During this time of year, it seems like I am involved with a potluck every time I turn around.  And since I have to go to so many, I unfortunately take the easy way out.  I’ll bring cups, or drinks, or chips and dip.  Yeah…I’m that guy.

As my office potluck came around this year, my boss started poking fun at me.  She started saying things about my inability to cook and my lack of kitchen prowess.  Thus, I have decided to prove her wrong.  I am breaking out my recipe book and I plan to show up with a beautiful, delicious, homemade white chocolate raspberry swirl cheesecake.

Yeah, that looks good doesn’t it?

So yesterday, I went to Wal-Mart to get the ingredients.  When I got to the check out counter, I was fully prepared to engage in meaningless pleasantries with the cashier and get on with my day.  However, she caught me off guard with her response to my empty question of “how are you?”

She said, “I’m blessed.”

I know people usually have their go-to phrase, and that may have been hers.  However, it was different enough to catch my attention.  She didn’t say she was good or fine to let me know she was doing well.  She told me that she was blessed, implying that her mood or well-being didn’t matter as much because she had something that was bigger than all of her problems.

I’m not saying that,”I’m blessed” should become the new, “Just fine, how are you?”  But how is God’s love evident in the way that you carry yourself?  What are you doing to let people know that you have something different in your life?  How do your daily interactions point people to Christ? 

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.

As we grow in our faith, we are met with many challenges.  We have to figure out what is means to take up our crosses.  We have to decide on almost a minute by minute basis how we can seek purity and justice.  We have to balance all of our church responsibilities with upcoming ministry opportunities and the day to day obligations of our livelihood.  Basically, we are in a constant quest of figuring out who God wants us to be.

However, as we work to become more like the people we were created to be, we also have to figure out who God is to us and what that means for our belief system.  There are many issues that, at some point, we all have to choose a side on.

Is Baptism necessary for salvation?  Are we still responsible for keeping the laws of the Old Testament?  What is your opinion about evolution theories?  For some of us, we grew up in Christian homes and usually have somebody telling us that there are right and wrong sides to these debates.  That is good in that it provides a foundational perspective on which we can begin our spiritual journey. 

However, it is important that we take time every now and then to reassess our beliefs and how they match up with the Bible and what we know about the character of God.  Even if you may not have grown up around other Christians, at some point you have heard people speaking their opinions as if they are facts.  And I believe that, as Christians, we are all responsible for vetting any information we hear before accepting or denying its validity.

Some people will tell you that you should never question your beliefs.  I could not disagree more. If you are constantly seeking to get closer to God (which you should be), it is inevitable that questions will come up about something you read, something you hear, or something that you feel God is leading you to do.  Asking these questions is very healthy and it motivates us to actively seek answers.  It is in that search that we truly come closer to God.

I encourage you to be open to what other people are saying.  Whether it is a friend that has a different understanding of a scripture, a colleague from a different denomination, or even a minister that teaches principles you do not agree with, listen to them and try to understand what they are saying.  Once you grasp their point, you can take the time to analyze how that matches up with your own beliefs.  You can consult spiritual mentors and dig into scripture to get a more holistic view of the topic.

You may find that they are actually right or that there is at least some hint of truth in what they are saying.  Or if you determine that you still disagree with them, you will then be better prepared to talk about why you believe the way that you do. Either way, challenging others’ viewpoints as well as your own faith, as long as it is done in the pursuit of God, will ultimately bring you closer to Him.  After all, isn’t that the point?
My wife and I have been married for just over six years.  To some of you, that may seem like forever.  To others, it’s just a drop in the bucket.  To us, I think it is a little bit of both. 

Regardless, we are still learning a lot about each other.  It may sound weird, but after six years we are still getting to know each other quite a bit.  One thing that I have noticed recently is how differently we interpret things.  We can have a conversation with each other and come away with two completely different conclusions.  Or we can hear somebody else say the exact same thing and come away with our own individual interpretations.

I think that is similar to the way that we all hear from God in different ways.  We know that He is speaking to us.  We know that the Holy Spirit was sent to guide us.  Yet, it seems like we all hear from Him in our own special ways.

A friend of mine often tells a story about his decision to leave a particular job.  He and a friend of his were praying about that same thing at the same time.  After several days of prayer, reading, and meditation, they had lunch and discussed their final conclusions. 

My friend announced that he felt God leading him to move on to something else.  Each time he prayed, he felt the Holy Spirit leading him to leave his job.  His friend said that he had decided to stay in his job.  After hours and hours of praying with no leading whatsoever, he heard an audible voice say,”Stay.”

My friend was amazing and in awe.  God has spoken to his friend audibly, and he thought that was incredible.  He told his friend that he was jealous.  His friend’s reaction surprised him.  As he turns out, he was also jealous.  Yes, he had heard an audible voice.  But he never felt lead by the Holy Spirit.  He felt completely in the dark and he was in a very confused place for a long time.  To him, being able to feel the presence of God leading in a specific direction was preferable to waiting days and days to hear one word.

I guess that is one of those “the grass is always greener” scenarios.  However, it taught me a very important lesson about how God talks to us.  For some, including me, the Holy Spirit leads through a feeling within your soul and will not let you rest until you respond.  Others hear from God through dreams or visions.  Some are granted wisdom that comes from above.  There are people that feel the only way they can see God’s direction for them is in the Bible.  And, like the other guy in my friend’s story, God literally talks to some people.

How does God speak to you?  Is it primarily through one method or does He use a variety of ways?

I work on a college campus.  To get anywhere, it feels like I have to cross the street at least twice.  So, in order to save time, you have to figure out the best paths to take and the easiest streets to cross.  I have learned a lot in my decade or so of crossing these streets.

First of all, I have learned that, no matter what, cars get the right-of-way.  They may not always stop at the sign and you certainly can’t expect them to ever stop at the courtesy crosswalks.  They are big and they can hurt you.  Let them have their way.

Secondly, I have learned a great deal about timing.  I have created imaginary lines on all of the sidewalks leading up to the crosswalks that tell me whether or not I have time to cross the street depending on the timing of the “Walk” sign.  I subconsciously count the beeps of the sign as I cross the street so that I can tell, without looking, when that big red hand goes back up.

Most importantly, I have learned that you cannot rely on others to push the button.  Few things frustrate me more than walking up to a crowded crosswalk, assuming somebody else has pushed the “Walk” button, and then watching the traffic light turn green when it should be my turn to walk.  No matter how many people are standing around the button, you can never assume that somebody has pushed it.  Yet, that tends to be my nature and it often leaves me wasting another two minutes of my life waiting to cross the street.

I find this is eerily similar to how most Christians approach helping people.  If we see somebody that needs help, we usually go on our way assuming that somebody else will help them.  If we see an opportunity for service, we tend to be generous enough to give someone else that opportunity.  And if we stumble upon a chance to show some much needed love to a stranger, we unfortunately that assume somebody else will love on them.

We should never, ever, ever, ever assume that somebody else will show love, or serve, or meet basic needs, or even push a button.  Seeking purity and justice as we are commanded requires action, and in these ministry opportunities where we choose a lack of action we are actively choosing to not be Christ-like.  We are choosing to be a bystander and to take part in the apathetic attitude of our sinful culture.

Don’t be a bystander.  Just push the button.

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.

I really like my job.  Like…a lot.  Every day, I get to help college students make plans and find resources to help them reach all of their life goals.  It can be challenging, at times.  But watching them find success in the course of their journey is amazingly rewarding.  Thankfully, as long as folks keep going to college, I will get to be a part of this work.  Well, at least until the stupid internet ruins everything.

I have considered other careers, but job security is a big concern of mine.  So I definitely didn’t want to go into one of those fields where the goal is to work yourself out of a job.  For instance, if I was to become a police officer, I would definitely put an end to crime in my city.  Thus, I would be out of a job.  The same thing goes for being a judge, unless I could get my own TV show.  Or if I worked as an “Awesome Consultant,” I would find myself less and less useful as I helped the masses become more awesome.

However, isn’t “working yourself out of a job” part of a Christian’s job description?  Yes, there will always be people to love and serve.  And, of course, there will never be a reason to stop worshiping or praying continuously.  I’m talking more about the great commission.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.  (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV)

While it may seem impossible to us, this is our goal.  We are to do everything our power to make disciples of all nations.  We are supposed to be making sure that everyone on the planet knows about Jesus, who He is to us, and the truth of the gospel. 

Go ahead and say, “Jamie, there is no way we can reach everyone before Jesus comes back.”  While it may seem like a long shot, I humbly disagree.  This is what Jesus commanded us to do, and we should be doing everything in our power to reach that goal.  We should be spending every ounce of our energy trying to work ourselves out of a job.  Let’s get to it.

I don't like weddings.  My wife already knows about this, so there is no need for all of you to email this post to her.  I loved our wedding.  It was a very special day.  However, weddings in general…not a big fan.

To me, marriage is a spiritual event.  This post has nothing to do with the legal aspect of marriage.  Weddings represent two people becoming one in the eyes of God, and a covenant being made between the groom, the bride, and their Creator.  This is the beginning of a lifelong journey of joy, pain, trials, sorrow, and overwhelming happiness.  This is the beginning of that journey.  Not the end.  Not a step somewhere in the middle.

The divorce rate in our country is out of control.  Why?  I don’t have all the answers, but there is one factor, in particular, that I see as a major problem. 

People spend months and sometimes even years planning their wedding.  Some people dream about their wedding from the time they are children.  They plan out the location, the colors, the flowers, the food, the schedule, and organize dozens of loved ones that make it all happen.  But what is the one thing that most people forget to think about?  Yeah, you guessed it…the marriage.

I hear people all the time talking about how big your wedding day is.  I’ve even heard some say that it is the biggest day of your life.  Would you like me to tell you what day is more important than your wedding day?  Every day of marriage after that.  Every day that you are married and challenged to grow closer to God as a couple is more important than the day that you walk down the aisle.  Living out the covenant and vows that you make on your wedding day is much more righteous than just saying the words. 

I truly believe that if engaged couples would put as much time, effort, and focus on preparing for marriage as they do on the wedding itself, the divorce rate in America, especially among Christians, would see a large decline.  Putting the focus on God and taking the time to talk about the adjustments you will both have to make will prove to be much more valuable than spending hours upon hours arguing over the menu.

If you are married, I encourage you to share your wisdom with a young dating or engaged couple.  If you are engaged, I plead with you to find a good, Christian premarital counselor to help you prepare for how your lives are about to change.    If you are dating, or even if you are single, be preparing yourself to be the spouse that God wants you to be.  Focus on getting closer to Him, and He will lead you into a marriage that He has prepared and is ready to bless.

I love my wife.  Our wedding was great.  But thanks to God and the work we put into our relationship during our engagement, our marriage has been amazing.  

I really do hope that you enjoy(ed) your wedding.  But I pray that you get to experience the indescribable joy and peace that come with a God-centered marriage.

I recently took some flack on Facebook for professing that I did not want to watch the Olympic opening ceremonies.  Apparently, they are kind of a big deal.  I get that.  The summer Olympics only happen once every four years, and the hosting country gets a chance to do weird things to stand out.  Good times.

Let me be clear:  I have absolutely nothing against the Olympics.  However, I do have a bone to pick with ceremonies.  Pageantry, in general, really frustrates me.  I can’t stand parades.  I don’t like awards shows.  And I definitely don’t watch any kind of pageant.  (Note:  Also…not a huge fan of weddings.  I'll talk more about that tomorrow.)

Why don’t I like pageantry?  Am I just a cynic that randomly opposes popular events?  Not so much.  It’s just that I am not a huge fan of self-glorification.  Yes, I struggle with needing recognition and praise.  But the creation of events, the spending of money, and time and effort expended for nothing more than a showcase just comes across as being over-the-top selfish.  Could these resources not be used for more productive activities?  Does anybody really deserve this kind of recognition?

Especially within the church, why do we spend so much time recognizing personal accomplishments?  Yes, we should thank and encourage folks that are working hard for the Lord.  And absolutely, a lost person coming to know Christ deserves a standing ovation.  But why do we design these drawn out recognition services?  Is it really necessary to highlight everyone that follows in obedience? 

We should be serving to glorify God, not to get noticed.  We should be accomplishing great things for His Kingdom, not for our own resumes.  There are reasons to rejoice, and God’s love deserves to be celebrated with every breath.  However, all of these ceremonies and events designed to recognize our own efforts and accomplishments really do nothing more than make us look selfish and arrogant.

The vast majority of ceremonial events are inherently self-serving, and I am not down with that.  There you have it.  That is why I didn’t watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.  That is why I never smile at weddings.  And that is why I only go to parades for the candy and to convince my children that horses are friendly. 

Call me a party-pooper.  Call me the Scrooge of pageantry.  I’ll gladly rock that on a t-shirt.  Bah, humbug! 

I can’t dance.  Seriously…it is painful to watch.  Remember that scene in Hitch where Will Smith tries to teach Kevin James how to dance?  Yeah, I wish I could dance as well as Kevin James.  If everyone danced like me, everybody would have rooted for John Lithgow in Footloose.

Luckily, everyone does not dance like me.  That is why I don’t dance in public.  I don’t want to make a fool of myself.  That, and my wife won’t let me.

Believe it or not, I ran into a similar situation in the book of 2 Samuel the other day.  When the ark of the Lord finally arrived in the City of David, King David was so excited that he threw a party.  He went out in the street, gave away some bread and some desserts, and as they say where I’m from, he cut a rug.  And apparently he wasn’t fully clothed...it got a little weird.

When he went back in the house, he abruptly found out that his wife had been watching from the window.  She quickly let him know that she did not approve of his behavior, and that his attire and performance were not very kingly.  His response blew my mind.

David replied to Michal, "In God's presence I'll dance all I want! He chose me over your father and the rest of our family and made me prince over God's people, over Israel. Oh yes, I'll dance to God's glory—more recklessly even than this. And as far as I'm concerned...I'll gladly look like a fool.  (2 Samuel 6:21-22a The Message)

David did not care how people viewed him because of his worship.  He was willing to do anything for God, no matter how it reflected on himself. 

I wish we were more like that.  We don’t like to hang out with outcasts because people may think we are weird.  We don’t stand up for our beliefs because we are afraid of being excluded.  We don’t fully express our love and obedience because we are too worried about fitting in.

David had it right, as he so often did.  We should be willing to be outcasts to reach the outcasts, give up our statuses in society to seek justice, and ignore the funny looks to worship as we feel led.  God is unbelievable, and it is about time we started acting like it.