Thursday, February 25, 2010

What's Wrong with Pursuing Happiness?

As most of you know by now, in addition to writing devotionals, I also like to comment on the messages our culture is sending us and point out why these messages are unbiblical. Since last season, I've been a somewhat avid follower of "American Idol." During "Hollywood Week" (a week of auditions in Hollywood) this year, a certain Sheryl Crow song kept popping up over and over again in various auditions, unfortunately getting stuck in my head as a consequence. The song is called "If it Makes you Happy," and it is a horrible yet catchy song with a very flawed message. I don't know the words to the song, but am unfortunately familiar with the chorus (which is playing over and over again in my head) which states, "If it makes you happy, then it can't be that bad." Do you think this is true?

Hearing this song made me think about America's obsession with "the pursuit of happiness." Is this a biblical pursuit? In a recent study called "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," researchers have discovered that women are very unhappy in our present age, though we are much more advanced than ever before. Books and articles are being written on the subject of becoming happy, with authors offering advice for women on their own pursuits of happiness. In The Happiness Project, author Gretchen Rubin tells women that happiness comes from "de-cluttering," "trying not to nag," "tackling a new skill," and "imitating a spiritual master." Mirelle Guiliano writes in the book Women, Work, and the Art of Savoir Faire, that women should use cloth napkins, wear a light, fresh scent, and own a little black dress (among other things). Seems like pretty frivolous stuff, doesn't it? I mean, if the goal of life is to be happy, and happiness comes from wearing perfume and a cute dress, then you've got a pretty pointless life! Isn't there a lot more to life than this?

I have heard so many young people say to me, "I just think God wants me to be happy." Is this thought found anywhere in Scripture? I've said it once, and I'll say it again...we need to be very, very careful that the philosophies we are buying into are actually from Scripture and not from pop culture. "I think God wants me to be happy" may sound good in theory, but we need to examine if this is actually from the Bible or not.

There is absolutely nothing in the Bible that says that God wants you to be happy or that your goal or right in life is the pursuit of happiness. Lots of things, good and bad, can make someone happy, but that certainly doesn't mean we should do them! It may make someone happy to seek revenge on an enemy, to have sex outside of marriage, to go to wild parties, to spend money on materialistic non-necessities...but clearly that doesn't make it OK to do these things. Sin is fun for a season and will often make you temporarily happy. However, God is more concerned with your holiness than your happiness. Pursuing happiness is a very selfish endeavor and leads to a very empty and purposeless life.

Though the Bible doesn't talk about happiness, it does talk about contentment and joy. What's the difference? In Philippians 4:11-12, Paul says, "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." Happiness is based on circumstance, but contentment is not affected by your situation. Christians need to come to a point where they are at peace and completely satisfied and fulfilled in Christ alone. He is all they need, bringing them to a point in which they can remain content no matter what happens to them. They know God is sovereign and that His will is being accomplished, though they may still experience a lot of suffering and unhappiness in their lives.

Joy is also not based on circumstance, because it comes from the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). Happiness comes from temporary circumstances in this world, but joy comes from the Lord, and you can experience it no where else in this world! Why do you often see lost people seek pleasure after pleasure in their lives? They're continually looking for happiness and lack the joy that comes from a right relationship with Jesus. As soon as the pleasure of one thrill wears off, they start looking for something else to make them's a vicious cycle. Because joy is from God and has nothing to do with our present situation, Christians are able to have joy in the midst of suffering and trials. Going through affliction will definitely not make you happy, but you can experience the joy of knowing that God is working and using those trials for His glory.

In Will Smith's movie, The Pursuit of Happiness, his character works hard to bring his family from a point of despair and poverty to a point of success. He gets a great job and is able to give his son the kind of life he hadn't been able to give him previously. The message is that Americans have the right to work hard in order to achieve happiness for themselves. This is such a flawed and deceptive idea. The happiness you can obtain from wealth, material possessions, and even loved ones will soon wear off. Nothing can give you lasting happiness, and only God can bring you joy and contentment...something eternal and much more precious than any temporary pleasure.

Have you bought into the dangerous lie that life is about your happiness? Remember that life is about God's glory, not about your pleasure. Following the Lord will bring you the kind of joy and satisfaction that you can never experience elsewhere, but it definitely won't be smooth sailing all of the time. You may have to sacrifice certain things, and you will certainly experience suffering and persecution like Jesus did. However, there is no greater joy than being a Christ-follower~

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Who's Your Priest?

Read Hebrews 7:23-8:2, Hebrews 4:14-16

If I were to ask you who your "priest" was, how would you respond? Did you know that Jesus is your priest? Most people don't think of Jesus in this way. They see Him as their friend, Lord, Savior, Messiah, etc. While these are all true depictions of who Jesus is, He also serves as the great High Priest. What does this mean exactly? Hebrews 7:23-28 and 4:14-16 are great passages that shed light on Jesus' role as priest and should help us understand this role more clearly.

Verse 23 of chapter 7 starts out by talking about the former priests under the Mosaic Law in the old covenant. In this covenant that God initiated with the Jews, a sacrificial system was established with Levitical priests (this just means that all priests were from the Jewish tribe of Levi). The Jews couldn't go to God directly like we have the privilege of doing now. They had to make an animal sacrifice and have a priest intercede to God on their behalf. Only the priest was allowed to enter the presence of God on the day of Atonement, by entering the Holy of Holies, which was the restricted section of the Temple located behind a veil.

This sacrificial system and arrangement of the priests interceding for the people was just a temporary arrangement by God until the real solution came in the person of Jesus Christ. Under the old covenant, multiple priests fulfilled the role of intercessor for the people, because they were mere humans who would only live for a short time (23). Their role was temporary, and they had to be replaced after their death. When Jesus came, He was able to fill the role of priest forever, since He is fully God and lives for eternity (24). He is the perfect fulfillment to the old system, which was imperfect and only a temporary arrangement until Jesus would come as the perfect solution to sin. He intercedes for His people, allowing us to talk to God directly (something those under the old covenant were unable to do). His role as intercessor for us in heaven gives us access to God. Do you remember when the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom at Jesus' death? God ripped the veil in two in order to show us, that because of Jesus' sacrifice, we would now have access to God.

One thing that makes Jesus the perfect sacrifice and intercessor for us is the fact that He is sinless (26). The priests of the old covenant had to atone for their own sins before offering up sacrifices for the people (27). Because Jesus lived a sinless life and is undefiled by sin, He is able to serve as the great High Priest in the way that no other person could ever do.

Blood had to be shed in order to atone for sins, and this blood had to come from an undefiled animal without flaws. This is why the only person who could have made this sacrifice on our behalf was Jesus, who came to earth fully man and fully God and lived a life with no sin. His sacrifice satisfied the wrath of God, as He took all of man's sins on Himself. His sacrifice occurred "once for all," so we no longer have to offer animal sacrifices to pay for our sins (27). They've already been paid for by Jesus on the cross.

So what does Jesus' role as priest mean for us today? It means that we have an advocate for us in heaven who intercedes on our behalf, enabling us to confidently approach the God of the universe (Heb 4:14, 16). Because He lived on earth as a man, He is a priest who is able to sympathize and fully understand our condition and will consequently help us in our time of need (Heb 4:15-16). Is this not an amazing thing? I am so glad that I was born in 1984, under the new covenant, and don't have to go through some priest in order to have access to God or sacrifice an animal each time I sin (which would mean a LOT of dead animals!). Praise God today for sending His precious Son Jesus, who was the perfect solution to the problem of sin. Through Him we have redemption, atonement, and a direct line to the Father. What a great Priest!

*I also encourage you to read through the whole book of Hebrews for a greater understanding of Christ's Priesthood.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Discouraged? Psalm 103 should do the trick!

Read Psalm 103

The book of Psalms has always been one of my favorite books of the Bible. It is the first place I go when I am discouraged or weary. The words of these Psalms have uplifted me and brought healing and restoration to my heart on countless occasions. Are you discouraged today? Do you feel distant from God or dry spiritually? Psalm 103 would be a great chapter for you to meditate on. In this Psalm, David lists the insurmountable blessings of God for those who fear Him. It's impossible to remain downcast after reading these precious words of truth.

The Psalm begins with David blessing the holy name of the Lord. He begins to list some of the incredible blessings enjoyed by the children of God, calling them not to forget God's benefits. Is this not the first thing we do when we're distressed? We tend to forget about the power and blessings of God and focus on the daunting problem in front of us. Rather, we should gaze on the majesty and sovereignty of God, and our problems will seem really small in comparison to His greatness!

David reminds us that our Lord pardons all of our sins, heals all of our diseases, redeems our life from the pit, crowns us with loving kindness and compassion, satisfies our years with good things, and renews us (v. 3-5). What an amazing picture of our Father. He takes us from our former state, where we were wallowing in our iniquities, diseased with sin, and struggling in the pit of destruction. He takes us from this lowly place and redeems, renews, heals, and pardons us. He brings us satisfaction in Him that we have never experienced anywhere else on earth, and He lavishes His lovingkindness and compassion on us.

David continues to call us to remember the righteous deeds God has performed and how He lead and spoke to Moses and the sons of Israel (v.6-7). Because God is faithful and unchanging, He continues to do these righteous acts now and will continue to perform them in the eternity to come.

The next few verses are some of my favorite, because they deal with God's gracious forgiveness and mercy. God is described in verse 8 as compassionate, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness! This may not be the picture of God that you have in your mind, but it is the biblical picture of Him. Yes, God is also a God of wrath and judgment, but we see in verse 9 that He won't keep His anger forever. When we repent from our sins, He readily forgives us. God doesn't hold grudges against us or tally up all of the wrongs we've committed in the past. Instead, He graciously removes our sin from us and makes us clean. His wrath was satisfied on the cross when Jesus took the punishment that we deserved. We see in the following verse that God doesn't treat us as our sins deserve. This is amazing news! We deserve hell, but God has graciously given those who believe in His son eternal life in heaven. We deserve condemnation, but He has forgiven us and clothed us in righteousness. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:3). Thanks be to God who hasn't treated us as we rightfully deserve to be treated--as sinners separated from Him forever.

David says in verse 11 that God's lovingkindness is as high as the heavens are above the earth; it is more than we can fathom or grasp as humans. We also see in verse 12 that our sins are removed as far as the east is from the west. What a comfort to know that our sins have been removed from us and that we don't have to live in guilt or condemnation anymore. After we repent, our sins are nowhere to be found! Have you ever measured how far the east is from the west? It's an inconceivable and immeasurable distance, and that's the point!

God has compassion on us like a Father does for His little children (v. 13). Perhaps you have never known the compassion of a father before, but God has demonstrated this fatherly love to us in countless ways. He paid the ultimate price for our redemption...the precious blood of His only Son. We see in verse 14 that God is fully aware of our frailty as humans, and His response to this is compassion. He knows that we are finite and that our lives are fragile and short (15). However, His lovingkindess to those who fear Him never ends (17).

In the final section of this chapter we are reminded that God sovereignly rules over all (19). His power and authority are established and supreme over the heavens and the earth. David ends by calling all of heaven and earth to praise His mighty name (20-22). Will you bless His name today? Perhaps you should take a break today from merely praying for God to do things for you, and instead spend your prayer time reflecting on His goodness and thanking Him for His redemption and lovingkindness. Feel free to use the phrases listed in this Psalm in your prayer to Him. Give Him the honor and praise He deserves!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

1 Corinthians 1:10-13: What's Dividing the Church??

Read 1 Corinthians 1:10-13

What's your pet peeve? I have several...not having my phone calls returned, people who brag about themselves, having to hear long stories about people's pets... We've all got things that just bother us! One of my main pet peeves is unfortunately found in the Christian community and is described in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 by the apostle Paul.

In this passage, Paul is addressing divisions in the church. There are numerous things that divide the church, but the one he is focusing on here is one of my aforementioned pet peeves! What is causing division in the church in Corinth is that Christians are forming groups within the church based on which teacher they follow. Some believers boasted that they followed Paul, some claimed to follow Apollos, others strictly adhered to the teaching of Cephas (better known to us as Peter), while others claimed to follow Christ.

So what's wrong with this type of behavior? Aren't Paul, Peter, and Apollos excellent teachers and leaders in the church? What's wrong with following people God has clearly chosen as leaders? The problem is that the believers in Corinth were exalting these people in a way that was taking the glory away from the Lord. Apollos, Paul, and Peter were just ordinary humans who were vessels for God. Yes, they made incredible contributions to Christianity, and their influence (especially of Peter and Paul) has majorly shaped the Christian faith. However, these individuals only had this kind of influence because they were filled with the Holy Spirit. God was doing the work through them, so He alone should get the glory.

The great thing is that Paul (who wrote 1 Corinthians) recognizes that the unhealthy loyalty and admiration that he is receiving is a bad thing. He doesn't let their adoration of him boost up his own self esteem (like most people would!). Rather, he rebukes them for their behavior and calls them to stop exalting him to a place of equality with Christ.

You might be wondering what the Corinthians' exaltation of Apollos, Peter, and Paul has to do with you today. However, the same type of behavior is very prevalent in the Christian community right now. People have a very dangerous tendency to over-exalt individuals who are having influence in the church and become strict followers of them. Once they become one of these leaders' followers, they become arrogant and develop a sense of superiority over those who don't follow their favorite teacher. There are a lot of big names in the Christian world today...Paige Patterson, John Piper, Beth Moore, Kay Arthur, Joel Osteen, Tony Evans, Pat Robertson, Rick Warren, Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, Charles Swindoll, and James Dobson, to name a few... Surely you have met people who have become obsessed and smitten with one of these teachers. This is such a dangerous thing to do, because it is taking the focus off of Christ and putting it on a human. Even if this person is a strong and wise believer, this person is still flawed.

Not only is putting your focus on a certain teacher dangerous, it is harmful to the unity of the church. Like I mentioned before, there is a certain degree of arrogance and competitiveness that accompanies this type of behavior. It forms cliques in the church and shuts out those who may not prefer that teacher. I will give you one of the most troubling examples I have observed in the Christian realm. There seems to be a resurgence of the predestination teachings first popularized by John Calvin several centuries ago. I am not commenting on Calvin's teachings in particular but on the unhealthy following he has obtained in the church. People have gotten so into Calvin's teaching, that they have become obsessed with it. They refer to themselves as Calvinists, which makes me cringe, because they should be referring to themselves as Christians. Calvin didn't die for them and he is not the one they should be devoted to. These individuals are very proud of being "reformed" and continually talk about it, looking down on those who are not part of this following. Their facebook profiles have more about Calvin and reformed theology on them than about Christ. To me, this is exactly what Paul is rebuking the Corinthians for in chapter 1. It is over-exalting a person in the church over Christ and forming exclusive groups within the church based on that person's teaching.

I have been very blessed by so many Christian authors and teachers and am so thankful for their leadership in my life. However, I try to stay away from focusing in on 1 particular individual to an unhealthy degree. When we become all about Beth Moore and her Bible Studies, or Matt Chandler and his sermons, we are taking the focus off of Christ. I am sure that these 2 individuals I've just listed would join Paul in telling you to stop exalting them! Be careful not to fall into this dangerous trap that the early Christians in Corinth fell is very prevalent in the Christian community today and utterly detrimental to the unity of the church~

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Being Wise and Innocent: Romans 16:19

Read Romans 16:19, "For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil."

Is it possible to retain your innocence in high school? Can you really walk the halls of that place, hearing the crude remarks, filthy talk, and glorification of sin, and still remain unscathed? On the other hand, by completely cutting yourself off from all contact with non-Christians and the real world, are you able to fulfill the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) or be a light in a dark place? How do you remain in the world but not of the world (John 17:15-16)? I think Romans 16:19 really sheds light on the question I just asked. Paul challenges believers to be wise in what is good and innocent of evil. Let's unpack that and take a closer look of what that verse means.

The first part of that challenge is to be wise in what is good. The word "wise" in my Bible is a translation of the original Greek word "sophos" which means "skilled, expert, cultivated, learned." <*side note: Remember that the New Testament was originally written in Greek, and our Bibles are a translation from Greek to English. By looking at the original Greek words that were used, we can oftentimes gain a greater understanding of the meaning of the text. I consult to find Greek words and definitions.> The picture I get from this phrase is someone who knows what he/she believes. As Christians, we need to know the Scriptures backward and forward. The only way to do this is to read them over and over again. When you meet someone who seems to know where every passage is found off the top of their head, they have become this way by reading and rereading those passages over many years. There are far too many Christians who are illiterate in the Scriptures, and there is no excuse for this, especially with all of the resources we have today! Have you ever read through the whole Bible? Have you ever dug deeper into the Scriptures by consulting commentaries and devotional books on particular passages? It is so sad to me to see that the teenagers I meet in the Mormon community are so much more learned in their beliefs than those in the Christian community. Goodness comes from God, and you will only be wise in what is good by reading His Word and spending time with Him.

The next part of this verse is to be innocent in what is evil. The Greek word for "innocent" is "akeraios." The word has two meanings. The first means, "unmixed, pure as in wine or metals." The second definition reads, "of the mind, without a mixture of evil, free from guile, innocent, simple." The idea is that this person has remained pure and untainted from evil. Of course evil is around us all day long. However, we are to remain set apart from this wickedness and innocent of it. How can you remain innocent of evil as a teenager, especially in school? I went to a very rough public school, but I can honestly say I maintained innocence from a lot of evil. Sure, I got teased for being innocent and naive, but I knew that I did this by choice.

One thing I would suggest you to do is to be very careful of the movies and TV shows that you watch. I have said it once and will say it again...believers should not watch R-rated comedies. These are rated R for crudeness, profanity, and sexuality. As a believer, you need to be innocent of this kind of filth and immorality. I remember one time in college, I was at a friend's apartment with a group of people. Someone put in a really filthy R-rated comedy. It only took a few minutes for me to see that this was not something I needed to put in my mind. Though it was somewhat embarrassing, I left and went home. I knew that I needed to maintain my innocence when it came to sexual promiscuity.

Another thing I would suggest you do, is when someone at school starts to talk about something perverted, either change the subject or walk away. Oftentimes people at school would say, "do you want to hear a really funny but dirty joke?" It's easy to tell them no thanks! Sometimes you can't avoid hearing a dirty joke. However, I remember hearing so many of those sexual jokes in high school that I didn't understand at all. This is a good thing! Just leave it at that. Don't ask someone what it means or think about it too hard. Protect your innocence by not having the joke explained to you. Be careful who you spend your time with, because it is impossible to remain unmixed with evil when you're consistently hanging out with wicked people. These are just a few examples of times when I think a teenager's innocence is threatened and can be easily avoided.

Romans 16:19 is a short verse, and I encourage you to memorize it. When you are facing a situation in which your innocence is being threatened, recite that verse! Ask God to keep you from temptation and deliver you from evil (a direct quote from the Lord's prayer in Matt. 6), as well as to show you how to remain pure and innocent. Also ask God to teach you, grow you and make you wise in what is good. Do not be ignorant of the Scriptures but read and study them fervently. By filling yourself up with good and godly things, and keeping yourself innocent of wickedness, you will surely be a light in a dark place for God's glory~

Thursday, February 11, 2010

February 14th...Single Awareness Day??

Read Philippians 14:11b-13, 1 Corinthians 7:32-34

Valentine's Day is rapidly approaching. For some girls, this day brings excitement and romance as they celebrate love with their significant other. However, for the rest of the teenage girl population, Valentine's Day is downright depressing. Even if you spend the day with friends or family members or plan some spectacular outing, you just can't get away from the fact that you're single. You see all of the seemingly happy girls out on dates with their seemingly perfect boyfriends, and if you're honest, it makes you downright jealous. I remember a local coffee shop near Baylor that renamed Valentine's Day as "SAD." The acronym stood for "Single Awareness Day," a pretty accurate description of the way many people view this holiday!

I want to get one thing straight right now, ladies. Singleness is not a disease! I say this jokingly, but it is honestly how most of us view being single. We see being single as a wholly undesirable state that we're dying to be cured of as soon as possible. I want you to know that if you are single, this is simply God's will and calling for you right now. I'm not saying that it will always be God's plan for you to be single, but at this point in your life, He's calling you to singleness.

So what is the godly response to this? If God is calling you to be single during this particular period in your life, you need to realize that He knows what's best for you. In your eyes there is probably no reason why you should remain boyfriend-less while your other friends go out on hot dates. However, your knowledge is limited and you can't comprehend God's overarching plan for you! Remember that God knows you better than you know yourself, and he knows what you need and exactly when you need it. Complaining over your current singleness reveals a lack of faith in God's perfect timing.

If God has called you to be single at this current time in your life, you need to learn to be content with that singleness. Listen to Paul's words in Philippians 14:11b-13, "for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Isn't this the attitude we should have toward being single? If God is enough for us, if His grace is sufficient for us, and if His love is unconditional, where else in the world can we go for fulfillment and satisfaction? All the love that we need is right in His arms.

Stop striving for the next stage of life and be content with the place that God has for you right here, right now. This is a unique time in your life where you can be totally devoted to the Lord. Listen to the unique benefits of being single described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:32-34, "I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband." At this point in your life as an unmarried and single gal, you are able to have an undivided heart for the Lord. Use this time to grow more intimately in love with Christ and practice wholehearted devotion to Him. Don't waste your single years feeling sorry for yourself, but instead use them to bring Him glory.

I know you may think it's easy for me to tell you to be content with singleness when I'm married (to the most amazing man on the planet I might add...), but you've got to know that it has not always been that way. Until I met Lee at the end of college (I was 21), I had never had a boyfriend or a Valentine! I had spent so much time longing to be with a great guy and asking God to bring him to me. I had a lot of lonely Valentine's days! It wasn't until I was 21 that I finally gave up and simply told God that I didn't even care if I got married anymore. For the first point in my life, I could honestly say that I was content with the Lord alone and didn't care what He had in store for me. I would follow Him wherever He wanted me to go, whether that meant being married or not. Shortly after that point, God brought me the most incredible guy I have ever met, that I am completely head over heels in love with. I think the Lord wanted me to come to that point of complete satisfaction in Him before bringing Lee to me, because I needed to learn that a man can never love you or fulfill you like Christ does.

I tell you this story to encourage you to give all of your desires, hopes, and dreams for a Prince Charming to the Lord. Tell Him that it doesn't matter what happens to you, because all you want is Him. God has a wonderful plan for your life, His timing is always perfect, and His will is always so much more wonderful than your own plans for yourself. If you look to Him as your ultimate fulfillment and learn to be content in every circumstance (including singleness), you will be blessed. Pray that the Lord will help you to give over all of your longings for a boyfriend to Him and show you how to be content with Him alone. He is more than enough for you, and by following Him wholeheartedly, you will never be disappointed~

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What I've Learned from Jack Bauer...

If you've been around me much, you've probably heard me talk about 24, which in my mind is the best show ever. Sure it's violent, unrealistic, and oftentimes extremely disturbing, but it's also amazing. Why, might you ask? The answer is simple...Jack Bauer. Jack Bauer is the star of the show, a gun-toting, terrorist-torturing patriot who has faced death approximately 287 times (just a rough estimate), only to save the world from destruction time and time again.

What is so remarkable about Jack is the fact that he is completely fearless. He looks death in the face and doesn't even flinch. He volunteers for the most dangerous suicide missions imaginable without even a second glance. If saving Americans is on the agenda, he'll sign up, no matter the cost. He doesn't hesitate to take any risk imaginable if it means saving his country.

Jack's courage reveals where his priorities lie. Unlike many others, his own life is not at the top of his list. He deeply cares about the lives of Americans, and he puts their lives above his own. He believes in goodness and will pay whatever price necessary to stop evil.

What do you think the Church would be like if it was filled with "Jack Bauers" for Christ? What if every Christian valued the souls of strangers so much, that they would take whatever risk necessary to bring them salvation? What if all Christians had an unswerving commitment to goodness and an absolute hatred for sin? Do you see Christians taking risks for God, following His will even when they have no idea what the outcome will be? Are there many Christians you know who are willing to give up their lives for the sake of the gospel? Are you willing?

In reality, many Christians are simply playing it safe. We don't see many people living like a "Jack Bauer" for Christ. As Christians, we're often afraid to move out of our own Christian bubbles and minister to the perishing people around us. Instead of fighting against evil, we become immune to it and passively tolerate it. We lack the zeal, commitment, and courage needed to make an impact on our communities.

I know what you're thinking. Jack Bauer isn't a real person, and that kind of devotion and fearlessness isn't realistic. Maybe you're right. However, if you look at the stories of the apostle Paul, he looks exactly like a Christian Jack Bauer. His boldness, unswerving commitment, and passion for the gospel is astounding. I want to encourage you to start praying that God will give you boldness. Pray that He will show you how to live a life without fear or hesitation when it comes to living out your faith. Pray that He will guide you according to His will and give you the courage to follow Him in obedience wherever He may take you. I want to end with a quote from a modern-day Christian "Jack Bauer" who devoted his entire life to spreading the gospel and fearlessly gave his life on the mission field. Jim Elliot said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

Job 38-42: "Who then is he who can stand before Me?"

Read Job 38:1-42:6

Most people are familiar with the story of Job in the Bible. God gave Satan permission to afflict Job with suffering in order to prove to him that Job would never curse God. Job loses everything...his possessions, his wealth, his children, his livestock...and is covered from head to toe in boils. All of this happens in the first 2 chapters, which is the portion of the story that most people have heard of. In Job 3-37, Job laments his dire situation and is visited by several "friends" who do a lot more harm than good. Job is completely miserable and in deep pain, has received no comfort or support from anyone at all, and is left wondering why the heck all this would happen to him. For some reason, the very last section of Job (chapters 38-42) is less well known and is often overlooked. However, these chapters are an extremely powerful portion of Scripture, and I encourage you to read all of them in entirety before I examine them with you now.

Before this point in the book of Job, God has been silent. Now, He shows up in all His majesty and splendor and puts everyone in their place. The theme of His speeches seems to be, "Who are you to question me???" In chapters 38 and 39, the focus is on God's superior knowledge. God uses a series of poignant questions to reveal to Job how small he actually is and how unworthy he is to question or critique Him. God asks Job in 38:2, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" He's basically reminding Job that compared to Himself, Job knows absolutely nothing and has no right to put the almighty God on trial.

God asks Job where he was when the earth was formed, when the sea and the clouds came forth, when the boundaries and measurements of the world were established, when the whole solar system was placed in order. God asks Job if he has ever seen His heavenly storehouses, comprehended the earth's expanse, or seen the gates of death. Has Job ever brought about hail, snow, lightning or thunder? Has he made plants grow or ice form? Has he placed the stars in their exact place in the sky's great constellations? Does Job have anything to do with the intricacies of an animal's behavior or development? Does he have any idea how each unique species of animal lives and moves? Does Job have any control over the trillions in the animal kingdom or even begin to comprehend the mysteries of creation?

Can you imagine receiving this series of questions from the supernatural ruler of the universe? No wonder Job's response was, "Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You?" (40:4).

In chapters 40 and 41, God is focusing more on His supreme power. It seems to me that the 2 verses that really sum this section up would be 41:10b-11, which say, "Who then is he that can stand before Me? Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine." In this speech God asks Job to look at the fiercest and most powerful creatures on earth that no man can tame. These creatures are terrifying to all who come in contact with them, yet they are nothing compared to the power and might of the Lord. When you think about the fiercest and most powerful creature on earth, you are beginning to get a mere glimpse of the power of God. Why do you think C.S. Lewis used a lion to portray Jesus? The lion is the king of all other creatures and holds the place of supreme power wherever he goes!

I love Job's humble response in 42:1-6. He admits that he has no understanding at all, because God's understanding is too lofty for him to attain (v.3). He confesses that God alone knows all things, and that His purposes will never be shaken (v.2). He ends with the humble statement, "Therefore, I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes" (v. 6).

Have you ever questioned God when tragic things occurred? I know I have. When hurricanes, earthquakes, disease, death, poverty, abuse, and war plague our world, almost everyone asks God why. If only we would reread this section of Scripture when we doubt that God knows what He is doing! Job suffered immensely, and like any other human being, he asked why. Job had lived a blameless life devoted to God and saw no reason to be given such affliction. However, he questioned God without knowledge. He didn't know about that conversation that God had with Satan prior to his suffering. He didn't know that God would later restore everything that had been taken from him two times over and bless him more than ever before (42:10-17). Most of all, Job didn't know that his story would be recorded in Scripture and read by countless people for thousands of years after his death.

As believers, we are going to encounter countless circumstances in our life that we don't understand, and we're going to be tempted to throw a pity party for ourselves and lament about our unfair treatment to anyone who will listen. The next time you are tempted to question God, remember this passage of Scripture. God is the Sovereign Creator of the universe and the King over all. His knowledge and power are so far beyond our comprehension, that we can't even begin to fathom them. Trying to comprehend His ways would be like trying to explain the Internet to an ant. We are small, but He is great. I'll close with Job's famous words, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, Blessed be the name of the Lord" (1:21).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Smile, Jesus Loves You!

Read Romans 8:31-39

Have you ever questioned God's love for you? When something bad happens to you, do you wonder if God is mad at you? Do you have a hard time seeing God as loving when there is so much pain in the world? When you are disobedient or lazy spiritually, do you feel like your actions have caused God to love you less? I remember in high school having a hard time understanding God's love. I knew that God loved me in theory, but I couldn't help thinking that His love for me was tied to my actions. I thought I had to act a certain way in order to maintain His love for me. In my mind, skipping my quiet time or talking back to my parents surely made me unlovable to God. It wasn't until later on in college that I started to understand that God's love for me wasn't based on my own merit. He just loved me, plain and simple. Nothing I did and nothing that happened could change that truth. What a comfort!

I love this passage in Romans 8, because it is a powerful and moving reminder that nothing can alter God's love for His children. The passage starts out in verse 31 with the question, "If God is for us, who is against us?" I love this! It's so simple yet so profound. Sure, we will face persecution and affliction, and there are many who will be against us in our lives, especially the devil. However, we have to remember that we're on the winning team! No matter who is up against us, God is more powerful. In comparison to the God we serve, the opposition is nothing at all. God is triumphant, and if we're on His side, we have absolutely nothing to fear.

In verse 32 we're reminded of God's incredible sacrifice on our behalf. He paid the ultimate price for us by sacrificing His only Son for our sins. The reasoning in this verse is that if God was willing to give Jesus to us, of course He will give us all things freely! His love was demonstrated for us through the cross and is proof that His blessings to us will continue. We know from Ephesians 1:3 that God has "blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ."

We see in verse 33 that there is no one able to condemn believers in Christ, because they have already been justified by the supreme Judge. This means that God has declared all believers to be righteous. Because Christ took sin on Himself, we were declared righteous. To quote one of my favorite hymns, "For God the Just was satisfied, to look on Him and pardon me." Furthermore, verse 34 reminds us that Christ who died for us and rose again now sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. He is our advocate, leaving no one to condemn us.

In verse 35 Paul lists 7 things that many people might look to as proof that God no longer loves them. He lists tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword, as circumstances people often look to as evidence that God has forsaken them. We are reminded in verses 38 and 39 of a powerful truth: absolutely nothing can separate us from God's love. Do you hear that?!?! Nothing! Not your actions, not the grades you get in school, not the trials you encounter...nothing.

Can you even fathom this truth? It is hard to comprehend the supreme and unconditional love of the Lord, because there is no love like that on earth. In the relationships that we have on earth, our love for each other is conditional. We love people more depending on how they act, what they say and do, and even how they look. We love people while expecting things in return. No one on earth can love someone in the way that God does. There is absolutely nothing you can do to change the way God loves you. Let this truth sink in today. God loves you more than you could ever, with all of your faults and screw-ups, with all of your imperfections and shortcomings... When you're obeying Him, He loves you, and when you're disobeying Him, He still loves you. You can't possibly change that. His love for you is perfect, constant, sure, and secure. Bask in the truth of His love and thank Him for it today~

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Just Do It!

Read James 1:22-25

Is your spiritual life active or passive? Are you striving for holiness and growth, or are you complacently sitting still? James is one of my favorite books of the Bible, because it is so hard-hitting. James doesn't tiptoe around what he wants to say in order to avoid offending anyone...he tells it like it is! Whenever I read James, I am always extremely convicted. He brings the truth so boldly and clearly, that it's impossible to remain unaffected in your heart.

In this particular passage, James challenges believers to be doers of the Word rather than merely hearers. He uses the illustration of a man who looks at himself in the mirror and then walks away and forgets what he looks like. Sounds pretty ridiculous, right? I mean how could you forget something like that so quickly? Unfortunately, this is often what happens to believers after reading God's Word or hearing a sermon in church. It goes in one ear and right out the other. The passage they have just studied is easily forgotten and their lives remain completely unaffected.

After teaching several Bible Studies I quickly learned not to ask the question, "can anyone tell me what we learned last week?" The reason I hate asking this is because the answer is almost always...awkward silence..."umm...weren't we in the New Testament somewhere?" Ouch. That's always hard for a teacher to hear! It seems like all the time you spent preparing and drilling that truth into them was useless. I know I am oftentimes exactly the same. I hear the message but fail to let it sink in and really change my life.

James is challenging us to be different than this. Church doesn't have to be a weekly or bi-weekly event that has no effect on the rest of your life. Scripture reading doesn't have to be a monotonous, forced, and seemingly pointless practice. I love verse 25, which states, "But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does."

Start by taking an active role during times of teaching. If there is preparation homework or questions given beforehand, study them thoughtfully. During times of teaching, eliminate distractions (**cell phones!!), ask questions, take notes, and mark passages in your Bible. When you're studying the Bible by yourself, underline and highlight key passages and jot down thoughts you have in the margin or in a journal. Consult the footnotes in your Study Bible if you have one, or read a Bible commentary for further clarification on passages. After you read a section of Scripture, pray that the Lord will show you how you can really apply that biblical truth to your life and meditate on how you can do just that.

I know this seems like a lot of work. But you've got to admit...being a mere hearer of the Word who fails to put it into practice just isn't a fulfilling way for a Christian to live. Remember that James 1:25 says that doers of the Word will be blessed! Think about all of the spiritual blessings you are missing out on because of your apathy and lack of action. Make this your prayer this week: "Lord, please keep me from being a mere hearer of your Word. Show me how to put your biblical principles into action. Allow your Word to touch me in a way that I can't ignore, and give me the boldness and earnestness to apply it to my life."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Do You Play Favorites?

Read James 2:1-13

There is no denying the fact that favoritism and discrimination have permeated our culture. Looking a certain way and having a certain amount of money will generally get you farther in life. High school is certainly no exception to this. Teachers and coaches play favorites, singling out certain individuals to receive special attention and privileges. The students who are popular and in the cool cliques in high school are the ones who are good-looking, athletic, funny, etc. Individuals who don't fit into these categories are often overlooked or ridiculed. It's sad to see so many teenagers who have been scarred by favoritism. But is it any different in the church? Are our youth groups inclusive of all types of people, or do they hold the same cliques found in school? Are teenage Christians any different than their peers, who only talk to those they feel are socially acceptable?

When I think about most youth groups I've either been a part of or worked for, I unfortunately realize that I haven't seen a huge difference in Christian teens in the area of favoritism. Most teenagers in youth groups are indifferent or hostile toward the "uncool" teenagers in the group and gravitate toward the "cool" members of the youth group. In James 2:1-13, James exposes the sinful practice of favoritism in the church and reveals just how serious this type of behavior is to God.

The passage starts out with an illustration. The illustration is simple enough, but I'm going to reword it to apply to our youth group. Suppose the head varsity cheerleader from Klein Collins comes to visit our youth group at Northwest. She's beautiful, wealthy, athletic, and has a great sense of style. Suppose a second visitor shows up at the same time. She goes to Klein Collins also, but she isn't involved in any extracurricular activity. In fact, none of the KC students at Northwest have ever noticed her before. This girl looks like she hasn't bathed in a few days. Her hair is a rat's nest, her clothes are hideous, her teeth are crooked, etc... Which girl do you go and talk to first? Do you feel more compelled to single out the cheerleader and try to get her to join the youth group? Do you even reach out to the second girl at all, or do you just hope someone else will go and talk to her so you don't have to?

James pus things in perspective in the next few verses. In verse 4 he offers a stern rebuke to those who show favoritism in the church. Christians who show favoritism have "evil motives" and are arrogantly placing themselves above the poor and unfortunate. By deciding who is worthy of their attention and who isn't worth their time, they're exalting themselves into the position of judge. James reminds us in verse 5 that God loves those poor people who we think are unworthy in our eyes. In fact, many who are poverty stricken in this world will inherit the kingdom of God! God does not show favoritism, so who are we to take on this attitude? In verse 9 James calls favoritism a sin, plain and simple. It displeases God and is against His law.

I know what you're thinking: "Sure, I may show favoritism from time to time...who doesn't? At least I haven't ever done drugs or had sex or killed anyone. If this is all I'm guilty of, I'm doing pretty least compared to everyone else." James exposes this way of thinking in the next few verses. He says in verse 10 that even if you just stumble at one point in the law, which you see as insignificant, you're a guilty sinner nonetheless. You are a transgressor of God's law, just like any other murderer or adulterer out there. You're no better than them.

I know what it's like to minimize your sins and pass them off as no big deal in comparison to the "really bad" stuff you see everyone else doing. I know this, because I was exactly like that in high school! I showed partiality and favoritism, and I judged people when I had no right to do so. However, for years I didn't think that was all that bad. I didn't think I really needed to repent of such a "small" sin. It was only later that God convicted me of my wickedness in my heart. I was no better than any of those drunks or addicts sitting next to me in class! I needed to repent. Perhaps you need to as well after reading this passage.

I want to challenge you to take this passage seriously, because God certainly does. Is there someone at school or church that you have failed to reach out to because you don't like the way they look? Are you guilty of favoritism? Ask God to search your heart today and then repent of any partiality in your life. Ask Him to help you see people as He does and reach out to everyone in need, regardless of their race, appearance, or social status.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Prayer Needed

Please pray for these fellow believers who are in jail in Haiti for trying to bring orphans out of the country without the proper paper work. I don't know all the details, but I do know that they need our prayers~

Matt Chandler: Suffering Well for God's Glory

Read James 1:2-4, Job 1 (especially vs. 20-22), Acts 5:40-42, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

If you've been in the church very long, you've probably heard your fair share of sermons on suffering. The verses I've listed above are the texts usually focused on, and the overall message from them is the same. We know from James 1:2-4 that we are to rejoice in trials, because they bring about perseverance and growth. Job's reaction in Job 1 serves as an example of praising God in the midst of suffering. We see in Acts 5 that the disciples rejoiced after they had been beaten for preaching the Gospel, because they had been counted as worthy to suffer for Jesus. And finally in 2 Corinthians 12, we see that Paul rejoices in his weakness and affliction, because God's grace is sufficient for him and God's power is perfected in his weakness.

These verses paint a totally different picture of suffering than we see in our world today. Christians know they're supposed to rejoice in suffering like the apostles and boast in weakness like Paul, but we seldom see them actually do this (though they sometimes do when the trial is over). Many non-Christians will point to suffering in the world as the reason they don't believe in God. How do you begin to understand famine, abuse, poverty, murder, incurable diseases, rape, death....? Are the lessons taught in these verses on suffering realistic or attainable for ordinary people? Should we even take them seriously or just admit that it's impossible to have such an attitude in the face of tragedy?

Because I believe that every verse in Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16), these verses on suffering can't be dismissed as irrelevant or impractical. We must remember that the apostles and Job were just ordinary people like you and me. Jesus' followers were able to rejoice in suffering because they were filled with the Holy Spirit. They had a kingdom perspective, remembering that their hope was in Christ. No matter what happened to them, they knew God was in control. They didn't question His purposes, because they knew His way was always right.

I want to introduce you to a man named Matt Chandler. He is 35 years old, has 3 small children, and pastors a church in the Dallas area. On Thanksgiving day, Matt collapsed with a seizure. He was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer and has been given 2-3 years to live. Unfortunately, tragedies like this occur all the time to non-Christians and Christians alike. However, this instance is unique in that Chandler has put Scripture into practice. This diagnosis tested his faith in an enormous way. Most people would question God, turn their back on Him, respond in anger, etc. Chandler's response is, "
We never felt — still have not felt — betrayed by the Lord or abandoned by the Lord." During his radiation treatments, he reflects on Scripture passages. He continues to preach powerful sermons on Sundays.

As a result of this trial, thousands have been touched and stunned by his diagnosis and subsequent faithful response. Over 50,000 people have joined a Facebook group entitled, "Praying for Matt Chandler," and the Associated Press has covered the story which appeared in newspapers across the nation. Is God being glorified? Absolutely! Is this easy for Chandler and his family? Of course not. In the article, the reporter writes, "
Chandler is trying to suffer well. He would never ask for such a trial, but in some ways he welcomes this cancer. He says he feels grateful that God has counted him worthy to endure it. He has always preached that God will bring both joy and suffering but is only recently learning to experience the latter." What a man of God!

I use Matt as an example, not to glorify him in any way, but to bring glory to the Lord. God would not give you teaching in His Word that is unattainable in real life. He gives you the strength and power to endure hardship through His Spirit. The natural response to suffering is anger, but God says it should be joy. Suffering and tragedy should not alter your faith in God in the slightest, because it doesn't change who He is. Our faith is not based on circumstances but on God's Word. I hope you are encouraged by the faithful example of Matt and also challenged to follow his example in your own trials, however big or small they may be in comparison to his~

You can check out the full article on Matt Chandler at: