Guilt By Christianity

I've probably written some posts that have offended you. It's easy to come across as condemning or judgmental when you write about Christianity. It's never been my intention to tell people how bad they are, only to encourage them to be better. Most of my posts are written pep-talks to myself.

So I wanted to write, to myself and others, to remind us that we should never share our faith or give food or donate money because it's a rule of Christianity. Pastors or family members or bloggers may try to influence you to do more. But everyone could do more. The missionary in Africa could do more. Don't be guilted by Christianity. That's never the way Jesus intended it to be used.

"Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." -2 Cor. 9:7.


My Conversation With William Zinsser

Of all the authors whose work I enjoy reading, William Zinsser is my favorite, especially now.
We read books, but we rarely get a chance to thank the author for his or her work. I decided to write Mr. Zinsser a letter. I wanted to thank him for his passion for writing and for teaching aspiring writers.

I found an address for Mr. Zinsser on switchboard.com. A telelphone number was listed as well. I wanted to make sure that I had the right address, so I called the number. I expected to hear a cheerful receptionist say, "William Zinsser's office." Instead, I heard a familiar voice. I recognized his voice from an audio book, Writing Places, a memoir he wrote about the places he has written.

"Hello?" he said.

"Uh." I was speechless.

"Hello?" he said again.

I regained my composure.

"Mr. Zinsser?"

"Yes, this is he."

I was not prepared to speak to him. I managed to remember my name and where I was from. I told him I was writing him a letter, and that I needed to make sure I had the right address. "Oh, I enjoy getting letters," he said. We spoke for just a few minutes, but I will never forget that call. He was just as kind as he sounded in his book. He asked me about myself. He wanted to know what I did, and if I was a writer.

If you've never read William Zinsser's work, you're missing out. I started with On Writing Well. You can also find his weekly blog post here.


The Drift

What time did you fall asleep last night? An impossible question to answer. It's likely that you turned over a few times, and before you knew it, you were awakened by your alarm. I've always been interested in the fact that we can never really remember the moment we fall asleep.

Our drift from God is a very similar process. It happens without us knowing. It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment of separation. And then, one day we are awakened. Like a jolting free fall dream, something happens that wakes us up. No matter how bad (or good) that thing is, embrace it. It may be that God wants you to realize how far you've drifted.


Big, Narrow Prayers

I used to pray like an obnoxious student. You know, the ones that don't study. And then when they get their tests back, they say, "Alright, a B! I wonder what I would have gotten if I had studied!" Those people are weak. They're so afraid of failing that they come up with an excuse before the results.

That was me. I prayed vague prayers with little confidence in God. I was scared to pray big, narrow prayers because if things didn't work out the way I was secretly hoping, it was much easier for me to just say, "Welp, I guess this just wasn't God's will."

"God's will" prayers are great. It demonstrates our trust and obedience. But every once in a while, I bet God would like to show us how big he is.


Quitting Is Not An Option

C.S. Lewis said, "When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him."

This awareness of evil keeps us from living for Christ. The more we see the evil inside of us, the harder it is to understand why God would use us. When you feel like this, remember the first part of that quote. You have been able to see evil more clearly because you are getting better.

We'll never be up to God's standards. We can only keep trying, keep fighting. This shouldn't discourage us, though. God uses men and women before we're perfect, those who are willing.


Why You Don't Owe Jesus

If I lend you $5, you owe me. It's a small gift, but everyone understands, including the person receiving the gift, that the $5 is just a loan. Technically, it's not even a gift. This is how our world works. I give you something; you owe me.

But the larger the gift we are willing to give, the more we care about that person. And more often than not, we don't expect any compensation for giving a larger gift.

What Jesus has done is brilliant. By giving his life for us, he has given a gift so big that we could not begin to repay him. And that's exactly how he intended it.

We have two choices: Accept his gift, or reject it. We were not meant to pay it back.


It's A Matter Of Trust

Belief is essential to Christianity. But it's certainly not the most difficult part. The hardest part, of course, is trust. You can believe from the bench. It's not until you're tempted, tested and given opportunities to trust that you discover the depth of your belief.

When a family member dies, or a spouse leaves, we don't question whether Jesus died on the cross for our sins; we ask why this is happening and whether we can get through it. It's a question of trust.


Sharing "God's Plan"

In Seeking Uncertainty, I asked a simple question: What if we stopped pursuing certainty?

Now, I'd like to expand on that question: What if we stopped pursuing certainty and started focusing on God's work?  Don't go radical on me. But what if, during those uncertain times and unanswered prayers, God is actually waiting for us to do something for him instead?

That job you hate. That class you dread. Is it possible that you're right in the middle of God's plan for someone else? Someone he knows has questions.


Write Your Own Eulogy

You can always tell what kind of life a person has lived by the stories that are told at his or her funeral. Some funerals go on forever because there are so many great stories to tell. Others are just down right awkward.

Your life supplies the material for your eulogy. Live the stories you want others to tell.


The New Radical

“I’m a Christian, but not like that guy.”

It’s unfortunate that we’ve had to form a defense to the “all you sinners are going to hell!” Christians, but we all do it. Unless, of course, you’re that guy. I’m all for freedom of speech, but feeding an unbeliever’s stereotype of the judgmental, intolerant Christian seems to warrant such a defense.

The problem, however, is that we overcompensate for the radicals. We are tolerant and polite and scared. This keeps us as at a safe distance from the dreaded word – radical. The result is that radical Christians continue to frighten and annoy while we sit still, afraid to be associated with them.

In order to be useful to God, I believe we’ve got to redefine radical, or at least expand it. Yes, it’s radical to stand on a milk crate, yelling at the top of your lungs that the wages of sin is death. But radical can be something less offensive.

Humility is radical. Disciplined study of the scriptures is radical. Praying that God will surround you with people that have questions about Christianity is radical.


Seeking Uncertainty

We are on a constant search for certainty. Lord, please show me every detail of the plan you have for my life. Please show me when I'll be getting that job I've been wanting. Show me the grades I'll be getting.  And it'd be nice if you'd let me know when I'll be having children, and how many. Tell me everything you know about my life so I can finally have some peace.

Our prayers may not sound that ridiculous, but that is essentially what we are saying to God in our thoughts.

If there is one thing I've learned about God, it's that he will do anything to pull us back to him. If he showed us his plan, we would hijack it and try to speed it up, slow it down, and change its direction. But more importantly, we would not need him anymore.

What if we let go of that pursuit of certainty and sought out uncertainty, where we know God will be waiting for us? Where we can only rely on God. The paradox is that there is probably more peace than we've ever known in those situations; we've just never sought them out.

As hard as it may be, be thankful for the uncertainty in your life. Lean into it. There's no better opportunity to be closer to God.


What Usher Got Right

The "I wanna thank..." speech has become my favorite part of music award shows. And a few weeks back, the American Music Awards delivered some epic speeches. Did you know that but for Michael Jackson, none of us would be here? Does Justin Bieber know something we don’t?

Anyway, the most interesting thing about those award speeches is that God suddenly becomes very popular. It’s certainly not for me to judge who's sincere, but it seems that no matter the lyrics or lifestyle, most award-winning artists start their speech by thanking God. This is great publicity for God, but it’s a bit unnerving when He is thanked for songs with lyrics ranging from beer drinkin’ to promiscuity.

There is, however, one performer that seems to get it. Say what you want about his “confessions." Usher knows how to thank God.

Before thanking all of the people that helped him get to where he is, Usher thanked God “for his gifts.” I’ve never heard anyone do that. At first, it sounded like a very egotistical way to begin an award speech. But the more I thought about it, the more I believe Usher got it right, whether he knew it or not.

We forget that God gives us our talents. It’s okay to actually use the gifts that God gave you. Just remember where they came from.


Why All Christians Should Blog

Or journal... or write in some form. 

1.  Writing clarifies your thoughts.
The act of writing down your thoughts helps you clarify the way you think and believe. I once read that easy reading is dang hard writing (expletive removed). The reason for this is that a good author prunes his or her sentences until they're perfect. They are finished only when the group of words form exactly what they were thinking, and occasionally that group of words form their thoughts.

We are to always "be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." (1 Pet. 3:15). Writing helps you prepare that answer.

2. Writing reminds you of how big God is.
This is especially true for people that keep a prayer journal. We're very forgetful of God's track record. He answers prayers we forgot we even asked. Keeping a journal or a calendar of when and what we prayed and when and how God answered those prayers helps us realize how much God truly cares about us. 


5 Practical Ways To Be A Leader In Your Home

1.  Pray with her.
This one is always a bit awkward at first. You hold hands and close your eyes. Then you talk to God in a tone of voice that you'd never use to talk with another human. And you ask for things like blessings for the food or safety in travel. Those are great prayers. In fact, prayer before meals is a good start. But do you pray like this when it's just you and God?

A leader takes his wife's hand and goes before the Lord with all family concerns and requests. He tells her through his actions that he gladly accepts responsibility for the spiritual direction of the family.


I'm Too Young To Lead

One of Satan's biggest lies is that we are too young to lead. Most of what our leadership role requires us to do is not complex; we've just never done it before. And our lack of experience keeps us from leading.

When Rachel and I got married, I knew that she expected me to be the leader in our home. The thought frightened me for two reasons: (1) I had no idea what that meant; and (2) my youth did not lend to much experience.  It still doesn't. But over the past year and a half, I have learned that, to God, age is an afterthought.


The Most Important Need You May Not Know She Has

Chivalry is anything but dead.

If it were, movies like Braveheart would flop. The truth is, chivalry is very much alive.  Especially in the mystical and complex desires of a woman. Yes, watching William Wallace lead an outnumbered army of Scottish warriors into a bloody battle against the English is exhilirating, but look over at your wife during those scenes and you'll likely find her covering her eyes for the blood.


Wedding Reception Dancing.

If you really think about it, it's amazing how much other people influence our decisions.  So much of what we want to do, but don't, is a result of what someone might think of us.


The Difference Between You and Your Pastor.

We've all been through what feels like periods of separation from God.  It usually begins with sin, and then guilt, and then we hide.  Some of us hide for days.  Some for weeks or months.  But once we realize that God is not angrily looking down on us with his hands on his hips while tapping his foot, the stupidity of the "I can't talk to God because I'm embarrassed, unworthy, or ashamed" mindset starts to resonate.


Convert to Coward

In the beginning, it's easy.  We learn that Jesus died for us and that he loves sinners.  But then we have to call ourselves Christians, which is fine until we find ourselves in situations that force us to make choices.  Choices between "what Jesus would do" and what the world expects us to do.


The Truth about Worrying

Before I begin, I need to tell you that what I am about to say is very simple.  It came to me while listening to a sermon from Andy Stanley on worrying.  And he got it from God, so all glory to him.  While this may be simple, if you really let it sink in, it will completely transform the way you think about your life.  

Here's how my mind works:  I have a work project or a paper that's due in a day or two.  I worry about when I can work on it.  Then, when I actually sit down to work, I worry about whether I'm going to finish in time or whether it's good enough.  Annoying, I know.

But let's break that process down.  I worry about time to work.  While working, I worry about finishing and the quality of my work.  Notice that during each phase, I worry.

Now, let's move to the finished product.  I've finished my paper.  I can be stress-free now, but what part in the process did worrying play?  Did it improve the quality of my work?  Did it make me work faster?  No.  It just clotted my mind with "what ifs." Not once in my life have I ever done something great and said to myself, "Yes! This could not have been possible without all that worrying!"

This is the truth behind what Jesus says in Matthew 6:27 - "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"  

Do not misunderstand.  God is not patronizing us with a simple - "everything is going to be fine, don't worry."  He is telling us that worrying adds no practical value to the outcome of what we're worrying about.

The only practical things we can bring to the equation are prayer and hard work.  The rest is up to God - good or bad.


Why Being Good Doesn't Always Feel So Good

Some nights I get ahead of myself and set my alarm for 7:00 a.m. thinking I will get up and go for a 20 minute jog.  And when I crawl out of bed at 7:30 a.m., I feel like a bum for changing my mind.  I've done that more times than I can count.  On those mornings, I quickly learn how bad I am at working out.

Spiritual fitness can make you feel the same way.  You get busy.  Quiet times become more sporadic.  And then the guilt sets in.  You feel unworthy of being used by God.

Or what if you are in the word and your relationship with God is close?  But there's that one sin that's keeping you from complete oneness with God.

Wherever you are, the more we strive to be like Christ, the more aware we are of our sinfulness.  This is discouraging - but normal.  You are threatening Satan and his control over you.  When someone is losing power over another, they will naturally expend more energy to gain it back. 

This is where transformation begins.  James tells us to consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds, because the testing of our faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that we can mature in Christ.  James 1:2-4.

We've got to continue to ask God to work in us during those trials.  And he will.  For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Phil. 2:13.


6 Questions for God

I had a conversation with God the other day.  I asked him some questions and he responded to each one.  Of course, it may have been my imagination, but the answers that formed in my head seemed unusually clear, and useful.  

Either way, I thought I would share.  

Me:  Is there anything separating me from you?  
God:  Yep.

Me:  What is fueling the separation? 
God:  Choices.  I let you choose to love me.  To follow me.  To obey me.  When you don't choose me, we separate.

Me:  What are my options?
God:  You trust me or you don't.

Me:  Do I trust you?
God:  No.  But don't worry.  I made you.  I know that you are hesitant to trust what you don't know.

Me:  Wait.  I do know you.  Don't I?
God:  I give you pieces.  There's a lot more to me.

Me:  How do I get to know you more?
God:  Talk to me like you're doing now.  And read about me.  I've given you hundreds of stories with people just like you who obeyed me, disobeyed me, loved me, fought for me, died for me, lived for me, sacrificed for me.  I reveal myself in those stories.

"Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." -Jeremiah 33:3


How to Convert a Cynic

There are certain environments that launch me into cynicism.  Two that come to mind are jewelry stores and auto repair shops.  When I walk into either of those businesses, I can instantly see inside the souls of every employee in the building.

And beyond the comprehension of those around me, I can catch a sales person in a lie before he opens his mouth.  I've never been wrong . . . until recently.

A few months back, Rachel and I celebrated our one-year anniversary.  I had a certain piece of jewelry in mind, so I went to a well-known local jewelry store.  As always, my liar radar had warmed up on the way to the store and I was ready for any sales person, no matter how experienced, to try and con me because of my youth. 

I had my strategy in place - don't tell them your price range and remind them repeatedly that you are a poor, newlywed student. 

When I walked into the store, I was greeted by a well-dressed man who spoke to me like he already knew me.  I didn't fall for it.  I told him what I was looking for.  He said something sales-persony like, "I have just the thing." 

After a few seconds of looking, he asked the question I was prepared for.  "How much are you wanting to spend on this?"  Despite all preparation, my response destroyed my strategy.  I told him my exact price range.  He was good. 

After a few more mintues of looking, he said, "Let me show you some inventory we just bought from a company on the East coast in a close-out sale."  Another trick.  One I'd never heard before. 

He brought out the inventory and I found exactly what I was looking for.  "How much is this one?" I asked.  "Oh that, well, it would normally be $_____ (much more than I could afford), but it is marked way down because of the buyout." 

The piece, although worth much more, was just below my price range.  Yes, below.  At this point, I felt confused.  This was too good to be true.  I knew there was some sort of sales person sledge-hammer he was going to pull out and hit me over the head with.  But it never came. 

Was it possible that he was actually interested in my well-being?  Yes.  Will I go to this store again?  Every time I need jewelry. 

Webster defines the cynic as "one who believes that human conduct is motivated wholly by self-interest."  In other words, it is a deep mistrust for humans. 

You don't win someone over by telling them how great your cause is.  They can figure that out for themselves.  And trust me, that's the only way a cynic does anything.  The key is showing them that your motives are genuine.

Converting a cynic is not about changing beliefs.  It's about gaining trust.


6 Blogs I Read Every Day

I have 6 friends.  Most of them don't even know who I am, but I know them.  They each have a blog that I visit every day.  They have given me wisdom on productivity, writing, spirituality, humor, and even cooking.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

The 6 blogs I read every day:

1) Donald Miller's Blog
Donald Miller is the author of the best-selling book, Blue Like Jazz.  I usually read Don's blog first.  He likes to talk a lot about sunrises, so it seems fitting to read his posts when I wake up.

Don will stretch your brain.  I read his blog for two reasons: (1) he says what everyone else is thinking, but won't say; and (2) he's a bit controversial at times, which is just down right entertaining.  A lot of his posts are opinion posts about Christianity or culture.  And with opinion comes confrontation. 

Check out his blog here.

2) Michael Hyatt's Blog
I learned of Michael Hyatt from my friend, Don Miller.  Michael is the Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the world's largest Christian publishing company.  He focuses primarily on productivity, publishing and leadership.

Here are two of my favorite posts from Michael:  Advice to First-Time Authors and Slay Your Dragons Before Breakfast

3) Stuff Christians Like
Jon Acuff is the creator of Stuff Christians Like, a blog that Jon says is a direct rip-off of Stuff White People Like.  But Jon's blog is way better. 

He pokes fun at Christians.  And he does it very well.  Jon says that "laughter is a gift from God, and when we refuse to accept it, it makes him want to take it back."  His posts are mostly humorous, but always insightful. 

Here are two posts to get you started:  Man on Fire and 5 people you meet in any small group.

4) Seth's Blog
Seth Godin has written 12 bestsellers about marketing and business.  It took some outside reading to understand what Seth's blog is really about, but I have come to love his wisdom on marketing ideas and setting yourself apart.  Though I often feel like I'm in the movie Inception when I read his blog.  He is a very forward thinker.

Check out Seth's blog here

5) MacGregor Literary
Chip MacGregor is a literary agent who was recommended to me by Michael Hyatt in the Advice for First-Time Authors post I linked to above.  I read Chip's blog for his extremely practical advice on writing and publishing. 

He is a very successful literary agent and has a wealth of experience to share with aspiring writers.  I subscribe to his posts via e-mail and read them when I need some guidance on writing. 

Check out Chip's blog here.

6) Dinner Bells
One of my favorite blogs to read is by a girl I happen to live with.  She is very beautiful and I even convinced her to share a last name with me. 

Dinner Bells is a cooking/party blog that my wife started due to her love of well, cooking and party planning.  I enjoy Rachel's blog because I get to see (and eat) the post before it's published.  She is an amazing cook, and I have learned so much from her in the kitchen. 

But the main reason I enjoy reading her blog is her enthusiasm for what she does.  She lets us in on her family cooking secrets, her thoughts on cooking, and her desire for others to enjoy it as much as she does.

All of her posts are great.  But there is one in particular that is especially worth reading - Evan In The Kitchen.

So, what have I missed?  What are the blogs that you cannot go a day without reading?


Christians in Diapers

I used to think that once you become a Christian, you enter into a family, in which God is the father and we are his children. And that just as a loving earthly father would not rank his children, God loves us equally. I've come to realize this is true.

But there is another truth that comes with being "born again" into the family of God - a truth that is often overlooked. We are not all born at the same time.

The moment we accept Jesus into our heart and mind, we are spiritually transformed into a newborn. There are fifty-year-old Christian babies in this world, crawling around in diapers, searching for spiritual food to grow.

God gives bits of wisdom to the older Christians, but they've obtained it through prayer and maturity in their faith. 

It's not wrong to be an infant Christian.  But we should not stay this way.


Be Grateful For What You Have Wished For

When I was in junior high, I had braces and was socially awkward.  I am still a bit socially awkward, but I remember thinking that I just wanted to be in high school already.

When I was in high school, I had a lot of older friends, who eventually left me wishing I was going to college with them.

When I got to college, I felt free.  I was happy with where I was.  But by the end of my junior year, I decided I wanted to go to law school, and was impatient to start.

Now, I am about to begin my third and final year of law school.  It has flown by, but I often tell people (in awkward small talk) that I'm ready for it  to end so I can practice law.

It seems that at each stage of my life, I am wishing for the next.

Take a second to think about where you are in life.  Did you wish or even pray for the job you have now, or the school you are in?  If so, don't wish it away.  Enjoy it until God takes you somewhere else.

If not, I would start talking with God about why he needs you where you are.


The Veil of Christianity

The most interesting thing about children is that they live in a world of complete emotional honesty.  When they're mad, they huff.  When they're sad, they pout.  When they're hurt, they cry.  A child will never leave you guessing. 

Meet Brandon.  I got to hang out with this little guy for a few days while Rachel's parents were keeping him for some friends.  He is the most honest human being I've ever been around. 

When he was thirsty, he would point to that sippy cup he's holding and say, "Uhh!"  And when he needed to go to the bathroom, he just went - right in his diaper.  He was easy to be around because he wasn't worried about what I thought of him.  He was just Brandon. 

But as he grows up, he will slowly become more aware of his poopy diapers and his innocence.  He will begin to wonder what people are thinking about him.  He will no longer grunt when he's thirsty or use the bathroom wherever he wants. 

This awareness of self will amplify if he becomes a Christian.  Because then, he will have the Christian name to live up to.  And that's what gets us all.

I enjoy a glass of red wine at dinner, or a Corona.  But I won't drink in public because I don't want someone who might be hindered by it to see me, even if it's just one drink.  (I should probably speak to some of the readers who might question my beliefs on alcohol.  I'm open for a discussion on that via e-mail). 

I still won't have a drink in public, mainly due to what Paul teaches in Romans 14.  But there are other things (vices, sins, marriage troubles) that Christians feel like they must hide to keep their Christian image up.  This is destructive behavior.  More importantly, it could hinder your prayers.  James 5:16 tells us to confess our sins to each other and to pray for each other so that we may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 

Somewhere along the way, we form this idea that if we are a Christian, we should seem holy at all times.  And yes, that is an obvious aspiration. But we should also be honest, and human.  Because that's what the lost need - someone they can relate to, not some high priest who looks down on them.


Witnessing . . . Chick-fil-a-style

Periodically in a Christian's life, we feel the need to share our faith with others that we think need to hear it.  The whole idea is fairly presumptuous, but with the right motives, telling someone about Christ is a great thing.  Some Christians go a little overboard, trying to talk Jesus with people that may already be Christians.  On the other hand, there are those (like myself) who are Christian introverts.  Christian personalities are not consistent with general personalities.  The most vibrant extrovert can be introverted when it comes to telling someone about Jesus.  This personality talk is probably something I've made up to make myself feel better about not sharing my faith as much as I should.  "As much as I should."  As I said, we feel like we should share our faith.  Most of us would call that a form of conviction.  I've a friend who can shed a new light on what it means to be convicted.  Check out his post - The Holy Spirit is Not Your Personal Prosecutor.
Regardless of what we call it, the feeling is there.  Most likely because we have a duty to tell people about Christ (Matt. 28:16-20).  And for most of us, that is a fairly uncomfortable duty.  But as I've mentioned before, and I think most would agree, we should not be limited to a one-on-one come-to-Jesus conversation with someone.

I spoke with a Chick-fil-a employee a few months back about their catering services.  We invited a speaker to come talk to the law students about the possibility that God may have called us to be lawyers.  He works for the Christian Legal Society, so we wanted to impress him with Chick-fil-a.  After learning about each type of dipping sauce, I felt like I knew the employee well enough to ask him something a little more personal.  I didn't come right out and ask if he was a Christian, but I did ask if there was any mention of God or the Bible during the hiring/training process of Chick-fil-a.  He quickly replied that God is kept out of all things at Chick-fil-a.  I can't remember his reasons, though I'm sure it had something to do with employment law.  But that news surprised me.  Chick-fil-a is known as the Christian fast food restaurant. 

We continued our discussion about faith and business.  I found out that he was a Christian.  He was excited to tell me how it all works at Chick-fil-a.  He said that although God was never mentioned, the training is soaked with principles and values of Christianity.  He said that new employees are often being witnessed to without even realizing it.  And it shows.  I can't speak for your local Chick-fil-a restaurant (unless you're from Little Rock), but I always feel very satisfied with their service.  Last week, I was sitting down for lunch and an employee came by and asked me if I'd like a refill.  That's never happened to me in any other fast food restaurant. 

This may seem less applicable to our lives because Chick-fil-a is limited, legally.  But it is a good reminder that our Christian ideals and teachings can impact others by the way we interact with them.  And not always by what we say.  Of course, this method of witnessing should not completely replace good ol' fashion Bible thumpin'. 


Getting serious about lightening up.

This is my dog, Jack.  He has no sense of humor.  I can tell when he's happy or upset, but humor, he doesn't get.  He brings his ball to our feet in the morning and then he'll lie down and stare at it until we leave.  He's always ready, just in case we decide to kick the ball across the room.  If he were a human, he'd be the guy in life that takes everything way too seriously.  In other words, if he were human, he'd be me. 

Yes, I'm that guy.  The guy in the office that worries about the smallest problem.  I over-analyze just about every area of my life.  Rachel and I have a running joke about my mountain out of a mole hill moments.  If it ever gets to the point where I am obviously being a spaz, I'll look at her and say, "Life or Death."  I'm either reminding her that every decision is life or death to me, or I just need a reminder that some things really aren't that serious.  That's what I'd like to tell Jack sometimes.  You'd live longer if you would loosen up a bit. 

Depending on your personality, some of you can relate.  Others, meaning people that take life as seriously as they should, but not too serious, probably find people with my personality to be annoying.  What those people don't know is that it is annoying to us uptights too.  I claim to be a Christian, but some days I don't show the joy that is expected of me.  Some days I can't even fake it.  I get in a bad mood or start to worry about something that needs to be done and out goes my joy.  I read Bible verses about letting tomorrow take care of itself and then worry some more. 

The other day I was around a group of guys that got me laughing so hard I cried.  When it was all over, we sighed - the thing you do after a big laugh.  I remember thinking that it had been a while since I'd laughed that hard.  Don't get me wrong; I am generally a happy person.  But I wouldn't describe myself as joyful, someone who makes other people joyful. 

I think the first step in lightening up is to find something that will make you laugh.  It can be a friend, or a YouTube video.  Try it in the morning.  I think we'd have much more joyful days if we started them off with a prayer and a laugh.  I know it's probably not the Christian thing to do to watch a YouTube video and laugh at someone, but this video should get you started:  Star Wars Kid.  And when you're done with that, check out the same video - post editing:  The Drunken Jedi

I hope that you have a joyful day today.  Don't take life too seriously.  By the way, that picture of Jack is actually a live feed.  He is still waiting on someone to throw his ball.


Building Your Reputation with God

If we are saved by grace, why should we live like Christians?  This is a very common question among belivers and non-believers.  I've asked it of myself many times.  It seems useless to live according to God's word when we know we are bought and paid for.  But that question is only asked by people who think, at one time or another, and whether they are aware of it or not, that Christianity is some program or process specifically designed for their benefit.  There are many answers to this question.  I won't get into all of them, but I have found one that I believe to be true. 

We live as Christians to build our reputation with God.  A good reputation takes time to build.  How you build your reputation can affect the reputation itself.  A company may make a good product, but if the sales representatives push the customers too hard or the business is run poorly, the quality of the product is irrelevant.  To build a good reputation, you've got to be consistently genuine, over time.  People are quick to pick up on your motives.  And God, even quicker. 

I still haven't really answered the question.  Why does building our reputation with God matter? Because God treats people differently when he knows he can trust them.  It's true.  I'm not saying he loves more or less.  But he does use the people he trusts. 

When Satan came to God and told him he'd been roaming the earth, God immediately asked him if he'd considered Job?  God trusted Job because of his reputation with him.  "Have you considered my servant Job?  There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." God knew that whatever Satan did to him, he could take it.  Job went through hell, theoretically and, almost literally. 

What do we learn from this?  That God allows people to suffer if he trusts them?  Maybe.  But that's not the point.  We all suffer.  Character is built through suffering.  But we also learn that God blesses those he trusts, immensely.  After Job's suffering, God blessed him more than he ever had.  God gave him thousands of camels, sheep, donkeys and oxen.  His daughters were more beautiful than everyone else's daughters.  And the guy lived to be 140 years old. 

Millions of people look to the story of Job when they are suffering.  God used him for those millions in need of relating, and for hope.  God trusted him.  And Job lived up to his reputation.

Lord, help our faith.  Build our character so that you can trust us with your work. 


Prayer Checklist

It's strange how we approach Christianity, as if our habits and ideas should be applied differently in carrying out our faith than in other areas of our lives. 

Depending on your personality, you may or may not love checklists. I make them all the time. I could not live without checklists. If I don't write something down, I will forget it. I make checklists for the grocery store, for my school assignments, for my work assignments, even things I need to do around the house. But not once have I ever thought to make a prayer checklist.

I have the hardest time remembering to pray. I get so stressed about something and praying about it is usually my third or fourth response. And when I do remember to pray, I cannot remember half the things I meant to pray for. This is a problem. Especially since praying is the sole way to talk to God.

So, I've decided to try out my habit of checklists in my faith. I've made a folder in my e-mail account with a daily prayer. It's something I wrote up that I feel like I need to tell God each day that I am alive. I also keep a small notebook with me. If you work in an office, you could just use a sticky notepad. I use the notebook to write down prayers that I want spend time talking to God about. This gives me a constant reference to those prayers. It also keeps my faith practical.

What habits or ideas do you have that keep your faith practical?


Audio that speaks to you, wherever you are.

If you haven't stumbled onto the glorious world of audiobooks, you should try it.  If it's a book produced by Audible.com, "Audio that speaks to you, wherever you are" is the first thing you'll hear before the book begins.  I love hearing that sentence because it means I have found a good book to listen to.  My commute to work takes about 25 minutes one way.  From work to school is another 30 minutes.  You don't realize how much time you spend in your car until you can measure it with books that are 5-6 hours long. 

So far, this summer, I have already read three audiobooks - A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Don Miller; On Writing Well by William Zinsser; and Lord of the Flies by William Golding.  If you don't have much time to sit down and read, audiobooks are the way to go because you can read them anywhere. 

I've got to warn you, though.  What you listen to will shape how you think.  When I read Million Miles, all I could think of was how to tell a better story with my life.  What can I do that would make good memories and build character.  When I read On Writing Well, I thought about writing about anything and everything.  Definitely a must-read for wannabe writers.  And when I read Lord of the Flies, everytime I saw a little boy on the street, I wondered if he was capable of killing a wild bore or murdering someone. 

I've realized that that effect on how we think is true of anything we put into our minds, even if we don't realize it.  The music we listen to, the news we watch, the friends we have.  They all have some part in shaping our moral and spiritual compass.  That said, if you haven't already, try an audiobook. 

Got any good book suggestions? 


Monkey See, Monkey Do

I read a book once that told a story about an experiment with chimpanzees.  The chimps were isolated in a room with a rope hanging from the ceiling. There were bananas at the top of the rope. Each time a chimp would climb the rope, the scientists sprayed it with a water hose. The chimp would frighten and jump down. After each chimp had been sprayed, the scientists began to replace one chimp with another that had not been sprayed.  When the new chimps saw the bananas, they started to climb, but the others immediately grabbed them and pulled them down, scolding them for even trying. The scientists replaced each chimp with a new chimp until the room was filled with chimps that had not been sprayed.  The new chimps were pulled down and scolded each time they had tried before, so they stopped trying for the bananas.  The experiment worked. The scientists were left with a room full of scared chimps.

We've all heard the cliche - you can do anything you put your mind to.  For the most part, that's true. No, I'm never going to be a professional basketball player, but then again, I've never had that dream. When people say that we can do anything we put our minds to, it's usually because they've done something very significant that was near impossible, and they want others to feel what they feel. When I hear someone say that, the cynic in me wants to yell, "That's not true!" But no one that has ever been in that position ever left room for cynicism in their life.  If you look at any great athlete or actor or doctor, they didn't get to where they are without honest confidence in what they are capable of. 

The problem with finding confidence is that we depend on others too heavily to give it to us.  And plenty of people are willing to limit you, mainly because they wouldn't have the confidence to attempt what you're trying to do. The sprayed chimps pull you down because they're afraid you'll be sprayed too, or worse, you'll reach the bananas.  We get these messages everyday.  It's not likely that someone is telling you everyday that you're a failure, but they don't have to.  People live out their lack of confidence in themselves and others.  And we absorb this line of thinking. 

If you don't tell yourself who you are and what you are capable of, others will.  They will set the standards for your behavior and limit your potential.  Yes, this sounds cliche, but it's true. For more on confidence, check out an earlier post - Is Confidence Biblical?


What I hate about Christianity.

Ok, I don't actually hate anything about Christianity. But I do hate the way it's used sometimes. Christianity is like Frodo's One Ring. Very powerful, but if put into the hands of the wrong people, it can be a deadly weapon.

Last year, the Christian Legal Society hosted a forum called, "Is There A God?"  The goal of the title was to pose a question so intriguing that people could not resist coming to the event.  It worked.  Over 50 people came, a large number compared to other events we had.  Students wanted to know if we could prove that there is a God.  It was a very interesting discussion.  There were all types of denominations of Christianity and other religions. 

One student sat through the discussion without participating, until the end.  He told us that he grew up in a Christian home, but later became an athiest.  The leader of the discussion politely asked what caused the separation from God.  It was very tense in the room. The student said that although his parents claimed to be Christians, they used the religion to control and manipulate him, and even abuse him.  He couldn't believe that a loving God would allow the awful things that were done to him in Jesus's name. I remember him saying that his beatings were in the name of Christ.  I had heard of people in these situations, but had never heard someone share their story.  It was disturbing to hear how Christianity can be so distorted. 

That day, I realized the awesome responsibility we have as Christians. When we claim Christianity, we have the power to shape the perception of Christianity.  I don't know why God has entrusted us with this job, but he has.


Billions of Voices

No, I'm not going crazy.  But I did feel like I heard a billion voices yesterday. It's always interesting to be around people that are so different from you. We are in Maine. Walking through the airports, we navigated around thousands of people. I heard bits and pieces of their conversations, but I could never really catch more than a sentence or two.  Karen's finishing up nursing school. A man was missing his sweetheart. One lady was telling someone about her nephew's christening.

After a while, it became a game to me. I was trying to listen to everyone that I could at the same time and see if I could make out what each person was saying individually. I heard familiar words, but I could not keep all of their sentences straight. And then I thought about God and how I feel like he only listens to me. But in reality, he listens to all that come to him. I could not effectively listen to the people around me, but God... He invites billions of voices to pray to him.  And he hears everyone.


To Rachel

Dear Rachel,

I can only attempt to describe how much I love you. Because my love for you cannot be explained through words. As hard as I try, I can't seem to transfer to you my understanding of how much I love you. I don't believe that any man can fully explain to his wife how much he loves her. Men are limited in our expressive abilities. But I think this is by design.

If a man could fully articulate how much he loves his wife, why would he need to try anymore? I believe God limits my ability to clarify and convey my love to you because he knows how much I want to.  And he knows that if he didn't, I might stop trying. Instead, he gives husbands small pieces of wisdom at a time, if they're searching for it. Small ways to show their wives how much they care. I can honestly say that my relationship with Christ has been strengthened because of the realization of my responsibility for you. On May 22, 2009, God gave me a beautiful wife to love and to be loved by. But he also gave me a woman to take care of and to lead spiritually. And in that realization, I knew that I could not do that without Christ. 

We have been through a lot this past year. You have put up with my late nights of studying, my selfishness and my inability to fully master the art of listening. We have fought and laughed about the most idiotic things. But through it all, God continues to teach us about each other. Thanks for an amazing first year of marriage.

With all my love,



The Importance of Repetition.

Every morning, I wake up and brush my teeth.  The act of brushing my teeth is almost subconscious.  I do it because that's just what you do when you wake up.  But why do I really do it?  It's a pretty boring task.  It's even more boring to write about.  I do it because I know that if I don't, my teeth will eventually rot and fall out.  And somehow, that keeps me motivated to get up every morning, stick a small brush in my mouth and rub it around until I'm finished singing three verses of the Happy Birthday song in my head. 

We are made for repetition.  For some reason, God designed this world so that most things in life that have value must be worked for.  So we work.  Because it's worth it.  Whatever "it" is.  It could be the television you are saving $10 a week for.  Or the half-marathon you are running a few miles a day to prepare for.  No one questions those repetitions.  We repeat ourselves to be ready for the day or the test or the race.  And if "it" is worth it to us, the monotony of repetition does not wear us down because we know what our goal is.

What if our goal was a close, real relationship with God?  Not one that Christians get made fun of for talking about.  I'm talking about speaking to God through daily prayer. And listening to God through daily scripture reading.  These are the simple steps to a relationship with God, but man are they monotonous.  Some days, reading the bible sounds less fun than brushing my teeth.  And I forget to pray because it's not natural to talk to someone in your mind or to the air. But that's only when I forget what my goal is - to befriend God.  When I remember that goal, I realize that repetition is the only way to build the relationship I want with God.  Because it connects me to a personal God, not just one that I request favors from.


How to talk to a homeless person.

Yes, I'm going to talk about homeless people.  You know, the ones that ask you for money when you just want to go in and buy a coke.  We've all experienced it.  If we're honest (and I'm about to be), a conversation with a homeless person is not the most pleasant experience.

For most of us, the level of communication never goes farther than, "Hey man, can you spare some change?" Then we either lie and say we don't have any or we give them a few coins.  But it's not to help them.  We give to help them get away from us.

On my way to school I pass two gas stations.  Between the two stations, there are roughly 2 to 3 homeless people standing around asking for money on any given day.  And if I have time, I'll watch to see how other people react to their requests for money.  Some completely ignore them.  Some give a few cents.  Some act like they are talking on the phone (I am ashamed to admit I have used this trick too many times).  Why do we fear talking to homeless people?  Sure, a lot of them don't have much work ethic or they spend what money they do make on alcohol.  But lots of people do that, homeless or not.  The only real difference between a homeless person and us is that they sleep on concrete and we sleep on a mattress.

Christians struggle with this one.  I certainly do.  Especially because I encounter homeless people five days out of the week.  A few months back, I had a good discussion with a friend, Jace,  about homeless people.  I've never met someone so passionate for the homeless.  But he was passionate in a practical way.  He had experience.  Through a succession of e-mails, he told me of his homeless friends and how he loved on them.  His advice was simple - just talk to them.  They're human too.

Just talk to them? That's scary.  They're not like me.  They may smell.  I'm in a hurry.  I had more questions.  Talk to them about what?  What if they ask for money?  He proceeded to tell me that homeless people just want you to talk to them.  They don't want to be a project.

So I did.  Jace mentioned the idea of keeping a few cans of chili in the back of my car just for a homeless occasion.  I didn't have to store those cans for long.  Anthony was his name.  I met him at a Shell just down the street from school.  He asked me for money.  I asked him if he was hungry.  And out came the chili.  We sat on the sidewalk with our chili and talked, like new friends.  He is 28 years old and was jumped in the park the night before.  He told me of his family and how long he had been homeless (10 years).  His dad finds him from time to time and gives him money.  He has a driver's license, but only for identification.  He showed me where he slept the night before.  All the while I was holding back tears.

I had a friend that encouraged me to show God's love in a way that I haven't done before.  I didn't do anything special the day I met Anthony.  I just talked to someone that God loves just as much as me.  But it helped me understand God's love a little bit more.  

As a friend, let me ask you - how is God tugging at you to show His love in a way you haven't tried before?



Do you tweet? If so, you know the importance of followers.  Followers are the currency of twitter.  The more you have, the richer you are (at least it feels that way).

But what are your followers really thinking when you send out those 140 characters of wisdom?  The truth is, most people aren't refreshing their twitter account every five minutes in hopes that you have tweeted.  I'm not exactly certain why twitter even chose to call them followers in the first place.  If anything, we are subscribers to the thoughts people send out on twitter.  To me, following someone requires more action-oriented behavior.  I think of physically following someone.

Twitter's definition of "follow" has become very similar to how some of us Christians follow Jesus.  We sign up for a Christianity account, find @Jesus and start following him.  But if we applied twitter's definition of "follower" to our relationship with God, we are to just sit around and wait for Him to tweet.  We would get God's tweets from inspirational billboards, sermons, songs on the radio, etc.  But that's hardly following God.  To follow someone, you have to stay close enough to them to see where they are going.  If we sit around and wait for God's tweets, it will be hard to follow him much farther.  And when we finally look up, it will be tough to see which direction he went.


7 behaviors that will strengthen your relationship with God.

Who can you speak your unfiltered thoughts to?

Whether we admit it or not, each one of us needs someone to connect to.  When we find a person that will accept us, even after hearing our deepest thoughts, we work very hard to maintain and strengthen that relationship.  Whether it is a spouse or a friend, a need is met.  A need to be close to someone and to be understood.

I used to believe that this type of intimate relationship was only possible between humans, and certainly not with an unseen God.  But there is no sense in that reasoning.  Why would the creator of emotions and thoughts and needs not be capable of connecting to the people he made?

Over the past year or so, I have found 7 behaviors that have strengthened my relationship with God.  We've got to get past the Christian-talk and the cynicism.  A friendship like the ones we have in our lives on Earth is possible with God too.  I don't assume to know how close you are with God.  But I do know that these behaviors have helped me experience a personal God. 

1) Read the Bible.  
Ever wish God would talk to you like he did Moses or Paul?  He does every time you open the bible.  When we read God's word, we are on the receiving end of a conversation with God.  He is literally talking to us in written form. 

This is where God mentors us.  "All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16).  Just as we learn the character of a parent or friend through relationships, we learn God's character when we read the Bible.  Read one chapter a day, keeping within one book at a time.  This works for me, but it is not the only way.  I go into a little more detail in an earlier post - Desiring God's Word.  It doesn't matter how much you read; the strengthening comes from daily scripture reading.  

2) Talk to God.
To become better friends with God, we've got to talk to him.  Otherwise, we are not getting to know him.  That is the point of these behaviors - to understand and be understood.  Don't just pray when you're happy or sad or angry.  Talk to him like a regular human being.  Tell him about your day.  I know this may sound strange, but remember, you are developing the relationship.  

The Bible tells us to "not be anxious about anything, but in EVERYTHING, by prayer... present your requests to God." (Philippians 4:6).  Talk to God daily.

3) Memorize Scripture. 
When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he responded to each attack with scripture.  Our relationship with God is constantly under attack.  This is especially true when we start trying to develop the relationship.  Reciting memorized scriptures at moments of temptation of any kind will significantly wound the enemy and strengthen your relationship with Christ.  In that moment, you are telling God that you trust Him.  Think of how good it feels when someone tells you that they trust you.  

4) Take Timeouts from Life. 
This behavior is similar to prayer, but does not have to include prayer.  It is a time for you to be alone and to relax, even if for a few minutes.  Try to schedule timeouts during the busiest part of your day.  Your focus should be on one verse: "Be still and know that I am God..." (Psalm 46:10).  Use this time to re-energize and remember that God is in control.  

5) Find an Accountability Partner. 
The concept of an accountability partner is something I have tried to avoid for most of my life as a Christian.  It can be difficult to trust someone enough to share your deepest feelings with.  But as I studied scripture, one verse in particular knocked those inhibitions down very quickly: "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." (James 5:16).  God has called us to be relational and to confess to one another.  It's not about condemnation or judgment.  If you find or have an accountability partner that doesn't make you feel better about yourself after talking with him or her, find a new one.  To me, accountability means encouragement.

6) Go to Church. 
The people, not the building.  Weekly attendance at church has been a vital source of strength for my relationship with God.  It is refreshing to be around other believers.  But it is also biblical.  Even Jesus went to church every week. (Luke 4:16).  Hebrews tells of the importance of community: "Let us not give up meeting together..." A local church provides that opportunity to meet together and encourage one another.  

7)  Repeat behaviors 1 through 4 daily.  
You wouldn't stop talking to your boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife just after finding out each other's names and favorite colors.  Why do we do that with God?  He wants to know our favorite everything.  He wants us to tell him our thoughts and feelings.  Yes, He already knows them, but keeping it to ourselves doesn't develop the relationship.

The relationship you want with God is possible, but it won't happen without intentional behavior.  "Come near to God and he will come near to you..." (James 4:8).

What are more ways that you have found to add to this list? 


Are you a stand-up worshiper?

Why are these people standing? I would hope that each of them stood from their seats to express themselves in worship by holding their hands high and closing their eyes. But what really goes on in the minds of people that stand up to worship?

Where does the urge to stand begin? I have noticed that most often the tug begins during a powerful chorus line. And anyone who is not standing while others are on their feet is left with a choice to make. Do I stand because I am feeling it the same way they are or do I stand because everyone else is standing?

I know this is true because I have experienced it in church. In fact, I experience it every Sunday during the "worship" part of the service. We can talk about what the definition of worship is later. For now, let's focus on the standing. I stand because everyone else is standing - just being honest. Sometimes I see a few people in the front standing and I will stand early because I know it's just one of those songs that's going to get people on their feet. I am so relieved when the song leader asks us to "stand as we sing," because it takes the pressure off of me to make that dreadful decision.

I think the devil whispers to me in church. He says, "Okay, this is what I want you to do. Instead of listening to the words of the song and how they should remind you of God's glory, worry about what people will think of you if you don't stand while others are. And if you don't stand one Sunday, you should feel guilty, or just weird."

I'm not knocking stand-up worshipers. If you feel it, stand! Notice I'm not posting about criers. I can tear up pretty easily during a sermon. You tell me a story of someone with cancer who is making a difference for Christ through attitude and mentoring and any other thing you would think a person with cancer wouldn't be up to doing, I'll cry. That doesn't mean everyone else should be crying.

I don't have much of a conclusion on these stand-up worshipers. I guess I have more of a question. Does it make me a bad person if I don't feel the urge to stand while singing? Does it make me even worse when I stand only because others are standing?


More like falling in love.

I think any Christian would say they want a close relationship with God. I have heard this so many times in church and from other Christians. It's hard to explain what you mean when you say it though. To non-believers, it sounds ridiculous. If a non-Christian asked a Christian how he or she can even have a relationship with an unseen God, a lot of us Christians would be stuck for an answer. I'm still trying to figure out what I would say. But it is important that we have an answer. It's important to God - "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." (1 Peter 3:15).

I haven't prepared that answer as eloquently as I would like. I do know, however, that the relationship that we want with Christ is not something that can be developed over night. Like a human father, God is quick to protect us. But it takes time to develop a close relationship with him. And with each sin that separates us from Him, it becomes harder for us to feel any sort of intimacy with God. The problem with sin is that it hinders our ability to understand God. We literally lose insight into His word because we are not as close to Him when we sin. It would be the same as listening to a professor's lecture from outside the classroom. We may hear bits and pieces of the lecture, but we would have a full understanding of the material only if we were inside the room, watching and listening and learning. 

I have actually never thought about this until just a few days ago. I was listening to KLOVE and a song came on called, "More like falling in love," by Jason Gray. He explains it so well: 

It ought to be

More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance
Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
It's like I'm falling, oh
It's like I'm falling in love

The more I search for intimacy with God, the more I realize how true those lyrics are. It takes time to develop a relationship with another human. You have to be vulnerable with that person. You have to share your deepest feelings and beliefs. You have to expose your weaknesses to them, and if they accept you, the relationship grows stronger. This is what God wants from us. I hesitate to say what God wants or thinks, but this has been my experience. The more I confess and talk to God (sometimes out loud), the more insight He gives me. He exposes more ways that he is taking care of me. Ways I had not been aware of before. And the relationship grows. We learn what He would do in our daily situations by absorbing his character.

How can a "close relationship" with God be explained to a non-believer? The only way I can think to explain it is through human feelings. Through God, I feel peace in not-so-peaceful situations. I feel stronger emotions for strangers than I ever did without Christ. I have more patience with others. All of these feelings are not strengths of mine. I'm a naturally worrisome, impatient, selfish person. How else could those natural tendencies be suppressed, but through the one who created me and my ability to think and feel.

I write on this because it has given me peace to know that when I don't feel God's presence as much as I would like, it's not because he is not there. It is because a close relationship with Him takes time, and effort. Paul compares it to a life-long race. (1 Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Tim. 4:7).

I'm interested in other thoughts on this. 


Tall, dark and handsome.

When I pray, this is the face I see. If you are an American and disagree with me, you are lying. Every picture we see of Jesus is similar to Mr. Caviezel here. But what does the bible say about the way Jesus looked? Not much.

When Isaiah prophesied about the acceptance of Jesus among the Gentiles and rejection from the Jews, he mentioned one descriptor of Jesus -"He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire." (Isaiah 53:2). Try something for me. Next time you are in the grocery store, walk up to someone and say, "You have no beauty or majesty that is attractive. You are physically undesirable." Isaiah's description becomes more harsh when we think about it in that context.

But why would we picture Jesus as some being who would be known as the Christ by his appearance? That's not relatable. And if he came for any reason, it was to relate to us. He came to experience temptation and hunger and pain. He came from a sinless, painless, beautiful world to Earth. It wouldn't be God's style to entice people to the truth based on his looks. He knows what our minds would do with that. Beautiful people are already treated differently. Jesus did not want people to follow him based on his looks just as God does not want us to choose him because we have to. He came to save us. He didn't come with "beauty or majesty," but with love. And by that love we know that he is God.

That's a good question to ask of ourselves. How are we known by others? By our looks? Our relationships? Our habits? Our anger? Or by love?


The Law of Sin

I have mentioned many times that I started this blog for one reason - to provide a place for others and myself to renew our faith. I have been a Christian for a long time.  Since I was eight, I think. Isn't that the age you are supposed to say? If being a Christian were determined by life decisions, no one could say I was a believer in my early years of college. Even toward the end of college, I was just starting to explore Christianity in depth.

At Ouachita Baptist University, I was surrounded by Christians. It wasn't until I came to law school that I realized that we are constantly moving toward or away from God. There is no stand still. And I knew that if I was going to get through what I had heard were the toughest years spiritually for a Christian, I'd better lean into God.

I don't say this to brag about my decision to search for God's practical truths. I say it because I have to. This decision to seek daily guidance from God is a necessity to strengthen your relationship with him. I worry so much about sounding preachy in my posts. I have found that when you write about faith and share it with your friends and family, who know you and your weaknesses, they may feel like they are being talked down to. I'm sorry if I ever come across this way. But I have to communicate this because I want this feeling for everyone.

So let's get back to this idea of either moving toward or away from God. Each time we sin, we are moving away from God. Each day that we do not talk to God through prayer, we take a step back from him. And each day that we do not seek out his truth by reading scripture, we are searching for something other than his truth - whether we realize it or not. If I don't spend time with God through prayer and scripture reading, I am looking for truth in magazine covers at the grocery store, atheist professors who subtly insert their worldview into their teachings, commercials, billboards, selfish desires, etc.

The world is more than willing to warp your thought process through subtle but continuous temptations and false information. These continuous opportunities to distance ourselves from Christ is called the law of sin. Like gravity, it is a pull toward sin and separation from God. And the more we are controlled by it, the stronger the force it has on our lives. The law of sin provides no peace, no forgiveness, only condemnation.

Look at what Paul says about this law of sin: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. . . You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature (law of sin) but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. (Rom. 8:1,2; 9).

Notice how Paul distinguishes between the law of sin and the law of the Spirit of life. He says that if  the Spirit of God does not live in us, then we are controlled by the sinful nature. How does that look in our world? If we do not seek closeness with God and his wisdom everyday, he will not live in us. Because we have basically rejected him and have chosen to submit to the law of sin.

The great thing about the law of the Spirit of life is that, in only one way, it is similar to the law of sin. Just as the law of sin pulls you and grows stronger and stronger the more you submit to it, the law of the Spirit of life becomes stronger and stronger each time you seek out God. So, each day that you read your bible and each time you talk to God, you are strengthening the force of the Spirit of life. It is literally pulling you back to God and away from sin. That is why Paul then tells us that "we have an obligation - but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." (Rom. 8:12,13).

There are so many questions and ideas that aren't addressed by this post. What if I mess up one day? How far does that separate me from God? What if I have lived so long under the law of sin that I can't feel the tug of the law of the Spirit?

I'm interested to hear how you would answer some of these questions. What practical ways have you found to strengthen your relationship with God? Nothing I say in these posts will make you closer to God. All I have are my experiences. What are yours?


A reminder of God's love.

A few days ago,  a speaker came to address some questions about Christianity to the Christian Legal Society. We discussed how "good" we must be to get into heaven and whether Jesus is the only way to God. It was more of a skeptic's forum. During the discussion, he told a compelling story that illustrates God's love in a way that made it easier for me to visualize. I don't remember certain details like time and place, but the main part of the story was too memorable to forget.

The speaker began by telling us about a judge in a country where Sharia law ruled.  This judge was well known for being fair. But when someone was convicted in his courtroom, he had no trouble sentencing them to the required punishment.  For a thief, that punishment was the amputation of a hand. One day, a woman was brought into the judge's courtroom. She had been accused of stealing. After hearing all of the evidence, it seemed that the judge would have no choice but to find her guilty. But in this case, the sentence was much harder for him to carry out.  Because if he were to sentence this woman, he would be sentencing his own mother.

Everyone in the courtroom knew of the relationship. They listened intently, wondering how this great judge would sentence his own mother. After a long pause, he looked at her and said, "After reviewing the evidence of your case, it is clear to me that you are guilty of this crime.  And the punishment for theft is amputation of the hand." The people were shocked at his ruling, that he could sentence his own mother to have her amputated.

After the sentencing was complete, the judge stood up and took off his robe. He walked down from the bench and kissed his mother.  Then, he walked to the amputation table, put his hand out and said, "I will be taking the punishment for her. She is cleared of any wrong she has committed."


Is confidence biblical?

I like to write. I think I'm pretty good at it. But what are you thinking about me now that I have said this about myself? Wow, Evan, what a conceited thing to say. You actually don't write very well at all, you just think you do. In fact, now that you have said that, and I know you think you are some great writer, I don't think I'll read your blog anymore. Yes, it does sound like a conceited thing to say. But hear me out.

Think of the best golfers, olympic athletes or musicians in the world. How do they think of themselves? Yes, most of the greats are humble on camera, but if you were able to get into their heads when they're doing what they're famous for, you would see very little self-doubt. If there were, they wouldn't be so great.

Seriously Evan? Now you're comparing your writing to the talent of an olympic athlete!?

If you haven't stopped reading by now, thank you. Let me explain further. At some point in the lives of those great athletes and musicians, they didn't know they were great. They just had to believe that they could be. It is in that moment (maybe in a minute, maybe in a year) that they set the path for their lives.

Before Walt Disney created the giant of Disney, he was fired by a newspaper editor because, "he lacked imagination and had no good ideas." He ended up starting other businesses, but failed at those too. He eventually went bankrupt.

Thomas Edison's teachers told him that he was "too stupid to learn anything." He was fired from his first two jobs for not being productive enough. Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts before inventing the light bulb. **His failed attempt count is debated, but we do know it was a very high number.

Before Elvis Presley was The King, he was fired by the manager of the Grand Ole Opry after just one performance. He was told, "You ain't going nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck."

Though they were explicitly told that they wouldn't make it, these men believed in themselves. Before they were great! I've never been told that I "ain't going nowhere." At least not by others. But for the longest time, I told myself that lie. Do you tell yourself that lie? I don't mean to equate "going somewhere" with fame. To me, "going somewhere" is confidence. But how can we be confident in our abilities without sounding conceited? We do this by understanding that God made us with our unique talents and abilities. They aren't our own. We didn't give ourselves our own talents. We are "fearfully and wonderfully made." (Psalm 139:14). God doesn't make junk. To doubt yourself is to doubt God.

I want to encourage you. Think of something you have always wanted to do, but fear or self-doubt has held you back. Now, imagine what your life would be like if you actually did it. Or at least tried to do it. If you fail, so what? Walt Disney failed. Elvis failed. Thomas Edison failed!


God cares about my lawn mower.

I broke my lawn mower.  Or at least I thought I did.  Actually, I just bent the blade (my old roommates would not be surprised by this).  Who would have thought that the lawn mowers of 2010 couldn't cut through a street curb?  It was news to me too.

So, today I bought a new blade.  When I got home, I replaced the old with the new, pulled the gatekeeper handle (that handle you have to squeeze in order to start the mower - it should be called the gatekeeper handle) and then . . . Nothing.

The only sound I heard was the pull starter string winding in and out as I tried to start the engine.  I pleaded with the mower.  I even thought about getting the instructions out to make sure I wasn't doing something wrong (yes, I was that desperate).  And then it hit me.  What if I prayed about my lawn mower troubles?

It sounded silly at first.  But after I put my hand on the mower, prayed seriously for help from God and the mower started, I knew God didn't find it silly at all.  If you still think that my lawn mower prayer was silly, take a look at what scripture says about it - "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."  (Phil. 4:6).  If God didn't want me to pray about a lawn mower, he would have changed that verse to "but in the major things."

I wish I thought about that verse more often.  I pray for guidance and wisdom in major decisions, but how often do I pray for the little things?  The broken law mowers.  Even today I was desperate for help. It didn't come naturally.

Today, God saw it fit for me to mow.  Some days, he will just say no.  The point is that we present our requests to him, no matter the size.


Who are you?

*Just a quick note on today's read from Acts. 

While Paul was in Ephesus, some of the Jews were driving out evil spirits.  They tried to call upon the name of Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out."  These were sons of a Jewish chief priest.  One day, they encountered a demon-possessed man.  They began their ritual, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches..."  But this time, the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" 

Really?  That demon didn't even know who those men were?  Sons of a Jewish chief priest.  They were even speaking in the name of Jesus.  What does that say about their faith?  What does that say about their ministry that the enemy didn't even know their names?  After the demon spoke to them, the possessed man literally beat them out of their clothes.  One against seven.  They ran away naked and bloody.  I'm not sure which would have hurt worse - the beating or the words spoken by the demon. 

Do the demons know me by name?  Do they know you?  How much fear do we invoke in the demonic world because of our faith?

(Acts 19:13-16)