How smart are you?  Come on, give yourself a little credit.  Modesty is a fantastic trait, but I think we all believe that we are pretty intelligent.  At least, I know I am.  (Insert laugh track here.)

Regardless of how intelligent you think you are, I think we can all agree that it is always a good idea to be surrounded by smart people.  If you are looking for advice, or fresh ideas, or just help with a project, it’s great to have people around you that can support and contribute to your productivity.

As legend has it, and by legend I mean the Bible, Solomon was the wisest man that has ever lived.  God gave him wisdom because that is what he asked for.  Yet, the Bible also tells us that Solomon surrounded himself with trusted advisors.  He had people that he trusted to give solid advice and input.  Even the smartest guy alive sought wise counsel.  You’d have to think this was an all-star team of advisors, right?

After Solomon passed away, his “cabinet” stayed around to help the new king, Rehoboam, Solomon’s son.  Talk about a setup for success.  That’s like being drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1995.  There is very little you can do to screw things up.  However, Rehaboam found a way.

When confronted with his first issue about the labor requirements of the people of Israel, Rehaboam tried to figure out whether to make the burden lighter on the workers, or to push them harder.  He sought counsel from Solomon’s advisors, and also asked his friends for help.  After three days of deliberation, he opted to listen to his contemporaries and make life harder on the labor force.

And to this day the northern tribes of Israel have refused to be ruled by a descendant of David.  (2 Chronicles 10:19 NLT)

Rehaboam’s inability to listen to wise counsel led to great dissention, and ultimately destruction, of the Israel that David built.

I know that you and I not necessarily rulers of nations, but our decisions do affect people.  Our choices have an impact on the lives of others.  That impact has both immediate and eternal implications, and should be taken very seriously.

Thankfully, we have the opportunity to surround ourselves with Godly, wise, prayerful individuals.  We can choose to take advice from those that have more experience, can see the bigger picture, or have a stronger leading from the Holy Spirit.  We have a chance to be smarter than we are by simply allowing others to play a role in our decision making.

We all play our own parts, and serve in individual roles in the body of Christ.  But let’s make sure that we utilize the other parts as well. 

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.  (1 Corinthians 12:26-27 NLT)

 
Everything you read about the holiday season is that it should be a joyful time, full of love, rainbows, and puppies.  You aren’t supposed to be sad or upset during this time, or you’ll ruin the fun for everyone.  (Note:  By holiday season, I mean the span of time that contains Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Don’t get all judgey on me.)

I hope I am not the first person to tell you that this is not true.  The pressure to be happy during this season is false and sometimes it can make your circumstances more painful.  Perhaps this is your first Thanksgiving without a loved one that passed away.  Maybe this will be your first Christmas without getting to see family that moved away. 

There is a chance that you may not feel at all like celebrating this holiday season, and that is okay.  It may be that, instead of looking to share joy with everyone, you’d just like a hint of peace.  But how do you find peace when things seem so hard?  Paul gives us a pretty clear explanation on how to begin the process here in his letter to the Colossians.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17 NIV)

We often think of peace as a passive act, or even the lack of an action at all.  That makes it easy for us to read this passage and totally miss the power of peace that Paul is talking about.  He says that the peace of Christ should rule our hearts.  He doesn’t say that peace should camp out in our hearts or occasionally visit our souls, but it should take control of and command our every word and action.

Fortunately, he also gives insight on how to give way to peace so that it may stand a chance in our hearts that have a tendency to be selfish and full of worry.  In order to allow the peace of Jesus Christ to rule our hearts, we must continually soak in His word and His spirit.  Verse 16 says that we should let His word dwell in us richly, as we teach, spend time in discussion and fellowship, and sing songs of praise.  If we truly put our hearts into these things, and do them solely for the glory of God, then our hearts will be open to the peace that comes with knowing that God is in control.

As soon as we allow the Lord to take the lead in every aspect of our lives, we will spend much more time giving thanks to Him and will spend much less time dwelling on our pain.  Who ever thought that letting go of controlling your own life would be such a peaceful thing?  The Apostle Paul did.  Let’s follow his lead as we go throughout this holiday season.
 
It’s Thanksgiving.  What on earth are you doing reading a blog on the internet?  You should be spending time with your family and loved ones.  You should be eating lots of food and watching lots of football.  You should be finding ways to love the people that need it the most.

While we should be thankful every day, today is set aside for us to give thanks to God for everything He has given us.  We are supposed to not only verbally give thanks, but to spend time thinking about our blessings and truly experience thankfulness in our hearts.  Let God see what His love means to you. 

Also, let others see that you are thankful for them and how much they mean to you.  I challenge you to tell everyone in your life that you love them today.  If you cannot get over your pride or your grudges to do that, do you really have thankfulness in your heart?

While I would never tell anyone not to read my blog, I am going to stop here because I think your time could be better spent showing love today.  So go do that.  Happy Thanksgiving!

 
I’m not a big fan of pain.  I claim to be allergic to needles.  I avoid lifting heavy things when possible.  And, if it is ever under my control, I steer clear of the dentist.  Pain hurts…and I will do anything in my power to evade its grips.

However, I still have to face these fears every now and then.  I get regular blood work done for health reasons.  And I even visit the dentist on a normal(ish) basis.  And while I always dread going to the dentist, I seem to always walk away with something that makes my life better.

As a kid, I would get a toy and a new toothbrush.  As a teen, I loved the taste of the teen cleaning gel.  As an adult, I was relieved from the pain of my wisdom teeth.  And there was one time when I even left with some good advice, even though I didn’t understand at the time.

As my dentist was all up in my business, casually making small talk while both of his hands were inside of my face, he would occasionally give me a tip about tooth care.  He mentioned flossing, and brushing, and other things I don’t remember because I wanted to be anywhere but there.  But the one specific thing I remember is that he said, “If you ever see your gums bleeding, that means you need to brush your teeth more often and more thoroughly.”

I gave a muffled, “Okay,” as I just tried to move the conversation along.  And then I started thinking about how that is the opposite of what I would think.  If something is bloody and painful, shouldn’t I leave it alone?  If I have a wound, shouldn’t I let it heal?  That seems like backward logic.  But hey, he’s the dentist so I’ll have to take his word.

That same principle also applies to our spiritual health.  Any time we have a painful memory, a troubling sin, or a deep spiritual conflict that plagues us, our immediate reaction is to avoid it.  We try to run from the pain and focus on growth in other areas.  We try to let our wounds heal without ever giving them the attention that they need.  By trying to “leave it alone,” we end up chaining ourselves to these issues and making it impossible to move on.

Just like brushing bleeding gums may cause temporary pain, it will be difficult for us to take these issues head on and deal with them directly.  But if we ever want the bleeding to stop, if we want these chains to be broken so that we can run freely toward God and His will for us, we must address the pain at its core.  We must share our struggles with our Christian brothers and sisters, spend time in difficult prayer, confess our transgressions, offer forgiveness, and ultimately hand our pain over to God.  We cannot defeat it.  But He already has.

Wow…I must have a really good dentist.

 
I really like to eat.  Even though I have had to change my eating habits over the years, I still treat myself every now and then to something I can really dig into.  Chicken wings, steak, ribs…I am seriously getting hungry just thinking about it.  Thankfully, the Bible is supportive of my habits.

Solid food is for those who are mature… (Hebrews 5:14a NLT)

Very cool.  There are so many times when I read the Bible and feel challenged or convicted.  It’s great to find a scripture where you just feel completely vindicated.  For once, it’s comforting to know that you are in line with the word.  Wait…what?  I took that out of context.  Well…let’s see.

There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen.  You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word.  You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.  For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right.  Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.  (Hebrews 5:11-14 NLT)

Ah…I get it.  Food is a metaphor.

While there are several lessons in this passage, I want to focus on the last two sentences.  I think that, far too often, we expect people to instantly become just like Jesus when they give their lives to Him.  It’s like we expect them to pray for salvation and open their eyes completely changed and full of Godly wisdom.  Obviously, that cannot be the case.

Determining right from wrong, making just decisions, and deep theological understanding come with spiritual maturity.  I am reminded of the lyrics of a Casting Crowns song:  “God has got to change your heart before He changes your shirt.”

We cannot expect Christians that are new to their faith to know everything or be prepared for any trial that comes their way.  Actually, no Christian could fit that description.  We need to be patient, supportive, and loving of people through their mistakes as they mature in their faith.  Hopefully, we have had people there to do the same for us.  I know I have…and still do.

So the next time you witness a new believer stumbling, try to remember that they are working their way up to solid food.  They may not be ready to handle that particular challenge…at least on their own.  That is when it is our job to pick them back up and help them get back on the path toward spiritual maturity.

And if you are new in your faith, let this passage serve as encouragement that you aren’t expected to be perfect.  It is assumed that your transformation into who God wants you to be will take time.  You will stumble at some point, and that’s okay.  That’s what grace is all about.

I hope that one day I will be spiritually mature enough to sit at the solid food table.  And I pray that my brothers and sisters in Christ will continue to help me along in my journey.

 
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.

 
I have recently taken up running.  I hate running.  I have never enjoyed it.  While I understand the need for the skill if you are a professional athlete, being chased by a rabid wolverine, or trying to catch the ice cream truck, I have never been able to force myself to do it.

Lately, however, I have found a trick that helps.  By listening to music when I run, it somehow becomes slightly more tolerable.  If I can focus on the music, I forget about the pain and boredom that comes with running. 

Yet, I am finding out that I am not a huge fan of having my ears plugged-up.  I like to be aware of my surroundings.  I like to be alert and conscious of what is going on.  I somehow feel vulnerable when my headphones are on (or ear buds are in, depending on your particular ear preferences).

That’s why I don’t understand why every student I run into around my office has something plugging-up their ears.  It seems like they are all listening to that new-fangled rap music or using a hands-free talking device so that their walk to class will never approach the boredom that comes with just going for a walk.  But I am starting to catch on.  I believe I have figured out the real reason that they put on headphones as soon as each class has ended.

They don’t want to talk to anybody.

I could go on and on about why that is, about how technologies have made face-to-face conversations archaic and uncomfortable.  However, I would feel like a hypocrite.  No, I don’t walk around with my Beats by Dre headset on.  But there are times when I put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign.  And while it is healthy for me to have time to myself, that’s probably not a sign I should ever put between me and God.

That seems to be what many of us do, though.  We put on proverbial “headphones” to send the message that we don’t want to talk to God.  We would never say it like that, of course.  We say that we are busy, or that it's a bad time, or that something came up, or that we are focusing on other areas of ministry.  While we don’t always do it on purpose (sometimes, we do), Christians have gotten pretty good at keeping God at a distance.

How do we communicate with God? 

We read the Bible.  But many of us do not spend time in it every day, and sometimes not even every week.  We get busy or behind at work and convince ourselves that it can wait.  We essentially put God on hold.  Not cool.

We pray.  This may be the easiest way to communicate with Him, but many of us still don’t do it regularly.  And when we do, we go through the motions, cover our bases, and get back to the things that we think are important enough to focus on.  And the vast majority of us are quick to forget that listening is often the most important part of prayer.  We say our part and move on to the next task.  That's not a conversation.  It is a monologue. 

We worship.  Like prayer, going through the motions is a big problem for worship.  We also tend to put worship in a box and assume it can only take place during the music portion of our church services.  Worship can and does happen anywhere and everywhere in a very genuine way.  We just need to get out of our own way.

We serve.  What?  You don’t communicate with God through service?  I beg to differ.  When we serve as we are called, God not only speaks to us but through us to others.  It is an amazing way to experience Him.  However, we often use service as an excuse not to communicate with God.  We bury ourselves in ministry in such a way that we never take the time to experience God for ourselves.  And accountability is difficult in these settings because, since you are serving with great dedication, it seems as though everything is okay.  That’s why we need to get back to ripping our robes

Fellowship.  One of the most powerful ways to experience God and communicate with Him is through our Christian brothers and sisters.  We learn about God, we see God work, and we experience His love.  We are created to spend time with one another, and when we choose to exclude ourselves we end up growing further away from God because we are unable to feel His love through that part of His purpose for creation.

There are so many ways that we rebel against or completely ignore these methods for communicating with God.  By not fully engaging in these practices, we are essentially putting up a “Do Not Disturb” sign between us and God.  Please, take down that sign and have a conversation with God.  And for goodness sake, take off those headphones and have a conversation with another human being.

 
Last night, we talked to our youth group about planning for the future.  Of course, the problem with looking to the future is that there are so many uncertainties.  In fact, the next day or even the next hour is not guaranteed.  Only God knows what is going to happen next, and that it is important for us to remember as we look to our own futures. 

That also got me thinking about prophecy.  If we have prophecies about our future, then don’t we know at least a little bit about the future?  Aren’t some things guaranteed?  For example, the movie Back to the Future 2 tells us that there will be flying cars and hover boards available in 2015 in addition to the fact that the Chicago Cubs will be a World Series contender.  That’s all starting to take shape, right?

And what about Biblical prophecies?  First, let’s talk about the ones in the Old Testament.  There are so many that we are able to see come true throughout those passages.  There are also many prophecies about the coming of the Messiah.  But if you pay close attention to the stories about Jesus, it does not seem like many people were expecting the Christ to act as He did. 

It seems like they expected a warrior on a white horse coming to rescue them from the Romans.  They were not looking for a Savior that spent most of His time with sinners, teaching and loving on people.  They did not expect to see the Messiah die on a cross.  However, in retrospect, He was the perfect representation of what we all needed (and still need) and He satisfied every last one of the prophecies.

We also have prophecies in the New Testament.  Jesus talked about the coming of the Holy Spirit, which we were able to see come to fruition in the book of Acts.  We are also told that He is coming back.  And in the book of Revelation, we get many stories and details about how creation will transition from its current state to the new heaven and the new earth.

To us, these images often seem far-fetched and are hard for us to grasp.  Some of them, in fact, are fairly terrifying.  There are many, many interpretations of what these prophecies actually mean and how they will play out.  There are novels, movies, and various other representations of what we believe this transition will look like.

However, I can’t help but to think that we are all off-base.  If our first century religious scholars were so far off in what to look for in a Messiah, what makes us think we are any better at figuring out how to predict how the end of times will play out?  I have a feeling that, one day, we will all look around and say, “Oh…wait.  That is what John meant when he wrote the book of Revelation.  It all makes so much sense now.”

So how about this?  Let’s stop trying to decipher code and figure out these metaphorical puzzles.  It will do none of us any good.  After all, Jesus tells us not to worry about these things.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.  (Matthew 6:34 NLT)

So let's all focus on today.  Get out there and love somebody.  I guarantee that it will be the best thing you can do with your time.

 
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?
 
My wife and I have been married for just over six years.  To some of you, that may seem like forever.  To others, it’s just a drop in the bucket.  To us, I think it is a little bit of both. 

Regardless, we are still learning a lot about each other.  It may sound weird, but after six years we are still getting to know each other quite a bit.  One thing that I have noticed recently is how differently we interpret things.  We can have a conversation with each other and come away with two completely different conclusions.  Or we can hear somebody else say the exact same thing and come away with our own individual interpretations.

I think that is similar to the way that we all hear from God in different ways.  We know that He is speaking to us.  We know that the Holy Spirit was sent to guide us.  Yet, it seems like we all hear from Him in our own special ways.

A friend of mine often tells a story about his decision to leave a particular job.  He and a friend of his were praying about that same thing at the same time.  After several days of prayer, reading, and meditation, they had lunch and discussed their final conclusions. 

My friend announced that he felt God leading him to move on to something else.  Each time he prayed, he felt the Holy Spirit leading him to leave his job.  His friend said that he had decided to stay in his job.  After hours and hours of praying with no leading whatsoever, he heard an audible voice say,”Stay.”

My friend was amazing and in awe.  God has spoken to his friend audibly, and he thought that was incredible.  He told his friend that he was jealous.  His friend’s reaction surprised him.  As he turns out, he was also jealous.  Yes, he had heard an audible voice.  But he never felt lead by the Holy Spirit.  He felt completely in the dark and he was in a very confused place for a long time.  To him, being able to feel the presence of God leading in a specific direction was preferable to waiting days and days to hear one word.

I guess that is one of those “the grass is always greener” scenarios.  However, it taught me a very important lesson about how God talks to us.  For some, including me, the Holy Spirit leads through a feeling within your soul and will not let you rest until you respond.  Others hear from God through dreams or visions.  Some are granted wisdom that comes from above.  There are people that feel the only way they can see God’s direction for them is in the Bible.  And, like the other guy in my friend’s story, God literally talks to some people.

How does God speak to you?  Is it primarily through one method or does He use a variety of ways?