Monday, September 26, 2011

Losing A Friend

Today, I buried one of my best friends. Our cat, Mika, has passed away. He was diagnosed with a tumor back in June and his death was long and slow. He was a Bengal, a mix between a domestic short hair and something else. He had a beautiful brown coat with black spots and a yellow belly with black spots, and two huge vibrant green eyes. He was a big-boned cat, weighing about twenty-one pounds earlier this summer. We noticed he was sick when he began to eat less and less. Mika always loved to eat, and would even eat the dog's food if he could get away with it. He stopped eating almost altogether over the past four or five weeks and weighed less than nine pounds when we buried him. Holding him in my arms this morning, he felt about four or five pounds- though I didn't get on a scale with him to make it official. He literally became skin and bones. In the past few days, he became so weak that he couldn't walk straight. This morning, he couldn't sit up without our help. Many of our friends remember him for his loud meow. He had a meow that was almost as loud as a dog's bark. He could howl. His meow, in the past few days, became like that of a new kitten's: weak and soft. He spent his final days laying down, unable to get up.

It was really hard watching him deteriorate. He slept on my bed last night and I laid with him most of the morning, so I was with him a lot. Although he passed away around 5pm, and although I was at work at the time, I feel like I spent up to his last minutes with him. As I sat watching him, I could tell he would die within hours. His liver shut down, evidenced by the yellow-ness around his mouth and in his ears. He couldn't sit up by himself. His meow was soft and pained. He couldn't rest comfortably for very long; he had to try to sit up or move to a different position in order to be comfortable. And he didn't want to be alone. If we left him alone for more than twenty minutes, he would cry (meow) until one of us came and sat by him. I mentioned earlier that he was skin and bones. When I rubbed him, I felt no fat or muscle. It was all bones. His hip bones, spine, shoulders, legs, head, neck, tail, they all were just skin on bones. It was so hard to see Mika like that, especially when we were used to see a twenty-two pound fatty cat. And he was so weak that he couldn't hold his head up long. When he tried, his head would just slowly lower itself till it touched the ground. Then he would sit there with his head in an unnatural position, mostly because he had no strength to do anything about it. And his eyes began to deteriorate. I can't really explain it, but it looked as if some unseen bug was chewing away at his eyes. As the hours passed, the clear part of his eye- the sclera (look it up on Google to see what I mean) just simply deteriorated. It's so hard to explain. And hard to look at. His eyes were yellow-ish and damaged upon his death. His death was long, slow, and painful. But at least I got the chance to say good-bye.

But I don't want to leave you on a sad, morbid note. That simply isn't the type of writer I aspire to be. I know Mika's death is part of the circle of life. I don't feel betrayed or abandoned by or angry with God. I just know that everything dies eventually. That said, I grew up with my cat. I remember as a four-five year old bringing him home for the first time. We moved twice- both to different states- in my childhood, so Mika was and still is one of my best friends. He was sort of an anchor that I could hold on to. He was somebody that had been there almost my whole life- something I can't say about any other friend, because of the moves. It's times like these- the rough times, the hard times, the sad times- when I remember Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." I am a son of God, and I love Him more than anything else. I know He works for my good, even if I can't see it. 

Despite of my friend's death, God has been teaching me something through this: life is valuable. I think as a teenager, I take life for granted. I haven't lost anyone close to me or had a friend die tragically. I've lost a grandparent- but I didn't even know him that well. I think life is so much more valuable than I have been treating it. But I will save that thought for another post. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Help Improve My Idolatry Speech!

I have the awesome opportunity to teach tomorrow night in youth! I'm teaching the third week of a four week series titled Messed Up!. The series addresses several of Jesus' counter-cultural teachings, and my lesson so happens to be about idolatry. I'll be talking about why we should cut off our hands and feet and gouge out our eyes if they cause us to sin (not literally... just clarifying). My text is Mark 9:42-27, which says,

"And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell."

I'm going to first explain a little what idols are and who idolaters are, why idols are bad, what the Bible has to say about idols and idolaters, how to remove an idol from your life, and why Jesus is worth giving up our idols for.

I'm still working on my speech material, so if anyone has any advice, suggestions, warnings, encouragements, or anything else to add, please do so! That's really the point behind this post. So if you have something to say, comment it up!

If you've been reading my blog long enough (which really only fellow blogger Ashley Jones has done), you'll recall my idolatry post from over a year ago. Here's the link. I've incorporated most of what I said in that post into my message. Check that out and give me your feedback on it too.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Trust: Faith, Hope, & Love

If there was a way for you to see your future-find out who you'd marry, where you'd live, what you'd do for a living-would you? I wouldn't. That would take all the fun out of growing up! Aristotle said something to the extent of, "Youth live in anticipation, and the old live in memory." In other words, the youth live in anticipation of their future, dreaming about what their lives will be like. And old folk spend their time living in memories, remembering what they've done, where they've gone, and who they've met over the course of their long lives. I think if youth learned their future, they'd lose motivation and hope.

Honestly, I have no desire to see into the future. Those are just things man shouldn't learn. I don't want to know who my future wife is, what job I'll have, where I'll live, what my kids will be like, or anything else. Why? Because what if it turns out that I die in a car wreck in three years? Or what if I find out that America gets destroyed by foreign armies in two years? Or what would I do with myself if I find out that in two months, most of the world's population is killed by a incurable virus? I wouldn't want to live with that kind of knowledge! 

But let's be real: most of us (okay, all of us) will never have a chance to know the future. So why am I even talking about it? Because I think most of us, especially teenagers, desperately wish to know the future. Have you ever asked God to reveal your future spouse to you? Or have you asked God to place a neon sign on the college He wants you to go to (but you pray this in middle school)? I have. And in conversations with several of my friends, they have similar desires. But if knowing the future is so bad, why do we want to know?

I think part of it is because we all want to control our little worlds. And part of it is that no one enjoys living in uncertainty. The anxiety, the nerves, the apprehension: it can all get to be a bit too much at time. We think it'd be nice to have a "Easy" button to press when the uncertainty becomes too over-whelming. I know many girls who are afraid they will never get married; they're afraid no one will ever fall in love with them. I know some guys that are afraid of death. I know some people who are afraid of failing. But the thing is: God has a purpose in our uncertainty. Without worry and fear and uncertainty, we'd have no reason to trust God. We need God to trust God. We need him because we can't control our futures; He does. We need him because we're scared and afraid of what the future might hold; but He tells us in Jeremiah 29:11, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" We need him because He is the only one who can help us through whatever is in our future. We need Him because He is a strong fortress, a strong tower, that we can run to in times of trouble and need.

I've learned to trust God in some areas, and I'm learning to trust Him in others. I used to be afraid that I would never have a girl like me or think I was attractive. I've overcome that fear because I rest in His comfort. I used to be afraid that I might somehow miss my future wife. But my belief is that if God has a young woman picked out for me, and if He's chosen me for that same young woman, then He wouldn't let us miss each other. If it's God's will that we be married, then I'm pretty sure He would see to it that we meet. I'm learning to be content with God. I know, I know, that sounds silly. But there are times when I'd rather follow my will because it seems to have more to offer. Those times never end well for me and I end up wishing I had trusted God. So I'm learning to be content and trust His plan and His timing more than my own.

I come back to Jeremiah 29:11. God knows the plans He has for us. He has plans to prosper us, not to harm us, and plans to give us hope and a future. I rest in that promise when the going gets tough. To me, trust means three things: faith, hope, and love. Faith, because we need to trust in God's planning and faithfulness. Hope, because if we keep our eyes His promise (Jer. 29:11), our trust, faith, and joy will grow. Love, because God is love; because love covers a multitude of sins; because God commanded us to love God and love others; because "these three remain: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

This is a video I discovered at Life Action this summer. It's really powerful, so please take the time to watch it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

True Love Awaits Those Who Wait

I recently had a conversation with fellow blogger Ashley ( about our most viewed posts. My most popular post is True Love Awaits. I noticed a theme in my Top Five Most Viewed Posts: three are about dating. And upon further research, I've noticed that my posts about dating or purity far exceed my other posts in comments and views. I really don't know what makes those posts so popular.

But I noticed a weird irony. If one looked at all my posts about dating and purity, it'd be all too easy to assume that since I'm so passionate about it, I don't struggle with a desire to date or lust. And people often look at the fact that I've never kissed a girl and I'm still a complete virgin and just assume that I must not really struggle with it if I'm still physically pure. Nothing is further from the truth. I do struggle with that stuff. I really struggle with it. Just read my last post A Hopeless, Foolish Romantic and you'll see. I struggle with being impatient for marriage. I struggle with keeping my eyes and thoughts pure. I struggle with not trusting God to provide for me and wanting to take things into my own hands. It's really hard to stay pure in today's world. It's really hard to not have someone at my side when romance and sexuality is everywhere in the American culture. It's hard to trust God.

Why am I telling you this? I want to be open and honest with my readers. I don't want to mislead anyone. That said, I'm not saying I embrace a sexually charged lifestyle or find it "too hard" to trust God, or anything like that! I am a teenage guy and I am not immune. My pastor told me one time, "As a teenager, lust is going to happen. You just have to keep it down as much as possible."

I mentioned earlier my post True Love Awaits. When I saw that True Love Awaits was my most viewed and most commented on post, it reminded me of something I said in that post. I was talking about how "True Love Waits" is the common engravement on purity rings. I said, "Why can't the cliche be True Love Awaits? In my opinion, true love awaits both husband and wife if both have saved themselves for marriage. It isn't that you can't love your spouse if you've lost your virginity, but saving your sexuality for marriage means you've cared about sexual purity your whole life. I'd say that's a very bold statement! So while there is complete redemption and forgiveness for those who have squandered their purity away, true love awaits those who purposefully save their bodies until marriage." I believe that sexual purity is important enough to save until marriage. If you truly love your future spouse, you'll wait. If you truly want to be faithful to God, then wait. If you plan on not kissing others when you're married, don't be kissing others before you're married. If you plan on not sleeping around when you have a spouse, don't be sleeping around before marriage. I can testify that sexual immorality offers only death.

Read Proverbs 6:20-7 and Romans 8:5-8 if you don't believe me. There is nothing but death in that lifestyle. There is life and peace if you stay the course (Rom. 8:6). 1 Corinthians 6:15-17 says, "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit." This all comes back to what I said earlier: if you plan on being faithful in marriage, be faithful before marriage. Otherwise, you're playing the prostitute and fooling yourself. It's also true (at least in Tennessee) that it's illegal for two minors (18 and under) to have sex. If the girls' parents press charges, the boy can face jail time for rape, if found guilty in a court of law. Scary thought, right? Is it worth it? Is sex worth being locked up for months, even a few years, of your life? And even if you think you could get away with it, do you really think your conscience would be gracious? Imagine a life trying to hide your sin. You'd be constantly looking over your shoulder, always thinking you're about to be caught. And not to mention the dirty, guilty, ashamed feeling you would always have. Or worse, you may do it so many times that your conscience shuts down and sexual impurity would become normal, even good, to you. Now you see why the Bible calls it death. So when you think about it, is it worth it to steal a few kisses, do everything except intercourse, or even have sex? Is it really worth it? Look at the consequences you face.

It's hard to choose between purity and impurity; both are hard on the body and mind and both have their costs and benefits. Count the costs and consider which path is best. If you need help deciding, remember that Jesus is life and sin is death. Jesus is also God, and God is love, and you don't find true love in the arms of a prostitute. Purity is life. Choose life.

Earlier this summer, my parents bought me a purity ring. It has "True Love Awaits" engraved on it. I now daily and boldly wear my unique ring, and it's a great conversation starter. People always take double-glances at the unexpected "a" before "waits." I love explaining my theory of "true love awaits." If you love him/her, wait. But even if that isn't motivation enough, just look at what Scripture has to say about the consequences sexual impurity; it isn't pretty. My friends, purity is simply the best way to go. So the next time you get tempted or impatient or afraid for your future, remember that true love awaits those who wait.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Hopeless, Foolish Romantic

I've been battling a lot of envy and impatience lately. I haven't trusted in God as much as I need to. I admit, some days are harder than others, and today was one of those days: Today, for some unexplainable reason, I woke up and just wanted to be in love. I know, I know: I'm a hopeless, foolish romantic. I (sometimes) call myself stupid, too. I want so badly to be in love and be in a covenant of marriage with the love of my life (I still have no idea who "she" is). I wrestle back and forth with this. Part of me points out that I'm only 16 and I need to focus on school and following God, not romance. The other part argues that I turn seventeen in two and a half weeks and that twenty-thirty years ago, the typical marrying age was late teens. (In case you were wondering, the average age to get married is now around twenty-five.)

I've noticed that a common downfall of youth is an impatience to wait on the future. We want so bad to do adult-things, like driving, owning a apartment/house, being married, having kids, etc., that we foolishly rush into these things before we're ready for them. I know teenagers who recklessly drive their cars as if they were go-carts. I know girls who have intentionally had babies, because they think it's fun and easy to take care of babies and they think a baby is just a super-cool doll. I'm not kidding. I know several kids who have run away from home, or gotten married at seventeen, or whatever. It just doesn't seem right! If you aren't old enough to buy alcohol or buy paint at Home Depot (Believe it or not, you have to be 18 or older to buy paint from Home Depot), you certainly shouldn't be getting married. Sure, people got married at younger ages decades ago, but that was decades ago! Times have vastly changed now. I hear some teenagers argue that back in Bible days, girls got married at thirteen. That's well and all, but that's 2,000-6,000 years ago. These teenagers have no concept of how things have changed! And a lot of my friends argue that their parents were married at seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, whatever. Let's say those parents got married twenty-thirty years ago. In 1975 (31 years ago), did you know that the founders of Facebook, YouTube, and Google weren't even born yet? Starbucks was still a local chain in Seattle and Wal-Mart was a small retailer. Fed-Ex, Dell, and Staples didn't even exist yet! And that's just thirty years ago.

I'm not blogging just to get on my soapbox. Really, I'm just preaching to myself as much as anyone else. My parents were eighteen and nineteen and in college when they were wed. But I know that I probably won't be ready for such an important, lifelong commitment in one-two years. Maybe. Maybe. (Hopefully!!!) But probably not. I've got too much growing and maturing to do.

But that doesn't stop me from dreaming about her. I probably think about her dozens of times a day. Some days, it's so bad that I analyze my girl friends considering if they might be her. I'm terribly ashamed to say I've made a mental list of possible candidates. When my mind wanders to thoughts of marriage, I begin to imagine what my love story would be like is "so-and-so" were my wife. Would it sound like, "We met when I was fifteen. I thought she was cute; she found me annoying. After three years, we fell in love..." Or maybe like, "We met for the first time in college. We were paired up for a class assignment and soon fell in love..." Or could it sound like, "We worked together/went to school together/went to camp together and fell in love..." That list I mentioned has around ten girls on it. That shows how much I know about who she is! The possibilities are endless and torturous! It's hopeless foolishness.

As I mentioned at the beginning, today was especially hard. I don't know why. But it was. So I got on my knees before God, held up my purity in both hands (like the scene in the Lion King...), and told God that my future, my marriage, and my love story are in His hands. He is the ultimate story-teller and would do a much better job at writing my love story than I would. I'm tired of trying to figure it all out on my own. It isn't my job. I believe that when I am when, when she is ready, and when it's God's timing, He won't fail to make it obvious to both of us. 'Til then, it's my job to stay pure, stayed devoted to God, and continue build my life's foundation on the Rock. Isn't that the best way to use my Single Years?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Purposeful Romance

What is courtship?

Whenever someone asks me what courtship is, I always suggest reading Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship by Joshua Harris. One of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors, Boy Meets Girl challenges its readers to rethink romance. Harris explains his decision to hold on romance until he was ready for marriage. Taking it even a step further, he challenges his readers to evaluate the right way to romance.

Everyone has all kinds of questions about romance. How will I meet my spouse and get married? When is the right time for romance? How will I know if he/she is my future spouse? How do I have a Godly romantic relationship? What’s appropriate and inappropriate for a pre-marital relationship? That's the intent behind this post: to explore these questions and to re-introduce a new way to romance. You'll see me reference Boy Meets Girl quite often. That’s because this book has unparallel wisdom in romance. And from now on, you'll hear me refer to courtship as "purposeful romance" and to dating as "recreational romance." I'll explain why later on.

So what is courtship? Is it “Christian dating”, an old-fashioned custom, or something entirely different? In Boy Meets Girl, Harris wrote, "Courtship is a relationship between a man and a woman who are actively and intentionally together to consider marriage" (p. 27). Keeping in mind our new definition of courtship (purposeful romance), we understand that courtship is a romantic relationship with a defined purpose and intent. You enter into a courtship with "the very clearly stated purpose of finding out of God would have us marry" (BMG, p. 27). That's quite different than the way the vast majority of young people do romance today in America, isn't it? Most "romance" that I've seen is recreational romance. Recreational relationships form because of selfishness, adrenaline, and convenience. Courtship isn’t romance for the fun of it or to satisfy sinful, curious desires. It isn’t a romance based on adrenaline or convenience. It isn’t based on feelings or selfish desires. And if you start a relationship based for these reasons, it’ll surely fail, and more than likely end with drama, heartache, and shamed regret. Don’t you think God has something better in store for us than recreational romance?

Most people have a misconception that courtship is an old-fashioned, unattractive, boring way to do a relationship. Harris, speaking of his own courtship-turned-marriage, wrote, "Were the feelings there? You bet! Our courtship was an unforgettable time of growing to love each other passionately. But we weren't simply trying to get swept up in our emotions. Instead, we were letting our feelings grow naturally out of our deepening respect, friendship, and commitment to one another. Setting a clear course for a defined season of courtship helped us keep from rushing into involvement with our hearts and bodies before we had time to get to know each other's mind and character" (BMG, p. 28). Therefore, courtships are meant to be a time in which you deepen your friendship and respect for the other person. Adhering to the concept “friendship first, romance later,” the relationship is clearly defined with the intent of figuring out of it's God's will for the two of you to marry. You start the relationship with the purpose of answering the question, “Are we meant to be together?” Harris remembers, "For us the season of courtship was a wonderful time in our relationship in which we refrained from physical intimacy, deepened our friendship, learned about each other's values and goals, and interacted on a spiritual level. We asked a lot of questions. We went on dates. We grew closer to each other and ultimately grew to love one another deeply" (BMG, p. 27). God didn’t design romance to boring. He intended for us to deeply enjoy it! He wants us to be head over heels in love with our (future) spouses. He wants us to revel in the satisfaction of being emotionally, spiritually, and physically one. He designed us to work that way.
But such wonderful relationships aren’t effortless. “Success doesn’t come without effort.” We must apply wisdom to our relationships. Think of the relationship between wisdom and romance like a kite and its string. Romance is the kite; wisdom, the string. When the two work together, they can fly beautifully in the sky. But what would happen if the kite suddenly thought, “This string is tying me down. If I could cut myself free, I could really fly!” But that wouldn’t happen, would it? In reality, the kite would nosedive and crash into the ground. Or what would happen if the string decided it didn’t want to be attached to the kite any longer? It would be just a piece of string, doing nothing to help anyone. Wisdom and romance, like the kite and the string, are meant to benefit each other. If romance decided to detach itself from wisdom, things get messy fast. When romance is without wisdom, all kinds of problems arise, such as pre-marital sex, teenage pregnancy, broken friendships, and dramatic, ugly, bitter breakups. The bottom line is that without wisdom, romance is really just unchecked lust.
But not only do relationships take wisdom and effort, they also take time; relationships don’t form overnight. Speaking from observation, the most romantic and successful marriages always began with friendship. It’s like I stated a few paragraphs earlier, “friendship first, romance later.” I see relationships in two categories and five different stages: (non-romance) acquaintance, friendship, (romance), courtship, engagement, and marriage. The problem I’ve noted is too many people jump from acquaintance to romance, skipping friendship. They get involved physically or emotionally long before they’ve gotten to actually know each other. I truly believe that romantic relationships should be based in friendship. You simply can’t skip this stage if you want to have a successful marriage.
I’m greatly looking forward to experiencing my own love story. I know God has already written it; I just can’t wait to experience it. And who knows? Maybe it’s happening right now. Maybe my romance story is in the friendship stage. The irony is that since she and I would be just friends, I wouldn’t know that she is her! It’s such a terrifying, exciting thought! But God wants me to take my love story one page at a time. It’d be a real shame if I already knew who my wife is, right? Sure, I guess knowing who she is would be nice. But it’d take the thrill, nerves, and beauty out of watching and experiencing my own friendship-turned-courtship-turned-marriage. It’s like when I saw the movie Bridge to Terabithia a few years ago. I already knew that the girl died in the end, so it took all the luster out of the movie. Or how Christmas time losses some magic once we find out Father Christmas doesn’t actually exist. I want to experience all the little emotions of falling in love; the fear, the passion, the desire, the anxiety, and the love. I want a relationship where I grow to respect and look up to her. I want a relationship firmly planted in friendship. I want, through courtship, to learn how to love and appreciate her, as any husband should adore and cherish his wife. Through friendship and courtship, I want us to interact spiritually together, to discuss the Bible, and learn about God together. I want to have a purposeful romance. Any other type of relationship simply won’t do.