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?

 
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?

 
In our society, we often define people by what they believe.  Followers of Judaism believe that there is only one God.  Muslims also believe there is only one god (Allah) and that Muhammad was his messenger.  Christians believe in the same God as Judaism, but acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah.  Athiests believe there is no god or higher power.  Agnostics believe there is a higher power, but they do not acknowledge any one in particular.  There are also many religions that believe in multiple gods (polytheism). 

However, if you are a Christian, do you think that is an accurate definition of who you are?  Do you think that knowing God exists and that Jesus is the Christ is what puts you in a relationship with God?  Does professing this truth do the trick?  Or is there something more to it?  According the book of James, what you believe does not define your relationship with God.

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?  Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing,  and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.  How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? (James 2:14-20 NLT)

Believe what you want.  But unless you live out your faith, it means nothing.  I can say that I believe in God or that I love Jesus all day, but if my actions and attitude don’t reflect that, then am I actually any better than a demon?

How about you?  Do you consider yourself a Christian because of what you believe?  Or do your actions reflect those of someone trying their best to imitate Christ?  Do you often wish people well and hope their needs are met?  Or are you producing quality fruit that comes from the Spirit?  Does your relationship with Christ mostly consist of what you know about Him?  Or has that relationship completely changed the way you live your life?

Considering James’ commentary on faith and good deeds, where do you stand?  Despite what you have always believed or been taught, are you indeed a Christian?  Or is your faith dead and useless?

 
Do you remember when you first asked Jesus to take over your life?  That’s such an amazing feeling.  It’s like you immediately want to change everything and put every ounce of energy into serving Him.  You are looking for any and every way to possibly get involved in church and ministry opportunities.  I believe that is what they call being “on fire” for God.

Unfortunately, there comes a time when the flame dies down a bit.  Sure, it flares back up every now and then.  But most of us end up spending most of our time at a level a little lower than “on fire.”  We get busy with responsibilities.  We have obstacles and problems that get in the way.  And, before we know it, we end up having less and less time to give to service.

I often hear Christians say that they wish they could be more involved.  For many, they struggle to find ministries that fit into their busy schedules.  For others, they claim they don’t know how to get started or they are not sure what they are interested in.  And there are still some that continue to find excuses.

I am here to tell you that there is NO reason that anybody should not get plugged-in to a ministry.  Are you busy?  There are needs that can be met a little bit at a time or projects that can be worked on in your own time.  (Note:  No matter how busy you are, ministry should be on the top of your priority list.)  Not know where to get started?  I guarantee that if you walk into your church office and offer to help with a ministry, you will quickly be met with a buffet of service options.  Would you like to find out how you can best be utilized?  First of all, pray about it.  Let the Holy Spirit lead you to a specific area of service.  You can also complete a spiritual gifts inventory that may tell you or allow others to advise you on how you can be most effective in ministry.

If you keep coming up with excuses, then that is on you.  However, you should know that there is no shortage of need out there.  God has called us to serve, and this messed up world has provided us with unlimited opportunities.  There should never be a reason for anybody to “wish” they were more involved.  If you are not plugged-in, it is your fault.

Now get yourself plugged-in and get to work.  I’ll see you there.

 
In every household, there are some chores that are discussed and shared.  There are other chores that just happen to fall into somebody’s lap.  At my house, I have somehow become the designated “carry in all of the groceries” person.  And boy do I hate it.  So I have decided that I will always make as few trips as possible.  I carry so many bags in at one time that I often leave marks, and sometimes even cuts on my hands.  I’m serious about my grocery-carrying.

But being the resourceful man that I am, I have begun recruiting my son to be my apprentice.  I shall teach him the ancient ways of food-toting.  Up to this point, however, he has earned about a C-.  He can’t carry very much, but he is willing to grab a bag or two as long as they have food he likes in them.  But that doesn’t always happen.

One day, he must have overheard me wishing for more hands.  As I walked to the garage door, carrying my weight in Meijer bags, I asked him to help me out and hold the door open for me.  Then as sincere as anything I’ve ever heard, he said, “I wish I had five hands to help you, Daddy.” 

Of course, my heart instantly melted.  I was very touched that my son wanted to help me.  I was thrilled to know he cared.  And then it ran through my mind, “Well, son...if you would use the two hands you have to grab a bag or two, I would have been finished a long time ago.”

As the Church, we are always looking for ways to raise funds for mission trips, or recruit volunteers to help with projects, or gather donations to meet the needs of the poor.  We are always out there trying to look for more and more from everybody willing to give or lend a hand.  We spend more time fundraising and recruiting than we do actually serving people and telling them about Christ.

How about this:  let’s stop trying to act like we need five hands to be helpful, and use the two that we have.  Let's start using all of our available resources for His glory.  If we all did this, the world would be a much better place.  Would every need be met completely?  Probably not immediately.  But if non-believers were able to actually see who Christ is by seeing our attitude and effort, then we would quickly be blessed with more hands than we could ever ask for.  Our example should be our primary ministry.  It is that simple.

 
I was a huge professional wrestling fan growing up.  I never missed a show.  I always got together with my friends to watch the pay-per-view events.  I got especially hyped when Ric Flair was involved.  He was charismatic, a little crazy, and always found a way around the rules.  It was great entertainment.

Aside from teaching me to strut and utilize arrogant catch phrases in every day conversations, Ric taught me a great lesson about my faith.  As he often accused other wrestlers of trying to be like him, he would regularly say, “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery.”  (Note:  I know that is a very common phrase that many people use a variation of, but it made the most sense coming from the Nature Boy.)

From the many definitions I can find of flattery, it boils down to complimenting, gratifying, and trying to please someone.  And I’m sure I’m not alone to believe that, according to that definition, we should feel honored to be able to flatter God by imitating Him.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.  Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.  (Ephesians 5:1-2 NLT)

Of course, Christians are called to be like Christ.  That is kind of what it means.  So we should be trying to imitate Him with every move we make.  Of course it is hard to do.  If being perfect was easy, God wouldn’t have had to come down here and do it Himself.

But we have to try, even in the little things, to be as Christ-like as possible.  We need to love, we need to sacrifice, we need to make ourselves uncomfortable and do things more like He did.

That all starts with reading the Bible to see the things that Jesus did in the New Testament.  How can we imitate Him if we don’t know where to start?  Then we need to dedicate ourselves to prayer.  Knowing Him is the only way to grow closer to Him and become more like Him.

Finally, we need to get off of our behinds and do something.  Jesus did spend some time with His friends.  He took some alone time every now and again.  However, He used the majority of His time teaching, helping, serving, and loving people.  He produced undeniable fruit that came from His intensive ministry and labor.

Try to be a little more like Christ today.  And a little more tomorrow.  And the next day.  And so on.  Let’s work hard to imitate Him in all that we do.

“And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.”  –Paul  (1 Corinthians 11:1 NLT)

 
Each summer, our Wednesday night youth group sessions take on a very interesting form.  At the beginning of the summer, we give all students the opportunity to write down spiritual questions on small pieces of paper.  We put the pieces of paper in a bucket and draw them out at random throughout the summer.  With each question, the students get the first chance to provide answers and supporting scriptures.  Once they are finished, the adult leaders and youth pastor chime in.  We have some amazing discussions and I am always humbled by how much I learn from them.

Recently, we pulled out a question about whether or not we should try to please other people.  Many good points were made by all.  Some mentioned the fact that we should never compromise our faith for anybody.  Others mentioned that, if we love others as we are called to, we will be spending a great deal of time making people happy.  And the ultimate trump card was when somebody said that we should work on pleasing God, and then whether or not we please others will work itself out.

Ultimately, it was a very productive discussion.  The teenagers were very involved and they seemed to grasp the balance between doing “good” and making others happy.  But there was one analogy that our youth pastor gave that I felt was worth sharing specifically. 

Think about being on an airplane when something goes wrong.  The oxygen masks drop from the ceiling and the cabin is losing pressure.  Of course, the selfless thing to do is to help others secure their masks.  However, every flight begins with the instruction that you should put yours on first.  Why?  Because if you are not taken care of and in a good position to help others, then you will not do them any good.

That’s a fantastic lesson for life.  Yes, we should be selfless and want to help others.  We should be willing to sacrifice to meet their needs.  But if we are not healthy ourselves, particularly spiritually, we are not going to be of any real help to anybody.  We should not stretch ourselves too thin. 

Yes, we should try to please others by serving them and showing Christ's love, but we need to put our relationships with God first and that sometimes means saying, “no” to things.  That sometimes means turning down ministry opportunities or skipping church events.  That may mean letting people down or hurting their feelings.

I know that sounds bad, but just think how more effective you can be if you are not running on fumes.  Try to picture how passionate you can be about God’s word when you actually have time to prepare your lesson.  What would it be like if we were all able to focus on our callings and utilize our spiritual gifts as they were designed?  Revival, that’s what. 

If you feel run down and out of steam, do yourself a favor and tell somebody, “no” this week.  Tell them a bald blogger said it is okay.  I’m sure they’ll accept that.
 
My son is completely obsessed with superheroes.  We can’t do anything without it turning into a crime-fighting adventure.  Going to water the plants?  We have to find the Joker hiding in the garage.  Headed to the grocery store?  We have to put the Riddler in jail before he steals everything.  I am actually pretty sure he thinks Mr. Freeze causes winter.

Batman, Robin, Superman, Spiderman, Hulk, Green Lantern, Fantastic Four.  They have become a part of my everyday life, and I could not be happier about it.  What better way to teach a child right from wrong than to encourage him to be a hero

At a recent visit to the park, my son was pretending to be Robin chasing the Joker all over the place.  At one point, he took a leap off of a structure that was a little too high for him to be jumping off of.  Luckily, he was okay.  But I felt the need to say, “That was a pretty big jump.  Be careful.”  His reply was absolutely perfect.  Without missing a beat, and with great humility, he said, “That’s what superheroes do” and resumed his pursuit.

In his mind, he was doing a job and anything that came with it should be expected.  There was no need to draw attention to or acknowledge anything that fell in line with his Boy Wonder job description.  He was focused on a mission, and that was all that mattered.

Why aren’t Christians like that?  I know some are.  I have seen them.  But those folks are rare.  In general, Christians are not very gung-ho about keeping their heads down, using their gifts for God, and actively sacrificing their own desires without seeking some sort of recognition.  Especially in America, we want to be recognized for our hard work, our talents, and our sacrifices.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  (Luke 19:9-14 NIV)

Often times, we won’t even do the work unless we know there is something in it for us.  Why have we let ourselves become so worldly that recognition has become such a powerful motivator within the Church?  Like my son, we should be ready to shrug off unnecessary praise and say, "That's what Christians do" and get back to work.  Not only is humility the right thing to do, but it is part of the job description. 

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. (1 Peter 5:6 NIV)

Being a Christian is full of expectations.  We are supposed to give up all of our self desires and spend all of our time doing whatever God wants.  We are supposed to give without judging, seek justice without fear, love the unlovable, and be willing to sacrifice everything.  On top of that, we should do so while expecting zero recognition or praise.  Wow…that seems like a lot to ask of an adult with so many other responsibilities.

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:2-4 NIV)

I think I will go play superheroes with my son now.  Perhaps he has a few more things to teach me.
 
You know who was a weird dude?  John the Baptist.  He lived in the woods, wore odd clothes, and ate bugs.  Yet, he had a pretty good following as he roamed around proclaiming the coming of the Messiah.  He said God told him that he would know who he was looking for when he saw the Holy Spirit come down and rest on them like a dove.  That’s exactly what happened when he baptized Jesus.

John and Jesus were cousins.  I wonder what that was like.  I’m sure they had at least seen each other at family reunions as kids.  I wonder if John was shocked when he found out that Jesus was the one he’d been looking for.  Shocked or not, he seemed pretty sure of it when he proclaimed Jesus’ identity to the crowds nearby.

But later on when John was in prison, he started to doubt.  Even after he had seen the evidence that God had provided, he wanted to be sure that Jesus was the Chosen One.  So he sent one of his disciples to ask Jesus if he was really the one he’d been waiting for.

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.  Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” (Matthew 11:4-6 NIV)

There are so many lessons here and Jesus’ response is very intriguing.  But I read this recently and something jumped out at me that I had never noticed before.  Specifically, the list of evidence that Jesus wants John to hear about.

Jesus says to tell John that the blind now see, the lame walk, the lepers are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the gospel is preached to the poor.  That is a pretty impressive list of undeniable miracles.  However, one of those things doesn’t seem to fit.

Jesus has provided a list of miracles.  Things that do not happen unless He is involved.  That list includes many different ways in which people are healed, and then Jesus adds that the poor have heard the good news.  Is that really a miracle?  Jesus put it on the same list as healing the blind and raising the dead, so it must have been a pretty big deal.

At the time when Jesus walked on the earth, the Pharisees and other religious leaders were pretentious to say the least.  They cherished their upper class status and seemed to have the definition of a “holier than thou” attitude.  And these were the people in charge of honoring God.  When we read the Bible and other historical texts, it does not seem like the poor were a focus of their ministry at the time.  But still…a miracle?

What about today?  Do we focus our ministry on the poor?  I do think that we minister to the poor.  We send missionaries to impoverished countries.  We have food banks and clothing drives.  We support local service agencies with donations and volunteer hours.  But as the focus of our ministry…unfortunately, I don’t think it is the poor.

In my opinion, we focus on ministry to ourselves and people like us.  We worry about “getting fed” just as much as we care about giving of ourselves.  And it is much more convenient and comfortable to give of ourselves at our churches, or in our neighborhoods.  To people like us.

Jesus often talked about the poor.  He spent most of His time with them, actually.  Getting to know them.  Loving on them.  This we know.  But if He thought it to be miraculous that He was able to do these things and to bring them into His kingdom, why on earth would we be doing anything else?

I can’t go anywhere in my small down without seeing somebody asking for help.  There are thousands of organizations that would readily accept my donations online.  My wife and I have both been blessed with jobs when some people out there can’t find work anywhere.

WHAT ARE WE DOING?!  We have ample opportunity to share Christ’s love with the poor each and every day.  We can be a part of the miracle of sharing the gospel with the less fortunate, the outcasts, and the unloved and this is the best we can do?  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  This is not Christianity.

 
The youth pastor at my church once told me that we should never feel bad about recycling lessons or ideas because, at this point, nothing is original.  I am glad he feels that way, because I am about to blatantly rip him off.

Recently, we had a youth lesson based on the scripture of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet the night before his arrest.  While there are a myriad of lessons to be taken away from this, that particular lesson focused on valuing other people.  To go a step further, we talked about the fact that, if you truly value someone, you should serve them.  And after telling them that valuing people leads to service, we had everyone wash each others’ feet. 

It was a fantastic lesson.  It was a perfect illustration of my hips don’t lie theory.  But as we continued to hammer home the point that you will serve the people that you value, I could not help but to wonder if the opposite is true.  Can serving people lead to valuing them?

I am a firm believer that your habits, while they often reflect your values, can dictate who you are.  If you start smoking a lot, you become a smoker.  If you start watching hockey and saying “eh” at the end of every sentence, you will eventually become a Canadian.  So if valuing people is so closely related to serving people, wouldn’t it follow that serving someone would ultimately lead to placing value on them?

While it may seem like I am simply arguing semantics, think about the implications here.  We all have people and groups that we have trouble relating to.  There are folks out there that make us uncomfortable, and others that we just might not like. 

What if we did something crazy and tried being nice to those people?  What if we started using our time to serve them no matter how awkward or uncomfortable it felt?  Then what if our service started breaking down the walls we have built to keep those people at a distance? 

Hmmm…I believe we would have no choice but to gain some appreciation for them.  If we really put our hearts into showing them love, wouldn’t it be cool if the love became real?  What a concept.  And if I’m wrong, what’s the worst that would happen?  We would be showing people we don’t normally spend time with what the love of Christ looks like.  Hallelujah.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-39 NIV)