Ah…the Olympics.  It’s such a magical time when dreams are fulfilled and we all live vicariously through our countrymen.  It brings us all together in a sense of camaraderie.  Whether you are cheering on the athletes, a fan of the obscure sports, or just really excited to have something to talk about, the Olympic Games provide us all with a reason to rock the red, white, and blue.

However, I do get a kick out of all of the random games that they play.  I feel like most of these things were invented out of boredom while they were waiting for the real games to start.  That kind of makes me want to invent some games.  So here we go….the Christian Olympics.

1.  Communion Races – Teams of deacons from all over the world compete to see how quickly they can get bread and cup to a congregation of 1000 people.  Every person must have a wafer and cup of grape juice, and the trays must be stacked neatly for the clock to stop.  Penalties will be incurred for spilled juice and dropped crackers.

2.  Walking on Water – All competitors are welcome to walk across the river to see who can reach the other side the fastest.  If they fail to walk the entire way, they are welcome to swim.  Penalties will be incurred if contestants fail to get out of the boat.

3.  Ultimate Frisbee – Yeah, you read that right.  Jon Acuff makes a very convincing case that ultimate is God’s favorite sport.  So we have no choice but to put it in the Christian Olympics.

4.  Prayer Marathon – The gold medal in this event will be given to the Christian that can say the most words in a prayer without repeating things the pagans.  Penalties will be incurred for speaking in old English

5.  Potluck Cookoff – I know that Olympic events are supposed to be athletic.  But the finesse with which Christian women create gooey-filled pastries rivals that of any gymnast.  Seriously, we could break this thing down into categories like entrées, potato-based dishes, green vegetables, breads, and a variety of dessert events.  Penalties will be incurred if any entry is sugar-free.

6.  Interpretive Dance – This could be great...like really great.  Folks could create their own interpretive dances based on Christian songs, hymns and contemporary style.  It would be judged by a panel with representation from each denomination.  Penalties will be incurred for anybody that tries to “Dougie.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg, my friends.  There are so many possibilities.  What other games would you like to see happen at the Christian Olympics?

I know it may sound kind of creepy, but it is the truth.  Especially with text messaging, Facebook, and Google Earth, we are almost always connected in some way to other people. The problem is that we get so caught up in what we are doing, we often underestimate how much what we are doing affects other people.

Most of the time, we find ourselves surrounded by people. Whether we like it or not, they are usually watching us. There are a few ways to look at this. You could say, “Dang, if people are watching, I can’t do the things I really want to do.” If that is the case, you are probably asking the wrong question. Instead, we should be using this as motivation to always be focused on being Christ-like. You never know when something you do will affect somebody’s view of not only you, but of God and other Christians. This is especially true for those younger than you. Your actions can have a dramatic impact on how they behave and how they view Christianity.

Also, there is a positive side to never being alone. If you ever get down or just need somebody to talk to, it is great to have a good core of friends around you that are always there. These people are essential to holding you accountable for your actions, supporting you in your successes, and lifting you up when you fall down. If you haven’t lately, you should thank your friends for being there for you. Even if they have not done anything recently, just knowing our friends are there for us is sometimes all that we need to push through a tough situation.

Sure, there are times when you want to be completely alone just to gather your thoughts and process what is going on in your life. That time is definitely needed for your sanity. However, never forget that there are people out there watching to see how you react to the lemons that life is handing to you. There are also people there to help you throw those lemons away and buy you ice cream, because ice cream always helps you feel better and making lemonade is really messy.

You are never alone...try to keep that in mind today.

As I’ve mentioned before, my son is obsessed with superheroes.  We spend about 10 hours per day watching them on TV, playing with action figures, or role playing and pretending to catch bad guys.  We have even gotten to the point that the 1960’s Batman series is a regular recording on our DVR.  While I really enjoy making fun of how corny and ridiculous the show is, I am often caught off guard by the unintentional wisdom.

On a recent episode, Commissioner Gordon picked up the red Batphone and called Batman up due to an emergency in Gotham.  While this is a regular occurrence in almost every episode, it is kind of a big deal.  Batman is often the last resort for the police.  He is the big gun that only comes out to battle super villains.  In many ways, Batman is the savior of Gotham City.

Because the Caped Crusader is so important to the city, I was pretty surprised by Commissioner Gordon’s reaction when Alfred answered the phone and said, “I’ll get him, sir.”  (Note:  Why does Alfred answer the phone?  Is it not weird to Commissioner Gordon that Batman has a butler?)  Gordon’s response is full of surprise and excitement as he announces to the officer in the room, “Oh good, he’s home.”

Really?!  Batman is so vital to the survival of Gotham’s citizens, he is the Dark Knight that always comes to save the day, and Gordon is surprised that he is available?  When he said his line, I literally laughed out loud.  I thought about how comical the entire scenario was, especially Robin’s tights.

Then I started to think about how we communicate with our Savior.  I recently wrote about how we should not be disappointed by unanswered prayers.  Yet, I also believe that we often go too far the other way.  We try to avoid disappointment by setting our expectations low, then we can’t get upset if God says, “No” because we never really expected Him to say, ”Yes.” 

It’s like when He does answer, we are surprised.  Like Commissioner Gordon, we excitedly say, “Oh good, He is there after all.”  And sadly, I often find myself to be guilty of this. 

Early this week, I went to visit my grandmother in the hospital.  She had been there for almost a week struggling with a kidney stone that was so big there was no way she could pass it.  The doctors were exploring other options, and taking their time doing so, while she sat there in pain.

Toward the end of my visit, I prayed with her.  I asked God for healing and comfort, that He would remedy the situation and allow her to feel better.  I left the hospital, drove home, and went about my routine waiting for my mother to call with the doctors’ decision about what to do.

The next day, I found out that she had passed the kidney stone that seemed impossible to pass.  She went through a great deal of pain, but the process was much better for her than any procedure they may have been planning.  Apparently, she started to feel the pain as soon as I walked out of her room.  Hours later, she passed the stone and has felt much better ever since. 

When I called on God that day, I’m not sure I really expected Him to answer.  When I heard the good news the next day, I was thrilled and immediately praised His name.  Then I felt ashamed because I was so surprised by the outcome.

While I am sure I am not the only person this has ever happened to, I feel it is important to share my story in hopes that maybe you will not make the same mistake.  If you pick up that red phone and dial up your Savior, expect Him to answer and expect Him to act quickly.  He is awesome, and we should never be surprised by His love.

I often hear people say that we try to put God in a box.  That is, of course, what smart folks call a metaphor.  By putting God in a box, they mean that we try to fully define God in a few simple ways that make His character easy to understand.  Sometimes, people even put God in a box so that they can justify their own sinful behavior.  Either way, doing so limits His power, His love, and ultimately creates a barrier in our relationships with Him.

So that’s definitely a bad thing, right?  Yeah?  Good, we are on the same page.

Recently I heard the concept of putting God in a box in a different context, one that is more about containing God.  Many Christians try to keep God, and even their own Christianity, at church.  They don’t take God to work.  They don’t take God to the movies.  And even more unfortunately, some of them don’t take God home.

Yeah, we know God is everywhere.  But do we always act like it?  I always get frustrated when people say, “Oh, you can’t say that at church” or “I wouldn’t do that at church.”  If you are truly being the same person all of the time, then you should include church in that.  Does that mean you should take all of your bad habits to church?  No, that means you should take God home with you and let Him help you get rid of those habits.

Another element of leaving God at church is that we do not treat others as He has commanded us.  We don’t love them as if Jesus is watching, we don’t meet their needs like we are supposed to, and we don’t even tell them about our relationship with God which is the last thing Jesus told us to do.  Nah, that’s for church and church-sponsored ministry activities.

I also hear people containing God by directly underestimating His power.  We refrain from stepping out in faith because we don’t have a plan.  We avoid moving forward with projects because we believe we don’t have the resources.  We have even coined the phrase, “all we can do now is pray” because we are to untrusting to let prayer be our first option.

I realize that we do not have the ability to contain God.  However, we do have enough free will to keep ourselves from being used by Him.  We need to get out of the way and let God do His work.  But in order to be a part of that, we have to be all-in and let God direct who we are all of the time, not just at church. 

Come on, what do you say we let God out of the box?  I’d be willing to bet that something amazing would happen.

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (1Tim. 4:12 NIV) 

I have always been a huge fan of this passage.  I suppose that, being young(er) myself, I have always clung to it for strength when I felt led to speak up.  I have also used it to encourage others in situations when they may have felt timid about letting their voices be heard.  In fact, I often teach this scripture to the middle school students in my Sunday school class.  I believe they need to understand that they have something to offer God's kingdom, no matter how young they are.

While I usually assume everything I say goes in one ear and out the other, I was recently blindsided by their direct application of this verse.  We were having a discussion about the state of the modern Church, and the students were asked whether or not they thought our church was in line with the mission of the early church.  As the students were pondering their responses, I was doing the same. 

I immediately prepared my soap box and got ready to start going off about how selfish we have become and how far we have gotten away from the core of what it means to evangelize and be a part of a community of believers.  I waited for the students to talk, and it seemed as though they were going to sit that one out.  I sat up, cleared my throat, and prepared to spout off with my cynical opinions.

About that time, one after another, they started talking about everything our church does that matches up with the book of Acts.  They talked about baptism, worship, and fellowship.  They discussed outreach projects that help to meet the needs of our community.   They spoke about the basic elements of Christian fellowship as if they were in a seminary class.  They completely changed my mind about the question, and left me speechless.

I sat back in my chair, took a breath, and commented to my co-teacher that I had nothing more to add.  I was blown away by not only their knowledge and insight, but by the conviction with which they spoke.  It was an amazing 5-10 minutes that I pray we can re-live each Sunday morning.

I guess we all could use a reminder every now and then, even of the things we fully believe in.
Do you like country music?  Of course you do, or else we wouldn’t be friends.  I don’t even know why I asked.  Part of the reason I like country music is that there is often an element of faith in the songs.  Brad Paisley usually puts at least one hymn on each album.  Even the most edgy of country artists usually record songs about God, church, or their dog that is named after an apostle.

One faith-based country song that I often hear debated is “Unanswered Prayers” by Garth Brooks.  A lot of people say, “That song is wrong because He answers every prayer.  It’s just that sometimes He says no.”  (Note:  Please re-read that is the most mockingly sarcastic tone possible.) 

To those people, I say, “Don’t try to out-think the song, dude.  Quit with your semantic jibber jabber.  You know that is what it means.”

If you haven’t heard the song, it is about a guy, with his wife, that runs into an old girlfriend.  Once upon a time, he had prayed that he would be with the ex forever.  But now he is very thankful that God said no because he is so happy with his wife.  It’s classic country.

I think we all have stories similar to that, though, right?  It may have been a relationship, a job, or even a “thing” that you wanted really badly.  God said, “No.”  And now, looking back, it was all for the best.

However, I think we tend to dwell on the unanswered prayers that didn’t seem to turn out so well from our point of view.  We think about those that weren’t healed, the jobs we didn’t get, the things that didn’t change, and the love we didn’t find.

Why did God say no?  It is easy (and 100% accurate) to just assume He knows better than us and we can’t comprehend His plan.  But do we really believe that?  I often see people start to place blame elsewhere then they get a no from God.  They wonder if they have not had enough faith, or maybe they doubt where they once thought God was leading them, or perhaps they question the character of or even their relationships with God.

When times are really tough, it is hard to keep your mind from going there.  What did I do wrong?  Why is God not listening to me?  Is my faith not strong enough?

Several of the letters in the New Testament give us examples of faithful people that did not get their prayers answered.  From Paul’s thorn to Timothy’s stomach problems, we see some pretty saintly fellows not receiving the blessings that they prayed for.  Does that make you feel any better?

Well, if that doesn’t, this might.

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  (Matthew 26:39 NIV)

Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, prayed that God would find another way for His mission to be accomplished.  He knew the suffering that was to come, and Jesus asked the Father to allow Him to avoid His fate on the cross. 

* Spoiler Alert *

Just in case you haven’t heard the rest of the story, Jesus was ultimately crucified.  You heard me right.  Jesus was given a no in response to a prayer request.  His prayer was not answered in the way that He wanted.

So would you question His faith?  Would you try to assign blame to anyone because He received a no from God?  Absolutely not.  If anybody was in-tune with the Master’s plan, it was Jesus.  Yet, the greater good prevailed as it pertained to God’s plan.

So the next time God answers your prayer with a no, count yourself lucky.  That exact same thing happened to Jesus Christ.
I can’t dance.  Seriously…it is painful to watch.  Remember that scene in Hitch where Will Smith tries to teach Kevin James how to dance?  Yeah, I wish I could dance as well as Kevin James.  If everyone danced like me, everybody would have rooted for John Lithgow in Footloose.

Luckily, everyone does not dance like me.  That is why I don’t dance in public.  I don’t want to make a fool of myself.  That, and my wife won’t let me.

Believe it or not, I ran into a similar situation in the book of 2 Samuel the other day.  When the ark of the Lord finally arrived in the City of David, King David was so excited that he threw a party.  He went out in the street, gave away some bread and some desserts, and as they say where I’m from, he cut a rug.  And apparently he wasn’t fully clothed...it got a little weird.

When he went back in the house, he abruptly found out that his wife had been watching from the window.  She quickly let him know that she did not approve of his behavior, and that his attire and performance were not very kingly.  His response blew my mind.

David replied to Michal, "In God's presence I'll dance all I want! He chose me over your father and the rest of our family and made me prince over God's people, over Israel. Oh yes, I'll dance to God's glory—more recklessly even than this. And as far as I'm concerned...I'll gladly look like a fool.  (2 Samuel 6:21-22a The Message)

David did not care how people viewed him because of his worship.  He was willing to do anything for God, no matter how it reflected on himself. 

I wish we were more like that.  We don’t like to hang out with outcasts because people may think we are weird.  We don’t stand up for our beliefs because we are afraid of being excluded.  We don’t fully express our love and obedience because we are too worried about fitting in.

David had it right, as he so often did.  We should be willing to be outcasts to reach the outcasts, give up our statuses in society to seek justice, and ignore the funny looks to worship as we feel led.  God is unbelievable, and it is about time we started acting like it.

Well, here we are.  The last segment in the two month journey into the fruit of the Spirit.  I have worked my way backward through the list because I felt like saving the best for last.  So let’s talk about love, shall we?

I realize that love is a word that is thrown around carelessly in today’s society.  Teenagers fall in love every ten minutes.  My son corrects me when I say I love his backpack.  Love has been watered down to be fairly meaningless until you experience real love, the love of God.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  (1 John 4:8 NIV)

God is love.  Wow.  That is a concept that I think we have trouble wrapping our minds around.  But the scripture above is pretty clear about its application.  If any action is not an act of love, you can be sure that God is not a part of it.  And if love is in the mix, the scripture implies that God is there also.

So if we believe all of that to be true, then it seems that any ministry that is done for God (yes, I know what I said) is done in love.  From huge clothing drives and construction projects to helping an old lady across the street, any of these things done in love produce holy fruit.

As I look over the rest of the list, it is obvious that none of the fruit of the spirit can produce fruit without an element of love in them.  Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulnessgentleness and self-control all come from a place of love, from a heart of service to God.  So all of the fruit that we have discussed in this series have all been produced through love.

So if you are keeping score at home, that means than any and all fruit that come from the Spirit of God, the holy fruit that we should seek to produce with every breath, is produced through love.  What does love look like?  There really is no description I can provide that is better than 1 Corinthians 13.  And since I often overlook that passage because it puts me to sleep at weddings, let’s all take some time and pray our way through it.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.  (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV)

Yeah…if we do that, we will be fruitful.  God is love.  Let’s try to be more like Him.

My son is completely obsessed with superheroes.  We can’t do anything without it turning into a crime-fighting adventure.  Going to water the plants?  We have to find the Joker hiding in the garage.  Headed to the grocery store?  We have to put the Riddler in jail before he steals everything.  I am actually pretty sure he thinks Mr. Freeze causes winter.

Batman, Robin, Superman, Spiderman, Hulk, Green Lantern, Fantastic Four.  They have become a part of my everyday life, and I could not be happier about it.  What better way to teach a child right from wrong than to encourage him to be a hero

At a recent visit to the park, my son was pretending to be Robin chasing the Joker all over the place.  At one point, he took a leap off of a structure that was a little too high for him to be jumping off of.  Luckily, he was okay.  But I felt the need to say, “That was a pretty big jump.  Be careful.”  His reply was absolutely perfect.  Without missing a beat, and with great humility, he said, “That’s what superheroes do” and resumed his pursuit.

In his mind, he was doing a job and anything that came with it should be expected.  There was no need to draw attention to or acknowledge anything that fell in line with his Boy Wonder job description.  He was focused on a mission, and that was all that mattered.

Why aren’t Christians like that?  I know some are.  I have seen them.  But those folks are rare.  In general, Christians are not very gung-ho about keeping their heads down, using their gifts for God, and actively sacrificing their own desires without seeking some sort of recognition.  Especially in America, we want to be recognized for our hard work, our talents, and our sacrifices.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  (Luke 19:9-14 NIV)

Often times, we won’t even do the work unless we know there is something in it for us.  Why have we let ourselves become so worldly that recognition has become such a powerful motivator within the Church?  Like my son, we should be ready to shrug off unnecessary praise and say, "That's what Christians do" and get back to work.  Not only is humility the right thing to do, but it is part of the job description. 

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. (1 Peter 5:6 NIV)

Being a Christian is full of expectations.  We are supposed to give up all of our self desires and spend all of our time doing whatever God wants.  We are supposed to give without judging, seek justice without fear, love the unlovable, and be willing to sacrifice everything.  On top of that, we should do so while expecting zero recognition or praise.  Wow…that seems like a lot to ask of an adult with so many other responsibilities.

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:2-4 NIV)

I think I will go play superheroes with my son now.  Perhaps he has a few more things to teach me.
I have felt led to do this for a while, but I have been afraid of what people may think.  However, in living up to my promise, I want you to encourage you to take the time you would normally spend reading my blog and spend it in silence, listening to what God has to say to you.