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.

 
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)

 
As my son gets older, we have more and more fun together.  He has the dexterity and intelligence to play more games, our conversations are deeper and more meaningful, and his interests are becoming more and more…interesting.

There is one drawback to a child becoming more intelligent, however.  That is his ability to cover-up his misbehavior.  If he pushes his sister down, he can quickly come up with a story about how she tripped and fell.  If something breaks, he can hide it so we won’t find out or blame it on someone else. 

He’s good, but not that good.  You see, no matter how smart he thinks he is, there is some sort of involuntary reaction he has when he has disobeyed or done something wrong.  Even if I don’t see him throw a toy, if I happen to look his way in the moments following him doing so guilt is written all over his face.  His guilty look makes it impossible for him to hide his bad behavior.

I’m sure that, at some point, I had a guilty look.  But as I matured, I mastered the art of masking my embarrassment and shame.  I have become a pro at hiding my faults and my pain.  That is, except for when I am talking to God.

While I don’t have a physical guilty look that makes my transgressions obvious, I have yet to find a way to stop my soul from aching to confess to God.  It is completely involuntary.  Yet, I know I have done wrong and I cannot rest until I confess and ask for forgiveness.

I am sure this is what most people refer to as conviction.  However, it reminds me so much of my son’s guilty face.  He doesn’t want me to know because he does not want judgment or punishment put on him.  But he cannot hide it.  He can’t ignore it. 

Unfortunately, many grown-ups have managed to master the art of ignoring their convictions.  And when we start to ignore the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit, it becomes more and more difficult for us to discern His voice from that of temptation, selfishness, and sin.  It makes it easier for us to avoid confession and repentance.  It becomes easier to give in to the same sin over and over again.

While I am glad I was eventually able to shake the guilty look of my youth, I am very thankful for the one that keeps me confessing to my Lord.  The conviction of the Holy Spirit keeps me connected to who God is and His plan for my life.  Without it, I would be able to get away with things that would lead me away from Him.  And that…is just not worth it.

 
Fear is paralyzing.  There is no doubt about it.  Some people end up living their entire lives with a fear of failure that prevents them from achieving anything great.  Others fear germs to the point of quarantining themselves as much as possible.  Yet some let their fear of embarrassment keep them from ever sharing who they really are.

Me?  I’m scared of paper cuts.

Whatever you are afraid of, do you realize how irrational that is?  Jesus’ disciples found themselves in a dire situation, fearing certain death from a vicious storm.  And what was Christ’s response?

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:39-40 NIV)

These guys were literally on the brink of losing their lives, and Jesus still asked, “Why are you so afraid?”  He called their faith into question because they were filled with fear with the presence of the Almighty God right there.  But hey, they had Jesus physically there with them.  They should have known He’d come through, right?  That makes it more justifiable for us to give in to fear, doesn’t it?

Whether you can see him or not, if you have accepted His grace and handed your life over to Him, Jesus is with you always.  He is with you when you lose your job and don’t know how you’ll pay the bills.  He is with you when temptation is starting to win the battle.  He is with you when you lose a loved one and can’t fathom living without them.  He is right there when you find out bad news that will change your life forever.

God’s word will never lead you away from Him.  There are so many good lessons about His character and how we should relate to Him and one another.  And in His infallible word, God says, “Do not fear” in some form or fashion 365 times.  He must really mean it.

In the scope of eternity, there is nothing in this ole word that should cause us to give in to fear.  God is in control.  I know it is hard, but if we truly believe that He is who we claim that He is, we must trust Him.  Do not fear…

 
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.  (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV)

This scripture is probably most often read at weddings.  We use it to help interject peace into tense situations.  We reflect on it anytime we try to define what love means in our own lives.

However, we tend to use this passage to make love sound fluffy.  There are times when I’ve heard somebody read it aloud and I could have sworn that rainbows and butterflies somehow worked their way in there.  We want love to be this touchy-feely emotion that makes everybody happy.  We want it to be easy to understand and easy to execute.  Real love is anything but those things.

Looking back at this famous passage about love, I think it is interesting what it does not say.  It does not say that love is always encouraging or uplifting.  It does not even say that love is comforting.  It also does not say that love is always accepting.  I think that may be the point that we miss the most.

Especially in our culture that seems to seek out being lukewarm on most things, it can be too easy for us to ignore each others’ faults and problems.  In fact, we are encouraged to be open-minded and accepting of everyone’s opinions and preferences.  We are chastised for challenging someone or even disagreeing with them.  Our culture does not consider to that to be very loving.  I completely disagree.  And according to this passage, so does Paul.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:6 NIV)

While we have no business judging the behavior of non-believers, we are not doing our Christian brothers and sisters any favors by accepting or even ignoring their sinful behavior.  If we truly love them as we are called, we will not allow them to continue their self-destructive ways.  We will get in their faces and challenge them.  We will call them out and hold them accountable.

Love is such a tricky concept.  What the world teaches us about love is starkly different from what the Bible teaches, but there are just enough similarities to keep us confused.  Just know this:  if something does not bring somebody closer to God, then it is not based in love. 

Sometimes love can take the form of a hug, a gift, or an encouraging word.  It can just as easily be an awkward conversation, an uncomfortable confrontation, or a painful revelation.  As you love people today, be willing to do so justly and with conviction.  Love can be tough, which means you have to be tough as well.
 
Today is Wednesday.  It is the day that many people refer to as “hump day.”  According to people that use the term, once you get Wednesday over with the rest of the week is all downhill.  Once you get over the hump in the middle of the week, it’s just a party to the weekend.  Since I usually find Thursday and Friday to be the most draining days in my week, I refuse to refer to Wednesday as hump day.  Also…it sounds weird.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guilty

10/18/2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What tangible fruit have you produced?

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

What kind of friend have you been?

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

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

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

 
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I had a conversation with a college student recently, and he mentioned to me that he needed to go and buy some Q-Tips so that he could clean his ears.  I told him that I didn’t believe it was a very good idea.  Cleaning his ears?  No, he should do that.  But I told him that it is dangerous to put Q-Tips in your ears and that he shouldn’t do it.  He didn’t believe me.  And just in case you don’t, either, here is the warning label.















Still not quite buying it, the students asked , “Well if you aren’t supposed to put them in your ears, why do people do that?”  I answered, “Well, I guess it is because they can.”  It makes sense to me.  You have an ear canal.  You have an ear canal-shaped cotton-tipped stick.  Why wouldn’t you put it in there?

I think that is actually a pretty good answer to many why questions.  People often do things simply because they are convenient and the consequences, if there are any, are not real enough to deter them.  People do things simply because they can.

Why do people drive above the speed limit?  Because they don’t think they will be pulled over.

Why do people over-eat?  Because they either don’t care about the health problems it causes or they believe they will have time to get healthy later.

Why do people gamble?  Because they think they will win and there is no real risk.

Why are people rude?  Because it has never caused them enough problems to stop being rude.

Why do people steal?  Because they don’t see getting caught as a real possibility and they don’t care about the impact of their actions.

Why do we sin?  Because we are giving the free will to do so, and we have a hard time comprehending the eternal consequences.

We make mistakes because, the majority of the time, we walk away from them with no ramifications.  We are careless, reckless, and we make bad decisions because we are given a choice and we decide that the risk is worth the potential (worldly) reward.  We mess up simply because we can.

Fortunately, we also have the choice to make the right decisions.  We can choose to seek justice.  We can choose to forgive.  We can choose to love.  We can choose to forfeit our free will and give in to the will of God. 

And why in the world would we choose to give up our free will?  Because we can.  And that is the best decision any of us will ever make.