Here we are, December 31st.  This is my 261st post of the year.  Averaging more than 400 words per post, I’ve written and posted somewhere between 100,000 and 120,000 words this year.  I feel like that puts a little bit of pressure on these last few.  But hey, I’m clutch.  They don't call me the Knowledge Dropper for nothing.

First, I want to offer a bit of thanks.  I made it my goal to post a spiritual message each weekday of this year, and thanks to your support I have pushed through to reach that goal.  Many of the messages were things that I was personally interested in.  Others were put on my heart by the Holy Spirit.  A few were suggested by friends. And some…were just for fun.

Since I will be moving to a weekly post format in 2013, I feel like this is the end of an era.  So I want to leave you with one final message that I hope sums up my work this year.

Friends, we are way off from the work of the early churches.  Their passion in their pursuit of spreading the gospel is unidentifiable in the vast majority of churches today.  We focus way too much on meeting our own needs, fitting in with popular culture, and trying to satisfy the “tradition” of what has come before us.  We seek to please ourselves and keep our church members content before we think about pleasing God and meeting the needs in our communities.

I really think that we all see this problem.  We notice the missed opportunities and the ministry needs that are not being met.  We identify the church practices that are self-serving and do nothing to advance the Kingdom of God.  We are convicted when we realize that we are living with Christ in our lives, and not living our lives for Christ.

The issue is that we believe that it is bigger than us.  And I agree with that.  Our culture of complacency and selfishness is far bigger than you or me.  Yet, our lack of faith keeps us from realizing that it IS NOT bigger than God.  We say all the time that all things are possible with God.  But we do nothing to show that we believe it.

If you see the mess that I see in the modern church, then the change starts with you and me.  To cause change, we must change.  If we want to see a different brand of Christianity, then we ourselves must be different. 

It is going to be awkward.  It is going to be uncomfortable.  It is going to be painful.  But it must be done.  Join me, will you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My wife and I are very thankful for our jobs.  Not only are we doing work that we love, but we also get some great benefits.  One of our favorite benefits is the time off around Christmas.  It makes travel plans flow more smoothly, allows room for family time, and lets us rest a bit.  This year, however, we decided to take on a special project…potty training our two year old.

When we trained our first child to use the toilet, it was a nightmare wrapped in a series of anticipated paper cuts…miserable.  However, our youngest is taking to it rather well.  That’s good in that it has been pretty stress free and will save us money on diapers.  However, it also means we have to stop every 20-30 miles to use the bathroom during holiday travel.  That is an even bigger problem when everything is closed on Christmas day.

Deep down, I fully support closing your business in observance of Christmas day.  Give your employees the day off to spend with family.  Put your focus more on respect and love than making money.  However, boy was I thankful for the handful of gas stations that we were able to find on Tuesday.

Yet, as I exited each establishment, often without buying anything, my eye was caught by the lonely employee spending Christmas at work.  I spoke to a few of them, trying to be cheerful and thankful.  But I felt as though they needed more.  So that gave me an idea.

Since I am pretty sure that the massive closure of businesses only happens on Christmas, I sincerely hope I don’t forget about this before next December.  Wouldn’t it be a cool ministry to drop in on those working on Christmas to bring a little blessing to their day?  Perhaps I could take a gift, or a pastry or some other sort of treat.  Maybe I could get some friends together and sing some Christmas carols.  There are so many ways to bless these people that are not able to be with their families.

At first, I thought this would be a great venture to take on in our travels.  However, that would limit the number of Christians available to serve in this way.  Then I realized that it would actually be more impactful and organized if we did it within our own home towns. 

Find out beforehand which businesses will be open in your area on Christmas day.  More than likely, these will all be gas stations.  Get a ministry team together and figure out how to serve these people.  What kind of ministry would have a big impact on their day at work?  How can we show them the love of Christ when they are stranded away from loved ones?  How can we be Christ to them when they feel all alone?

Let the planning begin.

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)

To say that social media has changed society may be the understatement of the century.  Everything about our culture has been changed by it: marketing, interpersonal communication, displays of emotions, knowledge of current events, and those super annoying people that speak in chat lingo.  Almost everything we do can be easily related to the use of social media. 

Luckily, this revolution has also created a new medium for ministry.  There is a whole new way to reach large groups of people and spread the gospel.  Thankfully, somebody took the time to put the Christmas story in the context of facebook so that we can get a new, unique feel of what those around Christ’s birth might have been feeling.

You may have seen this as it has been around for a couple of years, but even so it is worth another look. 
How accurate do you think this video is?  Does it capture the emotions of the characters of this often watered-down story?  Does it give you more insight to what Mary and Joseph were going through during these challenging, and often confusing, times?

I am a big fan of sharing the story of Jesus however you can, and I believe that there is Biblical support for these efforts.  So how can we all pitch in?  Do you have any unique ideas for how to use social media to spread the good news of Jesus Christ?

When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law.  When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.

When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:20-23 NLT)

For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:10 NLT)

Money is a big point of contention in our culture, particularly within Christianity.  We do everything in our power to avoid talking about it, and when we do we get very uncomfortable.  However, Jesus talked about money all of the time.  Many of his parables revolved around money and how to behave with it.  But we would rather talk about our sinful behavior and secret temptations than share our giving statements.

Of course, our selfishness is the primary reason money is such a taboo subject.  If we don’t have much or don’t use it wisely, we are embarrassed and don’t want our pride to take a hit.  If we have a lot of it, we don’t want others to know because then we may be obligated to share more.  We just want to hoard it and swim in it like Scrooge McDuck.

Why aren’t we good at sharing more of our money for the glory of God?  I realize we want security and comfort, especially as it pertains to retirement.  But are there not other expenses we could sacrifice in order to give more?  Are there not projects that could be put on hold while we meet some needs within the Church?

When Solomon was building the temple, he spared no expense.  He used nails made of gold and put gold and silver plating on everything.  He had sculptures made and had a specialist come in from Tyre to handle the detail work.

Solomon used such great quantities of bronze that its weight could not be determined. (2 Chronicles 4:18 NLT)

Let me be amazingly clear: I AM NOT SAYING THAT WE SHOULD PUT MORE MONEY INTO MAKING OUR CHURCHES PRETTIER.  Actually, I think that is one of those projects that could (and should) be put on hold...possibly forever.

Solomon built the temple because that’s what God wanted.  And we are given a laundry list of things that God wants us to do:  feed the hungry, make sure people have clothes, visit prisoners, care for the sick, take care of orphans and widows, meet the needs of Christian brothers and sisters, and do everything in line with the great commission.

I’m not saying that everyone should quit their jobs and become missionaries in South America (unless God tells you to).  But stop clutching your fists to hold on to your money.  Give to those that have need.  Contribute to Godly causes.  Feed.  Clothe.  Visit.  Adopt.  Love.  That’s what you should do with your money.  Let’s get to it.

Christmas has become a jumbled accumulation of various priorities, traditions, and practices.  There are some commonalities between most families, and some things that have become unbreakable traditions with loved ones.  However, if we break it down to the basics of this celebration, Christmas is a birthday party.

If your birthday is December 25th, unfortunately, I am not talking about you.  Unless Jesus is reading this…then…I am talking about You.  We are celebrating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God that came to save us from our sins.  God came to earth to live a life like ours.

The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  (Luke 2:11 NLT)

Everything about this season revolves around new life.  New life in the form of a baby boy placed in a manger.  New life in that the Living God came to walk among us.  New life in the salvation that Christ’s birth, and ultimately His death and resurrection, provides.  New life in the form of our renewed relationship with our Creator.

So how do we celebrate this new life?  We take the time to recognize the blessings in our lives.  We enhance our lives with gifts, affection, and special meals.  We spend time with those that mean the most to us.  And, sometimes as an afterthought, we take the time to think about the new life that this season brings.

However, there are people out there that don’t have the same blessings that we do.  There are those that don’t have gifts to give or receive, loved ones to share affection, or any food to eat whatsoever.  They may not feel loved, cared for, or important.  They may not know the hope that comes with the new life that Christ brought on that first Christmas.

It is our job to show them that hope.  It is our job to represent new life to them by giving of ourselves: our time, money, energy, and love.  We can give gifts, give food, volunteer, and spend time with people that need these things to understand that they are loved and that Christ provides a hope they may never have known existed.  If we choose not to be Christ to those in need, how will they ever know who He really is?

Let’s give Jesus some new friends for His birthday.  Let’s introduce people to the new life that we celebrate each Christmas.

I am a man of many interests.  I like watching and talking about movies and television shows.  I enjoy visiting new places and taking in the scenery.  I love watching sports and cheering for the underdog.

And when I get tired from looking at things, I occasional engage in activities myself.  I love playing baseball and church league softball.  I play ultimate frisbee whenever I get the chance.  And I frequent the disc golf course on campus.

Am I good at any of these things?  Not really.  But I play them anyway because I enjoy them and I think it would be really cool if I could get good at them.  I want to make time for these games and I really want to do well when I participate in them.  It would be awesome to be a disc golf superstar, right?

These are just games.  I realize there is nothing wrong with trying to be good at them.  Unfortunately, I feel like I sometimes have that same attitude with ministry.  There are some things that I desperately want to be good at.  There are opportunities that I want to partake in, or even lead, that I end up getting in the way more than helping.

There comes a time when you need to realize that your time could be better utilized staying within your talents.  I would love to be able to lead a worship set, but I have zero musical ability.  I would really like to take a leadership role in ministry to children, but large groups of kids drive me crazy.  It would be awesome to be able to volunteer to rebuild homes for people in need, but I assume they want these homes to be thunderstorm ready and I can’t make any promises.

Sure, I can contribute in small ways to all of these ministries.  But for the big ones, the ones that I pour my passion into, I need to choose opportunities that allow me to make a bigger contribution.  I need to let the Holy Spirit lead me into these ministries instead of finding things that I think I would enjoy or that I would like to be good at.

What are your talents?  Are you utilizing your talents in ministry?  Or are you too busy trying to be a disc golf superstar?  

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you.  If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well.  If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.  (Romans 12:6-8 NLT)

My friend and I co-teach the middle school Sunday school class at our church.  Recently, we led our students through a study of the movie Facing the Giants.  Since many of our students hadn’t seen the movie, it was a good experience as there are so many lessons to draw from the film.  It seemed like we were pausing the movie every few minutes to talk about some insightful spiritual wisdom covered in the plot.

However, there was one story that we overlooked that I would like to revisit here.  When Coach Taylor is preparing his defense, he talks about the story of rebuilding the city wall from the book of Nehemiah.  He tells his players that, like Nehemiah, they should all build a stone wall in front of their own areas and ultimately that will create a great wall that will hold up against enemies…or the west coach offense.

It was more of a passing comment in the movie that that scene seemed to be more about football than their spiritual lives.  But it worked that way.  Each player took care of his own responsibility.  He did what he was supposed to do individually, and it made them successful as a team.

That’s a great lesson for life.  Each of us has our own responsibilities, our own tasks that are set before us.  And if everyone held up their end, the world would be a much better place.  It would be a great place where crime would be minimal and fluff pieces would dominate the news.  Unicorns would still exist and I could get unlimited, free steak from the guy in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

That world does not exist.  Because sin is a real thing, we cannot count on ourselves, let alone other people, to live out Godly lives.  Handling your own “to-do” list is not what this story is about.  Nehemiah leading the people to rebuild the wall is about doing what is necessary to be obedient.

Doing what is necessary goes above and beyond handling your own business.  I, myself, have often been guilty of saying, “That’s not my problem,” “That’s not my job,” or “That’s none of my business.”  That is a lie.

I am not talking about arrogantly inserting yourself into other peoples’ lives.  I am not talking about interfering in situations where you are not welcome.  However, any time you see a need or witness injustice, that situation instantly becomes “your problem/issue/job/business.”  It is your job to seek righteousness in all things for the glory of God, and passively observing others peoples’ unfortunate circumstances is anything but righteous.

Yes, take care of building the wall in front of your own home.  But if you see your neighbor struggling with his wall, it is 100% your responsibility to lend a hand.  So we all need to stop using excuses and trying to mind our own business.  That is definitely not what Nehemiah was all about.

Unless you are playing football.  In that case, listen to the coach.

The Good Samaritan.  It’s the name of several hospitals, a few charities, and a common analogy for helping your fellow man.  You hear it everywhere, and you assume that everybody has the some understanding of the story.  The original Good Samaritan was the man that helped the wounded Jew when two of his kinsmen passed on by him.  He was a good man when others were selfish.  That’s the message, right?  Yes…but there’s more.

You see, Samaritans and Jews did not get along.  Samaritans had been sent by the Babylonians to occupy the Israelite towns during the exile.  And when God’s people returned to their land, the “Promised Land,” these people refused to observe the same practices as the Jews.  The Samaritans quickly became second class citizens in the eyes of the Israelites.  They were resented, looked down upon, and treated badly pretty much every day of their lives.

Putting the story in context with the way that Samaritans were viewed and treated, it changes it completely.  It goes from some nice dude stopping to help a stranger to a persecuted man coming to the rescue of one of his worst enemies.

When we apply this story to modern times, we often thinking about giving a hamburger to a homeless person or helping a single mom change a flat tire.  We picture starving children that need our money or friendly faces that need somebody to talk to.

But now that we know more about who a Samaritan was in that time period, the modern application is much different.  It becomes less fluffy and doesn’t look so much like a Hallmark movie.  It’s more like putting yourself on the line to help somebody that you have been conditioned to despise.  It’s like risking your reputation, and maybe even your life, to save your enemy. 

So if we really want to be Good Samaritans, we need to start treating our enemies the way that we want to be treated, giving to those that would never give to us, and doing all that we can to love the unlovable.  We need to go above and way beyond our comfort zone if we want to love our neighbor as we are commanded.

So, if you would, be a little more careful with the Good Samaritan analogy from now on.  It has much more depth than we usually give it credit for.  That pretty much applies to everything Jesus said.