoid them at all costs.  Seriously…they are dangerous.  I also learned that the team is more important than the individual.  I learned to be respectful and always say “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am.”  I learned that hard work can beat talent.  And I learned that eating my weight in potato chips really can make it difficult to improve my mile time.

However, one somewhat peculiar lesson that I learned way back then is only now starting to impact my life.  You see, when attempting to tackle somebody that is carrying a football, you have to know which way he is going to try and run around you.  Most players will often give you a head and shoulder fake.  They may take a step in the opposite direction to get you off balance. 

But the sure fire way to tell where a ball carrier is going is to watch his hips.  No matter how the rest of his body moves, when his hips are pointing in a certain direction, his body has no choice but to follow.  The player’s hips are always an accurate indication of where he is going.  As my old coach used to say, hips don’t lie.

I never really felt like that lesson applied to my life and my faith until a few weeks ago.  Sister Helen Prejean, a nun that is famous for being an activist against the death penalty, came to visit the campus on which I work.  In the midst of her speech, she dropped one line that seemed to resonate with most of the crowd.  She said, “I watch what I do to see what I believe.” 

At first, I scoffed at that.  I have always thought that your beliefs dictate your actions, not the other way around.  However, after putting some thought into it I realized how accurate Sister Prejean’s statement is.  

For example, no matter what I think I believe about alcohol, if I spend the majority of my time intoxicated I am probably an alcoholic.  Regardless of how generous I think I am, if I regularly pass up opportunities to give I am probably a pretty selfish dude.  And no matter how dedicated I claim to be to my diet, the fact that I have to keep buying larger pants is a good indication that my weight is not a priority.

We often judge others on their actions and ourselves on our intentions.  Sister Prejean challenged us to turn that on its ear and to evaluate ourselves based on our actions.  If we take a real look at the way we treat people, the things we spend our time on, and how much effort we put into our calling, we will get a pretty clear picture of what we truly value and how important our “beliefs” really are to us.  If we actually believe what we claim to believe, then our actions will directly reflect that.

It’s like my coach always said, hips don’t lie.

Remember chain letters?  You’d get a letter telling you that if you did not forward it on to however many people that you’d be cursed, have bad luck, get pregnant, or die.  (Note: Out of all of those consequences, I am scared the most by the thought of getting pregnant.  Seriously, has Arnold made a good movie since Junior?)  Then when you talked to your friends, you heard about all of their distant relatives that had all of these bad things happen to them because they refused to forward the letter.  So then you had to skip lunch for the next week just to save up the money to buy stamps for your chain letters.  You did that too, right?

Nowadays social media and online communication have essentially eliminated what was once known as the chain letter.  Sure, you’ll get the occasional chain email.  But, at least in my inbox, they are much more rare than they used to be.  The new fad is to post something on Twitter or Facebook that says “Retweet if you love Jesus” or “Share if you are a Christian.”  Some of them even go on to tell you that God is watching and this is a test to see if you really love Him. 

You may be one of those people that chooses to retweet or share, and that is your prerogative.  You may choose to ignore them and pretend you never read them.  But each time I see one of those posts, I have to fight the urge to reply and tell the individual that posted it why I think their request is ridiculous.  Here are a few things I would like to say to them.

1.  Seriously?!  You really believe that a chain social media post is the way God would choose to test me?  Is a casual click of a button really going to display my character and reveal the depths of my soul?  Come on, man.

2.  On what authority are posting this?  Did you feel lead by the Holy Spirit to share this post or are you succumbing to social pressure?  Are you doing this because you love God or are you simply afraid not to post it?  If you write that this is a test from God, and God did not lead you to write it, I dare call that blasphemous.  Be careful when you are speaking on behalf of the almighty.  He don’t play games.

3.  I appreciate the fact that you are trying to spread the word about Jesus.  I really do.  But please take a moment and think about how this may come across to non-believers.  Sure, you will get a few shares and retweets from friends and others that feel obligated to do so.  However, do you think people see the love of Christ in what you are describing as a test?  Or do they see a religious obligation that has nothing to do with a personal relationship with Jesus?  Is there another way you can get your point across without seeming like you are trying to guilt people into following your lead?

4.  I believe that God cares about every aspect of our lives because He loves us so much.  The Bible says that He knows the number of hairs on our heads (zero here).  However, I would be more than surprised if Facebook is a primary area of His concern.  With all of the poor, hungry, imprisoned, widowed, orphaned, and non-Christian people in the world that could use our time and resources, I tend to question the importance of clicking “Like” if I love Jesus.  If I love Jesus like I say I do, I would spend less time on Facebook and Twitter and more time loving my neighbor as I love much as I love myself.  Retweet that, holmes.

Alright, venting session over.  Honestly, I believe the people that post these things have good intentions.  I think that, in their minds, they are spreading the gospel.  However, I have a hard time believing it is an effective way to show people how much God loves them.  To me, it seems like it probably does more harm than good by giving people a ritualistic view of Christianity and taking up time that could be used for ministry (or relationship building).

What do you think?  Are you a Christian chain-post sharer?

Do you ever feel like you wear a lot of hats?  I sure do.  I am a Christian, husband, father, horrible singer, friend, son, brother, washed-up athlete, uncle, grandson, mentor, sports fan, deacon, bad speller, Sunday School teacher, questionable driver, youth leader, professional, mathematician, over-eater, and professional knowledge dropper.  I am many things to many people.  For me, that sometimes creates confusion.  There are times when I am wearing 5-6 different hats and once and I have to decide which person to be.  There are other times when no hat seems to fit and I end up getting sunburned on my bald head.

The one hat I know that I need to wear more is the one that helps me be more consistent.  Granted, certain situations call for different levels and amounts of “me.”  I need to be a little more professional in big meetings and I can be a little more relaxed when I am lounging around with my friends.  However, I still need to be the same “me” all the time.  The core of who I am should never change.  The discipline with which I perform my job should also apply to my youth ministry.  The servant attitude that comes with being a deacon should also be there when I am at home with my family.  Keeping my mouth shut when asked to sing is often essential when spending time with my wife, or at least that’s what I’m told.

If you were to make a list of your roles as I have above, and you were to put them in order (which mine are not), a great rule of thumb is to always work from the top down.  For example, let’s say my life of roles looked like this: 1. Christian 2. Husband 3. Father 4. Friend.  That means I should be a Christian all the time, which is a no-brainer.  When I am a husband, I should remember that I am also a Christian and maintain everything that comes with that.  With my children, I need to maintain my role as a husband make sure I am providing a solid Christian example.  And when I am with a friend, I have to make sure all of my other hats are on all snug and tight.

In other words, establish the things that are really important to you.  Make sure your values are true to your core.  Then maintain those values no matter what hat you are wearing, no matter what setting you find yourself in, no matter who you are with, and no matter what role you are trying to play.  As usual, I realize this is easier said than done.  However, once you decide who you are truly going to be, you never have to change or adjust who you are in any situation.  You are who you are.  And that's a pretty peaceful feeling.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10 NIV)

I grew up a proud person.  Not that I was rich or had a lot of stuff, but I was very proud of what I had and who I was.  I was a very proud young man.  If I had an opinion, I assumed I was right and would argue all day long.  If you thought you were better than me at something, you had better be ready to prove it.  If you insulted my family, you probably got punched in the mouth.  Most of the time, my pride was all I had.

Then I met Jesus Christ.  And I’ll tell you, He broke me like a horse.  The first thing that Jesus did for me was help me realize that I do not matter.  Nothing good can come from me following my selfish desires.  Nothing.  Being full of pride does nothing for the Kingdom of God, nothing for the people I love, and contrary to popular believe, absolutely nothing for me. 

When people tell you to seek humility and let go of your arrogance, they often tell you to “swallow your pride.”  You see, that makes no sense to me.  If I want to be less of something, swallowing it is one of the last things I’ll do.  Trust me, swallowing fatty candy bars and greasy fried foods does not make me less fat.  So I propose we change that saying.  Let’s start telling people to spit out their pride.  Cool?

Now, I realize spitting out your pride is easier said than done.  That is actually one of the greatest struggles I have had to overcome, and I still struggle with it every day.  Yet, the more I seek Christ and become like him, the more I realize that I don’t matter.  Being proud and selfish only makes me want to be more proud and selfish.  Which of those paths sounds better to you? 

I have to wake up every morning and spit out my pride.  How about you?

This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.  (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

I am going to be perfectly honest, I have a situation weighing on my heart pretty heavily right now.  I have always been prone to worry about things.  And while I am doing better about not worrying about the less significant things, I very quickly slip into a worry coma when things get real.  But even as I sit here, my stomach turning and heart aching, I believe with all my heart that worry is a sin.

First of all, the Bible is pretty clear about where God stands on the subject.  Matthew 6:34 says not to worry about tomorrow, but to let tomorrow worry about itself.  Jesus teaches that since God makes sure the birds in the air and the flowers in the field are taken care of, it should be obvious that He will take care of us.

When we worry, we are not trusting God.  We are essentially saying, “God, I know you said you would handle this and usually I believe that You know better than me, but I’m not quite sure about this one.”  Really?  Seriously?  For realz?  How ridiculous does that sound?  Worrying is just a selfish way for me to try and control a situation that I usually have no business being in charge of.

So if worrying is wrong, what should I do if I have a huge problem in front of me?  The answer is very simple.  First, you need to completely assess the situation.  See if there is anything you can do to help your cause or resolve the issue. 

If you find that there are things you can do to take on the problem, then do them.  Take your fate into your own hands (after praying to make sure it is what you should do, of course), and get to work.  Then don’t worry anymore because you are doing all you can do.

If there is nothing you can do, then you simply need to give the situation to God, pray for resolution, and trust that God will take care of the situation as He sees fit.  On the scale of “easier said than done,” I realize this is near the top of the list.  Trust me, this is something I struggle with a great deal.  So if you would comment below and let me know I am not alone, that would help me not to worry so much about how much I worry.  Sad, right?

“Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal.” (Isaiah 26:4 NIV)

God wants me to be just.  I get that.  I should stand up for what is right, defend the defenseless, refuse to ignore injustice, and stand firm on Biblical principles no matter what it costs me.  But what does that look like in my day to day life?  How can I be the symbol of justice that God wants me to be?  Every time I ask myself these questions, I come to the conclusion that I have no choice but to become Wyatt Earp.

Tombstone is my favorite movie of all time.  After his brother is killed, Wyatt Earp goes all vigilante and takes out every person connected to the group that killed his brother.  He is calm, collected, and uncompromising.  He is unrelenting in his pursuit of justice.  Granted, I am not saying that gunning people down with your friend Doc is necessarily just.  But it was in Wyatt’s mind, and the way he held to guns (puns are cool, right?) in the movie was remarkable.  (Note:  I am operating under the assumption that Tombstone is a 100% accurate interpretation of Earp’s life.)

God also wants me to be full of love, mercy, and forgiveness.  Not only is “an eye for an eye” no longer cool, but I am supposed to go so far as to turn the other cheek.  I am supposed to forgive my neighbor upwards of 490 times.  Since God is love and Jesus is God, and I am supposed to imitate Christ with my life, I am supposed to be love.  Unconditional, agape type love.  Love that can only be found is the welcoming arms of Barney the Purple Dinosaur.

I tried very hard to find another example of exceptional love, mercy, and forgiveness.  Trust me, Barney gets on my nerves as much as he does yours.  However, the attitude of unconditional love and being one big family is actually very much in line with the loving nature that Christians are called to.  Grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, being nonjudgmental, and not being afraid to show our love.  We can all learn a lot from Barney.

I constantly find myself trying to find the middle ground between Wyatt Earp and Barney the Purple Dinosaur.  I want to be able to love and seek justice.  I want to do what is right, and be able to show mercy.  From the images we see of love and justice today, it seem near impossible for the two to coexist. 

However, when you really look at Jesus’ actions through the gospels, he lays out a great blueprint for making it happen.  He is merciful and readily forgives, yet He is quick to call people out on their wrongdoings.  He heals miraculously, and then turns over tables.  Jesus teaches unpopular truths and confronts religious leaders, and then lays down His life so that you and I can have eternal life. 

As usual, Jesus is the perfect example.  If you, like me, are trying to find the balance between love and justice, just read your Bible and practice what Jesus did.  Will we mess it up?  Absolutely.  But that is why His forgiveness is so important.  We will never be exactly like Christ, but His mercy allows us to give it our best shot.

My wife and I each get paid once per month.  That stinks because we go an entire month without getting paid.  However, it makes it easier to budget our money since it all comes in at the same time.  One result of getting paid only once per month is that we write one monthly tithing check.  We take 10% off the top, cut a check, drop it in the offering plate, and unless we feel led to give otherwise we are done for an entire month. 

That means we regularly go three, sometimes four Sundays without putting anything in the offering plate.  And to be honest, it can be awkward at times.  There are only so many ways that you can casually pass an empty plate without looking like you feel guilty.  So just in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation, I have decided to share my secrets with you.

1.  Look busy. – Because I teach Sunday School, I often have some sort of computer bag to carry my materials and I take it with me to the sanctuary.  Sometimes, when the offering plate is coming my way, I decide to start digging in the bag to get something I really do not need.  That way, I can pass the plate as if it is inconveniently preventing me from finding what I am looking for in my bag.  If you do not carry a bag of any type, I suggest you act as though you are searching the church bulletin or even your Bible for something specific.  Make sure you look busy, just be sure it looks natural.

2.  Look oblivious. – This one is pretty easy for me, as my wife tells me I am a natural at looking lost and confused.  But when using this technique, you basically just stare off into space.  Maybe you are pondering the words to the worship song that just finished.  Perhaps you are trying to decide whether to attend the upcoming potlock.  Or maybe you are wondering how you are going to make it home in time for kick-off.  Just find something that will make you get that distant look in your eyes.  Then when somebody nudges you with the offering plate, you can look genuinely surprised as if you had no idea it was time for the offering.

3.  Bathroom break. – As far as timing goes, it is probably most important when using this technique.  (Did I just refer to using the bathroom as a technique?)  If you leave your seat too late, it will be too suspicious and people will know you are leaving to avoid the offering plate.  If you leave too early, you look like you are not interested in the service and you just don’t want to be at church.  Timing is everything.

If you ask me, your tithes and offerings are really between you and God.  However, that does not change the fact that the offering plate has some sort of mythical powers that haunt you for not feeding it.  So the next time you find yourself on a bye week for giving, feel free to use any of the techniques above to dodge the empty plate.

Do you have any techniques that you use to avoid awkward situations?