Saturday, December 25, 2010

What Do We Really Have?

My 16th Christmas was one of the best I had ever had. I didn't get that "one" gift this year, such as the one Christmas when I got my brand new scooter, or the other one when I get a stereo set. But that's exactly what I want this year. This year, I simply had a few books, CDs, DVDs, and two video games on my list. I got a few things of my last, and many things that weren't on my list.

For me, Christmas day can be one of the more stressful days of the year. It's a day spent with only my family, and where I'm obligated to spend every waking minute with my family and any guests we have. Sometimes, that's works out really well, and it's fun! But other time, it's just plain horrible.

This Christmas morning was good. I slept in and awoke as breakfast was on the table. I rushed down and we ate, then opened gifts. I admit, I was disappointed that a few gifts were clothes (clothes? on Christmas? really?). To me, clothes scream, "We don't care about you enough to buy you things off your list, so we got you an ugly shirt or bad lounge pants." Nonetheless, it left me very thoughtful.

One of my good friends has had the worst year of his life in 2010. Besides getting his ex-girlfriend pregnant, he's had to deal with girl-drama, a new job, basketball, school, and his relationship with God. His year's been nothing but drama, pain, and regretful shame. In addition, his family is tight on money, and he's a 17 year old without even his permit. Because of some mistakes, his options are very limited right now. As a teenager, that's incredibly frustrating. For his birthday last week, he only got one gift: new shoes. For Christmas, he didn't get much more. I thought about all this as I sat amidst a living room stacked high with torn wrapping paper and dozens of opened Christmas gifts. I got the new Madden, Call of Duty: Black Ops, the new Hillsong Chapel and Chris Tomlin CDs, 24: Season 3 (Go Jack Bauer!!!),To Save A Life, Toy Story 3, my great-uncle's expensive .22 (with a new Nikon scope), a throw blanket, candy and jelly beans, an iTunes gift card, five or six books, and I'm ticked off at some clothes? Really?

I have always had the trait of focusing on the negative. Sometimes, it helps because I am good at critiquing things. But it's also bad because I pout or whine when I should be encouraging or grateful or happy. It took me sixteen years to get that. Even if I'm mad because my last two gifts were Coc-a-cola and hideous smiley face lounge pants, I should've been focusing on all the ridiculously awesome stuff I got! I look at my Christmas compared to my friend's. Mine blew his out of the water, but I still walked away in a bad mood. Sure, car keys symbolizing my first car would've sent my dancing in the streets, and maybe clothes weren't a good gift for me, but look at what I did get.

I think as Americans, us as a whole country are the same way. We have a lot, and get more, and get even more, but we get foul and ungrateful moods. It's amazing how seeing someone with a not-so-great lifestyle can really open your own eyes to how good your life really is.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Do Bad Guys Win?

Life feels empty, dry, dull with God. There is a God-shaped hole in our hearts that only God can fill. The emptiness we feel can only be filled with God's love.

Have you ever wondered why some very poor Christians in Africa have more joy than American millionaires? Have you ever wondered why Christians living slums in India are more grateful than the average American? The answer is that people who have Christ will be content, joyful, and happy because of Jesus. People who may "have it all" really have nothing. Life is but a breath. It's meaningless, irrelevant, and worthless, according to the writer of Ecclesiastes. With God, there is no guarantee the things in life will be great, but there is a guarantee that we won't disappointed with Jesus in our lives. In fact, our minds will be blown by the love He freely gives us!

It's all too easy to envy LeBron, Kobe, Donald Trump, Taylor Swift, etc. Big name celebrities have multiple houses, house-hold names, millions of dollars, and world-wide fame. But what's the point? Life will end soon anyway. It's not like they can take all of their things with them. Psalm 37:35-36 says, "I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree in its native soil, but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found." Death will take the rich or poor, famous or unknown, smart or unintelligent, successful or unsuccessful. So why not make life count? Why not spend our time here living with a passion? Why not give ourselves to a cause that will last eternally?

This summer, a song came out that, to me, sings the perfect tune of a lost soul wanting more. It's called Airplanes by B.o.B. feating Hayley Williams from Paramore. In this song, B.o.B. (real name of Bobby Ray) talks about how he wishes he could go back to the days when he was rapping for the fun of it, and when he didn't have to deal with the rap politics and pressures. He wishes away the glam and fashion and pandemoniom and misses the days when rap was fun, not a job. He proclaims that the music industry is too complicated. When he talks about the loneliness after a party, you can just sense the pain, darkness, and utter emptiness coming from his heart. Then he asks, "What would you wish for if you had one chance?" He just wishes he could just go back to the days when life was fun and without pressures. Don't we all?

Click here to check the music video out! I warn you that he says two bad words. He says "back when I was rapping for the helluva it" and "so can I get a wish to end the politics? and get back to the music that started this shit." Please don't leap out of your chair that a non-Christian rapper would actually cuss (GASP!). Really? With God in his life, you can expect nothing but ungodliness. And don't freak out that I posted this song with those words. I'm not supporting those words or that lifestyle but rather using them to show the emptiness of a godless life. But listen to the lyrics. See what an ungodly life will lead to. It seems great to have money and be a rap star and sing with Hayley Williams and party like crazy. But even B.o.B. could see it lead to nothing but emptiness and loneliness.

Take heart and know that that lifestyle is only reserved for the ungodly. Lean on God for strength when the going gets tough. Understand He exists outside of time and invented the idea. You should feel comfortable knowing that. Learn from the terrible life of the wicked and evil. They have to wish on airplanes in the night sky for comfort. We talk straight to the Dude who breathes stars.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What Will I Be Known For?

From reading Psalms to Chazown by Craig Groeschel, I've realized that each person has individual gifts and talents that God has a specific purpose for. Some people have gifts that direct them to being evangelists. Other people have gifts than show them how to care for homeless or disabled people. God gives gifts and talents to other people so they can lead church congregations, or teach God's word in foreign countries. Or some are gifted to simply be outstanding Sunday School teachers, or magnificent leaders of small groups. This led me to ask: what are my core values? What do I want my life based on? Who do I want to be? What will I be known for?

Through Chazown, I've come to learn that my core values are: servant leadership, personal growth, passion, learning, discovery, and confidence. Allow me to explain what these mean to me.

One of my core values is servant leadership. This matters to me because I believe you cannot be a leader unless you are first a servant. Jesus illustrated this by washing His disciples feet and by saying "The first will be last." I enjoy doing the small things no one else does, like washing dishes, being a gofer, doing behind-the-scenes work, and picking up someone else's messes (okay, I don't enjoy that last one, but I still do it). I believe that makes me a servant leader, because a true leader is one who leads by example.

Personal growth is definitely one of my core values. I love it when God teaches me things! When I grow spiritually, everyone can tell. It's pretty obvious because it's all over my face and body language. You can feel a sparkling energy from me because I'm excited about what God's been teaching me and I can't wait to tell people about it and other stuff I've learned from God. This year has been a year filled with personal growth from me. You must be constantly growing and changing into who God wants you to be. That may sound tiring and boring, but it's such a thrilling, exciting journey! I will never skip out on growing closer to God. I believe that if you don't grow hotter for God, the only other thing that happens is you grow colder; thus, personal growth is an absolute necessity.

Passion. Ah, this one is easy! Passion, enthusiasm, excitement, energy, hunger. That describes me perfectly when I'm on fire for God. To put it simply, I want more. More God, more wisdom, more purity, more integrity, more knowledge, more righteousness. And I'll do anything to get it! To explain my passion better, I advise you read a recent post titled Get The Rush. I believe that if you aren't passionate about God, you should strongly reconsider whether or not you know and love Him.

Discovery sort of fits in with learning. I enjoy discovering things about God's word that I didn't know before. I like to see what the Bible has to say on certian topics. I love the adventure and thrill of finding new things, of unearthing astounding, mind-boggling, faith-shattering, or humbling, quiet, still, soft verses in the Bible. When I find something new that I like, I underline it with my pencil. If it's really special, I put a dot at the beginning and end of the verse or passage to highlight it and show that I loved that section. I believe that without discovery, God's word and God Himself become bland, boring, and irrelevant, but with the passion of discovery, He becomes an adrenaline-rush packed full of joyous, unending surprises!

Last but certainly not least is Confidence. This core value is one that I feel most personal with. It's been a part of me since I was born. Arrogance, cockiness, and pride are the negative cousins of confidence. Those are the three qualities that defined me when I was younger. It wasn't until this past summer that they morphed into confidence, extreme confidence. Part of it is the teenage guy false reality that "nothing bad would ever happen to me; I'm invincible!", but part of it is just plain ole' confidence. I have the attitude of "Why wouldn't I skydive without a parachute and try to land in a swimming pool and survive, Mom? If I die, I go to heaven!" That's just me. I love to be bold, say bold things, act boldly. Confidence enables me to take pride in my King and have the bravery, bravado, and boldness to fight for Him. I don't fear death, I don't fear pain, I don't fear failure. I only fear losing my passion and thus my confidence in myself and in Him. I believe that without confidence, life is lived in a self-made prison; you must be confident to live life, to fail, to do extraordinary things.

So those are my core values. Those are the principles that I live and fight for. God's teaching me to be kind, compassionate, and pure. I plan on adding those to my list soon enough. I need to be able to confront someone without being judgemental. I need to be able to feel for someone else's pain or understanding of their situation, even when I don't care about them or don't know them. I need to learn how to rid my body and mind of sexual impurity. That's what God's teaching me now. What are your core values?

Epically Changed!

At the start of this year, I read all of the Psalms from Christmas to March. I stumbled, bumbled, and stuttered through Psalms, not truly paying attention to what was written. Parts stuck out to me, but I didn't walk away epically changed. Last week, I committed to reading through Psalms by reading eleven psalms a day until I finished the book.

Today is the seventh day of my reading, and tonight I will finished reading through chapter 77. Psalms feels different to read now. It feels alive, as if the words leaped off the page and into my heart and mind. I love to underline special or important or revolutionary verses in my Bible, and I have underlined dozens and dozens of verses in the first 66 chapters. When I sit and just read and meditate and underline, I feel God's presence. No matter what my day or morning has been like, I can sit down, open my Bible, and forget it all. I remember why I live for God. I remember why I choose purity, righteousness, integrity, and holiness. I remember why I shouldn't be jealous of non-Christians who get their own ways and get rich and are popular and cool and get the girl: "People who have wealth but lack understanding are like the beasts that perish." When I read Psalms, I am faithfully reminded why I choose to save my soul and lose my place in this world.

I particularly love the psalms written by King David. His passion, his righteousness, his utmost desire to be in God's presence humble me. His core values and life's dreams were intimacy with God, righteousness, holiness, integrity, worship, and justice. These qualities shaped him into the man he was. His life was based on being close to God and worshipping Him, having integrity and righteousness and holiness, and making sure the bad guys got what they deserved. It thrills me to read writings of Davis such as "Judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O Most High" or "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." Just six days in, I am beginning to be epically changed just by reading and paying attention to the writings and wisdom of Psalms.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Finding Your Chazown

Craig Groeschel is the pastor of, a multi-campus church that uses live streaming to broadcast sermons around the country. He has been the pastor of Life Church since 1996, when he started it. With many written books and hundreds of online video sermons under his belt, I love to listen to him. When I hear him, I can just feel God using him to speak to me.

This last week, I have watched many videos and read parts from most of his books. In Groeschel's book Chazown, he talks about a how people and individuals need a Chazown, which is Hebrew for vision, or dream. He quotes Proverbs 29:18, which says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." The point and theme of the book is to show readers what their life's purpose is. It's a book that shows you your core values, spiritual gifts, mission statement, life's purpose, and what you need to be doing in your life right now. I particularly enjoyed when Craig helped me find my core values, which led to me discovering what my spiritual gifts are. The best part is the online helper. There's an entire website for this book, complete with a six-step process designed to discovery your Chazown. I absolutely loved the online experience because through the six steps, I slowly became to realize what career God may be calling me to pursue. At the very least, I realized what my core values were and what truly, deeply, really makes me tick.

Pick up his book at your local Christian book store or go to to do the study for yourself. (you don't need to read the book before doing this study, I didn't, but reading the book helps).  I suggest you check it out! It's changed my perception of myself.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Then School Happened...

This past year, the dice rolled my way and I slowly caught fire for God. I was singing praise songs all the time, reading my Bible multiple times a day, learning how to pray, writing on my blog, and stepping into a leadership role at church, all at the age of 15. Life was great! I even had a best friend who was as on fire as I was, if not more. It's amazing how much that helped! Ecclesiastes 4 says, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up." When two close friends are both on fire for God, everyone notices. On the other hand, when two close friends lose their fire for God, everyone notices. This summer was one of the greatest times of my life, even though it had its low points. But then school happened.

Looking back on the 2010 Fall semester, I wasted most of it. I had a few high moments, but most moments were low. A good friend made a life-shattering decision, the youth ministry at church has slowly choked itself to death, and things seemed to have been darker, slower, and more frustrating in my life. Life just hasn't been upbeat, awesome, sunny, and unbelievably awesome, like this summer. And I hate that. I miss the summer days filled with great worship music, catchy pop music, staying up till 1 AM reading my Bible, and talking nonstop about God. I miss staying up all night at campfires discussing life with my best friend, or staying up till 3 AM at sleepovers discussing what we've been reading in the Bible lately. Life isn't the same since I lost fire for God. I love having integrity, righteousness, and a pure desire for God's presence so much more than anything else. I just wish I could remember that when it's critical to know that.

So in order to coax the fire back, I'm stretching my limits to read eleven Psalms a day until December 29th, the date I leave for Winter Camp. I started yesterday, and have read some Psalms today. I can already feel the fire beginning to kindle! I love reading of David's righteous anger towards wicked men, and of his pure desire to be in His presence, or of his integrity and holiness. Eleven Psalms a day is a huge task to undertake, but since school is over, I aim to hit this target. I need get back to the place where I'm so into God's word that I stay up till 2 AM. I need to talk with my best friend more about God so we can both get fired up again. I need to get back to place where all I care about is Him.

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Be Like Forest Gump

I bet you've never heard that before. "Be like Forest Gump." You have to have seen the movie to know what I mean. But there's a reason, a entirely spiritual reason to why we all need to be like Forest. But before I explain this, I'd like to first share with you part of my past. As Leonardo DeCaprio said numerous times in Inception, "There's something you must understand about me." When I was ten years old, I unwittingly stumbled across pornography. It twisted, changed, skewered, and morphed my young and innocent mind into a sick and lewd mind. You have to go through what I did to understand precisely what I mean. What I've done is in the past, and I'm trying to recover from it. I still slip up, but that's part of the recovering process. Unfortunately, those images are burned into my mind. I just have to simply try to think of them, and I can instantly think about almost every single image I ever saw online. I'm sure I spent hundreds of hours surfing webpage after webpage, and I can recall nearly every image. That's just the way guys are wired, and I know two dozen more young men who can vouch for what I'm saying. It's just how it is.

Sexual immorality is like an injury. I know injury can be an awkward word often reserves for big boo-boos or athletes, but sexal sin is like an injury. Picture yourself with a skull fracture. You have a head injury, and you desperately need recovery and healing, otherwise you'll die. A key step to healing is to protect that head injury. You must guard it, keeping infection and bad things away from it. If you guard it and look after it long enough, that fracture heals and it is better than new! Dealing with sexual sin is the exact same thing. When you become introduced to sexual immorality, your mind has been injury. If you want healing, you must guard youself, protect your mind, stay away from impurities lest you become infected with disease. How? How can you keep yourself from looking, doing, wishing, thinking?

Philippains 4:8 says, "Whatever is true... noble... right... pure... lovely... admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." That's saying to think about pure things, things that aren't lewd or impure. If you train yourself over time to focus on pure things, you'll become trained to not have sinful thoughts. There are a few good techniques to train yourself. First, you must be trained to bounce your eyes. This simply means to avoid looking. But why not look? After all, it's only window-shopping, I'm not buying! I'm only looking at the menu, I'm not ordering! Jesus said in Matthew 5:29, "If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away." Kind of gross, right? I hope He wasn't being literal, otherwise I would be eye-less. He was encouraging us to not even look, because looking is the start of a downward spiral. The second is to replace evil thoughts with good ones. Jesus stated, "I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

Here is where we must be like Forest. Paul wrote that we should "flee from sexual imorality." Flee! Run, get away, take a walk, clear your head, turn off the TV, unplug the computer, sit at a different table. Do whatever it takes to stay away from sexual immorality. Run, Christians, run.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sin Isn't Real

God is a pretty cool guy. You know, if it weren't for Him, we literally wouldn't even exist. Nothing would. But for some reason beyond human comprehension, God did create us. The problem began when sin became a concept. What is sin? My friend Matt explains sin not as "something", but a lack of Something. Sin isn't real. Sin is the result of a lack of connection with God. Now everyone suffers from an epidemic, a sinful nature that isn't connected to God.

How can this be fixed? Is there a way to be connected to God? The great news is yes, there is! Thankfully, God came down and took on a human form and sacrificed Himself so that we can finally be connected to Him. The bad news is that sin still exists. The really bad news is that many people in the American church have lost a sense as to how they can be connected to God. Does going to church make you a Christian? Are you a Christian if you live a basically good life? If I do the ABCs, will that make me a Christian? Can you accept Christ and then live life however you want to?

Paul explained it pretty simply. In Romans 2:6-8, he wrote, "God 'will repay each person according to what they have done.' To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger."

It's pretty simple. Die to self, accept truth, follow Jesus, do good, seek glory, seek honor, and seek immorality. To top it off, Jesus also said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself." So there you go! This is how to be connected to God. I suggest with every fiber of my being that you follow these commands, dear brethren!

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Lesbian Coach

In Nashville, a hot topic is the previous women’s soccer coach of Belmont University. It recently came out that she was a lesbian, and the couple was expecting a child. The university and the coach both came to a mutual agreement that she should step down from her coaching position. This decision has been met with waves of opposition and protests. Students are demanding their coach back. Many people are crying out against the removal of the coach, not wanting her to be "judged" because of her sexual orientation. Even a member of the school board heavily criticized the school, saying the school should  "act like Christians." He also said, "Belmont has to decide whether they want to be a national recognized university -- particularly with their school of music business -- or they want to be a church." Opposition is coming from everywhere. Students, gays and lesbians, a man on the school board, and the news are all speaking out against the school's decision. I am not writing to simply report this, or even air my own opinions, but to find out what the right decision was for Belmont.
In dozens of places, the Bible says to stay away from perversion, shun sexually impure people, and expel the immoral brother. God explained that we need to stay away from people like this not because we are better holier than them, but so that their evil lifestyles don't impair our walk with Jesus. There's a reason why we shouldn't listen to atheists on philosophical matters: if we listen to their reasoning long enough, we begin to question our own reasoning. In the same way, we should avoid, even run away, from people who live such lewd lifestyles as gays or lesbians. When I was in middle school, I hung out with many perverted guy friends who enjoyed lusting, cursing, drugs, and overall badness. The more I spent time with them, the more I did the things they did. When a good child is mixed in with many bad children, the bad children don't change. Who changes? The one good kid changes almost every single time.
Imagine this headline: A Christian private school has a lesbian coach. While it seems that it would be tolerant of Christians to do this, I think it'd be a sin to let this happen. If a school really is a Christian school, it ought to be run in a Christian way, with Christian leaders, with Christian principles and morals and standards. Just as a church wouldn't hire a gay pastor, worship leader, Sunday School teacher, so a Christian school should not hire a gay coach. The goal of a Christian school should be to provide opportunities for students to learn and grow in the ways of Jesus. That means the leaders of the school should be prepared for this and ready to shine the light of God to the students of the school. Someone may counter by saying, "Just because it's a Christian school doesn't mean everyone's a Christian." I agree. But shouldn't the leaders? The people with power, control, influence? It isn't right for a school with a specific goal to hire a person who's personal goals and lifestyle directly conflict the goals of the school. The school might as well hire a painter to teach a class on mathematics. The school would be hiring a teacher who's personal goals and lifestyle conflict with the purpose of the class. That's crazy! It makes no sense at all. So why would a Christian university hire or retain a lesbian coach? That too would be crazy.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

When A Church's Focus Is Off

Let's be honest, most churches in America are really trying to do what God wants, but go about it in the wrong way. It's obvious that it is important to have people in the church, and and as a result, many churches fall into the trap of prioritizing "more people." The thought process becomes, "If we just had a new sign (or youth pastor, or music minister, or church building), people would come!" Soon enough, the priority becomes doing whatever it takes to get more people to come, because that's what God wants, right? Right??

A common sin here is compromise. We make small, sublte changes in the way we preach, sing, teach, talk, love, just because we think more people will come if we change enough to satisfy their tastes. This has been a common trend throughout the ages. I think the "ABCs of becoming a Christian" were created as a result of this. People wanted a simple way to get into heaven, so the church made up the ABCs to make Christianity sound easy and painless. But it's not. In fact, it's hard, bloody, tempting, painful, and oh so worth it. It's like if a professional football team wanted more players, and advertised that playing in the NFL was super easy, painless, required no training or dedication, and you got paid handsomely, and they did this to draw people off the streets. It's silly! It would never work! Playing pro football demands hundreds of man hours of dedication, pints of blood, and gallons of sweat. It's so hard, so challenging. Not everyone can do it. In fact, most people can't.

Most people can't be Christians either. Jesus told us this. He stated that most would miss the path that leads to eternal life. So why do churches make it so important to focus on "everyone"? The focus should be on mentoring, discipling, teaching those who care, who are there and ready to learn, those who want to be there. The church would be better off if we stopped worrying so much about those who aren't there and made it a priority to love on those who are. Please don't misread this post and walk away thinking that I said to stop caring about the lost, those who haven't heard the Good News. I'm saying that the church has the tendancy to place focus on those they cannot help and neglect those who are there and willing to be helped. Focus on those ready and willing and help them! Love them! Mentor them! Disciple them! Tell them about the love they can find in God! Do it without regret or hesitation and give your all for them!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ever Read Leviticus?

Christians love to read their Bibles. Some of the most loved books in the Bible are Genesis, Psalms, Proverbs, John, James, 1 Peter, Revelation, and most of Paul's letters. Just as there are preferred books, there are also books in the Bible that most people either dislike to read or have never read them. Up until last Spring, I didn't want to read any of the Old Testament. I guess it was just part of my rebellious spirit to not like the Old Testament, which I viewed as old, cliche, and boring.

A flaw in my thinking was that the Old Testament was unhelpful and inconsequential to me, a sixteen year old boy in high school. Again, I was proven wrong by reading it for myself. Recently, a friend mentioned that Leviticus was a very "interesting" book to read. My curiosity instantly spiked, and I began to read it. Parts of the book were very cool and fun to read (at least for a teenage boy), a few parts were very boring, and a few parts made me cringe with disgust. Then I read through chapter 19 yesterday morning.

In this chapter, God speaks through Moses to the entire assembly of Israel. God tells His people various laws that they must follow. Some laws are irrelevant to us today, but some are quite powerful. Verse 11 says, "Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another." Verse 12 tells the Israelites not to swear falsely by God's name. Verse 13 says not to defraud or rob your neighbor.  The following verse says to have mercy and respect for the deaf and blind, and treat them kindly. After this, God says, "Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favortism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly." Next, God says to not spread slander or gossip, and to do nothing that would endanger the life of your neighbor. Verse 17 says, "Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt." The next verse commands, "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself."

While it's obvious that some parts of Leviticus are rather irrelevant to us today, such as what to do with bad slaves, why to not sacrifice children to Molech, and how we're to purify ourselves by sacrificing animals. But it's still important to read boring old books of the Bible like this one so we can know the history of Israel, learn from their mistakes and successes, and see how God led them.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Time To Tell!

Evangelism is an essential part of being a Christian. It's as important as recruitment is to the military. Without new recruits, the Army couldn't continue it's operations. While God would not simply stop existing because people stopped believing in Him (He isn't like Santa), one of Jesus' last commands was to recruit soldiers for God's army from all nations.

Last summer, my youth ministry-to-be traveled to New Smyrna Beach for a mission trip. It was our summer camp, and the theme was extemporaneous evangelism. We set out in small groups to evangelize to anyone we saw on the beach. I'll never forget walking up to those people and asking them if I could talk to them about Jesus. For a fourteen-year-old, it is heart-pounding to walk to a middle-aged lady and ask her on the spot about her spiritual beliefs. I had two friends with me for this particular conversation, but they were too timid to speak, so I felt as if the pressure was entirely on me to make sure this lady knew Jesus. The adrenaline pumping through my body, blood flushing my cheeks and ears, I stuttered, "Ma'am, may I ask you a few questions about your spiritual beliefs?" Luckily, she replied, "Of course, son, what is it?"  I stumbled through my partially memorized Way of the Master evangelism technique. Fortunately for me, this particular lady claimed to already be a Christian and to have followed Jesus for years. She helped calm my fears by adding, "I'm so proud of you kids for doing this! I wish I was brave enough to do this sometimes."

My youth pastor repeatedly made this conversation an example to us. He argued against this lady's belief system, that we should always look for opportunities to recruit soldiers for God's army. Unfortunately, the American church has become too much like the recruitment staff of the military. Maybe you've seen the military's adds on TV. Perhaps you've even seen their billboards beside the highway, or their adds in the local paper. There's a chance you've even noticed their stores in shopping centers. Those stores are their local recruitment centers; they're where you go to apply to defend our great country's freedom. Much to my dismay, the American church has adopted this system of recruitment. We'll advertise on TV, beside the highway, and in the paper, and we'll even go as far as to be at our church building. But we rarely go any further. We sit in our churches and wait for the world to come to us. But why would the world come to church if they think the church is a scam, filled with hypocrytes, a bunch of disillusioned dreamers, or no different than they are?

If we think that we can convert to the military's form of recruitment and obey Jesus at the same time, we are miserably incorrect. We can only help people if we go out and help them! Take action and tell the world that Jesus lives!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Where Is Beauty?

As Americans, we live in a country immersed in narcissism, greed, and lust. Television, magazines, internet, music, billboards, and movie screens all agree that beauty is found in the skin. The American media portrays the perfect person to be skinny, muscular, attractive, and sexy. But is this really what beauty is? To find the answer, we must turn to the Truth and ask Him. In 1 Samuel 16, Samuel the judge was searching for Israel’s new king. With the Lord’s guidance, he went to the house of Jesse. It says, “When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.’ But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’” As we all know, Samuel anointed David as king, and David went on to become “a man after God’s own heart.” David had true beauty because his beauty was found within.

The book of Proverbs states that women who were beautiful inside were to be valued more. In chapter 31, verse 30, the writer declares, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Even if a woman was outwardly unattractive, as long as she feared the Lord and devoted her entire life to God, she was more praiseworthy and worth loving. A very wise person once said, “You don't love a woman because she is beautiful, but she is beautiful because you love her.”

Even Jesus, the Son of God, Savior of mankind, Creator of the universe, was not outwardly beautiful. In Isaiah chapter 53, the prophet Isaiah foretold, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him Perhaps you have heard of David Crowder Band. The lead singer, David Crowder, has a reputation for being a magnificent wordsmith and wonderful orchestrator of worship. He is one of the most likeable and well-known individuals in the Christian music industry. Have you ever seen him? He is notorious for being very unappealing on the outside. But does this change who he is? No. He is who he is because his beauty is found within.

As humans, we have the penchant to believe false perceptions. God knew this about us, and warned us when he came in the form of Jesus. John 7:24 quotes Jesus to say, “’Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.’” Outward beauty changes and evolves through time. It is unreliable. You cannot marry someone simply because they look good, because eventually, old age will snatch their beauty away. We must love people for who they are on the inside. Otherwise, it is impossible to truly love them. If what you see with the eye doesn’t please you, then close your eyes and see with the heart, because the heart can see beauty and love more than the eyes can ever wonder. True beauty is found within.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Stepping Out or Closing In

Every been inspired to do something great, but then chickened out? Me too. It happens all the time. When I get that feeling that I should do something, like tell someone about a problem I've been having, or tell someone about Jesus, seeds of doubt form. What pursues is a battle between good and evil. Will I follow what can only be God's leading hand, or succumb to fear and do nothing?

Nelson Mandela once said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

It's hard for me to follow up after this quote, for this is such a powerfully riveting quote. Mandela tells us that our playing small helps nobody. In other words, when we give in to fear and don't believe in ourselves, we're actually hurting people and ourselves. He also said that when we let our own light shine, we unconcsciously give other people persmission to do the same. In my youth ministry, it often happens that my youth pastor will ask a question and no one will answer... until one brave soul meekly gives his answer. Then another, encouraged by his brother in Christ, is able to speak up and answer. The snow ball effect soon begins to roll, and many students want to share their answers. It all started with one who decided to let his own light shine.

Who are you not to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, or famous? Don't give in to the sterotypes that restrict you from becoming you God wants you to be. Step out, and don't let yourself close in. So stand up! Use your voice! Be strong! And you'll release your own light, and in the process, allow those around you do to the same.

We're Just a Bunch of Freaks

Sunday afternoon, I was home by myself. I had eight or so hours to myself, and I spent that all my time watching TV. Please don't think I'm lazy; my family had spent every day this past week except Thanksgiving day remodeling our youth room. It's exhausting, disgusting work since no one has cleaned the youth room in three years, and haven't done anything to fix the place up in five or six years. So while my lunatic family went down Sunday to work (yes, they worked seven of eight days), I opted to stay home, work on schoolwork, and watch TV.

One of the movies I watched was the last part of the latest installment in the Bring It On series. I have long mocked that movie series for being stupid cheerleader movies. But a new girl at church often quotes these movies, and just so I could understand what she meant when quoting them, I decided to watch one. Certain parts made me regret it, but one scene stood out to me. For those who haven't seen this movie, two arch-rival cheer squads have to combine in order to compete in the championship cheer competitions. These male and female cheer squads hate each other, but combine simply out of desire to win. They try to mix and work together, but the chemistry isn't there and they are about to give up. But then, the cheer captain for one the squads, a firey girl with outstanding leadership qualities, whose name was Carson, confessed she was afraid to compete. It was her idea to combine the two squads, and most looked to her as the leader and bravest one there. But she was afraid? Yeah, she was. Then someone else stood up and confessed something huge. Then another. And another. And another. Because of some awkward things that were confessed, one girl commented, "Man, we're just a bunch of freaks." Carson, however, viewed things differently. She said that they were all actually alike. They weren't really that different from each other. As this dawned on the large group of cheerleaders, they decided to win the championship with each other, no matter how much they disliked each other. In the end, they won, and they all became best friends. Typical movie ending.

So this left me thinking, I wish the church was like this. No, not that I want the church to be a bunch of foul-mouthed, scantily-clad cheerleaders. But I wish we could all confess things to each other. In the movie, once everyone's cat was out of the bag, they could get to know each other for who they really were and appreciate each person in a way they couldn't before. In all my time at church, nothing like this has ever happened. There have been smaller cases, where we went around the room and all shared some sin with each other, but nothing reputation-shattering or absolutely outstanding. What happened if we all did that, though? Yeah, we'd all be a bunch of freaks. So what? What if in youth this Sunday, something like the scene in the movie happened? What if you found out someone in your youth was once raped, or once stole a car, or is addicted to masturbation, or has been drunk before?  I'm sure it'd be awkward to know this. I picture myself sitting awkwardly, staring at the floor. What would we do? How could we respond?

I think this is what it means to be real. To be open. If we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable and confess ourselves to our friends and youth groups, hopefully we wouldn't be dubbed "freaks", but instead people could know us better. The mask would be ripped off, and we could be us for the first time.


My church has collectively read through the book of Acts together. We read a chapter a day for the month of November, or we read it in bits and pieces, but the point is we all read it. Many people, myself included, had never read Acts as if it were a story. We were all happily surprised to find out that Acts was actually fun, fast-paced, and page-turning (if you think I'm crazy, you probably haven't read Acts like it was a story). This was baffling to me, because when I had read random snip-it's and chapters of Acts in the past, it was all just okay and somewhat boring. I experienced this same enigma last summer when I was challenged to read three chapters of John a day for three weeks. I had no idea how interesting, fun, and page-turning John was! It was also the first time I had faithfully read, I mean really read, my Bible. But it wasn't the last. Except for a few week-long dry spells, it's been hard to not read my Bible each day. Once I realized how powerful, exhilarating, and influential the Words of God were to my life, I couldn't help but read them.

Through my reading-based studies of sections of the Bible, I have realized something. When you read a specific section of the Bible as it were written instead of in random, broken pieces, it becomes even more alive. In the past, I had read all of John, but not in order. Sure, parts of John were fun to read, but it was all a giant bore. But once I had read all of John in order in a short amount of time, it leaped off the page. What happens is we read a specific verse, take John 3:16 for example, without the supporting verses to support it. When I see John 3:16 on a poster or billboard, it seems lifeless. But what happens when I read the first two chapers, the previous 15 verses, then the rest of chapter 3? John 3:16 leaps off the page. I love it when this happens! When something leaps off the page, it tens to slap me in the face, or numb me with stark realization, or shake me to pieces. The impression left upon you from the verses and chapters surrounding that one verse elevate that verse's meaning and importance in an incredible fashion that only God can have a hand in.

When you listen to the radio, you'll hear songs called "singles." These are songs that come from an album, which carries around a dozen songs on average. Let's say you've heard three or four radio singles by one specific band over the years, and think you know that band. But when you pick up that band's last album, the music is totally different than on the radio. Why? Because the radio singles were the only songs on that album that were "radio songs."

It's the same with the Bible. We can read a verse or a chapter and think we know it, but until we've read the few chapters before and after, we really don't know. We have to read and study the Bible in it's entirety, or we can't know the Bible.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Brave Young Boy in Acts

I recently read through all of Acts. As I read through it, I realized there were parts of Acts that I had not ever read. The first thing was that I had not read through Acts in sequence. Reading a book of the Bible in chapteral order makes it an entirely different experience than if you read it in broken sections. I also read Stephen's speech for the first time. In times past, I had simpley skimmed or skipped it. I was amazed at the powerful truth behind the martyr-to-be's words. I also noted for the first time that Stephen was one of the seven men in charge of food distribution. Luke, the writer of Acts, spoke highly of Stephen's faith when listing the seven men. In chapter 23, when Paul is inprisoned, I learned of a young boy who saved Paul's life. Paul's nephew, the son of his sister, heard the plot and saved Paul's life. If this little boy didn't have the bravery to go and tell Paul and later the centurion, Paul would have been assassinated, and would never have written letters to many churches while in prison. Think about that. Because a young boy happened to overhear a plot on Paul's life, Paul was able to write half of the New Testament. Is that God or what?