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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now that I’ve established my stance on Christmas music, I bet you are wondering about my views on other Christmas traditions.  Well, I’m glad you asked. 

If you asked my wife, she would probably tell you that I am the closest thing to a real life Ebenezer Scrooge.  She threatens me regularly and tells me that I have to get into the Christmas spirit for our kids.

As it turns out, I am not that cynical.  I enjoy the season very much, actually.  I love watching people open gifts.  I love sharing the miraculous story of Christ’s birth.  And boy do I love the food.

My only two qualms, really, come with the music and the Christmas cards.  The music really gets on my nerves.  But, as for the cards, I really just don’t get the point.  You are going to send people a card to tell them Merry Christmas?  A card?  With words written on it?

Why on earth wouldn’t you just tell them in person or call them on the phone?  My goodness, with modern technology, there are hundreds of ways to get in touch with people.  And we buy little pieces of paper and postage just to say Merry Christmas?  Seriously, it just doesn’t make sense to me.

Also, there is the fact that over $2 billion are spent on Christmas cards in America annually.  I would go into how many homeless people could be helped, hungry people fed, and so on but that may be a little much.

Regardless of my thoughts on the subject, my family fully participates in the Christmas card madness each year.  As my wife requires my participation, I make sure that we have high standards.  If we are going to spend time and money on this, we have to do it right.

This year, this is what we came up with:

What do you think?

Does your family get excited about Christmas cards?  Do you decorate your fridge or a door frame with them?  Can we still be friends now that you know how I feel about them?

Are there any other Christmas traditions that you just don’t get?

Have you ever met anybody named Grace?  I’ve known a few ladies by that name.  They were all very sweet, kind, and friendly.  I have always assumed that they became that way because of their name.  God’s grace is beautiful, warm, amazing, and gentle…or is it?

As part of a recent Faith Element Bible study with my Sunday School class, we were treated to a clip from Schindler’s List.  In that clip, Schindler was talking to Amon Goeth about what it meant to be powerful.  He had the power to kill and/or torture anyone for any reason, and did kill many.  He was considered to be a very powerful man.  Yet, his definition of power surprised me.

Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don't.  -Oskar Schindler in the film Schindler’s List

Have you ever thought of power that way?  Do you think that is an accurate definition of the word?  That definition certainly seems familiar enough, but is not often tied to power.  In fact, that matches up pretty well with the definition of grace.

Think about it.  God’s grace comes in the form of forgiveness, understanding, and unconditional love.  Through our sin, we give God every reason to forget about us, be angry at us, and even destroy us.  But in His infinite grace, He offers forgiveness and gives us a chance to repent

How hard would it be for us to offer such a reprieve?  While we usually think of grace as a passive, gentle act, the constitution that it takes to ignore our instinct and opt for love and mercy is often unfathomable. 

God is able to offer such unimaginable grace only because of His limitless power.  And His power is shown perfectly through that grace.  Wow…His grace really is amazing.

I have recently been blessed with a cool opportunity.  Since early November, I have been part of the broadcast team for Berea College men’s basketball.  We do a live internet feed and I get to handle the play-by-play responsibilities for all home games.  This has been very exciting for me, and I have spared no details in sharing my excitement with everyone.

Yet, on my priority list, this obligation is very near the bottom.  I have a few dozen people listen to me talk about basketball for a couple of hours per week.  While it is exciting that I get to do it, the overall importance in my life is minimal.  So why do I act as though it is a big deal?

Unfortunately, I often feel like I take my significant blessings for granted.  I have a home, a job that I love, vehicles to get me back and forth, a wonderful church, great friends, and an amazing family.  These are all blessings that many people don’t have.  Yet, I still find myself going through the motions.  The excitement I once had for all of these things comes and goes with circumstances.  I am spoiled.

Perhaps the thing that I take for granted the most is my relationship with Jesus Christ.  I know God, the Creator of everything and the One who gave me life.  I get to talk to Him, hear from Him, and experience His love every day.  And because of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, I get to spend eternity in His presence.  This is a blessing so great that it should make it impossible for me to calm down.  Yet…I go on about my day.

When we share Christ with people, we do so because we know the importance of having a relationship with Him.  Sometimes we are able to show our excitement for the gospel, but all too often we end up just trying to provide convincing evidence.  The gospel should be the most exciting thing in our lives.  It is, in fact, the most exciting thing in the history of creation.

And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.  (1 Peter 1:12b NLT)

Or, as it reads in The Message version of the Bible:

Do you realize how fortunate you are? Angels would have given anything to be in on this! (The Message)

Literally, aside from creation itself, the story of Jesus Christ is the biggest event in the history of everything.  The fact that we are not always buzzing about the news, even 2,000 years later, is an obvious byproduct of our sinful nature.  If we truly believe this good news, then we all need to take some time to realize how big of a deal it is.

"Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words."  -Francis of Assisi

It’s odd to feel speechless with so many thoughts running through your head.  Please keep in mind that this was written on Friday, the day of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.  I admit that I have become unfortunately numb to these kinds of things.  They are always painful, always tragic.  But the frequency of these events have somehow taken a bit of the sting away.

It may be the fact that my son will be in an elementary school next year, but this one stings a lot.  I cannot even look at the pictures of the families of the victims.  I feel sorrow.  I feel grief.  But most of all, I feel angry.

I feel anger on behalf of the victims.  I feel anger for their families.  Yet, as I look for a place to direct my anger, I keep coming back to…me.

No, I am not blaming myself for this event.  I am not saying that I have helped shift our culture to a place where these things happen.  But what have I done to change it?  What have I done to influence the culture in another direction?

I spend about 1/4 of my time at work.  I spend about 1/3 on sleep.  That’s about 7/12 of my week.  That leaves almost half of my time that I should be using to change the world by introducing people to my God.  It is my job to show people who Jesus is. 

But if I really spent half of my time doing that, don’t you think I might even make a small impact on the world?  Perhaps I could love somebody enough to influence them to raise their children in church, and twenty years down the road a situation like this may be adverted.  That 30 hours of adoption training standing between me and taking in an orphan may not look so bad when I think about how it may impact his/her future actions.

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. (James 1:27 NLT)

Maybe I am just rambling or maybe there is a point here, I honestly don’t know.  I do know that I should be doing more.  More to love strangers.  More to take care of God’s people.  More to spread the gospel.  More to be like Christ.

In the meantime, though, I am going to go and hug my children.  I am going to pray for everyone involved and affected by the situation in Connecticut.  And I am going to invite God to yell at me for not doing more.  Feel free to join me in all of these efforts.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV)

To say that social media has changed society may be the understatement of the century.  Everything about our culture has been changed by it: marketing, interpersonal communication, displays of emotions, knowledge of current events, and those super annoying people that speak in chat lingo.  Almost everything we do can be easily related to the use of social media. 

Luckily, this revolution has also created a new medium for ministry.  There is a whole new way to reach large groups of people and spread the gospel.  Thankfully, somebody took the time to put the Christmas story in the context of facebook so that we can get a new, unique feel of what those around Christ’s birth might have been feeling.

You may have seen this as it has been around for a couple of years, but even so it is worth another look. 
How accurate do you think this video is?  Does it capture the emotions of the characters of this often watered-down story?  Does it give you more insight to what Mary and Joseph were going through during these challenging, and often confusing, times?

I am a big fan of sharing the story of Jesus however you can, and I believe that there is Biblical support for these efforts.  So how can we all pitch in?  Do you have any unique ideas for how to use social media to spread the good news of Jesus Christ?

When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law.  When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.

When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:20-23 NLT)

During this time of year, it seems like I am involved with a potluck every time I turn around.  And since I have to go to so many, I unfortunately take the easy way out.  I’ll bring cups, or drinks, or chips and dip.  Yeah…I’m that guy.

As my office potluck came around this year, my boss started poking fun at me.  She started saying things about my inability to cook and my lack of kitchen prowess.  Thus, I have decided to prove her wrong.  I am breaking out my recipe book and I plan to show up with a beautiful, delicious, homemade white chocolate raspberry swirl cheesecake.

Yeah, that looks good doesn’t it?

So yesterday, I went to Wal-Mart to get the ingredients.  When I got to the check out counter, I was fully prepared to engage in meaningless pleasantries with the cashier and get on with my day.  However, she caught me off guard with her response to my empty question of “how are you?”

She said, “I’m blessed.”

I know people usually have their go-to phrase, and that may have been hers.  However, it was different enough to catch my attention.  She didn’t say she was good or fine to let me know she was doing well.  She told me that she was blessed, implying that her mood or well-being didn’t matter as much because she had something that was bigger than all of her problems.

I’m not saying that,”I’m blessed” should become the new, “Just fine, how are you?”  But how is God’s love evident in the way that you carry yourself?  What are you doing to let people know that you have something different in your life?  How do your daily interactions point people to Christ? 

For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:10 NLT)

Money is a big point of contention in our culture, particularly within Christianity.  We do everything in our power to avoid talking about it, and when we do we get very uncomfortable.  However, Jesus talked about money all of the time.  Many of his parables revolved around money and how to behave with it.  But we would rather talk about our sinful behavior and secret temptations than share our giving statements.

Of course, our selfishness is the primary reason money is such a taboo subject.  If we don’t have much or don’t use it wisely, we are embarrassed and don’t want our pride to take a hit.  If we have a lot of it, we don’t want others to know because then we may be obligated to share more.  We just want to hoard it and swim in it like Scrooge McDuck.

Why aren’t we good at sharing more of our money for the glory of God?  I realize we want security and comfort, especially as it pertains to retirement.  But are there not other expenses we could sacrifice in order to give more?  Are there not projects that could be put on hold while we meet some needs within the Church?

When Solomon was building the temple, he spared no expense.  He used nails made of gold and put gold and silver plating on everything.  He had sculptures made and had a specialist come in from Tyre to handle the detail work.

Solomon used such great quantities of bronze that its weight could not be determined. (2 Chronicles 4:18 NLT)

Let me be amazingly clear: I AM NOT SAYING THAT WE SHOULD PUT MORE MONEY INTO MAKING OUR CHURCHES PRETTIER.  Actually, I think that is one of those projects that could (and should) be put on hold...possibly forever.

Solomon built the temple because that’s what God wanted.  And we are given a laundry list of things that God wants us to do:  feed the hungry, make sure people have clothes, visit prisoners, care for the sick, take care of orphans and widows, meet the needs of Christian brothers and sisters, and do everything in line with the great commission.

I’m not saying that everyone should quit their jobs and become missionaries in South America (unless God tells you to).  But stop clutching your fists to hold on to your money.  Give to those that have need.  Contribute to Godly causes.  Feed.  Clothe.  Visit.  Adopt.  Love.  That’s what you should do with your money.  Let’s get to it.

We had our Christmas play/drama/production/whateveryoucallit this past weekend at our church.  We had a couple of performances and they were both well attended and well received.  I had a small role, on stage for 5-7 minutes with as many lines.  It was good times.

However, I was added to the cast fairly late and I was unable to attend a rehearsal with the entire group.  My only practice for the play was within my scene with the 2-3 other people that had speaking roles in that part of the script.  As far as my performance goes, it wasn’t a big deal.  I was prepared to act out my part and get out of the way.

Yet, I can’t help but to be curious as to what I missed.  Because I had to be backstage, which in my church is outside of the room, I have no idea what took place for the rest of the play.  I got the gist of some of it just by seeing others' costumes I suppose.  However, I feel that the details I missed were important and could help my understanding of the plot.  I would really like to know what happened when I was backstage.  I wish I had a better idea of the big picture.

That last sentence sounds pretty familiar.  There are so many times in life when I wish I could see the big picture.  I’ve seen things happen and wondered how in the world God would turn that situation around.  I’ve had experiences that I was positive could never bring me closer to my Creator.  Of course I was wrong, that’s not new.  But His love, grace, and ability to bring something out of nothing never cease to amaze me.

The point that I am trying to struggle through my rambling to get to is that God will handle His part.  We must trust that.  I know we want to know everything.  We want to see the blueprint of our lives so we can prepare ourselves for the struggles and pace ourselves for the celebrations. 

But the truth is that life should be handled just like my role in the play.  Keep your head down.  Do your part.  Don’t worry about all of the other details.  Would my lines have been executed as well if I spent more time watching others rehearse?  Would my blocking have been as crisp if I was wishing I had another part? 

Likewise, I am sure that my role in the body of Christ would be compromised if I was able to see the Master’s plan.  God is the only one that can see the big picture, and I am convinced that it is better that way. 

Son, in 35 years of religious study, I have only come up with two hard incontrovertible facts: there is a God, and I'm not Him. - Father Cavanaugh from the film Rudy.

I consider myself to be an introverted person.  While I enjoy good company, I get easily thrown off if it is company that I am unfamiliar with.  I like to be around people that I know.  I like to be involved with projects that I feel competent to complete.  I like to feel safe, free from injury as well as embarrassment. 

However, my need to feel safe often causes me to make mistakes.  Sometimes my fear handicaps my ambition.  Other times my timidity keeps me from taking advantage of great opportunities.  But, worst of all, my need to feel safe has also caused me to sin.

Ever heard of sin by omission?  Basically, the theory is that it is possible to sin against God without doing anything.  There are actions that we are commanded to take, and when we fail to take them we are rebelling against God, which is the definition of sin.  This is against what we usually think about as sin, which is an action directly defying a command from God.  Yet, some of the most powerful sins can come from not acting at all.

There are many examples of sin by omission: choosing not to speak up for your faith, neglecting to lend a hand to a neighbor in need, choosing to ignore a situation when you have an opportunity to love someone, choosing apathy over justice, and the one that I most often fall into, the lack of holding one another accountable.

So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall. (Romans 14:13 NLT)

We usually look at this verse in the context of being a good example and not leading others into temptation.  However, are you not responsible for someone else’s sin if you see it happening and do nothing to stop it?  Are we not commanded to help remove the specks from one anothers’ eyes?  So, then, is it not a sin to refrain from confronting the sinful behavior of a Christian brother or sister?  Does not that perfectly fit the definition of sin by omission?

Personal accountability should be paramount as we look to advance the kingdom of God.  If we are not helping each other stay on the narrow path, then we are not only being bad friends, but we are being blatantly sinful.  No matter how introverted or shy you claim to be, there is no excuse not to love people enough to confront them.

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. (Proverbs 27:17 NLT)