How smart are you?  Come on, give yourself a little credit.  Modesty is a fantastic trait, but I think we all believe that we are pretty intelligent.  At least, I know I am.  (Insert laugh track here.)

Regardless of how intelligent you think you are, I think we can all agree that it is always a good idea to be surrounded by smart people.  If you are looking for advice, or fresh ideas, or just help with a project, it’s great to have people around you that can support and contribute to your productivity.

As legend has it, and by legend I mean the Bible, Solomon was the wisest man that has ever lived.  God gave him wisdom because that is what he asked for.  Yet, the Bible also tells us that Solomon surrounded himself with trusted advisors.  He had people that he trusted to give solid advice and input.  Even the smartest guy alive sought wise counsel.  You’d have to think this was an all-star team of advisors, right?

After Solomon passed away, his “cabinet” stayed around to help the new king, Rehoboam, Solomon’s son.  Talk about a setup for success.  That’s like being drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1995.  There is very little you can do to screw things up.  However, Rehaboam found a way.

When confronted with his first issue about the labor requirements of the people of Israel, Rehaboam tried to figure out whether to make the burden lighter on the workers, or to push them harder.  He sought counsel from Solomon’s advisors, and also asked his friends for help.  After three days of deliberation, he opted to listen to his contemporaries and make life harder on the labor force.

And to this day the northern tribes of Israel have refused to be ruled by a descendant of David.  (2 Chronicles 10:19 NLT)

Rehaboam’s inability to listen to wise counsel led to great dissention, and ultimately destruction, of the Israel that David built.

I know that you and I not necessarily rulers of nations, but our decisions do affect people.  Our choices have an impact on the lives of others.  That impact has both immediate and eternal implications, and should be taken very seriously.

Thankfully, we have the opportunity to surround ourselves with Godly, wise, prayerful individuals.  We can choose to take advice from those that have more experience, can see the bigger picture, or have a stronger leading from the Holy Spirit.  We have a chance to be smarter than we are by simply allowing others to play a role in our decision making.

We all play our own parts, and serve in individual roles in the body of Christ.  But let’s make sure that we utilize the other parts as well. 

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.  (1 Corinthians 12:26-27 NLT)

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)

Christmas has become a jumbled accumulation of various priorities, traditions, and practices.  There are some commonalities between most families, and some things that have become unbreakable traditions with loved ones.  However, if we break it down to the basics of this celebration, Christmas is a birthday party.

If your birthday is December 25th, unfortunately, I am not talking about you.  Unless Jesus is reading this…then…I am talking about You.  We are celebrating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God that came to save us from our sins.  God came to earth to live a life like ours.

The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  (Luke 2:11 NLT)

Everything about this season revolves around new life.  New life in the form of a baby boy placed in a manger.  New life in that the Living God came to walk among us.  New life in the salvation that Christ’s birth, and ultimately His death and resurrection, provides.  New life in the form of our renewed relationship with our Creator.

So how do we celebrate this new life?  We take the time to recognize the blessings in our lives.  We enhance our lives with gifts, affection, and special meals.  We spend time with those that mean the most to us.  And, sometimes as an afterthought, we take the time to think about the new life that this season brings.

However, there are people out there that don’t have the same blessings that we do.  There are those that don’t have gifts to give or receive, loved ones to share affection, or any food to eat whatsoever.  They may not feel loved, cared for, or important.  They may not know the hope that comes with the new life that Christ brought on that first Christmas.

It is our job to show them that hope.  It is our job to represent new life to them by giving of ourselves: our time, money, energy, and love.  We can give gifts, give food, volunteer, and spend time with people that need these things to understand that they are loved and that Christ provides a hope they may never have known existed.  If we choose not to be Christ to those in need, how will they ever know who He really is?

Let’s give Jesus some new friends for His birthday.  Let’s introduce people to the new life that we celebrate each Christmas.

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?

If you are connected with me at all on social media, you are probably aware of the battle that took place in my home this weekend.  Since we will be out of town after Thanksgiving, my wife wanted to go ahead and put up Christmas decorations in our home.  I strongly opposed, but of course I lost.  So this is me trying to get into the Christmas spirit so my family will stop calling me Scrooge.

Christmas takes on many different meanings to different people. For many children and, unfortunately, some adults, Christmas is a selfish holiday. They focus on what they want and how they can make sure they get it. On the flip side, many parents and grandparents make Christmas all about the children, working to ensure that they get all of the gifts they could ever want.

For the many non-Christians that celebrate Christmas, while they spend their time talking about Santa Claus instead of Jesus, the focus is on making people happy. Sometimes it is family, sometimes friends, and sometimes good deeds for the less fortunate.

Many Christians, on the other hand, try to keep Christmas old school and focus on the birth of Jesus. While there are some disagreements about how much to include secular traditions in our celebrations, we all agree that Jesus deserves to be the center of attention. It is His birthday, after all.

But how do you think Jesus, Himself, would celebrate? Based on His teachings, I believe that the answer is pretty clear.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13 NLT)

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. (John 13:34 NLT)

And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ (Matthew 25:40 NLT)

I believe that, while He would spend all of His time doing it, Jesus would make a special effort to celebrate His birthday by loving people. He would make sure that everyone celebrating His birth feels His love. He would meet their needs and wrap them in His loving comfort.

Since our goal as Christians is to be as much like Jesus as possible, why is it that we don’t spend more time celebrating His birth by loving one another? Sure, we send cards and occasionally exchange gifts. But how can we claim to love God if we are not meeting the needs of our fellow Christians? How can we celebrate Christ if we are not obeying Him by taking care of “the least of” our brothers and sisters?

We love each other because he loved us first. If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters. (1 John 4:19-21 NLT)

Let’s all focus on fulfilling this command this Christmas season by showing the love of Christ to our fellow Christians that need it the most. And yes, that includes doing so on Black Friday.

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)

Equality is a big deal in our country.  And for good reason.  Everyone should be entitled to the same rights and opportunities as anyone else.  The motto for college where I work is “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth.”  You may have also heard this idea in the book of Acts, specifically Acts 17:26.  This school was on the forefront of interracial education and made great strides for racial equality.  And all of these endeavors were founded upon Biblical principles.

However, I believe that some Christians today miss the big picture of equality.  Within the church, we often think of being equal as God loving us equally or even blessing us equally.  We get frustrated when others are more blessed financially than us.  We get angry when God seems to test us more than others.  We can’t help but wonder why God does not seem to love us as much as others sometimes.

We have such a warped view of reality.  We live too much in the moment.  Our perspective of God’s plan is so limited that we forget that He is working on a final product of which we are only getting to see the individual brush strokes.  God’s plan for us is bigger than today, this year, or even this decade. 

It is impossible to completely understand God’s perspective.  However, the Bible is very clear that creation is much bigger than our individual struggles.  God does love us.  God does want to bless us and He wants us to experience unthinkable joy.

The primary roadblock in our misunderstanding of spiritual equality is our inability to seriously consider eternity.  Eternity is forever.  With our focus being on there here and now, we completely miss the fact that our lives on earth will one day be but a blip on the radar of our eternal existence. 

Am I saying that our lives here don’t matter?  Absolutely not.  Our work here is very important and obviously has eternal implications for ourselves and others.  Every day, every interaction, every situation is vital in our mission to grow God’s kingdom on earth.

However, to complain or even spend time being frustrated about our struggles is not only a waste of time, but it displays a lack of understanding of who God is and what He wants for us.  God does love us all equally and His shower of blessings over the course of forever will reflect that.  But for now, our job is to not focus on ourselves but to be as big of a blessing as we can during our short time here.  We need to focus on our work in fulfilling the great commission and to leave the equity to God. 
The Good Samaritan.  It’s the name of several hospitals, a few charities, and a common analogy for helping your fellow man.  You hear it everywhere, and you assume that everybody has the some understanding of the story.  The original Good Samaritan was the man that helped the wounded Jew when two of his kinsmen passed on by him.  He was a good man when others were selfish.  That’s the message, right?  Yes…but there’s more.

You see, Samaritans and Jews did not get along.  Samaritans had been sent by the Babylonians to occupy the Israelite towns during the exile.  And when God’s people returned to their land, the “Promised Land,” these people refused to observe the same practices as the Jews.  The Samaritans quickly became second class citizens in the eyes of the Israelites.  They were resented, looked down upon, and treated badly pretty much every day of their lives.

Putting the story in context with the way that Samaritans were viewed and treated, it changes it completely.  It goes from some nice dude stopping to help a stranger to a persecuted man coming to the rescue of one of his worst enemies.

When we apply this story to modern times, we often thinking about giving a hamburger to a homeless person or helping a single mom change a flat tire.  We picture starving children that need our money or friendly faces that need somebody to talk to.

But now that we know more about who a Samaritan was in that time period, the modern application is much different.  It becomes less fluffy and doesn’t look so much like a Hallmark movie.  It’s more like putting yourself on the line to help somebody that you have been conditioned to despise.  It’s like risking your reputation, and maybe even your life, to save your enemy. 

So if we really want to be Good Samaritans, we need to start treating our enemies the way that we want to be treated, giving to those that would never give to us, and doing all that we can to love the unlovable.  We need to go above and way beyond our comfort zone if we want to love our neighbor as we are commanded.

So, if you would, be a little more careful with the Good Samaritan analogy from now on.  It has much more depth than we usually give it credit for.  That pretty much applies to everything Jesus said.

Well, there you have it.  Barack Obama will be the president of the United States of America for another four years.  No matter how you feel about him, his past, and his opinions, he is the leader of our country.  So, as Christians, how should we react to this news?  I think we should start out by talking how not to react.

Do not complain.  Many people say that, by voting, you are granted the right to complain should your candidate not win.  To quote the apostle Paul, that's a bunch of "dung."  Even if Mitt Romney was your best friend and the last thing you wanted was to see Obama back in office, complaining will help nothing.  How are people supposed to see Christ’s love in you if your mouth is filled with negativity?  How are you helping the least of these by running your mouth? 

Complaining is a waste of time, energy, and it gives ammunition to all those haters that say all Christians are hypocrites.  If you claim to follow Christ, show it by not letting hateful words touch your lips.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.  Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.  (Ephesians 4:31-21 NLT)

Do not celebrate.  Even if you are the biggest fan of President Obama there is, what is there to celebrate?  If anything, it’s time for him and us to get to work.  Sure, you may be happy that the other guy didn’t win.  But was the entire election process about getting somebody elected or making our country a better place?  If the answer is the latter, then changing this lukewarm environment starts with you and me.

Celebrating is a waste of time, energy, and it gives ammunition to all those haters that say all Christians are hypocrites.  If you claim to follow Christ, show it by getting off of your butt and loving somebody.  Sitting around and waiting for politicians to meet the needs of the poor and hungry is hardly a noble venture.

Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there.  When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, and all their plans die with them.  (Psalm 146: 3-4 NLT)

We could, however, take this opportunity to get our priorities straight and start living the lives that we were created to live.  We could put our political affiliations aside and focus on loving each other.  We could put all of our focus on Christ and change the world.

The election is over.  Let's pray for our country.  Let's pray for our president.  Let’s move on and get to work.

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.