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)

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes love can take the form of a hug, a gift, or an encouraging word.  It can just as easily be an awkward conversation, an uncomfortable confrontation, or a painful revelation.  As you love people today, be willing to do so justly and with conviction.  Love can be tough, which means you have to be tough as well.
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.

Christians talk about love quite a bit.  God is love.  Love your neighbor.  1 Corinthians love.  I feel like I have at least one blog post every week on how to best how our love or what it means to love.  Love, love, love, love, love.

We say the word all of the time, and we spend a great deal of time pondering what it means.  However, I feel that we may be a little too liberal with the use of the word love.  Do I really love pizza?  Do I really love Kentucky basketball?  (Note:  I’m pretty sure the answer is yes to both.)

Take a moment and think about how serious love is.  It can be difficult to show love, particularly tough love.  It is much more than being kind and smiling at people.  Love takes work.  Love takes sacrifice.

If we are to let our word stand for itself, how can we confidently throw the word love around without backing it up with our actions?  How can we use love as just another verb when its true meaning is so deep and meaningful?  Why have we diluted the gift of love by taking it for granted?

Love should be a word that we only use when we really mean it.  We should take it seriously and only say it when we are ready to back it up with our attitude and our actions.  We need to be very careful when using such a powerful word.

And just as we should use it sparingly and only when we are ready to show it, if we approach love correctly, it should be the most common word in our vocabulary.  Love is what we are called to do.  In fact, it is all we are called to do. 

If we love God with all that we are and love each other as ourselves, every other command in the Bible will take care of itself.  Love should be in our every breath and we should intentionally base every action and word in it.  Everything we do should be in love.

In conclusion, love should be the word that we are most careful with and also the one that we use most often.  That may seem like an impossible balance to find, but it is what we are called to do.  So let’s do it.

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.

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 love The Family Feud.  It is one of my all-time favorite game shows.  More recently, it has become one of my favorite iPhone games.  I just love the fact that contestants are not looking for any sort of correct answer, but they are trying to guess what the majority of their peers said in a poll.  It is a great commentary on what we value and believe as a country, but also a great indicator of what we think of our fellow Americans.

What makes the show so entertaining (besides the over-the-top hosts) is the fact that contestants are completely guessing.  You can see their internal struggle between how they would answer the poll question and how they believe others would answer.  They come up with some of the most random guesses you could imagine, and they are a ton of fun to laugh at.

One of the things I appreciate most about my faith is the fact that I never have to guess with God.  I have His book that shows me who He is and what He expects from me.  The Holy Spirit lives inside of me and guides me every day.  I have a great church family and a wonderful group of Christian friends that give me further insight into the character of God.  In most situations, the answer I am looking for is right in front of me.

However, I often allow myself to ignore the obvious.  I let my emotions and the things our culture has told me are acceptable to cloud my vision.  Especially when loved ones are involved, it often becomes difficult for me to act and react in a Godly way due to the confusion of the flesh.  Knowing this, I always try to dive into prayer and consult Christian mentors before making any large decisions.

Recently, I was struggling a great deal with an issue.  As it turns out, there has never been a more obvious answer.  I was seeking God and praying so hard that He would lead me to make a Godly decision.  All of a sudden, the Holy Spirit told me how simple my solution was.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8 NLT)

In whatever decision I am trying to make or any other situation that arises, if I am seeking a Godly direction, then the answer is always, undeniably, love.  Yes, love takes different forms.  Sometimes love is tough, sometimes it is gentle, and sometimes it is many other things.  But love is always active, it is always righteous, and it is always the Godly thing to do.

If our one true God was asked the one thing that His people should always do, the survey says…love.  Every.  Single.  Time.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

I really like the show How I Met Your Mother.  The storyline is pretty obvious, right?  A father is telling his children the story of how he met their mother.  The writing is genius, the acting is hilarious, and there is an element of mystery that keeps you coming back for more.  If I was one of those kids, though, I’d probably be getting pretty frustrated as this story has been rambling on for seven years.

Actually, even as a fan, I am getting a bit frustrated.  There have been hints here and there and small teases about who the mother will be and how the father will meet her.  But at this point, we really know very little about her and even less about how this might play out.  At times, it feels as though we are being strung along and there will never be a payoff to the story.  The mother represents a hollow promise that I don’t know if we will ever see fulfilled.

Luckily, that is not the case for my faith.  I know how this story ends.  I know that I am going to spend eternity worshiping my Creator, fulfilling the purpose for which I was created.  I am going to be in the presence of the Almighty God.  And it is going to be awesome.

It has been about 2,000 years since Jesus ascended back into heaven.  Many people at that time expected Him to come back momentarily.  As the years went on, followers of Christ got more and more anxious about when He would fulfill His promise and come to take them home. 

In the 21st century, it can be easy for us to assume that our spiritual journeys here on earth are uncertain.  It is impossible for us to see what our lives will be like down the line.  We may not even be able to see the next few steps in our spiritual walks.  And that can be scary, overwhelming, and sometimes very frustrating.

However, even if we don’t know the particular route we will take, we know the destination.  We know how our story ends.  (Note:  It never really ends since eternity is forever…just to clarify.)  So how should we proceed in this mysterious voyage called life? 

That’s pretty simple.  It is similar to the way I continue to watch How I Met Your Mother.  I try not to think about the ending.  I enjoy the humor, I admire the character development, and I take it one episode at a time.

As Christians, we should put our focus on the here and now.  Since we know the last chapter of the book, we should not spend any time worrying about the road to get there.  We should take life a day at a time, loving others and producing fruit along the way.  That is the kind of freedom that comes from knowing how the story ends.  Praise God for spoilers!