Wednesday, December 31, 2014

How To Keep Your Resolutions

"And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing." -James 1:4

     It's the end of the year. The last day of 2014. This is the day we all decide on our resolutions and what we want to get done in the year 2015, and hope to keep it up. But how do we do that? How do we keep our resolutions from being discarded by the end of February? Whether it trying to study more, exercise regularly, eat better, read more, memorize a certain amount of verses, or simply try to eat more vegetables, there's an efficient and simple way to keep these resolutions.

Step 1: Decide
     What is it you want to accomplish? Do you want to study more, read more, be more encouraging? Do you want to eat healthier, exercise more, or do better in school? Find something you know you can stick to. Find something simple and specific so you don't get overwhelmed.

Step 2: Plan
     When you decide on what you want to do, make a plan that you can easily stick to. Want to read the entire Bible this year? Read 3 chapters a day (which takes about 7 and a half minutes. Yes, I timed it.). Want to memorize more verses? Find a reasonable goal and plan it out! Say you want to memorize 100 verses. That means 1 verse every three days or so. Not bad, right? If you want to study more, set a time every day where you can sit down with little to no distractions and study. If you're a morning person, maybe study after breakfast. If you're a night owl like myself, find some time during the evening when you can easily focus. I have a very hard time concentrating sometimes, so what I like to do is set a timer for the amount of time I want to work on something, and I don't stop until the timer goes off. After that I will check my email and texts and all that. If it's a longer task, I might do it in segments, but this way I can focus when I am oh so distracted. The whole purpose of making a plan, though, is so that you can make a habit about it. It takes about 9 weeks to make a habit, so as long as you can make it that far, it'll become easier and easier!

Step 3: Set Up Goals

     Have you ever read a really long book, and every time you look back to see how much you've read, it seems like you've gotten nowhere at all? The thing about making a goal that takes an entire year to complete is that it seemingly never ends. Set up little goals for yourself, or something to track your progress. You know all those cute ways you and find to decorate mason jars? Decorate one yourself, and every time you reach a goal, (say you memorize 5, 10, or 15 verses or read an entire book in the Bible) write it down on a strip of paper, fold it up, and put it in the jar. This way when you start to get discouraged, you can go to the jar and look at everything you've accomplished, and how far you've gotten. Or you can set up an award system. I used to have this planner that I made out of a graph paper notebook where I would have a list of things I needed to get done. Every time I checked something off of the list, I got a penny. Every penny that I got went into this jar, and when I had done about 300 things, I went out and got gelato (gelato is basically ice-cream but better, for those of you who have never heard of it). This gave me incentive to do more, and to stick to my plan. This helped me to make sure that my room was always clean, my bed always made, and my articles put out on time. Little things like this can really help motivate you to continue with your plan and prevent discouragement.

Step 4: Do It!

     You can't complete your resolution without starting it. Today I would like to encourage all of you to stick to your resolutions so you can grow in God's Word, and in wisdom, and in health. Whatever your resolution is, keep to it! By the end of the year, you'll be really glad you did it. And even if you miss a day or two, keep it up! It's easy to start something, but difficult to finish. Today, I challenge you to complete your New Year's resolution. Good luck!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Introducing New Ideas

"You shall not add to the word that I commanded you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you." -Deuteronomy 4:2

     Every day it seems like, I get onto my laptop or my phone, and I see articles everywhere that are trying too hard to make things difficult. I see people talking about how it's wrong to use electronic Bibles, wrong to be on the internet, I've even heard someone say that it's wrong to watch any movie or television show no matter how clean. But can we really teach these things? Can we teach that there is one true way to have a relationship (i.e. dating vs courting), or whether or not you should home school, if you should celebrate Christmas even as a nonreligious holiday, etc? 

     First of all, before I really get into this, I want to clarify that I'm not saying that it's wrong to put your foot down. I'm not saying that it's wrong to have opinions as long as they don't oppose the Bible, and I'm not saying that we should be so open minded that we just accept and agree with anything anyone ever does. Now, keeping that in mind, nowhere in the Bible are we told to preach our opinions. We are allowed to have them, and if you believe that you shouldn't watch any movies, then don't. It's wrong to go against your own opinions (as long as they don't go against the Bible) as we see in Romans 14:22-23. However, nowhere in the Bible are we told that others have to believe our opinions as well.

     Does the Bible say, "Thou shalt only read thy Bible on paper." or, "Thou shalt never go out to dinner with thy boyfriend" or even, "Thou shalt not court thy boyfriend or thy girlfriend."? Of course not. These things can be stumbling blocks to some people though. Say you want to go on a date because you don't want to court, that's perfectly fine. But the minute you two are alone together in a room or a house with no witnesses, even if nothing happens at all, is that shining your light? Is that showing everyone that you are in fact a Christian? Is that something that will make you of high repute? But at the same time, there is nothing wrong with a man and a woman sitting down at a table in a restaurant and getting to know each other. Now I strongly believe that someone should know your whereabouts, but no where in the Bible does it say that you cannot do either one. The same thing goes for movies, and the same thing goes for having time for yourself, and the same thing goes for celebrating Christmas (as long as you're not making it a holy day, as we see that we aren't supposed to add to God's Word in Deuteronomy 4:2 and Leviticus 10, which is what making a day holy would be doing). If you have a problem with something, don't do it, but preaching it as doctrine isn't the way to go about it

     The difficult thing about opinions is that sometimes people take certain commandments as just guide lines, rather than what they really are, which are commandments. Also, some people use this to say that we really shouldn't put our foot down about anything, as it can be easy to try to be politically correct. However, it's important that we understand where the fine lines are, and the only way you can truly do that is to study for yourself. Don't read the Bible trying to find the answer you want, (because you will find it if you take things out of context enough) but search through the scriptures and find out that the Bible says. Where the Bible is silent, we should be silent, and where the Bible speaks, we should speak. Today I would like to encourage you to, instead of getting into an argument about whether or not it's wrong to send your children to public school, or use a Bible app instead of a paper Bible, take a step back and ask if you're winning a soul, or an argument. You may be surprised with the answer.

Friday, December 19, 2014

An Idle Tongue

"For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body." -James 3:2

     Modern day technology is one of the best and worst things that has ever happened for Christians. It's the best because it makes it easy to spread the Word, encourage others, and get closer to those we love and help encourage them in their walk towards. Unfortunately it also makes gossip spread more quickly, makes it easier to talk bad towards others, and about them, and can be a discouragement. It really depends on how you use it. 

     We are told to spread the gospel countless times throughout the Bible in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Romans 10, Matthew 9, and so, so many other places. Not only does evangelism help others reach heaven, but it keeps us from growing idle. I'm sure all or at least most of you have heard the saying, "Idle hands are the devil's playground". The same thing goes for the tongue. If you are not busy telling someone about God, then what are you busy telling them about? It's important that whatever we say is for a good reason. I'm not saying that everything we have to say is about the Bible, specifically. It's important to create relationships with those around us, to be encouragements to others, and lighten their load at least a little bit. But if we are not doing one of those things, what are we doing? 

     When we are not doing good in the world, it's easy to do bad. Yes it's important to take breaks, but it's more important that we make sure we don't fall into the habit of being idle. It's important that we don't fall into the habit of speaking to and about others as if they are nothing. It's sad whenever I see someone who talks poorly about their friend, or family member. When we talk poorly about someone, we influence others around us. We tell our friends and our family that it's okay to talk about others that way, we tell ourselves that we are better than them, and we tell the world that Christians think that they're better than everyone else. Matthew 23:12 says "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." When we speak of others as if they are below us, we are exalting ourselves, but when we only ever speak of others as if they are wonderful, and always see the good in people, we are going to be held up to a higher standard (as long as you're not just talking well about others in order to seem like a better person).

     Today I would like to encourage you to find something to do in order to aid the kingdom and keep your hands and tongue from growing idle. Decide to be an encouragement, an evangelist, anything to help others toward heaven, and not towards hell. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Looking At Ourselves

"The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree, and I ate." -Genesis 3:12

     Since the dawn of time, people have been making excuses. There have been countless fingers pointed, excuses made, and "(S)He made me do it!"s. This is because it's easy to look at the flaws of others. But what about our own flaws?

     There was once a preacher in a small congregation who preached about deceit. In the crowd there was a man who had quite a problem with this, but instead of viewing the lesson as a piece of God's word that was being delivered to about 50 individual people, he took it as something the preacher was telling them because it was commanded of them to meet every first day of the week. The man took notes, listened carefully, followed along in his Bible, and afterwords told the preacher that he had done an excellent job, and went home satisfied. You may look at this man as someone who is in the wrong. You may see him as someone who doesn't take God's Word seriously. If you think this, then you are right. But how many of us do this? How many of us look at God's word as just a habit? Something to read or memorize, but never fully apply to our lives. 

     It's important that instead of looking at others and their lives, and instead of pointing fingers or finding excuses, we look at ourselves and what we can improve on. Ask yourself, "How can I improve my walk with Christ?" After all, how can we see clearly to take the speck out of our brother's eye, if we have a log in ours (Matthew 7:1-6)? Today I'd like to encourage you, yes you right there, the person currently reading this, to not only go to worship, and not only sing the songs and listen to the sermon, but to take what is said and ask, "How can I apply this into my life right now?" I'd like to encourage you to take the Word personally, not absentmindedly. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Boldness of Paul

"But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict." -1 Thessalonians 2:2

     Paul was a man of great faith. He had no faith in himself, or in others, but in God alone. And while in hard times, Paul still continued to have faith in God. Paul had the boldness, the audacity to present God's word to others after having been abused and mistreated very soon before. What can we learn from this?

     First of all I would like to look at the first part of 1 Thessalonians 2:2. When it says that Paul was mistreated, it doesn't say that Paul ran into some complications, or minor discouragements, but that he was shamefully mistreated. He was hurt, abused, and suffering. Even so, he felt compelled to preach the Word among those around him. He had been through a lot in his life, he knew that there would be more to go through later on, as we see in 1 Thessalonians 3:3 that he was destined for it, but he still had faith. He had faith, not in himself, not in others, not in false gods, but in the one true God. He had no faith that he wouldn't be persecuted, as we see, again, in chapter 3:3, but that no matter what circumstance, Paul would be able to preach the Word.

     Later in 1 Thessalonians 2:2 Paul said that he had the boldness to proclaim the Word. Why? Why is it considered boldness to present the gospel? In order to understand this completely, we have to understand the context. This was written when Rome was still in high power. In ancient Rome, Christians were greatly looked down on. I don't mean to say that Christians were looked down on as they are today, where really it's all just talk and discouragements. I'm not saying that that is nothing, but in comparison to back then, it's a breath of fresh air. Back then Christians had to worship in secret, because if they were found out, they were not only killed, but were made examples for any other Christians. They were skinned alive, burned at the stake, stoned, and murdered in several different horrific deaths. When Paul said that he had the boldness to present the Gospel in the midst of all this, he truly meant boldness. Paul was a true soldier of God. He did not try making everyone happy, but as we see in 1 Thessalonians 2:3-6, he just wanted to help people get to their heavenly goal by presenting the Word in love.

     What does this mean for modern day Christians? How can we apply this to our lives today? Christians today are given the opportunity to share the gospel with little to no persecution. It is our job as Christians to take advantage of that, and preach the word. So, are we? Today I would like to encourage you to stop what you are doing right now, and go tell someone the good news. After all, that is our mission, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cotton and Christianity

"Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." -1 Thessalonians 5:23

     George Washington Carver, the creator of peanut butter and my favorite inventor (mostly because of the peanut butter thing) discovered that cotton derives soil of certain minerals, while peanuts distribute it back into the soil. Knowing this, someone decides to become a cotton farmer. They know and understand that no matter what the plant, four things are necessary when farming: water, soil, minerals, and time. So they plant the cotton, harvest it, then decide that they want to plant cotton again. So the next time it's time to plant, they go out and plant cotton without having done anything to put the minerals back into the soil. So harvest time comes that fall and they look at the crop and instead of the lush white little clouds that were seen the previous year, all there are, are shriveled up little dead things all over the place. They stand there puzzled, trying to think of why this happened. After all, the plants had 3 of the 4 necessary things. They had water, soil, and time. That should more than compensate for the lack of minerals in the soil, right? As an outsider it can be easy to see the problem. The crops clearly need all 4 things in order to grow properly. In theory this is a simple concept, but a lot of times it can be easy to not understand it. 

     All the time I hear people say that they're Christians, they just don't take the Lord's supper every Sunday (Ats 20:7) or that they're Christians they just don't study daily (Acts 17:1) or that they're Christians except for the fact that they were not baptized (Mark 16:16), etc. But when judgement day comes, are you prepared to tell God that you were mostly a Christian? Are you prepared to tell God that you obeyed most of His commandments? "Oh but this one thing doesn't seem as important as the others!" Let me ask you something, can one thing be more of a commandment than something else? Does God have a scale that measures which sins are worth more? Can you go to hell even harder for some things than others? Of course not. I'm not saying that everyone is going to hell because of sin, because if so then there would be no point in Jesus coming down to earth because every man other than Jesus Himself has sinned (Romans 3:23), but I'm saying that we need to do our best to follow God's word. It may seem like some things are less important, but rain is no less crucial to a plant's life than soil, or soil than minerals, or minerals than time. You can't have a crop without all of the necessary things, and the same thing goes along with our spiritual lives.

     Today I would like to encourage you all to look at your lives, and find something that either you can improve on, or that you're just not doing, and challenge yourself to do that very thing. To improve on your prayer life, start evangelizing, or start studying more frequently. I'd like to plead with you to start, or improve on those things. After all, how can a crop grow without all the things necessary?