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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
You have heard it a thousand times. Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent tricked Eve into it, she gave a piece of the fruit to Adam, and they realized they were naked…blah blah blah. Because we hear many of these stories so often, I think we tend to take them for granted and not take the time to really dig into them.

For starters, Eve did not even have a name at the time that she ate from the tree. Up until the end of that particular chapter, she was simply called woman. Ever heard the story of Adam and woman?

It is commonly joked about and often assumed that all of this was woman’s fault. She was the one tricked by the serpent. She ate the fruit first, and then she was the one that gave it to Adam. “The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’” (Genesis 3:12 NIV)

It is only fair that we blame woman for our fall from God’s grace, right? After all, Adam blamed it on her,didn't he? I actually don’t think he did. Go back and read Genesis 3:12 again.  Go ahead, I'll wait...

Notice anything different that time? The first thing Adam says is, “The woman you put here with me.” To me, it sounds like Adam is blaming God for this. If God had not put woman there, this would have never happened. 

Does that sound like anybody you know? Does that sound like…you? That’s an easy trap to fall into. God created everything, and He is all powerful, so if something happens He caused it. Well, not necessarily. 

God gave us this little gift called free will, and it is not all of the fun it is made out to be. If your boss in an unusually bad mood and yells at you for no reason, that is their decision, not God’s. If somebody you know is killed in a car accident with a drunk driver, it was caused by the driver that decided to drink and get behind the wheel, not God. If somebody you know is diagnosed with cancer, that is caused by thousands of years of mutated diseases continually bred by humans, not God.

God loves us, and He truly wants us to do great things and find great happiness in Him. However, He will not force it on us. If that was the case, He would not have created those “forbidden” trees in the first place. He would have only given Adam and woman holy dining options, and He might have banished that serpent from Eden all together.

So the next time you start to blame God for a situation, step back and take a second look. Does that sound like something God would do? Is that in line with the character of God you understand from scripture and your experience with Him? 

Far too often, we assume God is causing all of these bad things to happen all around us.  We look for answers as to why He would be doing these things.  But most of the time, He is sitting there right beside you, with His arms wrapped around you, wishing this had never happened.
 
As I have mentioned before, I have been called a lot of names and I have given people a lot to make fun of over the years.  But I have always been pretty quick to embrace those parts of my life.  While I like to think the real reason is that I am a good sport and I like to play along, I think that deep down I just want to keep all of my laundry (dirty and otherwise) out in the open so people have less to say about me behind my back.

Gossip is a dangerous thing.  Not only can it hurt somebody’s feelings, but it can ruin reputations and relationships, and it makes trust almost possible to come by. 

I know that some people gossip because it makes them feel important.  Others do it because it is their only way to feel connected.  However, sometimes I feel like the most dangerous type of gossip is the kind that people convince themselves is not actually gossip.

There are several ways that people do this, and it is sometimes hard to detect.  So much so, in fact, that I truly believe some do it without realizing that it is, indeed, gossip.  So here are a few common ways that people use camouflage gossip.  I encourage you to use this information for good (to stop yourself from doing it and to hold others accountable for it) and not for evil (to perfect the craft and become the most covert gossiper this world has ever seen).

1.  Business – Due to the nature of my work, I am often in meetings where concerns about individuals are discussed.  Over the course of my career, I have witnessed several times when brainstorming ways to support a student has turned into an all out dishing session about every known fact about them.  Since it is done in the context of a meeting, it is passed off as important information.  However, it is often nothing more than gossip wearing a business suit. 

2.  Baiting – While this is a more intentional kind of gossip, it is always masked as genuine concern.  Whereas blatant gossipers come out and say what they know, baiters hint and hint until you ask them about something.  Then they justify sharing the gossip by saying “it just came up” or “well, since you brought it up.”  It may be premeditated, but some people can make it look like they have no choice but to share what they know.

3.  Celebration – This may be the hardest method to detect because it is framed in such a positive way, but that is what makes it so dangerous.  Celebratory gossip is usually made in the form of a gleeful announcement that has deeper implications.  For example, “Did you hear that the Smiths got to keep their house after all?  How great is that?!”  Or “I heard that Joe has been sober for two months now.  Praise God!”  Of course they would have to tell the story of how the Smith family almost lost their home or how Joe’s alcoholism impacted his life.  It’s like the flea flicker of gossip plays.

4.  Prayer request – This method of covert gossip is by far the most heartbreaking.  How dare we use something as sacred as talking with God to spread rumors and damage reputations?  You have heard these requests.  “We all need to pray for Larry and Sandy; you know they are having marital problems.”  “Johnny has really been struggling with making ends meet lately, let’s be sure to pray for him.”  Yes, those are things we should be praying about.  And while I believe in full disclosure of needs, blessings, and sins alike, it is not our place to share other peoples’ baggage.  You can request prayer without going into detail.  You can speak to God on their behalf without sharing their secrets with everyone in the room.  Seriously…not cool.

There is no question that it is wrong to share gossip.  That is why we look for ways to camouflage it and pass it off as something positive or productive.  That kind of justification, though, is never real.  If there is something you have no business sharing, then you have NO BUSINESS sharing it in any setting.  Let your words be few.

A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much. (Proverbs 20:19 NIV)

 
I have two children that live in my home between the ages of one and four.  Very few things in life are more dramatic than…well…anything that does not go their way.  That is unless you consider the teenagers that I work with at church.  While they are an incredible blessing to my life, they have their fair share of drama.  However, that does not really compare to the drama I see every day at work.  You see, I work with college students, and it seems like every little thing is a tragedy.  Come to think of it, though, the most over-dramatic people in my life all seem to be adults.  Mature, professional, Christian, drama-hungry adults. 

People thrive on drama.  There is something exhilarating about being involved in an exciting, adrenaline pumping, tense, controversial or even confrontational situation.  Even if you are not directly involved in the situation, just talking about it can often make you feel alive and like you are part of something special.  Some people are great at creating their own drama, where others are always looking for somebody else’s drama to latch onto.

Unfortunately, people fail to realize that nothing good can come from it.  I’ll say it again: nothing.  Whether you are at school, work, church, or even just spending time with family, you will never be able to improve a situation by adding fuel to the fire.  It is everyone’s responsibility to avoid drama as much as humanly possible.  It is like a great philosopher named Booker T once said: “Save the drama for your mama.”

If you are gathering information because you need to make an informed decision, have at it.  If you are trying to add factual information to a rumor filled conversation, proceed.  If you are taking a stand for your faith, hallelujah!   If you are actively seeking justice for yourself or a loved one, play on.  But when you get to the point where you are adding to the drama instead of putting an end to it, you need to take a step back and remove yourself from the situation.  The moment that your involvement stops being about a solution, it is time to take your spot on the sidelines and take off your swagger mask.  Don’t feed the drama monster.

"A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends." (Proverbs 16:28 NIV)

How do you avoid getting involved in the drama surrounding your life?

 
While I stick to my claim that evil does not actually exist, I will continue to use the term in the context of spiritual warfare.  That’s mostly because I cannot think of another term off the top of my head and my thesaurus is being used to prop up my coffee table.  By that, I mean I don’t own one…a thesaurus, that is…or a coffee table.

I was recently doing some pleasure reading in the book of Deuteronomy.  That’s pretty common, right?  Anyway, in case you haven’t perused it lately, Deuteronomy is the book of the Bible where Moses basically lays out all of the commands that God has for the Israelites as they enter the Promised Land in Canaan.  It’s a list of dos and don’ts, and rewards and punishments that you will receive based on your level of obedience. Fun stuff, really.

After reading through a few chapters, I started noticing a pattern.  At the end of almost every list of dos and don’ts, the Israelites are told to purge the evil from among them.  Sometimes it refers to other gods worshiped by other nations, sometimes it refers to the actions of God’s people, and other times it refers to the people performing those actions. 

Nevertheless, the people are told ten times by Moses to purge the evil from among them.  Being a fan of justice, that intrigued me.  I started thinking about what that would be in my own life, my own church, and in my community.  But every time I started to think about grabbing my sword, jumping on my horse, and galloping into town to purge the evil doers, I got one of those “not so fast” feelings from the Holy Spirit.  To me, that meant that I had yet to find the right evil to purge and I needed to keep looking.

As it turns out, there are other parts of the Bible that reference eradicating evil.

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:5 NIV)

When I realized that the Holy Spirit was leading me in that direction, I’m not going to lie, it got a little bit awkward.  I had to start thinking about all of the evil, all of the sin in my own life that I needed to get rid of.  As it turns out, purging your own evil can be a bit more challenging than pointing your finger at the specks in everyone else’s eyes.  Did Moses really say that ten times?  Geez…time to get to work.

 
I really enjoy watching movies.  Almost any movie, actually.  I feel like most movies have something to offer, whether it is an inspirational story, a few thrilling action scenes, or some witty humor.  And aside from Back to the Future completely letting me down with the Hover Board, I believe movies are great at predicting the future. 

So, as scary as it may be, it seems like a zombie apocalypse may be inevitable.  And it is vital that we are all prepared.  While the basic survival rules for such an event can be found here, I believe that we should also be aware of our Christian responsibilities in a zombie (or walker) infested environment.  While this list is a working document and nowhere near exhaustive, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1.  Zombies are not vampires. – In vampire movies, Christians usually try to survive by keeping the undead at bay with their crosses and holy water.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t work with our zombie friends.  Unless you use the cross as a weapon, it will do you no good when a walker is coming at you and trying to eat your face.

2. Understand the sixth commandment. – “You shall not murder.”  The Bible is very clear about this.  You should not unlawfully take the life of another human being.  However, if I am clear on the definition of zombie, they are no longer human beings.  Actually, they are not really alive.  So, if you ask me, taking down a walker in self-defense is completely justified.  And if you want to survive and pursue countless dead ends of cures and safe houses, then you may have to drop a zombie or two.

3. Keep your head on a swivel when you are in The Witness Zone.  – I get it, when you are trying to lead somebody to Christ you have to be completely focused.  However, if a horde of zombies is ripping your limbs off, you will be doing very little to spread the gospel.  So do me a favor, just make sure you remain aware of your surroundings, and maybe spend most of your time in the middle of a football field where nothing can sneak up on you.

4.  Baptism in Aquafina – Just because the world is plagued by a virus that is likely to eliminate humanity, that does not mean that we should stop being obedient.  Of course new believers should still be baptized.  However, while most zombie productions leave out the fact that all fresh water supplies are likely contaminated, you should avoid creeks, rivers, ponds, and lakes at all costs.  That is not to mention the fact that you should avoid all faucet water because it likely comes from a common water source that could also be contaminated.  What does that leave?  You guessed it: bottled water. 

Based on my understanding of the Bible, baptism by full immersion in water best represents what the early Christians and Jesus Himself did.  Yet, since I'm sure bottled water will be in short supply, I'd say you'd be good to go ahead and sprinkle. 

5. Share your ear buds. – Unless you are super cool and you rock those colorful Dr. Dre headphones, you probably listen to music through ear buds. At least that’s what I see most of the kids doing nowadays.  Either way, in a zombie apocalypse type situation, you need to make sure you ONLY listen to your worship music through ear buds. 

It seems that the walking dead are attracted to noise since they usually find food nearby.  So it is vital that you are as quiet as possible when rocking out to Todd Agnew.  (If you do not currently rock out to Todd Agnew, stop reading this and go download some of his stuff immediately.)  Additionally, DO NOT PLUG UP BOTH OF YOUR EARS.  If you have an ear bud in each ear, you are stupid and deserve to be eaten by zombies.  Share the love and share your worship music with a friend.  That way you can work together to avoid an ambush.

6.  Pray with your eyes open. – Believe it or not, there seems to be no scripture commanding us to close our eyes when we pray.  Actually, there are several Bible passages that talk about praying with your eyes lifted to heaven.  So, in a world where clumsy, grunting zombies somehow display amazing amounts of stealth, I would say that you need to find a happy medium where you can focus on God and still be able to notice a horde in the distance.  Since praying with your eyes open is in the Bible and it could save you from walkers, I’d say that’s what they call a win-win.

7.  Share in everything. – While I’m still a little blurry on the line between pillaging to survive and habitual thievery, I’m pretty sure than anything left abandoned is up for grabs.  After all, the first Christians essentially put everything they owned in a big pile and took as they had need.  That sounds like it would be a perfect model to follow in the event of a zombie apocalypse.  In fact, I believe that everyone still alive after the initial epidemic is safe to operate under the finders keepers principle. 

Like I said, this is not an exhaustive list.  I'm sure there are many other Christian-specific situations that will present themselves when the virus starts to spread.  Are there any other rules you can think of that Christians should keep in mind after the zombies take over?

 
_I have a confession to make. I’m scared of the dark.  There, I said it.  Ever since I was a kid, I could not stand to be alone in the dark.  It wasn’t the dark, necessarily, that I was afraid.  It was the things out there that the dark did not allow me to see.  Don’t lie, you know exactly what I am talking about.

While I still keep the Flashlight app on the home screen of my phone just in case, a friend of mine said something a few years ago that gave me a new perspective on darkness.  He said, “darkness does not exist.”  Apparently, he has never heard of blackout curtains…and he did not watch UK play football last Fall. 

Actually, he had a good point.  It is 100% impossible to produce darkness.  What we perceive as darkness is simply the absence of light.  Light, I might add, is very powerful and even the least bit of it can overcome a vast amount of so-called darkness. 

At the risk of being painfully obvious, allow me to directly apply the light versus darkness paradigm to the good versus evil discussion.  While saying “evil does not exist” feels wrong and even a bit scary, it seems fitting that anything we perceive as evil can be more aptly described as a lack of good.  Or, for us Christians, evil can be thought of as the lack of God’s presence in any given situation. 

If you are saying, “but God is everywhere, Jamie, there should be no evil at all according to your argument,” hold your horses.  I’m getting there.  Of course God is everywhere.  However, due to the free will He gives us, we can choose to exclude God from our lives.  We can choose to remove Him from the situations we are involved in.  When we do that, evil starts to creep in.  The lack of God’s presence in any circumstance leaves the door open for evil to have a fighting chance against us.

Luckily, God desperately wants to be a part of our lives.  He wants to be close to us so badly that He sent His only Son to die and be raised again so that we can have a relationship with Him.  Just like light, the presence of the Lord in any situation can easily eradicate any amount of evil.  But it is up to us to invite God into our lives.  It is our responsibility to put God first and be as Christ-like as possible so that the only true good, the only pure light in the world, can eliminate all darkness and evil that tries to latch onto our lives. 

What have you done to help brighten the place up lately?