Thursday, December 16, 2010

Run as if to Win!

Read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

If you know me at all, you know that I am definitely not an athlete. I've never played a sport in my entire life, and I hate running! Despite my lack of athleticism, I have had good friends who played sports, so I have a very small amount of knowledge on the subject. I don't know much, but one thing I do know...if you want to be a good athlete, you have to be disciplined. Excelling at a sport will not happen overnight. If you want to be the best, you have to undergo countless hours of training, and it's hard work. I see so many teenagers completely dedicated to the sport they play. The amount of time, money, and energy poured into their sport is unreal. Sadly though, I have seldom seen this level of commitment to the Christian walk among teens. The amount of time spent reading the Word, praying, or memorizing Scripture would pale in comparison to the amount of hours spent training for their sport.

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul challenges believers to see their Christian walk as a race. In verse 24 he says, "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win." I don't know any star athletes who make it their goal to do an average job. No, their goal is to win. Unfortunately, we oftentimes don't live out our faith with the mentality that we want to be the best follower of Christ that we can be. We justify our lack of progress or spiritual maturity by comparing ourselves to someone who is weaker in the faith than we are. We look at the "spiritual giants" who we know as people we could never become, so we don't even try. As a whole, we are apathetic believers who do the bare minimum to avoid feeling guilty, not passionate followers of Christ wholeheartedly devoted to Him.

In verse 25, Paul explains, "Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable." The amount of self-control necessary to become an Olympic athlete is unreal. They train for hours and hours every single day, waking up at the crack of dawn to cram in extra work-outs. They don't allow themselves the pleasures the rest of us enjoy...junk food, staying up late, sleeping in, etc. They sacrifice so much, just for the purpose of winning a medal. The thing about that medal is that it is perishable. It won't last forever. When you think about the level of commitment athletes display for a temporary earthly treasure, it seems crazy that we as Christians would not display this kind of dedication to earning rewards in heaven, which are eternal and will never fade.

Paul goes on to say in the following verse, "Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way as not beating the air" (26). Paul lived a live of purpose. He explains that he made a point to be intentional in his actions and choices. He didn't waste his life on empty pursuits, but he dedicated his entire life to living for Christ. How much of our days are spent on meaningless and pointless pursuits?

Finally, he concludes by saying, "but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified" (27). Let me first point out that when he talks about being disqualified he is not talking about loss of salvation but loss of rewards in the kingdom. As humans with a sinful flesh, we're continually tempted and led astray by ungodly desires of the flesh. Rather than letting the flesh control you, Paul tells believers to beat their bodies into submission. Oftentimes you won't feel like reading your Bible or getting on your knees in prayer. You won't want to fast or wake up early for church or share the gospel with others. You'd rather watch TV or get on facebook than spend time memorizing Scripture or doing your Bible study. Living out the Christian faith requires great discipline. You have to force yourself to get up early for your quiet time, and you have to discipline yourself to spend extended time in prayer. Remember that you aren't going to become holy overnight. You aren't going to become knowledgeable of the Scriptures by accident. This takes hours and hours of disciplined training.

Is your Christian life an aimless wandering stroll, or is it an earnest and intense race? If we're honest, most of us fall into that first category. What changes do you need to make in order to discipline yourself? In what areas do you need to exercise more self control? Let's all run as if to win!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Read: Deuteronomy 7:6-9, 9:5-7; 1 Peter 2:9; Titus 3:3-8; Ephesians 2:8-9

Do you ever wonder why God chose the Jews? He could have chosen any nation in the world to establish His covenant with, but He decided to pick the nation of Israel. Throughout history, the Jews have been scapegoats. Even today, teenagers will call someone "a Jew" as a cut-down or slur against them. We all know by now of Mel Gibson's repeated obscene slander of the Jews, which has been broadcast all over the world. So why would God pick this nation, which the world deems so lowly? Wouldn't it make more sense if God chose a nation which was known as a world-power, a nation everyone stood in awe of because of their greatness and strength? If it was up to us, we would pick a nation that was considered great in a worldly sense, but God's ways are not our ways...and praise God for that! Let's look at God's reasoning for selecting such an obstinate people for His own.

In Deuteronomy 7:6, we read, "For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the people who are on the face of the earth." God picked Abraham to be the father of the nation of Israel, and He established His covenant with this nation, naming them His chosen people above all others. You would think that God must have chosen the Jews because they were just an exceptionally great group of people. However, you don't have to read much of Jewish history to quickly realize that that was definitely not the case.

In verses 7-8, Moses writes, "The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh of Egypt." We see here that there was nothing significant about Israel that set them apart from their surrounding nations. Israel was definitely an "underdog" nation, and they were few in number. We read that God chose Israel because He loved them, and that love was not based on anything they had done. He chose them because He had made a covenant with them, that they would be His own people, and He would always honor that covenant.

Moses explicitly tells the Jews that they did nothing to merit this election from God in Deut. 5-7. He says, "Know then, it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people," and reminds them "to not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath" (Deut 9:6-7a). The Jews were a rebellious group of people, not a saintly nation that deserved God's favor! Again and again, they provoked God to anger by sinning and wandering away from Him. Though they often turned their backs on God, God never left them. They didn't deserve God's faithfulness, but they received it by grace, because God loved them and would not break His promise to them.

If you are a believer in Christ, you know full well that your election was not a result of your own goodness. I know better than anyone else how little I deserve a spot in His kingdom, and I'm sure you feel the same way. In Titus 3:5, we're reminded, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy." Much like Israel, believers in Christ were chosen "before the foundation of the earth," and are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession" (Eph 1:4, 1 Pet 2:9). Though we have this high position in Christ as a fellow heir, we must be fully aware how little we deserve it. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:8-9, "for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and it is not of yourselves, it is a gift from God, not by works so that no man can boast."

It doesn't make sense that God would select the Jews as the children of promise, because as an all-knowing God, He would be able to foresee all of the wickedness they would commit. He knew that they would forsake Him, follow after other gods, and turn their back on Him countless times, but He chose them anyway. This was a complete act of grace and was not dependant on anything they could do to earn it. Likewise, if you are a believer in Christ, you were chosen before the earth was formed. God knew every lie you would tell, every immoral act you would commit, every bitter thought you would harbor, but He chose you anyway. What a beautiful reminder of God's tremendous mercy on us lowly wretches. To God be the glory for our election and salvation!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wolves in Sheep's Clothing

Read Matthew 7:15-23 and Acts 7:28-31

Lately there has been something laying heavily on my heart, and that's the issue of false teachers within our churches. Warnings against false teaching are all over the New Testament, so we really shouldn't be surprised when we encounter this. I want to focus specifically on the people whom Jesus calls wolves in sheep's clothing. I believe that the wolves' disguises will be a lot more convincing than the one shown in this picture! Let's look at 2 key texts, Matthew 7:15-23, and Acts 20:28-31, and find out how we can combat the false teachers whom we will inevitably encounter within Christianity.

In Matthew 7:15, Jesus says, "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves." The thing that is significant about these wolves (false teachers), is that they will look like sheep (Christians). This means that they will use the same kind of lingo as sheep, they will wear sheep t-shirts, they will listen to sheep music, they will have sheep bumper stickers on their cars, etc. Verses 21-22 tell us that they will even be doing sheep ministry work within the community. They will have everyone fooled, even themselves (notice their surprise when they get to heaven and are turned away at the pearly gates!).

While they will look just like faithful believers on the outside, they are inwardly ravenous. The Greek word for "ravenous" in verse 15 is "harpax," which means "ravenous, extortioners, robbers." They come with an all-consuming appetite to tear apart the flock and take the truth from the churches. Paul describes these wolves in more detail in Acts 20:29-30 when he says, "I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them." Wolves will emerge from among the church and distort the truth presented in the Scriptures in order to lead Christians astray. Oftentimes I've found that these false teachings will have some truth embedded in them, which will lead people to accept the whole teaching as true. They will use phrases that sound very good to the ear but have no scriptural worth (examples: "be your best you," "live your best life," "follow your heart," "love yourself," etc).

If you are thinking that I'm being a little extreme about this whole wolf thing, and that there couldn't possibly we any impostors within today's church, think again! This is not my own philosophy but teaching straight from the Word. Ignoring the real threat of false teaching within the church is foolish, and turning a blind eye to this issue will put you in the vulnerable position of becoming victim to this type of twisted teaching. Paul's warning is just as necessary and relevant to us today as it was 2000 years ago: "Therefore, be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears" (Acts 20:32). We must be on our guard.

I believe there are 3 ways to guard against wolves in sheep's clothing.
(1) Know the Word. You can only know it by reading it and studying it on a daily basis. If you don't know what the truth says, you will not be able to tell when the truth is being twisted. You are not going to be knowledgeable in the Scriptures by accident. It comes from hours and hours of copious study.
(2)Pray for wisdom and discernment. Pray daily that you will be able to clearly discern false teaching from the truth. James 1:5 says that if we lack wisdom, we should ask God for it, and He'll give it to us. We must be daily dependant on God for discretion and guidance if we are going to be able to detect wolves.
(3) When you are listening to anyone in the church teaching, be alert and on your guard. Make sure that the things the teacher is saying are backed up by Scripture. Don't just blindly accept whatever is being said without thinking. If something sounds odd to you, don't ignore it. Research the teaching that seems suspicious, and see if there is anything in Scripture that supports it. Ask people who are older and wiser than you in the church what they think about it, or read what well-educated and well-respected biblical scholars have to say on the subject.

Be on the alert! We are in the end times, and false teaching is rampant. I beg you not to ignore this warning~

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

False Teaching in Comic Strips??

Ever since I was a little girl, I've loved to read the comics. However, reading the comics as an adult is a very different experience. I now notice that the comics are no longer a place to go for a few they're often making some sort of political or philosophical statement. The danger in this is that kids can read these comics and be influenced without realizing it. As children, they don't have the maturity or discernment to distinguish truth from lies. Let me give you a classic example from one of the most popular comic strips, "Peanuts" by Shulz. This is how the comic reads:

Linus: "...And then on Halloween Night the 'Great Pumpkin' rises up out of the pumpkin patch...and he brings toys to all the good little children in the world!"

Charlie Brown: "You're crazy!"

Linus: "All right, so you believe in Santa Claus, and I'll believe in the 'Great Pumpkin,' the way I see it, it doesn't matter what you believe, just so you're sincere!"

Do you see the lie embedded in this comic strip? The statement, "the way I see it, it doesn't matter what you believe, just so you're sincere," stems from classic postmodern thinking. In this philosophy, there are no absolute truths. Truth is what you perceive it to's what is right for you personally. What Shulz is saying in this comic strip is that it's not about a certain belief being right or wrong, it's about your sincerity. What is true for Linus is not true for Charlie Brown; truth is relative.

Scripture clearly combats this type of thinking. The Bible teaches that there is one God who rules the universe. He has set forth His law and has revealed the truth in His inspired Word. People can sincerely believe in the book of Mormon or the Koran, and as a result sincerely go straight to hell. I believe there will be a lot of sincere people in hell. The truth is that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven, and all other beliefs are dead wrong, no matter how sincerely you believe them. The trouble with the postmodern mindset is that it doesn't hold water. I could punch someone in the face, and I could respond that punching people in the face is my own sincere belief system. People would get mad at me for this, because they know that punching people in the face is just wrong, no matter what I believe. God has written His law on our hearts. We know the moral code, and we know the difference between right and wrong.

Postmodern thinking and moral relativism is fully indoctrinating our culture, and it's being done in subtle ways like comic strips. Know what the Scriptures say so that you can discern when something is untrue, and be on your guard against false teaching, because it is everywhere!

Afraid to speak up? What do you have to lose?

Hey girls, check out this article that was in today's Houston Chronicle. It describes a Christian woman in Pakistan who has been put in jail for speaking the truth and has been sentenced to death. It is a weighty reminder to us believers in America who are so afraid to stand up for Christ, even though we have the freedom to do so. The only real suffering we experience here is being made fun of or looked down upon. This woman faced death for preaching Christ's name, yet she boldly spoke up anyway. May we all have this same courage and boldness to share the gospel in our own country~

Pakistani accused of blasphemy may avoid execution

Christian has spent 18months in jail for insult about Muhammad



KARACHI, Pakistan
— Hopes were raised Monday that a Pakistani Christian woman, convicted of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad this month and sentenced to death, will be pardoned soon, after government officials said they expected her to be freed.

The case raised an international outcry, including a plea formercy from Pope Benedict XVI. However, even if Asia Bibi, who’s spent a year and a half in jail on the charge, is granted a presidential pardon, the blasphemy law remains in place in Pakistan, a majority of whose population is Muslim.

Critics charge that the law is an instrument for terrorizing minorities, leading to dozens of people being jailed each year on trumped-up charges. The targets are mostly Christians and an Islamic minority sect known as Ahmedis.

Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minority affairs, said he was convinced that Bibi was innocent, and the president’s top representative in Punjab province, where the conviction occurred, predicted an imminent award of clemency. President Asif Ali Zardari has the power to overturn punishment the courts hand down to anyone.

Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, said in an interview: “The president has made it clear that she will not be punished. He will grant her a pardon.”

The furor over the case has given the government an opportunity
to abolish or amend the law.

“This is a disgraceful case; it is a disgraceful law. It has to be repealed,” Taseer said.

Bibi, a poor 45-year-old mother of five, was jailed after a row with some Muslim women in Sheikhupura, a district near the city of Lahore in the eastern province of Punjab. She and the women argued while laboring in a field, after they refused to drink water that Bibi had fetched because she was a Christian.

They accused her of saying something insulting about Muhammad, leading to her incarceration and then to her sentencing to hang by a lowlevel local court on Nov. 8.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What Does a Strong Woman Look Like?

So last weekend I went with the Jr. high girls to see "Secretariat." I'm not a big fan of animal movies or sports movies, and since this movie is about horse racing, it already had 2 strikes against it. However, while watching it, I couldn't help but notice a huge strike 3, which bothered me much more than the other 2. My problem with this movie was that it celebrated an unbiblical picture of womanhood. I know you're probably wondering why I was theologically analyzing the underlying messages of this movie, but I just can't ever seem to turn that theological filter in my head off for one second (which is a blessing and a curse!) even when I'm watching a movie!

In the movie, the main character, Penny, returns to her family farm in another part of the country after the death of her mother. She finds her parents' farm in shambles, and she decides to take it over. Her main objective is to train a promising horse in order to enter him into competitions. Penny doesn't settle for mediocrity, and she perseveres to reach her goals despite many obstacles along the way. Her strong resolve is admirable, and she does eventually lead her horse to make history. This is all very well and good, but my problem is with the way she goes about reaching these goals.

In order to train her horse and keep managing the stables, she is constantly flying to her parent's farm in a different state. Penny is a mother of 4, all of which are still living at home, and 2 of which are still in grade school. Not only does she leave her children and put her own dreams ahead of her duties to care for them, but she does so against her husband's will. Her husband does not agree with what she is doing in leaving her home so frequently and spending all of her time devoted to this horse. In response to this opposition from her husband, she flat-out refuses to back down from her horse racing dreams. Throughout the movie, we see some of the fall-out from her decision to leave her home. She misses her daughter's big play, is unaware of things going on in her kids' lives, and a wedge is driven between her and her husband. However, despite these problems, she emerges at the end of the movie as a heroine. Her husband and kids celebrate her for winning the big horse race, and her husband tells her, "you have shown them what a true woman looks like." Apparently all of the neglect and conflict has been justified because she has won a trophy.

Is Penny's character an example of a "true woman," as the movie teaches? I would vehemently disagree. Here's the thing. We're all stubborn, we all have dreams and desires, we all want to go our own way, and we all want to put ourselves first. Penny had a dream to win a horse race. Because of this, she put herself first, and put her own dreams and wishes above her family's. Am I crazy, or is this selfishness, plain and simple? The Scriptures teach us to do the opposite...they tell us to deny ourselves, and they call selfish ambition sin (James 3:14, 3:16; Philippians 1:17; Galatians 5:20; 2 Corinthians 12:20). Philippians 2:3 says, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves." Does this sound like something Penny was doing?

In addition to the selfish ambition she exhibited, Penny also disrespected her husband blatantly. As much as people dislike the notion of the wife submitting to the husband in marriage, this is a crystal-clear biblical mandate. Ephesians 5:22-24 says, "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything." Penny was disrespectful to her husband's wishes and stubbornly went her own way, completely disregarding his leadership. This is clearly not the only movie in which a "strong woman" is portrayed as one who refuses to let her husband lead her. One movie that comes to mind is "The Blind Side." The main character, LeAnn, was the clear head of that marriage and completely controlled her husband and what went on in her home. Her husband passively looked on and let her dominate.

Girls, the reason I bring this up, is because I want you to understand biblical womanhood, which is extremely different from our society's view of a strong woman. There is nothing weak about staying home and serving your husband and kids full-time. This is actually a lot harder than going out and fulfilling your own career plans and dreams, because it entails sacrifice. However, God honors the humble, the selfless, and the servants...they will inherit the kingdom. Putting your family's needs above your own is very difficult, but it is a mark of a godly woman. I do not admire women who leave their families to achieve worldly success. Rather, I want to emulate the women who spend their days changing diapers, cleaning the toilets, and cooking supper. These are the strongest women in my opinion~

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why Making Plans Doesn't Work...

Read Isaiah 14:24-27, James 4:13-15

You've heard it a thousand times..."God has a plan." This is a truth continually taught in evangelical churches, but because we hear it so many times, it can often lose its meaning to us. If we were truly to grasp the fact that God has a sovereign plan for the world, and more specifically, our individual lives, we would never worry. We wouldn't fret when unexpected tragedy struck, we wouldn't fear the unknown future, and we wouldn't be anxious about things we can't control. Wouldn't that be a wonderful way to live your life?? This morning, as I was reading Isaiah, I was struck with an incredible passage on God's sovereignty, and I'd like to share these powerful verses with you.

Isaiah 14:24 states, "The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, 'Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand.'" God has constructed plans that He fully intends to carry out. Nothing can thwart His sovereign will or change what He has set to take place. In verse 25 we see that He is specifically talking about an attack on Assyria, which is fulfilled later in Isaiah 37:21-38. Though He is speaking about Assyria's fate, is this not applicable to our own fates as well? Some people dislike the idea that God is sovereign and is bringing about His own plans on earth, but I find it overwhelmingly comforting. Who better to direct your life than the all-knowing, almighty, King of the universe? He can do a much better job of it than you or I can!

The following verse describes the Lord's hand as being stretched out and His plan devised. I love verse 27 which states, "For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?" Those are powerful words. Man is no match for God. His way will ultimately succeed, and no one on earth can stop it. How silly we often are as we sit around making our own plans as if we were somehow in control. James gives us a much-needed reminder on this topic in James 4:13-15, which states, "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.' Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.'"

Is this the mentality you have? Are you trying desperately to be in control of your life and to make your own plans? I learned early on that making my own plans just doesn't work. God seems to always have something different in mind for me, and though it's normally not something I would have picked myself, it's always superior to my own plans. Let your heart be content and at rest as you wait for God to direct your steps according to His sovereign plan. Trust me, He knows what He's doing!!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dear God...In Jesus' name, Amen.

Read Matthew 6:9-13, John 16: 23-24, and Hebrews 4:14-16

Recently, Lee and I got to attend the Greek Orthodox Church's annual Greek Festival, which is something we've done every year since we first started dating. I know it doesn't sound all that exciting, and I was skeptical at first too... But let me tell you, we have such a blast there each year! One thing that was different about our experience this year, was that we had the opportunity to go into the actual church. The festival is held on the church grounds, but the sanctuary is only open at certain times, and in the past it always seemed to be closed when we were there. Anyway, this year we were able to go inside, and when we went in, we heard one of their pastors/priests (not sure what they call them), speaking about their church doctrine. He was speaking on the issue of prayer, and explaining why they pray to saints, specifically Mary, mother of Jesus. Much to my dismay, he went on to give a completely wrong interpretation of the passage of Jesus' first miracle (turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana), as a defense for this practice.

To make a long story short, he basically was saying that this passage showed Jesus submitting to His mother Mary. Because of this, we should ask Mary to intercede for us in heaven, because Jesus listens to her. Without getting into it in depth, I have to say that this interpretation is dead wrong. This passage glorifies Jesus as God in the flesh, in which He is displaying His power in this incredible supernatural miracle. It is absolutely in no way glorifying Mary or showing any power that she has over Jesus. He is God, and this miracle is about His power, not hers. Anyway, all of this got me thinking that there is probably some clarification needed on why evangelicals pray the way they do. Why don't we pray to saints? Is there a scriptural model for prayer? Well, I'm glad you asked! Let's look at the text.

Obviously the first place to look would be the Lord's prayer, which is the response Jesus gave to His disciples when they said, "teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). In Matthew 6:9-13, we are given a model of how we should pray. In this model, which Christians now call "The Lord's Prayer," it is clear who the prayer is addressed to...God the Father. This is plain in the text. We also see that the prayer ends with the word "Amen," which is how Christians should likewise end their prayers. What does "Amen" actually mean? The Blue Letter Bible Commentary says that "Amen" means "may it be fulfilled," "surely," "truly," "so it is," or "so be it." According to this commentary, it is an expression of absolute trust and confidence.

So now we have found a biblical basis for the reason we pray to God the Father, and why we close our prayers with "Amen," but why do we pray "in Jesus' name?" We see the biblical basis for this is John 16:23-24, in which Jesus says, "In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full." When Jesus says "in that day," He is speaking of the time after His ascension into heaven, so He is referring to the time we are living in now. Before Christ came and the cross occurred, Jesus did not play the role of intercessor on our behalf. Now that He has come to earth and died for us, He has become our great high priest, the one who intercedes to God for us.

Because of the cross, we can now go directly to God in prayer, in Jesus' name. The author of Hebrews describes this in Hebrews 4:14-16 when it says, "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Because Jesus acts as our priest and advocate before the Father, we can approach God's throne with confidence when we pray.

Oftentimes we do things in church out of habit, but we have never researched whether those things we do have a biblical basis or not. There is a danger in that. Regarding specific things which our church does differently than other denominations within Christianity, it is especially important to examine our reasons for doing things differently. On this specific topic of prayer, different denominations approach the practice differently. My aim in this blog post was to show you from a biblical standpoint why we pray to God the Father, why we pray in Jesus' name, and why we close our prayers with "Amen." While some may use certain scriptural passages to defend their practice of praying to the saints, they are off base in my opinion. There is absolutely no biblical basis for this practice, and the passages that are looked to defend the practice are grossly misinterpreted. We have no evidence that past believers can hear our prayers to heaven, or that they are speaking to God on our behalf. Even if they could hear our prayers, this practice wouldn't make any sense to me. I mean, why would you pray to a saint when you have a privilege of going to God directly?? Like I said, it makes no sense logically or biblically. This is a bit different than my normal posts, but I felt the need to make a clarification on this certain point, and I hope it was helpful to you!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God"

Read John 12:20-50, Matthew 6:1-21

I don't know about you, but this past week and a half has been a rough one for me! Maybe you can relate. Here's the problem. When we do something good, something that we know God wants us to do, we usually expect some kind of recognition or reward for it. We may never admit that, but it's oftentimes true nonetheless. However, instead of having someone sing our praises, our good deeds often go completely unnoticed...or even worse, they're misunderstood. After a while, we start to think, "What's the point to all this? I'm doing my best to do God's work and be obedient to Him, and I'm either getting burned for doing the right thing, or my work is going unnoticed and unappreciated. Why even bother?" Do you see a problem with this type of thinking? Lately, I've been starting to think this way. That's when God hit me hard with His word in John 12:43, and He certainly got my attention. Let's take a look at this passage and see if you can have the same "Aha" moment that I did!

In John 12:20-50, Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem just a few short days before He would be crucified. In this passage, He is teaching the people who have gathered to meet with Him. As He is speaking, He says, "Father, glorify Your name, " and in response, a voice actually comes down from heaven and responds, "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again" (28). The crazy thing is, that in response to hearing a literal voice from heaven, many of the people still can't believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that the voice that they heard was actually God's voice. Instead, we read in verse 29 that some people attributed the voice to some thunder, while others claimed it was an angel. It's hard to believe that people could hear God's voice sounding from heaven, and still refuse to believe Jesus is the Messiah. Verse 37 says, "But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him." This is truly tragic. What's equally tragic is the group of people described next.

In verses 42-43, we read that many other people actually did believe, but they would not confess Jesus, because they were afraid of what the Pharisees would think. Verse 43 is the one that jumped out at me and hit me hard..."for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God." Wow. When you put it like that, it really shows the folly in the type of thinking I was describing in my opening paragraph.

In Matthew 6:1-21, Jesus instructs people not to do their good works in a way that will get them noticed by other people. The examples He gives are when believers give tithes, when they pray, and when they fast. If we are doing these things in a way that will get us recognized by others, people's approval of us is the only reward we'll ever get. Matthew 6:1 says, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you will have no reward with your Father who is in heaven." This is the dilemma Christians find themselves in. In our flesh, we have a desire to have our works noticed by others. However, when we do our work for God in a way that will get us noticed by others, God refuses to recognize those works or reward them in the kingdom. We have a choice. We can either gain approval from other men, and have a great reputation in which everyone thinks very highly of us, OR we can do our works in secret and have God reward them in heaven. The question is...are we seeking man's approval, or God's approval??

This passage has been a wake-up call for me! It feels so great to get noticed by others. My love language is hands down, "words of affirmation." When someone praises me for something I've done, I feel like a million bucks. However, that feeling quickly fades! Is this momentary feeling of approval by others really what I should be seeking? Of course not!

If you're feeling discouraged right now because you're trying so desperately to follow God's will and please Him, but are getting either ignored or misunderstood by others, I hope you will be encouraged by this passage. There is no one in history who followed God as perfectly as Jesus Christ, yet He was misunderstood, hated, and reviled. He is our example.

Maybe you're not one of these discouraged behind-the-scenes people, but are instead a shameless self-promoter. Maybe you're one of those individuals described in Matthew 6 who make a show about all they are doing for God, so other people will notice them. If this is the case, I hope these passages of Scripture will change your perspective. Remember that the small feeling of gratification that you are experiencing when someone notices your works does not even come close to comparing with the incredible riches you are forfeiting in the kingdom...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Psalm 55: Stabbed in the Back

Read Psalm 55

Ever been stabbed in the back? If you're a teenage girl, you'll probably answer yes to this question. Let's face it...girls can get pretty ugly. We've probably all faced our share of mean girl drama, but in my opinion, the worst kind is when the mean girl is a former friend of yours. How can someone be your friend one day, and then completely turn on you the next?

One thing that continues to blow my mind when I read the Scriptures, is how relevant they are to the present day. As Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, "there is nothing new under the sun." Though several thousand years have passed since the Old Testament was written, people haven't changed much at all. They faced the same problems we face today. Don't believe me? Let's take a look at Psalm 55, a passage in which David laments about getting stabbed in the back by a close friend...

In the first 5 verses, we quickly can sense the tone of this passage. David is restless and distracted, he's scared and full of horror, and his heart is in utter anguish. Why? He has an enemy who is making his life miserable. In verse 6 he says in total honesty, that he wishes he could just fly away from it all and be at rest! I don't know about you, but I've often wished I could do this when troubles arise. Unfortunately, it doesn't work. It sounds cliche to say that you can't run from your problems, but it's true. Though that would be a lot easier, it wouldn't solve anything.

In verses 9-11 David describes his enemy in a little more detail. This enemy is causing violence, strife, iniquity, mischief, destruction, oppression, and deceit in the city. All of these things add up to make a pretty hefty list of offenses against this enemy that give David reason to be upset. However, we see the worst offense in verses 12-14. This person was David's friend. David reasons that he could bear all of this trouble if it was just coming from one of his enemies, but the person who is causing him harm is someone he once called a friend. David describes him as "my companion and my familiar friend," and states that they "had sweet fellowship together," and "walked in the house of God in the throng" (13-14). Thinking of the sweet friendship they once shared is like pouring salt on the makes it all the more painful to endure. David even goes as far as saying that he wishes his enemies would just die (15).

David is at the point in which he wants his enemies to be judged and put to death, but that's not how he responds to this crisis. David was a mighty warrior, and he could easily have put this enemy to death. However, instead of taking justice into his own hands, he decides to turn everything over to God. In verse 16 he states, "As for me, I shall call upon God, and the Lord will save me." He decides to trust God to deliver him, rather than taking vengeance from his own initiative. I love verse 17, in which he states, "Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur, and He will hear my voice." He talks to God all day long about his problems with this person! How often are we as girls tempted to gossip and complain about those who have wronged us, to anyone who will care to listen! David instead gives all his complaints to God, and prays to Him at all times. Is the Lord truly your best friend, and the one you go to first when you have problems?

In verses 20-21, we get a greater glimpse of what this traitor was really like. One thing that we learn about him is that, "his speech was smoother than butter, but his heart was war; His words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords" (21). Does this sound like any girls you know? I certainly can think of a few that fit this description! The person David is describing would be fake-nice around others and say all the right things, but in reality, he was inwardly downright mean.

Verse 22 is my favorite one out of the whole passage. It says, "Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken." I love this! What in the world would I do if I couldn't give over all of my heavy burdens to the Lord? Where would I be if I didn't have Him sustaining me? This is so encouraging to me.

In the final verse, David asks God to bring about justice to his enemy. He voices his desire to have his enemy destroyed. However, he closes with this simple but profound phrase..."BUT, I will trust in you." David is hurting, he's frightened, he's worried, and he's angry. However, rather than lashing back in retaliation against the one who wronged him, he decides to instead, trust in God. God will bring about justice, God will bring him relief, God will be his refuge, and God will deliver him from his troubles. Hallelujah!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Communion Warning...

Read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

What comes to mind when you think of communion? Do you have images of watered-down grape juice and stale crackers, or do you have images of Jesus' last supper with His disciples, right before He was arrested and crucified?

My father is a pastor, so I always grew up in church listening to his sermons. When I look back at all of the Sundays in which I took communion as a little girl, the main thing that I recall is the reverence, fear, and confession that accompanied them. When my dad served communion, he always stressed that this was not something to be taken lightly. He would refer to this passage in 1 Corinthians to warn us that taking communion when one is not right before God could lead in death. Yep, you read it correctly...he continually reminded us that if we didn't take communion with a pure heart, we could be in danger of a fatal judgment. Since I'd always grown up with this mentality, I remember how shocked I was when I visited other churches in college and saw how casually communion seemed to be treated! Most pastors don't refer to this warning passage on communion found in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, because it sounds pretty morbid. Let's dig into it deeper and see if my father's severe warnings were actually justified or not!

In this passage, Paul starts out with a stern rebuke to the Corinthian church. The Christians in Corinth would typically join together for a feast before taking communion. The problem with this was that there were factions developing among the church, and the more wealthy church members were hogging all of the food before the poor could get any of it! There also seemed to be some drunkenness going on. Paul comes down hard on the Corinthians for this, and he reminds them what the purpose of the Lord's Supper was originally supposed to be.

At Jesus' last supper with His followers, Jesus broke bread and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me" (1 Cor 11:24). Then He took the cup and said, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me" (1 Cor 11:25). So we see that the bread and the wine were symbolic of Jesus' body being broken and blood being shed. Since this was always symbolic, I do not believe in the Catholic view of transubstantiation, which states that the bread and wine literally transform into the flesh and blood of Christ (a belief that led many of the early opposers to Christianity to call them cannibals!). At the last supper, Jesus didn't literally cut off a piece of His flesh or drain His own blood, so there's no reason at all to think there is something literal about is purely symbolic. This represents the new covenant, which came about after Jesus' death on the cross and enabled all people to be saved by believing in Him.

Paul goes on to voice another rebuke for the Corinthians concerning the manner they are taking the Lord's Supper. Apparently, some of them were taking communion in "an unworthy manner" (1 Cor 11:27). This meant that they were taking communion while they still had unconfessed sin in their lives. Because of this, they received judgment from God. Verse 30 says that this was the reason many of them were sick, weak, and even dead. I know this seems overly harsh, but it does show us how serious God took the practice of the Lord's Supper. It is also an obvious reason that nonbelievers should never take communion. Because they haven't confessed faith in Christ and accepted His forgiveness through the cross, they still stand condemned before Him.

How do we avoid guilt and judgment when we take communion? Verse 28 tells us that we need to examine ourselves first. This means that during that period of silence when the elements are being past, we need to close our eyes and ask God to examine our hearts for any sin in our lives. As David prayed in Psalm 139:23-24, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way." Once you've thought about those sins, confess them to God. Also, spend some time remembering the cross and thanking God for sending His son to die for our sins. Communion is supposed to be a time in which we remember and reflect upon that time.

Does this make you see communion any differently? Before you say that my dad was overly harsh or morbid, you have to admit that his teaching is straight from this passage! The next time you take communion, think about this passage and the real purpose of the Lord's Supper. This should not become a meaningless ritual or mindless routine in our churches, but it should be a holy and reverent time in which we confess our own sinfulness and thank God for His incredible sacrifice.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"I'll do it when I'm older..."

Read 1 Timothy 4:12, "Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe."

One of the main excuses I get from teenagers when they are challenged for the way they are living is, "I'll do it when I'm older." Teenagers say they will read the Bible when they're older, they'll get serious about their faith when they're older, they'll share the gospel when they're older, they'll go on mission trips when they're older, etc, etc... Have you heard (or used) these excuses before to justify your spiritual laziness or complacency?

The problem that many of us face is that we see ourselves as immortal. No matter how many times we may hear Kris Allen's single, "Live like you're dying," we simply don't go around with the idea that each moment could be our last. Psalm 144:4 says, "Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow." Whether we want to face it or not, our lives are short. 2 things could happen at any moment that would cut off your time from this earth. First, I know it sounds morbid, but you could die at any moment. Death happens all around us all the time, even to healthy teenagers like yourselves. This is reality. Second, Christ could return at any moment. We don't know when the Second Coming will take place, but we do know that we are living in the end times, and "the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (1 Thess 5:2).

Do you see the flaw in the reasoning of those young people who are waiting until they're older to really live for Christ? Don't fall into this trap! Instead, take to heart the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 4:12, given to his young protege, Timothy, "Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe." Young believers are not excused from Christian service because of their age! Instead, Paul encourages Timothy to serve God in His youthfulness, setting an example of Christian living to others, despite his age.

Notice the 5 different areas of Christian living that Paul mentions to Timothy in this verse. First, Paul mentions his speech. I'm sure you are fully aware that young people have a problem with filthy speech! Though there are many adults who also struggle with this sin, I think cussing and coarse jesting may be the worst in young people. For example, if you heard a teenager use the "f" word, you probably wouldn't bat an eye, but what if you heard a middle-aged woman or an elderly man use the word? That's a lot more alarming! Young people who have tamed their tongue will really shine in their generation. If you vow not to use your tongue for cussing, filthy humor, gossip, and critical words that tear others down, you will serve as an amazing example to those around you.

Second, Paul mentions Timothy's conduct. Many young people are impulsive and foolish, doing things that older people wouldn't imagine doing. Young people are more likely to do things like hit someone's mailbox or spray graffiti on the wall than older people are. Don't buy into the lie that doing foolish things as a teenager somehow excuses your behavior. You know better. In your youthfulness, live a life that would make Jesus proud. As Matthew 5:16 says, "In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

Third, Paul challenges Timothy to live a life of love. I'm sure you remember that loving God and loving others are the greatest commandments (Matt 22:37-39). How many people do you see in your schools who are living out these commandments? Not very many, I'm sure! There is so much hatefulness, bitterness, back-biting, and criticism going on today. How radically different you would look if you rose above that and loved people like Jesus did?

Timothy is also challenged to live an example of faith. As people grow older, they generally become more hard-hearted and more skeptical. Studies show that individuals are so much more likely to become Christians before the age of 18 than in adulthood. Hold fast to your faith in Christ despite the different circumstances you may encounter in life. As Hebrews 10:23 says, "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful."

Lastly, Paul mentions purity. In an age where girls are maturing and losing their virginity at shockingly early ages, take a firm stand for abstinence. However, don't make it your goal to simply keep your virginity, but make purity your goal. This involves keeping your mind innocent of evil, and guarding what you allow into your heart. Are the TV shows, movies, books, and topics of conversation that you allow into your mind and heart pure or impure? Purity is a beautiful virtue for a young Christian girl to display. It not only pleases God, but it provides a powerful witness of your Christian faith to others.

After reading this, do you still believe that you're too young to make a difference? God's plan for you doesn't start after high school or in adulthood. God wants to use you right now, in the place that you are in right at this moment. It is not an accident that you're in your particular community, neighborhood, or school. God has you there for a reason, and He wants to use you for His glory as a young person. Why not embrace this calling and shine for Him in a dark world, just as Timothy did all those years ago??

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Are You Like a Child?

Read Mark 10:13-16

OK girls, before you marry a guy, there are a few things you should know about him first. One of the little "tests" you should make sure your guy passes before you say "I do," involves watching how he acts around children. I think this shows a lot about a guy's character. Many men can be dismissive of children or see them as unimportant or not worth their attention. This shows arrogance and self importance. Guys who go out of their way to show attention and love to a child, are in my opinion, more compassionate and humble. This is one of the many things that attracted me to Lee. He was so kind and loving to children and showed a genuine concern for them.

This is one reason I love this story in Mark reveals a side of Jesus' heart. In this story, that you've probably heard many times, people were bringing their children to Jesus so that He might touch them (and subsequently bless them and pray for them). As the people were bringing the children to Jesus, His disciples started rebuking them and trying to get them to leave. In their minds, I'm sure they saw these children as insignificant, and they wanted Jesus to be available for bigger and more important things. However, we see a glimpse of Jesus' loving heart when He in turn rebukes the disciples for trying to hinder the children from coming to Him.

Now think about this...Jesus is God in the flesh. He's a pretty important person, to say the very least! However, despite His identity as God's son, Jesus continued to exhibit a shocking amount of humility on earth. The way Jesus played with these children is one of the many examples of His great humility. Jesus didn't see Himself as too good for this task. These children had souls too, and their lives were just as sacred in His mind as those of the religious officials or leaders in the community. What compassion Jesus had on these little kids! He saw the task of praying over them and blessing them as one that was worthy of His time.

I think that oftentimes we see some types of ministry as more worthy than others. However, while working in the nursery, visiting the elderly, or cleaning someone's windows may not be as glorious as serving on the mission field or leading a Bible study, these tasks are still worthy ministries! We should never see ourselves as "too good" or "too important" to serve God doing a more lowly task. Jesus really demonstrates this by taking time out of His teaching, healing, and preaching ministry to minister to some insignificant children.

Notice what Jesus says about the children. In verse 15, He says, "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all." What do you think He is getting at here? It doesn't seem to make sense on the surface that Jesus would want us to revert to becoming like a child rather than growing into maturity. What I think Jesus is getting at here is not a childish faith in Him, but a child-like faith. We're not supposed to be like a child in the sense that we are immature or devoid of knowledge or growth. Rather, we're supposed to be like a child in the sense that we wholeheartedly believe in the Lord without reservation, doubt, or skepticism, and that we love and trust Him wholeheartedly and with full humility.

Have you ever tried to tell a child about something totally out of the ordinary? For instance, you could tell them that there are monsters under the bed, there is an old man who delivers presents to every house in the world in one night, that unicorns exist, etc. They grow completely wide-eyed and totally buy the whole story immediately, no questions asked. What if you tried to tell these same things to an adult? The response would be radically different! Not even the most gullible person would believe those things. Now, these things are all totally ridiculous and untrue. However, the truth about God is 100% accurate, but also totally extraordinary, miraculous, and supernatural. You can't see God, so you have to believe that He is real by faith. You didn't see God part the Red Sea, save Daniel from the Lion's Den, or make the sun stand still. However, because you have faith, you believe these things to be true.

Do you see the analogy Jesus is making? Our faith in Him is to be like a child's faith. We are to fully believe His Word without any doubts, skepticism, or questions. Like a child, we're to simply believe what His Word says is true, rather than trying to rationally explain away the miracles of the Scriptures like so many adults are prone to do.

Here's another thing to think about along these same lines... Think about the way a child runs to his mother or father. He climbs into their lap, hugs their neck, and kisses them on the cheek while loudly proclaiming, "I love you!" Now think about the way an adult greets his father or mother...not quite the same reaction! There is more reservation from adults. We hold things back, as opposed to a child who has no inhibitions whatsoever. Adults will greet their parents warmly, but it won't be the same outpouring of affection. We are to go to our Father in heaven like a child, humbly crawling into His arms of love and unreservedly giving our whole hearts to Him, holding nothing back!

Do you have a child-like faith and affection for the Lord? Examine your heart and surrender all of your doubts and reservations to Him~

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"I'm not a man, I'm alien..."

Well, many of you have just completed your second day of school, and the pressure is really starting to kick in. Perhaps you've grown closer to God this summer, especially at camp, the mission trip, etc. However, as soon as you set foot back into that school building, all of the old temptations have started to rush back over you. You suddenly feel like everyone is watching you and wonder if your outfit looks OK, if the person you're sitting next to makes you look cool, if your hair is in place, and if your purse is a cool enough brand. You suddenly feel the overwhelming desire to blend in, to be accepted, to be considered cool.

If you're struggling with any of this (and you most likely are, if you're honest), I want to remind you of a powerful verse. 1 Peter 2:11 says, "Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against your soul." Does it strike you as odd that Peter calls Christians aliens and strangers? What this means, is that Christians are supposed to look so different than everyone else, that they are going to look like they're from another planet!

I a teenager, looking like an alien is not something you want to strive for. In fact, that's the last thing you want to be seen as! However, we've got to remind ourselves that we are here on this earth to please God, and His standards are very different than the world's. Instead of conforming to the ways of everyone around you, God wants you to shine like a light in a dark place (Rom 12:2, Matt 5:16). You can't shine if you look as dark as everyone else.

If you really live out your faith in the radical way God tells us to in the Scriptures, you will look like an alien. When you're at school, I hope that you feel this way...this means you're doing something right! If you're really living in obedience to God, the jokes that everyone else laughs at won't be funny to you, the movies everyone is talking about will be ones you'd never see, the language people are using will be foreign to you, and the things people are doing on the weekends will be completely different than what you're doing. This is who God has called you to alien in this dark world. Your citizenship is in heaven, and you're just visiting this earth as an ambassador for Christ...don't forget that.

This verse challenges believers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which Peter says are waging war against Christians. Does this sound extreme to you? It's not! There is a spiritual battle going on around you, and Satan is trying as hard as he can to pull you away from God (Eph 6:10-12). At school you'll be enticed by the lust for popularity, for material things, for beauty, for a boyfriend, and for acceptance by your peers at any cost. Ask God to open your eyes to the battle that is going on and give you the strength to resist temptation.

When I was in high school, a guy my older sister dated was in this Christian band that wrote their own music. One of their songs went like this... "Like a horse out of water, like a fish that breathes the air, I feel some times, times, times...I'm not a man, I'm alien." Man, could I relate to that! That song really ministered to me, because I often felt just like an alien in high school. I was so different than everyone around me, and nobody seemed to get why I lived the way I did.

I want to encourage you from the beginning of the new school year, to see yourselves as aliens and strangers in this world. Spend time in the Word and in prayer, every day...this will keep you from temptation (Psalm 119:11), cling to the Christian friendships you have formed in the youth group, and resist the temptation to simply blend in~

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cheerful Giving

Read 1 Chronicles 29:1-21; 2 Corinthians 9:7

Have you ever given to God cheerfully? I can remember times when I was delighted to give to God, but if I'm being honest, I can also remember times I have given out of duty. Many times, I have given because I feel obligated, and I don't feel "cheerful" as I do so. 2 Corinthians 9:7 is a verse many of us know by heart, but how often do we see this verse lived out? The verse says, "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." When we give to God, we shouldn't reluctantly fork over some change because we will feel guilty if we let the offering plate pass by. Rather, we should be delighted to give back to the Lord a portion of what He has so graciously given us! Let's look at 1 Chronicles 29:1-21, for an excellent example of cheerful giving.

In this passage, King David has called upon the Israelites to help him gather up all of the materials and resources needed to build God's temple. Though it was David's original idea to build a temple for the Lord, God chose David's son Solomon to do the actual building. In this passage, David is doing some preliminary work to make preparations during his reign, so that Solomon can build the temple during his own reign. In verse 3, David says, "Moreover, in my delight in the house of God, the treasure I have of gold and silver, I give it to the house of my God, over and above all that I have already provided for the holy temple." Did you catch that? David has given his riches to the temple-building project, out of his delight for the house of God. He wants to give to God, because he genuinely delights in doing so!

In verse 6 we see that the people "offered willingly," and in verse 8 we see that, "whoever possessed precious stones gave them to the treasury of the house of the Lord." Not only was the king a cheerful giver, but the Israelites responded to David's call by willingly offering up their own resources for the temple fund. I absolutely love verse 9, which states, "Then the people rejoiced because they had offered so willingly, for they had made their offering to the Lord with a whole heart, and King David also rejoiced greatly." The Israelites were so eager to give, that they were rejoicing that they had the opportunity to do so! Can you imagine if people started rejoicing as the offering plate was going around during our church service? I don't know about you, but I don't see a ton of rejoicing during that time...rather, it's generally a solemn time. I wish I had a heart like that of the Israelites in this passage, who celebrated their offerings to God with great joy!

Now, as you read this, you may be thinking that an offering to God that is celebrated and rejoiced over might be a display of arrogance. You may point out that the reason we don't rejoice in our church while the offering plate is going around is because we don't want to draw attention to ourselves. After all, God makes it very clear that we are not to make a show about our giving, and Jesus says in Matthew 6:3 that we should not even let our right hand know what our left hand is doing when we give to the needy. Clearly, we shouldn't rejoice about our offerings in order to call attention to ourselves...right?

While I definitely agree that we shouldn't make a show about our offerings and call attention to ourselves when we give, I also can see that there was nothing arrogant or showy about the Israelites' offerings in this passage. In fact, the opposite is going on...their rejoicing is aimed at God, not themselves. In verse 12, David cries out to the Lord, "Both riches and honor come from You," and in verse 16 he says, "O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided to build You a house for your holy name, it is from Your hand, and all is Yours." David and his people are giving every single ounce of glory from their offerings to God alone. Their time of rejoicing during their offering is one of humility. They realize that everything they own is already God's, so they are just giving back what He has already given them! Verse 14 is wonderful...David says, "But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You." The Israelites are humbled that they even have gold, silver, and precious stones to give to the Lord...they know the only reason they have any of that is because God gave it to them in the first place.

What a refreshing passage on giving. Far too often, we (myself included) give out of obligation or guilt, rather than out of joy. I think what we need is a perspective change. We view our paychecks as ours. We feel that we have earned that money by working hard and that we deserve it. We give a small portion of our income to the church, and then we feel good about ourselves for giving over our hard-earned money to charity. In actuality, we need to view that money as God's. Everything is His. We need to realize that we wouldn't have a paycheck unless He gave it to us. We're not giving Him our own money...we're giving Him money that is already His. Do you see the difference? Let's pray that God will change our perspective on giving and help us to see that everything we have is His. Once this happens, we will rejoice at the opportunity to give back to Him and offer our money and resources with willing hearts~

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Bachelorette...Anything but Reality

OK, so I've never jumped on The Bachelor/Bachelorette bandwagon before. To me, the whole concept has always just sounded stupid. However, the new "Bachelorette" seems to be on everyone's minds these days. Because I kept hearing about the show, I decided to try watching the new season. After all, Lee has class on Monday nights, so I'm pretty bored at home! After watching a couple of episodes, I realized I was completely right in my first general assessment of the TV's ridiculous. But why write a blog-post on it? There are certainly a lot of ridiculous shows out there...why harp on this one? What disturbs me about this particular show is that it is marketed as a reality show, but it is so far from reality, it's not even funny. I realize that there are probably a TON of young girls watching this show, envying Ali, and wishing with all of their might that they could be in her shoes. Let me tear down the facade for you...

I know that this show can be a huge blow to girls' self esteem, as they see this beautiful girl with 2o cute and successful young men all drooling over her. While this girl on TV has a whole roomful of men falling all over her and competing just to talk to her, you're sitting at home wondering why you've never even had one guy fight for you. Why can't you get this kind of attention from guys? You think that if only you looked like Ali, things would be so much better for you (remember that she has top stylists, hair-dressers, and make-up artists at her disposal!).

Do you see the danger here? Girls already suffer from low self-worth, and this show offers an extremely unrealistic picture of love that makes them feel like losers in comparison. In reality, no girl is going to have 20 men meet her and immediately fall for her and start fighting over her. I 100% guarantee to you that no girl would get this kind of immediate attention from this many guys at the same time. In reality, these guys don't know her at all. They have no idea if they would be interested in her in any other setting. Because they're on "The Bachelorette," which is a competition for one girl, they automatically want to win her over.

Another problem with this show, is that it celebrates impurity. Ali makes out with almost all of these guys on her first date with them. Keep in mind that she is dating them all at the same time. Like, she's making out with one guy one night, and another guy the next, etc. She even kisses guys while the other contestants are watching! I'm guessing things get more intimate and racy as the show progresses. All the while, she is never portrayed as inappropriate, easy, or a player. The other guys look on jealously, but have no problem with the fact that they are just one of her many boyfriends. This is completely unrealistic. In absolutely no other context would this kind of behavior be socially acceptable. Someone who is dating and making out with this many guys at the same time would be looked down upon in any other setting. This show makes her behavior acceptable, when it is in reality extremely inappropriate and gross. Furthermore, no guy would just passively watch his girlfriend get it on with other guys, and then continue to pursue her as if nothing happened.

A third problem with this show, is that it paints an unrealistic picture of finding your husband and falling in love. You will never be given a room full of 20 eligible bachelors who are all crazy about you, and be able to simply choose which one you want to marry. I know so many amazing and beautiful girls who are dying to get married but are still single. In reality, finding your husband takes a lot of patience, waiting, and praying. We have to wait for years for God to lead us to the right man...we will never just get to pick him from a crowd of suitors.

The dates that Ali goes on with these men are elaborate, expensive, flashy, and romantic. It's impossible not to feel romance and "love" when you're traveling the world, going on helicopter rides over scenic views, slow dancing at your own private concerts, etc. You will never go on dates like this in real life (unless you're dating a millionaire). It's just not reality. These elaborate dates are designed to stir up romantic feelings...making falling in love look simple.

The fact that these seasons usually end with a marriage proposal seems absurd to me. Before that proposal happens, you need to make sure you know that person extremely well. You can only get to know someone that well by spending time with them. If you are a Christian and don't believe in divorce, you know that getting engaged is not something you should take lightly. To have your whole dating relationship on camera, is completely ridiculous. There is no way in the world you can really get to know someone on the level you need to before engagement, when your relationship has been filmed constantly. Whether they mean to or not, people act differently on camera. Engagement appears so easy on this show, but in reality, it should be a long and careful journey of building a solid relationship while seeking God's guidance the whole time.

So this is my take on the ever popular show, "The Bachelorette." I think this show is disturbing for young girls, because it gives them a false picture of love and dating. It is portrayed as a reality show, but it is completely unrealistic. Because of this, I think it can be dangerous for girls to watch. Sorry to all of you "Bachelorette" fans, but I had to say it...

Monday, June 21, 2010

"Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you."

Read Zechariah 8:23, "Thus says the Lord of hosts, 'In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, "Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'"

I've been reading through the minor prophets over the last week or so and have been thoroughly enjoying it! There is so much rich truth in these little books, but they are unfortunately rarely taught in church. I encourage you to read from Hosea to Malachi, slowly, and with a commentary and pen in hand! I know you will be blessed because of it!

This verse in Zechariah really stuck out to me today. Chapter 8 of this book is a prophecy of the future restoration of Israel in the Millennial kingdom (the 1,000 year period of Christ's reign on earth). Basically, the history of Israel reads like a broken record. They sin, God punishes/judges them, they repent, and God restores them. If you think about it, this is a picture of our lives as well! How many times have we messed up, asked for forgiveness, and seen God faithfully forgive and restore? Too many to count! In this passage, we see a beautiful picture of Israel's future reconciliation and restoration. Though parts of this prophecy have been partially fulfilled, the complete fulfillment will happen in the future Millennium, when Christ comes back for the 2nd time.

The verse that really stuck out to me in this passage is the final verse, verse 23, which describes the people from other nations grabbing the clothes of the Jews and saying, "Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you." Isn't this amazing? The people see the favor of the Jews, they can tell that God is with them, and they want to be a part of it!

I can't help but think about how wonderful it would be if we saw this happening on earth right now. What if you were so in love with God, so firmly rooted in your faith, so pure and holy and set apart for God, that people just knew God was with you? What if you were so full of the Holy Spirit, that people could just sense God's presence whenever you were around? We're called to be salt and light in this dark world (Matt 5:13-16). This means that we are commanded to stand out, for the purpose of bringing glory to Him. I'm sure you're familiar with Matthew 5:16, which reads, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." I know that you probably know that verse by heart, but do you live it? We need to be so close to God, that people will see Him in us and want what we have.

This is just as much a challenge to me as it is to all of you. I get so caught up in the meaningless busyness of each day, that I forget my purpose for being on this earth. I challenge you to repeat Matthew 5:16 to yourself every morning, and purposefully pray that God would give you the grace to live that verse out each day. I am challenging myself with this as well. Let's see what God can do through us!!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

1 Peter 3:15: Are You Ready?

Read 1 Peter 3:15, "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence."

If someone asked you why you went to church, what would you say? If somebody asked you how you know for certain that Jesus is the only way, would you know how to respond? What if someone asked you why God lets bad things happen in the world? If you live your faith openly (which is really the only way Christians are to live it), then you will come across some questions and raised eyebrows. How will you respond to this?

Peter is instructing us in this verse to be proactive. When someone asks us about our faith, we need to be prepared. Have you ever been speechless when someone asked you a question, and then thought of the perfect response minutes later as you were walking away? I know I have! The reason we can't think of a good response right away, is because we're caught off guard. If we follow Peter's instructions in 1 Peter 3:15, we won't be surprised and consequently miss opportunities to share our faith.

We're told in this verse to be ready to make a defense of our faith. But how do we get ready? The number one way to get ready is to be an avid reader of God's Word. We can't defend our faith if we don't know the Bible, because all of the answers to people's questions about Christ are found in it! Read it over and over again, not letting a day go by without looking over at least a few verses. The more you read it, the more you will remember it. Memorize key verses (Romans 3:23, 6:23; John 3:16; John 14:6; Eph. 2:8-9, etc), and underline many others in your Bible, so you can reference them quickly. Having a Bible with you either in your car or backpack, will keep you ready to reference Scripture at any time. In addition to the Bible, read and study other non-fiction Christian books by trusted authors. Being well-read is a great way to be ready!

Another way to be ready to give a defense of your faith is to pray. Pray for opportunities to share your faith, for the courage to seize those opportunities, and for wisdom to know the right words to say. We must be totally dependent on prayer to share our faith; it is vital for us to rely on the Holy Spirit fully. I can't stress this enough! If you try to witness on your own strength, without prayer, then you won't be effective. A praying person is a ready person!

Finally, don't forget the very important clause at the end of this verse, because it will make all the difference. As you give a defense for the hope that is in you, do so "with gentleness and reverence." The purpose in giving a defense of your faith is not to prove that you're right and they're wrong, to argue someone into taking your side, or to make others look stupid or ignorant with all of your fancy arguments. You should give a defense out of love and compassion for the lost, not out of a desire to be right. Rather than arrogant or condescending, your attitude should be gracious and loving. Be gentle and reverent, not a harsh know-it-all. There's a big difference there!

Are you ready at any moment to give others a reason for the hope that you hold so dear? Being taken by surprise and missing an opportunity to share your faith is a horrible feeling. I know, because it's happened to me. By studying the Word and immersing yourself in prayer, you will be armed and ready for anything~

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Why, Miley, Why??

So I recently wrote a post about Miley Cyrus and her response when asked if she was a Christian. I commended her for speaking the name of Jesus Christ, but now I've got to say that I kind of wish she hadn't. Her recent single "I Can't be Tamed" goes directly against our Christian ideology. To claim that you're a follower of Christ and then come out with a song like this is disturbing. So what's so bad about this song? There certainly are worse songs out there, of course, but let's take a look at these lyrics...

Apparently, this song is her debut as a more "mature" bad-girl. She's shedding off her more innocent and cutesy persona that she formerly had and has turned into the new Britney Spears (who also started out as the cute and innocent "girl-next door" and then went off the deep end). The beginning of the song is extremely arrogant, as she brags about how many guys want her, how hot she is, and how she "goes through guys like money flyin' out their hands." This is totally different than her more shy and humble lyrics in "Party in the USA," when she talks about getting nervous with her stomach in knots at seeing so many famous people. The tables are turned now, as she vainly brags about how awesome she is. I liked the first girl a LOT better...

The beginning of this song is directly opposed to the way the Bible says we should act. In Proverbs 6:16-17, "haughty eyes" are listed as one of the things detestable to the Lord. And that's not the only place where we see that God hates arrogance and's all over the Bible. Another great passage speaking on this same topic is, " Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time." (1 Peter 5:5-6). What's even worse than bragging, however, is bragging about your sin. In the song's intro, she's bragging about her vanity, sex appeal, and overall immorality with guys. Before you envy her for all of her boyfriends, remember that we are all going to be held accountable for how we lived on earth. Girls who claim to follow Christ should be pure, plain and simple.

But let's move on to the chorus of the song..."I can't be tamed, I can't be saved, I can't be blamed, I can't, can't, I can't be tamed, I can't be changed, I can't be saved, I can't be, I can't be tamed." OK we get it Miley, you want to do things your own way. This chorus is all about living however the heck you want and not conforming. The ironic thing is, however, that living an "untamed" (ie worldly and rebellious) lifestyle is not being original or unique. She says shes not going to change or conform, but that's exactly what she's doing. What is truly unique and non-conformist is rejecting the world and choosing to die to yourself and live for Christ.

This chorus goes against many biblical principles. It advocates open rebellion and following your own rules, but the Bible advocates submission and obedience. For example, Titus 3:1 states, "Remind them to be subject to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed." Miley sings "Don't change me," but in reality we all need God to change us! We need Him to sanctify us, mature us, shape us, and conform us to His image! Rather than arrogantly going our own way, and telling everyone that we can't be tamed/saved/changed, we're to follow God's way, and be transformed, renewed, and redeemed! We're to follow His law in obedience and live in submission to His will. This is true freedom!

The purpose of me writing this post on Miley's latest single is to point out to you the messages our culture is sending us. We shouldn't blindly sing along with songs that are just wicked, plain and simple. When we fill our minds with messages that go against a Christian lifestyle and biblical worldview, we're going to be led astray. I'm disappointed that Miley has gone down this path, when she could have used her influence for good. I'm even more disgusted that she repeatedly claims to believe in Jesus but is now living a lifestyle contradictory to the Bible. And don't even get me started on the music video...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Warning: 1 Kings 11:1-8

Read 1 Kings 11:1-8

I just recently posted a devotional on a really neat passage (1 Kings 8), in which Solomon prays a beautiful and passionate prayer to the Lord at the dedication of the Temple. I hate to be debbie downer, but it's only fair to tell Solomon's entire story. Solomon started off well, but he unfortunately ended lousy. Most people know the stories of Solomon asking God for wisdom, judging his people wisely, building the Temple, and writing Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. However, what many don't know, is that the king who was at one time the wisest man in the world ultimately ended up falling away from God completely. Let's study what happened to Solomon and try to learn something from his mistakes.

As you probably know, when God chose the Israelites to be His people, He gave them many laws and commandments to follow. The purpose of these laws was to set them apart from the other nations as a pure and holy nation belonging to Him alone. One of the commands He gave to His people was that they could not intermarry with foreigners. This may sound harsh to some people. What if you fall in love with someone from a foreign country? Why would God want to separate people that love each other? Here's the thing. God is all-knowing. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He alone knows the future. His laws are a protection for us, because He knows what harmful consequences will come from disobeying Him. The Lord knew that joining together in marriage to a pagan would not end well, and it certainly didn't for Solomon.

Despite the fact that Solomon was fully aware of the laws, he chose to marry a foreigner...and not just one foreigner. Solomon took a head-spinning total of 700 wives and 300 concubines. That's 1,000 women in his harem! So we see that Solomon didn't just take one foreign wife, but he took 1,000 wives/concubines. Marriage was designed by God in the garden of Eden between 1 woman and 1 man. Anything other than this is a perversion of God's original plan, and it will end with serious consequences. In this case, the very worst that could happen to Solomon did. Because he neglected God's command not to intermarry with foreigners and took 1,000 women into his palace, he was led astray. The man who had once been so close to God actually turned to idol worship. He left the God who had blessed Him beyond comprehension with all of the wisdom and riches in the world, and he began to make sacrifices to the idols his foreign wives worshipped.

What a depressing ending to such a promising individual! Though this is a sad story, it offers us an important lesson. First of all, no one is immune from temptation to sin, so we must guard against it diligently. We see in 1 Kings 10:23 that, "King Solomon became greater than all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom." However, though Solomon had everything going for him, he still gave into sin's temptation. He neglected God's commands and warnings, surely thinking that nothing bad would come of it. He was so wrong. His arrogance is apparent in the way he flagrantly disregarded God's law and got for himself 1,000 wives. This is so over-the-top and ridiculous, and it clearly shows his pride. Perhaps he thought that because he was king, he could make his own rules. The statement, "pride comes before the fall" is so true. Those who arrogantly do whatever they want and think there will be no consequences are very foolish.

Are you puffed up with pride like Solomon? Do you live by your own rules, disobeying God's law and foolishly thinking nothing will come of it? Remember that "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6). Take the story of Solomon's downfall as a sober warning. Take God's law seriously and follow Him wholeheartedly, because those who don't will surely fall.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Are you a Complainer??

Read Philippians 2:14; Exodus 15:22-17:7

No one likes to be around a whiner. Perhaps this is the best way to cure a complainer...let them be around someone who whines and grumbles for a while. When they see how irritating and unattractive it is, they won't want to complain anymore! We all probably struggle with complaining to some degree, myself included. This lesson is just as convicting to me as it is to all of you, so you're not alone! Philippians 2:14 says, "Do everything without complaining or arguing." How are you doing in this area? Let's look in the book of Exodus and study a group who did their fair share of whining, and see what we can learn from their mistakes.

At this point in the text (15:22), the Israelites have just been delivered from slavery in Egypt. The have seen the Lord's miraculous power through the 10 plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. They have responded with a song of praise to the Lord in 15:1-18, thanking Him for all the wonders He has done. It seems like people who had just witnessed God's miracles and deliverance would follow Him joyfully from that day forward. However, the Israelites' thankful and worshipful attitude didn't last long. As they headed into the wilderness, it only took 3 days for them to start complaining. 3 days...3 days until the wonder and amazement of God's miracles and deliverance wore off!

In Exodus 5:24 we see the reason for their first complaint against the Lord. They began to grumble and complain, because the water was bitter. In response to this, the Lord provides for them, making the waters around them sweet. Did this miracle satisfy their grumbling? Unfortunately, it did not. In 16:3, they begin to grumble that they are hungry, even going so far as saying that they would have been better off back in Egypt as slaves! As a response to this, God produces another miracle to provide for their needs. He literally rains down bread from heaven every morning, and rains down quail every evening. I wish I could have seen that! However, that miracle didn't stop their grumbling either. In 17:2-3, we see the people complaining again that they are thirsty. This passage reads just like a broken record! The Lord hears their grumbling and provides for their need once again.

It's easy to judge the Israelites from our point of view. When you read this passage, their behavior seems ridiculous. How could they have such little faith in God? Why did they have such a hard time believing that God would take care of their needs, especially after all the miracles He had showed them? How can they complain after all that God has done for them? They've just been freed from slavery, yet they still grumble against the one who delivered them! How could they be that short-sighted?

I think we're all a lot more like the Israelites than we'd like to admit. When I think about my own life, I know that I have been guilty of the same faithless grumbling that the Israelites did. I complain about our financial situation, even though I can honestly say that I have never had a need remain unmet. God has never failed to provide for me, yet I still panic every time I read our bank statement. Like the Israelites, I am quick to forget all He has done for me! I complain about Lee's health, when I know full well that things could be so much worse. When I see people who are disabled, disfigured, or cancerous, I am convicted of my grumbling when our situation is not nearly as painful as those others experience. I complain about our tiny apartment, but when I see the homeless, I'm reminded that I really have nothing to grumble about...I have a roof over my head, which is more than many around the world can say. Yes, I'm a lot like the Israelites, and maybe you are as well. Take a moment to reflect. What do you complain and grumble about? Is your situation really as bad as you make it out to be? What do you need to thank God for today?