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.

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)

As my son gets older, we have more and more fun together.  He has the dexterity and intelligence to play more games, our conversations are deeper and more meaningful, and his interests are becoming more and more…interesting.

There is one drawback to a child becoming more intelligent, however.  That is his ability to cover-up his misbehavior.  If he pushes his sister down, he can quickly come up with a story about how she tripped and fell.  If something breaks, he can hide it so we won’t find out or blame it on someone else. 

He’s good, but not that good.  You see, no matter how smart he thinks he is, there is some sort of involuntary reaction he has when he has disobeyed or done something wrong.  Even if I don’t see him throw a toy, if I happen to look his way in the moments following him doing so guilt is written all over his face.  His guilty look makes it impossible for him to hide his bad behavior.

I’m sure that, at some point, I had a guilty look.  But as I matured, I mastered the art of masking my embarrassment and shame.  I have become a pro at hiding my faults and my pain.  That is, except for when I am talking to God.

While I don’t have a physical guilty look that makes my transgressions obvious, I have yet to find a way to stop my soul from aching to confess to God.  It is completely involuntary.  Yet, I know I have done wrong and I cannot rest until I confess and ask for forgiveness.

I am sure this is what most people refer to as conviction.  However, it reminds me so much of my son’s guilty face.  He doesn’t want me to know because he does not want judgment or punishment put on him.  But he cannot hide it.  He can’t ignore it. 

Unfortunately, many grown-ups have managed to master the art of ignoring their convictions.  And when we start to ignore the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit, it becomes more and more difficult for us to discern His voice from that of temptation, selfishness, and sin.  It makes it easier for us to avoid confession and repentance.  It becomes easier to give in to the same sin over and over again.

While I am glad I was eventually able to shake the guilty look of my youth, I am very thankful for the one that keeps me confessing to my Lord.  The conviction of the Holy Spirit keeps me connected to who God is and His plan for my life.  Without it, I would be able to get away with things that would lead me away from Him.  And that…is just not worth it.

Language is a tricky thing.  It can be hard to learn a new language, even with intensive study.  I, myself, am bilingual.  I speak American English and Appalachian English, and often serve as a translator of the latter.  But no matter how many Spanish courses I have taken and how much Dora the Explorer I have watched, Spanish just doesn’t seem to work for me.

The Bible has several references to people speaking different languages, and there are two fantastic stories that show God relating to us through the difference in languages in two completely opposite ways. 

First of all, look at the story of the Tower of Babel.  Everyone in the world spoke the same language.  And a large group of people got together to build a huge city and a tower to heaven.  God did not like the idea and He confused their languages so that they could no longer easily communicate.  But they were doing this to be closer to God, right?  What is wrong with that?  Why would He punish them for seeking Him?  Well, their motives may have been suspect.

Then they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.”  (Genesis 11:4 NLT)

They are seeking to build a great city for themselves and they are hoping to become famous.  It seems that their motivation in this venture is strictly selfish.  They wanted to be famous.  They wanted to reap the fruits of their labor.  So God decided to make it hard for them.  They probably could have spent some time learning from each other and ultimately gotten back on the same page, but they chose to give up because God made it more difficult for them to work for their own glory.

In a situation that could not be more contrary, we find a group in the book of Acts come together in an upper room to pray and seek God.  They were trying to figure out how God wanted them to move forward with spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.  With what we refer to as the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down and filled the followers of Christ to empower them to fulfill the great commission.

At that time, many people in the city of Jerusalem spoke different languages.  It was a fairly diverse place.  However, God made it so that, no matter who was teaching in what language, everyone could understand them.  God opened their ears to understand His message in all languages. 

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.  (Romans 8:28 NLT)

In Babel, God intervened to make it hard for the people to achieve their selfish plans.  Since they only sought to glorify themselves, God chose to make it difficult for them.  He did not support their efforts in any way.

Because the Christians in Acts were seeking God, He worked for the good of His purpose and made their jobs easier.  Because they were willing to sacrifice their own desires for His glory, God gave them what they needed to effectively serve Him. 

Are you seeking to build your own towers?  Or are you praying for God to help you build His?

There are names throughout history that are synonymous with leadership.  As you look deeper into their stories, you quickly see that every great leader in history had a fantastic supporting cast.  Jesus had His disciples.  Every great monarch had loyal counsel and every great American president has had a strong cabinet.  Sherlock Holmes had Dr. Watson.  And Gladys Knight had the Pips.

Even in the Bible, we see that the leaders God put in charge had great people behind them.  Let’s take a look at David.  He had Joab, a valiant warrior, as the commander of his army.  He also had what the Bible refers to as David’s Mighty Men.  Some passages refer to three specific individuals in this group, while others reference a group of 30+ individuals.  Regardless, this group is given a great deal of credit for David’s military success.

What made these Mighty Men so special?  What role did they play in God’s plan for David to rule over His people?

Scripture is clear that these men were fierce warriors.  They were willing to take the battle into places where others would not have the courage to go.  They were prepared to fight those that their comrades wouldn’t dare go near.  They were fearless in their efforts to spread David’s kingdom.

There is no doubt that they got the job done.  David’s kingdom was very blessed by God, and the efforts of these Mighty Men were great contributors to that.  So how can we be Mighty Men today?  How can we fulfill our roles in the body of Christ and be the perfect supporting cast to continue Jesus’ ministry?  As it turns out, our task is that not much different than theirs.

To be Mighty Men today, we must be prayer warriors.  We must be willing to take the gospel into places where others would not have the courage to go.  We must be prepared to love those that our comrades wouldn’t dare go near.  We must be fearless in our efforts to spread God’s Kingdom.

What this world needs is a few Mighty Men (and Women) that are prepared to follow Christ fearlessly and selflessly.  Are you up to the challenge?

I am not the most intelligent person in the world.  There is no doubt about that.  (Please stop nodding…not cool.)  So, in order to not let my ignorance show, I try to be witty and clever.  I try to stay one step ahead as much as my slow mind will allow.

I’ll have an occasional one-liner.  I’m fairly efficient as solving riddles.  And, at times, I can get away with an antic or two.  (Are you still nodding from earlier?)

However, no matter how hard I try, and no matter how clever I can be, I have yet to be able to put one over on myself.  For some reason, I am always aware of the shenanigans that I am trying to be sneaky about.  Even when I am at my most devious, I am horrible at hiding things.

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. (Matthew 6:3-4 NIV)

No matter how careful I am, my right hand cannot seem to do anything without my left hand finding out.  And if that is supposed to be the goal, why is it that I have trouble keeping other people from hearing about my good deeds?  Is it even my fault that others happen to find out about every single good thing that I do for others?  Why yes, yes it is.

When we break this command from Christ, we usually try to dress it up like something else.  Maybe it’s a prayer request, perhaps it is to promote “our favorite charity,” or maybe we even do it as a request for help.  Whatever form it takes, it seems that we all too often find a way to let our giving be known.  Yet, we are supposed to keep it so close to the chest that we forget about it ourselves.

Why are we so bad at this?  The answer is easy:  pride, recognition, notoriety, whatever you want to call it.  It makes us feel good to have others praise us for our good deeds.  Even others knowing how generous we, even if they don't applaud us, are can help us feel more accomplished.

The sooner we all put a sock in it, the better off we will all be.  The sooner we realize that giving is not about us, the more readily we will be able to give.  The more we put the focus on meeting the needs of others and less on our own contributions, the more people we will be able to help. 

So let’s all work on keeping our giving a private matter.  I’ll start.  Come on, left hand.  Let’s shut the right hand up.

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.

Everyone makes excuses.  They have unfortunately become a staple of our culture. 

I didn’t get the promotion because my boss doesn’t like me. 

I got a bad grade because the teacher is bad. 

My hair doesn’t grow because my brain is too big. 

Okay, maybe that last one is just for me.  But it makes it so easy for us to accept our shortcomings if we can somehow pin the responsibility on someone else.  If it wasn’t all my fault, then it wasn’t my fault at all.  Regrettably, we often do the same thing with our sin.

Think about it.  What causes us to sin?  Our sinful nature…sure.  But what do we say usually precedes a sinful act?  That’s right, temptation.  We always talk about being tempted, or giving in to temptation.  We act as though temptation is some great entity that controls us.

And since we know that temptation does not come from God, we usually assign it to the devil.  And as soon as we make that decision, we have our scapegoat.  We have our excuse.  If we can blame Satan for our temptation which leads to our sin, we are giving up the responsibility of our own decision making.  Just like we put Eve’s sin of eating from the tree on the serpent, we blame the devil for tempting us and tricking us into rebelling against God. (FYI:  That’s kind of the definition of sin.) 

As I mentioned earlier, this makes it easier for us to dismiss our own mistakes.  If we blame Satan for our sin, we feel better about ourselves.  Far too often, we use the devil as a scapegoat to ease our conscience and allow us to ignore our lack of obedience

If we want to grow closer to God, if we want to see His Kingdom here on earth, if we want to be holy, we must stop using Satan as a scapegoat. 

Be obedient.  

Own your decisions. 

Take responsibility. 

Stop making excuses.

Sacrifice.  That is what Christianity is all about.  The Bible teaches us to take up our crosses daily to follow Jesus.  (Luke 9:23 )  Jesus even said that there is no greater love than giving up your life for your friends.  (John 15:13 )  We are supposed to sacrifice our desires, our resources, and even our lives for the cause of Christ.  There is no way around it.

However, the Bible teaches that sacrifice is not necessarily the most important aspect of our faith. 

But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the Lord:  your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice?  Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.  (1 Samuel 15:22 NLT)

Obedience is better than sacrifice.  Doing what we are told is more important than giving things up.  In the Old Testament, sacrifices were often done to atone for sins, or to make up for a lack of obedience.  According to Samuel, though, it is more pleasing to God if we try harder to be obedient in the first place. 

I really don’t believe that Christians, in general, are intentionally sinful.  In fact, I believe that most of our disobedient behavior comes from the lack of being intentional with our thoughts, words, and actions.  Why is that?  Because we take full advantage of the grace of God and the forgiveness that comes with His love.  We know that we will be forgiven. 

Sometimes we even dismiss our disobedience because of our sacrifice.  Some Christians believe that since they do so much work around the church or in the community, that they get a little more grace than everybody else. 

Regardless of the reason, we are far too careless with our obedience…or lack thereof.  No matter how much we sacrifice or how many “works” we do, it is much more important that we follow the commands in the Bible and the leading of the Holy Spirit.  We all need to stop being so complacent and taking our forgiveness for granted.  We must be obedient.  If we are, everything else will take care of itself.

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.