Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How to Not Fall Away

"You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes." -Deuteronomy 11:18 (ESV)

When you reach a certain age, you and everyone else around you start getting busy with college, work, friends, and just life in general. I have heard several different statistics, but in my own personal experience, about 1/3 people will fall away from Christ before they graduate college. If you do not believe me, look at the number of high-schoolers in the average congregation, and then look at the average number of college-age people. I can guarantee you that no one who was once actively seeking Christ knew that they would fall away before it happened.

We tend to believe that we are invincible at times. "Oh but I will never fall away." we all tell ourselves. However, we can see very clearly that that statement is not necessarily true. We know that those that enter heaven are few (Matthew 7:14). So how can we be sure, absolutely sure that this doesn't happen? How can we be sure that we will not fall away in the future?

Study is crucial to reminding yourself of the importance of Christianity, and of the Law. Deuteronomy 11:16-21 focuses on this. Starting in 16, it says, "Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them" Now yes, this was God speaking to the Israelites, but this still applies to us today nonetheless. God was giving them instructions on staying faithful to Him.

In order to serve Christ, we must first know what His commandments are, but we must also remind ourselves of them. I have been a Christian for quite some time, and have grown up hearing His Word my entire life. However, I can guarantee that whenever I do not study constantly, and whenever I do not put effort into learning more about God, I lose interest. And I can promise you, I can guarantee you, that if you do not make sure and write His words upon your hearts, and learn of them and bind them on a sign on your hand (Deuteronomy 11:18) then you will soon forget them, and you will fall away.

"You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorsteps of your house and on your gates, that the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth." (Deuteronomy 11:18-21)

Deuteronomy 11:18-21 gives very clear instructions on how we should view God's commandments. We ought to be constantly reminded of them, and constantly following them. The moment we start making exceptions and stop reminding ourselves of these laws, that is the moment that we begin falling away.

We can show up every Sunday, we can pray every evening, and we can even read our Bibles every
day. If we do not listen to the words we are reading, and if we do not see the words for what they are, and if we do not act upon them and share them, then are we really better off than those who have never known the name of Jesus? (Matthew 10:33)

The thing about Christianity is that it is not an idea that we choose to accept. It is not a pew on Sundays. It is not a list of songs that we sing every week or a certain amount of "Amen"s that we say during each sermon. Christianity is not a mask that hides our true selves.

Christianity is a decision to serve God. It is a decision to bring souls to Him. The reason so many fall away from Christ is because they do not see Christianity for what it is: a life. A life that starts when you are baptized and continues on in the same way until after death.

If you are not living God's Word, then I ask that you change something now. If you are not studying regularly, and making it a point to know and do God's Will, then I implore that you change that. Start now. The deadline is the end of your earthly life, and you can always start now. Just please do not wait to do so. You never know when it is too late, and you will be past the point of no return.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Submission Like Isaac's

"When they came to the place where God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood." -Genesis 22:9

          We often read Genesis 22 and think about Abraham's great willingness to give God everything He asked for. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his first and only son to God without hesitation. However, we rarely look at things from Isaac's point of view. Isaac clearly was aware of the process of offering sacrifices, as we see in Genesis 22:7. However, Isaac was 100% submissive to both his earthly father, and Heavenly Father in all things.

          In this world, the word "submission" is a dirty word. It's become such a dirty word, that it makes the average person's skin crawl in disgust just at the mere thought of it. But we as Christians cannot have this attitude towards it. How can we fully devote ourselves to God, giving Him all things, without submitting to His every word? 

          The reason that the world sees "submission" as such a dirty word, is that it essentially means to remove all will from one's self, and to take on the will of someone else. We want freedom. We want to be our own people. But in all reality, no matter what we believe, we are never ours. We either belong to God, or we belong to the devil. There is no middle-man. There is no other option. We have heaven, and we have hell. We cannot serve two masters, (Matthew 6:24) meaning that in order to serve Christ, we must first submit ourselves wholly to Him. We need to make His will our will.

          As we have previously established, Isaac was old enough to understand sacrifices. He understood their importance, and had clearly witnessed them before, meaning he was more than likely over the age of 12. Now keep in mind that Abraham had Isaac at a very old age, so he was over 100 at this time. Isaac could have easily escaped from Abraham. 

          Isaac could have easily taken down his father. Isaac was placed on top of the wood, even though he knew what was going to happen. He was willing to give up his own life for God. He understood that the very last thing he would ever see was his father's eyes, as he was killing his own son. And yet, Isaac did not run. Isaac did not attempt to escape. Isaac stayed.

          God was not going to make Abraham give a human sacrifice. However, God sent His son, as well, to be a sacrifice. God allowed Jesus to be put up on the cross, and Jesus never opened up His mouth against those that were accusing Him (Isaiah 53:7). 

          If Jesus was submissive to those murdering Him, that we could be saved, why not submit ourselves to the One that promises eternal life? We need to learn from Isaac, and be obedient even in death just as Christ was, (Philippians 2:8) and be focused so much on Him, that we no longer have to worry about the things of this world.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Content Where I Am

"Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." 

-Philippians 4:11 (ESV)

Our lives are constantly filled with things to keep us busy, and happy with where we are for a short while, until the next big thing comes out. Not that I'm condemning technology, or the use of it, but this is the mindset that we are brought up with. We are constantly given what we want, when we want it. Want to talk to a friend that lives 500 miles away? You can do it now! Want a cup of coffee? Walk 5 feet to your closest coffee shop (because let's face it, they're everywhere, and that is honestly great) and pick one up.

There is nothing wrong with taking advantage of the blessings around us. However, it can be easy to let that give us a mindset of having to be constantly stimulated. And I'll admit, I get this way, too. But how does this affect our spiritual lives?

When we grow accustomed to this constant stimulation, it causes us to grow discontent very easily. In Jude, we read a letter from Jude, to Christians. In verses 14-16, Jude is talking about the people that will be judged harshly, and in this is listed "grumblers and malcontents", who "follow their own sinful desires" (v. 16). Whenever we become discontent with what we are doing, or where we are in life, we stop focusing on what God wants from us, and we start focusing on what we want from God. We start asking Him for things that we want, but do not need, and then get angry whenever we do not receive them. 

"You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your own passions." (James 4:3) Not only do we not receive because of our poor intentions, but this establishes a friendship with the world, as we see in the next verse: "You adulterous people! Do you now know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

Whenever we become discontent with what God has given us, we become friends with the world. Whenever we get angry because we didn't get into that college, or we didn't get that job, or we didn't graduate top of our class, or we didn't get that scholarship, we become discontent. We become obsessed with things of this world, and we forget what our actual goal.

"And He said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.'" (Matthew 22:37-38)

We, as Christians, cannot afford to become friends with the world. No one can, in fact. Have you ever been truly, permanently happy because of something from this world? Or did the newness wear off after a while? Maybe you still use and enjoy it, but is it still the best thing in the world? But the thing is, is that no matter how much you serve God, and keep His commandments, your happiness will not deplete. Your joy in serving Him will never end, not even in death.

Are you becoming a friend of the world? Are you allowing the charms of this world to sweep you off your feet, and allow you to forget about what your ultimate goal is? If so, I would like to encourage you to have a Bible study with a friend. Or by yourself. Go and teach a Bible class, or visit that elderly lady that you see every Sunday. Because I can guarantee that that will never get old.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Point of It All

"These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." -Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (ESV)

As we get older and older, our lives become busier and busier. We get into high school, get a job, go to college, get a way better job, get married, start a family, then our children will get into high school, get jobs, and so on and so on until we die. But have you ever thought about the point of it all? What is the point? Life is just a continual cycle of ongoing stress, and things to keep us busy. 

I know that this sounds depressing, but there is none. There is no point in any of this. "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever," (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2).

However, if we have Christ, and if we follow Him, then our life is full of meaning. "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21) Paul stated this in reference to him living his life in a way that would reflect Christ. As should ours. Christ should be our all, and we should focus our lives around Him, rather than Him around our lives. Yes, we can get so busy that it gets harder and harder to keep up with studying daily, but that doesn't make it any less important (for a further look at this subject, I encourage you to read Ecclesiastes, as it has a lot to say on this matter).

We need to not only find time in the day for Christ, but we need to envelope our lives in Him. Our school work, our jobs, our extracurriculars, our friends, our everything.

Here I would like to encourage you to stop, and read Deuteronomy 6:4-15, as I cannot put it here for space. 

If you'll notice in verse five of Deuteronomy 6, we are commanded to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, and with all of our might. Not with some. Not with most. But with all. We should be willing to turn all things to Him, and give up everything for Him. "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ." We need to not be so worried about the things of this life that we forget Whom we are serving.

Continuing on to verses 6-9, we read that these words "shall be on your heart." (verse 6) and that we should fill our lives with His Words, and His commandments, and His promises. We are to fill our lives with His love, and reflect it in our actions. We should put reminders of His love everywhere. This is the unpopular part of Christianity. Why should we have to put so much effort into this? Why should we have to do all of these things? What is the purpose?

We find the answer in verse twelve, where it says, "take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." God, of course, was talking to the Israelites here, but that doesn't mean that this does not also apply to us. We as Christians, like the Israelites, are God's chosen people (1 Peter 2:9-10) and we have likewise been brought out of slavery, the slavery of sin, (Romans 6:18) and are now freed from it, just as the Israelites were freed from the Egyptians. 

We cannot forget our Lord. We cannot forget what He has done for us. We cannot forget all that it takes to reach heaven. Why should we study daily? Why should we fill our lives with His words? Why should we count all things as loss? Because if we don't, then we will forget Him. And even if we continue to go to worship, and we continue to do the actions of service, without faith, and without love, none of these things matter (James 2:14-26; 1 Corinthians 13). 

Today I would like to encourage you to study these matters for yourself, and to study daily, that you may grow closer to God, and become stronger in Him, that you may serve Him better. Not only that, but also so that you can teach others His words (Matthew 28:18-20) and that you may help others towards heaven, as well.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Love As Well As Truth

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." -1 Corinthians 13:1

We are always focusing on teaching the truth. And we focus so much on being accurate, and showing others what is right. But sometimes it seems like we forget the other half. It can be easy to forget that we are not just robots, reciting scripture at people and hoping they get it. We are to teach others with love and respect (Ephesians 4:15).

Think back to Paul on Mars Hill, in Acts 17. Imagine if Paul got up there and announced to everyone, "You are incredibly wrong, and are all going to hell. Now let me tell you why I'm right." Would the people there be very accepting of what he was saying, had he done that? But instead, he made a connection so that he could teach in a way that they would understand, and not get upset about it. When teaching others the truth, we need to lead them into it. Not force it down their throats.

But what does that mean, to teach with love? Well, when talking about love, we often go to 1 Corinthians 13 and go down the list. Love is patient, kind, doesn't envy or boast, it's not arrogant or rude. It doesn't insist on its own way. It's not irritable or resentful, or rejoice in wrongdoing. It rejoices in truth. It bears all, believes all, hopes all, and endures all. Now, I will say that when it says "Love does not insist on its own way" in verse 5, this does not mean that we shouldn't insist that the Bible is true. We don't need to insist on our way, but we most certainly need to insist on God's way.

Whenever speaking to someone about God's Word, it's important to ask, "Am I coming across as patient? Kind? Am I coming across as one who is arrogant?" If the answer is yes to any of these things, then maybe it's time to rethink what's about to be said.

Why do you teach the Word? What is your motivation? Because if it is purely to please God, then it may be time to change your way of thinking. Yes, we do it to please God. But that's not why we're supposed to do it. God doesn't just make commandments so that we'll have something to do. He doesn't tell us to go to worship Him every first day of the week so that we can have an excuse to get out of stuff. He doesn't tell us not to murder just because he wants to make your life that much more difficult.

The reason that we are told to preach the Word to everyone, everywhere (Matthew 28:18-20) is because of John 3:2-5. Jesus was approached by Nicodemus, who asked Christ how someone could be born again. And in verse 3, we see Jesus's response: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." That is why we should spread the gospel. If we truly love others, then we will not want them to miss out on heaven. If we truly love others, then we will do the best we can to bring them to Christ, and not in a hateful manner. Not in a way that will lead others astray.

If we don't teach the truth in love, then we may as well not be teaching the truth at all. According to 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, no mater what we do, if we do not do it out of pure love, then what is the point? It can be easy to become apathetic towards these things, and to just do them out of habit. But if you have fallen into this habit, I would like to encourage you to get out of it. Start showing love towards others. Study more. Serve others. And love more. You would be surprised at what a difference it makes.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Our View of Sin

Sin is everywhere, and we cannot avoid it. Whether it is our own sin that we are seeing, or the sins of others
shoved in our faces. Whether it's movies, television shows, commercials, billboards, or even just going out into public, you will see sin all around you. It can be easy to become hardened about these things, and not even notice them anymore. They can be so deep into your mind that you don't even give a passing glance to them anymore. This is definitely easy to do.

But how do we solve this problem? How do we solve the problem of apathy towards sin? This can be solved with a simple verse that I'm sure you have seen and used many times. "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Philippians 4:8)

How can we avoid sin, without avoiding it? It is becoming increasingly popular to be good, but increasingly unpopular to do what is necessary to achieve that goodness. How can we protect ourselves against the effects that sin has on us, without avoiding sin itself? Whether it's that song, that show, or that friend, even, we need to remove those things from our lives that cause us to stumble.

I went on a hike recently, and it was amazing. The trees were in every shade of green, the air was nice and cool, and the bears decided not to maul us. We were hiking towards a waterfall, and all of a sudden I walk into a wall of rain. Cold, hard, rain. Why is was raining there and not on the rest of the trail, I have no idea. But it happened.

So we were walking and I was freezing, my parents were freezing, and we finally get to the waterfall. We stood under a tree for a little bit, hoping the rain would let up a bit, but when we realized that it wasn't going to for a while, we started back. And after a while, I must say, I didn't even realize that it was raining anymore. I knew that I was kind of cold, but I was so soaked, that I really couldn't even feel the raindrops falling on me anymore.

Had I prepared and brought an umbrella for my trip, I would have been dry the entire time. And I may have gotten slightly damp, but I would still be dry, so I would be able to feel if there was a place where my umbrella wasn't covering. 

As long as we stay under the umbrella of what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, etc, then we will be able to feel whenever the sin comes in. We will be able to see where we are failing, and where we need to correct ourselves. Yes, whenever we do see sin, it will be uncomfortable. But how can we keep sin out of our lives, if we are so accustomed to it, that we can't even tell the difference anymore?

Are you growing apathetic towards sin? Cut out those things that the umbrella that we see in Philippians 4:8 don't cover. Next time you go out to the movies, or you're talking to a friend, think, is the subject honorable? Is it pure? Is it worthy of praise? Whenever we fill our minds with things worthy of praise, we will become worthy of praise. But whenever we fill our minds with things of the world, we will become one with the world.

Monday, August 10, 2015

What We Want

"You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions." -James 4:3 (ESV)

Have you ever wanted something really bad? So you asked and asked and asked for it, but never received it? Did you wonder why? Why wouldn't God give it to you? I have seen so many things that say, "God only has three answers: 'Yes', 'Not now', and 'I have something better in mind.'" And I do believe that these are three answers that are given. But not the only ones. Sometimes God says no. But why? Why would God say no to us? 

The beginning of James 4 speaks quite a bit on getting what we want. Here, Paul is talking about how we go to extremes to get what we want, but we never think to ask. But then we can't just end there. We can't just end with "you do not have because you do not ask." as a lot of people do. Saying a prayer does not entitle anyone to what they want, no matter how righteous they are. Not even Jesus got everything He prayed for, as we see in Matthew 26:39-46. Whenever we ask for something, God does not have to give it to us. I once was in a class, and this topic came up, and the question was asked if anyone had ever gotten angry at God because they didn't get what they wanted. And one person spoke up, saying that they asked God for a playstation, and they got angry at God for not giving it to them. This sounds shallow, right? That's selfish, and not really worth praying about. But what is the difference between asking God for a playstation, and that new car, or that boyfriend, or that raise, if it's all for the same selfish 

When asking for something, we need to be sure that it's not for our own selfish use. We are not our own. Romans 14:8 says, "For if we live, we live in the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's."Why should we worry about ourselves, when we are not our own? If we are not of God, then we are of the World, and we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with luxury, or doing something that benefits us sometimes. It's important that we take some time to rest, and reset our minds so we don't get burned out, or discouraged. 

I don't know how many things I have seen, or read, or heard, of people saying, "Just do what makes you happy." And I cannot emphasize enough how horrible that philosophy is. Because if we only do the things that we want to do, then we will end up only making things worse for ourselves. Take Jezebel, for example. Living for herself, this wicked woman did not want to back down if it meant she wouldn't get her way. The best example of this can be found in 1 Kings 21:1-16, when she had Naboth, her neighbor, killed all for a plot of land. But how did that end for her? In 2 Kings 9:30-37, we read of her death, in which she fell out of a window, was trampled by horses, and eaten by dogs. And I can guarantee that that is nothing compared to what she is going to receive on judgement day. We need to make sure our focus is on Christ, because if it is on ourselves, then we are not going to get what we want. But if we're seeking God first, then the answer will never be no, as He is the focus of our pleads.

Sometimes our only problem is that we have the wrong priorities. But when we treat God as our prime goal in life, and we strive to serve Him rather than ourselves, then we won't have to worry about not getting what we desire. Yes, Jesus's wish to not have to be crucified was rejected, but his prayer was not. Because He was not praying that He wouldn't have to die, but that God's will would be done. Whose will are you focusing on? I'd like to encourage you to focus on Christ, and to study these things for yourselves, so that you can live the life that God created us to live.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why Me?

"Count it all joy my brethren when you meet trials of various kinds." -James 1:2

Life hands us lemons, and we ask "Why do I have to have lemons?" "Why me?" Instead of learning our lessons, and making the best of things, we often find ourselves asking, "Why me? I've been faithful. I'm a good person. Why me?" "Did I do something wrong?"

James 1:2 says to count it all joy when you meet trials, but what about the next verse? "for you know that the testing of the faith produces steadfastness." We can go through trials for various causes. Some of them are self-inflicted. If you spread rumors about someone, and they catch you on it, then you will have some hard times, and they will definitely be self-inflicted. But not always. In John 9, Jesus came across a blind man, and in verse 2 we see that his disciples asked him who had sinned in order to cause him to be blind, him, or his parents? In verse three He gives His response, saying, "Is was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in Him." Sometimes we don't suffer because we did anything wrong, but so that we can take it to show others the glory of God. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for my name's sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:10)

Not only this, but we can also look to Jesus as an example in this. Jesus was perfect. Hebrews 4:15 says "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." And yet, we see in Isaiah 53:3, where He was called the man of sorrows, and it says that He was acquainted with grief. If we believe that every trial comes as a cause of sin, then does that mean that Christ was imperfect? What if Jesus had asked, "Why me?" when on the cross? What if he had asked, "What have I done to deserve this?" In fact, the funny thing is that Jesus did not once ask, "What have I done to deserve this?" and He didn't, but we have sinned and are deserving of hell, and yet whenever we have a bad day, we still ask that very question. We were lost in our sins until He saved us (Ephesians 2:1), and yet we still believe that we shouldn't have a single bad thing happen to us while He had to suffer the death on the cross? Not to sound like a downer, but why do we feel so entitled to an easy life?

I don't say all of this to guilt you. I don't say this to make you want to go out of your way to make your suffering worse. That's not at all what we should do. Yes, I will admit: life stinks sometimes. I'm not stranger to this fact. But I say these things to remind you that we still have hope. Because if we are faithful even through these trials, and if we still believe and are obeying by the time we die, then we will have to comfort and rest that we have been striving for. "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Revelation 21:4) Does that not sound so wonderful? Every bad thing, every horrible thing, will have passed. 

Today I would like to encourage you to remember that your trials don't mean that you're doing something wrong, but that they are simply just a part of life. And like we see in James 1:2-3, we should take those iniquities and turn them into steadfastness. And remember that this is only a short while, and that it'll all be over soon.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Right Investment

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven," -Matthew 6:19-20 (ESV)

          Say you're living in an incredibly small apartment. The walls are somewhere in-between pink and beige, the floors, bright orange shag carpet, and stained with who knows what. The shower is about a 2x2 foot space, and the fridge can hold a quart of milk and maybe a couple cans of soda, and your stove, well, you don't have a stove. How excited are you about living here? I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to live there at all. So you have a choice. You just graduated college (look at you go!) and you have a job, but not a whole lot of money. So you have two choices: You can invest time and money into fixing the place (assuming the owner of the complex doesn't mind), or you can save that money and use it to buy a house later, that has nice carpet and a stove, and can fit more than one or two people in it at a time. Which would be the wiser choice? Well, fixing up the apartment would be easier, but ultimately, you would end up benefiting more from saving up the money to buy a new house. Right?

          Our lives here on earth are much like that itty bitty, horrifyingly small apartment. Sometimes, we get side-tracked. We forget that we are ultimately striving towards a higher goal than just making our "apartments" better. Whenever we sin, we are investing in our lives here on earth. We are attempting to make it cozier for us now, rather than later when we realize that we could be in heaven, but we spent so much time and money building up our earthly lives, that we have forgotten what is really important. No, there is nothing wrong with having a job, and trying your best in school, and making friends, etc. In fact, those are all really good things. But it's when you make those the things that you strive for in life, and put them equal to, or above God, that it becomes a sin. It's when you lie to get that promotion, or stop going to worship so that you can have more time to study. It's when you stop evangelizing because you're afraid your friends will leave you if you talk about the Bible. That's when you stop making the best of this life, and start investing in it.

          So how do you stop investing time in this life, and start investing it into the next? The best way to start investing in God, is to stop investing in yourself. Stop making excuses for why you can't study your Bible, or why you can't share God's Word. Take time out of every day, and dedicate it to God. Take an hour or two out of your daily schedule, and use it to serve God, and only Him. Lay up your treasures in Heaven, not here on earth. You might be surprised how much easier it gets living here, when you remember that one day you'll be in heaven, and none of this will matter anymore.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Tunnel Vision

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers" -Psalm 1:1


     Have you ever been reading a book, but you refuse to talk to anyone about it or look up anything about it for fear of the ending being ruined for you? Any time you watch tv, go on the internet, or even go in public, you put up blinders. You refuse to hear or see any spoilers so you don't ruin the sweet ending of the book, and you don't remove these blinders until you have completed the book. You have tunnel vision, and can't afford to look to the left or the right, just straight. How come we can do this easily with the books we read or the shows we watch, but we can't do it with our Christianity? Why is it so easy to avoid things that ruin books or movies, but it's hard to ruin things that can cause us to stumble and spoil our minds against God?

     Everywhere you look, it seems, there's sin. Movies, television shows, music, books, and even billboards are shoving the things of the world into your mind, finding any way they can to worm their way into your head. You can't seem to see any movie without cursing, a book without a sex scene, or a magazine rack without at least one person who is just as close to naked as you can get without actually being naked. And it's not these things that really bother me. The world will be the world, and doctors aren't for the sick (Matthew 9:12). It's not that I have to see these things as I walk through the store, or skip over entire scenes in television shows, but the fact that it's so easy to not ignore these things, and how many Christians don't.

     Psalm 1 tells us that those who don't do what sinners do, or think about what the wicked think are blessed. In verse two it says that those who don't do these things delight in the law of the Lord, which means that those who do not delight in the law of the Lord do walk in the counsel of the wicked, and do sit in the seat of scoffers. Do we as Christians delight in the law of the Lord, or in the things of this world? Do we look aside from those songs and shows and books that lead our minds elsewhere? 

     Do you have tunnel vision? Do you only look towards God? If not, then change that. It's as simple as reading more, praying more, and removing the sins and temptations from your life. We cannot go to heaven unless we are spotless, and that is definitely a possibility as we can see in Isaiah 1:18. Today I'd like to encourage you to look at your life, and take these things under consideration, and to focus on God's will, not the will of man.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Truth About Homosexuality

"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?" -1 Corinthians 6:9 (ESV)

          I'm sure that all of you know what I'm talking about when I refer to the new law that has been made within this past two weeks. And I have been holding off on writing lately, because I wanted to be sure that I said all the right things, as this is a very sensitive subject. But I want to start out by saying that I do not hate homosexuals. I do not agree with their life choices, but I most certainly do not hate anyone. Homosexuality is a sin just like any other (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Having said that, I don't think that that means that we should accept homosexuality, but hate those other sins just as much. If we viewed all these other sins the way that we view homosexuality, and we couldn't even fathom the thought of committing them, then how much easier would our Christian walk be?

          Homosexuality is a sin like any other. However, the Bible doesn't only list it as a sin, but also as unnatural, as we see in Romans 1:26, Jude 1:7. And in Leviticus 18:22, and Leviticus 20:13, it is called an abomination to the Lord. And in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, we see that they will not reach heaven. In fact, as we see in Jude 1:7, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of this sin. And yet people still use this same Bible, written by the same, unchanging God (Malachi 6:3), and say, "God says you should accept people and their sins, because we shouldn't judge others." Do you really believe that God would send His son to die on the cross, if forgiving sin was as simple as not judging others? And even if we all become okay with homosexuality, does that even matter? If 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is correct, and those who practice this sin cannot enter heaven, then does it matter what we think? You can tell me not to judge all you want, but it's not my judgment that matters, and do you really think that you are going to face the Lord on Judgment Day, and tell Him "Judge not lest you be judged"?

          Matthew 7:1-2 says, "Judge not, that you not be judged. For with the judgeent you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you." Well how about we continue reading until verse 5? "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye.' When there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." Does this not say that once you have removed your own sin, that you should remove the sin of your brother? Does this not speak of making sure you can see clearly, so that you can properly aid your brothers in getting rid of their sins? And this also says, in the second verse, that with the judgment that we pronounce with, we will be judged. Well, does that mean that we can't judge anything? How about judging right from wrong? We have to make judgments to make sure that we aren't in sin, otherwise the entire Bible would be useless! This is not saying that we shouldn't judge at all, or that we should ignore the sins of others, but that we should make sure that we can see properly before we make our judgments.

          Yes, we should love everyone, but this goes back to Matthew 7:1-5, as well. If we love someone, we are going to make sure that they reach heaven, correct? And if that means aiding them in removing their sins, then that's what we need to do. But how can we help someone in the removal of their sin, if they don't even know that it is a sin? We need to lovingly point them to why it's wrong, and how to remove it. And if they are a true child of Christ, then they will strive to remove it, so that they can be closer to God. We also need to do the same when someone shows us our sin. But we need to make sure, above all things, that we always do it in a loving way, so that we don't push them even further into their sins.

          I know that the only people reading this are those that already know that homosexuality is a sin. Or at least for the most part, anyway. But I don't write this to preach to the choir. I write this so that you can have these arguments in the back of your mind, so that next time someone challenges you, you can point them to these passages. And I write this so that I can encourage you, to please, please study this on your own. Don't let me tell you these things. Let the Gospel. And then share what you've learned. Share it with the world, in the most loving way you know how. Kill others with kindness. Because no one is going to forbid you from loving others (Galatians 5:22-23).

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Right Kind of Sacrifice

"Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding with him." -1 John 3:15 (ESV)

I’m sure that most (if not all) of you people reading this have heard of the story of Cain and Abel. Cain makes a sacrifice, Abel makes a sacrifice, and then Cain gets mad because Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable to God, while Cain’s was hardly adequate. But What is the significance of this story? How does this apply to us in our lives? How can this help us increase our faith?

When Cain saw that Abel was giving a righteous sacrifice, what was Cain’s immediate reaction? Was it, “What am I doing wrong?”, or maybe, “What can I do to improve?” Did he ask God, “God, I know that my sacrifices aren’t sufficient, so what can I do to change that?” Instead of thinking these things, he thought selfishly. He thought, “How can I make this easier for myself?” Instead of trying to better himself, he looked at his brother, and how he could beat him. And when we stop looking at God, and we start comparing ourselves to those around us, we lose sight of what our goal was to begin with: pleasing God.

Hebrews 13:7 tells us to, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” And I don’t think that there is a better verse that goes with this. Instead of looking at the outcome of the sacrifice, and deciding to do the same, Cain looked at Abel, and saw him as a competition. Christianity is not a competition; it is not about trying to be better than someone. Yes, we are supposed to attempt to “outdo” each other, and to build off of each other (Romans 12:10). But we aren’t to feel threatened by those that are doing things properly. It’s a bit backwards, isn’t it? When we get so caught up in trying to be better than others in their service to God, that we end up sinning in our jealousy. When we make singing about sounding better, than meaning more. When we make note taking about filling up more room, than hearing the message. When we try so hard to make ourselves look good, that we forget what the point of all this is: to please God. Cain could have bought a lamb from Abel. He could have kept a small flock for himself, and hired someone to look after them. But instead, he allowed his jealousy to dictate his actions, and ended up killing his brother. Now, of course, we don’t usually kill people when we are jealous. However, we can read in 1 John 3:15, that “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”

Some may believe that God is a bit cruel when He enforces rules this much. I mean, we’re only human, right? What makes one sacrifice different than another if we put forth the exact same amount of effort? Well let’s look forward in time a bit to another time when someone offered the wrong kind of sacrifice. If you look in Leviticus 10, we read about the death of Nadab and Abihu. And if you’ve read this, then you know that things did not go well for these two. In the first verse, we see that they offered up a sacrifice. Everything seems good, right? Then we read the dreaded word, “unauthorized”. Now this was handled a little bit different than with Cain, but this is just more proof that God doesn’t command anything without genuinely meaning that it is the only way. When He says something, He means it. So how does this apply to us? Or to Cain, even?

What do you want for Christmas? It’s a bit far away, but you can never start thinking about Christmas too early, right? I know this sounds weird, but I really want some nice, fine, felt-tip pens. So let’s say that I ask for those pens. And I start asking this early in the year. I beg and plead with my parents, “PLEEEEAAAAASE GET ME THESE PENS!!!!!” And finally, at one point, they sit me down and tell me, “We’ve been thinking about this for a while, and we’re getting you those pens.” So then I get all excited. I’m getting the pens. This is amazing! What do you think my reaction would be if my parents decided to just go and get me some regular old $1 pens that stop working within the first sentence that you write with them? Now yes, I would be happy to have gotten something. My parents don’t owe me a anything for Christmas. But I would still be kind of upset that I didn't get those pens, right? I mean, I was promised pens! Imagine how much more upset God gets when we say, “God, I will follow you. I just don’t want to let go of ….” Or, “God, I will give you everything, but I’m not going to be happy about it.” What message does that send to God? Is that a proper sacrifice? God has saved us from so much pain and suffering, and the least we can do is to do what He says.

Today I would like to encourage you to look to yourself and ask, “Is what I’m giving to God sufficient?” And if the answer is no, then change something. Don’t get angry when you see someone thrive in an area, when you just can’t seem to . I’d like to encourage you to look to them as an example, and to learn from them. Wouldn’t it be so wonderful if we could all build each other up, instead of letting resentment grow and fester, getting worse and worse as the days go by. But look at them and think, “How can I take that and imitate it?” Maybe even talk to them about it, and ask them to encourage you. Maybe they struggled with it, as well! I’d like to encourage you to stop comparing yourself to others, but compare yourself to God, instead. And make sure you are measuring up to Him. Because that’s the important thing, right?

Monday, June 15, 2015

When the Answer is No

"Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done." -Luke 22:42

          Have you ever felt like your prayers weren't being answered? Like God wasn't hearing you, and your problems weren't being solved? Unfortunately, we cannot always have what we ask for, as some of the things we desire aren't good for us, for others, or sometimes not even possible. It's important that in these times, we don't begin to believe that God is ignoring our prayers, or start to lose faith. It's crucial that we don't begin to doubt God's ability to deliver us, or bring us comfort. But why do these things happen? Why is the answer so often "No", even when it's something we believe we need?

          The first reason the answer may be No, is because what we're asking for is not what we need, or what others need. In Luke 22, we read about Christ going and praying that the cup of His crucifixion to be passed from Him, if at all possible. Not because He didn't want to save us, but because, well, would you like to be crucified? Jesus spent His entire life here on earth, knowing that He was born so that He could die. He took on our sorrows so that we wouldn't have to keep them. He went through every temptation, according to Hebrews 4:15, and the most painful death imaginable. Now let me ask you something: Did God ever stop loving His Son? And at the same time, did God still allow Christ to die? And while that was hard, and while that was painful, is it not better for us that that happened? Is it not better for us that Christ died so that we don't have to experience hell? Yes, sometimes the answer isn't what we necessarily want it to be, but sometimes there is no other way, and it certainly doesn't mean that God doesn't love us. Sometimes you have to go through something that you really wish you didn't, but then you come out even better for it, and those around you are blessed because of it, as well.

          Another reason the answer may be No, is because you're simply asking the wrong question. Sometimes, as I have previously stated, we need to go through something for the greater good. Sometimes instead of saying, "Please let this end." we should say, "Please give me comfort." In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, we see that Paul is struggling with a "thorn in the flesh", and once again He had prayed three times for it to go away, as Christ had prayed three times before His crucifixion, as we read in Luke 22. In regard to this thorn in the flesh, Paul states in verses 8-10 of 2 Corinthians 12, "Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with my weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, I am strong." In this passage, we see that Paul accepted that fact that his persecutions weren't going to go away, and instead of always being down about himself, he accepted it. He took it and used it to help him grow closer to Christ, rather than let it separate him from Christ. Whenever we realize that whatever we are going through is necessary for us, or for someone else, we need to pray that we find comfort in it. We need to pray that we don't allow ourselves to fall into temptation because of it, because God will always help deliver us from sin. 

          The final reason that we may not be able to have our problems solved, is because we're asking for something that simply can't happen. Yes, God can help us to some extent, but we have to remember that no matter what, we are humans, which means that we all have our own free will. God isn't going to just going to miraculously control people to do things because you're having a hard time. This is where we have to do some work. If you're having a rival with someone, show them the love of Christ. "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:20) Sometimes we can't just hand everything over to God and expect all of our problems to be solved. We have to get up and do some work ourselves, sometimes! 

          Sometimes, things don't go according to our plans, but that's okay! Because as long as we are faithful until death, we will get to that sweet, heavenly rest for eternity. And these things here on earth that seem like such a huge deal now, won't even be a fraction of a second in comparison to eternity. So I would like to encourage you to remember that, and maybe, if you are going through something, ask a different question. If you're clearly going through something that you need to go through as Paul did in 2 Corinthians 12:7, then ask that you have the proper attitude towards it, and that you become strengthened in your weaknesses as he was. And lastly, I'd like to encourage you to never stop praying. No matter how wonderful things get, or how horrible they become, always pray. Tell God what's bothering you, and if the cup cannot be passed from you, then ask for comfort. And more than anything, never let it change your relationship with God for the worse. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Praying for Patience

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds." -James 1:2 (ESV)

          Numerous times, I have heard the phrase, "Never pray for patience." This is advice given in order to help us avoid trials. Knowing that praying for patience does brings tests of faith and hardships, I have payed careful attention for several years to never pray for patience. In fact, made it a point to never pray for patience. However, is this the attitude that a true child of Christ should have?

          The other day, as I was doing my memory work in the book of James, I was reviewing some of the verses I hadn't gone over in a while. Some of the verses in chapter one stuck out to me in a way that they never had before. Verses 2-5 say, "Count it all joy my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God the Father, who gives generously to all without reproach. And it will be given him." Now I understand that this is speaking of wisdom, but then I thought about patience, and the trials that come when striving for it. Are we not blessed when we go through these trials as well? And will they not be but less than a fraction of a second in comparison to eternity? Is it really worth it to risk not having the patience in order to go to heaven, in order to avoid small trials here on earth? How much worse would it be if we went to hell because we never had enough patience to handle things here on earth?

          Whenever you're giving a list to someone, the very first thing you tell them is usually a very important thing, correct? Well if you turn with me to a passage likely very familiar to you, in 1 Corinthians 13, we are given a list on what love is. The list begins in verse 4, when we are told that love is patient. How easy is it when we maybe don't like a particular person, that we can easily become impatient with them? When we truly love someone, we are far more willing to be patient with them. So when we ask for more love, but we don't ask for more patience, what are we doing? How can you have more love but not more patience? When we don't pray for patience, but we pray for love we are contradicting ourselves! We are also telling  God, "I have enough patience. But not enough love." Can you do that? Is it possible to have enough of a certain quality? When we intentionally don't pray for something, is that the heart of a true servant of Christ? How can we refuse to pray and then go around pretending that we're followers of Christ? As Christians, we need to strive for love, and in doing so, strive for patience. How can we love God if we don't love others? "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:8)

          Not only are we refusing to be more like Christ,  and we are rejecting a gift of loving more whenever we don't pray for patience, but we are also being prideful. Whenever Christ died on the cross, that was a pretty rough time. Why do we feel that while Christ died a gruesome death for us, we can't handle going through a rough couple of days? Why do we feel that Christ can suffer for our sake, but we can't suffer for His? "He must increase, but I must decrease." according to John 3:30. How continue to sin by lacking patience, and then thank God for sending Christ to die for our sins?

          Today, I would like to encourage you to, if you don't already, pray for patience. Please don't think that you're better off not praying for it. There's always room for improvement, and even though we could never be perfect, we can always strive for it. Don't be too proud to pray for an improvement, and remember that no matter what the hard time is, it will always pay off when we all gather together in heaven.

Monday, June 1, 2015

More Than Hearing

"But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." -James 1:22

          In my last article, I addressed the issue of not reading God's Word enough. I wrote about how it's the light that we must look to so that we can avoid the darkness of the world around us. But I neglected one thing: we can't just hear the words, but we have to act on them as well.

          If you continue with James 1, verses 22 and on until the end of the chapter, it speaks about true religion. We have already read through the 22st verse, but the ones after it state, "For if anyone is a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in the mirror." then skipping ahead to the last 2 verses in the chapter, "If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."

          If you've ever taken any kind of writing or speech class, you will have learned that when presenting information, you need to answer the five questions of, "Who", "What", "Why", "Where" and "How". These verses answer these questions very well. So what is pure religion? And who does it benefit? Look back in verse 27, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." Now I struggle with this as well, but it's not enough to just keep yourself out of the darkness of the world. But we also need to be constantly reaching out to those in need. Helping those who can't help themselves. Giving them fellowships when they are in need, bringing them food when they have a shortage, and checking in on them to make sure that they have everything that's necessary. I won't go into it much here, as I want to stop writing this article eventually, but we can read about this in Acts 9. We see here the story of how Dorcas helped those in need, and built up relationships with them, because she knew just how important it really was to those widows, and more importantly how important it is to God.

          The next questions we need to answer are "why" (the "where" in this situation is pretty self-explanatory. This applies anywhere and everywhere. In, and out of the church building.) Why do we need to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and why do we need to keep ourselves unstained from the world? Well, if we are to take in account Matthew 7:12 in that we are to treat others how we would like to be treated, and we take in account the numerous verses in the Bible about love, and how we ought to treat others with respect and patience, then this verse simply states the obvious. We are to care for those in need because we love them, and we want to help them. Not because we have to, but because we want to. 

          The final question is how do we do this? How do we keep ourselves unstained from the world, and how do we serve God instead of simply reading His words and pretending that we do them? Simple: we leave our comfort zones. We need to remember that we are not here for ourselves, but that this world belongs to God. We need to stop hearing, and start acting. Not that we should stop reading God's Word, but there comes a time when we need to act on it rather than sitting in our rooms and learning it. I once heard of a man who knew how to speak in several different tongues. He spent his entire life becoming fluent in many, many different languages. Once someone asked him, "Why are you learning all these languages? Do you plan on traveling a lot?" the man replied and said that he had no intention of traveling. He was far too busy learning all these languages!" What is the point in gaining information if we will never even use it? We need to act on God's Word, not just learn about it.

          Today, I would like to encourage you to look at your life, and ask yourself, "Am I deceiving myself, or am I acting on God's Word?" "Am I deceiving myself, or am I honestly doing my best to stay unstained from the evil of the world around me?" If you honestly search yourself and come to the conclusion that you aren't going out and doing God's will, then get up and call one of your widows. Reach out to that kid in class who recently lost their parents. Stop someone before they reach the door after services and show them that they're loved. Is this not true Christianity?

Friday, May 29, 2015

A Light Unto Our Path

"Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."  Psalm 119:105 (ESV)

          Imagine you're in a forest, and you've lost your way. Thankfully it's not yet time for the sun to set, so you start looking for the path you had originally ventured on. As you continue walking, the sun begins to set, and your eyes slowly adjust to the darkness around you, until suddenly you are enveloped in the blackness of the night time. You don't really notice right at first, until you realize that you seem to be tripping quite a lot. You start to freak out, and wonder why on earth you can't see anything. Now let me ask you: Why don't you turn your flashlight on?

          The Word of God is not only our sword for combat as we read about in Ephesians, but it is also a lamp for our feet. Today I was doing some study in Psalm 119, and it talks a lot about the Law, how important God's words are to us, and the dangers of being around those that will cause us to stray from it. I'm sure you've heard verse 105 before, and there's even a song about it that many of you may know. But sometimes we can get so caught up in serving Christ, that we forget to use our Light, and then wonder why we're still stumbling around! The Bible was given to us so that we can see all of the stumbling blocks and hurdles in front of us, and avoid them. Have you ever been walking around your house at night and hit your shin on some furniture? That could have easily been avoided. had you just turned on a light! The same applies to the Word of God. If we don't want to hit our spiritual shins on the coffee table, then turn on your light! Study His words, and apply them to your life. Watch where you're going; because while our bruises on our legs may heal, they can take us out completely in terms of our spiritual lives if we aren't watching out for them. "Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'" (John 8:12)

          Sometimes, when I start to think about life, and I start to consider a lot of things. I am reminded of just how true it is, that God's Word is our light. Let me ask you something: have you ever known someone who fell away from Christ, who read their Bibles daily in an unbiased way? Have you ever known someone who fell away from Christ, who was faithful to Him, and who did their best to keep His Law? Of course not. And if they used to be that way, the only reason they aren't faithful now is because they stopped. They started making excuses, and they turned off their flashlights, and they expected to walk around in the dark without tripping on something. Now maybe you can go on in the darkness for a couple feet. Maybe a yard and a half at the most. But you will never get far. Once you turn off the light, once you stop looking towards God, you will stumble, and you will fall. And until you turn your light back on, there's no hope for you. "If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth." (1 John 16)

          Today I would like to encourage you to look to Christ and His Word as your light in this dark, dark world. Read daily, and study as often as you read. It can be very easy to get caught up in the thought process that going to worship on Sundays, going to all of the events, teaching Bible class, etc, is enough. But plants can't grow without light, and neither can we.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Whatever Your Hand Finds to Do...

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going." -Ecclesiastes 9:10

          For those of you who don't know me, I'm a bit of a workaholic. When I have a lot of work to do, I will wake up early, and work until late. I will stress, I will work, and I will somehow enjoy it. But sometimes, I get tired, and I get sluggish and I wake up late. I neglect my responsibilities, and I forget about how important it is to work hard, even when I don't always feel like it. A passage you're likely familiar with, Proverbs 6:6-11, and I won't have the whole thing here, but I would like to encourage you to read it on your own. Verse 6 says, "Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise." But why? Why is it important that we work hard? Why is it important that we "go to the ant"?

          If you have read Proverbs 31 -and if you haven't then I strongly encourage you to- then you will know that it talks a lot about a woman who is noble. She is described as more precious than jewels, and whoever she marries will have no lack of gain. She's described as someone who works willingly with her hands, she is willing to bring her food from a great distance, she rises early and sleeps late. She is up all night working if need be, and is wise with her money. Now I could go on, but it would take up quite a bit of space. But no matter who you are, Christian or atheist, feminist or anti-feminist, you will agree that all of these traits are virtuous, and that we should all strive to obtain them. When we are hard workers, we show ourselves to be dignified, and reputable. This not only gives us as people a lot of credit, but more importantly, it gives God a lot of glory.  In doing this, we are showing others that God's people are not lazy, or busy bodies who have nothing better to do than to gossip, but that we are people of great virtue; just as He is a God of great virtue.

          It's also important that we remember the work that we are to be doing above all else, and that is the work of the Lord. Another verse that you're likely familiar with, Mark 16:15, says, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation." and in James 1:27 we read that "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." and in 1 Timothy 5, Paul tells Timothy to encourage the younger widows in the congregation where he was preaching, to marry again. Why would this be important to do? We read in 13-14, that it's so that they don't become idle, and turn into gossips that do nothing but go and talk to their friends about the lives of others. "So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander."  We are to always be looking for ways to serve others, and more importantly serve Christ, so that we don't end up serving ourselves, and therefore Satan.

          As the summer is coming up, it can be tempting to choose to spend all of your time sleeping in, watching movies, reading books, and going to friends' houses. Don't get me wrong, it's important to rest. However, it's even more important that we don't turn our rest into laziness. Today I would like to encourage you to continue your work for the Lord, and to ask yourself if you're working your hardest, and who you're working the hardest for. You may be surprised with the answer. I would also like to encourage you to read the passages I mentioned previously, as man can lead others astray, but the Bible never will. Most importantly, I would like to encourage you to remember Who it is that we serve, and to always put Him as your number one priority. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Sowing Before You Reap

"Whatever one sows, that will he also reap" -Galatians 6:7

          Christianity is not exactly popular, and it's certainly not growing a whole lot. While this is devastating, it's hardly news. Unfortunately, the world is winning over more and more souls. So what is the problem? It's the same Bible, and the same God, so what happened? Why are so many leaving, and so few coming? How can we prevent this from happening any more? 

          I haven't been around for very long at all. I don't know everything, and I never will. However, I do know that there is a problem in the church, and that that problem is growing. The issue is that we keep expecting to reap, when we never sowed to begin with. Farming is a common analogy used in the Bible, as pretty much everyone knows about it. You put stuff in the ground, then other stuff comes out, then you take some of that stuff and put it in the ground, and the cycle continues! It's a pretty simple concept. However, sometimes we get so excited about the reaping part, that we forget the first step. We have to plant the seed first! Now I understand that Galatians 6:7 is speaking about being kind to others that they'll be kind to you, and if you do good for others then God will do good to you. But isn't that what spreading God's Word is? Doing good? Also, it definitely applies here as well. If you sow nothing, you will reap nothing. It's important that, in order to solve this problem, we stop trying to reap, and we start sowing instead.

          So how do we solve this problem? How do we sow the seed? Well, do you have any friends who aren't Christians? Chances are, you do. So invite them to worship! Ask them to go with you to a youth devo, or Bible camp. Tell them that you're praying for them whenever they have a hard time, or bring up something that you learned in Bible class. And if you don't have a youth group that really does a lot, host a Bible study at your house and tell everyone that there will be brownies and ice-cream. Seriously, everyone loves brownies and ice-cream. It's the perfect combination of amazing, and fantastic, mixed into a perfect concoction of glory and wonder (especially if you put chocolate chips in the brownies). If you have an opportunity to plant, go for it. I'm sure we're all familiar with Matthew 28:18-20 which talks about going into all the world and making disciples. It's crucial that we follow this, and that we start with what's right in front of us. I mean, how would you feel if when we were going to heaven and everyone was being parted right and left, that you looked over and you had told almost the whole world about the Lord, and there were so many people there because of you, but then you look over, and you forgot to talk to your closest friends about it? How devastating that would be!

          It's important that we never stop spreading God's Word, and that we continually encourage one another to go out and sow the seed of the Kingdom. I would also like to encourage you to think of someone who you know that isn't saved, and invite them to church. Ask them to a Bible study, talk to them about God. You never know who's looking, but you also never know whether or not you're going to be the one that points the way to them. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Coming of Hard Times

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." -James 1:2-3 (ESV)

     How do we stay content when we are shown hard times in life? Whether it's sickness, loss, family problems, losing a friend, or even just making your first bad grade, these things can hurt us. They can make us feel like we have no one in the world to look to for comfort. But how can we be like Paul, when in Philippians 4:11 he says, "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content."? How do we count it all joy when we meet trials in our lives, as we read about in James 1:2-3, and in Mark 13:13, and in many, many other passages throughout the Bible? How can we be content in our trials?

     Sometimes, we forget that the simplest, yet most crucial thing to do, is to pray. Pray about your problems, speak of them to God. "The prayer of a righteous person has great power, as it is working." according to the last part of James 5:16. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." according to Matthew 7:7-8. But what do we pray for? Sometimes, prayer doesn't always make the problem go away. Jesus prayed three times that he wouldn't have to face the death of the cross, as we read about in Matthew 26, and yet He still went through with it. Sometimes the things that we think we need are the things that we don't need. So if you have discovered that, after lots of time in earnest prayer, that the answer is still no, what do you then pray for? The answer: comfort. Sometimes our problems don't cease. Sometimes that loved one is still gone. Sometimes that sickness just isn't going away. But we can always ask for comfort, and we can ask to grow from the experience, that we may gain understanding and wisdom in it, and that God will remain with us. No, it's not always easy, but that doesn't mean that it's not necessary.

     We always seem to read the second part of James 5:16, but rarely ever the first part. Starting in the verse right before it, it says, "And the prayer of faith will same the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed." We need to tell our friends, our families, our loved ones, when we are having these struggles. We absolutely cannot  live this life and all of its trials by ourselves. We need to talk about our problems, and we need to tell others how we are feeling, and ask them to keep us in their prayers. This can bring us comfort, and it makes us closer to those that we love. Sometimes we feel like we're burdening others with our issues when we speak of them, but if someone really loves you, then you know that they are more than willing to help you in your struggles. Likewise, we need to be with our friends when they are going through their trials. Relationships are a give and take, and it's important that we are willing to take as much as we are giving.

     Finally, we need to take it on ourselves to be content. Yes, it's important that we have friends to help us, and it's crucial that we make our needs known to God, but we also need to take it on ourselves to stand up straight, and tell ourselves that everything is going to be okay, and to know when the issue has died. We need to take it to ourselves to become content, and no one can give that to us other than ourselves. We can pray that God help us, and we can ask our friends for advice, but unless we accept that advice and that comfort, then there's really not a point. It's good to have a little bit of alone time, and just kind of work things out in our heads a little bit. Think about it for some time. Remember that God loves you, and that you may be going through a hard time, and no it's not easy, but God is there for you. And as long as you are serving Him, you can know that no matter what trial you're facing, and no matter what in your life is hurting you, it'll end. Maybe in this life, maybe not, but when we all get to heaven and we look back on our lives, those things will not even be a moment in comparison to eternity.

     Today I would like to encourage you to not lose faith, or hope, or courage, but to allow those things to be built up in your tribulations. Allow your hard times to become reminders of your main goal, which is to serve God. It's not always easy, but it's necessary.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Intensity of Sin

"And they spit on him and took the reed and struck Him on the head." -Matthew 27:30 (ESV)

     It can be easy, it seems, to become distracted from the cross. It can be easy to forget Him who we serve, and serve ourselves, instead. Serve our possessions, our significant others, our families, our friends. We can sometimes put them first, and God second. We believe that we need these things, and end up sinning in order to obtain them. They distract us from the cross, and they distract us from our original goal. It can be so easy, it seems, to become distracted from the cross.

     I was once walking on a road. It was the one I walked every day. There by the wayside, they had a place I always turned my head from. It was where they hung the men who stole. The men who murdered. The men who committed crime worthy of death. This time, however, there was something different. Something that caught my attention. Before I knew it, I noticed myself approaching the scene. Shouts of anger, and shouts of mockery are what I heard, among screams of pain and anguish that, despite the intensity of the yells of the crowd, somehow were yet even louder than they that mocked him. He never resisted. This is what was odd. Those being beaten always resisted, at least right at first when they could. They were nailing Him to the cross now, and I stood, watching in horror and disgust as they drove the spikes through his wrists, securing him to the wood. I had never seen this man before, but he was somehow familiar. The mass mocked him, calling him a king, and taunting him, telling him to do miracles and save himself. I wasn't sure what it all meant, but I saw them spitting at him, hitting them, and I was ashamed to be even in their presence. But as I approached, I was astonished. I heard a voice among the crowd; one that was very familiar. Turning towards it, I saw the person that it was, and I sank to my knees in horror. That person, spitting on this supposed king, cursing this man who was innocent, was me.

     Whenever we sin, we are this person. We are spitting on Christ, and we are nailing Him to the cross. Sometimes, we get sidetracked, and we forget the intensity of sin. We forget that whenever we speak poorly of someone behind their back, or we make that cutting remark that seemed so right at the time, that this is what we are doing. We are joining the crowd of mockers and scoffers. This is why Christ is so wonderful. This is why we have the Gospel, because Jesus was willing to do this for us. For all of us. Romans 3:23 informs us that all have sinned and fallen short. Understanding this, Jesus came and died for us. Isn't it wonderful can be in the crowd one day, and the next, He has forgiven us?! There are many things we can learn from this. 

     First of all, we can learn that we are to be faithful to Him at all times. We must strive for perfection, and the instant we fall, we need to ask for forgiveness, get back up, and keep on in our journey. We need to stop and repent, because every sin is yet another curse, and another beating. And while this is not a very pleasant subject, but it must be said. 
     Second, we need to thank God every day. We need to thank Him for His son, who was sent to do this for us. Who, as we see in Mark 14:36, cried, "Abba, Father. All things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but you will." Christ put God's will first, as should we. And we should be thankful for this every day, and show our gratitude in our daily walk, telling everyone of the greatness of this ultimate sacrifice, being a vessel of His words.
     Lastly (or at least in this list, as I could go on forever on things we can learn from the cross) we can learn that we are to be patient with others in their sin, and that we need to forgive them, just as Christ forgave us. We need to love them as He loved us, John 13:34-35, "By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.", we read in the latter verse. We are to have love, and patience for each other. We are to take the Bible and we are to share it with others. And when they sin against us, we are to forgive them wholeheartedly just as Christ has forgiven us (you can read about this more in Matthew 18:21-35). Otherwise, as we see in Matthew 18:35, we, ourselves, will not be forgiven.

     Today I would like to encourage you to ask yourself, "What is it that I am struggling with?" And to find a way to fix it. Talk to your parents, your friends, your elders, whoever it is that can help you with your sins. The gate is narrow that leads to heaven (Matthew 7:14) and we need to be one of those few who enter it. Today I would like to encourage you to cease sinning, and to exit the crowd of scoffers, repenting, and doing your best to not go back. It's not something that's easy to think about, but it's important that we always keep these things in mind, and study them for ourselves.