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)

 
If you are connected with me at all on social media, you are probably aware of the battle that took place in my home this weekend.  Since we will be out of town after Thanksgiving, my wife wanted to go ahead and put up Christmas decorations in our home.  I strongly opposed, but of course I lost.  So this is me trying to get into the Christmas spirit so my family will stop calling me Scrooge.

Christmas takes on many different meanings to different people. For many children and, unfortunately, some adults, Christmas is a selfish holiday. They focus on what they want and how they can make sure they get it. On the flip side, many parents and grandparents make Christmas all about the children, working to ensure that they get all of the gifts they could ever want.

For the many non-Christians that celebrate Christmas, while they spend their time talking about Santa Claus instead of Jesus, the focus is on making people happy. Sometimes it is family, sometimes friends, and sometimes good deeds for the less fortunate.

Many Christians, on the other hand, try to keep Christmas old school and focus on the birth of Jesus. While there are some disagreements about how much to include secular traditions in our celebrations, we all agree that Jesus deserves to be the center of attention. It is His birthday, after all.

But how do you think Jesus, Himself, would celebrate? Based on His teachings, I believe that the answer is pretty clear.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13 NLT)

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. (John 13:34 NLT)

And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ (Matthew 25:40 NLT)

I believe that, while He would spend all of His time doing it, Jesus would make a special effort to celebrate His birthday by loving people. He would make sure that everyone celebrating His birth feels His love. He would meet their needs and wrap them in His loving comfort.

Since our goal as Christians is to be as much like Jesus as possible, why is it that we don’t spend more time celebrating His birth by loving one another? Sure, we send cards and occasionally exchange gifts. But how can we claim to love God if we are not meeting the needs of our fellow Christians? How can we celebrate Christ if we are not obeying Him by taking care of “the least of” our brothers and sisters?

We love each other because he loved us first. If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters. (1 John 4:19-21 NLT)

Let’s all focus on fulfilling this command this Christmas season by showing the love of Christ to our fellow Christians that need it the most. And yes, that includes doing so on Black Friday.

 
What is more important, a want or a need?  It seems like by calling something a need, that automatically classifies it as more important, right?  I think so.  I need water but I want a boat.  The water is definitely more important.

Do you think that also applies to relationships?  For instance, would you rather that somebody need to be close to you or want to be close to you?  Would you prefer a significant other to need you or want you?  (Note:  I am fighting with everything in me to avoid a Meatloaf reference…looks like I lost the fight.)  Based on our previous logic, it seems like a need would be a stronger connection and that would be more preferable than somebody that just wants to be with you.  I think God would disagree.

God could have created humanity in such a way that we would need Him.  Yes, we need to have a relationship with Him to spend eternity with Him.  But God could have made a relationship with Him as important for survival as food and water.  He could have created us to need Him.  But He didn’t.  God gave us a choice.

God set up creation so that we would be able to decide whether or not to choose Him.  He does not force us to need Him.  He wants us to want Him.  That is what this whole free will bit is all about.  God wants us to want Him because that creates a stronger bond than a need. 

When pursuing a need, we generally put in the minimum amount of effort in order to have that need met, and then we go on our way.  We seek to satisfy a need, not devote ourselves to it.  This process usually ends up lacking zeal and being primarily mechanical.

Want, on the other hand, leads to passion, dedication, and the kind of love that relationships are created to be built upon.  By wanting to be in a relationship with somebody (God, for example), you are committing to putting other things aside to make that relationship work.  You are willing to work, sacrifice, and make concessions on your own desires because you truly care for the other person.

I never quite understood this concept until I had children of my own.  Sure, they needed me to provide for them, feed them, clean them, and keep them safe.  But there is no greater feeling than coming home at the end of the day to two small children that want nothing more than to be with you.  That is real love that would not exist if my relationship with them was solely based on need. 

They want my hugs and kisses.  They want my time.  They want my attention.  They want me.  And that is the greatest feeling in the world.  If that is only a hint of what God feels when somebody wants to spend time with Him, I fully understand why He created us the way that He did.  God wants us to want Him, and that is awesome.

 
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.  Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.  (John 13:34-35 NLT)

Jesus taught many things.  He taught things that seemed to contradict the current religious practices (but not necessarily the scriptures they were founded upon).  He taught things that did not make much sense to some people.  He taught things that drew huge crowds.  He taught things that ultimately got Him killed.

As much as Jesus taught, it seems like everyone around Him would have been carrying a pen and paper waiting for some new knowledge to be dropped.  Everything He said was gold.  So I wonder how intimidating it must have been when he said, “Hey, listen.  This is new and it is important.”  I bet this conversation was a pretty big moment for His disciples.

As for the lesson itself, it seems pretty simple on the surface.  Love each other.  Well, duh.  Everything He had taught up until then revolved around love.  That is a given.  But then Jesus clarified.  Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.

That changes things a bit.  Jesus was not what you would call a normal dude.  He did things differently.  So how exactly did He love His disciples?  How did he treat His friends?

It is obvious that He spent a great deal of time with them.  Not only were they with Him when He was teaching, but they also spent almost all of their “down time” together when they were out on the road.  He shared meals with them and engaged in fellowship.  He shared lessons with them that He did not necessarily share with everyone.  Jesus opened up to His friends and let them know parts of His purpose and His mission that He didn’t tell anyone else.  It was obvious that Jesus loved them and trusted them.  (Note:  The trust comment is a relative one, as He knew that Judas was about to go all Judas on Him.)

Jesus also challenged His disciples and held them accountable.  He showed them tough love on many occasions, especially Peter.

Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”  (Matthew 16:23 NLT)

Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.”  “But why can’t I come now, Lord?” he asked. “I’m ready to die for you.”  Jesus answered, “Die for me? I tell you the truth, Peter—before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” (John 13:36-38 NLT)

So how did Jesus love His friends?  He spent time with them.  He shared very personal, private things with them and invited them to do the same.  He held them accountable to following God with their lives.  He was willing to care for them and cry with them, and He was willing to yell at them and get in their faces.  Jesus loved them fully and completely.

When we choose to love each other in those ways, that is how the rest of the world knows that we are followers of Christ.  They will know we are Christians by our love.  By our love.

 
While I don’t work directly in the field of mathematics, my course work in pursuit of my math degree has had a lasting impact on my everyday life.  I try to break my tasks down into logical steps, and to create formulaic processes whenever possible.  These processes put my mind at ease as I am assured that my future projects will be completed more efficiently.

Oh, how I wish my faith could be so simple.  Yes, I know that I have commandments to obey and obligations to take care of.  However, there is nothing about my daily spiritual growth that is cut and dry.  There is no basic step by step process that guarantees that I will get closer to God. 

However, a piece of scripture came up at church this week that provides a good starting point for how I should approach my growth.  It is one of those passages that I am sure I have glazed over dozens of times when digging into the depth of my favorite book of the Bible, the book of Acts.

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. (Acts 2:42 NLT)

When the Church was first getting started based on the teachings, sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we find the apostles sharing the good news with anyone and everyone that will listen.  As these people accept Christ as their Lord and are filled with the Holy Spirit, we are given a breakdown of how the new believers spend their time.  This is how they approached their day to day spiritual growth.

First of all, they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles.  They listened intently.  They asked questions.  They shared the stories of those who had walked with Christ.  They sought as much information as they could get about this Savior that they were dedicating their lives to. 

They spent time in fellowship with one another.  They got to know each other.  They shared their interpretations of Jesus’ teachings and how it had changed their lives.  They became friends and ultimately a family of believers that readily supported each other, loved each other, and held each other accountable to the teachings of Christ.

They ate meals together.  This is by far my favorite item on the list, because I love food.  But not only did they sit at the same table and eat food, but they observed the Lord’s supper and spent time together remembering and reflecting upon His sacrifice and His love for all of them.

They prayed.  They prayed to communicate with God, to learn about God, and for guidance from the Holy Spirit.  For the first time, they were encouraged to pray directly to God without going through a priest.  They wanted to know God.  They wanted to talk to Him.  So they made it a priority.

None of this is ground breaking.  We know that we need to be doing these things.  Yet, they seem so simple that we often take them for granted. 

The millions of Christians on our planet started out as a few hundred people following these simple principles:  1.  Get to know God.  2.  Spend time with and love one another.  3.  Seek unity as a community based on who Jesus is.  4.  Pray without ceasing.

Start there, and let the Holy Spirit lead you.  There is a good chance that you will be led to continue practicing these things, but then to expand the community with which you share your life.  I am very thankful that the early Christians did just that, or else I may not know the Truth.

 
I recently wrote a guide on “How to Drive Like a Christian.”  Last week, I stumbled upon an issue that I hadn’t covered in that guide.  It is a driving issue that should not be ignored.  It has to do with honking your horn.

There are times when it is absolutely necessary to honk your horn.  Sometimes we use our horns to prevent traffic accidents.  Other times they are used in an attempt to keep someone safe that is crossing the street. 

And then there are the times when you are sitting at a red light and the person in front of you doesn’t notice when the light turns green.  You need to alert them.  You need to let them know to go.  Since your horn is really your only option, how can you use it without coming across as a jerk?

I think we need to come up with a new horn sound that is a polite, Christian way to get someone’s attention.  Maybe we could keep the normal horn sound for when we really want to show frustration.  But wouldn’t it be great if we had a more peaceful, loving option?

What do you think?  What would a Christian car horn sound like?  Maybe the opening notes of Amazing Grace?  Maybe the sound the Road Runner makes?  Maybe a voice?  If so, what should it say?

Please leave any ideas you have in the comments below.  Then I’ll see if I can make it happen.

 
Being a former athlete-ish type person, I have always considered myself to have good hands.  I rarely drop things.  I often catch random objects my wife throws at me.  And, on several occasions, I have saved my daughter from the horrible aim of my son.

Even though I am very confident in my ability to use my hands, I have never been more scared than the first time I held my oldest child.  I instantly felt like my hands were bricks and I was praying I wouldn’t break him.  For the first time, I really had to think about what it meant to be gentle.

When you think of gentleness, what do you see?  Babies?  Puppies?  Kittens?  Chris Tomlin?  Sure, those things are harmless.  Cute.  Cuddly.  Adorable.  Gentle.

The best way I can describe gentleness would probably be anything that has a lack of aggression.  You can’t have any aggression when holding a baby or you might hurt it.  If you are aggressive around a puppy it will run away and hide.  If you show aggression toward Chris Tomlin, he might stop making songs that all sound alike. 

Acting with gentleness is pretty much the opposite of acting with aggression.

Galatians 6:1 says that “if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.”  If you are approaching a fellow believer about a sin, that would be hard to do gently.  You have to be careful not to come off as judgmental, angry, or confrontational. 

The best way to do that is to remove all aggression.  Approach them with love, let them know that you are only trying to help, and let them know you understand what it is like to struggle with sin (because we all do).  Don’t get me wrong, you have to be assertive and direct if you plan to be any help whatsoever.  You must be clear and honest.  But any aggression whatsoever would push somebody away in that situation.

So what kind of gentle fruit can we produce?  Gentleness seems like the most reserved and inactive of the fruit of the spirit.  However, think about the previous example in Galatians 6.  If you seek to restore a fellow Christian with gentleness, what do you think might happen? 

You will become easier to talk to.

You will become more approachable.

You will build trust. 

You will build a more solid relationship.

These things do not only apply to confronting sinful behavior.  These fruit come from anything you do with gentleness, whether it is spending time with an old friend, meeting new friends, feeding the hungry, supporting widows and orphans, disciplining your children, meeting with a client, writing a letter or an email, posting on Facebook, or even just sitting in traffic.

When the Holy Spirit produces gentleness through you, all of your relationships and interactions will change.  You will become a friend that a friend would love to have.  You will become a stranger that is trusted and welcomed.  You will become a disciple that better reflects their master.  You will become a Christian that makes other people seek Christ.

Gentleness is a very powerful fruit.  Never underestimate that.

 
I like to put people in boxes.  Wait, no.  That sounds creepy.  What I mean is that I tend to make massive assumptions about people based on little to no factual information.  Yeah, that sounds better. 

I am not alone in this, though, right?  We all stereotype people.  We make assumptions about them because of their color, where they are from, their religion, their political affiliation, their educational background, and how much money they have.  Unfortunately, we do not stop there.  We also judge them based on the way they dress, the neighborhood they live in, the type of car they drive, the people they surround themselves with, their hobbies and interests, their church denomination, their preferred version of the Bible, where they shop, the people they are friends with on Facebook, and the specific church that they attend.  That, my friends, is a very sad list…and it is nowhere near exhaustive.

I get it.  It is easier for us if we can meet somebody and instantly understand everything about them.  We feel like it helps us to understand the world better.  It helps us feel like we have more power over what is happening around us.  There is comfort in that feeling.  That comfort is what we seek when we start putting people in boxes.

The scary part is how convenient it is for us all to ignore the fact that the comfort we seek is actually false.  There are no one-size-fits-all people boxes.  Everyone, even if they seem similar to many others, is unique in many more ways than they are like anybody else.  So if we think we can better comprehend the world by grouping people together, we are creating a false sense of comfort, power, and understanding that prohibits us from seeing the world as it really is.

It makes us blind to the beauty that can be found in individuality.  It makes it more difficult for us to come to an actual understanding of who people are and what they stand for.  And worst of all, it makes it harder for us to love people that our Savior loved enough to die for on the cross.

Do you ever find yourself making wild, unfounded assumptions about people?

 
I try to show everyone the love of God, I really do.  I smile, I try to lend a hand, I give compliments, I am relatively generous, and I harshly ridicule with unrelenting persistence.  Yeah, you read that right.  For many of my closest friends, our terms of endearment often include jokes, insults, and borderline abusive banter.  We show our feelings (yes, dudes have feelings) for each other by making fun of each other.  And judging by our recent conversations, I am the most loved person in the group.

I am telling you this for a couple of reasons.  First of all, I want to put to bed any rumors that I have no friends.  Erroneous, that’s what that is.  However, the more important point is that we are very aware of the way we speak to each other.  When we are on the disc golf course or playing poker….er…uh…go fish, we let each other have it. 

But we are also conscious of the fact that others may not perceive our conversations as the light-hearted rhetoric they are.  They may see our comments as mean and rude.  They may not see the love that fills those vicious words.  To them, it may seem as though we are not treating each other the way Christ intended, thus leading them to believe that our relationships with friends and even our relationships with Jesus may not be that important to us.

So what?  Should we really care what other people think?  Absolutely.  We all have things we enjoy or aspects to our relationships that are completely harmless, yet may not be completely understood from an outside perspective.  It is very tempting to say that others’ perception of you is not important and it is “their problem for judging,” but that really does not seem to be in line with the gospel.  We should be seeking, 100% of the time, to let others see Christ in us, even if that means we compromise our own comfort.

What innocent habits do you have that could be perceived as less than Christ-like?  What does that mean for how you go about your daily routine?  For my friends and I, while we still engage in casual ribbing in public, we save the extreme verbal abuse for behind closed doors.  I think that’s what Jesus would do.