Saturday, December 3, 2011

Crash Course in Bible Marking, Part 1

A couple of years ago, I started going to Bear Valley’s Higher Ground Encampment (a Bible camp for teen girls). It’s an awesome experience all around, but by far my favorite part is Kathy Pollard’s Bible Marking class, where we learn about chain reference Bible studies. It’s pretty easy, and I’m going to teach you how to do it! (In case you couldn’t tell, this article is going to be very informal– there’s just no way to make this sound pretty. It will, however, be very hands on, which I think is a good tradeoff.)

First, I have to tell you about the pens. They are called Micron Pigma pens and you can get them at most art supply stores (if you have Guiry’s, that’s where I get mine). Unlike other pens and highlighters, they won’t bleed through the thin Bible paper! They come in a plethora of lovely colors and a few different widths– I personally prefer the “01” width because it’s not so fat that you can’t write small, but it’s not so skinny that you can barely read it. You’ll want a lot of colors for various and sundry marking purposes.

I’m going to jump right into the study– today we’re going to do the plan of salvation. This study comes in particularly handy when you’re actually having a Bible study with someone trying to convert them (especially if that person is already religious/denominational). Again, thanks to Kathy Pollard– I’m pretty much giving you word for word her Bible marking class. I just pass along information. (Also, I’m using the New American Standard when I tell you what to underline.)

Alright. If you have blank pages in the front/back of your Bible, turn there and write “Plan of Salvation” in the color of your choice. In parentheses next to it write “PS” and then write “Isaiah 62:2.”

Now go to Isaiah 62:2. (I’m not going to write out the verses… because this is going to be a long article as is.) Circle the verse and write (PS) next to it, so you’ll know which study it’s part of (sometimes they overlap). Underline “called by a new name.” In your margin, with your lovely Bible marking pen, write “That name is Christian.” Now, at the end of that verse draw an arrow and write “Acts 11:26.” That’s where we’re going next.

Ok. Flip to Acts 11:26, circle, write (PS). Underline “Christians” because that’s the new name Isaiah was talking about. Draw your arrow at the end to Ephesians 1:3.

Circle Ephesians 1:3 and write (PS). This is the last time I’ll tell you to do that because I know you’re all old pros now. Underline “every spiritual blessing” and “in Christ.” Your arrow this time goes to verse 7 of the same chapter.

At this point we’re going to start listing the spiritual blessings that are found in Christ. It might even be useful, if you’re in a study, to start making a two-column list on paper: “In Christ” and “Outside of Christ.”

In verse 7, underline “In Him,” “redemption,” and “forgiveness.” In your margin, write, “These are the spiritual blessings.” Draw your arrow to Ephesians 2:6.

In 2:6, underline “raised up with Him.” Draw your arrow to 2:10.

In 2:10, underline “created in Christ Jesus for good works” and circle the “for.” In the margin, write “for = purpose.” Draw your arrow to 2:12-13.

This is where we also start highlighting what happens if you’re NOT in Christ. In verse 12, underline “separate from Christ” and “no hope and without God.” Of course, we still want to emphasize the blessings of being IN Christ, so in 13 underline “brought near.” Alright, we’re finally leaving Ephesians. Draw your arrow to 2 Timothy 2:1.

In 2 Timothy, underline “grace” and “in Christ Jesus.” (By the way, just because I underline doesn’t mean you have to. You can box it or circle it or whatever you want.) Draw your arrow to 2 Corinthians 5:17.

In 2 Corinthians, underline “in Christ” and both occurrences of “new.” Draw your arrow to Romans 3:24.

In Romans, underline “justify,” “gift,” “through the redemption,” and “in Christ Jesus.” I have kind of a lot written in my margin for this one, so feel free to condense somehow if you don’t have as much space as me. I wrote “gift = freely” and “justified = just as if I never sinned.” Draw your arrow to 8:1 of the same book.

In 8:1, underline “no condemnation” and (you guessed it!) “in Christ Jesus.” Draw your arrow to 1 Thessalonians 4:16.

In Thessalonians, underline “the dead in Christ will rise first” (I even have a double underline under “in Christ”).

At this point in the study, you’ve completely established that you want to be in Christ! We’ve underlined twelve spiritual blessings that those in Christ receive, and we haven’t even begun to look at all the passages that talk about it. When you add in the negative implications that come with being outside of Christ, the conclusion is obvious: in Christ is the place to be.
In the second half of the study, we’ll be asking how to receive those spiritual blessings– how to get into Christ. Tune in next week to get the second half!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Others Before Self (Part 4)

Okay, lovely friends, we’re finally there: the last chapter of Philippians. We’ve seen the examples of Paul, Christ, Timothy, and Epaphroditus. We’ve seen the appeals to be selfless and the instructions on how to do so. Now at last we get to see the central problem in the Philippian congregation: two fighting women.

Before we get to that, though, I want to look at one other significant keyword: agape. You may or may not know that in the Greek New Testament there are two main words for two main kinds of love. Phileo is used for brotherly affection, but agape is used for the deep type of love that involves self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice, hmmm? Sorta fits into what we’ve been talking about, doesn’t it! Oh, I love the Bible. So inter-connected and wonderful. Agape occurs seven times in Philippians, and it’s always translated “love” or “beloved.” See if you can find them for yourself. :)

Diving back in…

The Problem—Euodia and Syntyche (4:1-3)

At the beginning of this chapter Paul starts to bring his letter to its clincher: “Therefore, my beloved brethren… in this way stand firm in the Lord” (1). How do we stand firm in the Lord? Maintain this spirit of selflessness that we’ve been talking about. Now he’s going to get into the real point. Take a look at verse 2: “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.”

“Look, Melissa, I don’t know. You say Euodia and Syntyche were the main problem, but if that’s the case why do they pop up so late in the book? How do you know they’re that important?”

Well, I’m going to show you. :)

The word for “urge” in this verse is the Greek word parakalo, and it’s special because it’s a petition verb. In English writing, we often use bold lettering, italics, or capital letters to stress an important point. Greek petition verbs are the equivalent of all these things plus a few exclamation points for good measure. In other words, Paul really wants to drive this point home. It’s also extremely significant that he uses the word twice in the same sentence. This double-petition verb phenomenon only occurs one other place in the New Testament (in 1 Thessalonians 4:1, if you’re interested). God is never redundant without a purpose. This whole book is redundant! He’s redundant when He’s really trying to drum an important point into our heads. Therefore, this redundancy in petition verbs is really, really, really SUPER important. It’s so important, in fact, that people who’ve studied the book (like Denny Petrillo) consider it to be the key verse in the book.

Now look at the next few words, the action Paul is urging Euodia and Syntyche to perform: “to live in harmony.” That’s our central keyword phroneo! Remember, it could also be translated “to be of the same mind”… And we know from 2:3 that the way to be of the same mind is to “regard one another as more important than yourselves.” This letter was for the entire Philippian church, but it was really written so they could know how to help these two women get along!

Now, we shouldn’t let Euodia and Syntyche go by without giving them a little credit. These weren’t bad women; they were members of the Lord’s church, for crying out loud! Paul asks the congregation to “help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel” (3). They’ve worked with Paul, and they obviously care about the cause of Christ! However, they rubbed one another the wrong way, and they couldn’t let their agape love overcome this dislike and disagreement. So what does Paul do to help? He enlists the church! What an awesome lesson for us! Part of the reason God put the church in place is so we could help other Christians make it to Heaven. We need to be sure and utilize that gift when we’re having a sin problem!

You’re Getting There (4:14-20)

I know that’s a weird section title, but before I explain, take a look at verses 14 through 17:

“Nevertheless, you have done well to share in my affliction. You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.”

Phew. Long stretch there, but I want you to see it all.

Remember how Paul started with encouragement? He’s ending with encouragement too. He’s saying, “Hey, you know what? You’re already getting there. You’re already selfless in your generosity towards me and my work for Christ.” Check that last verse again: “Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.” Not only is the church’s giving good for Paul, it’s good for themselves! It’s a step in the right direction toward total selflessness.

I want to clarify, guys— you don’t now know everything there is to know about the book of Philippians. There’s a WEALTH of knowledge that I didn’t even touch on. That’s part of the beauty of the Bible: you never know everything about it. There’s always more treasures to go find.

So I implore you to go find some treasure for yourself. Study the book. Look for more keywords. Explore. More than anything, though, I implore you to apply what we’ve studied to your life. Put Christ before yourself. Put others before yourself. Be willing to compromise your opinions. Live in harmony with one another. I hope this study has been as profitable for you as it’s been for me!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Others Before Self (Part 3)

Hey everyone! As you might already know, we’re learning about selflessness through a study of Philippians. So far Paul has given two examples of selflessness for the church at Philippi (and us!) to follow: first, himself, and second, Jesus Christ. That’s not all, though… we’re not even at the halfway point yet! I have quite a bit to cover in this article, so I’m going to go ahead and jump right into the text. Remember to study for yourself too!

Example #3—Timothy (2:19-24)

At this point in the chapter Paul begins to talk about his desire to send Timothy to the Philippian congregation as an aid and as a messenger. We know quite a bit about Timothy from other parts of the New Testament: he was extremely close to Paul (1 Tim. 1:2), he was young (1 Tim. 4:12), and he learned much from his mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois (2 Tim. 1:5). Here in Philippians, we get special insight into the content of Timothy’s character.

Beginning in verse 20, Paul tells us why he wishes to send Timothy to Philippi: “For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” Paul wants to be sure to send somebody who will invest himself selflessly into the work of the church with a full and complete concern. He goes on to say, “For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (21). The “they” here is everybody else Paul could have sent, the ones that weren’t his kindred spirits. Paul has confidence that Timothy will put Christ and His will before himself. Sound familiar? No wonder Paul calls him a kindred spirit! The two of them have the same top priorities: the cause of Christ and the furtherance of His church.

Example #4—Epaphroditus (2:25-30)

Paul starts to switch it up here by giving us two (soon to be three) examples in a row. After Timothy, he writes about another friend of his: Epaphroditus. The church at Philippi already knows this man. Paul describes him as “your messenger and minister to my need” (25), and, skipping ahead a little, Paul mentions in 4:18 that he has “received from Epaphroditus what you have sent.” This congregation supported Paul, and it sounds like Epaphroditus was the go-between who delivered supplies and gifts to him.

Paul has already sent Epaphroditus to Philippi as an example and aid. Why? Take a look at verse 26 and part of 27: “Because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death.” Did you catch that? Epaphroditus wasn’t distressed because he was deathly ill; he was distressed because the Philippians had heard about it, and he didn’t want them to worry about him! Can you imagine being on your deathbed and having concern only for your loved ones? Talk about selfless. Fortunately, we see in the end of verse 27 that God had mercy on Epaphroditus and spared his life. Paul instructs the church to “Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.” Once again, two priorities: Christ, and his church.

Example #5—Paul, Part 2 (3:1-14)

In 3:1, Paul says, “To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” Commentaries often offer a lot of speculation as to the meaning of this sentence. Is he referring to another letter? What is this supposed to mean? It becomes really easy to understand when you’ve been paying to the examples the entire time. Down in verse 4, Paul begins referring to himself. Just for good measure, he’s offering himself up again as an example of selflessness. That’s the same thing he’s writing again.

In 4 through 6, Paul lists all the earthly things he could be prideful of during his time as a practicing Jew. However, he clarifies, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” Just like when he gave Jesus as an example, we’re seeing here the tie-in between humility and selflessness. All Paul’s earthly triumphs have been totally eclipsed by his love for and subjection to Christ.

Appeal #3 (3:15-21)

“Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained” (15-16).

Have this attitude? It’s our friend phroneo! In other words, have this attitude I’ve been telling you about this entire letter. In case you weren’t buying that the whole example thing was intentional, take a look at the next verse: “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (emp. added).

Good ol’ Paul’s never going to leave us without a why. First, he spotlights the enemies of the cross, “whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (19). These are the people who put their earthly desires, and therefore themselves, first. However, “our citizenship is in heaven” (20). In being selfless we focus more on Christ than on the things of this world, and this will lead to our ultimate exultation in heaven. That’s why we be selfless.

We’re three quarters of the way through, people! Come back next week to see how Paul wraps up this awesome letter.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Others Before Self (Part 2)

If you started this series with me last week, you know that we’re covering the book of Philippians. As we’ve already discovered, the theme of the book is “others before self”, and the Apostle Paul is getting this message across using an example/appeal format. Once again, I want to heavily encourage you to study this book for yourself as we go through this broad overview… I can’t cover everything! Now that we’re a little further in, though, I do want to help you out with a keyword before we start digging back into the text.

The central keyword that Paul uses in this letter is the Greek word phroneo, which means “to be of the same mind” or “to have this attitude.” It’s a bit of a hard one to pin down in English, but usually it has a connotation of being in harmony with somebody else. It’s translated a few different ways in the text, so I’ll give you the references if you want to mark it. (I’m using the New American Standard, by the way.)

1:7—“feel this way”

2:2—“being of the same mind” and “intent on one purpose”

2:5—“have this attitude”

3:15—“have this attitude” and “have a different attitude”

3:19—“set their minds”

4:2—“to live in harmony”

4:10—“concern” and “were concerned”

As you can see, the word occurs nine times, which is kind of a lot for a book with only four chapters. You can also see how it would be powerful in Paul’s letter, whether he’s saying, “Have the same attitude… as this example I’m going to point out to you” or “be of the same mind… with each other.”

Alrighty, then, jumping back into the text.

Example #2—Christ (2:5-11)

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death
even death on a cross.” (5-8)

No, my computer did not just spaz out and mess up my line breaks. I want you to look at the downward trend. First, Jesus had a mindset. He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” (6). That phrase “a thing to be grasped” is the Greek word harpagmos, and this is the only occurance of it in the New Testament. Literally it means “that which is to be held on to forcibly.” So, then, Jesus didn’t think that his equality with God was important enough (in comparison with something else) for him to hold onto it forcibly. Because of his mindset, Jesus took an action. He “emptied himself” (7) of his heavenly privileges by becoming a man. Not only did he become a man, he became a “bond-servant” (7). Not only did he become a bond-servant, but he “humbled himself by becoming obedient” to God’s will even to the point of death, even to the lowest death possible: death on a cross (8).

Once again, we can see the theme: “others before self.” Jesus regarded OUR salvation as so important that he left heaven for it. That’s about as selfless as it gets, ladies. In this passage we can also see the role of humility in selflessness. Jesus’ action began with a humble mindset. He knew just how awesome he was. He knew that He HAD equality with God, but He didn’t let that change His thinking. He went from a higher status than any of us will ever reach to a lower despair than any of us will ever have to go through, all for us, a grossly imperfect world.

But that’s thankfully not the end of the story. Paul goes on to tell us, “For this reason, God highly exalted Him…” and continues speaking about the exultation and power Jesus received in verses 9-11. Paul is reminding the Philippian church just who their Jesus is, because he’s about to tell them how important it is that they follow His commands.

Appeal #2 (2:12-18)

First, Paul implies the church, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (12). Hear that? SALVATION. This quarrel between these two women was reaching such a point that it was a salvation issue! Look at verse 13: “for it is God who is at work in you.” It sounds like the fight was even impairing the congregation’s ability to reach the community in an effective way. If they were known for the fact that Euodia and Syntyche just couldn’t deal with each other, how would that reflect on God and his church?

Fortunately, Paul once again offers the solution to the problem: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (14). Grumbling is complaining, and where does complaining come from? Selfishness, of course! We think ourselves important enough that we feel the need to voice our dissatisfaction with something. Disputing, too, is a result of selfishness, just like we’ve been talking about. So, will being selfless get the church at Philippi its credibility back? You betcha. Take a look at 2:15: “so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (emp. added). Why should we do all things without grumbling or disputing? Why should we be selfless? It will help us keep our salvation (like in vs. 12), and it will set us apart from the world.

So we have Paul the Apostle and the Lord Jesus Christ for examples… big shoes to fill, don’t you think? Stay tuned, though. We’ll be back at it next week… Paul’s about to show us that you don’t have to be God’s Son or even a seasoned missionary to be selfless.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Others Before Self (Part 1)

This is the first part of a four part series. It's been on Come Fill Your Cup already... but not all of you read Come Fill Your Cup so I don't feel bad posting this here. I'll go for a post every Wednesday. :)

I love the Bible. And I really love the book of Philippians.

Philippians is a really simple book that is somehow still lost on most of the religious world. A lot of the denominational world will tell you that Philippians is a book full of joy and praise from the Apostle Paul to the church at Philippi. Really, though, it’s all about a problem the congregation there was having—two ladies, Euodia and Syntyche, just couldn’t get along (4:2). And it was sucking all the joy out of the church. So how does Paul suggest the church fix the problem? It’s very simple. The entire theme of the book is “others before self.”

This series is going to be an overview of the book of Philippians. I would beg you to please read the book and study it for yourself, because there’s NO WAY I can fit everything there is to know about it in writing (mostly because… I don’t know everything there is to know about it). I also want to mention that most of this thinking is not original with me. Denny Petrillo taught it to our teen class. This study is mostly derived from my notes from that class. So, thanks Mr. Denny!

Okay, let’s start at the beginning. Before we start really digging, I want to point out that even though Paul is pointing out a problem in the church, he starts out by encouraging them (1:1-11). He mentions his thankfulness for them (3-4), his appreciation for their partaking in the Lord’s work (5), his confidence in God to perfect their congregation (6), his deep love for them (7-8), and his prayers of supplication for them (9-11). When we rebuke a brother or sister in Christ, how often do we do it discouragingly? How often do we aim to tear someone down emotionally rather than build her up spiritually? Let’s take a leaf out of Paul’s book and vocalize to the people we rebuke how much we love them, that we’re praying for them, and that we have confidence in their ability and willingness to change. We should never, ever water down the Word of God, but the more lovingly we present it, the more likely people are to accept it.

Example #1—Paul (1:12-26)
Alright, moving on. The bulk of Philippians follows a basic format: an example of the theme followed by an appeal to apply the theme. The theme, like we said before, is “others before self,” and Paul’s first example is himself. First, Paul puts Christ and the gospel before himself. Paul is currently imprisoned in Rome, but he doesn’t complain about it; rather, he points out, “my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel” (12). Why? Well, word has gotten around even amongst non-believers that Paul is being imprisoned for the sake of Christ (13) and it’s boosting the confidence of other Christians to preach the gospel (14). After all, Paul seems to be doing okay in prison (I mean, he’s only on house arrest), so God will take care of others who preach as well, right? Paul continues with his own thoughts on the matter: “I will not be put to shame in anything, but with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (20-21).

Next, Paul puts the church before himself. He says, “I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake” (23-24). Paul is homesick for Heaven, like we are so very often even today. He’d rather be there than on earth. However, he has a proper perspective: he knows that God can still use him to do fruitful work, and so he “will remain and continue with you all [the Philippian church] for your progress and joy in the faith” (25).

We’ve all heard the acronym for J.O.Y. – “Jesus, Others, You.” Paul is outlining this perfectly here! For him, it’s really all about the furthering of the gospel and the strengthening of the church. Now, he’s going to ask the Philippians to think the same way.

Appeal #1—(1:27 – 2:4)
Paul now shifts his focus to the Philippians themselves, urging them, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that… I will hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (27). Look at all those “unity” phrases—“one spirit”, “one mind”, “together”. He continues this thought in 2:2—“Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Alright, God wants a unified church. But how do we be unified? Paul’s going to tell us. Look at 2:3-4: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Aha! The theme that I promised was coming! The solution to any quarrel is to put others before oneself. If both sides of the quarrel do this, they WILL come to a compromise. Every time. As Paul points out, this isn’t merely an action, it’s a way of thinking: “with humility OF MIND REGARD one another as more important than yourselves.” It’s not just acting like someone’s more important than you… it’s believing it and putting that belief into practice.

Paul’s not going to ask us to take his example alone, though. Tune in next week to see what else he has to say… he’s lined up a better Example than any other.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

That's Not Funny

I don’t know about you, but I love a good joke. It’s a well-known fact that my sense of humor is fairly easy to satisfy—I’ll laugh at the corniest joke you ever heard—but there are a few jokes I’ve been hearing around that I just don’t think are funny.

Dirty jokes. They’re an epidemic. Even in the church, some Christians have just come to accept, laugh at, and even tell sexual jokes. What does the Bible have to say about it? Let’s take a look at Ephesians 5:3-5 to find out.

“But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

Dirty jokes give the world the wrong impression about our faith. Before I get deep into the point, I’ll give you a quick run down of the book of Ephesians. Paul wrote his letter to the Church at Ephesus to tell them two things: the blessings of being in Christ (chapters 1-3), and how to display Christ in one’s life (4-6). This passage in Chapter 5, therefore, is giving us instruction on how to prove that we’re Christians through our actions. According to Paul’s writing, immorality and impurity are not “proper among saints”… but I didn’t have to tell you that, right? The kicker is the second verse in the passage— “filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting… are not fitting”. Filthiness and coarse jesting… sounds like foul humor to me. It just doesn’t fit in with Christian character to laugh at or tell dirty jokes. How is that being an ambassador of Christ?

There are better things we can do with our words. After verse 4 tells us that filthy jokes aren’t fitting for us, it suggests an alternative: “but rather giving of thanks.” We could use our words to tell jokes that could potentially lead others to lust or be a detriment to our faith—but instead, we could thank God for all that He’s given to us. In the same vein, we can use our words to be encouraging to others, to preach the word to non-Christians, to pray for strength in times of trouble. Later in the same chapter, Paul tells the Ephesian Christians to “be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (5:15-16). We only have so long on this earth, and we only have so many words to speak. Let’s pick the words that are going to lift people up in their faith, not damage it.

We shouldn’t joke about something so serious. Let’s look at verse 5 again. “For this you know with certainty…” Wait a second. “For” is a connecting word—this thought is directly tied to the one before it. So let’s keep looking: “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” This statement is the “why” to Paul’s previous “what.” We shouldn’t participate in “coarse jesting”… but why? Because the acts we’re joking about send people to hell! A soul being lost to hell for all eternity isn’t something to laugh at. It’s serious and it’s sad.

So, dear ones, I’m going to leave you with a few charges:
-Watch your influences. Whether it’s your friends, the TV shows you watch, or anything else, if it’s telling dirty jokes, stay away from it! The more dirty jokes you understand, the more tempting it will be to find them funny. Keep your mind pure! (Philippians 4:8).
-Make it very clear that you don’t want to hear dirty jokes, especially if you struggle with them. If everyone around you is telling them, ask them to stop. If they don’t, leave. If they’re Christians, call them on it. Be an example.
-Practice the presence of God. I know it’s cliché, but would you tell Jesus that joke? If not, don’t tell it.

We don’t want to look like the world, we don’t want to squander our words, and we certainly don’t want to kid around about eternity. Let’s keep our jokes pure!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

In Defense of Prom Alternative

In April I went to my youth group’s prom alternative, and I had a blast.

On the one hand, maybe you go to school with me. Maybe you’re really confused about the “alternative” part of that last statement. No, I do not participate in prom, and I’m fairly ashamed to admit that I tend to be ambiguous as to why. I’ll clear all that up in a minute. On the other hand, you may be a member of the Lord’s church on the complete opposite end of the issue. Yes, I did go to a function that essentially has its roots in prom, and I have no reason to believe that God disapproves of that action. Whether you just think I’m weird or you think I’ve compromised my purity, I’d like the chance to defend my choice in going to prom alternative.


I don’t want to lust or cause others to do so.
The problem of lust stems from a couple of issues. I believe the first is prevalent immodesty. Let’s face it: modesty isn’t a part of the world’s culture anymore. Non-Christian girls are no longer concerned with covering up, and prom fashions reflect it. Do you know the agony I went through to find a dress for prom alternative? It was terrible. Between the heinously low-cut gowns and the barely-a-yard-of-fabric dresses, pickings were slim to none for the Christ-conscious teenager.
The other issue, is, of course, dancing. It always cracks me up when Christians condemn “dancing.” I dance around my room all the time with a hairbrush in my hand pretending I’m a rock star, and I’m pretty confident that God has no problem with that. However, if I were to go to prom and basically rub my body up against that of a boy with my hormones raging, that would be a definite problem. Moving your body to music is not a sin. Doing so in a way that can cause others to lust is a sin. Take a look at Matthew 18:7—“Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” I don’t want to be a stumbling block to anyone, whether through the way I move my body or simply through what I’m wearing.

I don’t want to be surrounded by bad influences.
2 Timothy 2:22 says “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” The word “lust” here doesn’t refer only to sexual lust, but a desire for anything sinful. I can guarantee you that some (not ALL, SOME) teenagers only go to the prom so they can get drunk and/or have sex afterwards. Would I participate in that? Of course not. Do I want to be around that? Of course not. I don’t even want to put myself in a place that could potentially lead to something sinful.

I don’t want to give the illusion of approval.
I could go to the prom in a completely modest dress. I could go only to hang out with friends, not to dance. I could go without actually participating in any sinful activity. However, participating in prom would be tantamount to giving my approval to the sinful actions of others, and that’s just as bad. In Acts 8, after Stephen is stoned, Luke tells us that “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.” Did Saul (later Paul) actually kill Stephen? No. Was he just as guilty of his death? Yes. Sin goes beyond the physical act straight into our mindset. I don’t want anyone to believe that I approve of his or her sinful activities.

Alright, now for the flip-side…


Immodesty, lust, and worldliness were absent. I want to make one thing very clear: I do not believe in any way, shape, or form that a “special occasion” is an excuse to dress immodestly, whether the event is a prom, a prom alternative, or anything else. At my alternative, there was a dress code. If we wouldn’t be comfortable wearing it to a worship service (or if others would be uncomfortable with us wearing it to a worship service), we weren’t allowed to wear it to prom alternative. My own dress came to my knees when sitting and didn’t even show any skin below the collarbone. With a shrug to cover my back it was a perfectly modest (and dare I say, beautiful) dress. Non-Christian dates were also a no-go. We were chaperoned at all times. There was no dancing. Nobody lost their virginity, their innocence, or even their hearts. We all just had fun together. I didn’t have to worry about seeing, hearing, or “accidentally” approving of something sinful. I was in a God-honoring environment.

It was an opportunity for fellowship. The plan for the evening was lovely. A couple from my congregation graciously invited us into their BEAUTIFUL mountain home for a delicious, fancy dinner. Next we changed into normal clothes to go bowling at the local Brunswick. Finally, we trekked across town to another family’s house, where we made s’mores and roasted hot dogs over a backyard campfire. The girls spent the night there, while the guys drove to the church building to sleep. We all got together again for breakfast the next day.
How fun is that? I had a blast. The early church often got together just to “break bread” and “take meals together” (Acts 2:42)—they enjoyed simply spending time with one another. That’s what we enjoy too!

When all’s said and done, I had a wonderful evening. I grew closer to brothers and sisters in Christ, and I had a fantastic time doing so. I’m so thankful that someone had the idea to give us a special evening free of temptation or worldliness!


Thursday, May 19, 2011

True Reliance

Whoa. I leave for a month and I come back to 22 followers. Hey guys! Thanks so much for reading! Now for an article...

The last time I went to a youth rally, the speaker’s lesson could be summed up in one sentence: “Rely on God, and you’ll be fine.”

Really? No way! I had no clue that’s what I was supposed to be doing all this time I’ve been a Christian! Thanks for clearing that up for me! The thing about the lesson I heard at the youth rally is that’s where the application ended—at almost zero. He told me to rely on God, but he didn’t bother to tell me HOW.

I don’t think this is exclusively a youth problem. In the church in general it seems like we often love to pull out these elusive “feel good” statements. Rely on God. Be an example. Love one another. Take the sin out of your life. These are all very simple statements, but the concepts they describe are much bigger than the words representing them. You can tell someone to bake a cake all day long, but if she doesn’t know how, it’s not going to happen until you tell her how. Good thing we have a pretty extensive instruction book. I don’t know about you, but I want to rely on God. So how do I do it?

Check out Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” I would think trust goes along with reliance, wouldn’t you? Note the contrast here—it’s important. God tells us NOT to rely on ourselves, but rather TO rely on Him. The New Testament weighs in too—take a look at 1 Peter 5:6-7: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” Casting your anxiety on Someone who cares for you… that’s reliance, isn’t it? But if you look at the verse directly before, it’s clearly talking about humility. Let’s talk about that for a minute.

To quote the marvelous C.S. Lewis, “thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools.” However, this isn’t how God sees humility. If you have the time, go ahead and read the whole book of Philippians. In case you don’t have the time, I’ll sum it up real quick. The main problem with the church at Philippi was selfishness—it was causing disunity, complaining, quarrels, all kinds of issues. So in Philippians 2:3, Paul writes, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” Did you catch that? Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself in regard to some kind of gold standard, it’s thinking less of yourself in regard to others.

So let’s bring this tangent back around. If humility in general is putting others first, then humbling yourself to God would have to be putting Him first in your life. Our basic human tendency is to put ourselves in that position, but humility involves a switch. It involves taking ourselves out of the position of trust and putting God there instead. Wait a second, trust? We said before that was reliance, right? I told you the contrast in Proverbs was important.

Here’s the bottom line: relying on God isn’t just some kind of emotional dependency when things get tough. It’s not a warm fuzzy feeling. It’s the deliberate action of taking yourself out of the position of control in your life and putting God there instead. What better Pilot could we possibly have? There’s no way God’s going to steer us wrong if we let Him take the wheel.

So I’m going to end where I started: Rely on God, and you’ll be fine.

Monday, March 28, 2011


You might not know that one of the key words in the gospel of Mark is “immediately.” This seemingly unassuming adverb occurs no less than 43 times in the entire book. Adverbs play an immensely important part in the English language, and that importance can be carried into our Bible study. Where verbs tell us what was, is, or should be done, adverbs tell us HOW. Let’s take a look at Mark to see how this word applies in the text.

Jesus healed immediately. Jesus’ miracles are a huge focus of the book of Mark (particularly in the first half of the book). In the entire sixteen chapters, there are fifteen miracles, and eight of these miracles use the word “immediately” to describe the expediency with which Jesus’ healing occurred. For example, in Mark 2, Jesus heals the paralytic who was lowered through the roof in Capernaum. As soon as Jesus told the man to “pick up [his] pallet and go home”, the man “got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone” (2:11-12). Jesus didn’t say, “Alright, that should do it, you’ll be better in a few days.” It was immediate. This more than anything proves Jesus’ power and might. Not only did He fix seemingly unfixable problems, but He did so instantaneously.

Satan goes to work immediately. If you have a minute, go and read through Mark 4. In this section Jesus tells the parable of the sower, or perhaps more accurately, the parable of the soils. If you were raised in the church, you’ve probably read this a million times before and heard a hundred sermons on it, so I’ll be quick in summarizing. Basically, Jesus is talking about the different ways people can react to God’s word. Take a look at vs. 15, where Jesus starts to explain the meaning of the parable: “These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them.” Satan’s not interested in waiting around until he thinks you can put up a decent fight; as soon as you hear the word, he’s after you. Once you hear the word, there’s a chance he’s going to lose you to God. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that Satan wants our souls just as much as God does. So how do we defend ourselves against him? First, we are to be aware of his pursuit (1 Peter 5:8), and being aware, to resist him (1 Peter 5:9, James 4:7). Being the right kind of soil isn’t just “luck of the draw”; it’s a choice. Satan worked just as hard on the good soil as he did on the bad, but the good soil held on to be fruitful.

Jesus wants our response immediately. At the very beginning of the book, in Chapter 1, Jesus calls his first apostles, Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. At this point Jesus has performed no miracles; He has just come into Galilee “preaching the gospel of God” (1:14). Simon and Andrew had no visual proof of Jesus’ power yet, and had to leave their livelihood to follow them, but out of what must have been incredible faith and desire to follow God, “immediately they left their nets and followed Him” (1:18). Like Simon and Andrew, we have never seen Jesus perform miracles with our own eyes. However, if we’re going to wait until He returns to see proof, we’ll have waited far too long! And if we DO believe in Jesus and his power, that belief should trigger immediate action. Jesus doesn’t want us to follow Him “when we get a minute” or “on our own time”; He wants us to follow and obey Him NOW. Immediately. Let’s shift gears for a second and take a look at Acts 16 and the account of the Philippian jailor. (If you want to read verses 22 through 34, that’d be great.) Once you’ve done that, jump down to verse 33 again: “And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, him and all his household.” The Philippian jailor wasn’t waiting around. He wasn’t going to put it off until it was convenient for him. He wasn’t going to take the time to weigh out his options. He was baptized. He was saved. He was added to the Lord’s church. He was made right with God. Immediately.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Biblical Geekout


I look at people who think it's just a boring old book and I just can't understand. It's only boring to the people who aren't going to take the time to look any deeper than the surface. The mere premise of such a book, a book that contains within its pages EVERYTHING we need to survive in this life and make it to the next one, is incredible in and of itself. That alone would be more awe-inspiring than any book man could ever contrive. But here's the thing: there's so many hidden treasures in it, too. There are tons of little connections to be made that we don't really NEED to make. We can go to heaven even if we don't realize how cool this or that aspect of Scripture is... but we get to realize how cool they are!!

This isn't going to be a really formal article for two reasons. Quite frankly, I don't know how I would organize it. More importantly, however, this isn't "for sure." It's speculation, and I think it's well founded speculation, but it's one of those things you just can't know for sure until you get to Heaven and ask God about it. If you have a different opinion on the matter, good for you. You don't have to listen to me. However, I think the way all this ties together is really super incredible. :)

Alright. We're going to flip around a lot, but bear with me. Go ahead and look at Genesis 6:1-4. (I'm just gonna post it here but if you want to have your Bible so you can mark it or something like that, cool.) This is right before the account of the flood.

"Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. Then the LORD said, 'My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he is also flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.' The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, wen the sons of God came into the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown."

So... a lot of people take the "sons of God" to be the descendants of Seth, because Christ came through Seth's lineage. Which makes sense. However, every other time the phrase translated "sons of God" is used in Scripture, it's referring to angels (see Job 1:6 for an example). So what, angels came to earth and married people? How's that work? Well... I'm not sure. But take a look at Jude 6. Jude's warning those he is writing to about the danger of false teachers, so he's calling to mind what happens to those who disobey God. Verse 6 says:

"And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day."

The "domain" and "proper abode" of the angels would be heaven, right? So it sounds like they abandoned heaven. Huh. Now look at 2 Peter 2:4-5, where Peter is ALSO talking about false prophets and using the same tactic as Jude:

"For God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly."

I don't know about you, but that for sure makes it sound to me like the angels sin ended up having something to do with the flood. (For real though, you might not think so. Which is cool. 'Cause this isn't a heaven or hell issue. Just speculating.) Couple that with Jude 6 and it sounds like their sin was leaving heaven. Now look back at Genesis 6:2: "The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose." So angels left Heaven, and then the sons of God, who could plausibly be angels, were cohabiting with people and marrying them. Which was apparently a problem. I think the fact that the very next thing Moses talks about were these super-human Nephilim is an interesting tie-in... if the dads were angels, you certainly wouldn't expect the kids to be normal, now would you?

So how does God get rid of angels on the earth? Take a look at Matthew 8:28-34, where Jesus casts out "Legion." (Go ahead and just read this whole passage for me and then I'll focus in.) Okay. Verse 32:

"And He said to them, 'Go!' And they came out and went into the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the waters."

So what happened to the demons? Surely they didn't drown... right? Look at what Jesus says in Matthew 12:43.

"Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it."

Now, we know the Bible is inspired. We know there's not a single word in there that God didn't hand pick to say EXACTLY what He wanted it to say. So why would He mention "waterless"? I take it to mean that spirits have an issue with water, especially when you consider that water apparently got rid of Legion.

I realize that angels and spirits most likely aren't quite the same, but it would make a lot of sense if they were similar in a lot of ways. Especially when you consider what God did after the sons of God came down to earth and were being sinful right along with men.



Like I keep saying, I'll never know for sure if that's definitely the way things played out. But it makes some sense, doesn't it? And either way, I consider it a huge blessing that there are so many hidden mysteries in the Bible that we get to try and solve that we don't NEED to know the answer to. It's just there for us to think about and geek out about and appreciate the complexity.


"How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" -Psalm 119:103

~green eyes :)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Deep Breath

Take a deep breath.

The prisoners were divided into three groups. The fit became slaves. The excessively unfortunate were kept for "medical experimentation." Most were sent to the gas chambers.

They had come packed like cattle in trains. No place to use the restroom. No place to be sick. No place to move the corpses of the people who had fallen over dead on the way. After days of wallowing in their own filth, they entered the camp.

Children were ripped from their mothers' arms. Families were separated. Best friends were separated. Husbands and wives were separated.

They were told they were going to be de-loused. They were going to get a shower.

They piled into the large concrete boxes. The doors slammed shut behind them. Zyklon B pesticide rushed through the vents.

They cried. They screamed. They clamored. The weakest died first. They became the first steps in the staircase of people.

The slaves were sent in to detangle the bodies. They always found them in a neat pyramid.

If you visit Auschwitz today, you can see fingerprints, engraved forever on the solid concrete ceiling.

They literally tried to claw their way out for that one last gasp of air. They climbed on top of each other to stay above the gas, to get that one last gasp of air.

I have bad days. I have really lousy days. I have days when I don't know how I'm going to deal with what's coming. But you know what else I have?


Take a deep breath.

"Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!" -Psalm 150:6

Thursday, February 24, 2011

One House, One Church, One Family

My dad has been teaching a class on the book of John at my congregation the last several weeks. I'm not actually in the class, but living in his house I get all his brilliant insights anyway. Which is rather cool. :)

Anyways, he brought up something about John 14:2 that I had never realized. The King James Version translates this verse as "In my Father's house are many mansions" and the New American Standard says "many dwelling places." However, the most accurate translation is that of the NIV and a few other versions: "many rooms." There are a lot of rooms in our Father's house, but it's one house.

I'd never thought about that before, and I really like the idea. Your house is where you feel the safest. Your family lives in your house. I like the idea of all the saved in Heaven eating around one gigantically long dinner table. That's just a really beautiful image to me. But as I thought harder about it, it really got me thinking about relationships within the church. Earth is all about getting ready to go to Heaven, right? Well, could I live in the same house as the entire church? Or even my entire congregation? Do I have that familial relationship? Are we all that close?

If you have a minute (and if you have the time to sit and read this, I know you have a minute), go to Acts 2 and read the whole chapter. This is a HUGE chapter. You have the Holy Spirit coming on the Apostles, Peter preaching the first gospel sermon, and the part we're going to look more closely at right now: the first description of the behavior of the Lord's church. Take a look back at verses 44-47a:

"And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of hear
praising God and having favor with all the people."

How do we get to be as close enough to share a house? What happens when we are that close? Let's examine the early church to find out.

They were together. Not "the kids were over there" and "the adults were over here" and "the young families were over there." They were together.
Don't get me wrong. I think it's great to have activities that help us bond with people in our age groups that are dealing with similar situations to ours. That's valuable. But if I'm a teenager and I only know the youth group, that's an issue. I'm missing out on the wisdom they have to offer. I know I personally need to work on that, and I'd be willing to bet a lot of teens do. However, in the same way, if I'm an adult and I don't know any of the teens, that's just as much of an issue. Far too often teens get a bad rep for not connecting with the rest of the congregation, but adults don't make any effort to know the teens. (Alright. Getting off my soap box.) Whatever is keeping the church apart, whether it be age or difference of opinion or simply different life situations, we can't let that get in the way. We have to be together.

They had all things in common. I love this part. Look back at the second part of verse 44 and 45: they "had all things in common, and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need." The idea here is, "If you need it, it's yours." If I have a truck and somebody needs it, he doesn't even have to ask. It's his truck too. Unfortunately, we live in an extremely selfish society. In a world so full of "me", it's hard to hand over our possessions or even our time to somebody else that willingly. Could you babysit for a family at your church and not even expect payment? It's something to think about. We don't just have to give to the Lord's work; we have to give of our means to each other.

They were together in their worship. Take a look at verse 46: they were "day by day continuing with one mind in the temple." I'll never forget an illustration a Bible class teacher gave me in seventh grade. He drew a triangle on the board, labeling one point as God and the other two as Christians. Then he moved both of the "Christians" closer to "God," and this movement inevitably brought them closer to each other. The same is true in the real church. Hebrews 10:25 tells us not to forsake the assembly of the saints, because it encourages us. If we're not attending worship, we're getting farther and farther away from God and consequently, farther from each other.

They were sincere in their fellowship. Still verse 46: "Breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart." They sincerely enjoyed being together. When was the last time you faked your way through a conversation with a brother or sister you didn't really want to have to talk to? I'm extremely guilty of this, and I need to work at it. 1 Peter 1:22 tells us that since we've been obedient and purified ourselves for love, we need to fervently love one another from the heart. FROM THE HEART! This fake love stuff isn't going to cut it. We have to really, earnestly love every one of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Even if we don't quite click with them. Even if they annoy us. We need to get over that. We have to SINCERELY love one another. And not only that, but we get to fellowship! What better way to grow closer? (Note: it doesn't say "potluck to potluck"-- it says "house to house." Just a thought!)

The community noticed. Here's the kicker: all this isn't normal human behavior. That's why God mentioned it in His Word in the first place. It's not normal to be this unified, to be this generous, to be this loving. It's not normal for people to be this close. That's why they gained "favor with all the people." Something clicked with the people around them. They realized something was different, and they liked it. Not surprisingly, the next part of the verse reads, "And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved." By simply treating each other the way God wanted them to, the early Christians successfully evangelized.

It's a beautiful image, isn't it? Sharing everything, sincerely loving, eating together, worshipping together, doing everything together. A family. If we do all these things on earth... how much greater will it be in Heaven?


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Before I start...

NOTE #1-- First and foremost, I would like to address the fact that I post on my more general blog, Write For Your Life, more often than this one. I don't want anyone to think that I take that one more seriously than this one or think it's more important. My other blog is for rambling my random thoughts about life, and as a result I don't put NEARLY as much time and thought into it. This one, on the other hand (along with CFYC) requires much more thought and time on my part, because I'm actually trying to make a point and teach people something. So as a result I don't post as often, but these tend to be much higher quality. Just to clarify.

NOTE #2-- I have an immense case of writer's block at the moment, but I'm going to keep posting once a week! I WILL! So here's my post for the week, repeated from KatharosNOW. It's not as deep into the Scriptures as I would like, but it's better than nothing. There is better stuff coming, I promise! Thanks for reading, bloggers. Much love.


If you’re an American citizen, you probably know the three basic rights guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence. Maybe (like me) you’ve even had to memorize this for history class: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are LIFE, LIBERTY, and the PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.” Okay, before you get bored with history and tune me out, think about this: God offered us these rights and so much more over two thousand years ago! Take a look.

God offers us LIFE. The Declaration of Independence guarantees that the government will protect our existence, but the Lord offers us so much more than that! On the one hand, being a Christian gives you a much fuller life on earth. If we let Him take control, God will give us freedoms that make life unimaginably wonderful (but I’m going to touch on that a little later). However, without God we’re spiritually dead in our sins, and only accepting His gift of life can fix that. Take a look at Ephesians 2:4-5. Paul writes, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ.” Not only this, but our Father offers us eternal life with Him if we obey Him. In Revelation 2:10, Jesus tells us, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you a crown of LIFE.” I don’t know about you, but I want that crown!

God offers us LIBERTY. Not only are we dead without God, but we’re also slaves: slaves to ourselves, slaves to our sinful nature, slaves to worldliness. The good news is that God wants nothing more than to set us free. I encourage you to go and read all of Romans 6, because it’s an extremely powerful chapter, but right here I’m just going to hit the high points. Check out verses 16-18: “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” Unlike before, however, we’re not slaves against our will. James the Lord’s brother describes himself as a “bond-servant of God” at the beginning of his letter. A bond-servant was someone who willingly gave himself into another’s service. Plus, God promises us so much freedom. With Him, we can be free from worry (Matthew 6:25-34), and although we feel sorrow at sin, we can take hold of a “repentance without regret, leading to salvation” (2 Cor. 7:10). Slavery to God is no slavery at all; it’s unbeatable, indescribable freedom.

God offers us HAPPINESS. That’s right—not just the pursuit. Only in God can we find TRUE happiness. When you get the time, you ought to read the book of Ecclesiastes all the way through—it’s all about how Solomon looked for happiness in nearly every earthly pursuit you can think of, and just couldn’t find it. You might want to take a look at Psalm 1 too; again, I’m just going to hit high points here. This psalm talks about the blessings that come to one “whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.” Now, this doesn’t mean that we’ll get everything we want materially, but we will be successful spiritually, and that’s what brings us true happiness.

The thing about rights is that you don’t have to take advantage of them. Thousands upon thousands of people don’t take advantage of the freedom to worship God in this country. Some people don’t take advantage of the right to vote. That’s kind of the defining factor of a right: it’s a choice. Once it’s forced upon you, it’s tyranny instead of freedom.
It’s the same thing with God. He’s got a lot of wonderful rights to offer you, but in the end it’s your right. So what’re you going to choose?
Choose life. Choose liberty. Choose happiness.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Why Worry?

I’ll admit, I’m something of a worrywart.

As a junior in high school, I’d say I’m at a decently unsettling point in my life. After all, in a few years, I’ll be headed off into that black abyss the rest of the world calls “adult life.” That’s a little disconcerting. I’m faced with a ton of decisions right now that will strongly affect the rest of my life. That’s reasonable cause for worry, right?


Let’s take a look at Matthew 6:25-34 to see what we can find out about worry from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. If you want to go ahead and read through the whole passage, that’d be great.

First, to worry is to have a flawed perspective.
I know I only told you to read part of the chapter, but oftentimes we have to look at a passage’s context to find out why the speaker is saying what he’s saying. The first thing that tips us off to look at the context in this section is the very first words of verse 25: “For this reason I say to you…” For what reason? Gotta look at the context! So let’s check out the verses above it. In verses 19 through 24, Jesus is talking about having the proper perspective on wealth. First He tells us that our treasure should be in Heaven, not on earth, but then he goes into this weird analogy about our eyes: “So then if you eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” Again, look at the context! Jesus is saying that if you focus on God, your whole life will be in order, but if that focus is blocked and “darkened” by wealth, your life will be a wreck. Verse 24 is the kicker: “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

So what on earth does this have to do with worry? Verse 25: “For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink.” See how He names material things? Worry is focusing on wealth, on the material things of this life. And if we focus on wealth, we’re not focusing on God.

Second, to worry is to doubt God.
After talking about the splendor of the lilies of the field, Jesus says, “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!” Throughout the Bible faith is contrasted with doubt. We see it in the account of Peter walking on the water (Matthew 14:31). We see it in the book of James (James 1:6). What else is worry but doubt in God? If you really believe that the supreme God of the universe, the God who spoke the entire world into existence, the God who parted the Red Sea, the God who rescued His people again and again, is on your side and is taking care of you, are you going to worry? Of course not! The only reasonable explanation is that you don’t trust God’s power or willingness to take care of you. Plus, we know that faith can move mountains (Mark 11:23), and according to Jesus, worry is useless (vs. 27 of our passage). I’d rather have faith, wouldn’t you?

Third, to worry is to be like the world.
Look at verses 31 and 32: “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things.” Keep in mind Jesus is talking to Jewish people. The Gentiles were the world, and the Jews generally despised them as barbarians. If there was one thing you didn’t want to be compared to, it was a Gentile. In the same way, we are told countless times throughout God’s word that we are not to be like the world. So, if worry is worldly, we don’t need to be a part of it! Earlier in this same sermon, Jesus talks about being salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16). In this world of chaos, how greatly could we stand out simply by remaining calm and not worrying? What an awesome way to be an example to the world around us!

So… if we’re not supposed to worry, what are we supposed to do? Jesus doesn’t leave us hanging. He gives us the much better alternative: “But seek first His kingdom, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (33). It all goes back to keeping the proper perspective; if we focus on God and obey Him, that’s all that really matters. He will cause everything else to fall into place.

Friday, January 28, 2011

He Took His Life in His Hands

For the last month or so at my congregation, we've been studying the book of 1 Samuel. I'm a little bit of a keyword fanatic-- I love finding key words and marking them in my Bible. One that's popped up everywhere is "hand." I've seen everything from "the hand of the LORD" to David simply reaching his hand into a stream to pick up five smooth stones. But one use of the word "hand" has really struck me: the idea of taking one's life in one's hands.

Take a look at 1 Samuel 19. (No, really, go read it. That'd be great). At this point, King Saul is waffling back and forth between wanting to kill David, seeing him as his rival, or respecting him. At the moment, he's livid, so his son Jonathan, David's best friend, is going in to defend the future king. Now that we've got some background, take a look at verses 4 and 5:
"Do not let the king sin against his servant David, since he has not sinned against you, and since his deeds have been very beneficial to you. For he took his life in his hand and struck the Philistine, and the LORD brought about a great deliverance for all Israel; you saw it and rejoiced. Why then will you sin against innocent blood by putting David to death without a cause?"

This is important. Want me to prove it? Other key words in the book include "king", "servant", "LORD", "hear", "speak", and "deliver." Yeah. There are 5 key words in these two verses. When that many key words are clustered together, it's like God highlighting an important point. "He took his life in his hands." Let's quickly take a look at what exactly what "taking your life in your hands" is and what it can do.

Taking your life in your hands involves action. Look at the very first part: "He took his life in his hands and struck the Philistine." This Philistine was, of course, Goliath. If you have another minute or two to spare, go back to Chapter 17 and read the account of David and Goliath, particularly verse 26. Outraged, David exclaims, "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?" This guy has been terrorizing the Israelite armies all day. Nobody's stepping up, and yet David, who is still a very young man, doesn't hesitate. He's ready to go fight him right off the bat.

Taking your life in your hands involves trusting God. David never saw "taking his life in his hands" as taking CONTROL of his life. He knew it was all in God's hands. Check out verses 45 through 47 of Chapter 17. David in calling out Goliath uses "the LORD" four times and "God" twice! And look at the way he uses it: "I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts" (45), "the LORD will deliver you up into my hands" (46), "the battle is the LORD's" (47). David had no trust in himself, but he knew God had more power than he could possibly imagine. Because of this, God was able to use David's life to bless others. Jumping back to Chapter 19, we see that through David, "the LORD brought about a great deliverance for all Israel" (5). It's kind of ironic; by taking his life in his hands, David was putting his life in God's hands.

Taking your life in your hands garners respect. Right after David slays Goliath in Chapter 17, Saul asks his commander Abner whose son David is (verse 55). Right away, he's interested. In Chapter 18, we find out that "David went out wherever Saul sent him, and prospered; and Saul set him over the men of war" (5). David took the opportunity to do something great for God, and as a result, he gained some favor with the king and prospered. (It wasn't until Saul began to see David as a threat to his own power that he began to hate him.) Even in Chapter 19, when Saul wants to kill David, Jonathan's reminder of this great deed of David's changes his mind, if only for a little while. Verse 6 tells us, "Saul listened to the voice of Jonathan, and Saul vowed, 'As the LORD lives, he shall not be put to death.'" When you're courageous and take the initiative to be great for God, the people around you can't help but respect you, even those that hate you!

Naturally, we can learn a lot from looking at this side of "taking your life in your hands." However, I'm not quite telling you the whole story yet. Flip over to Chapter 28 and read the whole thing through. Saul is, of course, sinning by consulting the medium at Endor, and that's usually what we focus on. But what was the medium's response to the entire situation? Take a look at verse 21: "Behold, your maidservant has obeyed you, and I have taken my life in my hands and have listened to your words which you spoke to me."

So there must be a bad way to take your life in your hands. This woman was sinning, and she knew it. Before she calls up Samuel for Saul (whose identity is yet unknown to her), she hesitates, saying, "You know what Saul has done, how he has cut off those who are mediums and spiritists from the land. Why are you then laying a snare for my life to bring about my death?" (9). However, being reassured of that she will not be punished, she goes through with it.

Both David and the medium took their lives in their hands. Both took some sort of action. However, where David put his trust in God, the medium put her trust in Saul. While David received respect from both God and men for his actions, the medium had to carry out her action in secret, and the Lord certainly wouldn't have applauded her actions.

So, dear Reader, it's up to you. Life is full of opportunities. You can trust God, or you can trust yourself. You can live a life of spiritual glory, or you can live a life of shame. Your life is in your hands. What will you do with it?

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Ultimate Blood Donor

Oooohhhh goodness guys. I am so terrible. I promise, promise, PROMISE that I will be posting more regularly. This is a CFYC repeat... but I promise we're going to stop having those! We're gonna have new stuff! Soon! :) <3
A few weeks ago, I donated blood for the first time. Donating is a really cool experience, and much more rewarding than I thought it would be. There’s something about knowing you’ve saved a life that gives you an incredible feeling. I highly recommend it. However, that’s not the important part. What’s important is that the more I looked into what blood does in our bodies and what donated blood can do for the recipient, the more I appreciated just how beautiful Jesus’ sacrifice for us was and is. (The way God interweaves His design for creation with His plans never ceases to amaze me!) God could have planned to save us any way He liked, but He chose to do it through blood. Looking at a few different functions of blood in our bodies can give us an incredible perspective of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

Blood gives us what we need. Of course, the circulation of blood through our hearts and veins is what keeps us alive, but why? The answer is a little protein called hemoglobin. Oxygen molecules bind to hemoglobin, which carries them in the blood stream to the rest of our bodies’ cells so that they can function. The point is that blood keeps us alive by giving us what we need to survive. Jesus’ blood does the exact same thing for us spiritually. We are imperfect and incomplete people, and without him we are dying in our own sin. Take a look at Colossians 2:13: “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions.” We’re dead without Christ, but when we follow Him, he gives us what we need: forgiveness. Through this forgiveness, we are able to stay alive spiritually.

Blood cleanses. Our blood doesn’t just supply the things we need; it takes away the things we don’t. Plasma, the liquid part of the blood, carries waste products such as carbon dioxide to outlets where they can be flushed out of our bodies so we can stay healthy. This is just as important as supplying our needs. A body can have everything it needs to survive, but if it retains harmful waste products, it will still be in danger. The influence of Christ’s blood on our lives, too, causes us to flush out the spiritually detrimental aspects of our thoughts and actions. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature,” and James 1:21 says that by “putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness,” we can “in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save [our] souls.” This complete change, this removal of the bad, is essential if we are to stay spiritually healthy. According to 1 John 1:6-7, “If we say that we have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light, as He Himself, is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” If we go on sinning willfully, Jesus’ blood does us no good, but if we repent of the sin problems in our lives and strive to fix them, He will continue to remove our transgressions.

Blood protects. A third major function of the blood is to fight off invader diseases in the body. White blood cells literally fight a small-scale war in our bodies in order to protect us from pathogens and other intruders. Jesus’ blood also offers us an immense amount of protection spiritually. He protects us from the Devil (2 Thessalonians 3:3), from anxiety (Philippians 4:7), and of course, from eternal death (Romans 6:23). Of course, white blood cells are physical and can therefore fail us, but Jesus is steadfast and sure. As long as we are entrusting ourselves completely to Him, He will not fail to save us (2 Timothy 1:12, Hebrews 13:5-6).

When I gave blood, I had to answer a few questions to make sure my blood was pure enough to be able to help the person who received it. (On a side note, I find it interesting that most of the things that make our physical blood impure, like STDs, result from sinful actions… coincidence?) Jesus’ blood was the purest blood there ever was (Hebrews 9:14). After all, if Jesus’ blood was just as impure as the blood of those who needed it, how could it be of any help to us? However, just as my healthy blood will help someone with a disease or another need, Jesus’ blood is able to save our spiritual lives.

Finally the moment of truth came. I sat down in the big reclined chair, and within minutes they were sucking my blood. I was shocked. It didn’t hurt at all. That, my friends, is where my analogy falls apart. Jesus went through more pain in the course of a few hours than most of us will go through in our entire lives, all to give us His incredible, perfect, life-giving blood. He didn’t have to do it. He could have given up on us. He could have decided we weren’t worth it, but that’s not what He did. He gives life to any dying man or woman who wants it. Jesus Christ is the ultimate blood donor.