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.

 
Equality is a big deal in our country.  And for good reason.  Everyone should be entitled to the same rights and opportunities as anyone else.  The motto for college where I work is “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth.”  You may have also heard this idea in the book of Acts, specifically Acts 17:26.  This school was on the forefront of interracial education and made great strides for racial equality.  And all of these endeavors were founded upon Biblical principles.

However, I believe that some Christians today miss the big picture of equality.  Within the church, we often think of being equal as God loving us equally or even blessing us equally.  We get frustrated when others are more blessed financially than us.  We get angry when God seems to test us more than others.  We can’t help but wonder why God does not seem to love us as much as others sometimes.

We have such a warped view of reality.  We live too much in the moment.  Our perspective of God’s plan is so limited that we forget that He is working on a final product of which we are only getting to see the individual brush strokes.  God’s plan for us is bigger than today, this year, or even this decade. 

It is impossible to completely understand God’s perspective.  However, the Bible is very clear that creation is much bigger than our individual struggles.  God does love us.  God does want to bless us and He wants us to experience unthinkable joy.

The primary roadblock in our misunderstanding of spiritual equality is our inability to seriously consider eternity.  Eternity is forever.  With our focus being on there here and now, we completely miss the fact that our lives on earth will one day be but a blip on the radar of our eternal existence. 

Am I saying that our lives here don’t matter?  Absolutely not.  Our work here is very important and obviously has eternal implications for ourselves and others.  Every day, every interaction, every situation is vital in our mission to grow God’s kingdom on earth.

However, to complain or even spend time being frustrated about our struggles is not only a waste of time, but it displays a lack of understanding of who God is and what He wants for us.  God does love us all equally and His shower of blessings over the course of forever will reflect that.  But for now, our job is to not focus on ourselves but to be as big of a blessing as we can during our short time here.  We need to focus on our work in fulfilling the great commission and to leave the equity to God. 
 
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.”  Do you agree with that statement?  Wait…you probably don’t have enough information to make that decision yet.  Kevin Spacey said it in a movie.  Now…do you agree?

I don’t know about the “greatest trick” part, but it does bring up an interesting topic.  As we continue to ignore the evil forces out there, does that give them more power?  If we completely forgot about Satan’s existence, would that make it harder for us to stay pure and righteous?  I think so.  In my opinion, you can’t defend yourself against what you don’t see.  So the quote makes perfect sense if you believe that we have convinced ourselves that he isn’t out there.

However, if Christians read the same Bible that I do, it is pretty impossible to ignore the existence of an enemy that is working to pull us away from God.  So if that isn’t the devil’s greatest trick, what is?  I’m not sure what the greatest is, but I do struggle with one that seems to be pretty effective.

You see, people are made to be in relationships…with God, and with each other.  Just as the early church did, Christians are called to share their lives with one another.  But as we creep further and further away from the establishment of Christianity, it seems that the community piece is one that we tend to have a hard time hanging onto. 

You can give the devil credit if you like, but ultimately it seems that we have allowed a little too much pride to creep into our lives.  When we are struggling with a sin, we often do all that we can to bury it so that nobody will ever know.  We convince ourselves that we are the only person struggling with this issue and that it would do nothing but damage to let anyone else in on our dirty little secret.  We keep telling ourselves that we are alone, and that we can’t ask for help.

Even though we are responsible for making the decision to not ask for help, the devil delights in seeing us isolate ourselves away from other believers.  He wants us to feel alone so that our sin can eat away at us and do serious damage to our relationship with God.  I’m sure that even Kevin Spacey would agree that this is a pretty good trick.

If you are struggling with a sin or a conviction that you are afraid to act on, please ask for help.  If you are feeling alone and don’t think anybody else could possibly understand, find a spiritual mentor that you trust and seek their counsel.  If you are letting your pride build a barrier between you and God, pray that He will break it down and give you the courage to speak up.  You are not alone.  Ever.  And don’t let anyone, including yourself, convince you that you are.

 
I visited a public restroom recently that I had never been in before.  It was very clean and welcoming.  It was the kind of public restroom that didn’t make you feel like you needed a shower after left. 

After washing my hands, I reached over and waved my hand under the paper towel dispenser.  It didn’t turn on so I did it again.  And again.  I probably waved by hand back and forth three or four times before I realized that it was not an automatic dispenser.

As I reached up to manually grab my brown paper towel, I became very frustrated at the fact that I had to exert the energy to do so.  My magnificent public restroom experience had been ruined in an instant when I had to go out of my way to do something for myself.  And that, my friends, is when I realized that there is no hope for this world.

With automated sinks and hand dryers, Hot-N-Ready pizzas, GPS navigation, and an app for everything, we are so spoiled.  It is like we have completely forgotten how to do anything for ourselves.  Compared to even 10-15 years ago, the amount of effort required for us to get what we want has basically bottomed out.

Even more unfortunately, we are letting this automated attitude bleed over into our spiritual lives.  We’ve stopped taking our Bibles to church because the words are on the projector screen.  Some people don’t tithe regularly because their church does not accept debit cards.  Others refuse to attend or decide to leave a church if they are not made the center of attention on their own terms. 

It’s like we want to get the benefit of being a part of a church family without having to invest ourselves in the community of the church.  We want people to reach out and make things easier for us when we aren’t willing to do the same for others.  We want to automatically be blessed without putting forth the effort to produce fruit of our own.

Let’s do each other a favor.  What do you say we all spend a day away from our gadgets that make life so convenient?  What if we took some time to take the manual route to remember what it feels like to actually invest in something?  Perhaps if we do this more in the monotony of our day-to-day lives then it will come more natural when we fill our roles in the body of Christ.

Let’s all invest ourselves in something this week.  I will start by getting my own paper towel.  Join me, will you?

 
One of my favorite comedians has a great joke about being from a small town.  He says that, if you are from a big city and shop at yard sales, folks may make fun of you and say, “You’re poor.”  And that’s not cool.  But if you are from a small town and you shop at yard sales, then people will say, “Hey, you’re wearing Mike’s shirt.” 

People notice what you wear, what you do, and what belongs to whom.  Regardless of whether you are from a big city or small town or somewhere in the middle, people have certain expectations and standards for what they believe people should do and have.

For example, anybody that did not have a “WWJD” bracelet in my 6th grade class was considered to be a nobody.  In my high school, if you didn’t watch professional wrestling and come to school prepared to discuss the story lines, you sat alone during lunch.  In college, if you didn’t have one of the cool, new flip phones, then there must be something wrong with you.

I thought that, as an adult, I would be past all that.  I thought that people would stop caring who you are or what you have.  I really thought that, especially as a Christian, there was nothing that I would be embarrassed about not having.  Alas, I was wrong.

Recently, I invited some friends over to watch a movie while my wife was away for work.  We watched an awful movie and stayed up too late.  Basically, that adds up to a pretty awesome night.

One of my friends received a text message that apparently got his wheels turning about something.  Not having a smart phone with him, he asked if he could use mine.  I handed it to him, and he asked me where he could find my Bible app…and I didn’t have one.  BAM!  Middle school all over again.

In my defense, I had gotten a new phone a few days earlier and had yet to get it fully loaded with my favorite apps.  However, I was still pretty embarrassed.  My co-Sunday School teacher, my accountability partner, one of my best friends caught me red-handed without a Bible app.  I bet Peter never had to deal with such embarrassment. 

Of course, I was able to download the app within 20 seconds and we were ready to go.  And obviously not having a Bible app does not make me less of a Christian.  In no way did my friend judge me or give me reason to feel embarrassed.  But I was made acutely aware of insecurities that I thought I had prayed away many moons ago.  I found myself concerned about social judgment in a way that I rarely experience anymore.

My friend and I immediately made fun of the situation, and then he made fun of the fact that I would probably write about it.  But after processing the situation a bit, I did realize that this was a story worth telling. 

Through this situation, I realized that how absurd it is to worry about the judgment of others.  In fact, it is pretty arrogant of me to assume that other people even care about what I wear, do, or have.  And if they do care, that’s their problem…not mine. 

I just hope this lesson finally takes hold in my brain before flying cars come out.  That could get really awkward.

 
Have you ever been wrong?  Not me.  I thought I was once, but I was mistaken.

It’s true that we always want to be right.  But we can’t always be.  And that really should not be a problem for anybody, unless you plan to interact with other people from time to time.  That could get a little frustrating.

We have to interact with people every day.  That is unless you are “middle school Jamie” sitting in your bedroom learning how to hack your neighbor’s computers using a dial up connection and chugging a 2-liter of Squirt.  Otherwise, you are probably forced to talk to, and maybe even work toward a common goal with, other people every day.

Well, at least this is a simple task at church since we all share the same common goals.  Wait…what’s that?  Church business isn’t simple?  Ministry projects don’t plan themselves?  People have different ideas about how to deliver the gospel?  Yeah, right.  Am I supposed to believe that there are Bible versions other than the King James, too?

Any time you get people together, there are sure to be several different opinions.  That can be a problem if you are trying to finalize details of a project, set a balanced budget, or even decide on the start time of a potluck.  For the record, they should always start at 5 p.m.  That leaves room to eat the meal, have dessert, and get hungry enough for leftovers before bedtime.

But it is of the utmost importance that we all work to get on the same page.  We need to be reading scripture, talking to one another, and spending time in prayer asking that the Holy Spirit lead us all in the same direction.

In the book of Acts, it is reiterated over and over that the early church was on the same page.  In fact, the author makes this point clear by saying that they were all on “one accord” no less than ten times.  That phrase, “one accord,” seems to come up almost every time that the apostles and their followers are about to see an increase in numbers.  The author attributes a large part of their success in spreading the gospel to the fact that they were all on the same page. 

If we can get an entire group of Christians moving in the same direction, without even so much as an unspoken objection, we will accomplish great things.  Unfortunately, between our “me generation” mentality and our mega-churches, it would seem like a miracle to get everyone on one accord. 

In order for us to get on the same page, we all need to take a step back from our own feelings, opinions, and even our own logical judgment to listen to the Holy Spirit.  If we start getting our minds, our hearts, and especially our wallets involved, we immediately compromise the ability of our group of believers to follow the will of Christ.

We need to spend time in the Bible daily so we can better understand what ministry is all about.  We need to pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us all in the same direction.  We also need to pray that we will be able to leave our biases out of the equation.

Pray.  Read.  Pray.  Plan.  Pray.  In that order.  That’s our best chance at getting on one accord with one another.

Have you ever been completely in tune with a group of believers when spreading the gospel?  How do you think that impacted your ministry?

 
I am a mumbler.  I mumble.  My wife tells me this.  My boss tells me this.  And my coworkers tell me this.  So finally, I admit it.  I mumble a lot. 

Most of the time, people only pick out a short phrase or a single word of what I say, and they make assumptions based on what they hear.  I suppose that’s fair, since it is my fault that I mumble.  However, when you carefully choose your words and try hard not to sound like a dork, it is incredibly frustrating when you are misunderstood.

I wonder if God ever feels that way about the Bible.  I know He realizes that our minds are limited and that the Bible can be very deep at times, but when things get twisted I can’t help but think He is sighing and shaking His head.  I encountered a piece of scripture this past Sunday that I personally made me cringe, because I could not help but to think at how it would be misinterpreted.

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  (John 15:7 NIV)

I have mentioned my frustration with the prosperity gospel before, and I believe this is a piece of scripture (I realize there are several) that followers of that gospel would cling to.  Think about it.  This verse says that if you are a faithful Christian, anything you wish will be granted.  People interpret this to mean that money, fame, “stuff,” and success can be gained by faithfully following Jesus.

First of all, let’s take a look at the next verse:  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:8 NIV)  To me, it is very clear that our wishes will be granted to glorify God, so that we can produce fruit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) to show that we are disciples of Jesus Christ.  Our wishes will not be granted for personal gain or for self promotion, but for the glory of God.  So if the things we wish for are not meant to glorify God, will they still be granted?

Even if we ignore verse 8, think about the general themes of scripture: selflessness, loving others, willingness to sacrifice, and complete submission to the will of God.  How does God serving you like a genie play into that?  Based on the Bible I read, it can’t.

Last but not least, let’s look back at the original verse.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  Think about the entirety of this passage.  Yes, it says that whatever you wish will be done if you remain in Christ and His words remain in you. 

However, think of the implications of that first phrase: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you...”  If you remain in Christ, what will be your focus?  If His teachings make up your core values, what will you desire? 

It seems clear from Jesus’ life that, if we remain in Him and live by His words, that we will not seek fame, fortune, and success. 

We will be too busy meeting the needs of the widows and orphans. 

We will be spending our time hanging out with outcasts and praying in gardens. 

We will sacrifice our own personal dreams and desires, and even our lives, to make sure that others know the Truth.

If we are faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, our wishes will revolve around doing His work and serving His kingdom.  If we are wishing for anything else, we are not living our lives for Him…and that is exactly what this scripture is calling us to do.

 
I grew up a proud person.  Not that I was rich or had a lot of stuff, but I was very proud of what I had and who I was.  I was a very proud young man.  If I had an opinion, I assumed I was right and would argue all day long.  If you thought you were better than me at something, you had better be ready to prove it.  If you insulted my family, you probably got punched in the mouth.  Most of the time, my pride was all I had.

Then I met Jesus Christ.  And I’ll tell you, He broke me like a horse.  The first thing that Jesus did for me was help me realize that I do not matter.  Nothing good can come from me following my selfish desires.  Nothing.  Being full of pride does nothing for the Kingdom of God, nothing for the people I love, and contrary to popular believe, absolutely nothing for me. 

When people tell you to seek humility and let go of your arrogance, they often tell you to “swallow your pride.”  You see, that makes no sense to me.  If I want to be less of something, swallowing it is one of the last things I’ll do.  Trust me, swallowing fatty candy bars and greasy fried foods does not make me less fat.  So I propose we change that saying.  Let’s start telling people to spit out their pride.  Cool?

Now, I realize spitting out your pride is easier said than done.  That is actually one of the greatest struggles I have had to overcome, and I still struggle with it every day.  Yet, the more I seek Christ and become like him, the more I realize that I don’t matter.  Being proud and selfish only makes me want to be more proud and selfish.  Which of those paths sounds better to you? 

I have to wake up every morning and spit out my pride.  How about you?

This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.  (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

 
Boy, do I hate chick flicks.  I would honestly rather get a paper cut between my fingers than sit through a two hour movie about finding true love.  To be clear, though, it’s not the love part that bothers me.  It’s not even the ridiculous circumstances that are magically overcome that make me cringe.  It’s the selfishness.

Apparently any action is fair game as long as it leads to a happily ever after for whatever actor/actress that had to fulfill their contract with the production company.  I am always amazed at how the writers of these stories trick the viewer into cheering for these characters that lie, cheat, steal, ruin friendships, and manipulate everyone in their lives in the pursuit of love. 

Seriously?!  I’ve seen Kevin Spacey kill people for less.  But every time I watch one of these “romantic comedies,” I find myself in an argument with every woman that has ever seen it for the next week.  I try to make it clear how awful these characters are and argue that they should be viewed as villains, not heroes.  Yet, all is hear is, “but he/she was in love.”

FINALLY!!!  I have stumbled upon some scripture to back me up. 

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?  “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”  (Jeremiah 17:9-10 NIV)

As it turns out, following your heart is not all it is cracked up to be.  Your heart will deceive you.  This cannot be fixed.  Yet, God rewards us on our conduct.  So let me get this straight; even if we are following our heart, even if we are “in love,” God still judges us based on our behavior?  Huh…who would have thunk it?   

Let me see if I can follow the logic here.  The Bible says that the heart is deceitful.  Chick flicks are all about following your heart.  Would it not make sense, then, that God does not like these movies?  Hey, don’t blame me.  It’s in the Bible.

 
_People are selfish.  That is all there is to it.  While this has always been the case, all this “Me Generation” business seems to be taking selfishness to the next level.  Whether it’s about money, jobs, the newest gadgets, or social status, people tend to turn every situation into being about themselves.  The perfect illustration of this is the portrayal of the Me Monster by Brian Regan (video below).

Is it still bothering you that there are actually three i’s in Christianity when I said there was none?  I thought so.  Actually, I said there is no I.  The simple capitalization of a letter can make a world of difference.  What I actually mean is that there is no selfishness involved in being Christ-like. 

Luke 9:23 (NIV)

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

In this passage, there are three commands that are required for us to be disciples of Christ.  The latter two commands are discussed in this article and are not really what I want to focus on today.  The first, however, is unfortunately very easy to pass over without much thought.  Jesus says that His followers must “deny themselves.”  Of course, we should focus on Christ more than we focus on ourselves.  That makes perfect sense.  But I can’t help but think there is more to it.

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, deny means to “to restrain (oneself) from gratification of desires.”  In other words, to deny yourself means to avoid getting the things you want…on purpose.  How often do you see people doing that?  Have you ever caught a friend cheering for the other team because he wanted his team to win so badly?  I seriously doubt it.  Have you ever asked anybody if they plan to get an iPhone and they respond by saying, “Nah, I don’t think I will.  I want one too much.”?  No chance.  Our society tells us that if we want something and have access to it, we should have it. 

I think Christ commands us to behave differently.  I truly think that God wants us to deny ourselves.  Many people believe that, while the scripture clearly says disciples should “deny themselves,” it simply means that we need to love Jesus more than we love ourselves.  There's nothing wrong with having what we want as long as put Christ first, right?  I will choose not to say that.  Based on this scripture, I think it is impossible to put Jesus first and still have all the things we want. 

I think there are times that we need to not have what we want on purpose.  Making the decision to deny ourselves and our desires helps us to develop discipline.  Discipline makes it easier for us to focus on what we are truly called to do, even when things get tough. 

Denying ourselves makes it easier for us to take up our cross and truly follow Jesus.  Every time we actively choose “not me,” we shed a layer of selfishness that holds us back from being the disciple that Christ wants us to be. 

How have you denied yourself lately?