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.