I knew this day would come, and I have dreaded it for quite some time.  My children have been imitating me for quite a while, but today they started imitating each other.  It was scary enough for me to have to watch my words and actions, but there is even less I can do to keep them from sharing bad habits with one another.  My home has become a scary place.

To some degree, though, we all end up imitating those around us. That also means that there are folks following our examples.  However, this is a responsibility that many of us take for granted.  We say we don’t care what people think.  Or, even worse, we try too hard to be something that we are not. 

So what is the right way to approach this responsibility?

And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.  (1 Corinthians 11:1 NLT)

I don’t know about you, but I get a little uneasy when I read this verse.  Paul must have been pretty confident to say this to the church at Corinth.  I, on the other hand, feel like it is more pressure than I can handle.  But what is that pressure about?

I used to think that this verse overwhelmed me because I was worried about people following my lead.  I don’t want to cause people to stumble by showing them the wrong way to do things.  I don’t want to lead them away from Christ through my mistakes and limitations.  I would rather they imitate someone else…somebody that is better at this whole Christian gig than I am.

But, you know what?  That is a cop out.  That is an excuse. 

My real fear is that I am afraid of fully committing to imitating Christ.  I know the type of sacrifice, pain, suffering, and selflessness it will take to imitate Him.  And that scares me to death.

I am fine with people following my lead.  But if I claim this verse to be a staple of discipleship, my lifestyle must undergo a complete renovation.  If I am going to encourage people to follow me as I imitate Christ, I have to be more like Jesus.  I have to be less like me.  No excuses.  I have to.

Here we are, December 31st.  This is my 261st post of the year.  Averaging more than 400 words per post, I’ve written and posted somewhere between 100,000 and 120,000 words this year.  I feel like that puts a little bit of pressure on these last few.  But hey, I’m clutch.  They don't call me the Knowledge Dropper for nothing.

First, I want to offer a bit of thanks.  I made it my goal to post a spiritual message each weekday of this year, and thanks to your support I have pushed through to reach that goal.  Many of the messages were things that I was personally interested in.  Others were put on my heart by the Holy Spirit.  A few were suggested by friends. And some…were just for fun.

Since I will be moving to a weekly post format in 2013, I feel like this is the end of an era.  So I want to leave you with one final message that I hope sums up my work this year.

Friends, we are way off from the work of the early churches.  Their passion in their pursuit of spreading the gospel is unidentifiable in the vast majority of churches today.  We focus way too much on meeting our own needs, fitting in with popular culture, and trying to satisfy the “tradition” of what has come before us.  We seek to please ourselves and keep our church members content before we think about pleasing God and meeting the needs in our communities.

I really think that we all see this problem.  We notice the missed opportunities and the ministry needs that are not being met.  We identify the church practices that are self-serving and do nothing to advance the Kingdom of God.  We are convicted when we realize that we are living with Christ in our lives, and not living our lives for Christ.

The issue is that we believe that it is bigger than us.  And I agree with that.  Our culture of complacency and selfishness is far bigger than you or me.  Yet, our lack of faith keeps us from realizing that it IS NOT bigger than God.  We say all the time that all things are possible with God.  But we do nothing to show that we believe it.

If you see the mess that I see in the modern church, then the change starts with you and me.  To cause change, we must change.  If we want to see a different brand of Christianity, then we ourselves must be different. 

It is going to be awkward.  It is going to be uncomfortable.  It is going to be painful.  But it must be done.  Join me, will you?

Several months ago, I had a friend tell me about several non-Christian friends that he converses with on a regular basis.  As he shares his faith, they keep throwing up the same road block.  It is a question that I think we all struggle with from time to time.  But it is also one that many non-believers cling to as their “evidence” for not believing.

How can a loving God let so many people suffer and die?

God loves us.  We even claim that God is love.  Yet, thousands upon thousands of people are oppressed, abused, and murdered every day right under His nose.  His creation, under the reign of His infinite power, allows people to suffer in brutal, unimaginable ways.  How is that possible?

Perhaps the most loving thing God has ever done, aside from creation itself and that whole “sending His Son to die” thing, is giving us the power of choice.  Free will gives us the option to choose God or to turn away from Him.  It allows us to make decisions based in love or decisions based in selfishness.  He loves us enough to give us the power to choose.

Unfortunately, there are many ramifications for that.  Since God loves us all equally, He refuses to take free will away from anyone, no matter what they plan to do.  While it may be difficult for us to understand, God loves James Holmes (Aurora, CO), Seung-Hui Cho (Virginia Tech), Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (Columbine), Osama Bin Laden, Joseph Stalin, and Adolph Hitler.  God loves them so much that He refused to take their free will away.  I know that sounds too simple.  I know it sounds very convenient.  But if you consider the power of choice that God’s love provides, there is no denying it.

As for the disease and famine in the world, I am afraid the answer is a bit more painful.  It is still rooted in free will, but the blame does not lie on a few sinful individuals.  Unfortunately, the blame lies on me.  And you.  And every other person that has more than they need.  I have enough money to share and feed a hungry person or two, and chances are you do too. 

God created us to take care of one another.  Jesus commanded us to take care of the least of these.  Yet, we continue to buy nicer cars and bigger televisions.  We spend our time on hobbies and leisure activities when we should be volunteering and donating.  You and I are responsible for all of the people in need in this world…don’t blame God.

I agree that earth is a pretty messed up place right now.  However, the problems that we see are not evidence that God does not exist.  On the contrary, it is proof of the free will that we have all been blessed with, and the sinful choices that we make every day.  And if we want to see it change, we need to pray to God that He will help us change.  We are the problem.  Not Him.

It’s odd to feel speechless with so many thoughts running through your head.  Please keep in mind that this was written on Friday, the day of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.  I admit that I have become unfortunately numb to these kinds of things.  They are always painful, always tragic.  But the frequency of these events have somehow taken a bit of the sting away.

It may be the fact that my son will be in an elementary school next year, but this one stings a lot.  I cannot even look at the pictures of the families of the victims.  I feel sorrow.  I feel grief.  But most of all, I feel angry.

I feel anger on behalf of the victims.  I feel anger for their families.  Yet, as I look for a place to direct my anger, I keep coming back to…me.

No, I am not blaming myself for this event.  I am not saying that I have helped shift our culture to a place where these things happen.  But what have I done to change it?  What have I done to influence the culture in another direction?

I spend about 1/4 of my time at work.  I spend about 1/3 on sleep.  That’s about 7/12 of my week.  That leaves almost half of my time that I should be using to change the world by introducing people to my God.  It is my job to show people who Jesus is. 

But if I really spent half of my time doing that, don’t you think I might even make a small impact on the world?  Perhaps I could love somebody enough to influence them to raise their children in church, and twenty years down the road a situation like this may be adverted.  That 30 hours of adoption training standing between me and taking in an orphan may not look so bad when I think about how it may impact his/her future actions.

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. (James 1:27 NLT)

Maybe I am just rambling or maybe there is a point here, I honestly don’t know.  I do know that I should be doing more.  More to love strangers.  More to take care of God’s people.  More to spread the gospel.  More to be like Christ.

In the meantime, though, I am going to go and hug my children.  I am going to pray for everyone involved and affected by the situation in Connecticut.  And I am going to invite God to yell at me for not doing more.  Feel free to join me in all of these efforts.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV)

During this time of year, it seems like I am involved with a potluck every time I turn around.  And since I have to go to so many, I unfortunately take the easy way out.  I’ll bring cups, or drinks, or chips and dip.  Yeah…I’m that guy.

As my office potluck came around this year, my boss started poking fun at me.  She started saying things about my inability to cook and my lack of kitchen prowess.  Thus, I have decided to prove her wrong.  I am breaking out my recipe book and I plan to show up with a beautiful, delicious, homemade white chocolate raspberry swirl cheesecake.

Yeah, that looks good doesn’t it?

So yesterday, I went to Wal-Mart to get the ingredients.  When I got to the check out counter, I was fully prepared to engage in meaningless pleasantries with the cashier and get on with my day.  However, she caught me off guard with her response to my empty question of “how are you?”

She said, “I’m blessed.”

I know people usually have their go-to phrase, and that may have been hers.  However, it was different enough to catch my attention.  She didn’t say she was good or fine to let me know she was doing well.  She told me that she was blessed, implying that her mood or well-being didn’t matter as much because she had something that was bigger than all of her problems.

I’m not saying that,”I’m blessed” should become the new, “Just fine, how are you?”  But how is God’s love evident in the way that you carry yourself?  What are you doing to let people know that you have something different in your life?  How do your daily interactions point people to Christ? 

As a parent, I am always looking for advice about how to raise my children to be Godly adults.  I want them to know that God loves them, to know that I love them, and to know right from wrong.  My goal is to raise children that would be the best friend a person could ask for.  But to be honest, some days I am just hoping that I don’t cause them to become serial killers.

As it should be, one of my primary sources of advice is the Bible.  So many lessons about how to treat people, how to react to adversity, and how to experience God.  Most of these lessons can be translated to parenthood as we try to make these stories and principals relatable to children.  But it is rare to find an example of quality parenting that can be put straight into practice.  I was fortunate enough to stumble upon one of those passages earlier this week.

Speaking to his son, Solomon, David was giving instructions for building the temple.  He gave a list of building specifics, went over blueprints, and let Solomon know that this was all straight from God.

Then David continued, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Don’t be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. (1 Chronicles 28:20a NLT)

I have always been inspired by the way the Old Testament refers to God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.  They talk about the God of their fathers.  That makes God personal and less like a distant deity.  And I think David does a great job making God a reality to Solomon.  He says that God is the Lord, but he is also my God.  That’s real.

Speaking from his personal relationship with God, David talks with authority about who God is.  He will not fail you or forsake you.  There is no reason for Solomon to be afraid or even nervous.  David is so convincing about who God is that his other advice about constructing the temple, and life in general, is flawless.  Be strong and courageous, and do the work.  Don’t be afraid or discouraged. 

If I can convince my children that my God is who I believe that He is, the rest of my advice should take care of itself.  However, like David, words alone will not be enough to convince anyone that my God is real.  I must have faith as he did when facing Goliath.  I must trust God as he did when preparing for kingship while surviving Saul’s reign.  I must work hard as he did to expand and secure his kingdom.  And I must obey God as David did by waiting to pass the temple project over to his son.

I may not have a temple for my children to build, but I have a God that I can’t wait for them to meet.  In the last piece of advice he gave to his own son, David gives instructions for how I can show them how great my God is:

“I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go…” (1 Kings 2:2-3 NIV)

It’s Thanksgiving.  What on earth are you doing reading a blog on the internet?  You should be spending time with your family and loved ones.  You should be eating lots of food and watching lots of football.  You should be finding ways to love the people that need it the most.

While we should be thankful every day, today is set aside for us to give thanks to God for everything He has given us.  We are supposed to not only verbally give thanks, but to spend time thinking about our blessings and truly experience thankfulness in our hearts.  Let God see what His love means to you. 

Also, let others see that you are thankful for them and how much they mean to you.  I challenge you to tell everyone in your life that you love them today.  If you cannot get over your pride or your grudges to do that, do you really have thankfulness in your heart?

While I would never tell anyone not to read my blog, I am going to stop here because I think your time could be better spent showing love today.  So go do that.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Language is a tricky thing.  It can be hard to learn a new language, even with intensive study.  I, myself, am bilingual.  I speak American English and Appalachian English, and often serve as a translator of the latter.  But no matter how many Spanish courses I have taken and how much Dora the Explorer I have watched, Spanish just doesn’t seem to work for me.

The Bible has several references to people speaking different languages, and there are two fantastic stories that show God relating to us through the difference in languages in two completely opposite ways. 

First of all, look at the story of the Tower of Babel.  Everyone in the world spoke the same language.  And a large group of people got together to build a huge city and a tower to heaven.  God did not like the idea and He confused their languages so that they could no longer easily communicate.  But they were doing this to be closer to God, right?  What is wrong with that?  Why would He punish them for seeking Him?  Well, their motives may have been suspect.

Then they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.”  (Genesis 11:4 NLT)

They are seeking to build a great city for themselves and they are hoping to become famous.  It seems that their motivation in this venture is strictly selfish.  They wanted to be famous.  They wanted to reap the fruits of their labor.  So God decided to make it hard for them.  They probably could have spent some time learning from each other and ultimately gotten back on the same page, but they chose to give up because God made it more difficult for them to work for their own glory.

In a situation that could not be more contrary, we find a group in the book of Acts come together in an upper room to pray and seek God.  They were trying to figure out how God wanted them to move forward with spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.  With what we refer to as the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down and filled the followers of Christ to empower them to fulfill the great commission.

At that time, many people in the city of Jerusalem spoke different languages.  It was a fairly diverse place.  However, God made it so that, no matter who was teaching in what language, everyone could understand them.  God opened their ears to understand His message in all languages. 

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.  (Romans 8:28 NLT)

In Babel, God intervened to make it hard for the people to achieve their selfish plans.  Since they only sought to glorify themselves, God chose to make it difficult for them.  He did not support their efforts in any way.

Because the Christians in Acts were seeking God, He worked for the good of His purpose and made their jobs easier.  Because they were willing to sacrifice their own desires for His glory, God gave them what they needed to effectively serve Him. 

Are you seeking to build your own towers?  Or are you praying for God to help you build His?

My son is four and a half and having conversations with him is a lot of fun.  He often says random things that seem to come out of nowhere.  He repeats things that I didn’t think, and sometimes really hoped, that he didn’t hear.  He uses words that I didn’t know he understood, and it’s even more fun when he doesn’t really understand how to use them. 

I’ve also noticed that he has words and phrases that he has made a regular part of his conversational repertoire.  To be more specific, he finds a way to work the word actually into every other sentence.  It takes great effort for him to pronounce it correctly, but he usually makes it work.  After he had done this for a few days, I started to wonder where he picked it up and I started paying more attention to the words and phrases I use regularly.

As it turns out, I actually do say actually a lot.  I also tend to mumble things like daggum and dangit when things aren’t going well.  When things are going my way, though, I turn to words like awesome and woo-hoo.

We all have “catch phrases” that we tend to use over and over.  It’s usually something we think sounds cool at some point, or a phrase that we’ve heard others use a lot, or just something that we are comfortable with.  Some of them are pretty consistent when stepping on Legos and getting cut off in traffic, while others indicate a victory by a favorite team or a Todd Agnew song coming on the radio.

In my daily reading recently, I came across a passage that made me think about those daily catch phrases that I use.  Just after David drops a hot Psalm to celebrate the ark of the Lord, we get an immediate response from everybody in ear-shot.

Then all the people said “Amen” and “Praise the Lord.” (1 Chronicles 16:36b NIV)

Amen and Praise the Lord were responses that were ready and waiting on the lips of God’s people.  These phrases were obviously something they said regularly as they all shouted them in unison. 

Yes, I hear people saying these things in church and around Bible studies.  But why is this not our response to a well-cooked meal or hitting consecutive green lights?  Why do we choose to save our Godly catch phrases for what we consider to be Godly situations?

The next time you get the chance to proclaim a victory or celebrate a joyful occasion, try to remember to give a shout out to the Lord.  After all, shouldn’t we give credit where credit is due?  If we do it often enough, it might even become one of our go-to catch phrases.  I'd say that's a pretty holy habit to have, wouldn't you?

I turn 30 tomorrow.  I know many of you have seen that day come and go already and it didn’t really matter, but for some reason it has been a big deal to me.  I have actually dreaded tomorrow pretty badly for about two years now.  I’m really not sure why I have loved being “not 30” so much.  I don’t know if it has been the “there is so much I wanted to accomplish” bit, or the fact that I’m not looking forward to an awkward visit with my doctor, or this wonderful invitation created for my surprise party two weeks ago.

However, in the last few days, my perspective has completely changed.  As I have taken some serious time to think about my life, its purpose, and all that I have experienced, I have realized just how blessed I really am.  I have been blessed beyond my wildest imagination.  I have an amazing wife and two incredible, healthy kids.  I have a great family and a wonderful group of friends that I can rely on for any need.  I have a great church family that pushes me to grow closer to God.  I have a job that I love.  And I have a wonderful home.

The 30 years I have had so far have led me to a place that I would really not change for anything.  I am truly blessed, and there is no excuse for my attitude about wrapping up a quarter of my life.  That’s right, I’m living to be 120.

When was the last time that you made the effort to focus on your blessings?  Like me, do you find reasons to complain even when God’s love is so obvious in your life?

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
Let the whole world know what he has done.
Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds. 
(1 Chronicles 16:8-9 NLT)