Friday, January 30, 2015

There's Only One

 "I Am the Lord, and besides Me, there is no savior." -Isaiah 43:10


    Often times we think of God as separated between the Old Testament and the New Testament God, and not just the laws as divided. We often times see God as separated between the merciful God who sent His Son, and the God who will send the majority of people to hell on Judgment Day (Matthew 7:14). However, there is one God, and He is a perfect God. So why are there so many differences? What evidence do we have for this?

     The most commonly used passage in reference to this is Mark 12:29 which states that the Lord our God is one God. He is not distributed into several aspects like the Greek or Roman gods. He is not a symbol, but He is one God. In the time in which this was written, Rome was in rule, and you don't have to know a lot about ancient history to know that Romans had a lot of gods. They had a god for wisdom and war, a god of creation, a god of nature, a god for everything. One of the biggest contrasts between Jesus and where He spent his time while He was here on earth, was not only the Jews but the amount of gods worshiped. Several went from hearing about a different god for every little thing to only one God. In his sermon on Mars Hill, Paul preached about an “unknown god” (Acts 17:23). Everyone was so accustomed to several different gods that the thought of there being only one God baffled them. But this is what Christianity is: a contrast (Matthew 5:13-16). We need to keep this in mind as we journey on towards heaven.

     We see in 1 Timothy 2:5, Isaiah 43:10-11 James 2:19, Mark 12:29, and several other passages that there is one God. But what does that mean to us? Well, as I said previously, people often view the God of the New Testament and the God of the Old Testament as different. The law was different, so God must have been different. This is not the case at all, though. See, while the laws may have changed, but right and wrong never did. It was still wrong to murder, it was still wrong to commit adultery, to steal, to covet, etc. While some aspects of the law did in fact change, a lot of things that were wrong back then were wrong because of other reasons. For instance, there were certain kinds of meat that the Jews weren't allowed to eat such as pork, rabbits, camels, etc. As time went on, we learned that a lot of these animals, and that if not prepared properly, they could have death-causing diseases. A lot of things that they were commanded to, and not to do were simply because they didn't know that those things could cause disease. Doesn't God do that today? Aren't there some things that we as Christians may not understand, but God has a reason for each and every law.

     Right and wrong has not changed. God has not changed, simply the law has adjusted to what was necessary at the time. We see that a lot in the Bible. In 1 Corinthians 11:6 we see that women are to cover their heads when they pray, but that was because it was custom to those people at that time. In that specific culture, covering your head was a sign of reverence and of respect. In other places, a woman covering her head was a sign of disrespect and in some, even, prostitution. The same applies to the Old and the New Testament. The laws changed not because God changed, and not because what was right and wrong changed, but because the time and the cultures did. This is not to say that we can change the law in order to meet our own wants and desires or to add or subtract from it (Revelation 22:19) but that if God so desires, He can change the law if the situation calls for it, but only if the situation calls for it. Some things are wrong because they're wrong, while some things are wrong simply because God says so.

     In Isaiah 43:10, God says “I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior.” Often times we look towards our work, our school, or other earthly passions for glory. We look to those things for salvation, and for justification for our actions. We believe that our lives will get better if we just have the next something that we want. However, the world is filled up with a whole lot of somethings that end up being a whole lot of nothings. Mark 8:36, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (ESV) and Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Without God, we would have no chance of being saved. Without God, we could try everything this world has to offer and still never be saved. There is one God, and one salvation. John 3:3, “Jesus answered him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.'” Without God and without the sacrifice that He made for us, we wouldn't be saved and there is no denying that no matter how much you try.

     So how does this apply to our every-day lives as Christians? How does this change our daily walk towards heaven? Every day we have temptations. We hear the perspective of others, we have our own points of view, and sometimes we can get confused. Sometimes it seems as if there are multiple things going on and that there are several different paths to heaven. However, there is only one narrow gate (Matthew 7:13) and we cannot start to veer off into random trails, no matter how similar or how much better they appear. It's important that we as Christians keep the one faith, read the one Bible, and follow the one God, even if it appears that there are multiple roads.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Study VS Application

"This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." -Matthew 15:8

          Say you're like me and have really oily skin that causes you to break out all the time. Eventually, you get tired of it, and you decide that it's time to make a change and to finally put an end to all this. So you open up your laptop and begin your research, You look at websites, blogs, read articles, watch videos, everything you can to learn about the problem you have and the best way to solve it, You spend two days gathering information, trying to find the exact source and solution to your problem, and finally come to a logical answer. You grab your car keys and head out to the store, getting the exact things you need. You get home, set your things on your bathroom counter, and never touch them again. Is that going to help your problem in any way? Of course not! So if we can't do that with skin care products, why do so many assume you can do that with the Word of God?

          It's easy to study. It's easy to make a habit in which you sit down and read the Bible, gathering information and memorizing verses. In fact, these things are good. Acts 17:11 says, "Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the Word in all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily, to see if these things were so.", and in Romans 15:14, "I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, willed with all knowledge and able to instruct one another." However, knowledge isn't everything. 1 Timothy 4:16 says, "Keep a close watch on yourself and on those teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers." This is Paul telling Timothy to watch his actions, and watch what he says, so that he doesn't mislead others. This verse is Paul saying not only to study these things, but to act on them. In the very verse before it, Paul says, "Practice these things [teaching and reading in public], immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress." Not because we want everyone to see how good of Christians we are  (Matthew 6:6-8) but because people will look to us as Christians, and we need to be practicing what we preach.

     It's always good, important in fact, to study God's word. It's important to make the Bible a significant part of our days. However, what's the point in studying, what's the point in sharing the Word, what's the point of prayer, if we don't follow the Word we're studying or teaching (Matthew 7:1-5)? What's the point in praying for forgiveness if we have no intention of changing our worldly ways? Today I would like to encourage you to not only study the Word of God, but to find every way in which you can apply it to your life. Otherwise, are we really Christians?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Focusing on the Cross

"And calling the crowd to Him with His disciples, He said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." -Mark 8:34

     Have you noticed how more and more, the church is becoming more about the people and less about God? How people want to hear less about the cross and more about how wonderful everything is? Have you stopped to think about how people are, instead of taking up their cross, just doing things out of habit and never sacrificing anything? Today my goal is to remove the focus of you, my reader, from yourself, and change it to the cross. "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" Mark 8:34. We need to change our focus.

     Sacrifice is a key ingredient to salvation. You cannot have salvation without giving up everything. Philippians 3:8 "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." Whenever we see the word "sacrifice", we often over-look it. We think of it as just another word that we know the meaning of, but never consider the weight of it. We never realize that this verse is saying that we need to give up everything for Christ. "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell." Matthew 5:29. Philippians 3:8 is saying that everything you own, your money, job, school, your everything, belongs to God and should be used accordingly. Nothing is ours, not even our lives. When we are baptized, we are no longer ours. The things we own are no longer ours. We belong to God now, and we have to give up a lot of things in order to stay His. Are you willing to make sacrifices for God?

    Yesterday during worship services, our preacher led a prayer right before his sermon and he mentioned the final chapter of Jesus's life and I honestly thought "I don't want to think about that." And it struck me immediately that no one wants to think about that. And that is our problem today. We constantly see the cross as a symbol of hope and of salvation, but we rarely see it for what is really is, and that is the thing on which we murdered Jesus. The world has changed the focus of the cross to mean something of beauty and we neglect to remember what happened on it. We neglect to remember why Jesus died there: because of our sin. Because we refuse to follow His will. And we don't like to think about that because it isn't pleasant. But I bet Jesus didn't want to think about it either. I bet Jesus didn't want to think about how he was going to be tortured for hours on end until he died. But He did, and we cannot forget that.

     Today  I would like to encourage you all to change your focus. Instead of thinking about what God can do for you, instead of asking for things, thank Him. Today I want to encourage you to take a step back and just thank God for the salvation He has given us. To study the Bible and to think about what it truly means to be a Christian. Today I would like to encourage you to change your perspective from yourself, to the cross.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

If I Have Not Love

"And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but I have not love, I am nothing." -1 Corinthians 13:2

     I have seen a common theme lately in which everyone hates everyone. You go somewhere and you talk to someone, and all you hear is negativity about others. This guy has had too many girlfriends, this chick needs to stop changing her hair, this guy is a jerk, this chick never talks to anyone, and the list goes on and on. Then you go on the internet and you see tweets, statuses, and pictures about everyone hating everyone. Now I understand that lot of it is in jest and that not everyone hates everyone, but it has come to my attention that there are more and more people claiming to be Christians, and less and less people actually loving others. How can we be Christians if we cannot even follow the first and second commandments: To love God, and to love others? (Matthew 22:36-40)

     Whenever we worship but we don't have love in our hearts, we aren't truly worshiping. Whenever we serve God without love in our hearts, we aren't truly serving. Whenever we give without love in our hearts, we aren't truly giving. Matthew 5:36-40 addresses this when in the first two verses it says, "So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift." Here Jesus is informing us that before giving anything to God, we need to make sure that we have done everything we could to right our wrongs, and lovingly correct misunderstandings, with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our relationships with our fellow Christians is important, and definitely necessary for our walk towards heaven. How would we get there without encouragement from those who love us? Our relationships with those around us are important, and instead of finding everything wrong with a person just because you don't like the way they speak, or the fact that they don't read much, or the fact that they don't like all the same movies you do, we should love everyone and set our differences aside. After all, do those things really matter, anyway?

     How's your love life? Do you have issues with your brother/sister in Christ that could easily be resolved by just telling them about it (lovingly, of course)? Is there something in your life that you need to fix? Do that today. It's important that we do these things, because as we see in 1 Corinthians 13:2, if we have not love, we have nothing. "Nothing" includes heaven. "Nothing" includes God. "Nothing" includes friends or family. We have nothing. But when we have love, we have something. Not only do we have something, but we have everything. Today I would like to (in the least sappy way possible) encourage you all to love more. To make friends, not enemies, and to love everyone, not just the ones who are convenient to love.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Serving Two Masters

"No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate one and love the other, or he will devote himself to the one and despise the other; You cannot serve both God and money." -Luke 16:13

     School, sports, social activities, hobbies, and social media take up a large portion of our lives. There's nothing wrong with this, of course. There's nothing wrong with learning or doing the things that you enjoy, but what are the things that are off to the side? What are the things that often get pushed to the side in our busy schedule? Unfortunately we get home from a long day sometimes and it's just so easy to say, "Oh, I don't have time for Bible study today." Or, "I just am too tired to pray tonight." Is God really your master? Or do you serve something else? Is your main goal in life to get the best grade? The best job? The best scholarship? 

     God says that man can cannot serve both man and money (or mana, as some versions say), for a good reason. Just about everything we do in life that isn't in service to God is usually in attempt to gain money. We want to get good grades so we can go to a good college and get a good job. We want to get experience working while we're young so when we get older we can have a better job. Money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10) and it shouldn't be our life pursuit. Now don't get me wrong, money itself isn't evil, but money is the root, the ambition behind evil. There's nothing wrong with having money, and there's nothing wrong with having a job. We need to make sure that we don't have to rely on others, and if we do have money, we need to make sure and use it to help the kingdom grow. Even Solomon in all his wealth and wisdom wasn't happy, and ended up serving other gods.

     Now, having said that, what is your goal? What is it that you, as a person, pursue? Is it heaven? What are your priorities? What is it that you strive for? Do you run the race as if to win? Or do you beat the air aimlessly, never really trying to do any real work for the kingdom (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)? Today I would like to encourage you to look at your priorities and instead of taking time out of your day to read the scriptures, take time out of your day to do the other things. Change your perspective, and serve God above all things, not money or grades or work. Always make God the foundation of your time, not the filler between the bricks.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Fear VS Faith

"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." -Matthew 10:28

    One of my many resolutions this year is to read through the Bible, so I decided to start in Matthew. In the book of Matthew, I've noticed, there's a lot about faith. Whenever you look up pictures about faith, you usually get pictures of the cross, someone jumping, or of a silhouette of someone praying in a field with the sunset in the background (I don't know why prayer is always depicted that way, but it is and I don't know of anyone who only prays in fields at nightfall, but I suppose if you really want to, go for it). But faith isn't just in the death of Jesus, and faith isn't blindly jumping, and it's not just prayer. Faith is the absence of fear, and fear is the absence of faith.

     I'd like to first of all discuss "blind" faith. Yes, in 2 Corinthians 5:7 we see that we walk by faith and not by sight, but that doesn't mean that our faith is blind. If our faith was blind, then that would mean we have no evidence of what we believe in. However, we do have evidence in what we believe in, and that evidence is how perfect the Bible is, the prophecies coming true after years and years and years and years and years and years of being prophesied. We have proof in all the stars we see outside, we have proof in science, in nature, and in everything. No, we don't need evidence, and we don't need miracles to believe because even those who had seen Jesus Himself perform miracles lacked faith as we can we in Matthew 14:31, Matthew 17:19-20, and several other places throughout the Bible. However, faith is not a leap into the darkness, because we have the Bible which is a light unto our path (Psalm 119:105).

     Fear is the absence of faith. When Jesus was walking on water in Matthew 14, and Peter went and walked with him, he was fine. Peter was fine until the storm got rough, and he stopped believing in Jesus, and started believing in the storm. We, as Christians, cannot stop looking at Jesus when the storm comes, or we will fall. Think about it this way: say you're on an epic adventure, running away from pirates attempting to kill you (they think you stole their treasure but really they stole it from you. It's quite complicated, actually), when all of a sudden you realize you're at the edge of a cliff. You look around for a way to escape, breathing heavily from exhaustion. As you begin losing hope of surviving, you look over and see a shaky little rope bridge leading over to the next mountain. As you run to the bridge and test to see if it can hold your weight, you notice that there's ropes on either side of it, and you realize why as the bridge is too rickety to hold you (as its base is rope) and the only way you can successfully cross is to grab the rope right next to you. Are you going to grab that rope? Of course you are! Why wouldn't you? You're about to be killed by pirates! This is how things are with Jesus. If we look to only ourselves as a way to get relief from our troubles, we will fall. We need to have faith that even though things may not end here on earth, they will once we reach heaven, and as long as we hold onto that rope, even if the enemy catches up to us before we reach the end, we won't fall off the bridge.

     How does your faith look? Do you fully believe that if you walk the straight and narrow you'll receive a place in heaven? Or do you fear what will happen to you every day? Today I would like to ask you what you base your life off of: faith, or fear? You can't have both.