Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What Hurts God?

Read Ezekiel 6:9a: "Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations to which they will be carried captive, how I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes which played the harlot after their idols."

In Ezekiel 6, the Lord addresses the Israelites' idolatry. They have forsaken their love (God) for foreign gods and therefore have committed adultery. As a result, the Lord will bring down fierce judgment on the nation of Israel, and destruction and death will occur as punishment for their sins.

This passage shows us one of the many facets of God's character...His wrath. God despises sin and wickedness, and as a just and holy God, He simply can't leave it unpunished. Sin must be judged and punished. However, in the midst of this wrath, we also see a glimpse of God's grace and mercy, as He spares a remnant (a small portion) of people from this judgment. God's mercy, grace, and compassion are other facets of His character.

When reading this passage recently, one verse in particular jumped out at me--Ezekiel 6:9. In this verse we gain some insight into how God feels about sin. Sin unleashes His wrath, but it also hurts Him. The Hebrew word used in this verse is "shabar," and means "broken, shattered, crushed." The NAS version translates this word as "hurt" and the NIV translates it "grieved." I don't know about you, but I don't normally think of God as being hurt over my sins! Do you realize that when you sin against God, you are actually grieving Him?

The sin that grieves and hurts God in this passage is idolatry, which is a form of adultery. The Israelites were bound in a covenant relationship with the Lord. He would be their God, and they would be His people. By disobeying God's law, following pagan practices, and worshiping idols, they committed adultery.

What about you? You probably don't worship literal idols, though people do bow down to statues in other parts of the world. However, idolatry is found among American teenagers in many other ways. Many of you girls may worship a boyfriend or a crush, whether it's someone you know or a celebrity (cough...Taylor Lautner...cough). You may worship your own image or your popularity. Perhaps you worship material things. Remember that leaving your heavenly bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and giving your heart to something in this world is adultery, and it hurts the Lord. I know that none of you want to grieve God by your sins. Some of you may not even realize that you are idolizing something in your life. I challenge you to ask God to examine your heart and reveal to you anything in your life that is taking His place.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Do You Shine Like Stars?

Read Ezekiel 11:12, "'Thus you will know that I am the LORD; for you have not walked in My statutes nor have you executed My ordinances, but have acted according to the ordinances of the nations around you.'"

As you read the Old Testament, it is easy to see the folly of Israel. They continually stray away from the Lord, rebelling against the One who has done so much for them. When you read about their persistent disobedience, it's easy to roll your eyes and think, "not again!" How could anyone be so foolish? Don't they learn from their mistakes? While it's easy to look at the Israelites and criticize their stupidity and wickedness, I hope that you see that we are all just like them! Like the Israelites, we have seen God do amazing things. We'll be close to Him for a while, then eventually we'll become lazy and forgetful. Rather than dwelling on His goodness, we seek other worldly types of fulfillment and wander away from Him again and again. Ezekiel 11:12 was written as a prophecy for Israel, but I think that it is startlingly relevant to high school students today.

Ezekiel was a prophet to Israel. Israel had once again wandered away from the true God and engaged in rebellious acts such as idol worship. Ezekiel's message was one of judgment and rebuke to the Israelites for their sins, as well as one of future forgiveness and redemption for the repentant. The Israelites had disregarded God's law and broken His commandments again and again. They had deserted God to worship idols and had adopted the wickedness of the foreign nations.

I love the prophetic word of Ezekiel 11:12, because God pinpoints Israel's problem in a way that is very applicable to believers today. God says that Israel has no longer followed His ways and commandments but has instead acted like the pagan nations around them. God had called Israel to be set apart and different than all other nations, because Israel was God's chosen nation. God gave them many laws and requirements that they were to follow in order to be holy. In addition to the 10 commandments, there were food restrictions, lengthy rituals to be found clean, a sacrificial system, circumcision, etc. The purpose of all of this was to make Israel a nation set apart for God, completely unlike the foreign nations around them.

However, Israel chose to blend in with the nations around them instead of being set apart. At this point in their history, they were in exile and scattered among foreign nations. It was easier for them to follow God's law when they were in Israel, but now that they were surrounded by foreigners, the temptation to blend in was very strong.

I can't help but think of you high school students in your schools, sports teams, etc. You are mixed in with unbelievers all around you. As Christians, you have been called to be different, righteous, pure, and set apart. God has commanded you not to conform to the patterns of this world (Rom. 12:2) and to be holy like the Lord (1 Peter 1:16). I know that it is hard to stand out and be different than your peers, because all teenagers long to fit in. However, I would challenge you to refuse to fit in, no matter how difficult it is. Philippians 2:15 states, "so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe." Do you shine like a star in a dark place among other teenagers? I hope so!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Can These Bones Live?"

Read Ezekiel 37: 1-14

Ezekiel is a very curious book. God asks Ezekiel to do some really strange things! If you've never read this book, I'd challenge you to do so with the help of a reliable commentary. There are a lot of neat passages, including one of the more famous ones that I chose to write on, Ezekiel 37:1-14. Just to clarify, Ezekiel is a prophet who was sent to preach to the Israelites. At this point in Jewish history, the Israelites have been rebellious and are being punished by being put into exile. In the book of Ezekiel, God uses this prophet to rebuke the Israelites of their sins as well as to remind them of the future blessing they will receive.

This passage always makes me think of that scene in Lion King when Simba and Nala go into the Elephant Graveyard. All the sudden everything around them is dark and looks like death. They are surrounded by old bones, the bodies of the animals having decomposed long ago. In Ezekiel 37, God takes Ezekiel to a valley of dry bones. The fact that only these dry bones are left shows us that these people had died many years ago. God asks Ezekiel a strange question in verse 3, "Son of man, can these bones live?" Clearly these bones were lifeless and the situation looked pretty hopeless. However, Ezekiel knew better than to limit God, so he gave the only answer he could give, "O Lord God, You alone know" (v. 3).

Then God asks Ezekiel to do another strange thing. He asks him to start prophesying to the bones. Talk about a rough crowd for a preacher! Though I'm sure Ezekiel was confused and alarmed, he wisely obeyed the Lord and began to preach to the pile of bones. An alarming thing happens next. The Lord brings these bones to life! All of the sudden, the bones joined together in their proper places and sinews, flesh, and skin grew over them. Then the Lord breathes into them, just as He did for Adam at creation (Gen. 2:7).

Pretty miraculous, right? Can you imagine the fear and wonder which must have gripped Ezekiel at that point? We see in verses 11-14 that this instance was more than just a miracle displaying the awesome power of God. The miracle had another purpose. The pile of dry bones symbolized the people of Israel. They were dispersed from their land and were living on foreign soil. Politically, their situation was hopeless. In addition to this, they had sinned against God and were an obstinate people. Spiritually, they were dead. Could this heap of dried up, dead people be brought back to life?

We see the answer in verse 12, when God promises to open their graves (symbolically) and bring the dead to life. The Israelites would be restored as a nation in their homeland, as well as restored spiritually. He promises the Holy Spirit to come on them in verse 14. God brings hope to the hopeless and life to the lifeless. He is the Master Restorer and can do the impossible.

Perhaps you feel like that pile of dry bones. You feel so far from God that you see no hope in having your fellowship restored. You feel lifeless and cut off from the Lord. You don't see how He could ever restore you or change your situation. I hope that you are encouraged today to know that the Lord restores and renews. In the most desperate of situations you can call out to Him, for He is more than able to bring you life.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bella's Mistake in New Moon

In honor of New Moon coming out in theaters recently, I'd like to take the opportunity to point out something girls can learn from a huge mistake Bella makes (well, one of several mistakes) in her relationship with Edward. I haven't seen the movie, but I have read the book, so my comments will be based on the novel rather than the film.

A lot is said in church about physical boundaries in dating relationships, and many people are impressed that Bella and Edward don't actually have premarital sex. Side note: This isn't my main point, but I would definitely not look to Bella and Edward as an example of purity. Though they don't have intercourse, they do cross many lines that I believe shouldn't be crossed before marriage. Additionally, Bella tries to have sex with him multiple times, but Edward stops her, which is very unrealistic and reveals Bella's lack of commitment to purity. Anyway, back to my point. Though Bella and Edward don't have physical premarital sex, I would argue that they certainly have emotional premarital sex. Let me explain...

Just as there are certain physical boundaries that should remain intact in a dating relationship, couples should set emotional boundaries as well. The purpose of this is to guard your heart (Prov. 4:23). Until you have the security of an engagement with a ring on your finger, you must restrain yourself from getting too emotionally intertwined with your boyfriend. For example, saying "I love you" and planning out your wedding together should not be done before engagement. This binds you together in an emotional bond that is very intimate...much like a physical one during sex. Once you cross these emotional boundaries, your heart is crushed when you break up. You haven't guarded your heart, and as a result, it's shattered.

We see an excellent example of this in New Moon. Bella and Edward are continually telling each other how much they love each other and how their whole world revolves around one another. Here are a couple of examples from Edward: "I dream about being with you forever;" "Look after my heart. I've left it with you;" "Do you really have any idea how important you are to me? Any concept at all of how much I love you?" And one from Bella: "I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him."

In New Moon we quickly see what happens when emotional boundaries have been crossed and the couple breaks up. Bella feels like her life is over and suffers through a deep depression over many months. Her life becomes robotic and devoid of all emotion, leaving her numb and lifeless. She breaks off every other relationship that she has had with her friends and becomes a complete loner. She has nightmares. She is completely miserable, and her heart is broken in half. She can think of nothing else but Edward, and her unfulfilled longing for him brings her deep pain. Reading the chapters after her break-up with Edward are depressing to read, but though this story is fiction, there are many other girls who suffer similar turmoil after giving their hearts away to their boyfriends.

Now, I'm not going to lie. It feels great to say those things to the one you love, and even greater to hear them said to you. However, it's simply dangerous to do so before engagement. When Lee and I were dating, we both longed to tell each other how much we loved each other, how we'd never want to grow old with anyone else, etc. However, though it was really hard, we both set firm emotional boundaries and exercised self-control and restraint. Lee was committed to guarding my heart, because he knew how fragile it was. I challenge you to find a guy who is that wise and who loves you enough to guard your heart. Saying "I love you" at the proposal will be all the more sweeter if you've waited~

2 Peter 1:5-9: Are you Fruitful or Useless?

2 Peter 1:5-9

This second letter by the apostle Simon Peter contains many nuggets of wisdom. One of my favorite passages in this epistle (epistle is another word for letter) is 1:5-9. In these few verses, Peter challenges believers to grow and mature in their faith, becoming more and more like Christ. Though faith alone without works saves you (Eph. 2:8-9), God doesn't desire Christians to just become converted and then stay the same as they were before. His will is for Christians to become fruitful, mature, transformed individuals who bring God glory in all that they do and say. Let's look at the qualities Peter lists in this passage that Christians should strive to obtain.

Moral Excellence: This includes integrity, virtue, purity, goodness etc. This is someone who is above reproach in behavior and speech and chooses to do good over evil. **Do you cheat on homework, lie to your parents, etc?

Knowledge: This is someone who is wise and knows the truth. He/she has studied the Scriptures diligently and has a great understanding of what they say. **How much time have you spent examining God's Word and hiding it in your heart?

Self-Control: This is someone who is balanced and disciplined, showing restraint when needed. He/she isn't led astray by fleshly passions or lusts and isn't addicted to any substance. **Are you disciplined enough to know when to stop?

Perseverance: This is constancy, endurance, patience, and steadfastness. When circumstances change and trials occur, this person does not waver in his/her faith. **Do you remain firmly committed to Christ, no matter what happens?

godliness: A godly person lives with a fear of God, obeying His commands, displaying holiness, and imitating Christ. **Does your life reflect godly living?

Brotherly kindness: This is someone with love and compassion for the brethren. ** Is your attitude toward your brothers and sisters one of kindness and love, or do you criticize, judge, and get annoyed with them?

Love: This is the most important trait of all and includes a love for God and for everyone else. Without love, the rest of a Christian's works are useless (1 Cor. 13). **Are you fulfilling the two greatest commandments, which are to love God and others?

Verse 8 tells us that if we exhibit these qualities, we will be useful and fruitful. Maturity and fruitfulness are God's will for every Christian and should be our goal as well. On the other hand, verse 9 tells us that believers who fail to put on these qualities are blind. They were saved in order to bring God glory, show Christ to the rest of the world, and share the gospel. When believers fail to do this, they've missed the point.

I challenge you to focus on one of these qualities each week over the next 7 weeks. Think about specific ways you can display these qualities in your life and ask God to help you, because you can't produce these qualities on your own..you must rely on the work of the Holy Spirit!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Do You Need to Wash your Mouth out with Soap?

Read Ephesians 5:4, "Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving."

Read Ephesians 4:29, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

The high school cafeteria is one of the most coarse and obscene places I've ever been. When teenagers get together, there are sure to be dirty jokes, sexual innuendos, and other profane language. I'm wondering if there is not much difference among Christian teens...

In Ephesians 5:4, we are told that obscenities and crude jokes are out of place for believers. Ephesians 4:29 instructs believers to let no unwholesome word come out of their mouths. Do many Christian teens heed these passages? I would venture to say that they do not. What hope is there for all of our unsaved teenagers, if our Christian teens are acting just like them?

Believers are to be set apart from the rest of the world, displaying purity and holiness. In high school, pure people are labeled "prudes," and holy people are labeled "goodie-goodies." This name-calling and mocking may embarrass you and hurt you, but is that really all that bad? Christians all over the world are suffering in prison, beaten, and abused for the name of Christ, yet they persevere. 1 Peter 4:16 states, "but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name."

I'm going to get real personal here, and this may cause you to feel uncomfortable. However, I feel that it's necessary for you to hear. When you hear crude jokes at school, how do you react? Do you laugh along with them? When someone comes up to you and says, "I've got a great new joke, but it's dirty." Do you tell them you'd like to hear it, or do you tell them you'd rather not? Do you watch inappropriate TV shows such as "South Park," "Family Guy," "Two and a Half Men," etc? Do you watch obscene and sexually explicit movies, such as "American Pie," "The Hangover," or "Scary Movie?" I would challenge you to never see a comedy that is rated "R." You know as well as I do that all of those movies will be filled with obscenities and sex.

If you have answered yes to any of these above questions, I would challenge you to reevaluate the way you're living your life. Do you think you can honestly obey the instructions in these 2 Ephesians passages while you are filling your mind with filth? There is no way you can cultivate a pure and godly heart while you listen to such obscenities. If God has convicted you, I encourage you to get on your knees in repentance. On the other hand, if you are avoiding crude jokes and obscene movies, I commend you for your faithfulness. Keep up the good work, no matter how uncool it makes you.

James 3:8 says, "But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison." If you have problems with unwholesome talk, remember that our tongues can't be tamed without the Lord's intervention. As you grow closer to the Lord and love Him more and more, your heart will be transformed by the Holy Spirit. When your heart is transformed, your words and actions will follow. Break away from the filth that you are filling your mind with right now and give your heart to Him!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

God Answers Prayer: Jonah 3

Read Jonah 3

I'm sure you heard the story of Jonah as a child in Sunday School. It's a story that is typically told to children and isn't preached much to adults. When you think about it, it isn't really a warm and fuzzy children's tale; it's actually quite frightening. A man tries to flee from God by jumping on a boat, then a violent storm overtakes them to the point that everyone is scared for their lives. The men on the boat actually throw Jonah overboard into the crashing waves where he is then eaten by a big fish. It's a pretty troubling story when you think about it! There is also a lot of insight that can be gained from the book of Jonah that we miss if we just attribute it to a children's story. I'd like to zero in on Jonah 3, which takes place when Jonah actually arrives in Nineveh and finally carries out the message God has given him to deliver.

In Jonah 3:4, we read the prophecy that Jonah speaks to the people of Nineveh: "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown." You can probably figure out one of the reasons Jonah wasn't thrilled to bring this message to Nineveh. He's basically telling them to watch out, because they're all about to die. Most people wouldn't respond very well to this message. They'd get angry and most likely "shoot the messenger," which is probably one of the things Jonah was afraid of.

However, the reaction that the Ninevites have is very different from this. Instead of responding in anger or by mocking Jonah, they respond in repentance. Verse 5 tells us that the people of Nineveh "believed in God." They covered themselves in sackcloth (a coarse garment) and sat in ashes, which are signs of humility, sorrow, and brokenness. They also engaged in a corporate fast, even going as far as including their animals in the fasting and draping them in sackcloth! I love the king's edict, which says, "let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands." An entire city falling on their faces in repentance is an amazing thing!

Verse 10 is really the highlight of this passage and gives us great insight into God's character. In response to their repentance, God relents and decides to spare them. This is a beautiful picture of God's compassion. When you come to the Lord in repentance, He will forgive you every time. His compassions never fail (Lam. 3:22). What a gracious and merciful God we have, who pardons our iniquities and remembers them no more (Isa. 43:25).

This passage also shows us that God answers prayer. You may wonder why we pray for things to happen at all, since God is sovereign and already has an established plan. Though this is the truth, Jonah 3 shows us that God also moves and unfolds His plan through our prayers. It is impossible for us to fathom how our prayers can make a difference when God has already ordained His plan, but it is somehow the truth. This passage should show you how important our prayers are. God not only hears every single thing we utter to Him, but He answers all of it. What a comfort it is to know this!

I hope that this passage opens your eyes to the incredible compassion of God and leads you to your knees in repentance. I also hope that it shows you that prayer works! Sometimes you may feel like your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling and that the Lord isn't listening, but this is not the case. Cry out to Him earnestly as the people of Nineveh did, and watch Him answer your prayers in amazing ways~

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My problem with Justin Bieber...

I've got a bone to pick with Justin Bieber. After hearing his new hit, "One Less Lonely Girl," I had to cringe at hearing one of the lines. In the song, Justin sings that he is coming after his true love and is doing his part to take a lonely girl off the market. How noble of him (I hope you sense my sarcasm). Anyway, the line that bothers me so much is, "I'll show you what you're worth." I suppose this means that the teenage girl who Justin chooses to be with has great worth. Meanwhile, all of the rest of the teenage girl population who is not loved by Justin (or someone as cool as him) remains worthless and lonely. Thanks Justin, for making all of those insecure teenage girls out there feel even worse about themselves.

I hope that you know that you should NEVER look to a guy to determine your worth. I see this all the time among teenagers, and I'm sure you do as well. Girls jump from relationship to relationship, because they only feel good about themselves when they have a boyfriend. Taking it further, some give themselves away physically as well in order to feel special and worthy in the eyes of a guy. When the guy leaves them and their hearts are broken, they feel worthless until they find some other boy to notice them and make them feel good about themselves. What an emotional roller coaster!

What is the alternative to this type of behavior? The solution to determining your worth is found only in looking to the Lord. He loves you more than you can fathom, and that love will never change. Romans 8:38-39 assures us that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God. We also know that God created us in His own image (Gen. 1:26), that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14), and that He has a great plan for us (Jer. 29:11). If we are believers, we know that He chose us before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4-5), and that He is preparing a special place in heaven for us (John 14:2). You have tremendous worth in the eyes of the Lord, and don't you forget it! Do not dare look to some guy to establish your worth, no matter what Justin Bieber says! The Lord's love for you transcends all human love, so stop searching for it in other places. No other love will satisfy you...I guarantee it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What Should Tiger's Wife Do Next?

Read Malachi 2:13-16, Matthew 19:3-12, Matthew 5:31-32

It seems like every time I've turned on the TV or radio in the last few days, there's something about Tiger Woods' multiple affairs. America is infatuated with this sports celebrity's domestic situation, and everyone wants to know what his wife is going to do next. Many people think she should leave him, while others claim she should forgive him and move on. While it is really none of our business what she does, I see this as a great opportunity to talk about God's view on divorce. Why does this apply to you as a high schooler? I will explain that as well...

In Malachi 2:16, God says explicitly, "I hate divorce." This couldn't be more clear and doesn't really need an explanation. God hates divorce (but not divorced people...more on that later). He created marriage to be a covenant between a man and woman only separated by death. Matthew 19:6 tells us that those two people have been joined together by God to become one flesh, and they should not be separated.

In Matthew 19:7, the Pharisees challenge Jesus on His teaching concerning divorce by pointing out that Moses permitted divorce. Jesus replies in verse 8 that this was because of their hardness of heart. Their hard hearts made them unwilling to forgive each other and reconcile. Forgiving your spouse for their sins may seem impossible to the wronged party, but we must remember that nothing is impossible with God. When I have no desire to forgive someone, I must pray that the Lord would change my heart and help me to love that person and forgive them. However, many people never ask the Lord to change their hearts and enable them to forgive, because their hearts are hard. They don't think that person deserves forgiveness and they don't intend to give it to them. That person probably doesn't deserve forgiveness, but we must remember that none of us do! Christ died for us to forgive us while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8). When we have been forgiven of so much ourselves, who are we to withhold our forgiveness to others?

You may also notice that Matt. 19:9 and Matt. 5:32 both include the phrase "except for immorality." Adultery seems to be the exception on divorce, though reconciliation is still the goal. However, if your spouse is unrepentant and unwilling to reconcile and is continuing to commit adultery, there is not much else that the wronged spouse can do. Matt. 19:9 also states that marrying another person after divorcing the first partner is adultery. This is because God sees that covenant of marriage as only broken by death.

This is a very hard teaching, because all of us probably have loved ones who have been divorced. I would reiterate what I said earlier, that although God hates divorce, He certainly doesn't hate divorced people. To think that divorced people are no longer loved by God and used by Him for great purposes would be a lie. Our God heals the broken-hearted, restores them in amazing ways, and still has an incredible plan for their lives.

Why is this important for you to know as a high school student? For one thing, it is vital for you to know what the Bible says on issues such as this. Just because you are young does not give you an excuse to be ignorant of biblical truth! Also, you need to know how serious it is to link yourself up with a guy. You may think that dating in high school doesn't mean anything, because you probably won't marry that person anyway. However, you never know what may happen. Dating people you never intend to marry makes absolutely no sense. You are giving your heart away to someone you will never commit to, which only leads to pain, heartache, and emotional baggage. Choose the people you date carefully. When you choose your future husband, make sure it is someone of integrity, spiritual depth, strong character, and a firm commitment to the Lord. Though the world treats marriage and divorce flippantly, the Lord certainly does not! In His eyes, you are to be committed to that person for life, so choose wisely~

Monday, December 7, 2009

Philippians 2:1-18: Are You Full of Yourself?

Read Philippians 2:1-18

Pride is all around us, especially in high school. I remember feeling so fed up in high school with all of those cocky teenage boys who bragged about themselves all the time. They were aiming to impress me, but they got the opposite reaction! Teenage girls obviously struggle with pride as well, but many more of them are plagued with insecurities. I was one of those insecure teenagers myself. I thought because I didn't think much of myself that I must be humble! However, I later learned that having low self esteem is not the same as having humility. Let's see what the Bible tells us about humility in Philippians 2:1-18.

Paul uses the first 4 verses of this passage to instruct believers to be humble. In verse 2 he talks about "being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose." What does unity have to do with humility? When you think about it, pride is all about competing and comparing. Pride happens when you compete with others and compare yourself to others in order to find an area in which you excel over them. This makes you feel good about yourself, and you begin to think that you are better than them. If believers are unified and all working for the same goal (building the kingdom, glorifying God, etc), then there is no room for pride. Unity gets rid of the competing and comparing.

In verses 3 and 4 he addresses selfishness and looking out for others rather than yourself. We are all selfish to some extent and more in tune to our own needs than to the needs of others. We must pray that the Lord will change our hearts and open our eyes to all of the needs around us. We live in a very "me first" culture, where it's all about doing things for yourself first. This is the opposite of what the Lord wants!

I love the phrase in verse 3, "but with humility of mind regard others as more important than yourselves." I know very few people that actually do this. Unfortunately, most of us can think of some group of people whom we think we are better than. In high school there is such an emphasis on social standing and cliques. The jocks are better than the musicians, who are better than the nerds, etc. This is a very sinful attitude. Scripture tells us that we shouldn't consider anyone as "beneath" us. Do you have the courage to break those ridiculous social barriers in high school and show kindness to everyone, regardless of what their label is?

In verses 5-11 we see the supreme and perfect example of humility on earth...Jesus. We are to follow in His footsteps and look to Him as our model. Think about Jesus' humility for a moment. Jesus is God in the flesh. He could have come to earth riding through the sky on a white stallion, surrounded by angels, and placed Himself on a royal throne in Jerusalem. Instead, He chose to enter the earth through a human birth canal. He was born in a stable with a bunch of smelly animals to a young peasant girl. He grew up in an insignificant town and worked as a carpenter for many years. After His earthly ministry He faced a humiliating death...stripped down, mocked, spit upon, beaten, and nailed to a cross between two common criminals.

I love verses 9-11, because they show us the exaltation of Jesus. He humbled Himself on earth, but He is now seated at the right hand of God. In the end, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Remember Luke 14:11, which says, "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

I challenge you to resist the temptation to fall into pride. Stop bragging about how smart you are in history class, how good you are at sports, or how talented you are in music. Do not dare forget that God is the one that gave you those talents and that intellect! You did nothing on your own to deserve it. The glory should go to God alone, so don't take it for yourself. On the other hand, don't buy into the lie that you aren't worth anything. If you are a believer, you should know that God chose you before the earth began to be His child (Eph 1), that He loves you desperately, and that He made you in His image. Knowing this, we should have the best self esteem of anyone, but in complete humility, because we know that we did nothing to deserve such honor. Praise Him today and give Him the glory for everything that you are!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A passage you've never studied before: Judges 10:6-16

Read Judges 10:6-16

Teenagers are continually saying, "why can't we study a passage we've never read before?" My answer to that is that the Bible is living and active, which makes it different than an ordinary book (Heb 4:12). The Bible is not like a textbook you can read once and then know everything there is to know about it. The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to speak to our hearts. He illuminates the words and makes them pierce our hearts, bringing us the instruction, conviction, or encouragement that we need. Because of this, you can read the same passage countless times and still hear the Lord speak to you and touch you in different ways. I just wanted to make that clear! However, despite this truth, today I have picked a passage that is unfamiliar to you and that I'm pretty sure you've never studied before. So get excited!

In Judges 10:6-18, we see an incredible story of Israel's disobedience, repentance, and forgiveness. This is a recurring theme in the Old Testament. The Israelites just can't seem to stay out of trouble, and continually repeat the same sins over and over again. Their sin is punished, they repent, and God patiently forgives them again and again. The same general thing is happening in this passage.

In verse 6 we see that the Israelites turned away from the Lord to worship idols and other false gods. Because of their wickedness, God punishes them by giving them over to their enemies (7-9). They suffer for 18 years under their oppressors before they finally repent. It seems unfathomable that they would be so obstinate and unwilling to give up their sin! How often do we hang on to sin, despite the consequences, because we are too stubborn to give it up?

In verses 11-14 God reminds them of His work of deliverance in their lives. Time after time He has intervened and saved them from their enemies. Despite these clear acts of God's work in their lives, they still forsook Him. He tells them in 14 to go and cry out to their idols and false gods for help instead of Himself! After this rebuke, they finally feel conviction of their sins and come to God in repentance. They didn't just passively confess their sins, but they actively turned away from them and got rid of their idols. This is true repentance!

This next statement blows me away. Verse 16b states, "and He could bear the misery of Israel no longer." I love this picture of God. He is not a mean overseer like your school principal, trying to catch you doing something wrong so He can punish you. He deeply loves you and takes no delight in seeing you suffer! He longs for you to repent and come back to Him. He passes judgment on the wicked because He is a righteous and just God, not because He enjoys it. Sin simply must be punished.

Oftentimes I hear people describe distorted pictures of God that are nothing like Him in reality. This passage reveals that our God is just, hates sin, and will certainly punish it. However, we also see that He is a forgiving God who shows mercy on repentant sinners, and that He is grieved over the misery of His people. What an amazing depiction of God that is! Thank Him today for His mercy and forgiveness~

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Comforting Words for Believers: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

No one likes to think about death. I'm not worried about my own death, but the death of my loved ones is another story. I especially can't bear to watch movies where a wife or husband loses his/her spouse. This is so heartbreaking for me, since I can't imagine life without Lee! However, though death is certainly something to grieve over, those of us who are believers can find comfort in knowing that it isn't the end.

Though most of the world is unbelieving and lost, I've noticed that unsaved people tend to get more spiritual when death occurs. They've never mentioned God or heaven before, but suddenly they start saying things like, "he's in a better place." This is certainly true for those who have placed their trust in Jesus but is unfortunately not the case for unbelievers. Let's look at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and see what God has to say about the Lord's return.

In this passage in 1 Thessalonians, we see what happens to believers in the end when Jesus returns. This passage is meant to be a comfort to believers, and it certainly is to me. In verse 13, we're reminded that we do not have to grieve in the same way as unbelievers, because we have hope. What is our source of hope? The Lord!

In verse 16 we see that Jesus Christ will descend with "a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God." We will finally be able to look on the One we have spent our lives loving and following. What a glorious day! It says here that the dead in Christ will rise first, and then the believers who are still living will join them with Jesus in the air. We call this event "the rapture." That term is not in the Bible, but it is simply the Latin word for "caught up" and is used to describe the time when believers are caught up in the air. After that, comes my favorite part: "and so we shall always be with the Lord" (17). when Christ returns, we will see an end to death. We will no longer experience the grief and heartache that we do on this earth, and we will be in the Lord's presence for eternity.

We are told in verse 18 to, "comfort one another with these words." We must remind each other that there is an end in sight. There will be a day with no more tears, suffering, sickness, death, evil, or pain. There will be a day when we will be reunited with all of our loved ones who are believers. How comforting to know that though I will lose loved ones on this earth, I will get to spend eternity with them in heaven. Because Lee and I are both believers, we will literally be together for ever. That is such a hopeful and comforting truth. But most of all, our faith will become sight. We will actually get to look on the face of our precious Lord and experience His glory and be in His presence forever. We can't fathom what this will be like!

Take heart, sisters in Christ, because there will be a glorious day when Christ will return for all of His followers. Whatever pain or suffering you are experiencing now is temporary, though it may not feel like it at the time. Set your eyes on Jesus today, and spend your life eagerly awaiting His glorious return!

Monday, November 30, 2009

2 very important verses for high schoolers: Romans 12:1-2

Read Romans 12:1-2

When you're in high school, one of the biggest struggles is trying to fit in. No one wants to stand out and be unique or different. Even the teenagers who say that they are standing out through piercings, tattoos, black clothes, etc, are actually blending into their own peer group where everyone else looks exactly like themselves. They have their own community of emo or punk kids whom they blend in with as well.

I saw on the news yesterday that a reporter in his thirties went back to high school to investigate what it would be like to go back knowing all that he knew now as an adult. He said that as soon as he got back in that building, all the old insecurities he faced in high school returned. Immediately he started worrying about how he looked, what he said, etc. What is it with high school that makes everyone so concerned with fitting in and pleasing everyone around them?

Because this is perhaps the time in your life when you are tempted to blend in the most, I want to share with you 2 verses that will be vital to you as a believer in high school. In Romans 12:1-2, God tells us to do the exact opposite of our peers. We aren't to blend in. In fact, we are told clearly and explicitly not to conform to the world. Let's look a little deeper into these 2 verses.

Verse 1 starts by Paul using pretty strong language, as he uses the phrase, "I urge you, brothers." This implies the importance of the words that will follow. This is more than just a friendly suggestion to believers. He is pleading with us to listen! He next says, "in view of God's mercy." We are to follow this command while remembering God's amazing mercy toward us as believers. Because God has poured out His mercy on us sinners, the least we can do is obey His commands! He continues in verse 1 by telling believers to "offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God." Rather than using our bodies for sinfulness, we are to surrender them entirely to God. What does a living sacrifice look like? Following God with our whole being, and offering everything that we are to Him. Paul goes on to say that this is our "spiritual act of worship." Oftentimes we think of worshipping God as singing to Him in church, but it is so much more than that. This verse shows us that following Him in obedience is also a way of worshipping God.

Verse 2 starts by telling believers, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world." When everyone else in your high school is cheating on assignments, gossipping, mocking the teachers, drinking, cussing, lying, telling crude jokes, etc, you're not to conform to this worldliness. This means that if you follow this verse, your life will look radically different than the lives of those around you. If you're blending in with them, which is so tempting to do, then you're being disobedient to the Lord. You can't blend in with the world and give yourself wholeheartedly to the Lord at the same time.

Instead of comforming, you are to be "transformed by the renewing of your mind." As you follow the Lord and grow closer to Him, your life will be transformed. The more intimate you grow with the Lord through prayer and the reading of the Word, the more you will see the Holy Spirit's transformation in your life. As you grow in your walk with God and become a more mature believer, you will be able to "test and approve what God's will is--His good, pleasing and perfect will." God's will becomes more clear to you as you grow closer to Him.

Most teenagers will tell me that they want to know God's will for their lives. However, they also want to fit in with their peers. No one wants to stand out and be alone, most of all in high school. I hope you know that if you do resist the temptation to conformity in your schools, that you're not alone, even if it feels that way. The Lord is always with you! When you do resist the urge to conform and give yourself entirely to the Lord, you are pleasing Him and worshipping Him. As you follow Him and grow closer to Him, the Holy Spirit will transform and sanctify you, enabling you to discern the will of God more clearly. What an amazing passage! This is a great passage to cling to as a high schooler, and I challenge you to memorize it and hide it in your heart. Don't conform!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cling to Him!

Read Joshua 23:8
"But you are to cling to the Lord your God, as you have done to this day."

As I was reading through Joshua, this verse jumped out to me. I love the phrase "cling to the Lord," but what does it mean exactly?

To go deeper in the text, it is often helpful to go back to the original text the Bible was written in. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, and the New Testament was originally written in Greek. The Scriptures have since been translated to many different languages. Going back to the original text and discovering the meaning of those Greek and Hebrew words will shed greater light on what the original author was trying to convey. Remember that the Bible is inerrant (without error) in those original texts. I haven't studied Greek or Hebrew, but thankfully, there are many resources out there that translate words for us. My favorite source is www.blueletterbible.org.

I gave you that little lesson on the biblical languages, because it is often not explained. Preachers and teachers often refer to Greek words, but if you don't know why they're doing it, then it doesn't make much sense. So now you know!

With all that being said, the Hebrew word that has been translated "cling" in this passage is the word "dabaq." It means to "cling, stick, stay or keep close, cleave, follow close to, join to, overtake, or catch." I'd also like to point out that this is the same exact word used in Genesis 2:24, which states, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh." The same Hebrew word, "dabaq," is translated "joined to" in this verse. Do you find it interesting that God uses the same word to describe the intimacy of a married couple as our intimacy with the Lord?

The metaphor of marriage is just one way that God reveals His relationship with believers. Christ is referred to as the bridegroom and the church is His bride. I believe that the Lord uses that metaphor in order to give us a glimpse of the extent of love and intimacy we should have with the Lord. Among human relationships, the husband/wife relationship is by far the closest. In this relationship we see the height of intimacy between two people. Two separate people join together and actually become one flesh. Amazingly, this marriage relationship is a reflection of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31-32).

How incredible to think that we can have that kind of intimacy with the Lord. I believe that clinging to the Lord includes following Him closely in obedience, knowing Him more deeply (which comes from spending time with Him, praying, reading the Scriptures), and loving Him wholeheartedly. Remember that He loves you more than you know, He knows every single thing about you, and He desires intimacy with you. Ask Him today to help you cling to Him. Pray that your intimacy with Him would deepen and your love for Him would grow even more.

Monday, November 23, 2009

God's Redemption of Rahab: Joshua 2

Read Joshua 2

Don't you love the fact that our God is the Master Redeemer? It is so comforting to know that there is no sin He won't forgive. When we mess up, our lives aren't over. There is never a point that we can wander to in which God will throw up His hands and say, "sorry, that's too far...I can't forgive that trangression." When we come to Him in repentance, He will forgive us every time. What a patient and loving God we serve. One of my favorite stories of God's redemption is the story of Rahab in Joshua 2.

In this story, Joshua has sent spies to Jericho on a dangerous mission to search out the land. They stop at the house of Rahab for refuge, and we find out early on that Rahab is a prostitute. Rahab has lived a life full of wickedness and sin, selling her body in a manner that is repugnant to the Lord. Despite her sinful past, God isn't through with her yet. We will see in this story the way that He graciously redeems her and has an amazing plan for her life.

Immediately, what should stand out to you as you read about Rahab is her great faith in the Lord. Rahab is not a Jew and is unfamiliar with God's laws and teachings. However, she has heard of God's miraculous work in the lives of the Jews (v.10). She not only has heard these stories, but she believes them. She believes that the God of the Jews is real and that He is the one true God (v.11). We also see her faith put into action when she hides the spies from the people of Jericho. She believed in the God of the Israelites so firmly that she was willing to put her life on the line to hide the spies in her home.

We see Rahab again mentioned 3 different times in the New Testament. It is important to know of these later references in order to see God's redemption in her life. In Hebrews 11, the author writes about faith and gives example after example of great heroes of the faith. Rahab is commended in verse 31 for her great faith in hiding the spies. This is pretty incredible, because Rahab is listed next to heroes such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, to name a few. What an incredible place to be! Rahab is again honored in the book of James for putting her faith into action in James 2:25. She is mentioned here next to the great faith of Abraham. We see Rahab a third time in the New Testament in Matthew 1:5. Matthew 1 follows the geneology of Jesus Christ. Rahab is listed as part of Jesus' line! What a glorious honor!

Rahab was a Gentile and a prostitute. However, God took her from this dishonorable state and redeemed her, transforming her into a hero of the faith. Not only is she listed alongside the most faithful followers of God in the Old Testament, but she has a place in the line of Jesus Christ. What an incredible example of God's transforming and redemptive power, His forgiveness, and His grace. You may have a sinful past yourself. Perhaps you have done things you are ahamed of and think that God can't possibly have a plan for you anymore. Well, you're wrong. Walk away from your sin and throw yourself at the mercies of our Lord. He is mighty to save the most lowly of sinners and delights in doing so. Glory to His name!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Test the Spirits: 1 John 4:1-3

Read 1 John 4:1-3

I'm sure you have heard it said before, "Don't believe everything you read." Well, this is certainly true for the most part, but it in no way applies to the Bible. Because of the promise of 2 Timothy 3:16, that "all Scripture is God-breathed," we don't have to read the Scriptures with a cynical eye. Every word of the Bible is inspired by God, which means every word of it is true. However, according to 1 John 4:1-3, we do have to be careful about what we hear. Not every minister or teacher preaches correct theology 100% of the time. They are human, and they make errors. John warns us that there are many "false prophets" that we must beware of (v.1).

Jesus speaks of these false teachers in Matthew 7:15, when He says, "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves." This verse tells us that these false teachers are in "sheep's clothing," which means they are going to look just like other Christians. Their disguise will deceive others. In reality, they are ferocious wolves. This means that when we see a preacher on TV, on the radio, or in person, or we read theological books or sermons, we are to be watchful of false teachers.

You may be thinking, well, I go to Northwest Bible Church, and there aren't any false teachers there. Therefore, this verse doesn't apply to me. I don't think we have any false teachers at NWBC. We do not tolerate unbiblical teaching in this church. However, this doesn't mean you aren't to test the spirits as John says. Though we aren't false teachers at NWBC, we are human teachers. Unlike God's inerrant (without error) Word, our words are fallible (mortal and imperfect). Take John's words in 1 John 4 as a sober warning. Don't blindly write down and follow every thing you ever hear about the Lord, but make sure the preacher's or teacher's words are always in line with Scripture.

I remember seeing a point in a sermon outline a few years back that didn't sound quite right. I went to a Bible-preaching Baptist church, but that one point stood out to me as different than what I had been taught before. Later, I looked up the passage that had been listed as proof of that point, and I found that this Bible verse had nothing to do with the point my pastor had made. I tell you this to warn you to make sure that you have solid biblical support for the messages that you hear. If you hear something that sounds strange, look it up, and then ask someone you can trust. We have spiritual leaders and mentors in our lives to help us in instances like this.

I will close with some wise words by Charles Swindoll in his book "Growing Deep" on this same passage in 1 John:
"I certainly do not want to imply that all of us must become detectives, looking for clues of wrongdoing in another's life or teaching. It's one thing to be suspicious people who question everything we hear...and another thing entirely to be discerning, alert, and perceptive. There is a very real need on our part every time we hear the Word proclaimed, that we listen closely, think it through, sift it out, compare it with other Scriptures and other material we've been taught" (47).
Know what the Scriptures say by studying them in depth yourself, and be watchful for false teaching. This will come especially essential when you reach college and hear many new ideas for the first time. Test the Spirits, stay firmly rooted in God's Word, and do not tolerate false teaching in your life!

Britney Spears' Theology

I don't know about you, but I am sick of Britney's new song "Three." While in the Galleria the other day, i must have heard it at least 4 times. I had not paid much attention to the lyrics of this song before, but I decided to listen to it more carefully next time I heard it, just to see if it was as depraved as I thought it was. And yes, after listening to it more closely, I can definitely say that it is.

So what's the big deal? Britney's last single, "If You Seek Amy," was just as offensive and inappropriate. However, a certain line in "Three" really stood out to me. Several times in the song, Britney sings, "Living in sin is the new thing." I found this interesting, because not many celebrities use the word sin. It would seem that Britney is actually admitting that the sexual immorality her song promotes is a sin. Later on in the song she calls her behavior innocent, but I don't think she actually believes that or wants us to believe it either. I mean, one of her most famous lines is "I'm not that innocent" (in "Oops I did it again," in case you aren't up on your Britney lyrics). Clearly, innocence is not something she is aiming for. So that brings us back to sin. Don't you find it interesting that she refers to her sexual promiscuity in this song as "living in sin?" God designed the world a certain way. He designed sex to be between a man and a woman under the covenant of marriage. Anything outside of this God-ordained design is perverted, twisted, and yes, sinful. Though Britney doesn't claim to be a Christian and is definitely not a Bible scholar, she, and the rest of the world, innately know when something is clearly not right.

Acknowledging that you are a sinner is usually the first step toward salvation. We must understand that we are sinners before we realize that we need a Savior. Britney's realization of sin in her life could lead her to the path of salvation, if she heard the message of the gospel. However, instead of letting her conviction of sin lead her to repentance, she laughs it off and flippantly calls it "the new thing." Well, sin definitely is "the thing," but it certainly isn't new. You only have to read a couple of chapters into the Bible to see the first sin committed by Adam and Eve. This original sin is quickly followed by murder, deceit, idolatry, sexual immorality and homosexuality, to name just a few more. As the writer of Ecclesiastes states, "there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecc. 1:9). Sorry Britney, you're not the first to engage in such wickedness, and you certainly won't be the last.

I point this line in "Three" out to you, because it gives you some insight into what the rest of the unsaved world is thinking about sin. Some, like Britney, may admit openly that their behavior is sinful, though many don't reach this conclusion. However, unless that confession of sin leads to sorrowful repentance at the foot of the cross, there is no hope for those people. We are never to throw up our hands and just keep on sinning because that's what the rest of society is doing. Jesus Christ can free us from that bondage. Britney's theology is skewed, but I hope that she will come to Jesus with a repentant heart one day! Why not pray for her today?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Curse of the Serpent: Genesis 3:15

Read Genesis 3:15: "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."

Man do I hate snakes!! Reading about them always gives me the creeps, even in this passage. This particular verse is part of the curse God gave to the serpent after Adam and Eve's sin in the Garden of Eden. I decided to discuss this particular verse this morning, because I want to point out the profound implications of this curse. Why is this verse significant? What does it mean? Theologians call this verse the "protevangelium." That is a long fancy Latin word that literally means "the first preaching of the gospel." You're probably a little confused at this point, and for good reason! What does this curse for the serpent have to do with the gospel message of Christ? Well, I'm glad you asked!

If you know the story of the fall of mankind in Genesis, you know that this cursed serpent was no ordinary snake. It was actually Satan in disguise, who deceived Eve and tempted her to sin. The first part of the curse applies to the actual animal (he would move on his belly), but the second part of the curse refers to the Satanic power within the serpent. When God talks about enmity between Eve's seed and the serpent's seed, he is referring to the struggle between Satan and mankind. From that point on there would be a continuous battle between humans and the demonic realm.

However, we see hope for mankind in the phrase, "He will crush your head." This refers ultimately to Christ's victory over Satan. Jesus would come from the seed of Eve (born of the virgin Mary) and would triumph over Satan. Therefore, if we are in Christ, we share in this victory and need not fear the demonic forces.

This verse marks the very first reference to the coming Messiah. This is significant, because we see that it was always God's plan to send His Son Jesus, even from the very beginning. This was not a plan B or a backup plan. It also shows us how the Bible all fits together. The Old Testament is not just a bunch of stories strung together and isolated from the New Testament. Rather, all of the Old Testament points to the New Testament, and the New Testament fulfills the Old Testament. We must learn to see the Bible as a cohesive whole, all centered around the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

I hope that this devotional changes your perspective on the Old Testament, and opens your eyes to the centrality of the gospel message in Scripture. Knowing this will change the way you view Scripture!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Recent pictures of Lindsey Lohan with cuts up and down her frail arms reveal that she has been cutting herself. In a recent article, her parents confirm that those cuts were indeed self-inflicted. Self-mutilation is a common affliction in teenage girls, and first gained popularity in the 1990's. Though it is a wide-spread problem, it often doesn't make a lot of sense to the rest of the world. I remember a friend of mine in high school taking me into her room with the door closed and confiding in me that she had been cutting herself. I remember being speechless! I had never heard of self-mutilation, and I had no idea what she was going through or what to say to her.

Having researched the subject to some extent, I've learned that girls cut themselves as a way to deal with the pain they are facing. They don't know how to cope with all of the stress and trials they encounter, so they begin to harm themselves as a coping mechanism. Once they start doing this, they repeat it until someone stops them or they severely damage themselves. Statistics show that this type of behavior is a lot more common than we would think.

Lindsey Lohan seems to have everything that this world has to offer...fame, money, looks, talent...but clearly this wasn't enough for her. In reality she is just like every other depressed young lady out there. The fancy clothes, cars, jewelry, and celebrity parties obviously haven't made her happy. If only Lindsey could experience the true satisfaction and joy that only come from Christ! What a transformation we would see!

If you are reading this and have struggled with cutting yourself, I want you to know that you're not alone! I also want you to know that you can be freed from this bondage by Jesus Christ. In this world we will experience pain, suffering, affliction, trials, and tribulations...in fact, it's a guarantee. People deal with this pain in many harmful ways, but only Christ can bring true healing. If you are suffering from cutting yourself, I beg you to tell someone and get help. There is absolutely no shame in getting counseling. Give your pain to the Lord and take heart, dear sister, because the Lord has the power to deliver you from this!

Pray for the Christians of Iran!

Pray for the persecuted church in Iran! Many Muslims are coming to Christ for the first time in Iran. These people are persecuted for their faith and desperately need our prayers!
Check out this website I've been recently introduced to for specific ways to pray for them. You can also follow them on facebook.

Do Actions Really Speak Louder than Words?

Read Romans 10:12-17

Paul starts out in verse 12 telling the reader that anyone is able to come to the Lord. Whatever your social standing, race, gender, etc, salvation is available to you. We see in verse 13 that salvation comes to those who call on the name of Jesus Christ. With that basis, let's follow Paul's simple reasoning in verses 14 and 15 that show us how this gospel message is to be carried to the lost.

Put simply, people come to Christ when they hear the gospel. Sharing the gospel was (and still is) Jesus' plan to bring people to Christianity. After His resurrection, Jesus' final words to His followers before ascending into heaven are, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). Christians call these final words "The Great Commission," and acknowledge that we are to carry out these same orders today. There are many ways the Lord could choose to convert people. He could have the gospel message appear automatically in their minds, for example. But, the way God ordained for the gospel message to spread is for believers to preach the gospel to others. This was and still is His best plan for bringing people to Christ.

In verses 14-15, Paul lays out the way people come to Christ. I've labeled the Christian "X" and the unbeliever "Y." This is the reasoning he follows:

X is Sent-> X Preaches the Good News -> Y Hears -> Y Believes -> Y calls on the Lord -> Y is Saved

This is simple, but I want you to think about what this means for us as Christians. We are called to preach the gospel. This means that actions are not enough to convert someone. You could show love and kindness to an unbeliever all day. However, if that is all that you do, that person will not come to Christ. Your actions will often open the door for you to share the gospel, and they may make a profound impact on unbelievers who have never seen the love of Christ displayed. However, you can't stop there. That person simply can not and will not become a Christian unless he/she actually hears the gospel. Actions are necessary, but they are not enough in and of themselves to bring someone to Christ. I don't want to minimize the importance of actions. However, I also don't want you to make the mistake that many Christians do in thinking that the gospel does not need to be spoken along with those actions. Verse 17 states it well when it says, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." Unbelievers can't receive the gospel without hearing it first. If you don't tell them, who will?

Who do you know that needs to hear the gospel message? Pray for boldness. Also pray that God will open doors for you to share your faith, and that you will have the courage to seize those opportunities. I don't know about you, but I know that I have remained silent far too many times...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Unchangeable: Micah 3:6a

Micah 3:6a states, "For I, the LORD, do not change." This verse gives us great insight into the character of God. If God is unchangeable, then all of the things written about Him centuries ago in the Old Testament and New Testament are still true today. God often is described as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 3:6). The reason He is referred to in connection to these patriarchs is to reiterate the fact that He is the same God today as He was to those men so many years ago. This may seem overly simplistic, but it is a profound truth about God. When we read of God's faithfulness, mercy, compassion, love, justice, holiness, wrath, glory, power, majesty, etc, in the Scriptures, we can know without a doubt that God still holds those same characteristics today.

This knowledge of God's immutability (immutable is another word for unchangeable) should directly affect our lives. For example, if we know that God is faithful to answer prayers (for this is revealed in Scripture), then we should not worry over prayers that we don't see answered right away. God has been faithful to answer prayers in the past, and His unchangeable nature tells us that He will do the same today. This should squash any anxiety we experience when we don't see immediate results to our prayers. Take justice as another example. We see many unjust things take place in our world without seeing any consequences for these evils. However, because we know from Scripture that our God will punish injustice and wickedness, we don't have to worry over this. God has always punished evil, and He will continue to do this, because He is unchangeable. Therefore, we do not have to worry over whether or not evil people will be judged or try to take judgment into our own hands, because we know that God will take care of it in His time.

Additionally, if God is unchangeable, we know that He is not bound by time. We see this in Exodus when Moses asks God how he should reply when people ask him who his God is. In Exodus 3:14, God said to Moses, "'I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.' " Again, in John 8:58, Jesus states, "'I tell you the truth,'" Jesus answered, 'before Abraham was born, I am!'" What does this mean? It means that because God is unchangeable, He is outside of time. Hebrews 13:8 explains this well when it states, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."
Read what Charles Spurgeon said about this doctrine of God:
All creatures change. Man, especially as to his body, is always undergoing revolution. [...] But God is perpetually the same. He is not composed of any substance or material, but is spirit—pure, essential, and ethereal spirit—and therefore he is immutable. He remains everlastingly the same. There are no furrows on his eternal brow. No age hath palsied him; no years have marked him with the mementoes of their flight; he sees ages pass, but with him it is ever now.

There is much more I could say about the immutability of God, but I will stop there. This posting is a bit different than my previous blogs, but the purpose of it is to teach you to study doctrine and theology. We are not called to be ignorant Christians, but to know and study what the Bible says about God! I hope that this lesson on God's immutability will not only deepen your knowledge of Him, but will deepen your faith in Him as well.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fear of God: Exodus 34:27-35

Read Exodus 34:27-35

This is a small and somewhat obscure Old Testament passage with profound meaning. At this particular time in the book of Exodus, Moses has already led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. God designated Moses as the leader of the Israelites and gave him the task of interceding for the people. The Israelites couldn't speak to God directly. Instead, Moses would go up to Mount Sinai and meet with God and then deliver God's message to the people. At this point in Exodus, Moses had met with God after receiving the ten commandments for the second time (read Exodus 32 to find out what happened to the first tablets), and was coming down Mount Sinai to read them to the Israelites. As he came down, the people noticed that his face was shining! Why? Verse 29 tells us, "it shone because of his speaking with Him." Pretty phenomenal, right? This is just a glimpse of the awesome majesty of our Lord and the marvelous extent of His glory. God is so glorious and radiant that Moses' face began shining just from being in His presence.

What was the people's reaction to this? We see in verse 30 that, "they were afraid to come near him." It freaked them out! This encounter with the supernatural was too much for them to bear. Earlier in Exodus 20:19, the Israelites' fear is shown again when they say to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen but let not God speak to us, or we will die." The glory of the Lord was so great, and His power and majesty so real, that they were literally afraid for their lives. In the midst of God's glory they were humbled and reminded of their own frailty and of the fact that their tiny little lives were in His powerful hands.

I don't know about you, but I don't see this type of fear of God much today. If we really feared God, it would radically impact the way we lived. Oftentimes we show irreverence when we speak to the Lord. T-shirts such as "Jesus is my homeboy," make me cringe, because they directly contradict this powerful image of God in Exodus. We too often think of our God too casually and fail to give Him the reverence and awe He deserves.

I can't end this devotional without mentioning that this passage overwhelmingly points to the cross, which would come about many years later. Like Moses interceded for the Israelites, Jesus became our intercessor. Formerly, we were unable to commune with our perfect and holy God because of our wretched sinfulness. However, because Jesus became the perfect sacrifice on the cross for our sins and made us holy, we are now able to speak to God directly. We have been reconciled to God through the cross. It is so neat to study the Old Testament and see how it all points to the cross! Unlike the Israelites, we are able to speak to God directly because of Jesus' sacrifice. What a privilege!

Thank God today for giving us access to Him through Jesus Christ. Ask Him to forgive you for your lack of reverence in entering His throne room. We are to enter boldly with confidence, but also humbly and with a contrite heart!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Psalm 139: He Knows You!

Read Psalm 139

This is one of my all-time favorite Scripture passages. Reading Psalm 139 makes me feel so loved by God! It is one of the places in Scripture that I turn to the most when I'm feeling down. I cannot begin to fathom the depths of God's knowledge or understand His workings! How can a God who knows all of the billions of the stars by name (Psalm 147:4) also be concerned with counting the number of hairs on my head (Matthew 10:30)? God is so vast, yet He is so intimate and personal at the same time.

This Psalm starts out by proclaiming the Lord's intimate knowledge of His people. He knows everything we've ever done or are going to do in the future. He knows what we're thinking and what we're going to say before we actually speak it. Verse 6 states that this kind of knowledge is too high for us...we can't come close to attaining it! This quality of God is what theologians call omniscience. This means that God has supreme knowledge of all things at all times. Talk about supernatural power!

David (the writer) then begins to speak of the truth that there is no place where he can hide from God. Wherever we go, we can always be certain that the Lord's presence is with us. I hear many people pray, "Lord, be with [this person]." The fact is that the Lord already is! Theologians call this characteristic of God omnipresence. This means that He is everywhere at once, which is a truth we can't wrap our human minds around!

In verse 13, David begins to speak of God's skillful and careful design of each human being. This is why you hear pro-life activists proclaim that all life is sacred. Verse 13 states that God formed you when you were in your mother's womb! This is in direct contradiction to the pro-choice mentality that destroying a human embryo is OK. According to this verse, God had a plan for that little embryo from the beginning. Before a baby is even born, God already knows exactly how his/her life will unfold (16). He forms and designs each baby exactly how He wants him/her to be(13). Eye color, hair color, race, talents, etc, are all carefully selected by Him. That should make us feel extremely special. God's works are wonderful, and because He made us, we are wonderful too (14).

When I was a teenager, I used to hate the way I looked. I wished I had different hair, different skin, a different body type, etc. When someone pointed out to me that those traits weren't accidents, and that they were each carefully selected for me by God, I realized how sinful such an attitude was. Complaining about the way we look is really a slap in God's face, because He intentionally made us that way!

Verses 17 and 18 really sum up the vastness of God's thoughts, as we talked about earlier in this devotional. They are more than a human can possibly fathom. I love verses 23 and 24, and I try to pray those verses frequently. I've realized that when I do honestly ask God to search my heart and expose my sinfulness, He does! If you want to grow and mature in your faith, repentance is a big part of that. As a teenager, repentance wasn't a big part of my life. Compared to all the other kids in my public school, I was really "good" in my opinion, and I didn't think I really needed to repent of anything. It was only later that I realized how sinful I really was! Remember that 1 John 1:8 says that if we say we have no sin, we are liars. If you truly can't think of areas that you need to repent in, then I encourage you to ask God to reveal them to you.

I hope this Psalm was encouraging to you! God loves you more than you could ever imagine. Before you even entered this world He knew everything about you. He created you in His image and carefully selected the traits that make you unique. Praise Him right now for His love and care for you!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

1 Timothy 2: What's a woman's role in the church?

Read 1 Timothy 2:9-15

By God's grace, I'm going to try to explain this much discussed passage in Scripture concerning a woman's role in the church. My purpose in choosing this passage is not to start a debate, but rather to carefully examine what God is trying to tell us through these verses. The book of 1 Timothy is a letter written to Timothy from the apostle Paul. The purpose of the letter is to explain how the Christian church should operate. In 1 Timothy 2:9-15, he talks specifically about what a woman's role in the church should be.

In verses 9-10 Paul describes how women are to dress and behave themselves. Women should not be vainly drawing attention to themselves through ostentatious or eye-catching apparel in the church. This takes the focus off of Christ and distracts others during worship. The point is not to avoid braids, gold, or pearls specifically, but rather to avoid the kind of clothing that puts the focus on yourself. A woman's clothing should be modest rather than revealing and causing others to stumble. When women in the church are focused on their appearance and on attracting the notice of others, it is easy to see that their hearts are not where they should be as believers. Rather, verse 10 states that their focus should be godliness. They should strive as women to be pure and holy and filled with inner beauty.

As women, we have a strong tendency (myself included) to place our focus on our appearance. We want others to notice us and give us attention. What a sinful thing that is to do in the house of God! Christ deserves all of our focus and attention, and all glory should go to Him alone. The only thing that should be bringing you attention is that others are seeing the Lord's work in your life and praising Him for it!

We go on in verse 11 and 12 to see what a woman's role is in the church. Based on this passage, which is the inerrant Word of God, women are not the leaders of the church. Verse 12 clearly states that a woman is "not to teach or have authority over a man." Does this exclude women from all service in the church? If that was the case, I'd be out of a job! No, there are certainly many ways women can serve the body of Christ (such as teaching other women-Titus 2:3-5-or children), but these do not include any kind of teaching or authoritative position over men. Therefore, this excludes women from the role of pastor or elder, because these offices include teaching and exercising authority over men. This is a crystal-clear verse, and it is the way God has designed the church to operate. We don't have the freedom to pick and choose which texts we will follow. The entire Bible has been inspired by God and is without error. Even the difficult passages must be followed in obedience! Just because God has ordained different roles for men and women doesn't mean that women are any less in His sight. Different doesn't mean inferior!

Verse 13 tells us that a man's role was made clear from the beginning of creation. Adam was created first, not Eve. He was the leader to whom God gave the responsibility. When Adam failed to be the kind of leader he was called to be and allowed Eve to usurp his authority and control him, there were catastrophic consequences. She sinned and then led him into sin, leading to the fall of the human race (vs. 14).

Verse 15 is tricky, but I believe it means that women will be preserved by embracing their God-ordained role as a woman. Though many see a woman's role in Scripture as bondage, there is true freedom in following the will of God. Women are to continue in "faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint" (15). They may not understand why God has not given them the same role as a man, but regardless, they are to continue on in faith and obedience to His revealed will in Scripture.

Many women find this a hard passage to read. They feel that this teaching is sexist and misogynistic and choose to skip over it. However, we must remember that this is just as much the inspired Word of God as the gospels are! God loves women and created them in His own image. I can give you so many examples of Jesus showing compassion to women that he met and truly valuing them. However, though God's love for us is the same, His roles for us on earth are different. I chose this passage, because in our ultra feminist culture, it is important for us to know what God called women to do in the church. We must firmly hold to His Word rather than allowing our culture's message to change our theology.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Want to be Wise??

Read 1 Kings 3:5-15

I remember hearing this story as a child and imagining what it would have been like to have been in King Solomon's shoes at this point in his life. What would I have asked for if God had offered to give me anything at all? I hope it would have been something as noble as Solomon's request was. Most of us would probably ask for something primarily selfish that would benefit ourselves. However, the passage tells us that Solomon asked for "a discerning heart" (9). We see in verse 10 that this greatly pleased the Lord. He not only gave Solomon the wisdom he asked for, but he also gave him riches and honor (13). If you have read much of the Old Testament, you know that Solomon was famous for his tremendous wealth, as well as for his wisdom (he wrote many of the Proverbs).

So why don't we get such an amazing offer from God like Solomon did? Actually, James 1:5 tells us that we do!
"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."

This is an amazing verse for believers. Our God is a generous God who will give believers wisdom when they ask for it. So why don't we ask? I think the main reason is that we don't fully believe this verse. It's hard to believe that God would make unworthy sinners wise. Instead, we try to get wisdom on our own, by reading lots of books, listening to sermons, etc... Sure, those things give us insight and knowledge, but God alone makes us wise. We can't obtain His wisdom unless He gives it to us.

James goes on to describe how to ask for this wisdom in 1:6-8:
"But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does."

When you ask the Lord for wisdom, also ask God to give you faith and to erase your doubts! I know that I have often been like the double-minded man in this verse, blown and tossed by the wind because of my lack of faith. I must continue to ask the Lord to increase my weak faith!

Solomon was a very wise man, which is shown through many stories of him in Scripture, as well as through the Proverbs that he wrote. However, if you read the entire story of Solomon's life, you see that he ultimately turns away from the Lord. He marries foreign wives and lets them lead his heart astray to follow other gods (read 1 Kings 11:1-13). The once wise king turns away from his God-given wisdom and follows the foolishness of the world. Solomon knew the truth, but he failed to follow the Lord in obedience later on in life.

You can be wise, but only by God's grace. In faith, ask Him to give you wisdom to use for His glory. Then, (unlike Solomon) follow the path of wisdom all of the days of your life.

Girls, have you ever struggled with this?

Hey girls,
A friend of mine from seminary, Michelle Myers, recently gave a radio interview on her struggle with Anorexia. It is an incredible story of how the Lord delivered her from this disease and used the trial for His glory. If you have ever struggled with an eating disorder or know someone who has, please check her story out by clicking on the link below: