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)

 
We had our Christmas play/drama/production/whateveryoucallit this past weekend at our church.  We had a couple of performances and they were both well attended and well received.  I had a small role, on stage for 5-7 minutes with as many lines.  It was good times.

However, I was added to the cast fairly late and I was unable to attend a rehearsal with the entire group.  My only practice for the play was within my scene with the 2-3 other people that had speaking roles in that part of the script.  As far as my performance goes, it wasn’t a big deal.  I was prepared to act out my part and get out of the way.

Yet, I can’t help but to be curious as to what I missed.  Because I had to be backstage, which in my church is outside of the room, I have no idea what took place for the rest of the play.  I got the gist of some of it just by seeing others' costumes I suppose.  However, I feel that the details I missed were important and could help my understanding of the plot.  I would really like to know what happened when I was backstage.  I wish I had a better idea of the big picture.

That last sentence sounds pretty familiar.  There are so many times in life when I wish I could see the big picture.  I’ve seen things happen and wondered how in the world God would turn that situation around.  I’ve had experiences that I was positive could never bring me closer to my Creator.  Of course I was wrong, that’s not new.  But His love, grace, and ability to bring something out of nothing never cease to amaze me.

The point that I am trying to struggle through my rambling to get to is that God will handle His part.  We must trust that.  I know we want to know everything.  We want to see the blueprint of our lives so we can prepare ourselves for the struggles and pace ourselves for the celebrations. 

But the truth is that life should be handled just like my role in the play.  Keep your head down.  Do your part.  Don’t worry about all of the other details.  Would my lines have been executed as well if I spent more time watching others rehearse?  Would my blocking have been as crisp if I was wishing I had another part? 

Likewise, I am sure that my role in the body of Christ would be compromised if I was able to see the Master’s plan.  God is the only one that can see the big picture, and I am convinced that it is better that way. 

Son, in 35 years of religious study, I have only come up with two hard incontrovertible facts: there is a God, and I'm not Him. - Father Cavanaugh from the film Rudy.

 
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…

 
Thank God for smart phones.  You see, I have a short term memory on par with that of…something with a very short term memory.  This has probably caused 75% of the disagreements in my marriage, as I immediately forget almost anything I hear unless I make it a priority to remember.  I regularly ignore favors, chores, and errands simply because I don’t remember them.

But thanks to modern technology, I have apps on my phone that allow me to create a “to-do list.”  And not only can I keep a list, but I can set it up to remind me at a particular time that I need to do or remember something.  As long as I am diligent about putting these reminders in my phone, I am sure to minimize my detrimental forgetfulness.

In that way, I guess my phone is kind of like a rainbow.  Everyone always says that God gave us rainbows to remind us of His promise that He will never flood the earth again.  We look at it as a symbol of our relationship with Him, and of His covenant with us.  We love rainbows, so let’s take a look at what the Bible says about them.

Then God said, “I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come.  I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth.  When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures. Never again will the floodwaters destroy all life.  When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature on earth.” (Genesis 9:12-16 NLT)

Awww…isn’t that sweet?  Wait…hold on.  That isn’t the way that I remember the story being told to me as a kid.  While the rainbow is, indeed, a sign of God’s promise not to flood the earth again, it seems like it is not necessarily meant as a reminder for us.  According to the passage, rainbows serve as a reminder to God not to destroy us.  Apparently God needs to be reminded not to kill us.  I think that makes me appreciate rainbows even more.

I find it amazing and disturbing that the stories we tell from of the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, have been so distorted from the original text.  This is only a small example, but there are so many passages throughout scripture that we misquote, misinterpret, or completely ignore due to what we have been told by other Christians.  While we should trust each other and share our spiritual experiences with one another, these constant Biblical misunderstandings make it so important that we question each other and ultimately get our information straight from the source.

So the next time you catch yourself gazing at a beautiful rainbow, thanking God for His grace, take a moment to reflect on the Biblical origin of the rainbow.  Then pray that God sees it.

 
I am not a very political person.  I just really can’t make myself get into it.  Are politics an important part of society?  Absolutely.  Our political leaders dictate the rules and regulations for how we live our lives.  It is obviously very important. You should educate yourself. You should vote. However, it seems that our current system of political support and endorsement does nothing more than lead people into sin.

If you have Facebook, Twitter, the internet, or even a good set of eyes, you have seen political advertisements really start to take over lately.  They are everywhere.  Even beyond the official endorsements, it seems that everybody has an opinion and they are more than willing to share it…over and over again…on their choice of social media. 

During the recent national conventions, I ended up blocking some of my Facebook friends that I usually enjoy hearing from.  Even now I often become frustrated, annoyed, and sometimes even angry at the posts I read on both sides of the political spectrum.  But why does it bother me so much?  Why do I let it get under my skin?

As I started processing these questions, I came to some very obvious conclusions.  It doesn’t bother me that people have personal beliefs that may or may not be different from mine.  It doesn’t bother me that people are passionate about politics.  My concern all boils down to the sinful intent of most of the statements I read.

The vast majority of the political things I read fall into one of two categories.  The first category is one of slander.  Of course almost every political television commercial is based on dragging “the other guy’s” name through the mud.  But when individuals talk about opposing candidates, it seems that they get even more personal.

There is so much anger, judgment, and hatred displayed toward politicians and anybody that may be registered with a different party.  People make assumptions and put people in boxes based on information they overhead somebody else saying they read about on a blog that quoted from a friend of a friend of the author on Twitter.   And it seems like everyone is in full support of everyone else’s right to their own beliefs until somebody disagrees with them. 

Don't get me wrong. I am in full support of respectful disagreement. But it seems like mean, hateful, and hurtful intentions have become the foundation for so many political discussions.  Things are often said to purposefully hurt people and to directly insult their intelligence, morality, or even their spiritual understanding. So what does the Bible say about this?

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

The other category of political statements is even more disturbing as it often borders on idolatry.  While people are quick to be hateful about “the other guy,” they never hesitate to support anything and everything that their candidate says.  Many people pledge full, unwavering support no matter what and are never willing to admit that the person they support is, in fact, human and flawed.

People are always willing to make statements about how wonderful their candidate is and how much smarter, caring, and morally upright he or she is.  They are willing to put in hours and hours making sure everybody knows how perfect this person is.  Many of these comments, especially when they are consistently coming from the same person, look an awful lot like worship. 

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

If you love politics, great.  If you really believe one of these candidates is that much better than the other, feel free to support that person.  But please remember that, above being a democrat or republican or whatever, you are a Christian.  Even when debating political platforms, you can still choose to love people as we are called to and remember to keep Christ first.  Don’t abandon your faith to jump on a political bandwagon.  Unfortunately, that seems like a pretty difficult thing to do these days.

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

 
In our society, we often define people by what they believe.  Followers of Judaism believe that there is only one God.  Muslims also believe there is only one god (Allah) and that Muhammad was his messenger.  Christians believe in the same God as Judaism, but acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah.  Athiests believe there is no god or higher power.  Agnostics believe there is a higher power, but they do not acknowledge any one in particular.  There are also many religions that believe in multiple gods (polytheism). 

However, if you are a Christian, do you think that is an accurate definition of who you are?  Do you think that knowing God exists and that Jesus is the Christ is what puts you in a relationship with God?  Does professing this truth do the trick?  Or is there something more to it?  According the book of James, what you believe does not define your relationship with God.

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?  Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing,  and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.  How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? (James 2:14-20 NLT)

Believe what you want.  But unless you live out your faith, it means nothing.  I can say that I believe in God or that I love Jesus all day, but if my actions and attitude don’t reflect that, then am I actually any better than a demon?

How about you?  Do you consider yourself a Christian because of what you believe?  Or do your actions reflect those of someone trying their best to imitate Christ?  Do you often wish people well and hope their needs are met?  Or are you producing quality fruit that comes from the Spirit?  Does your relationship with Christ mostly consist of what you know about Him?  Or has that relationship completely changed the way you live your life?

Considering James’ commentary on faith and good deeds, where do you stand?  Despite what you have always believed or been taught, are you indeed a Christian?  Or is your faith dead and useless?

 
It is a common debate. Who is Jesus? He was indeed a man that walked on the earth. That point is not debatable. There is plenty of historical data that confirms His existence. He did have a large following of Jews and gentiles alike, and He was crucified. 

However, there is much debate about Jesus’ actual identity. Atheists claim that He was a loon that made outrageous claims. The Jews believe He was a great moral teacher. The foundations of Christianity suggest that he is the Son of God and He came to earth so that we may be reunited with our Creator. However, after you get past that, many Christians disagree with each other about who Jesus actually is. 

In order to know someone, it is essential that you spend time with them. Jesus is no different. In order to know who Jesus is, you must invest time into your relationship with Him. By doing this, you will get to know who Jesus is to you. What role does He play in your life? What does He want for you? How can you serve Him?

While Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, the way that individuals relate to Him and serve Him can vary greatly. Even if two people have Him as the top priority in their lives and they are doing everything for Him, it could look very different. This is very important to understand.

You should never judge another person for the way they serve Jesus. You should never compare your relationship with Jesus to somebody else’s.  Your relationship with Jesus is unique to you.  And that is okay.

Jesus should never be put in a box. He is bigger than any of us could ever understand. But He is also loving enough to want to have an individual relationship with each of us. While that is a bit overwhelming to comprehend, we must all accept it and figure out what it means for us as individuals.

 
I really enjoy magic tricks.  I am always fascinated how somebody could create an illusion that looks so real.  I love trying to figure out how they are done.  The prospect of solving such a puzzle is fascinating, although I’m not sure that I have ever completely figured one out.

However, I have watched a few of those behind the scenes shows where a rogue magician wears a masks and reveals the secrets behind several popular illusions.  And while I had always thought this would be exciting and exhilarating, it was actually pretty disappointing and ruined the illusions for me.  Knowing the trick took away the excitement.  Understanding the process ruined the magic.  I mean, that’s why I refused to see Magic Mike.  It is about magicians, right?

Anyway, I have recently had a similar experience at my church.  One way that I serve my church family is to help prepare for our observances of the Lord’s Supper.  I set up the table, fill the cups, and help to serve the elements to the congregation.  I have been doing this for almost two years.  Yet, during our most recent observance, I had a realization. 

For the last 24 months or so, I have been so busy in the hustle and bustle of getting things ready that I have not been able to focus on the meaning of communion.  Now that I have seen what goes on behind the scenes, it seems like the magic is gone. 

Yes, I enter into the observance with a prayerful heart and try to prepare myself to do these things as we have been commanded.  But in the back of my mind, I am running down the list of things that should have been done and hoping upon hope that nothing goes wrong with the execution of the ordinance.  I am trying to make sure that there is no reason for anybody else to be distracted from this sacred time, and that ultimately distracts me the entire time.

As I continue to process and pray about this, I am getting the feeling that there is nothing wrong with this scenario.  While the magic may be ruined in that I know the sacramental wine comes from a Great Value grape juice bottle, I can still observe the Lord’s Supper “in remembrance of [Jesus].”  And even if I am putting all of my energy into making sure I don’t drop the trays, I can still prayerfully prepare my heart to focus on the sacrifice of Christ.

No matter what distracts us or tries to draw our attention away from Jesus, we can choose to focus on Him.  No matter what we expect our experiences to be like, God will guide us to a place where He wants us to be We just have to be willing to ignore our comfort zones and follow Him.

And don't see Magic Mike.  Apparently, it's about strippers.

 
In case you have never been on Twitter, the “trending topics” list contains the most popular words or phrases used on Twitter in a given time period.  Some of them are easy to predict based on big events like movie premiers, elections, or popular sporting events.  However, some of them seem completely random as Twitter compares trends around the world, in your local area, and based on the people you follow.

Last week, I saw that the topic #whychooseJesus was trending.  (Note: Many phrases are identified as hashtags (#tags) so that people can be sure to identify their tweet with a particular topic.)  I clicked on the topic title and was lead to a long list of #whychooseJesus tweets.  The topic discussion was pretty spot-on.  People said you should choose Jesus because “He died for us,” “He is the way, the truth, and the light,” and because “His love never fails.”  That is all true, and great reasons to be thankful for who He is and what He does for us.  For the record, I have no problem with the trend thread and I completely support their efforts.

However, the first question that came to my mind was, “Do we really choose him?”  I realize that we have to make a decision to follow Him.  I know we teach the ABC’s of salvation at VBS.  But is it really a choice of “Jesus vs. Something Else?” 

Think about it.  Have you ever known anybody that believed wholeheartedly that Jesus is the Son of God and that He fulfilled the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament indicating He is the Christ, yet they chose not to follow him?  Maybe you have, and I am not saying it is impossible, but I have never seen it.

In my experience, once somebody has an interaction with Christ that convinces them that He is the truth, they acknowledge Him as their Lord and start down a path of trying to live for Him.  Nobody gets it perfectly right.  We could never come close to living how Jesus did.  But I do believe that people that really know Him at least give it a shot.

I don’t want to get into a debate about backsliding or “once in grace, always in grace.”  But I have a very hard time believing that somebody can know Jesus and completely understand who He is and what He expects of us and then turn around and pretend like He isn’t there.  To me, that seems impossible.  I believe that it indicates that a person does not know Jesus after all.

So do we really choose Jesus?  I think that there really is no choice to be made once you know Him.  Either you believe Jesus is the Christ or you don't.  So maybe the more appropriate topic may be #whygettoknowJesus.  It is entirely possible for people to completely ignore the gospel and never look into it for themselves.  That can make it difficult to experience Christ.  So encouraging people to at least listen to the gospel and find out what all the fuss is about is a more reasonable request. 

Please leave your comments below.  I am really anxious to see how others view this issue.

 
A couple of years ago, my son was obsessed with toy cars.  He had tracks, ramps, and more cars than we could keep up with.  So when his birthday rolled around, what did everyone buy him?  More tracks, more ramps, and more cars.  Our house looked like it had been sponsored by Matchbox.

Was I complaining?  Absolutely not.  I was spending all of my time racing cars with my son.  But I did learn many lessons during that time.  The first lesson I learned was how to tell the difference between the name brand cars (Hot Wheels and Matchbox) and the knock-off brands.  I could actually tell the difference without even putting them on the track.  It is all about the weight.

Like most products, the name brands use better, more durable materials that add weight to the car.  They put more of an investment into the quality of the product.  That is obviously why their prices are higher.  But if you want a toy car that will survive the wrath of a two year old, you’ll make sure to buy the heavy cars.

Like the knock-off brands, I feel like we are often more concerned with putting a product on the shelf than we are producing quality inventory.  In writing a blog for example, I know that I have to have a post ready every weekday.  Sometimes the big ideas aren’t coming as quickly as I need them to, so I have to go with other topics that I don’t feel as strongly about.

Or even in teaching Sunday School or Small Group lessons, or leading a monthly devotional at some work friends, it is very easy for us to put in just enough effort to avoid looking unprepared.  In a world where the minimum is very acceptable, it can be difficult for Christians to strive for excellence.  But if we really want to be like Christ, we must invest more of ourselves in the quality of our relationships with God and in the quality of our ministry. 

If somebody were to give your faith the “toy car test,” would they say that it is a name brand or a knock-off?  Would your ministry go in the “play” pile or the “pass” pile?  When it comes to your relationship with God, what do you weigh?  I think it’s time we all get heavy.