We are often defined by our roles in life.  Some of those roles come within our family structure: parent, child, sibling, close friend.  Others come with work: boss, laborer, innovator, number cruncher, paper pusher.  Yet, there are some roles that seem to follow us everywhere:  supporter, encourager, challenger, thinker, donut guy, leader.  (Note: One of those may just apply to me…you decide.)

Regardless of who you are, what you do, and whether or not you consider yourself to be a leader, there are people that look at you that way.  Maybe you aren’t a parent, but perhaps your siblings look up to you.  Perhaps you are not the boss in your office, but your coworkers respect your work and value your opinion.  You may consider yourself the donut guy wherever you go, but there are people counting on those donuts.

As a leader, you are held to a higher standard.  People are watching you to see how they should behave and react.  Others mimic your attitude and your approach to getting things done.  People may even look to you when things aren’t going well in hopes that you will turn things around.  Being a leader can be a lot of pressure, but our ability to influence others toward Christ is something all of us should cherish…and not take lightly.

People are watching.  And we always seem to think about that negatively.  We watch ourselves to guard our mistakes.  We mask our pains and struggles.  We worry that our leadership can lead people down the wrong path.  That often takes the focus off of leading them down the right path.

Just as quickly as somebody can pick up your bad habit, they can learn from your discipline.  As dangerous as it can be to risk sharing your flaws, the reward can be great when we allow people to see our victory over our struggles.  As much as we might be afraid that we will lead others away from God, it is our most important job to lead them to Him.

The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord. (1 Chronicles 29:9a NIV)

Whether you like it or not, you are a leader.  Instead of worrying about messing up and having a negative influence on the people around you, turn your focus to all of the positive things that you can do.  Get out of your comfort zone and step out in faith, go out on a limb in love, take some risks and let others see you put your hope in the Living God.

What do you appreciate about the leaders in your life?  How have they helped you grow closer to God?

 
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.

 
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.

 
For the last nine months or so, my quiet time has been spent in the Old Testament.  In addition to learning a great deal about the character of God, I have also found myself to be fascinated by the quirks of the culture at that time.  One in particular that keeps coming up is when people tear their robes.
Even though it only happens in dire situations, I find myself laughing out loud every time I read that someone tears their clothes.  I mean, seriously, how ridiculous would it look if I dropped to my knees and ripped my shirt every time the Cincinnati Reds lost a game?  Wouldn’t you laugh if you saw me stroll into Wal-Mart with a torn hoodie after my wife makes me watch the next Twilight movie?

So entertained by this notion, I had to look it up.  Was this a metaphor for something?  Were there specific guidelines for doing this?  Did people have “tearing clothes” available for such these times so their Sunday best wouldn't be ruined?

As it turns out, it is just as it appears.  In that time, it was common for people to tear a piece off of their clothes or tear a slit in an item of clothing or even rip something off on some occasions to display that they were in mourning, deeply upset about something, righteously angry, in great sorrow, or as an outward display that something terrible has happened.

To be honest, when I finally got into what this was really about, I realized how much closer Christians could bond together if this was still a common practice.  Think about it.  What do most people do when they are hurting or sad or ashamed?  They hide it.  We hide our sins, we hide our pain, we hide our sorrows, and we hide our failures.

When we hide these things, we make it impossible for others to help us, hurt with us, and love on us.  We build up walls that keep others out and prevent the Christian fellowship that is vital for the health and growth of the Church.  We pretend that everything is perfect, and that almost always makes things worse.

But of course, there is the fact that God does not want us to tear our clothes anymore.  Instead, He wants us to let our hearts be torn and to turn toward Him.

That is why the Lord says, “Turn to me now, while there is time.  Give me your hearts.  Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.  Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.”  Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.  He is eager to relent and not punish. (Joel 2:12-13 NLT)

Returning to the Lord includes repenting of your sins, sharing your sorrows, and allowing your Christian brothers and sisters to help you through your pain.  No, you should not tear your clothes.  But you also should not hide your mourning, grief, or anger.

We need to be more open about our burdens so that it will be easier for us to give them to God.  We need to let others in on our problems so they can be part of the solution.  Unless we share our troubles with one another, we will not be able to function as the body of Christ as it is intended. 

While there is no longer a need to tear our clothes, we have to let others help us mend our torn hearts so we may all return to God together.
 
How do you view your relationship with Christ?  Do you see it as a one on one relationship?  Do you buy into the “all I need is Jesus” philosophy?  Of course everyone has the right to their own opinion, but I would like to contest that in order to thrive in your personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you need to be supported by a strong group of believers. 

Think about it.  Even Jesus surrounded himself with 12 individuals He knew He could count on.  If Jesus needed friends to help His ministry succeed, do you really think you can do it alone?

Of course, church is a fantastic place to get support, advice, encouragement, and help with many issues that you face.  It is vital that you are plugged-in to a church family to help you in your walk with Christ. However, that may not be enough.  Most of us are only at church 2-3 days per week, max. 

Who is there to support you the rest of the time?  Who is there for you at school, at work, or even at home?  You need a group of friends around you that love God and want to not only see you happy, but to see you growing closer to your Savior. 

Your friends can be there any time you need them.  They will be there to hold you accountable during tempting situations.  They will be able to tell when you need support or encouragement.  They should be continually praying for you.  And you should be doing all of these things for them. 

Being encouraged, supported, remembered in prayer, and held accountable are essential to your growth as a Christian.  Yet, Jesus tells us that we should take our friendships even further. 

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13 NLT)

It is obvious that God wants us to be involved in very close and personal friendships that can help us come closer to Him.  Do you have friends that would give their lives for you? Jesus obviously thinks you should.  After all, He set the ultimate example of this by dying on the cross for us…for you. 

Are you that kind of friend? 

 
I’ll admit it.  I like some pretty weird music.  I got caught up in the boy band craze at one point in my life.  My dad made me a huge fan of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Men.  And, of course, being from southeastern Kentucky, I love country music.

More recently, I have begun to weave more and more contemporary Christian music into my playlist.  But as I have discussed it with some of my friends, I have seen some resistance on their part to make the transition.  They claim that many Christian artists simply aren’t as talented as mainstream musicians.  They have a hard time enjoying the variety as they believe the song themes are all the same.

I have heard similar complaints about Christian movies.  As the folks at Sherwood Pictures (Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous) continue to gain momentum, I still hear people talking trash about their films.  They say the scenarios are too far-fetched or that the acting is unwatchable.

I will admit that some of the complaints I hear about Christian movies and music are valid.  There may some questionable acting and some repetitive song lyrics.  The production quality on either side may not be at the level you would expect from secular entertainment companies.  But that is not always the case.  In fact, I believe that the Christian entertainment industry continues to bridge the gap between its quality and that of secular production.

But even if it is not your cup of tea, or there is a noticeable difference in quality, is that really a reason to be negative about it?  Are these folks not using their God-given talents for His glory?  Is the industry not based on spreading the gospel?  Isn’t that what we are all called to do with our talents?

Look, if you can’t watch a Spirit-filled inspirational film and allow God to speak to you through it because one of the characters over-annunciates, you may need to check your priorities.  If you refuse to purchase music from a Christian artist because they are not on a top-tier label, you might want to take a moment and consider who gave you that money in the first place.

Watch what you want to watch, and listen to what you want to hear.  I am just saying that, if your relationship with God is your number one priority and you will do anything to see people come to know Him, your petty entertainment standards should not get in the way of you supporting entertainment ministries.  If you profess to follow Christ, put your money where your mouth is and support your fellow believers that are using their talents to advance His kingdom.  Don’t you expect others to do the same for your ministries?

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

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

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

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

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

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

You may find that they are actually right or that there is at least some hint of truth in what they are saying.  Or if you determine that you still disagree with them, you will then be better prepared to talk about why you believe the way that you do. Either way, challenging others’ viewpoints as well as your own faith, as long as it is done in the pursuit of God, will ultimately bring you closer to Him.  After all, isn’t that the point?
 
It is a common debate. Who is Jesus? He was indeed a man that walked on the earth. That point is not debatable. There is plenty of historical data that confirms His existence. He did have a large following of Jews and gentiles alike, and He was crucified. 

However, there is much debate about Jesus’ actual identity. Atheists claim that He was a loon that made outrageous claims. The Jews believe He was a great moral teacher. The foundations of Christianity suggest that he is the Son of God and He came to earth so that we may be reunited with our Creator. However, after you get past that, many Christians disagree with each other about who Jesus actually is. 

In order to know someone, it is essential that you spend time with them. Jesus is no different. In order to know who Jesus is, you must invest time into your relationship with Him. By doing this, you will get to know who Jesus is to you. What role does He play in your life? What does He want for you? How can you serve Him?

While Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, the way that individuals relate to Him and serve Him can vary greatly. Even if two people have Him as the top priority in their lives and they are doing everything for Him, it could look very different. This is very important to understand.

You should never judge another person for the way they serve Jesus. You should never compare your relationship with Jesus to somebody else’s.  Your relationship with Jesus is unique to you.  And that is okay.

Jesus should never be put in a box. He is bigger than any of us could ever understand. But He is also loving enough to want to have an individual relationship with each of us. While that is a bit overwhelming to comprehend, we must all accept it and figure out what it means for us as individuals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
When I was a kid, it seemed like I could never keep a new toy working properly for any time at all.  It was like each toy my parents so graciously bought for me decided it could not get along with me for more than a couple of weeks, so it would malfunction in hopes that I would not play with it anymore. 

Well, I can’t completely blame the toys.  After all, I did take them all apart almost as soon as I got them.  That may have had something to do with their low functionality.  I mean, how accurately can a 10 year old reassemble a Talkboy?

I was just so curious.  I wanted, nay, needed to know how everything worked.  I would take a toy apart, make sense of what I could understand, and put it back together to the best of my ability.  Occasionally, I would experiment with the toys and see if I could improve or even alter the way the toy worked.  I was so eager to understand everything that I was willing to risk having nothing to play with.

Sometimes I still feel that way.  As I read through the Bible, I occasionally come out with more questions than answers.  I want to know more.  I want to know how, when, where, and why things happened the way they did.  I want to know what Jesus did when He was a child.  I want to know more about His sense of humor and how He related to His friends.  I want to know more about how my life can reflect His.

The fact that we don’t know more about Jesus’ life has often been a point of frustration for me.  Some aspects of His life are recorded with amazing accuracy and other parts are inexplicably vague.  Why could the writers not be more consistent?  Were these really the only things they saw as important?  Would the things they chose to leave out change the way we live out our faith?

Of course the answers to those questions would do very little to sooth my inquisitive mind, but at least I would have more answers about why I don’t have more answers.  I would be more able to articulate why there is so much of Jesus’ life we know little about.  I may be more content to know that I am not missing out on anything important.

There is one passage in the Bible, actually, that does give me a little comfort in this area. 

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.  (John 21:25 NIV)

I suppose that answers my questions to some degree.  The writers were not more consistent because they couldn’t possibly record every detail.  Also, I believe this makes it safe to assume that anything left out would not change the path of our spiritual journeys. 

As John seems well aware of the numerous other details of Jesus’ life, he clearly chose to share stories that are very much in-line with the other gospels.  That tells me that these stories are the core of who Jesus is, and our imitation of His life should find its foundation in them. 

While I fear my burning curiosity may be a permanent condition, it is very comforting to know that God orchestrated the Bible in such a way that its teachings meet His standards for what I need to know about Him.  Now, if I can only use it to help me get closer to His standards, then I’ll be in business.