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.

 
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)

 
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.

 
Have you ever seen a four-year-old that has to go to the bathroom?  Unfortunately, that is my reality every day.  You see, as adults, we have learned to control our bodily functions and maintain an even-keeled demeanor.  But kids, not so much.

When my son needs to go to the restroom, there is no doubt to anyone.  There is grabbing and squirming and whining and dancing around.  It is obvious that he has to go and he cannot wait.  As soon as he realizes he has to go, the situation instantly becomes urgent.  It gives immediacy a whole new meaning.  In fact, I’m not sure I even knew what urgency looked like before I had kids.

I certainly had never seen it at church or within the Christian community.  As Christians, it seems like we have lost our sense of urgency.  As we look at the book of Acts and read the letters of the New Testament, we see individuals acting like any moment could be their last.  By their actions, you can tell that they believe Christ’s return is imminent.  They sacrifice their livelihoods.  They spend all of their time preaching, teaching, and loving those that don’t know about Jesus.  They live as if any moment could be their last.

2,000 years later, we seem to have lost touch with the reality that Jesus is coming back.  After the first hundred years or so of waiting, it seems Christians in general lost their zeal for proclaiming His second coming.  Sometimes it seems like we don’t even believe it will happen.

I’m not saying that we should focus all of our time talking about end times.  I just think that, if we really believed that Jesus could come back any minute, we would spend much more time doing His work with all of the effort we could muster.  We wouldn’t waste time complaining and worrying about why our lives aren’t perfect.  We would focus more on others and making sure they are aware of the Truth.

If we truly want to see revival in a big way, it is vital that we all find our way back to a sense of urgency.  We need to study the New Testament as if reading it for the first time, and put the great commission back on the top of our priority lists. 

 
Last night, we talked to our youth group about planning for the future.  Of course, the problem with looking to the future is that there are so many uncertainties.  In fact, the next day or even the next hour is not guaranteed.  Only God knows what is going to happen next, and that it is important for us to remember as we look to our own futures. 

That also got me thinking about prophecy.  If we have prophecies about our future, then don’t we know at least a little bit about the future?  Aren’t some things guaranteed?  For example, the movie Back to the Future 2 tells us that there will be flying cars and hover boards available in 2015 in addition to the fact that the Chicago Cubs will be a World Series contender.  That’s all starting to take shape, right?

And what about Biblical prophecies?  First, let’s talk about the ones in the Old Testament.  There are so many that we are able to see come true throughout those passages.  There are also many prophecies about the coming of the Messiah.  But if you pay close attention to the stories about Jesus, it does not seem like many people were expecting the Christ to act as He did. 

It seems like they expected a warrior on a white horse coming to rescue them from the Romans.  They were not looking for a Savior that spent most of His time with sinners, teaching and loving on people.  They did not expect to see the Messiah die on a cross.  However, in retrospect, He was the perfect representation of what we all needed (and still need) and He satisfied every last one of the prophecies.

We also have prophecies in the New Testament.  Jesus talked about the coming of the Holy Spirit, which we were able to see come to fruition in the book of Acts.  We are also told that He is coming back.  And in the book of Revelation, we get many stories and details about how creation will transition from its current state to the new heaven and the new earth.

To us, these images often seem far-fetched and are hard for us to grasp.  Some of them, in fact, are fairly terrifying.  There are many, many interpretations of what these prophecies actually mean and how they will play out.  There are novels, movies, and various other representations of what we believe this transition will look like.

However, I can’t help but to think that we are all off-base.  If our first century religious scholars were so far off in what to look for in a Messiah, what makes us think we are any better at figuring out how to predict how the end of times will play out?  I have a feeling that, one day, we will all look around and say, “Oh…wait.  That is what John meant when he wrote the book of Revelation.  It all makes so much sense now.”

So how about this?  Let’s stop trying to decipher code and figure out these metaphorical puzzles.  It will do none of us any good.  After all, Jesus tells us not to worry about these things.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.  (Matthew 6:34 NLT)

So let's all focus on today.  Get out there and love somebody.  I guarantee that it will be the best thing you can do with your time.

 
I’ll admit it.  I like some pretty weird music.  I got caught up in the boy band craze at one point in my life.  My dad made me a huge fan of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Men.  And, of course, being from southeastern Kentucky, I love country music.

More recently, I have begun to weave more and more contemporary Christian music into my playlist.  But as I have discussed it with some of my friends, I have seen some resistance on their part to make the transition.  They claim that many Christian artists simply aren’t as talented as mainstream musicians.  They have a hard time enjoying the variety as they believe the song themes are all the same.

I have heard similar complaints about Christian movies.  As the folks at Sherwood Pictures (Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous) continue to gain momentum, I still hear people talking trash about their films.  They say the scenarios are too far-fetched or that the acting is unwatchable.

I will admit that some of the complaints I hear about Christian movies and music are valid.  There may some questionable acting and some repetitive song lyrics.  The production quality on either side may not be at the level you would expect from secular entertainment companies.  But that is not always the case.  In fact, I believe that the Christian entertainment industry continues to bridge the gap between its quality and that of secular production.

But even if it is not your cup of tea, or there is a noticeable difference in quality, is that really a reason to be negative about it?  Are these folks not using their God-given talents for His glory?  Is the industry not based on spreading the gospel?  Isn’t that what we are all called to do with our talents?

Look, if you can’t watch a Spirit-filled inspirational film and allow God to speak to you through it because one of the characters over-annunciates, you may need to check your priorities.  If you refuse to purchase music from a Christian artist because they are not on a top-tier label, you might want to take a moment and consider who gave you that money in the first place.

Watch what you want to watch, and listen to what you want to hear.  I am just saying that, if your relationship with God is your number one priority and you will do anything to see people come to know Him, your petty entertainment standards should not get in the way of you supporting entertainment ministries.  If you profess to follow Christ, put your money where your mouth is and support your fellow believers that are using their talents to advance His kingdom.  Don’t you expect others to do the same for your ministries?

 
We have all heard of the Age of Enlightenment.  It was the period during the 18th century when folks put an emphasis on being smart and decided to value intelligence above all else.  To be perfectly honest with you, I had to look it up to make sure I remembered it correctly.  Apparently I would not have fit in during that time.

I’m not sure how well I fit in nowadays either.  I am constantly frustrated by the attitudes of those that I interact with.  It seems as though everyone thinks they have a right to get their way no matter how much it inconveniences others.  It’s like we have all been spoiled and now we expect to have success, happiness, and immediate gratification handed to us on a silver platter.  It’s like we have entered an Age of Entitlement.

I believe a large part of it comes from the “everyone gets a trophy” philosophy our society has taken on.  We are taught that we deserve as much as anyone else even if we don’t work as hard, possess the proper skills, or even care as much.  We are told that we deserve happiness and success no matter what.  Society has set us up to believe that we are all equally great. 

Now is the part when you expect me to say that you only deserve what you work for, or as much as your talent and natural ability allows.  Most people say that rewards should only be given to those that stand out as being more qualified than others.  They would say that this country is falling apart because we have too many trophies and too few people willing to work hard to get what they deserve.

However, I am here to tell you that you deserve nothing.  Should you work hard?  Absolutely, so that God’s work may be done.  Should you utilize your talents?  Sure, for His glory.  Should you take advantage of opportunities that come your way?  If you feel led to do so, go right ahead so that you may have the opportunity to tell more and more people about His love. 

But nothing that we do, no matter how hard we work or how ambitious we are, is deserving of any type of reward.  We are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God.  We all deserve death and to be separated from God forever.  That is ALL that we deserve. 

So the next time you feel entitled or get frustrated because things did not go your way, bow your head and pray for humility.  We are all blessed beyond belief by just having the opportunity to have a relationship with God.  And the more this world tells us we deserve this or we deserve that, the more tempting it is to make our lives about us.  But just as Christ showed us, that is not the case.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.N)"> And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by coming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8 NIV)

 
What do you remember about David from the Bible?  Youngest, puniest son of a Jesse that was anointed as King as a young boy.  He defeated the giant Philistine, Goliath, when all of Israel was afraid to fight him.  He became Saul’s right hand man, and spent many years hiding as Saul turned on him and tried to kill him.  David becomes King, dabbles in murder and adultery, writes a bunch of songs, and fathers Solomon.

David is easily one of the most critical characters in the entire Old Testament, and his legend carries on into the New Testament as prophecy dictates that the Messiah is to be a direct descendent of David.  Of course, the books of Matthew and Luke show us how Jesus fits into his lineage. 

Upon further inspection, David and Jesus were more similar than I had ever realized.  I recently read a story about David that shows how much his journey as a leader had in common with Jesus’ ministry.  This story occurs during the time that David was in hiding from Saul. 

“So David got away and escaped to the Cave of Adullam. When his brothers and others associated with his family heard where he was, they came down and joined him. Not only that, but all who were down on their luck came around—losers and vagrants and misfits of all sorts. David became their leader. There were about four hundred in all.”  (1 Samuel 22:1-2 The Message)

Before he was the King of Israel, David was the King of the misfits.  Anybody that was having a hard time or feeling lost could go and join the group of David’s followers.  They were welcomed with open arms.  And with God on their side, this group of random outcasts later went on to accomplish some pretty cool things.

That sure sounds like another group I have read about in the Bible.  Jesus recruited some fisherman, a tax collector, a few sets of brothers, and set out on a mission to spread the good news to the world.  Jesus’ group spent lots of time with the misfits of society, readily taking in the poor and the broken.  They opened their doors to prostitutes, drunkards, and those rejected by Jewish officials. 

Jesus’ crew saw their fair share of success as well.  As we read in the book of Acts, even after Jesus had ascended and He sent the Holy Spirit to His followers, their group continued to grow in numbers in exponential fashion.  They added to their numbers daily as they were able to stay on the same page and focus on their mission.

If you think about it, you and I are part of that group.  Modern Christians are actually just part of that original assembly of misfits that started with a simple phrase:  “Come, follow me.” (Mark 1:17a NIV)  I think it is time that we embrace our role as outcasts and try to return to the place of urgency and passion that was evident in the early Church.  This is a pretty cool group to be a part of, so we should start acting like we belong.

 
You know who was a weird dude?  John the Baptist.  He lived in the woods, wore odd clothes, and ate bugs.  Yet, he had a pretty good following as he roamed around proclaiming the coming of the Messiah.  He said God told him that he would know who he was looking for when he saw the Holy Spirit come down and rest on them like a dove.  That’s exactly what happened when he baptized Jesus.

John and Jesus were cousins.  I wonder what that was like.  I’m sure they had at least seen each other at family reunions as kids.  I wonder if John was shocked when he found out that Jesus was the one he’d been looking for.  Shocked or not, he seemed pretty sure of it when he proclaimed Jesus’ identity to the crowds nearby.

But later on when John was in prison, he started to doubt.  Even after he had seen the evidence that God had provided, he wanted to be sure that Jesus was the Chosen One.  So he sent one of his disciples to ask Jesus if he was really the one he’d been waiting for.

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.  Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” (Matthew 11:4-6 NIV)

There are so many lessons here and Jesus’ response is very intriguing.  But I read this recently and something jumped out at me that I had never noticed before.  Specifically, the list of evidence that Jesus wants John to hear about.

Jesus says to tell John that the blind now see, the lame walk, the lepers are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the gospel is preached to the poor.  That is a pretty impressive list of undeniable miracles.  However, one of those things doesn’t seem to fit.

Jesus has provided a list of miracles.  Things that do not happen unless He is involved.  That list includes many different ways in which people are healed, and then Jesus adds that the poor have heard the good news.  Is that really a miracle?  Jesus put it on the same list as healing the blind and raising the dead, so it must have been a pretty big deal.

At the time when Jesus walked on the earth, the Pharisees and other religious leaders were pretentious to say the least.  They cherished their upper class status and seemed to have the definition of a “holier than thou” attitude.  And these were the people in charge of honoring God.  When we read the Bible and other historical texts, it does not seem like the poor were a focus of their ministry at the time.  But still…a miracle?

What about today?  Do we focus our ministry on the poor?  I do think that we minister to the poor.  We send missionaries to impoverished countries.  We have food banks and clothing drives.  We support local service agencies with donations and volunteer hours.  But as the focus of our ministry…unfortunately, I don’t think it is the poor.

In my opinion, we focus on ministry to ourselves and people like us.  We worry about “getting fed” just as much as we care about giving of ourselves.  And it is much more convenient and comfortable to give of ourselves at our churches, or in our neighborhoods.  To people like us.

Jesus often talked about the poor.  He spent most of His time with them, actually.  Getting to know them.  Loving on them.  This we know.  But if He thought it to be miraculous that He was able to do these things and to bring them into His kingdom, why on earth would we be doing anything else?

I can’t go anywhere in my small down without seeing somebody asking for help.  There are thousands of organizations that would readily accept my donations online.  My wife and I have both been blessed with jobs when some people out there can’t find work anywhere.

WHAT ARE WE DOING?!  We have ample opportunity to share Christ’s love with the poor each and every day.  We can be a part of the miracle of sharing the gospel with the less fortunate, the outcasts, and the unloved and this is the best we can do?  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  This is not Christianity.