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)

 
I really like the show How I Met Your Mother.  The storyline is pretty obvious, right?  A father is telling his children the story of how he met their mother.  The writing is genius, the acting is hilarious, and there is an element of mystery that keeps you coming back for more.  If I was one of those kids, though, I’d probably be getting pretty frustrated as this story has been rambling on for seven years.

Actually, even as a fan, I am getting a bit frustrated.  There have been hints here and there and small teases about who the mother will be and how the father will meet her.  But at this point, we really know very little about her and even less about how this might play out.  At times, it feels as though we are being strung along and there will never be a payoff to the story.  The mother represents a hollow promise that I don’t know if we will ever see fulfilled.

Luckily, that is not the case for my faith.  I know how this story ends.  I know that I am going to spend eternity worshiping my Creator, fulfilling the purpose for which I was created.  I am going to be in the presence of the Almighty God.  And it is going to be awesome.

It has been about 2,000 years since Jesus ascended back into heaven.  Many people at that time expected Him to come back momentarily.  As the years went on, followers of Christ got more and more anxious about when He would fulfill His promise and come to take them home. 

In the 21st century, it can be easy for us to assume that our spiritual journeys here on earth are uncertain.  It is impossible for us to see what our lives will be like down the line.  We may not even be able to see the next few steps in our spiritual walks.  And that can be scary, overwhelming, and sometimes very frustrating.

However, even if we don’t know the particular route we will take, we know the destination.  We know how our story ends.  (Note:  It never really ends since eternity is forever…just to clarify.)  So how should we proceed in this mysterious voyage called life? 

That’s pretty simple.  It is similar to the way I continue to watch How I Met Your Mother.  I try not to think about the ending.  I enjoy the humor, I admire the character development, and I take it one episode at a time.

As Christians, we should put our focus on the here and now.  Since we know the last chapter of the book, we should not spend any time worrying about the road to get there.  We should take life a day at a time, loving others and producing fruit along the way.  That is the kind of freedom that comes from knowing how the story ends.  Praise God for spoilers!

 
Being a Christian is hard.  There is no doubt about that.  However, different aspects of walking with Christ seem to challenge individual Christians on different levels.  Some folks have specific sins that they struggle with.  Others have real trouble staying disciplined in their quiet time.  Still some find it difficult just to make it to church every week.  There is one issue, however, I feel led to discuss in detail:  why is it so difficult to drive like a Christian?

When I got my first car after college, somebody gave me a magnetic cross to stick on the back.  As that was a period of great spiritual growth in my life, I was more than happy to slap it on there and represent Christ with my ride.  When a friend of mine noticed my new car art, he made a comment that I will never forget.  He said, “I would love to put something like that on my car.  But if I did, I would have to drive like a Christian.” 

Since he told me that, I have spoken to many other Christians that feel the same way.  Since I have struggled similarly in the past, I can definitely empathize.  That is why I have decided to write this guide to walking the narrow path while driving on the open highway.  Hopefully this short list of driving tips will help you be more like Christ on your next journey.

1.  Crank the music – This may seem contradictory to what you would think, but hear me out.  I know loud music usually gets your adrenaline cranking, but if you are rocking out to Christian music, the benefits far outweigh the risks.  First of all, few things can get your soul in a holy place like listening to your favorite praise and worship tunes.  And if your soul is in the right place, it is much easier to imitate Christ.

Secondly, one of the primary triggers of my own road rage comes from people honking and yelling at me.  If they are drowned out by Todd Agnew blaring from my stereo, then I will be none the wiser.  (Note:  I realize it is dangerous to drive with your music too loud.  That is a risk I am willing to take, but I urge you to do so with caution.)

2.  Practice being selfless – How can you be selfless while driving?  It’s very simple.  It’s call right-of-way.  The best way for you to rid yourself of selfish driving habits is to regularly give up your right-of-way.  You get to the four-way stop first?  Let the other car go anyway.  You turning right while they are turning left?  Give them the friendly wave of driving approval and let them be on their way.  If you make this a regular practice, it will be much easier to contain your fury when it happens on the fly.  I do not believe that practice will make you perfect, but it will definitely make you better.

3.  Remember God’s love – I know God loves me.  I can feel it.  He shows me His love often.  However, I have trouble remembering that He loves everyone else, too.  That is especially true when somebody is doing something stupid that has a negative impact on me.  So whenever somebody runs the stop sign by my house and cuts me off, I often have to say out loud, “God loves that person.”  If I say that, and actually take the time to process it, I find it easier to keep my road rage at bay…most of the time.

4. Obey the law – I know this may sound absurd, but you should obey standard traffic laws.  Come to a complete stop at stop signs and lights.  At least consider driving somewhere in the neighborhood of the speed limit.  Your vehicle has turn signals for a reason, so you should use them every now and then. 

Believe it or not, I am fairly certain that Jesus would do these things if He ever got behind the wheel.  And if you are trying to be like Him, you should probably start working on those rolling stops.  (Note:  I'm also fairly certain that Jesus would drive a Chevrolet.  So...there's that.)

5.  Athletic tape – Whether people choose to follow tip number one or not, I think it is safe to assume that people in cars cannot hear each other clearly, even in a shouting match.  Perhaps that is why many people choose to express their frustration with a simple hand gesture…a California Howdy as we call it where I’m from.  So how do you keep yourself from using this classic piece of sign language?  The answer is very simple: tape your fingers together.

If your index finger is taped to your middle finger, any attempt to flip somebody off would result in what would appear to be a lazy attempt to wish them peace in their journey.  It would be impossible not to laugh at yourself if you went to throw up the finger and inadvertently gave a Boy Scout salute.  And you know what they say, “laughter is the best medicine.”  Well, that and Pepto-Bismol.  I don't know what I would do without that stuff.

6.  Pray – I know it may feel silly, but if you spend some time in prayer before you head out into a congested area, it will be easier to keep your cool.  Asking God to help you be patient (which is different than actually asking for patience) before you go out into a high traffic area that you know will be frustrating will help more than you can imagine.  God wants us to ask Him for things, and I know that there are many things we want more than being able to curb our road rage.  But if this is really something you struggle with, you may want to move it up to the top of your prayer list.  (Note:  If you choose to pray while driving, please keep your eyes open.  It’s okay…I promise.)

Being 100% serious, I honestly believe that driving with a Christian attitude can go a long way toward showing others the love of Christ.  If you are afraid of contradicting a Christian vehicle magnet with your actions behind the wheel, you may want to consider changing your driving habits instead of re-gifting the magnet. 

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2 NIV)

 
I don’t like needles.  I don’t like giving blood.  I don’t like getting shots.  I don’t like hemming pants.  Needles are not my thing.  To me, they are an instrument of pain.

Any time somebody comes near me with a needle, I tell them that I am allergic to pain and beg for mercy.  How do I have tattoos, you ask?  To be quite honest, I was seconds away from passing out during my first one.  Pain is not my thing.

However, pain is not always bad.  Yes, it always hurts.  But think about it:  if there is something wrong with you, and there is no pain to tell you, how will you ever know to seek help?  I had an appendectomy two summers ago because it was about to rupture.  Had I not experienced that excruciating pain, my appendix may have busted open and poisoned me to death.

Hurting may suck at the time, but it always lets us know that there is a problem.  Leprosy is a disease often mentioned in the Bible.  I always pictured it as being the people version of mange, or some sort of gross rash.  In reality, leprosy is when your nerve endings stop working and you essentially lose the ability to feel pain. 

While that may seem appealing, think of the consequences.  You will not feel it when you get cut.  You could get a deadly infection for lose a ton of blood before you even notice the cut.  You could burn your skin and you wouldn’t even realize it until you smell burning flesh.  Before you known it, your body is all mangled simply because you were never able to identify the problems that were plaguing you.

Pain is never fun when you are experiencing it.  However, it has a purpose.  God allows us to feel pain to help us identify problems that we need to deal with.  He lets us hurt to give us a chance to address the issues that may cause more permanent damage if we choose to ignore them.  God created pain to keep us safe.

My prayer is this:  God, thank You for pain.  If it will help me eliminate the circumstances that keep me from getting closer to you, please give me some more.  If it will help me fight temptation, bring the pain.  If it will help me to avoid sin, hurt me.  If it will keep me motivated to be an active agent of Your love and justice, do what You’ve got to do.  Pain is temporary, Lord.  But Your love is everlasting.

 
Sweat stinks.  There is no way around it.  From the time you hit middle school until the time you die, sweat is one of your worst enemies.  The stains, the stink, the bees.  It’s a hot mess.  (Note:  That is possibly the worst joke I have ever made.)

Poll question:  What do you apply to your body to avoid the horrific aroma of sweat?  Chances are that 98% of you said deodorant.  Whatever the other 2% said, please say it from a distance.

One of the first awkward moments of my marriage was when I went grocery shopping and bought deodorant for my wife.  I knew it was the same brand I had seen her use, so I grabbed a stick and threw it in the buggy.  (Note:  Feel free to call it a “shopping cart,” but where I am from it’s a buggy.  Back off.) 

I didn’t think about the deodorant again until the next morning when she went to use it.  Apparently, there is fine print on each stick of deodorant.  By fine print, I mean bold letters under the brand name.  If the package did not say “Deodorant and Antiperspirant,” my wife refused to use it.  The stick I bought only said "deodorant."

I may be the only person in this boat, but it was a shock to me that those were two different things.  I had always assumed that "deodorant=antiperspirant."  Luckily, my wife was ready and willing to give me a very direct lesson on the difference.  Apparently, deodorant does nothing more than cancel out and cover up the smell of sweat, while antiperspirant prevents the sweat from ever making an appearance.  (Note:  I am still not convinced that this difference actually exists.  I believe it may just be a marketing ploy.)  (Note:  I think I just set a record for the number of “Notes” in one post.)

I believe that we live in an era of “deodorant Christianity.”  Instead of trying to help each other become pure and just by holding each other accountable, we come up with creative ways to cover up the stink of our sinful nature. 

Think about it.  When was the last time when you heard somebody stand up and confess their sins in public?  When was the last time you saw a fellow Christian directly confront the sinful behavior of another Christian?  Is that not what we are supposed to be doing? 

We are all called to be Christ-like; as sinless and full of love as possible.  But instead of going through the pain of such purification, we mask our faults and struggles so others will not know that we have fallen short of perfection. 

We have confidential giving statements, unspoken prayer requests, spectator-style worship services, prosperity gospels, secret internet lives, destructive sinful habits, and a mind-your-own-business mentality.  I’ll handle my relationship with God, you handle yours.  Let’s leave it at that.

How on earth can we read the Bible and come away with the conclusion that any of that is okay?  Jesus loved people enough to tell them when they were straying from the Way.  He called out the Pharisees, He turned over tables, and He cursed the fig tree for not producing fruit.  He pulled no punches.  He wanted people to be righteous and just.

The early churches literally pooled all of their money together and shared as they had need.  Paul’s letters are full of loving accountability to be sure that the churches were accurately following Christ’s teachings.  Many early Christians gave up their lives for their faith, and we are too proud and selfish to risk our comfort and reputations.

THIS is not the way we are commanded to live.  This is NOT the life of sacrifice and persecution we are called to.  This is not CHRISTIANITY.

Try and justify it however you want, but we are doing something wrong.  I pray that God will help me to be different.  I’ll pray for you, too.

 
Don’t be skerd.  Do people still say that?  I didn’t think so.  Even so, it is good advice.  Far too often, we let fear creep in and ruin our plans.  Or worse, we let fear ruin what God has planned for us. 

When I was in elementary school, I rarely went to church.  Occasionally I would go with my grandmother to get her off of my back because she invited me almost every Sunday.  I would go, stand during worship, draw on scrap paper during the sermon, look down and draw during prayers, go home and continue on as if nothing had happened. 

There was one time each year, however, that I got really excited about going to church.  I absolutely loved Vacation Bible School.  I would get to hang out with many of my friends from school that I did not see much in the summer, play games, and enjoy some delicious snacks.  Good times had by all.

However, I remember one year that it was absolutely ruined right off the bat.  We sat down to do a lesson on the first day, and the teacher asked if anybody could name the writers of the gospels.  Since I did not attend church often, and I rarely listened when I did go, I had no idea what a gospel was.  However, there was a young man beside me that said, “Oh, that’s easy:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”  Instantly, my VBS balloon was deflated. 

Due to my own lack of Biblical knowledge, the confidence of another kid caused a degree of fear in me that paralyzed me for the rest of the week.  The words "that's easy" made me feel like I did not belong, and I had no business pretending as if I did.  If there was ever a chance I would learn more about God, it was negated by the hollow shell of fear that I crawled into.

I would love to say, “Hey, I was a kid.  Of course I was intimidated.  I would never react that way now that I am an adult.”  However, that would not be completely accurate.  I cannot tell you how many issues I have wanted to write about on this blog, only to talk myself out of it because I am not an expert.  Because of fear, I have chosen to hold back ideas that I feel are relevant. 

Because I do not have a seminary degree, I do not feel qualified to discuss deep spiritual issues.  At least that is the lie that I keep telling myself.  There are several of individuals that I consider to be spiritual mentors that sometimes comment on my posts.  Each time they do, I end up freaking out and trying to make sure I did not write anything that was completely sacrilegious on that particular post.  The fear that they may lose respect for me consumes me.

Fear leads us to believe that our experiences with God, our personal testimonies about our faith, are not good enough.  Fear leads us to keep our mouths shut, even when we feel led to share.  Fear tells us that without this or without that, we are nothing.  Fear is a liar.

“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)