Monday, September 22, 2014

Working Hard For God

"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not men,"

     Steve Maraboli said "Live your vision and demand your success." which, on paper, sounds great. It sounds like that's what we are supposed to do. Our society teaches us from an early age to strive to be the best, that the man who dies with the most toys wins. This is not, however, the way God intended us to live. There's nothing wrong with trying to be successful in your work or in your home or in your school, but when it becomes your first priority, something needs to change.

     I know I talk a lot about priorities so I won't go too much into it, but the problem with most people is that they don't have their priorities right. Unfortunately the gleam and glimmer of money and stuff seems so wonderful and is a bit over-powering. However I find it funny how often times we can strive so much for luxury items to help improve our lives that we stress ourselves out beyond being able to actually relax. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with working hard, but it's important that we remember that we are workers for the Lord first, workers for brothers second, and workers for ourselves last. 

     I know I'm talking mostly about work and business and a lot of you lovely readers aren't really working at a company, striving to the very top in order to make more and more money, but what about school? What about sports? There's nothing wrong with competing, but when these things get in the way of serving others, or more importantly serving God, it becomes no different than when the Israelites made a golden calf that we read about in Exodus 32 (except for the fact that that was a calf made of gold and what we're talking about is not a calf made of gold but, it's the same in principal).

     In essence, it's okay to have a job or to do well in school and to work hard, but we are to make sure that we don't put anything before God or the needs of others. Today I would like to encourage you to take a look at your life and see what you spend the most time working on. Is your work going towards God? Or is your work going towards the things of this world? Are you just trying to get the best grades or the best score? Are you putting your work towards God? If not I'd like to encourage you to maybe change a couple things in your schedule. After all, heaven is eternal, everything else ends quickly.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Common Misconceptions About Christians

"All scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." -2 Timothy 3:16-17

     We live in a society that doesn't want to believe in God so everyone can live happy lives full of no responsibility. This society only accepts what it wants to be true, and is unfortunately seeping into the church. It bothers me that I can't go to any camp or girls day or anything at all without hearing about purity. It's not that I don't want to hear about purity, but that it needs to be discussed so much. It bothers me that there are so many people who are unmarried with children, or people cheating on their spouses. You can't even turn on the tv without seeing it. In a society that only cares about itself, it clearly won't want to accept a god that we can't touch or see, and they certainly won't follow a god who condemns them for acting a certain way. Christians get a bad name and are unfortunately often alienated. Today I find it necessary to address a few of these misconceptions that we see often in the world.

     #1 "All Christians are hypocrites." It can be easy to see Christianity as hypocritical. From the world's point of view, we look down on sin yet sin ourselves. We condemn others for sinning and then go out and sin ourselves, as we see in Romans 3:23, everyone sins at one point or another. However, a true Christian acknowledges sin and that everyone has it. A true Christian understands that they have sin in their lives that needs to be fixed. It is not the least bit hypocritical if we say that others have sin, and so do we. It is also not wrong to know when something is wrong. If the Word is made for reproof, correction, teaching, and training, how are we supposed to do those things unless we see sin in others? Now, we shouldn't point out these flaws rudely, but go to them in a loving matter. 

     People of the world believe that Christians are hypocrites because everyone sins, but how much more hypocritical are they who point out the supposed hypocrisy of Christians who are trying to help others fix their problems? Yes as Christians it is possible to be a hypocrite just as anyone else can be, but Christianity in itself is not hypocritical. We also have to be careful and not really be hypocritical, because that won't help anyone find God.

     #2 "All Christians are judgmental." YES! Matthew 7:1 says "Judge not that you be judged" but that verse is taken so out of context! That passage is talking about hypocrisy, and making sure you are right with God before you condemn someone for being wrong so you can see the situation clearly. If you say that something is wrong and you back it up with scripture, then that is not being judgmental. You can do it in a rude or know-it-all way, but if we do it right in a loving manner then we are not being judgmental. In fact, when someone acknowledges that being judgmental is a sin and they don't believe in Christianity or sin at all, then they have no argument because they don't believe in sin! This one also falls under the category of hypocrisy, but it is just as relevant.  

     #3 "All Christians contradict themselves." I'm not talking about saying one thing and doing another so much as saying two completely opposite things. I know this is a bit straightforward but there is only one God, one Bible, and one way to get to heaven. There are two paths, the narrow and the wide, and only one of those ways gets us to heaven. Now please tell me if I am wrong, but would a narrow path give room for variation? Would a narrow path have room for several different beliefs? I can tell you that a wide path does. Unfortunately there are so many denominations that everyone gets confused about who God really is (another misconception is that the church is denomination, when really we are the one church, not one of the many). This is why we need to spread the true word of God, so that people don't get this misconception. 

     Once again I couldn't go through all of these because there are at least hundreds. Maybe thousands or millions. I know that as women it can be hard to teach others about how these misconceptions are false, especially with men, but that doesn't mean we can't ask others for help. That doesn't meant hat we can't study these things for ourselves and be examples of what Christians should be.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Who Is The Lamb?

The next day he [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, 'Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'" -John 1:29

     All throughout the Bible there are discussions of lambs and sacrifices, but what does it mean to be the "lamb of God"? What is the significance of this name? Often times we sing hymns and we read scripture about Jesus being the lamb, but what does that even mean?

     The first mentioning of a lamb is in Genesis 4, talking about how Abel was a sheppard who tended to a flock of sheep as we see in verse 2. In verse 4 we can see that Abel brought the firstborn of his flock when he sacrificed to God, as was commanded. If you think about it, the first mentioning of a lamb is one that comes with sacrifice. The first born. In parallel,  Jesus is God's only son, and we can also see that He was the first born or Marry, as she was still a virgin and unless a miracle happens, she's just not going to have any other kids until she changes that. Jesus was the first of the flock, so to speak. 

     Genesis 22 is about Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, his first born. God told Abraham to sacrifice his son on the alter as we see in verse 2. In verse 7, where it mentions the lamb, it says, "And Isaac said to his father Abraham, 'My father!' And he said, 'Here I am, my son.' He said 'Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?'" Here we see a boy who understands the meaning of sacrifice, and understands that it must be a lamb that is offered. In fact, he probably also knew that the sacrifice was to be of the first born. Isaac was taught the Word from a young age. Also, his father was told in Genesis 17:4 that he was going to be the father of many nations. 
     In parallel to Genesis 22, God is the Father of many nations. Now I am not saying this to say that all religions are true, because obviously if two contradict each other then at least one of them has to be wrong. However, God is the father of many nations in the way that He accepts people of all cultures, backgrounds, etc. as long as we are willing to change from any bad things we had going on before we became Christians. We can also see from Genesis 22 that Isaac was a sacrifice. Like Jesus, he was made to be a sacrifice of his father. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son for the love of God, and for the forgiveness of sins. Unlike Jesus, however, Isaac didn't die but he did rise from the alter. Also, in Genesis 22:8, in response to Isaac asking where that lamb was, Abraham's response was "God will provide for himself a lamb for a burnt offering, my son." Jesus was not sacrificed on the same ind of alter that lambs usually were, as a burnt offering, but Jesus was still a sacrifice. This parallel is really one that takes more than just a couple paragraphs to completely cover, but God did provide a lamb to be an offering: His son.

     I know I was unable to cover a whole lot of parallels with lambs and Jesus, but there are so many that I couldn't really go through them all. Jesus is the first born or Marry, the only son of God, who was sent to save us for our sins. The thing that is the most striking to me is that Jesus is not our lamb. Jesus is God's lamb. God did not gain anything through sacrificing the life of His son, but we gained forgiveness of sins. This is why Jesus is the lamb of God.

     Today I hope I have helped you see a little more clearly how truly wonderful God is, and how amazing it is that His only son died for your sins and mine if we only take Him on in baptism as we see in Mark 16:16 and many other verses. Today I want to ask you what you are sacrificing. Being a girl can be rough at times and it can be easy to say, "There's nothing I can sacrifice to God. I can't preach, I can't be an elder, I can't be a deacon. What can I do?" Well, that's a whole other article (which I actually wrote about if you want to click here to read it) but there are things you can do for God, and for others. Today I would like to encourage you all to think of one thing you have an abundance of, and think of a way you can use it for God. It's a challenge at times, but it's always worth it in the end. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Knocking At The Door

     "For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." -Matthew 7:8

     Often times, we get distracted with what we want and forget about the things that we need. There is an undying list of things that we all want. I don't know how many of you are readers, but I am, and one thing that I have noticed is that I am never satisfied with the amount of books I have read. I am always wanting to read more and more and my reading list just keeps getting longer and longer. This is just an example of how the things that we want can become such an overwhelming number that we forget about the things that we genuinely need.

     What do we need? What are the bare necessities of life? The ultimate thing that we need, as I am sure you have guessed by now, is God. Without God we would have no life, no salvation, nothing. We need these things in order for our souls to live. In fact, the entire Bible is about helping us get to eternal life. If God, the creator of the universe, wrote a book and gave it to everyone He created and told them to tell everyone they could, do you think that book would probably be necessary? Most definitely. That is why it is important for us to study His word daily and make sure we understand not only God and what He has done for us, but our spiritual needs as well. Our primary need is God and the salvation that He brings through His son which we find in baptism as we see in Mark 16:16 and so many other passages.

     Our secondary need is our life here on earth. We need things like food, water, shelter, clothing, etc. We should seek out these things but not as much as our spirituality. Is a job more important than Sunday morning services? Is eating so important that you need to skip church so you can prepare a meal for people coming over after worship? Philippians 4:6 says, "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God." This reminds me of Mary and Martha, who were both presented with the opportunity to learn more about Christ our savior, and while one did, the other found it more important to be a home maker. While both of these things are important, it is far more important to serve our Lord than our house.

     Our third needs aren't really needs at all, but are more like wants. These are things like those really cute shoes you want SO MUCH, or Ben & Jerry's brand ice-cream (that stuff is the bomb) or anything that we could really live without. These things, if not treated properly, can be distractions for what our main priority should be.

     So what does any of this have to do with asking God for what we need? Well, often times we can be dishonest with ourselves and we ask for things that can harm our faith rather than increase it. Sometimes we can become selfish and instead of asking for forgiveness we ask for that cute guy to notice us. There's nothing wrong with asking for things other than salvation, but we have to look at where our priorities lie before we ask. But we shouldn't forget to ask for these things daily. God wants us to ask him for things. We just need to be asking the right questions.

     What are your priorities? What do you ask for when you pray? Are you asking for the right things? Are you knocking at the door? Today I'd like to encourage you all to ask yourself these questions and maybe rethink what your goals are. Are they to increase your faith? Or increase the things of this earth?

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Light In The Darkness Of This World

"In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." -John 1:4-5

     John 1 talks a lot about the darkness of the world, and how it contrasts with the Light of Jesus. In verse 9 it even talks about how Jesus being the light, gave light to everyone. Jesus came to this earth not only so that He could die on the cross, but also that He may give light to the others around Him. The verse says that He is the true light who gives light to everyone. But do we accept that light? Or are we staying in the darkness? 

     What is the darkness? How can we tell that we are in the darkness? Have you ever been reading outside and realized that you can't see the words on your page any more because the sun has set? You were so focused on your reading that you didn't notice that you couldn't see it any more. That is what sin does to us. Sin is so slow and subtle that if you aren't paying attention, you can't even see God any more. Darkness is subtle. Darkness is the ways of this world. Darkness is sinning and not knowing because you have not been enlightened by the Word. Darkness, unfortunately, is what most of the people in this world are in. 

     "How do I stay away from the darkness?" Staying away from the darkness is as simple as looking towards the light. We have to look to the light constantly without wavering from it. Not only do you have to look towards the light, but you cannot look at the darkness. Movies, music, books, social media, billboards, and so many more things that are shoved in our faces are covered in worldliness. I'm not saying that there is anything necessarily wrong with any of these things, but unfortunately it can be very difficult to avoid worldly things when these are everywhere. I live in a city, so there are billboards everywhere. Sadly, a lot of those billboards are promotions for "gentlemen" clubs and alcoholic beverages. When we are trying to stay in the light, we need to avoid these things. If we can't go outside our homes without seeing those things, how much worse is it when we go to the internet, where there are no limits? I'm not hating on the internet, but it is important for us to limit ourselves to the things we expose ourselves to before we get used to it and don't even notice the darkness of sin any more.

     So how can you be a light in this world of darkness? How can you specifically be a light to others and enlighten them in the ways of our Lord? First you have to know what you're teaching. Are you just going by what your parents taught you? By what about your preacher or your elders taught you? Those are still people and people are imperfect. You have to read the Bible for yourself so you can make sure that they aren't wrong. Don't just take everything everyone says to be the truth. Also, you have to live your life outside of the dark. That means maybe not going to that movie with your friends. That may mean maybe not reading that book, or not hanging out with that group of people. We shouldn't just avoid everyone, as we see in Matthew 5:15 where it talks about putting a light under a basket. We need to spread the light to others. But we need to separate ourselves and stand out. We need to be a contrast from the world. 

     Today I would like to encourage you all to check your lights. Are you going dim? Are you contrasting with the darkness of this world? Are you looking towards God and spending your time with the right people? Are you in the darkness? I'd like to encourage you all to ask yourselves these questions daily, and study your Bible often so you don't find yourself one day completely in the dark and unable to find the light again.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Rejoicing in the Lord

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice." -Philippians 4:4

(despite common belief, this it not a picture of me.)

     As I am sure you have figured out from the title of this lesson, the verse, and the very happy picture at the top of this article, I will be talking about rejoicing. Why is it important for us to have joy? What even is joy? These are some of the things that I will be addressing in this article.

     First I will be talking about the differences between joy and happiness. A lot of people think that there is no difference, but really there is. Happiness is feeling you get when you go shopping and find a super cute dress that's in your price range and when you go to try it on it magically fits (it actually happened to me once. I was SO EXCITED!) Happiness is an emotion. Happiness, however wonderful, is only temporary. Happiness comes from things of the world that make us feel good about ourselves. Joy, however, is not an emotion as much as a choice. When you are joyous, it doesn't matter what happens in your life, you will be full of joy. Acts 16 where it talks about Paul and Silas singing hymns to God while in prison is a perfect example of this. In Philippians 4:12 talks about how Paul was content in all things, and this is the same man who we see in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 was beaten, stoned shipwrecked, in constant danger from men, without food, and imprisoned who knows how many times. In fact, Philippians 4 was written while Paul was in prison. Paul is a wonderful example of how happiness and joy are completely different. Happiness is temporary, joy is a choice.

     Now I'll be talking about why we should have joy. I mean, there must be a logical reason for why we have this commandment. Not only does God genuinely love us and want us to rejoice, but, how are we going to convert others to Christianity if we're always pessimistic about life? How are we going to show others the glory of how wonderful God is, if we don't show them that joy throughout our daily lives? We are to rejoice because of what God has done for us. It doesn't matter what situation we are in, whether it be physical or emotional, God sent His son to die so that we can have eternal life. What's there not to be happy about?

     One last thing that I'm going to be talking about is that there is nothing wrong with being sad or angry or in distress. John 11:35, the shortest verse in the Bible, says that Jesus wept. Like I said, joy isn't an emotion. Joy is an over-all state of mind. Joy is recognizing what has been done for us and even though we may be upset, we can understand that our life is far more than what we have here on earth and we can rejoice in that. 

     Are you a joyous person? Do you rejoice in the Lord? Today I would like to encourage you all to consider if you are this kind of person, and if not then change things around so you can be. It's as simple as looking at the bigger picture, or the brighter side of things. The big picture is that no matter what happens, as long as we remain faithful, we will be with God in heaven for eternity. I'd like to ask you today to consider this no matter what situation you are in. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

How To Get The Most Out Of Your Day

"Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonicha; they received the Word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so."-Acts 17:11


     It's the beginning of the school year. Your days are beginning to fill up with extra-curricular activities, homework, friends, and school. I'm sure a lot of you are thinking, "How can I possibly get this all done without going insane in the process?" Well, today I am going to give you a 3-step guide to making sure you don't go a single day without making progress in your physical and more importantly, spiritual life.

     Step #1: Prioritize
     When you are doing anything, you have to prioritize. Of course, before you do so, you have to have an understanding of where your priorities lie. Are they in school? Are they in extra-curricular activities such as sports, band, etc? Or is your first priority God? Is your first priority studying God's word and searching through the scriptures as we see we should do in Acts 17:11?

     Before we do anything in life, we have to always put God first, and settle everything else after that. I'm not saying that you should quit school, shut yourself in your room and study 24/7. However, it is far more important to study your Bible and increase your faith than anything else. Not only should God be first in your life, but He should be everything in your life. Don't just spend a bunch of time studying just to forget it once you go to school. It is important to make sure you have a proper foundation. After that, everything will kind of fall into place on its own.

     Step #2: Make a Plan 
     I am a planner. In fact, I have two daily-planners and a calendar and a note pad specifically for to-do lists (not to mention the calendars, count-downs, timers, and to-do lists I have on my phone). I like to make sure everything has a plan, and everything gets done. In fact, writing this article is one of the things on my list! In my experience, if you want to get something done you have to make a plan. Since we're talking about Bible study here, this would be a good time to discuss some the different kinds of plans that you can use to further your faith.

     There are many different kinds of plans. You can have a weekly plan, a monthly plan, yearly, and basically any time-range you can find. Choose a time schedule, and try to get something done by then. Say you want to work on memory verses. You can have a monthly goal of 20 a month (or 5 a week). Or if that's too much and you have a difficulty doing memory work, you can make it 1 verse per week. You can also do Bible study plans, Bible reading plans, plans in bettering your prayer life, anything. So my advice to you is to make a plan that will help make it easier for you to do these things because the easier it is, the less difficult it is to stick with it. Just don't try to make it so convenient that you're not doing anything.

     Step #3: Do It
     Now that you have your priorities and your plan, go ahead and do it! Give yourself small rewards for completing tasks. Say you're doing a memory work plan, go get ice-cream once you've memorized 50 verses. Get motivated, get active. Today I would like to encourage you all to first make sure your priorities are straight, and if not, fix them. If it's something as simple as just trying to pray more often, do it! If you are trying to read more often, do it! Whatever you want to do, I would like to encourage you all to pick up a pen and paper, write out a plan, and stick with it. It's easy, and I promise you won't regret it.