Today is Wednesday.  It is the day that many people refer to as “hump day.”  According to people that use the term, once you get Wednesday over with the rest of the week is all downhill.  Once you get over the hump in the middle of the week, it’s just a party to the weekend.  Since I usually find Thursday and Friday to be the most draining days in my week, I refuse to refer to Wednesday as hump day.  Also…it sounds weird.

Getting over the hump is a pretty common metaphor.  It is used to describe anything from passing the midpoint on a project to reaching the top of an actual hill before descending to the other side.  For some, these humps appear as challenges to be conquered.  For others, they are barriers not to be approached.

As Christians, I feel like there is a hump that many of us have trouble getting over.  That hump stands between us and complete surrender to God. 

When we finally realize that we were created to serve God, and we have decided to give our lives over to Him, we have no choice but to offer our complete surrender.  We confess our sins, we pray for forgiveness, and we acknowledge Him as Lord of our lives.  We pray, “God, help me to be who You want me to be!”

That is all very powerful, life-changing stuff.  However, it is what we are not saying that can be even more powerful…and detrimental to our spiritual well-being.  I may be alone on this, but I am always very careful when I pray for God’s leading and direction.  I choose my words wisely when asking God to change me.  I try to make sure that I leave room for what I want for my life.  While I invite God to sit in the driver’s seat, I always make sure to hold on to a spare key.

By adding just three small words to the brief prayer above, I could completely change the meaning of my relationship with God and I could get over the hump in my effort to surrender my life.  If I am who I claim to be, my prayer should be, “God, help me to be who You want me to be…and nothing else.”  Those three words change everything.

Surrender is not something that can be done half way.  If we choose to give our lives to God, we must give ourselves completely.  Fortunately, God loves us and sometimes blesses us with things that bring us joy and comfort.  But if we are living for Him, those are not the things that we should seek or make a priority.

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.  (Matthew 6:33 NLT)

That is the only way we can get over the hump.

 
Remember the story of Cain and Able?  They were the first two sons of Adam and Eve.  Cain was a farmer, and Able had his flock.  One year at harvest time, God accepted Able’s offering of the best of his lambs, and denied the crops that Cain offered.  Then Cain killed Able and got sent away from God’s presence.

We are taught that Cain was angry because his brother showed him up, he was jealous because God found favor with Able and not himself.  But have you ever stopped to ask yourself how much sense that makes?  What in the world did Able do wrong?  Or what did he do that even had an impact on Cain?  The answer, of course, is absolutely nothing.

Able’s sacrifice had nothing to do with Cain.  His sacrifice was between him, his sheep, and God.  Cain was not even in the equation.  Similarly, Cain’s offering had nothing to do with Able.

While the Bible does not tell us exactly why Cain’s offering was not accepted, it is obvious that the problem only lies with Cain.  He was not being compared to his brother, he was being judged solely on his offering.

Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected?  You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”  (Genesis 4:6-7 NLT)

How often do we give into sin instead of subduing it?  Why do we allow ourselves to blame or become jealous of others with the problem lies within ourselves?

God does not compare us to one another.  God loves us each equally and individually.  A close friend of yours living a sinful life does not make God love you more.  And thankfully, having somebody out there dedicating everything to ministry and winning thousands of souls for the Lord does not make Him love you any less.

Do not let other people become your measuring stick.  Your relationship with God, and how He responds and relates to you, is strictly between you and God.  And since He is always the same, you are the only variable in the equation.  You can be as close to God as you want to be.  But when you get caught up comparing yourself to other Christians, you are giving a foothold to the sin that is crouching at your door.

Keep your focus on God, and only compare yourself to the example set by Christ.  That is the only measuring stick that is appropriate when evaluating our dedication to God.

 
Over the past several months, I have started living a little healthier in order to lose some weight and get some health issues under control.  Recently, in an effort of accountability, a friend and I have started sharing our health activities on the MyFitnessPal app for iPhone.  We can each see everything that the other person has eaten, what kind of exercise he has completed, and how many calories he has accumulated.  It’s a pretty good way to keep yourself in check as you know that another person can see everything that you do.

At the end of each day, the app will tell you how your weight will change if you continue the same level of activity that you completed that day.  A few days ago, my friend was the perfect combination of disciplined and busy.  After subtracting his burned calories from his intake calories, he ended up at less than 900 for the day. 

In case you are not aware of that that means, allow me to give you some perspective.  The average person is supposed to get about 2,000 calories per day.  For those of you that may be math-challenged, he took in less than half of the recommended daily calories for an average-sized person (he is well above average height).  Instead of giving him an anticipated weight change based on that day, the MyFitnessPal app told him that his body was in danger of entering “starvation mode.”

Apparently, there comes a point, when the human body is not taking in enough energy, that it actually changes its settings.  Instead of using energy normally, “starvation mode” allows the body to use minimal energy in every movement so that all other energy can be stored for later.  The body takes in every little bit of energy that it can and stores it as if it cherishes it.  It takes nothing for granted and utilizes every movement with maximum efficiency.

What if we could utilize the Holy Spirit like our body uses energy in starvation mode?  What if we could soak in God’s word like our fat-storing bodies soak in calories?  What if we could experience Christ every day as if we were starving for Him?

If we were able to get anywhere close to that, through us, He would change the world.  There is no way around it.  I pray that, someday, we will be ready for that kind of dedication to our Savior.  If we could only find a way to change our spiritual settings.

 
I feel like a lot of Christians have a lot of things backward.  We make our faith about us:  the blessings from God, the service from our church, the pieces of scripture that focus on God’s promises.  We look for what we can get out of relationships, opportunities, and even our faith instead of what we can put into these things.  In my opinion, this all begins and ends with a lack of accountability.

The Bible encourages us to share everything with fellow believers: our possessions, our money, our sins, our struggles, and our secrets.  Yet, we use words like privacy and confidentiality to keep others at a distance.  We even quote scripture to make sure our Christian brothers and sisters don’t get in our business.

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.  For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.

And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?  How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?  Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.  (Matthew 7:1-5 NLT)

When most people quote this verse, they stop after the first sentence.  That makes it cut and dry that we should never judge anyone…ever.  However, that is the very definition of taking something out of context.  If you keep reading, that Jesus goes on to give us a directions on how to judge.

Jesus doesn’t say that you should ignore the speck in a friend’s eye so that you won’t offend them.  He doesn’t say to subtly hint at the speck so things won’t get awkward.  Jesus says that you should make sure that you take the log out of your own eye first.  You should remove any barrier that would make it difficult for you to help your friend, whether that is a sin of your own or an ulterior motive.  Then, and only then, you should lovingly start to help remove the speck from your friend’s eye.

So am I saying we should judge others?  Absolutely.  That is what accountability is all about.  If we do not hold each other accountable, how can we encourage other to grown in our faith?  Keep in mind that I am only talking about “Christian on Christian” judgment.  Paul is very clear that there should be a difference in how we treat believers and non-believers when it comes to judgment.

When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin.  But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that.  I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.  (1 Corinthians 5:9-11 NLT)

Wow, that is pretty powerful.  We shouldn’t even eat with those that refuse to repent of their sins?  That’s a far cry from our current practice of sweeping these issues under the rug. 

Do you know what is more awkward than discussing difficult issues?  Getting to the end of your life and realizing that there was so much more you could have done to help your Christian brothers and sisters grow closer to Christ. 

Find an accountability group.  Be loving AND honest with your Christian friends.  Let’s obey what Jesus commanded and help each other get the specks out of our eyes.  If we don’t, we are actively preventing each other from being who we are created to be.

 
As I am wrapping up my tenth month of writing this blog, I am finally learning that I can’t be picky in writing about what God puts on my heart.  It seems that the ideas that I don't really like turn into the lessons that I really need to hear.  This is one of those.

Over the past week or so, I just can’t get enough of the new Tenth Avenue North song, Losing.  It’s constantly been in my head and I often keep changing radio stations trying to find it.  I guess it’s a good thing, then, that it is on every Christian radio station every fifteen minutes or so.  Just in case you have no idea what I am talking about, check it out:
This song is about forgiveness.  It’s from the perspective of a person that has been treated very badly, and the chorus includes this prayer: 

“Oh, Father won't You forgive them
They don't know what they've been doing
Oh Father, give me grace to forgive them
Cause I feel like the one losing”

Of course, you may recognize the first part as something Jesus said on the cross.  As I have read that scripture over the years, I have always thought of Jesus’ strength.  Although He was literally being killed by these people as they mocked Him, He chose to pray for them.  I hope and pray that I could somehow be as strong in the same situation, but I seriously doubt it would work out that way.  I seem to identify more with this person in this song.

Yes, the first part of the prayer is for the people that have been mistreating him.  But then he prays for help for himself:  “Oh Father, give me grace to forgive them, cause I feel like the one losing.”  While it is obvious that the way others have treated him have taken a toll, it seems like the grudge that he is holding against them is just as painful.

When we talk about forgiveness, we often put it in the context of giving it to someone like a gift.  We make it a pride issue and make it out like we are being gracious enough to offer our forgiveness.  And while grace is an overwhelming factor in forgiveness, we rarely talk about how important it can be for our own healing.

Grudges are heavy.  And carrying them around all the time can really do some damage.  So if you are holding forgiveness back from someone right now, do yourself a favor and pray for God to help you forgive them.  By refusing to do so, you may be doing harm to yourself and your relationship with God that runs much deeper than the original problem that made this forgiveness necessary. 

If you feel like the one losing, turn your focus to forgiveness.  The sooner you do that, the sooner you can get back to winning the way that God wants you to.

 
Do you use air freshener at your house?  I know we do.  I think my wife mainly buys Febreze for use on my gym clothes, the trash, and the never-ending pile of diapers my children so generously provide.  And boy, does that stuff work miracles.  Apparently, it not only covers up the scent, but it actually removes the odor from the room.  Yeah, right.

Yes, it does make whatever stench that is in your home more manageable.  But it does not completely remedy the situation.  Actually, using air freshener has a deeper impact than most people realize. 

As you may know, our memory is very closely linked to our sense of smell.  Tapping into our olfactory sense can take us to hidden memories that we have tucked far away.  It can also cause us to associate certain smells with situations or feelings that we had.

Unfortunately, many of the Febreze scents are based on my favorite smells:  fresh laundry, apple cinnamon, etc.  I feel like, from now on, these scents that I love so much will cause my mind to form associations that I don’t want.  For example, every time I get a whiff of Apple Cinnamon, my mind automatically starts thinking about gross gym clothes.  And every time I get some wonderfully fresh laundry out of the dryer, I remember what it is like to change dirty diapers.

Many of my favorite scents, thanks to the associations my mind has created with air freshener, have been eternally ruined.  It would take a lot of work to undo the damage that has been done.

Unfortunately, this is the same effect many people have experienced with Christianity.  Somewhere along the line, they have experienced a hateful person, a hypocrite, someone condemning them, or just a person having a bad day that happened to be a Christian.  Now they associate all Christians with the way that they felt during that encounter.

While this is unfortunate, it is extremely common.  And since none of us are perfect, this is something that we should all be aware of at all times.  We need to be conscious of the fact that our interactions with others, no matter how brief or insignificant they may be to us, can have a lasting impact on their opinion of not only us, but Jesus Christ. 

We all have bad days and there are times when we may struggle to be salt and light.  But we need to constantly remind ourselves that we represent Christ in every situation and interaction.  To some, we are the only sample on which they base their opinion of Him. 

As much as humanly possible, we need to make sure that we are giving people a good first impression of Jesus.  The last thing that we want to do is give them a chance to associate our flaws with His perfection.  We need to keep our stench out of the way so that the aroma of His love is never tainted, but remains heavenly and pure.

 
Well, that’s it.  The final presidential debate of the year is over.  Thank goodness I don’t have to hear about this election anymore…except for the signs, the television commercials, the radio ads, and of course, the election itself.

I really have a pretty low tolerance for politics, and often even politicians.  I am sure most of them are good, well-intentioned people.  But the things they have to do to be successful (lie, manipulate, spend tons of money on campaigning instead of using it to actually help people) make it hard for me to support their work.  And the way people seem to worship them does not help the matter.

Many voters spend most of their time trying to figure out which candidate’s values and opinions match more closely with theirs.  Some try to figure out which one is telling a higher percentage of the truth.  All people are trying to figure out which side to take so we can make our country a better place.

A friend of mine put a simple, yet brilliant perspective on his Facebook page last night, and it got me thinking about how backward this entire process is.  If we want what is best for our country, is it really prudent to take sides and lash out at the opposition?  Does it make sense to build one person up and cut the other down?

I challenge every one tonight to instead of getting caught up in the presidential debate jargon tonight, to instead honestly pray that the best thing happens for the country and that God would give the wisdom to both candidates to lead our nation. This seems like a much better use of time than trashing either party or candidate. –Jared C.

One of these guys is going to be the leader of the United States of America for the next four years.  It may be your guy, it may not.  Either way, in order to remain focused on spreading the gospel in America, we need to start praying for these guys now and prepare ourselves for how their views and policies may impact our mission.

After we cast our votes, we have no more say in the matter.  At that point, we are at the mercy of the system and our new leader.  So let’s spend time in prayer now so that God will guide our leaders, but also so our hearts will be prepared for ministry in whichever regime we find ourselves. 

I agree with Jared.  Pray now.  Pray later.  That is the best possible use of our time if we want to improve the political climate of our country.

 
I really like to eat.  Even though I have had to change my eating habits over the years, I still treat myself every now and then to something I can really dig into.  Chicken wings, steak, ribs…I am seriously getting hungry just thinking about it.  Thankfully, the Bible is supportive of my habits.

Solid food is for those who are mature… (Hebrews 5:14a NLT)

Very cool.  There are so many times when I read the Bible and feel challenged or convicted.  It’s great to find a scripture where you just feel completely vindicated.  For once, it’s comforting to know that you are in line with the word.  Wait…what?  I took that out of context.  Well…let’s see.

There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen.  You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word.  You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.  For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right.  Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.  (Hebrews 5:11-14 NLT)

Ah…I get it.  Food is a metaphor.

While there are several lessons in this passage, I want to focus on the last two sentences.  I think that, far too often, we expect people to instantly become just like Jesus when they give their lives to Him.  It’s like we expect them to pray for salvation and open their eyes completely changed and full of Godly wisdom.  Obviously, that cannot be the case.

Determining right from wrong, making just decisions, and deep theological understanding come with spiritual maturity.  I am reminded of the lyrics of a Casting Crowns song:  “God has got to change your heart before He changes your shirt.”

We cannot expect Christians that are new to their faith to know everything or be prepared for any trial that comes their way.  Actually, no Christian could fit that description.  We need to be patient, supportive, and loving of people through their mistakes as they mature in their faith.  Hopefully, we have had people there to do the same for us.  I know I have…and still do.

So the next time you witness a new believer stumbling, try to remember that they are working their way up to solid food.  They may not be ready to handle that particular challenge…at least on their own.  That is when it is our job to pick them back up and help them get back on the path toward spiritual maturity.

And if you are new in your faith, let this passage serve as encouragement that you aren’t expected to be perfect.  It is assumed that your transformation into who God wants you to be will take time.  You will stumble at some point, and that’s okay.  That’s what grace is all about.

I hope that one day I will be spiritually mature enough to sit at the solid food table.  And I pray that my brothers and sisters in Christ will continue to help me along in my journey.

 
I really hope no kids read my blog.  I’m not too worried, though, since I am pretty sure both of my readers are adults.  Either way, if you believe in Santa Claus, you might want to stop reading right now.
My wife and I recently started Christmas shopping for this year.  That, of course, leads to conversations of what gifts will be from us to our children and what gifts will be from Santa.  And we have to figure out how can we guide our children's gift requests to prepare them for what we actually bought for them

Many Christians dismiss Santa Claus and refuse to mislead their children with the idea of a fantasy philanthropic fat man that gives free gifts to all the kids on earth.  I’m not going to pass judgment either way.  But, no matter which side of the argument you are on, at some point you will probably tell your children that Santa does not exist.  I beg you, please don’t crush them with the “I’m sorry, I’ve been lying to you for years” routine I’m sure you were dealt in elementary school.

If you’re still reading this, then I’m sure you are well aware of how unreasonable it is for Santa Claus to exist.  You know that reindeer can’t fly, elves make cookies instead of toys, and the magical delivery of toys all over the world in one night seems incredibly unlikely.  To your children, however, this is what they have known to be reality for their entire lives.

As a math guy, I like to have logical, rational evidence about a subject before I make my final verdict.  Simply dismissing ideas because they seem implausible is definitely the easy thing to do, but it’s really no fun at all.  That’s why I have spent some time thinking about practical, logical reasons that Santa cannot exist.  This is how I intend to break the news to my own children in a few years.  I plan to present this list as though I recently figured it out and I will act as if I am as shocked as they are.  Feel free to use this list as you see fit.

1.  Copyright/Trademark Laws – This may not have been an issue in the age of custom wooden toys and trinkets, but in the modern age of branding and patents, toys being constructed by elves just doesn’t make sense.  Think about it.  Why on earth would Sony take on the liability of Playstation 3 consoles built and programmed at the North Pole?  Do you think Fisher Price would take a hit for a faulty Big Wheel the elves messed up on because they were rushing to make a quota?  There is no way that name brand toys could be constructed by Santa’s helpers.  That’s an impossible scenario.

2.  Lack of Duplication – Have you ever heard the story about the kids that got the exact same gifts from Santa and their parents?  Me neither.  Surely, with millions of homes being visited every year, there would be a last minute gift purchased that would be an exact replica of a Santa gift.  That.Has.Never.Happened.  The only possible explanations for this are:  a. parents do not buy gifts, b.  Santa magically comes up with something new when he arrives at each home, c. Santa doesn’t exist.

    a.  Seriously, look at my bank account.  Parents buy gifts.  This cannot be the correct explanation.

    b.  If this is the case, it doesn’t make sense for Santa to ask you what you want for Christmas.  Letters to Santa do not matter.  Elves do not construct toys “just for you.”  These are vital aspects of the story of Santa, so it would be a direct contradiction to assume that Santa does not determine gifts before his arrival.  This cannot be the correct explanation.

    c.  Since the first two options have been eliminated, the only explanation for the lack of duplication of gifts is that Santa does not exist.

3.  Home Security Systems – There are home security systems that have those crazy spy lasers where, if touched, set off alarms and booby traps.  Well, maybe not the traps.  But even assuming he could magically escape before the police arrives, there should still be an amazing increase in reported home invasions on Christmas Eve.  Based on my research, that is not the case.  So if Santa truly is a fat dude that physically eats cookies and puts gifts under the trees, it would be impossible for him to not set off an alarm or two.  Santa could not possibly enter millions of homes each year. 

4.  The Wrapping Paradox – In the month or so leading up to Christmas this past year, I saw countless conversations on Facebook about whether or not Santa wraps gifts.  Some believe he uses special paper, while others have never seen a wrapped gift from Santa.  This creates a large problem from my point of view.  If you are running an operation as big as delivering millions of gifts all across the world in one night, you would have to be organized.  Your processes would have to be streamlined.  So, for some gifts to be wrapped and others not wrapped, that just does not make sense.  This whole thing must be a sham.

5.  The Cookie Dilemma – At my house, we leave cookies out for Santa.  Perhaps that is only to ensure that I get some cookies, but they are left out regardless.  I would think that most homes with young children that are expecting Santa do the same.  To be safe, let’s assume that only half the homes visited by Santa leave cookies for him.  Let’s also assume they each only leave out one Oreo cookie (I realize the types and brands of cookies vary, but I really like Oreos).  Being even more conservative, let’s assume he only visits five million homes here in America. 

Let’s do the math.  If he visits five million homes, that means two and a half million homes leave out at least one Oreo cookie.  It is absolutely impossible for one person to consume that many cookies in one night.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  Thus, Santa Claus does not exist.

Is this an exact science?  Not really.  Will it be enough to convince my children that Santa doesn’t exist without me telling them I’ve been lying to them?  I sure hope so.  Have I spent too much time thinking about cookies?  There is no doubt.

Do you have any interesting stories about how you or someone you know found out that Santa does not exist?

Guilty

10/18/2012

0 Comments

 
I really enjoy courtroom entertainment, whether it is in a television series or a movie.  I love watching the plot develop and the facts come out.  Then you always know that, at the last moment, a piece of information will be revealed that will ultimately decide the case.  It’s great drama and wonderful suspense.

I usually end up researching law schools for the next few days after I see a great courtroom scene.  I really get into it and it makes me want to be a part of it.  And by a part of it, I mean a judge or an attorney.  I would never want to be a defendant or plaintiff.  I do wonder what that would be like, though.

I’ve heard a good friend of mine often use a courtroom analogy to talk about effectively living out your faith.  It is actually a great perspective to help you visualize your daily actions and attitude.

If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  Yes, I hope that you would plead guilty and testify against yourself.  But based on evidence alone, would you be found guilty of being a follower of Christ?  Let’s see what that evidence might look like.

Has it been obvious that you have repented, turned away from your sins, and changed the direction of your life? 

Have you been caught sharing God’s love with everyone that you come in contact with?

Have you sought justice for those that can’t defend themselves?

What tangible fruit have you produced?

Have you used your time, money, and other resources to invest in the Kingdom of God here on earth?

What kind of friend have you been?

How have you gone out of your way to reach those that don’t know Christ?

Have you shared your testimony regularly and had genuine conversations with others about their relationships with Christ?

So what do you think?  Do you think the answers to these questions would be enough to convict you of being a Christian?  If not, what in the world are you doing?  Get off your behind and start building some evidence against yourself.  Being found not guilty is not an option.