Mind Your Mind

I wanted to share some quick thoughts about an area of our lives we disregard quite foolishly most of the time: our minds. I say that we disregard our mind because we do very little in our daily lives to guard it from the attacks of Satan.

It is like we are at war. Our mind in the headquarters where all the important directives are sent out from. If the enemy knows the location of our stronghold he will stop at nothing to destroy it. So in war, the headquarters is well guarded and protected from the enemy. Satan is our enemy and he knows the location of our headquarters. He knows our weak spots and how to attack and how to exploit them.

So if the enemy knows where to attack, shouldn’t we be prepared and have extra defense at that location? Here is our problem and this is why I say we disregard our minds. We basically allow Satan a free pass to tempt us. Sometimes, we even bring the temptation upon ourselves.

I want to suggest two fairly easy and practical ways in which you can guard your mind. If you are struggling with any particular sin, (and we all are), I believe this is often where that temptation first takes root. So hopefully these suggestions will help, with the guidance and grace of the Holy Spirit, combat sin struggles in your life.

The first is guard what comes into your mind. The White House does not just allow anyone to walk in and talk with the President. They tightly guard and control who enters so that the President remains safe. We can do the exact same thing with our minds. Psalm 101:3 says “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.”

I had a basketball coach in college who always told us to guard our “eargates and eyegates.” I always thought it was a strange thing to say, but as I have grown and matured I now see the incredible advise in these words. What we allow into our eyes and ears directly affects our mind. So if I am listening to music that degrades women and watching movies that show improper relationships then my mind will start to fall for the temptation and sin of lust. If I listen to people always being rude and watch TV shows where rudeness is celebrated then I will most likely treat others poorly.

We are foolish to think that what we watch and listen to on a daily basis does not directly affect our sin struggles. It is most likely that whatever sin you are struggling with can be traced back to what you are allowing into your “eargates and eyegates.”

So my first suggestion is to guard these valuable gates to your mind. Don’t watch movies that put bad thoughts in your head. Don’t listen to music with constant negative overtones. Don’t always hang around people who are rude, condescending or mean. Don’t watch shows which portray selfishness as freedom, (which is pretty much everything shown on American television these days). Figure out what sin you struggle with, (that shouldn’t be too hard, you probably already know what sin you struggle with but if not ask a close friend), and try to figure out what things cause that sin to be more difficult to fight. My guess is it will relate to what you are letting in your ears or eyes. So guard your gates!

Second, allow the right things in. While the White House doesn’t allow everyone in, they do allow the right people in. We cannot just try to block out everything, but rather allow the right things into our minds. Philippians 4:8 says “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Instead of filling your mind with garbage, (TV, movies, negative people and music), why not fill your mind with what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable and excellent? If we put garbage in, garbage will come out. If we put excellent in then excellent will come out. Fill your mind with good things.

What are these good things? Read your Bible. Memorize verses. Listen to Christian music. Hang around uplifting and encouraging people. I can tell the difference in my attitude when I have been listening to secular music and when I have been listening to Christian music. Secular music focuses on self, Christian music focuses on God. So when I only listen to secular music I tend to focus more on myself, (selfishness), but when I listen to Christian music I tend to focus more on God. Psalm 119:9 teaches us “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word.”

You can never put too much Bible or God in your brain. He is inexhaustible. The more you learn and grow the more you want. And as we fill our brains with the things of God our lives are transformed. Romans 12:2 says “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” As we dwell on the things of God, our mind is transformed and we are actually able to discern God’s will. That is amazing!

I hope these two quick, practical steps will help you as you learn to guard a valuable place at the front of our spiritual warfare. May we not be so foolish as to think we need not protect our headquarters. Instead, may we build in practices of keeping the temptations out and allowing the heavenly in. May we stop feeling helpless in our fight against sin, and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, fight the battle of our minds so that what we take in and what comes out may glorify our Father who is in Heaven.

Bless the Lord

This week has been a bit busy so I haven’t really had time to do much work on a blog post. But I did want to share something I learned this week that I thought may be helpful.

I was doing my devotion this week and came upon Psalm 103:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;[a]
he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.

Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
obeying the voice of his word!
Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will!
Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Last week I talked about David and his heart for God. After reading this Psalm you can see just how David’s heart was geared to serve, love and honor God. This Psalm has stuck with me this week and has been a challenge and encouragement. I hope that it will also challenge and encourage all of you amidst the crazy busyness of this season. That we would “remember the reason for the season”, (I know it’s cliche but still very true), and really focus on blessing the Lord with all our heart. May we all take Psalm 103 to heart and Bless our Glorious Creator!

Modern Idolatry

I think sometimes when we read the Bible and it’s warnings against idolatry we can become a little conceited or arrogant. Because we read things like Exodus 20:4 that says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

Our modern, “enlightened” ears find it hard to believe that people would create something and then call it their God. We see it as complete foolishness and folly like Isaiah did in Isaiah 44:16-17: “Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

And while there are many places that still worship something they themselves have made, most of us would never be won over to this kind of faith. We understand that God cannot be made by our hands lest we be God for making Him. So maybe many of you, like me, saw the countless warnings of the Old and New Testament a bit redundant and unhelpful.

But recently I have been doing a group study by a pastor named Timothy Keller and he shared some thoughts on what idolatry truly is. So I wanted to share some of the bits I picked up from it with you because I think it will help us see this dangerous sin lurking in each of our lives.

First, because we do not make carved images like people of ancient times, we must identify our idols. Carved wooden images of before have been replaced with our more modern idols of status, possessions, fame, acceptance, approval, work or even independence. We have not, like we wish to believe, become more intelligent and enlightened than our ancestors. Rather, we have just exchanged the idols of old for new ones to fit our modern culture. So while idols may continue to be something we can hold, (money, possessions, a person), they are more likely something we dream of, want, wish to attain or strive for.

For each person the idol may be different, but if you look deeply they are there. You can find your idol mainly in two ways. First, think of the thing you are most afraid to lose and that is most likely your idol. So for example, if you are worried about people not liking you, then your idol is most likely approval. If you are most worried about your job or career not working as planned or becoming a failure, then you may have a work idol. Secondly, look where you spend your time and money. If all of your time and money is spent trying to make yourself look good, (clothes, make-up, the gym, etc..), then your idol is probably your appearance. If you spend your time and money on a specific social cause, then that may be your idol.

The thing about idols is that not every one of them is inherently bad. Social justice, people liking you and being successful at work are all good things. But they become idols when they take the ultimate or supreme place in our lives. This is why God’s first commandment was “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3). Because idolatry is a sin we must take this seriously. I hope that each of us can take a long look at our lives, (our greatest fears, our greatest desires, where we spend our time and money), and try to identify which of these modern idols are taking hold in our life.

Secondly, once we have figured out which idols we struggle with, we need to smash them. Just like God commanded the Israelites to smash the idols in their midst, (Exodus 23:24 for example), we too must smash our modern idols. But doing this may be more difficult than it sounds because there is nothing physical to smash most of the time. If you idolize your appearance it doesn’t mean you need to beat yourself up. And if you idolize approval it doesn’t mean you need to be a jerk so people won’t like you. Rather, smashing idols is moving them back down to where they belong and putting God back up where He belongs.

How can this be done? Hard work, will power and trying your best won’t suffice, especially if this particular idol has had a hold on your life for a long time. Also, if you remove this idol it is likely another will fill it’s spot, (many of us struggle with multiple idols so if we take down one another one will pop up quickly). So we must displace the idol or idols in our life with something greater: God.

God alone can and deserves to take the highest place in our lives. He alone is able and He alone is worthy. In order to do this, we first must repent. We must confess to God our idols and not pretend like they are not a problem, (“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” 1 John 1:9-10). One we have confessed and recognized this idol in our life, the idol starts to lose it’s power and hold over us. So we first must come to God in humility and confess whatever it is we have placed above Him.

Next, we need to work at replacing the idol with God. This is done by spending more time and money focused on God than our prior idol. This is done by spending more time in prayer and studying God’s Word than on whatever idol took that place before. This is also done by finding greater joy and peace in God alone and recognizing that this idol can never give us the joy and peace that God alone can. And as we continue to do this we begin to see God reigning in our lives where He alone belongs.

Now this isn’t some quick two step process to get yourself idol free. This is something that takes years and will have to be done over and over and over again as new idols pop up in our lives. But if we continue to confess and repent before our Great God and daily crucify our desires and misplaced joys then we can start to have victory over these idols in our life by, through and for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So I hope that we can all come to realize what idols are holding power in our lives right now. Look at your time, your money and your fears and see what thing, (maybe even a good thing), is wrongly taking the place of God. Then repent, confess and go back to God for His help. May we not be so arrogant as to think the warnings of idolatry were only for those in the ancient world. May we see these dangerous modern idols for what they are and daily displace them with He alone who is worthy to be Lord of our life.

Closet Christianity

“Oh, you’re a Christian? I had no idea.” I remember hearing these words from a friend when I was in high school. We had been classmates for over a year and shared a common group of friends. Yet, she was completely shocked when I told her I was a Christian. I look back on this conversation with a bit of regret and shame.

To think, in my class I had the opportunity to share Christ’s love with many who did not know Him. Yet, because of my preoccupation with self-image or trying to act like a cool high schooler I had failed to shine any light into that classroom. I had always told myself that people will know I am a Christian by my works, so then I don’t need to ever really open my mouth about it.

Many people site Luke 6:43-44 as to why they don’t need to share their faith with words. “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit.” The idea is that people will know I am a Christian by my acts. And while this is true, I believe this verse is more of a confirmation of words, such as if a person claims to be a Christian yet lives in a continual pattern of sin. Then we know that even though his words say one thing, the fruit in his life tells us his true nature.

So while I truly believe our works or fruit are very important witnesses to the world, (James 2:14-26 is a great section to show that our works are a natural response to faith. Thus, one who says he has faith but no works really has no faith at all. Works are the result of a true faith in Jesus Christ), I also believe we cannot only rely on them as a witness to the nations. There can be no closet Christians.

Jesus says this plainly in Matthew 10:32-33: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Those are kinda scary words. You deny Jesus, He will deny you. Now thanks be to God for his grace that He leads his true remnant back to Himself even when they have denied Him, (see the example of Peter during Christ’s resurrection). So today I wanted to talk about two ways we deny Christ with our silence.

The first way is by being silent about our faith. I would also bet this is the most common way that we deny Christ. We are given so many opportunities to share the love of Christ with others. Maybe it’s at work, at school, on the bus, with an old friend or family member, the possibilities are endless. Yet, each time we find an excuse for our silence on the matter. If we don’t know the person very well we excuse our silence on our faith because we feel we don’t know them well enough and it might freak them out. Then, if we know them too well we have developed a pattern of talk and behavior and to speak openly about Christ with them would also weird them out.

The truth is, many times sharing Christ with a non-believer is going to weird them out. So the question isn’t their reaction but rather your heart and motives. The true reason we don’t share Christ openly with our words is because we don’t want that person to view us differently. We, sadly, are more worried about what others think of us rather than what Christ thinks of us. Paul tells us in Galatians 1:10 “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or I am trying to please man? If I were still trying please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

If this is you, and you find yourself silent about your Savior with certain groups of people, then pray and repent of this attitude. Ask God to give you the courage to share the most important thing in your life more openly. Ask Him to take away your desire for the praise of man and to give you a greater desire for the praise of God. Spend time learning from others who are bold to share. Learn how to openly share with gentleness but also with urgency. Remember this is eternity we are talking about, so understand the importance of what you need and want to share.

The second way we deny Christ is by being silent over the actions or lack of faith in others. This is where Christians tend to err one way or the other. One group of Christians believes it is their God ordained duty to speak out and condemn all sin and those who commit such sin. They blast people for their unrighteousness yet forget to share the love of Christ. They forget that Jesus spent most of His time on earth with sinners, (the very same people many Christians today harass) and that he instructed us to look at the plank in our own eye before picking at the spec in another (Matthew 7:1-5). These people resemble Pharisees more than Christ followers. They know about God’s justice but forget that He loves and forgives.

The second group of people is just as bad though. This group of Christians doesn’t want to sound harsh like the first group, so they either keep their mouth shut or just condone or even applaud sin. This is a lot of the liberal Christian movement in America. They want to show people Christ’s love so they basically allow their Church members to live anyway they please. Gay pastors, living together before marriage, open drunkenness and the like can often be found and condoned here.

While these are extreme examples, this group may also live rightly but just shut their mouth against any sin. So maybe a good friend is cheating on their girlfriend, yet, because this Christian doesn’t want to offend his friend, he keeps silent. He condones or excuses his friend’s actions but forgets that God is a God of justice. These people forget Romans 6 and the wrath and justice of God. They talk so much love they forget God is also just and justly sends sinners to hell.

Are you one of these people? Do you blast people for their sin yet don’t love and restore them to God? Do you condone and excuse sin in those around you because you don’t want to offed? Do you only talk about the justice of God but not His love? Do you only talk about the love of God but not His justice? If this is you then repent. Pray that God would help you to see He is a God of love and justice. Pray that God would give you the courage to speak out about sin, but that he would also enable you to do it in a gentle and loving way.

So I hope that we can learn to open our mouths this week. May we stop living in such fear of others and instead rightly fear our Creator. I challenge each of you this week to openly share your faith with someone you haven’t shared it with before. Take the step of courage and God will be with you. I also encourage those of you who are around people living in sin. Speak up that sin is never right. But I also encourage you to do this with humility and in a way that seeks God’s glory, not your own. May we honor and glorify our savior this week with our actions AND our words

Using Our Time for the Eternal Rather than the Earthly

The fact that you are even reading this blog is a miracle. Depending on your reading level, you can probably finish this off in 5-10 minutes. That’s assuming you actually read the whole thing, (I know many won’t even make it to the end before there is something else that snatches their attention away). But even those 5-10 minutes are considered precious in our lives of packed schedules and overcommitments.

And so I thought today I would look at something I think we all struggle with: making time to spend with God. This includes prayer, study, meditation and reflection as well as Church and Bible studies. Many of us assume Church on Sunday is enough spiritual activity for one week. This statement is as foolish as saying we only need food or water once a week.

So first the problem. We are all busy. But honestly, we aren’t as busy as we think we are. How many of us have 10-12 hour work days like those living in third world countries? How many of us are farming from sunup to sundown like our ancestors? And think about all the modern conveniences we have. Things like cars, the internet, microwaves and cell phones make life in the 21st century the fastest it has ever been.

Seems like we should have more time, but for some reason we still don’t. And while I understand our busyness is a partial issue, I don’t think it explains why we struggle to have time for prayer and reflection but work less and live more convenient lives than ever before.

No I think the real problem is our priorities. While Christians profess Jesus is the most important thing in our lives, we rarely act that way. How many of us can speak like David talking about God’s law in Psalm 19:10: “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” Maybe if we looked at our Bible this way we would open it a little more often.

But our priorities have become totally out of whack. And I see this problem presenting itself mainly in two ways. First, we over commit. We have some free time in our daily schedule and we pack it with another activity. And while these activities might be good, (outreach, fellowship, etc..), they often force us to lose time with God because we find our lives are too busy.

Second, we prioritize entertainment, fun and relaxation over time with God. Many of us rush about and try to check everything off our daily to-do lists so we can sit down around 7 or 8 PM for what? The sitcom we can’t miss? A drink with our friends? Checking fantasy football stats online? Once we finally have a free second we spend it on fleeting, earthly passions rather than eternal, heavenly joys.

And so maybe this is you. Maybe you find yourself far from God or drifting away. Maybe you just can’t seem to find time with God. Maybe you wish you could pray or meditate more on His Word, yet the daily pressures of life prevent you. You know I am not just about presenting a problem but also practical solutions! So hopefully these four ideas can help you make time for what truly matters.

First, make it THE top priority. How can we as Christians claim Jesus is Lord of our lives when we only throw Him our leftovers? Where you spend your time and money is where your heart is really focused. I challenge you all to consider this. You have time to eat and sleep each day right? Well why not sacrifice one meal, (we already eat too much anyways so giving up one meal wouldn’t be the worst thing), or give up an hour of sleep to spend time with God in His Word and in prayer? Jesus says in Matthew 4:4 “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Second, make a schedule. You plan when you will go to the gym, so why not plan your quiet time with God? We seem to think it’s nonspiritual to have a planned time with God, but this is far from the truth. If you find that your daily schedule is packed already, then mark out an hour or so each day that is just for you and the Lord. If you don’t plan it there’s a good chance you’ll rationalize why you didn’t have time to pray or study today.

Third, understand that saying no is acceptable and good. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:37 “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything else more than this comes from evil.” Notice Jesus didn’t say your no needed to be yes. It is good to say no sometimes. One reason we lack time with God is because we value time with others more than our Heavenly Father. Rather, be willing to say no to someone so that you have time to spend with God each day.

Finally, make sure your quiet time is actually quiet. Many people try to do their prayer or study while they are doing something else. Your commute to work is a great time for prayer, but shouldn’t be the only time you pray. Reading the Bible in a noisy cafeteria is a great way to spend lunch, but it shouldn’t be the only time you open the Bible. Psalm 46:10 says “Be still, and know that I am God.” Notice the command to be still first. Also, Jesus would frequently go to “desolate places to pray.” (Mark 1:35, 6:31, Luke 6:12-13). And in Matthew 6:6 we are told to “go into your room and shut the door,” when we pray.

God knows we get distracted easily so He commands us to seek Him in a quiet place. Also, I think this a great time for us to meditate and reflect on God. I know the word meditation has some bad connotations because of other religions, but it is a good word. When is the last time you just dwelt on the eternal nature of the trinity? Or that God spoke and creation happened? Or even consider the amazing grace a perfect God would extend to sinful humans through his Son? (2 Corinthians 5:21). Spend time in prayer, study and meditation this week, but make it a quiet place.

Hopefully these are words of encouragement for those who seem overburdened with life and seem to have no time for God. I hope we can all learn what is really most important and that our actions will reflect that this week. May we see that the problem lies with us, not our busyness. May we make God and time with Him our top priority. May we be willing to schedule time with God and say no to others in order to keep our appointment with Him. And may we pray, study and meditate daily in a quiet place so that we can completely focus on Jesus. Let us reclaim our schedule’s and our lives for the glory of God!

Reclaiming Biblical Love

With Valentine’s Day this week I felt like this would be a good time to address this crazy little thing we call love. More importantly, to address how “love” has transformed over the past 10-20 years so that now it barely looks like the thing it used to be. It looks even less like the Biblical prescription for it.

To illustrate just how far our idea of love has declined, let me give a few examples. On a recent plane trip I noticed that at least 3-4 of the movies listed under romance were solely about affairs or repetitive one night stands. In numerous current TV series, (such as The Office, Modern Family, etc), multiple characters have engaged in some kind of affair or one night stand, all under the guise of comedy.

These are just illustrations from the entertainment sector. If we look at real life we see a divorce rate around 50%, abortions and teen pregnancies at all time highs, and extra marital affairs an all too common occurrence. Also the news of high profile people, (athletes, politicians, actors and actresses), engaging in affairs seems like an everyday event. Christians aren’t exactly immune to this type of behavior either.

A recent CNS News report dated January 21, 2002, said, “Born-again Christians are just as likely to get divorced as anybody else in American society, and the vast majority of those identifying themselves as divorced and born-again actually got their divorces after converting to Christianity, according to a new book called ‘The Divorce Reality’.”

So when did love lose it’s, well, love? I think there are a few reasons for the increase in divorce, affairs and one night stands. The first and I believe main cause that has allowed these rates to grow has been our culture’s obsession with pleasure and happiness. We are fixated on pleasing ourselves above all else. So when marriage gets tough, we get divorced. When a prettier girl comes along, we have an affair. We are first and foremost interested in our good and our pleasure. And this mystical idea of romance shown in movies only furthers this point. Movies like Twilight, Titanic, and Friends with Benefits all claim to show romance but really just give us a perverted view of self-indulgence.

Secondly, we continue to try and push the boundaries of right and wrong. This may be in part do to some kind of evolutionary thinking that says we need to adapt or die, or maybe because we have grown bored with many traditional ideals. This is best evidenced in our movies and TV shows. When I was growing up PG-13 meant some cheesy action, maybe one bad word and some violence. Now PG-13 means at least one or two “F-bombs,” a steamy sex scene and blood everywhere. TV series now get away with showing affairs, same sex kissing and even explicit sex. This is clearly to our liking as the movies and shows that get the highest ratings always seem to be those that push the boundaries of any kind of moral values. (Compare Family Matters to Modern Family and you will see how much has changed).

Third, we are more closed off to communication than ever before. I find this fairly ironic considering we are the most connected generation ever. We can now communicate with people anywhere in the world at any time, and usually quite cheap. Social networking, online chatting, text messages, emails and cell phones are all daily necessities. Yet, do we really communicate? We may talk a lot but I feel like very little communication actually takes place. People no longer have accountability partners or groups. People don’t talk about struggles in marriage. We have closed ourselves off from others and the tragic result is an isolated, sin filled, self focused life style.

So what’s the cure? How we can put more love back into love? Well of course we need to turn to the Bible and see what God has to say.

First, we need to learn what love and marriage is really about. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8. We learn what love truly is by being in a relationship with God. I believe that apart from Jesus we cannot truly understand what love is. Yes people can partially see and experience love if they are not a Christian, (we call this God’s general grace). But, true love can only be experienced when God is not part of the equation, but the focus and reason for the equation. “We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

Second, we need to follow the Bible’s guidelines and prescriptions for love and marriage. I don’t have time to dissect each of these sections of verses thoroughly but instead will briefly discuss each and then you can do more study on your own. The best verses on marriage in the Bible can be found in Ephesians 5:23-33. Here Paul shows us how to live as husband and wife. He shows that out goal is not happiness and pleasure but rather that the husband would represent Jesus Christ and the wife represent the Church. Love and marriage done to represent the love and marriage of Jesus and the Church is what true love is really about.

Other good sections to consider are 1 Corinthians 13 which shows some characteristics of love, (these are not just confined to romantic love but love of any kind). As you read over some of these, (love is patient, love is kind, etc..), think about if our modern idea of love or that portrayed in popular media follows these verses or not. Also, Genesis 2:24-25 shows the idea of one man and one woman. Not one man and many woman or one man and one man. Matthew 5:27-32, Jesus talks about adultery and divorce and how we are to avoid both and view both with a higher standard than what our culture deems right. Finally, Leviticus 18 has some laws about what kind of sexual relations we should avoid. There are many other verses throughout the Bible about these topics, but I feel this list should be a good starting point for those looking to reclaim Biblical love.

Third, we need to get connected. We need to have people we can openly talk to about anything. We need to be able to talk about marital problems with brothers and sisters who can help, encourage and pray for us. We need to have accountability partners who we will be open about if we are struggling with porn, premarital one night stands or about considering an affair. We need to learn to open up and communicate. Don’t isolate yourself. Jesus gave us the body of believers to work as a body, (1 Corinthians 12:14-31). So be willing to open up and share with fellow Christians and also be willing to be an ear or voice in their lives as well.

So may we not just love like the world does, but rather strive to love as our Lord Jesus Christ does. Let us throw off this false ideal of self-satisfying romance and rather run after a deep, true love that can be satisfied in Christ alone. May we not let movies and TV shows tell us how to love, but look to God and His Word for the truth about love. May we not waste this Valentine’s Day or any other day seeking after a love that cannot quench. May we love, because He first loved us.

How we all twist the Bible

I know each of us likes to believe that our understanding of the Bible is right. Obviously, if we knew it was wrong we would change! Here’s the problem: we all have holes in our theology and in our understanding of scripture. In fact, most of us use the Bible to prove our points rather than letting the Bible be the standard by which our ideas must conform.

While this may be a sad truth, it is more sad to deny it. To think that somehow your understanding of scripture is in someway more right than millions of others who have slight disagreements sounds quite prideful and arrogant to me. And while we may all have a few holes here and there in our theology and reading of scripture, God can still use us. The Holy Spirit is powerful enough to equip us in spite of our deficiencies.

That being said, my goal today is to try and show how we can all do a better job of reading and understanding scripture. The goal is not to show that how I read and understand scripture is superior to anyone else, but rather, in humility, to show that we all fall short in our understanding, (praise God that he allows us to grasp what we can!), but can all seek to grow.

First, I believe we need to come to the Bible with humility. Like I mentioned above, I believe it is quite arrogant to claim to understand all the knowledge shared in the Bible. This book is the Word of God. God, who created and formed everything with a breath. I think that if we look at our Bible in humility God will awaken us to His truths. The dangerous approach is to come to the Bible thinking you already know or understand it fully. Open the Bible each day as if you were opening it for the first time. Treat it with humility and respect.

Secondly, don’t make it an idol. I know it is the Word of God, but the Bible is not God. Remember that the Bible is merely a book, (a special book, but still a book). I have met some people who do strange things to their Bibles. The Bible is only special because of the God we worship. Don’t let it become an idol, (see Leviticus 19:4, Leviticus 26:1). Remember to worship the Creator not His creation.

Third, treat the Bible as authority. I don’t care what background or denomination you grew up in, the Bible is your authority if you claim to know Christ as your savior. This means the Bible trumps dreams and visions, (charismatics), but also dogma and tradition, (baptists). “All Scripture is breathed out by God…” (2 Timothy 3:16a). Yes different groups disagree about some of the meanings in scripture. But anytime there is debate or disagreement let us return to the Bible, and through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, seek to understand.

Fourth, stop prooftexting. Prooftexting is a term that basically means to take a scripture out of context in order to prove a point. For example I could tell me wife that the Bible tells her that she must do everything I say. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” (Ephesians 5:22-24). Just from those verses, it appears I have the authority of the Bible telling my wife to submit. But again, we must read it in context. Soon after, Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and died for her. Reading the entire context, (the whole book of Ephesians for example), clearly shows that the Bible is not telling my wife to blindly submit to my iron fist, but rather teaching her how to represent the Church in her relationship to me through her submission and my love to her representing Christ.

There are countless other examples of this, (using Romans 13 to make others respect your authority, using 1 Corinthians 13 to show that the spiritual gifts have ceased, or using Romans 8:28 to show that all Christians will always prosper). The truth is you can take many verses in the Bible and twist them to your own meaning. Rather, we need to read the verses in context of what the rest of the chapter and book is saying.

With that, it is also good to understand what was going on during the time of writing. For example, Romans 13 was written because of the oppression of the Roman government and the refusal of Christians to pay taxes to Cesar. Yes it is also applicable for us today, but understanding why, to whom, where and when each book was written gives you a better understanding of what each author was saying.

Finally, get help. While the Holy Spirit does illuminate our minds to understand the Scriptures once we have accepted Jesus as our savior, He has also illuminated countless others over the years. Read some of the words of Augustine, John Calvin, A.W Tozer and the likes. Go get a Bible dictionary or Concordance to look at things you may have never considered before thanks to hours of research. Ask people who have been Christians for a long time about what they think that verse means. Check the original meaning, (Greek or Hebrew), or find someone who can tell you what it is. While this may seem too academic for many of you, I do promise that getting help will also allow you to better understand the Word of God.

So I hope all of you will open your Bible today and read it like it’s the first time you ever picked it up. May we come to the Word of God with great humility, not treating it like an idol, but rather respecting it as the authority for our Christian lives. May we stop twisting the Word to fit our ideas and rather twist our ideas to fit the Word. May we seek help and study academically, but also leave room for the spirit to move and illuminate us. May we appreciate the great gift of God’s Word and not take it for granted or use it improperly.

Do you actually know why you believe what you believe?

This week I wanted to challenge both Christians and non-Christians with this question. I think we often have a belief in something, but we fail to look at where did that belief come from or why we actually believe it. My goal this week is that whatever you believe you will actually take a closer look at it. For Christians, to better understand your faith and to be able to share that faith with others. For non-Christians, to understand that your non-belief is a belief, even if you don’t think it is.

For non-Christians, your lack of faith actually is an even greater faith than Christianity. I find it interesting that non-Christians demand proof for God or say they will believe once they can see Him, yet demand no such proof for their own beliefs. Just as Christians often use the Bible, (in non-Christians eyes), as a type of “get out of jail free” card, so do non-Christians with science. Show me evolution from a single cell organism and I will believe. My only challenge to non-Christians is to judge yourselves and your beliefs by the same measure you judge Christianity. If you demand proof or a sign then give us proof or a sign. Don’t just believe there is no God because your school, your teachers or your parents told you so. If you don’t believe in God then go and figure out why you believe that before you charge Christians with having no ground to stand on.

For Christians, the Bible tells us we need to be ready to give an answer for our faith, or a reason for your hope, (1 Peter 3:15). But many of us Christians, when asked why we believe, either don’t know what to say or make some comment about how the Bible tells me so. The truth is, that is not why you believe. Just because a book, (now I know the Bible is a special book, but stay with me for a moment), tells me to do something doesn’t mean I blindly do it. I have some sort of faith already if I am to believe whatever this book says.

So, why do we believe? I am not going to answer this exhaustively because that would take hours upon hours, but I do want to suggest three things that may help you the next time you are faced with this daunting question. But I want to preface this by saying that really the only reason you believe anything is because God has opened your eyes to the truth. We did not choose God, HE chose us, (John 15:16). These three suggestions of why you have faith all flow from the fact that Christ allowed you to see these things. Without Christ illuminating your heart, you can not see these things, you can not know God, and you can not be saved. It starts and ends with God.

First, we believe from creation. We look around at the vastness of this world and our universe and it tells us there must be something higher than just our little human lives. We look at the detail and intricacy of creation, (our distance from the sun, four seasons each year, the complexity of our cells and DNA), and it tells us there must be something more than random chance. Someone must have created this for it to work so perfectly. Someone must hold all of this in order so that it doesn’t become completely chaotic. Romans 1:19-20 tells us that God has shown Himself to us through HIS creation. It even uses the word “plainly” to show us that when you look around at creation it is clear there is a God.

Second, we believe from experience. The reason people become Christians is not because we have logically shown them their folly and they decide that God is the only logical choice. Usually, people become Christians because they see others changed lives. Someone is healed from a disease, (John 9), or someone transforms from a drug addict into a model citizen. Your testimony of how God showed you HIS light is often the most powerful tool in showing people the Gospel. We are drawn to transformation because we all know something is not right. We have this universal sense of right and wrong, yet many of us choose not to follow it. Why do even non-believers often stay faithful to their spouse? It’s not against the law and it certainly isn’t evolved morality, (look at America, the most “evolved” nation in the world with more divorce and affairs than anywhere else). Rather, God has actually written his law on our hearts, (Jeremiah 31:33). There is a longing for justice and goodness, not because we have evolved into morally good beings, but because God is good and we want to follow Him.

Third, we believe from unfulfilled lives. No matter how hard we try, we never seem to achieve perfection. Either it is our personality that needs tweaks, our job, our relationships or even the weather. We just never get to that place in our lives where we are completely satisfied with everything. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” We are always left feeling unfulfilled because only God is meant to fulfill us. We long for eternity, and our unfulfilled lives on earth show that.

Again, this is only meant to be a brief discussion on why we believe what we believe. You can search online for more in depth reasons and proofs. My purpose today is just to get all of us thinking why we have whatever belief we have. And that by better understanding our faith we may better know and worship God. May we all build our belief on our Rock and Cornerstone Jesus Christ. May we be ready to answer those who would question our faith. And may we show the world that ultimate truth can be found in God alone.

Are You a Doer or a Hearer?

So last week I spent some time reading through the book of James. If you haven’t read James in a while I suggest you stop reading my blog and go read it. It is a very challenging book and one that always convicts me. And this week I wanted to talk about something I think we Christians all struggle with greatly.

I think we have all become really good hearers these days. I mean, look at how we gauge what a good Christian look likes. If I attend Sunday morning Church every week, attend as many small groups or Bible Study’s at my Church as possible, make sure to be at Sunday School and then read my Bible everyday people think I am some sort of super Christian. For some reason, we have equated attendance with spirituality. But that flies in the face of what James says in James 1:22. “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

Church and Bible study attendance are very good ways of helping us hear the Word and learn, but these do not make a person a Christian. I fear that many Christians today have lost sight of this. We are now content being hearers, going to get “recharged” or seeking fellowship for ourselves. Rather, the Bible tells us that this kind of faith is really no faith at all, (see the countless examples in the Gospels regarding the Pharisees).

So how do we become doers instead of just hearers? Well I am glad you asked! First, we have to remember that Church, the Bible and everything else isn’t about us. It’s all about God. The problem is that we think Church and the Bible are tools used to help me. I go to Church to get my recharge or I read my Bible to gain useful knowledge that can help me live a better, happier life. This is not Christianity, only extreme arrogance and selfishness! We go to Church to see and worship Jesus Christ. We read our Bible to know God and how we can love, serve and glorify Him. “So whatever you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31). As long as you are going to Church or reading your Bible for your gain or your glory, you will only be a hearer. Rather, do all things, ALL THINGS, for the glory of God if you want to be a doer.

Secondly we need to learn how to apply what we learn, not just learn more information. Now I am going to suggest something a little controversial here, but stay with me. I think we need to stop going to so many Bible Study’s, Sunday School’s and Churches. Yes you need to be going somewhere for fellowship each week, but some of us are getting ridiculous. I met a few people who attend a study every night! Now we first hear that and think they must really love the Lord, (which I believe they do). The problem is that all of this study leaves little or no time to learn how to practically apply this knowledge.

The Bible is useful in our lives when it produces fruit. We see in Luke 13:6-9 that if you are not bearing fruit you may get “cut down.” I don’t take this verse to mean you can lose your salvation, but rather that if you are busy collecting knowledge but not actively applying it you may have no root to begin with just as the Pharisees didn’t, (see Matthew 23:1-36). The Bible also teaches us that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up,” (1 Corinthians 8:1). I don’t have an answer for how many Bible study’s we should attend each week, but I will say over attendance can be just as dangerous as under attendance. My advise is find out how many study’s you need so you can learn and apply what you are learning in your every day life.

This is why we see so many “Sunday morning Christians,” (if they truly are even Christians), out there. They come to Church and Bible study’s for the love and encouragement, but once they walk out those Church doors back into the “real world,” you could not tell the difference between them and a non-Christian. This is what it means to be a hearer but not a doer.

And this is the last thing I think we need to do in order to be doers. We need to live radically. I feel like most Christians I meet are more marked by the culture they live in than by the God they live for. Jesus said in Luke 9:26, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

This goes back to the idea of being light in Matthew 5:14-16. If you have the light of Jesus in your life, why would you hide it? Why would you be ashamed of this amazing light just because there is so much darkness around? Like I have said before, light is most effective in the darkest places. So instead of trying to fit in with the culture and society around you we Christians should be living above and beyond our society and culture. How can Christians drive $250,000 cars and own $3 million houses when there are millions who are starving each day? How can we be so consumed with our own lives when so many have yet to hear of this Gospel of Grace?

Next week I will be talking about money. I feel like how Christians approach money is very important, and often we Christians err on one side or the other. My goal is that even our money would show the world that we are doers not just hearers, and that it would shine Jesus’ light to the nations. So let us all stop just hearing and instead begin doing. Let’s be so in love with Jesus that it changes the way we see our everyday life. Let’s use our knowledge for love rather than for self. And most importantly, let’s remember that it’s not about us, it’s all about God.

The Purpose of Pain

Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Where are you God? I imagine some if not most of us have asked these questions before. Whether it is because we are hurting physically or emotionally, we do not enjoy pain. In fact, I would say that most of our lives are spent trying to avoid pain or suffering. We have insurance for anything that can possibly suffer harm. And when we don’t have something insured, we worry. We constantly worry about any possible pain or inconvenience that may enter our lives. The truth is, no one likes pain or suffering.

With that in mind, read your Bible. Read about Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:25-29. Or read about the early Christians in the book of Acts. Or read any of the Gospels about our Lord and Savior who died a painful death, (I do find it interesting we worship a suffering servant not a comfortable king, yet most of our lives don’t reflect that). The Bible is a book full of suffering. As Christians, I think we often forget this point. We love to read about grace, hope, love, peace, and all the great things Jesus promises His followers which are all amazing and necessary to the Gospel. But it is like we have omitted John 15:18-25, 16:1-4 and Matthew 10:16-25. Jesus promises suffering.

Why would I want to follow a man who promises I will suffer? Wouldn’t we all rather find a religion that promotes a smooth and comfortable life free of pain and suffering? Well that is the lie of atheism and humanism. It is a deception that says do whatever you please in order to alleviate suffering and increase pleasure. Thus, people often make their decisions based on what produces the least amount of suffering and most amount of pleasure. But that is not what Jesus does. Jesus willing suffers for us, and then asks us to be willing to do the same for others.

But why? If it is human nature to avoid suffering and pain, why does Jesus tell us to expect it? If God is so good, why do we suffer? In order to understanding God as good in the light of suffering and pain, we need to look deeper at the purpose of pain.

First, we need to remember that pain and suffering are a result of sin. Jesus suffered not because He sinned but because we did, (2 Corinthians 5:21). If you look at any pain you have suffered in your life, I can guarantee it is the result of someone’s sin. Even natural disasters and illnesses were born from sin. Death exists only because sin entered the world, (Romans 6:23). Whether it is my own sin or the sin of someone else, pain and suffering only exist with sin. So if sin is the cause of pain and suffering, why would a good God allow that?

In order to understand this, we first need to remember that while sin does influence and scar this world, that God is ultimately in control. This is one I often forget or struggle with. It is easy for me to love Jesus as a great teacher and as my savior, but I often forget that HE is in charge of everything. Instead, I try to control situations that are not meant for me to control. And when something doesn’t follow my plan, I start questioning God.

But I am not God, Jesus is. And I need to remember that HE is in control. “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11).

Once I remember that God is in control, I have to remember that God is good and loves me. John 3:16, 1 John 4:7-12 and Romans 5:5 are just a few of several hundred verses that speaks of God’s love for us in the Bible. If the God who is in control of everything loves me, then there is always a purpose to my pain.

One purpose is that God has a plan. While I only see the isolated incident of my pain, God sees the big picture. It is like we are looking at a puzzle. We only see one small piece, and by itself, the piece looks pretty messed up. But God sees the whole picture. God knows that even though that piece looks messed up, it is necessary to the big picture. If any piece were missing, the picture would be incomplete. Every pain and suffering in this life is just one piece of the puzzle. We must remember that God has an amazing plan and that momentary suffering is only one small piece of God’s bigger picture.

Another purpose of pain in our lives is for our sanctification. That is a nice Churchy word that basically means the process of becoming more like Christ. Have you ever noticed that people change the most following some kind of pain or suffering? People who are comfortable feel no need to change. Thus, God allows some kinds of sufferings for us to become more Christlike. Read Hebrews 12:7-11. Verse 11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

This happened to me about a year ago. My friend had just had his apartment broken into. I thought to myself, “Self, if someone broke into my apartment I wouldn’t want them to steal my computer or PlayStation 3.” (I know I am still a kid, but those were my most expensive possessions!). Well within six months I had my computer stolen and my PlayStation broke! I had told God that these material goods were holding a very important position in my heart. God decided they were too important to me, so HE took them away. In the midst of those situations I was suffering pain. But, once I saw what God was doing and His purpose behind it, I was thankful. I have been a lot less materialistic since then. The fruit that God wanted in my life was only achieved through a painful experience.

I don’t know what kind of pain and suffering you are in the midst of today. My prayer is that whatever it is, you would seek to glorify and know God more from it. I believe that the more we understand the purpose behind our pain the easier it will be for us to endure it. Remember that God is in control, that HE loves you and that HE has a plan for each and every thing you may be suffering.