I often tell my students that finals week provides one of the greatest feelings in the world.  When you finish your last exam, you feel like a giant weight has been lifted from your shoulders.  You have zero academic obligations: no papers, no tests, no readings, no assignments whatsoever.  What an amazing feeling!

What I fail to tell them is that, less than a week later, a great deal of stress may creep back in as they await the posting of final grades.  For some students, they are stressed about possibly not getting straight A’s.  Others are shooting for the Dean’s List.  And some are just praying they did well enough to avoid suspension.  Stress is relative, I suppose.

Getting graded, or being judged in any way, is rarely an enjoyable experience.  You work hard for 16 weeks only to have all of your effort summed up with a single letter.  Even for my job, I am regularly evaluated by my boss.  We have a few meetings every year where we set goals for my work, and then we check back in to see how I’ve done.  I work hard to make sure those “judgment meetings” go well, just as college students work hard for their grades.

Why is it, then, that while the use of our time often reflects the importance of the outcomes of these things, our priorities do not necessarily reflect the importance of the only judgment that really matters? 

I am not a big fan of “hell fire and brimstone” evangelism, so I am not going to go into that debate.  I’m talking about doing what is asked of us.  Seeking to meet the goals set for us by the Bible.  Meeting the expectations of the Holy Spirit.  Living as though our relationship with God really matters.

I think one problem with our “spiritual performance” comes from the lack of accountability.  We do not have a scheduled assessment.  We don’t know when grades will come out or when our eternal evaluation will be.  There seems to be an out of sight, out of mind type of mentality when it comes to us believing that our actions really matter.

Obviously, having accountability meetings with other believers can play an important role in helping us overcome this challenge.  I am a huge advocate of participating in accountability groups with fellow Christians.

However, until we get it in our heads that God is always with us, and that pleasing Him is the most important thing we can ever do, I fear that we will continue to fail.  And it can’t just be a thought in the back of our heads, it has to be on the forefront of our minds at all times.  But how do we do that?  You tell me. 

Seriously… tell me what helps you focus on God in the comments section below.  Please and thanks.

And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.  Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.  Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.  Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9 NLT)

 
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)

 
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)

Guilty

10/18/2012

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I really enjoy courtroom entertainment, whether it is in a television series or a movie.  I love watching the plot develop and the facts come out.  Then you always know that, at the last moment, a piece of information will be revealed that will ultimately decide the case.  It’s great drama and wonderful suspense.

I usually end up researching law schools for the next few days after I see a great courtroom scene.  I really get into it and it makes me want to be a part of it.  And by a part of it, I mean a judge or an attorney.  I would never want to be a defendant or plaintiff.  I do wonder what that would be like, though.

I’ve heard a good friend of mine often use a courtroom analogy to talk about effectively living out your faith.  It is actually a great perspective to help you visualize your daily actions and attitude.

If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  Yes, I hope that you would plead guilty and testify against yourself.  But based on evidence alone, would you be found guilty of being a follower of Christ?  Let’s see what that evidence might look like.

Has it been obvious that you have repented, turned away from your sins, and changed the direction of your life? 

Have you been caught sharing God’s love with everyone that you come in contact with?

Have you sought justice for those that can’t defend themselves?

What tangible fruit have you produced?

Have you used your time, money, and other resources to invest in the Kingdom of God here on earth?

What kind of friend have you been?

How have you gone out of your way to reach those that don’t know Christ?

Have you shared your testimony regularly and had genuine conversations with others about their relationships with Christ?

So what do you think?  Do you think the answers to these questions would be enough to convict you of being a Christian?  If not, what in the world are you doing?  Get off your behind and start building some evidence against yourself.  Being found not guilty is not an option.

 
John the Baptist was sent to pave the way for the Messiah.  His mission was to prepare the Jews for the Kingdom of God to be walking among them, and for the new covenant that was coming with Him.

What kind of pressure would that be?  Of course he was guided by God.  But how intimidating would it be to prepare that sermon?  I, for one, think he made the right call by keeping it simple.

In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.  (Matthew 3:1-2 NLT)

Repent of your sins!  Wow…really?  That was the first thing he felt lead to say?  It wasn’t a message about giving ten percent.  It wasn’t a message about judging one another.  He didn't even talk about heaven or hell.  John's first message was about turning away from sin.

You see, repentance is much more than confession.  Many people believe that repenting of your sins means to confess them to God and ask for forgiveness.  But it is so much more.  If you repent of something, that means that you turn away from it completely. 

If your life is moving in one direction, and you repent, then you turn around and walk the other way.  It is a complete 180 degree turn.  If you struggle with gossip, you do everything in your power to avoid talking about people or even listening to it.  If you repent of your sexual sin, you avoid any situation that could even be viewed as compromising.  If you have a tendency to act bitterly and say hateful things to people, your change your focus and settle for nothing but love.

When you give your life to God, if you truly make Him Lord of your life, then you have no choice but to change many things about yourself.  You must repent and run away from the sinful life that you used to lead.  Repentance is so vital to spiritual growth, in fact, that it was John the Baptist’s primary message.

Of course, Jesus Christ started His ministry about the time that John was imprisoned for his message.  And since Jesus was kind of the main event that John the Baptist had been opening for, He decided to deliver the real message of the Messiah:

From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.(Matthew 4:17 NLT)

Well…who would have thought that?  First John, then his cousin Jesus.  Repentance is the first message that Christ chose to deliver.  Perhaps that’s where we should start as well.

 
We have all heard of the Age of Enlightenment.  It was the period during the 18th century when folks put an emphasis on being smart and decided to value intelligence above all else.  To be perfectly honest with you, I had to look it up to make sure I remembered it correctly.  Apparently I would not have fit in during that time.

I’m not sure how well I fit in nowadays either.  I am constantly frustrated by the attitudes of those that I interact with.  It seems as though everyone thinks they have a right to get their way no matter how much it inconveniences others.  It’s like we have all been spoiled and now we expect to have success, happiness, and immediate gratification handed to us on a silver platter.  It’s like we have entered an Age of Entitlement.

I believe a large part of it comes from the “everyone gets a trophy” philosophy our society has taken on.  We are taught that we deserve as much as anyone else even if we don’t work as hard, possess the proper skills, or even care as much.  We are told that we deserve happiness and success no matter what.  Society has set us up to believe that we are all equally great. 

Now is the part when you expect me to say that you only deserve what you work for, or as much as your talent and natural ability allows.  Most people say that rewards should only be given to those that stand out as being more qualified than others.  They would say that this country is falling apart because we have too many trophies and too few people willing to work hard to get what they deserve.

However, I am here to tell you that you deserve nothing.  Should you work hard?  Absolutely, so that God’s work may be done.  Should you utilize your talents?  Sure, for His glory.  Should you take advantage of opportunities that come your way?  If you feel led to do so, go right ahead so that you may have the opportunity to tell more and more people about His love. 

But nothing that we do, no matter how hard we work or how ambitious we are, is deserving of any type of reward.  We are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God.  We all deserve death and to be separated from God forever.  That is ALL that we deserve. 

So the next time you feel entitled or get frustrated because things did not go your way, bow your head and pray for humility.  We are all blessed beyond belief by just having the opportunity to have a relationship with God.  And the more this world tells us we deserve this or we deserve that, the more tempting it is to make our lives about us.  But just as Christ showed us, that is not the case.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.N)"> And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by coming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8 NIV)

 
Well, here we are.  The last segment in the two month journey into the fruit of the Spirit.  I have worked my way backward through the list because I felt like saving the best for last.  So let’s talk about love, shall we?

I realize that love is a word that is thrown around carelessly in today’s society.  Teenagers fall in love every ten minutes.  My son corrects me when I say I love his backpack.  Love has been watered down to be fairly meaningless until you experience real love, the love of God.

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

God is love.  Wow.  That is a concept that I think we have trouble wrapping our minds around.  But the scripture above is pretty clear about its application.  If any action is not an act of love, you can be sure that God is not a part of it.  And if love is in the mix, the scripture implies that God is there also.

So if we believe all of that to be true, then it seems that any ministry that is done for God (yes, I know what I said) is done in love.  From huge clothing drives and construction projects to helping an old lady across the street, any of these things done in love produce holy fruit.

As I look over the rest of the list, it is obvious that none of the fruit of the spirit can produce fruit without an element of love in them.  Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulnessgentleness and self-control all come from a place of love, from a heart of service to God.  So all of the fruit that we have discussed in this series have all been produced through love.

So if you are keeping score at home, that means than any and all fruit that come from the Spirit of God, the holy fruit that we should seek to produce with every breath, is produced through love.  What does love look like?  There really is no description I can provide that is better than 1 Corinthians 13.  And since I often overlook that passage because it puts me to sleep at weddings, let’s all take some time and pray our way through it.

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)

Yeah…if we do that, we will be fruitful.  God is love.  Let’s try to be more like Him.

 
No matter how often it happens, I am always amazed when God speaks to me during prayer.  On the rare occasion when I shut up and listen, I feel like He always comes through and drops some truth on me.  Recently, during a meeting at my church, a group that I am a part of was challenged to do a simple prayer walk through our facility.  I was blown away as God seemed to speak to me in a number of ways.  I would like to share one of those truths with you today.

When I pray, I try really hard not to be repetitious like the pagans.  But I have some common phrases that I use when praying about certain topics because I feel like they accurately represent what I am trying to say.  One of those common phrases is that I ask God to “use me as a funnel” to share the love and blessings He has given me with everyone around me. 

I really want to bless others as I have been blessed, and I have always felt like the funnel illustration was a pretty good picture of what I wanted to do.  But as I used that phrase in praying for the preschool wing of our church during that prayer walk, God stopped me and said that a funnel was not enough.

You see, a funnel is wide at the “receiving” end and narrow at the “sharing” end.  When I was asking God to use me as a funnel, I was asking for Him to help me take the seemingly endless amount of love that He shows me and share it a little bit at a time.  And since God’s blessings are truly endless, my funnel would certainly overflow since I am only looking to pass small amounts of blessings on to others.

I realize this illustration may seem kind of cheesy, but God was very clear in telling me that being a funnel was not enough.  I need to be willing to freely give His love away as quickly as I receive it.  I should be ready to exhaust myself by blessing everyone around me.

I have yet to come up with an illustration as convenient as the funnel.  But I know that God wants me to change my mentality.  He wants me to be more selfless.  He wants me to be less like a funnel, and more like Him.  How do I do that?  I think I will start with another prayer walk.  God is awesome.

 
I am a blessed man.  God meets all of my needs, and most of my wants.  I also have the pleasure of spending most of my time with close Christian friends.  I hang out with Christians, I work with Christians, and I even go to church with a few.

Obviously, I need to spend more time with non-believers spreading the gospel.  No doubt about that.  But over the years, I have had the opportunity to be very close to a few.  Especially in college, I was able to spend enormous amounts of time with non-Christians.  And honestly, the fact that most of them still don’t believe bothers me quite a bit.

One guy in particular became a very close friend of mine.  We spent 2-3 hours every day working out for over a year, talking about life and getting’ swoll.  I often shared my faith with him.  I talked about how Jesus had changed me, and how much I rely on Him every day. 

Being a philosophy major, my friend was very well-read and tried to poke holes in my faith.  Not in a conceited way, but almost as if he didn’t want me to be wrong.  Honestly, I did not have all of the answers for his questions or witty responses to his challenges.  All I had was my experience with Jesus and a few books written by Christians much better at these discussions than I was.  I shared my story with all my heart and I shared my Christian literature with great humility.

My friend is still an atheist.  Honestly, that is something that is still very painful for me to this day.  Even though we only speak a few times a year and he lives on the other side of the country, I can’t help but to think about all the time that I spent trying to introduce him to Jesus.  I feel like I failed.  I failed my friend.  I failed God.

As much as it hurts, I know that I did my part.  I know that I did my best.  I shared my testimony, I tried to be as much like Christ as possible, and I tried to show my friend His love every day.  That is what I am called to do, and that is all that I can do.   

The fact that my friend still does not believe is not a failure.  Perhaps I said some things that will resonate with him later.  Maybe I planted a seed that will take some time before it is ready to harvest.  Maybe my friend needs to need Jesus before he decides to want Him.  It could be that my role in his life was not to convert him, but to serve a purpose that I will never fully understand. 

I am sharing this story for a few reasons.  First of all, he has been on my heart lately and I covet your prayers on the situation. 

Also, it is important that we all realize that our successes and failures in our faith do not revolve around conversions.  We can’t make people believe.  We can only show them who Jesus is to us and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

And if you start to feel like you’ve failed, don’t give up.  In today's society, we all expect immediate results all the time.  When somebody doesn't pray to receive Christ the first time we bring it up, we get disheartened and assume we did something wrong.  That is not how it works.  If God can bring water from rocks, He can use a seed you planted, even many years ago, to yield amazing fruit.

Tell your story, show His love, and keep on keepin’ on.  That is what witnessing is all about.

 
I work with college students, and I am often intrigued by their phobias.  Many of them have social anxieties and refuse to go into certain settings.  Some of them have issues that make living in a dorm with a community bathroom almost unbearable.  And others are very peculiar about the environment in which they study. 

A very common concern that plagues many students is test anxiety.  Whether their minds go blank, they hyperventilate, or they make themselves physically ill, their reactions to taking tests are usually pretty extreme.  They often tell me that they can’t wait to get out of school so they will not have to take any more tests.  Apparently, they have not read the Bible.

Over and over again, the Bible talks about God testing people.  There are many instances in the Old Testament where it is used as a warning to remind people to remain faithful.  In the New Testament, the writers used it to talk about trials they were going through, or even in discussing tests that others in their narratives were facing.

God testing us is something that has always troubled me.  I have always had so many questions about it, and the Bible seems to be all over the place as far as how, when, and why God tests His people.  As I have continued to read and pray about this, I have come up with some conclusions that I would like to share.

First of all, I have found that scripture often interchanges the words “test” and “tempt.”  So much so that many people interpret them to mean the same thing.  In fact, I have heard Christians refer to a temptation to sin as a test from God.  That has never felt right to me. 

If God is tempting someone to sin, then that means He is pushing you toward sin.  That seems impossible.  That is against His nature and does not mesh with His character revealed to us through the Bible.  God hates sin and loves us so much that He would never tempt us to sin.  So if you are struggling with a sin, you are safe to assume that God is not putting you in that situation for any reason.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.  (James 1:13 NIV)

So if God does test us, and it is not to see how well we fight temptation, why would He do it?  Maybe He is testing our faith to see how much we trust Him.  Perhaps He is testing our dedication to see how obedient we will be.  Or He could be checking our spiritual maturity to see how much responsibility we are ready for.

Yet, there is one major problem with all of those things.  God already knows how faithful we will be, how dedicated we are, and how ready we are to take on more responsibility.  (Note:  How ready we are for anything never really matters, since most of the good fruit we produce comes through us and not from us.)  So does it make any sense for Him to test us so He can learn something about us?  No way.  Not even a little bit.

So here is my ultimate conclusion:  God tests us so that we can accurately assess our relationship with Him.

Sure, it is easy for me to say that God and I are on good terms when my fridge is flowing with milk and honey and I’m kickin’ it with my homies on my bass boat.  I am usually feeling good about my relationship with Him when He is blessing me and I am really doing my best to serve as I am called.

But when I am tested, when God puts a decision in front of me that requires me to take a blind step of faith, I find out how faithful I really am.  When I am called to obedience in a way that makes me really uncomfortable, my level of dedication will become very clear.  When I experience a spiritual battle I don’t think I am ready for, my actions will show who I really trust and rely on.

God tests us to make us aware of where we stand spiritually.  If we see a weakness, we know that we need to spend more time on that area.  If we completely fail, we learn many lessons about being prepared and we usually find out that we have been soaking in the wrong stuff.  His tests show us who we really are when we take off our swagger masks.

But what if we pass the test?  If we are tested by God and we are faithful and obedient enough to follow Him no matter what, that probably means that we were so focused on Him that we did not even know there was a test.  To me, that is the goal.  While I should be ready for any trial or test that may come my way, I pray that I will be too focused on God to even notice.

How has God tested you lately?