Thursday, October 18, 2012

Throwback Thursdays: True Love Awaits

If you're a faithful reader of Letters From Logan, chances are that you've noticed that I don't write about purity as often as I used to. Why is that?

The answer is slightly complicated. The reason I haven't written about purity much lately is because my standards and opinions have been slowly changing and evolving.

Every single post I have written about purity was written before I ever got into my first real relationship. Abby and I have been dating for over five months now, and with that experience (which, honestly, isn't much) in my pocket, I have been slowly changing the way I look at purity.

At this point, you probably want an example of what I mean. I have long said I am saving my first kiss for my wedding day. That's changed. I kissed Abby a few months ago.

That may not seem like a big deal at all to you, but if you were to read all of my posts in which I say emphatically that I'm waiting until marriage to kiss, you'd probably be raising your eyebrows right now. So why change my standard? The answer to that is simple: I stopped being legalistic about it. I realized I was only saving my first kiss because I thought it make me look good and spiritual, which I guess it did. But my parents had also offered me $5,000 to save my kiss till marriage. No disrespect intended, Mom and Dad, but I think it's legalistic to not kiss my girlfriend for money. I confess it was the big reason I was saving my kiss. And you know what? I haven't felt the slightest tinge of guilt about kissing her. I love kissing her! It's one of the best feelings in the world!

But I do feel a little embarrassed about my attitude about purity. I viewed it with very legalistic eyes. That is why when I look at purity now, I judge it on what the Bible has to say. The Bible says to steer clear from sexual immorality, and to save sex till marriage; it doesn't say to wait till your wedding to lock lips. It's a whole lot simpler than I made it out to be.

So I share this old post with you because it's message is pretty basic: just wait until marriage to have sex. And I want you to understand the simplicity of purity. So many of us stress out about what is right and what is wrong to do before marriage. You know what I think? In a nutshell, you should save sex, and all things sexual relations-related, till marriage. I say that for two main reasons: 1) God says to save it, and 2) you don't want to be burnt out on it when you get married, do you?? The Bible is more than clear that it's wrong to mess around before marriage, and from a logical standpoint, whatever you do before marriage won't be as fun during marriage. So don't waste your fun! It's better to wait and let that anticipation and sexual tension build. Choose to be patient, the first quality of love.

So if you haven't yet, make the commitment to purity! If you think kissing before marriage is wrong, fine. But I challenge you to look at it through simple, Biblical lenses and see what you find. Purity can be really tricky and complicated; don't make it that way.  Follow God and He will guide you. True Love Awaits you if you do.


Purity has been a popular topic amongst my blogger friends lately. I just read Disturbing View of Purity by LeaningOnHim and was left thoughtful by her unashamed stance on purity and sexual chastity. 

It disturbs me at the shame society places on virginity. Many people look down on virgins. Last summer, I bought a t-shirt that says in big letters on the front "Virginity Rocks", and the back of the shirt says "I'm loving my wife and I haven't even met her yet!" I wore that shirt to school one time, and for weeks people would make comments and ask me about that shirt. It was a bold declaration of my stance on sex. People took note of it and I was known for it. I joked with people that I didn't want to spend money on a purity ring, and a cheap t-shirt would suffice instead.

For some reason, the cliche "True love waits" is inscribed on most purity rings. I like to think about what that saying represents. It obviously states that true love waits for marriage to have sex. That's pretty basic. And it's true. If you really love your future spouse, you won't be sleeping around before marriage. What better way to love your husband or wife by saving yourself sexually for him or her? I won't hold it against my future wife if she has lost her virginity, but it will certainly make me happier and more comfortable if she had saved herself for me.

Why can't the saying be "True love awaits"? In my opinion, true love awaits 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 those who have squandered their purity away, true love awaits those who purposefully save their bodies until marriage.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Verse of the Week: Colossians 3:15

Colossians 3:15 says,
"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful."
This verse has been stuck in my head all day. I read in this morning in my quiet time, and it stood out the most.

Why? Because it touches on two big issues I've been trying to work on lately: peace and gratitude.

I'm a worrier by nature and I tend to go overboard with worry and anxiety when I get stressed out. I struggle with trusting God with big problems in my life and also with my future. So lately I have been focusing on worrying less and trusting Him more.

Colossians 3:15 also stood out to me because of the three word sentence at the end of the verse: "And be thankful."

I'm so guilty of being ungrateful and taking the most precious things in my life for granted. God has been convicting me of this a lot lately. I take so much for granted, and I am trying to learn gratitude and content no matter my situation.

And speaking of taking precious things for granted, I want to end this post with a public apology to my wonderful girlfriend, Abby:

Sweetie, I'm sorry for not being the boyfriend you deserve. You are so wise and mature and patient and fun and beautiful and inspiring!! I have not met anyone as wonderful and amazing and fantastic as you, and I see so much Jesus in you. You treat people in a way I fear I will never be able to, and your patience and wisdom are so incredible. I have learned so much from you, and you inspire me in ways no one else ever has or ever will.

Yet I take you for granted every day. I'm sorry for not being there emotionally for you as much as I should. I'm sorry for being selfish and doing what I want, forgetting to take you into consideration. I'm sorry for not being the man that you deserve. But you can bet I'm working on that. I know I don't deserve you. And I'm so humbled and overjoyed to know you love me enough to put up with my silly foolishness. I love you from the deep depths of my heart, and then some. You are the joy of my life, and I pray that I will have the opportunity to spend it with you! I love you!
"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." ~Col. 3:17

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Throwback Thursdays: Matching Wisdom With Romance

To start off Throwback Thursdays, I want to share a post with you that I wrote almost exactly a year ago. It's called Matching Wisdom With Romance, and in it, I talk about preparing for romance. As you read about about something God revealed to me, look for ways this information could be relevant to your life. There is a little something for everyone in this post. Whether you're single, dating, or married, you need wisdom to lead a life that glorifies and praises God. And that's what this post is all about: wisdom.


God has been showing me some really cool things. I've been giving romance a lot of thought lately. I'm seventeen, a Senior in high school, already taking dual enrollment classes at the university I will attend after graduation. And I'm really beginning to wonder about the details of my love story. Of course, this is nothing new. I vented fully to my obsession with love in my post A Hopeless, Foolish Romantic. I'm a sucker for romance, so naturally, my own romance is of particular interest to me. And I'm now at the age where a lot of people often meet their spouse of begin to fall in love. My mom was eighteen and my dad was nineteen when they were wed. And many of my friends' parents were married in their late-teens to early-twenties.

I opened Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris again earlier this week. I love getting lost in the love stories he talks about. Those stories, and the wisdom Harris guides me to, are what keep me going when I get lonely. I read of such wonderful, Godly love that I can't help but dream of how my story will play out. And I by no means think it's wrong or a waste of time to do so. If I give my future marriage no thought, no hope, no planning now, it would never succeed. And so I've been taking it to God. I've been talking to God about it. And believe it or not...

God talked back.

I had been asking questions like, "God; when will I meet her?" and "Who is she?" and "When is your timing, God?" And God answered me. He didn't answer me directly, but Jesus hardly ever answered questions directly in His time on earth. Instead, this is how He talked to me: A few nights ago, I was sitting in my room praying for my future wife. I was asking God the same questions I mentioned just a few sentences ago. And out of nowhere, I had this sudden desire to read Boy Meets Girl. As I picked up the book, still unsure of what exactly to read, believe it or not, a voice in my head whispered that I should read page forty-eight. So what is on page forty-eight? The headline of the page is "Are You Ready for Courtship?" Cue the goosebumps. You bet God had my full attention. The page talked about matching wisdom with romance. Harris used the kite-and-string analogy to show how romance (the kite) always nosedives without wisdom the string). I took a mental note: If I want to get married, I'll need to be wiser first. But that isn't what shook me to my core. Right after the part about wisdom, Harris writes, "I talked to many couples... who ask, 'How do we know when it's the right time to start a courtship?' The basic answer to the question is that you're ready to start a courtship when you can match wisdom with romance." How incredible is that?! God showed me what I need to work on, and He encouraged me to stay strong in His name. I could hear Him saying, "You're so close. Don't give up now. I have a plan for you. It's a wonderful plan! And I can't wait for you to see it play out. But in order for that you happen, I need to you get ready. I need you to prepare. Because in order for Me to give away one of my daughters to you in a covenant of marriage, I'm going to need to see you prove yourself. To start, here is what I need you to work on: wisdom."

That was Wednesday. And God's been doing a lot of work in my heart since then. I've realized that I'm no longer itching to be in a relationship. In fact, I'll go even further to say that I know that right now isn't His timing. I know I'm not ready right now. It's still something I want really bad, and I get lonely a lot, but it's no longer an idol. I'm ready to follow Him and serve Him, even if He wants me to wait for ten years, or twenty years, or however many years. Luckily, I don't feel God calling me to wait that long, nor do I feel him calling me to a life of celibacy. I completely believe He has a Godly young lady out there for me, and that we will be united in marriage sooner than later. And I believe that in order for me to match romance with wisdom, I need to level up in wisdom. I've decided to study Proverbs. Where else would a guy look for wisdom? Proverbs oozes Godly wisdom and understanding. I believe God has commissioned me to seek His wisdom.

I believe there is a list of Godly characteristics every man should have before getting married. I'm still working on that list, but wisdom is definitely near the top, if not the top, of the list. If you please, pray for me in my path to wisdom. And please pray for Baby Justice and for Mrs. Karla (click here).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mondays And Thursdays Just Got Better...

Tomorrow will mark the start of something new here on Letters From Logan: Throwback Thursdays. Every Thursday for the next four weeks, I will post an old post that I wrote a long time ago. Each post will somehow be themed on love. Why? Because I am working on a new post series that highlights each quality of love as described in 1 Corinthians 13.

So I will take the next several weeks to prepare for and begin writing that series. Until that series debuts in early November, I hope you will enjoy reading some older posts written quite a while ago. I think you will find it interesting to read some of my old work, and maybe if you're a long-time reader, you'll be reading these posts for the second time. Whatever the case may be, I certainly can't wait to get to work on this new series on love, and in the meantime, I hope you will enjoy Throwback Thursdays!


I'm sure you lead a very busy life, especially with the holidays fast approaching and with school in full session, and I know it can be hard to sit down and read my posts. I understand that you really don't have the time right now to read every one of my posts, and to be honest, I don't often have the time to write them. I'm a full-time college student with a girlfriend and a part-time job, so I understand that life is busy. My posts tend to be serious and long, and while I enjoy blogging with that style of writing, I know that it can be hard to read (and sometimes hard to write).

That is why I am also going to start posting a Verse Of The Week on Mondays. These posts will be short and to the point. I'll just pick a verse and talk a little bit about it. It will be simple and quick to read, but I hope it will make an impression that lasts at least a week in your life.

Thank you so much for reading and giving me your time. I'm truly humbled and excited by knowing you take the time out of your busy schedule to read! I hope you will stay a faithful reader, and maybe you'll even consider leaving a comment on a post every once and a while to offer your feedback. There's nothing quite as exciting as an encouraging comment, and I'm even glad to get a critical comment! Rest assured that I really appreciate every comment left, even if it's a negative one. I simply like knowing that someone out there is reading.

So thank you again for your time and for reading! I hope and pray that this blog continues to bless you, encourage you, or make you think.
"If God is for us, who can be against us?" ~Romans 8:31

Monday, October 1, 2012

Jesus Came To Save, Not To Judge

What if I told you that God will treat you the exact same way you treat other people?

To me, that's a really scary thought. It's scary because I don't treat other people well. I judge them. I hold grudges. I don't forgive easily. I consider myself better. I think myself smarter. I trust myself before I trust anyone else. I want others to do things my way. And if you cross me once, you have little hope of ever being my friend again.

No, I certainly don't treat others as well as I want God to treat me.

When the Messiah was here on earth, He preached a very simple message: God will treat you the same way that you treat others.

In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus preached on why we shouldn't judge others and what will happen if we do judge others. In verses 1-2, He said, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

He also said in Matthew 6:14-15, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."

And once again, in Luke 6, He said, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you... For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

I am so guilty of judging others!! It's always been a challenge for me. I am so guilty of judging others for their little faults. I am so guilty of thinking myself better than others. I look down on other people because I can see all of their sins and mistakes and imperfections. But I can be so blind to my own sin! Somehow, I often don't even realize it when I mess up. I am blind to my own faults, and yet so ready to judge others for their own imperfections.

That's why I am so humbled and thankful for Jesus' words in John 12. I stumbled upon John 12:47 when I was studying for this post, and it has completely changed the way I look at judging others. Jesus says, "As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it."

You see, Jesus has the right to judge us. He says that God has given Him the right to judge humanity (John 5:22). But does Jesus use this right? Not often. He generally only verbally judged and called out the Pharisees.

So we hear Jesus say that He doesn't judge the man who rejects Him because that man will be judged in the end. And he capitalizes on this statement by saying He came to save the world, not to judge it. Shouldn't we think and act the same way?

In essence, Jesus is trying to communicate that judging others is a waste of time. People will be judged for their mistakes and sins in the end, so why bother spending time judging them now? Jesus came to save the world. Shouldn't that be our mission, too?

What if we spent as much time loving each other and building each other up as we did judging and looking down on each other? What if we refused to pass judgment on others and instead worked at becoming friends with them? Christ refused to judge us. He instead chose to love us. So what right do we have to judge?
"There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?" ~James 4:12

Friday, September 21, 2012

If You Want To Be Great....

I don't like being humbled. I honestly hate how being humbled makes me feel. It is an uncomfortable, sometimes painful, and often embarrassing feeling. I don't like it because it hurts my pride and my confidence. I don't like it when I'm reminded how small, how finite, and how fragile I am. I don't like it when my flaws become obvious, or when others   point out my weaknesses. I simply don't like being humbled.

I think many of us are like this. Who actually likes being humbled? Who enjoys being reminded of how small and insignificant we are? And who enjoys being told that they are wrong?

However, as natural as this resistance to humility may seem, I recently came across a verse that is changing the way I think. It's James 4:10 and it says, "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up." That verse is so crucial that I'm going to separate it and put it into italics:
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.
This is so revolutionary to the way we think! This just seems to backwards! It doesn't really make sense that if we humble ourselves, we will be lifted up. Or does it?

In Matthew 20, Jesus says to His disciples, "'...whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.'" This is powerful material here. Jesus is saying that if you want to become great, you must be a servant, and that if you want to be first, you must be a slave.

I'll be honest: I want to be great. I want to be first. I want to be popular, rich, famous, well-liked, admired, respected, followed, influential, and powerful. I want to make a huge difference in this world. I want to be remembered as a man who changed the world. I want people around the world to place me in the same category they place legendary figures like Billy Graham, Francis Chan, A.W. Tozer, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Martin Luther. I want to be great just like these men. I want the imprint I leave in this world to be as big as theirs, if not bigger.

But I have to remember that the secret to being great is exactly what Jesus said it is: if you want to be great, then be a servant. Once again, 
If you want to be great, then be a servant.

You see, these great and legendary figures didn't become great because they sought their own glory. They became great because they found their greatness in Christ. These men understood the secret to becoming great: they became servants. And that's the key.

You won't go very far in life is you're living to glorify yourself. You have to be humble if you want God to work through You. I love Proverbs 29:23, which states, "A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor."

So as backwards as it may sounds, if you humble yourself, God will exault you, but if you are prideful, you will be brought down. I want to learn to be humble because I want to be great, and because I want to be lifted up and honored by God. I want to be a servant, a man filled with humilty, who leads by example.
"The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." ~Matt. 23:11-12

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Poisonous Effects of Legalism

Legalism is such a deadly poison. I think in many of us, there is this desire to make and to follow rules, a dangerous, underlying subconscious desire to make Christianity more about works and doing good things rather than on knowing Christ and growing closer to Him.

We read of this sin in the Bible when we read of the Israelites committing it over and over again by obeying all of the regulations and decrees God gave them, so they looked good on the outside. But they also served and sacrificed to other gods. In Jesus' day, the Pharisees did an excellent job of this committing this sin by turning the Law inside out and making the purpose of life to obey all of the rules rather than to know Him. The Roman Catholic Church also did (and is still doing) a splendid job of making faith more about man-made rules and traditions than on knowing God.

I know from experience what it is like to be legalistic. I used to be very legalistic when it came to romance. I was full of ignorance and indignation, and I fueled that with a strong legalistic streak.

I had this view of romance because I had an unrealistic view of how love and romance work. Because of that, I simply had an ignorant naivete.

One of my best examples is that I used to say that I wouldn't tell a girl "I love you" until I was married. But as I gave it more thought, I backed it down to not saying it till I get engaged. But this summer, I thought more and more about it and asked my girlfriend Abby what she thought. After we talked about it, I decided that if you mean it, you have no reason not to say it. Isn't it just legalistic to wait?

Another quick example I'd like to share with you is of how I planned on starting a relationship. I planned on not dating until I able to financially, physically, emotionally, and spiritually ready to be married, which sounds great, it really does. But I have since learned you will never be truly ready for marriage. It just isn't something you can be completely prepared for.

I was basically saying that I wasn't going to date till I got married. I literally said that I didn't want to date again till I had found my future spouse. That's dangerous for a few reasons: 1) I wouldn't be ready for a mature relationship, and 2) it would have been putting way too much pressure on my relationship. This kind of mindset essentially elevates dating to the same level as engagement, and that's an issue because that's not what dating is supposed to be.

In Colossians 2, the apostle Paul addresses the issue of legalism. Writing the church of Colossae, He says, "Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 'Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!'? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." 

I place emphasis on that last verse because of how straightforward and blunt it is. It embodies the exact point I wish to make. And my point is that the truth we often miss is that we no longer have to live according to any law. I know that may sound sacrilegious, but Jesus died so that the law, with its codes and written regulations, would be canceled. Christ died on the cross so that we can have a personal and intimate relationship with Him, thus forgoing all of the sacrifices and rules and regulations. As such, we are no longer required to follow a set of man-made rules or human traditions. We are set free from those things!

Our obligation is no longer to follow the law, but to follow and obey the Spirit. To know God and to know His heart, we must walk daily with the Spirit. To please God, we won't succeed just by obeying a law. God desires an intimate relationship with us, and we must walk in His Spirit to know Him. Paul writes in Galatians 5, "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope." We are called to live by the Spirit, not by any law or code or set of rules.

So how can we know we are walking in God's Spirit? We know we are following His ways based on the fruit we bear.

In Matthew 7, Jesus tells us that we can recognize people by the fruit that they bear. He says, "Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them." So we will recognize people based on the fruit they bear. And what kind of fruit should we want to bear? Well, since we should be walking in the Spirit, we should be bearing the fruit of the Spirit.
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." ~Galatians 5:22

Monday, September 3, 2012

Impatience, Curiosity, and Hormones

Two of my biggest struggles have always been with lust and temptation. I'm very romantic and I absolutely love romance, and my girlfriend will testify to that! So it's probably only fitting that one of my biggest strengths is also one of my biggest weaknesses.

Over the years, I've learned a lot of good techniques that help me avoid stumbling in sin, and I've love to share some of them with you. But before we dive in, let's get the record straight on something: When it comes to beliefs and standards, many people try to categorize everything into black and white. Something is either righteous or it's sinful, and there's no in between. I disagree with that view. I think this viewpoint is almost accurate, but it still falls short. I believe that there are absolute truths, convictions, and preferences. And what do I mean by that?

Absolute truths are the timeless, boundless truth that the Bible says, and these truths are relevant no matter how old we are, what denomination we belong to, or where we are from. We should all agree with these truths. In relation to our current topic on temptation, saying that sex before or outside of marriage is a sin is an excellent example of an absolute truth. The Bible is more than clear that sex is to kept inside marriage and thus it is a Biblical truth, an absolute truth.

But what about convictions? A good example is kissing before marriage. The Bible doesn't say we should or shouldn't kiss, so the decision is then left to our discretion. In other words, it's an issue of personal conviction. I have the conviction that I should wait till marriage to kiss. I think that if you won't kiss someone who isn't your spouse while you are married, you shouldn't do it before you are married. I also know that kissing can be hard to stop, and I don't want to put myself in a situation where I could lose control. Plus, I think saving my first kiss will just make kissing that much more special when I am married. But it's important for me to remember these are just my convictions and opinions, and that it'd be unfair to judge others who don't share my convictions.

So then what are preferences? Well, a preference is just that: a preference. I think we as Christians fight more over preferences than anything else, which truly reveals our selfish nature. Some Christians prefer hymns over contemporary worship music; some prefer small churches over big churches; some prefer working with youth over working with the elderly. These are all matters of preferences. I prefer Chick-fil-A and Sonic over fast food restaurants. I prefer alternative and punk music over rap and gospel. I prefer fun and creative dates (like going to the children's section of Barnes & Noble and reading your favorite children's books to each other) over going on a hike together. Those are things I prefer, and plenty of other people will prefer a plethora of other things. They are not worth fighting or arguing over which preference is better or worse, because they are just preferences. And just a hint: it'd be wise to learn as much about your boyfriend's or girlfriend's preferences as possible.

With our newly acquired knowledge about absolute truths, convictions, and preferences in mind, it's time to get down to business. As I said, sexual temptation has long been one of my biggest struggles. And it's such a hard thing to fight sometimes. But I think the best technique to fighting temptation is to start thinking with an eternal perspective. After all, the thing about sexual temptation is that it is a combination of impatience, curiosity, and hormones. There's honestly not much you can do about your hormones, but you can do something about your impatience and curiosity.

I choose to look at it this way: either the person you are with is who you will spend your whole life with, or that is not the person God has for you. Either way, it's best to be patient and to move slowly. It's best in the former because you have your whole lives together, so there's no need to be hasty or impatient, and it's best in the latter because you will regret it if you move too fast or if you give too much of yourself away to someone who isn't your future spouse.

A great example is that I want nothing more than to kiss my girlfriend Abby on the lips. I desire it so much, and the romantic (and the hormones) sometime just scream for me to kiss her. Even just a simple good-night kiss would be enough. But I have the conviction to wait until I am married to kiss. And let me tell you: my girlfriend is the best! Even though she doesn't share my conviction about kissing, she does respect it and she's so good about being patient. We've learned to set aside the desire and to focus on the long-term goals.

The best thing to do is to try to not make a decision you could possibly regret one day. For example, I know I would regret kissing Abby because I want to save that for my wedding, a wedding that could very possibly be ours. I've learned that you can't let your impatience and your curiosity drive you or you'll have nothing but regret and shame. So my advice is to decide what your convictions are and then to build your resolve and strength so when you are tested and tempted, you'll have it in you to say no.

I'm not going to try to tell you what is "okay" and "wrong" for you to do. I do, however, believe that the Bible says certain things are wrong and sinful. From reading Scripture, I believe that pre-marital or exra-marital sex is wrong, along with oral sex, nudity, touching/petting, and lustful thoughts. But I think the rest is up for you to decide, and it's something to talk about with your boyfriend/girlfriend. My advice is for you as a couple to decide what your convictions are so that in case you get into a moment of temptation, you'll know where you both stand. It is easier to fight temptation and hormones when you are both in sound agreement on your convictions. Here are some example questions: Should we kiss or should we wait until the wedding day? If we think kissing is okay, then what about making out? Or what about necking? What do we think about snuggling? What kind of PDA is appropriate in church? Where should our hands not go and where is it okay for them to go?

All of your decisions should be made after thoroughly studying Scripture, after spending considerable time in prayer, and after talking with your boyfriend or girlfriend. It also never hurts to ask your parents, youth pastor, or pastor for advice. Remember: don't make a decision you'll regret someday.
"Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires." ~Song of Songs 3:5

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Romance From a New Perspective

It has been quite a long time since I have blogged about romance. Once upon a time, it used to be my hottest topic. There was a time long ago when I wrote post after post about romance, with topics ranging from purity to temptation to dating. A lot has happened since the days that romance and dating were the hot topics here on my blog.

I'm very proud to say that the lovely lady in my profile picture is my beautiful girlfriend Abby. We've been going out since May 13th. We were good friends for a few months and I asked her to go to prom with me as just friends. But of course, as time went on, we didn't stay "just friends." As we got closer and closer to prom, we began to hang out more and more. I loved being around her because she was sweet, kind, loving, loyal, smart, mature, Godly, and so beautiful. She was a really good friend and we could just talk the day away. And a few weeks before prom, I began to realize I was developing a little crush. That crush kept growing, and I decided that I would tell no one about it until God gave me a peace about it. After holding on to it for a few weeks, my feelings intensified like crazy and I felt such a weird peace about her. It was this crazy weird peace that I had only felt about a few other things in life. I prayed and prayed about a relationship with her and just felt God nudging me in that direction.

I planned on talking to her dad first because I have a great relationship with him and because he's my youth pastor. But the night before prom, we were out shopping for Mother's Day together and we were trying to agree on a good place for dinner. Neither one of us wanted to make a decision (a problem that's never gone away) so we were throwing suggestions out. As we passed an O'Charley's, I suggested it and she said, "I like O'Charley's!" In that moment, I thought "Well, I like you!" and I just caught myself before blurting it out. I began to laugh at the awkwardness that had almost just happened and she of course wanted to know what was so funny. I told her that I had thought of something but couldn't say it because it would make things awkward. She apparently thought it was just a perverted or dumb joke or something, so for the next hour, she was constantly asking me to tell her what it was. I promised I would tell her later. So when we got in the car after dinner, she wanted to know then and there what I had thought. I told her it was just too awkward but she insisted on knowing. When we got to our destination, I told her that I liked her, and after a few awkward moments, she told me that she liked me too. That was music to my ears! I was so scared that she might not like me.

On the next time, prom was so awkward and wonderful at the same time! We had so much fun and despite the awkwardness of us liking each other and wanting to be romantic but we couldn't because we were still just friends, I have many good memories of the night. It was such a special and magical night! Two days after prom, I asked her to be my girlfriend while our families were out to lunch and we became "Facebook official", as we've come to say it nowadays. And that is our beginning! It's the start of a wonderful and amazing journey, one that I hope with my whole heart will never end.

Now the reason I share this is because some time ago, Abby challenged me to write about romance from the perspective and the experience I now have. She pointed out to me that all of my previous posts on romance are great, but I wrote them from inexperience. I had never been in a real relationship, and so as great as they are, I believe you do have to take the advice I gave with a little bit of salt. Now the parts about what the Bible says, such as what I wrote about pre-marital sex and all that? That hasn't changed, and it shouldn't ever change. What the Bible has to say about sex and temptation is timeless. But I'll be honest: I wrote the majority of my posts on dating back when I was immature and slightly legalistic.

As I have matured and been in a relationship since then, I can look back and see how foolish and indignant I was. Thankfully, I have matured a lot since the start of the year, and especially since I've had a girlfriend to keep me in line. But now I see things a little bit differently now and some of my opinions and standards have changed. I'd love to share with you my new perspectives and opinions, so if you're interested, make sure you remember to check back early next week for my next post!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Spiritual Gifts

Have you ever wondered what your spiritual gifts are? I think about mine all the time. I can remember as a kid that I was always fascinated and intrigued by the idea of a spiritual gift. I loved to read the passges in the Bible about them to try to figure mine out. I remember dreaming of being able to heal all the sick people just by touching them, and I wanted to be able to perform miracles that would lead people to Christ. Oh, how I dreamed of what my spiritual gifts would be someday! I wanted to be able to call fire down from heaven like Elijah, and I wanted to be able to pray that the sun and moon would stand still. I dreamed of being able to speak in different languages like they did in the New Testament, or being able to cast demons out of possessed people.

I essentially looked at spiritual gifts like they were superheroes' powers. I thought people in the Bible with the extreme spiritual gifts, like people who could heal, were super cool and I looked up to them. I remember wanting to be like them someday.

As I've gotten older, not much as changed. My understanding of spiritual gifts has deepened and matured, yes. But I still look up to those Bible characters like they were Spiderman or Batman. I'm still wide-eyed over the people in the Bible who could heal people and cast demons out. And I wish I could make oil multiply out of nothing (2 Kings 4), make axes float in water (2 Kings 6), or see visions from God (Acts 10).

But like I said, my understanding of spiritual gifts has matured a lot since I was a kid. God has been teaching me this summer about the importance of discovering and utilizing my spiritual gifts. He's been teaching me about spiritual gifts because I got a little prideful at the start of the summer and didn't think that I needed to keep studying my Bible, praying, blogging, or teaching. I was on such a spiritual high that I got high off my own pride. But pride definitely comes before the fall. And I fell hard. I've felt so distant and far from God this summer.

As I was talking with my girlfriend about it earlier this month, she suggested that you could compare your relationship with God to making money. She said that if you work really hard and end up filthy rich, you can be tempted to stop working, to kick back and relax, and enjoy your money. But if you do that for too long, you'll eventually run out of money because you haven't been working. And that's what happened with me and God. I got so close to Him that I took that for granted. I began to slack off. I stopped pursuing Him because I didn't think I needed to anymore. I opened my Bible less and less, and listened to worship music less and less. I thought about Him less and less, and gave less and less time and money to my church. And the result? I became spiritually bankrupt. I was so dry and felt separated from God.

This summer, I learned the hard way that when I ignore my spiritual gifts, I am basically ignoring God. He has gifted me with all of my gifts and talents, and He has given me time and money and resources. But I neglected them.

Since God woke me up, I've had a renewed hunger for learning about my gifts. I've been reading and rereading 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 and Romans 12:4-8; these are the main passages on spiritual gifts in the Bible. I've also retaken a couple spiritual gift tests that I took in high school. With a new appreciation for their importance, I've been looking at what my gifts are now and thinking and praying about what kind of career God wants me to pursue. You see, I've learned that your spiritual gifts can be a huge aid in figuring out what career to pursue. I'm a Freshman in college now, and I'd love to figure out what I want to do with my life.

Throughout high school, I felt like God has been calling me to become some sort of a pastor. I felt that calling over three years ago, and it's only gotten stronger since. I've kept it on the downline, however, because it's something I wanted to be sure of before I came out and said it. I've had this fear that people will think I'm shallow, arrogant, or cliche if I  said I wanted to be a pastor. I struggled with this fear for years, and I could never get over it. But this summer, God grew me out of it and I realized that who cares what other people think? If God calls me to do something, why should I care about how people will think about me? That should be the last thing on my mind! My focus should have been and is now on the fact that I believe God wants me to be some kind of a pastor.

My gifts, according to two spiritual gift tests, are teaching, administration, serving, giving, exhortation, wisdom, and leadership. All of these are great gifts to have in a pastor, and I know that God has given me these gifts for a reason. I believe that reason is to be some kind of pastor. I'm not quite sure what kind yet, whether a pastor of a church, a traveling preacher, a speaker/author, or what. I get swallowed up and overwhelmed by the possibilities, so I'm leaving that up to God. He will reveal His will in His timing. Until then, I'm going to take classes in college and prepare to be some sort of a pastor someday.

I'm still the same wide-eyed kid who thinks spiritual gifts are as cool as superhero powers. I still sometimes wish and hope that I can heal people by touching them just like I wish and hope I'll get bitten by a radioactive spider and get super cool spider powers. And I learned this summer that ignoring your spiritual gifts is tantamount to ignoring God. I can't stand being far from God, and so I plan on exercising and utilizing my spiritual gifts as much as possible. And I pray that I'll never forget how important they are.
"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." ~Jesus, Luke 12

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Power of Words

If there is one passage in the Bible that always convicts me when I read it, it's the part in James 3 that talks about taming the tongue. That passage never fails to get me. The Bible says that God's Word is like a double-edged sword, cutting through flesh and muscle straight to the bone, and that's exactly what James 3 does to me every time I read it.

James 3:5-6 says, "... the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person..." The reason that hits me hard is because I have always been guilty of speaking before thinking. I tend to say things I don't mean and things I regret because I get angry. I get angry and I forget to think about what I say before I say it.

Controlling my tongue is hard because when I get mad, I want to speak my mind and say what I think. But that's almost never a good idea. Words have so much power. With words, we can build each other up and tear each other down. We can praise our heavenly King, and curse other men, who are made in His image. We can spread the Gospel and spread slander and gossip. We can worship Jesus and we can curse Him.

It truly is amazing the impact we can have on people with our words. I have used my tongue to encourage people and it feels so good when I do, but I've also learned you can quickly lose friends with your tongue, too. I have wounded many friends and lost a few because of a short temper or a rude comment. I wish I had learned by now to just hold my tongue when I'm angry. I have hurt so many friends because I spoke out of anger. And if there was a way I could make it up to everyone I have hurt with my tongue, I would. But what is so difficult is that you can always ask for forgiveness and take back what you said, but the fact you said it still stands. Proverbs 12:18 wisely states, "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." And what bites is that you can rarely heal someone with your tongue once you've cut them with it. They may forgive, but  it can be harder to forget.

The good news is that pleasant words are just as hard to forget. I'm sure you can think back to a time when someone spoke a strong word of encouragement to you. Those words stick with you. Proverbs says that "pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." And it's my goal to adopt a tongue of encouragement and of kindness, a tongue of pleasant words and of honey. I want to stop using words that are mean, harsh, and rude, and to hold my tongue when I am mad. I want to be a man of wisdom, to use words with restraint, to think before I speak, and to speak with kindness and not with malice. I desire to please God with my words and to glorify Him with my lips in all of my conversations. I want to be known as an encourager and a peacemaker, and to build people up with my tongue instead of tearing them down.

"My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." ~James 1:19-20

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hungry For Time With God

I think it'd be safe to say that many Christians struggle with spending time alone with God. We get so caught up with the business of daily life that we can often forget to read our Bibles or to spend time in prayer, or we spend a very small amount of time reading or praying and check it off our check-lists. I know I am guilty of struggling with that here lately. I've always been so good about reading my Bible and spending time in prayer, but this summer, it's been a challenge for me.

Between prom, college orientation, high school graduation, work, church, camp, vacations, youth trips, and all of the other good things in my life, I let the things of this world distract me from His word. Somehow I got out of habit of faithfully studying the Word each day. I had always prided myself in that. I had always been so good at reading my Bible. It came so easily and so naturally. And I felt so close to God while doing it. But like working out and going on a diet, if you miss a few days, it's so hard to get back into it. And I missed way more than a few days. I honestly went all of May and June and part of July before truly getting back into the Word. Yeah, I read my Bible almost every single day. But did I ever truly read it? No, I just read a chapter or two to check it off my to-do list. It became a ritual, not a habit. And my spiritual life really suffered. You can tell simply by looking at how many posts I had in December-February compared to April-June.

Thankfully, in July, God really convicted me about it. And I slowly began to get back into the habit. It was tough, because I honestly felt like I was wasting my time. Not because reading the Bible is a waste of time, but because I felt like I was getting nothing out. It was so discouraging. It had always come naturally and easily, and I would get so much out of it. But I knew that the long-term benefits were worth it. I was so spiritually dry but so hungry at the same time. I wanted God so desperately! And I was sick of feeling dry and washed out.

So I had to get back into the habit. I had to rebuild the muscle that I had lost, and lose the fat that I had gained. You see, in order to get into a good habit of daily spending time with God, you have to be disciplined, committed, and hungry. Reading your Bible is like building muscle; the more you do it, the easier it becomes and the more you grow. And it's also like being on a diet; staying committed and focused can be a challenge, but you will find that the long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term costs and that's what you have to keep your focus on. And I can honestly say that I was very hungry and very committed, and that led to me being disciplined. And I'm working to get back to being in a habit again. I've well over the last week or two. I'm exercising and building my spiritual muscles and losing my spiritual fat.

Also, I have struggled with spending enough time with God. After fifteen or twenty minutes, I wouldn't really feel God telling me anything, and I'd get discouraged. But I once heard it said that if you haven't gotten anything out of a quiet time, you haven't sat long enough yet. And I believe that statement is so true. If you've read your Bible for twenty minutes and still don't feel like God has spoken to you or shown you anything, sit for twenty more. And if you still feel nothing, sit for twenty more. And twenty more. And twenty more. And twenty more. If you are hungry enough, you will spend as long as it takes to hear from Him. Personally, my best quiet times often last between forty and sixty minutes. Now I know that not everyone has that time in their day. But if you're hungry for Him, you'll find the time. You'll find it somehow, because you know that to know Christ is the most important thing in your life, and it's worth losing all else to gain.

Now I would like to make something clear, and I say this entirely from experience: there is a reason it is called a quiet time. If you want to hear from God, I promise that you will most often find Him in silence. So when you're trying to have a quiet time, take out the earbuds and pause your music.

If you want to hear from God, find a place that is quiet and distraction-free. Find a closet, an unused room, even a car. Clear your mind, and then open up the Word. Start talking to Him. Start listening for Him. Sit in silence and let Him guide your thoughts, and you'll be surprised to find that He really will talk to you.

You see, as well-intentioned as we can be about it, listening to music while we are trying to spend time with God can be a distraction. And I speak from experience. I tend to focus more on the music than I do on God. As great and encouraging and worshipful as worship music can be, I honestly get distracted by it more than it helps me focus. So now, when I'm trying to talk to God, when I'm trying to listen to God, and when I'm reading my Bible, I try to remove all distractions from the room so I can focus. After all, it's called a quiet time for a reason, right?

     " constant in prayer." ~Romans 12:12

Friday, August 10, 2012

Bear With Each Other

We all have those people in our lives that we find it hard to show love to. It may be someone who has hurt or betrayed us. It could be someone who hasn't met our expectations. It could be a family member we're tired of putting up with. It could be an authority that we are tired of submitting to. It could be someone who is super annoying. And sometimes, we can even chose to not show love to someone just because we know their past.

The reality is that it's in our human nature to pick and chose who we love. We naturally only want to show love to those who love us back. There's less risk, less pain, and less effort when we do that. The truth is that we don't want to forgive those who have wronged us, and we don't want to love those who don't love us. And we do it because of pride. We are so quick to hold others' sins against them, yet so fast to expect the Lord to forgive us for our sins. But that's not how it works. We can't hold grudges and not forgive others and expect God to treat us differently. 

I know that as hard as it is, we have to be able to forgive others when they sin against us. In Matthew 6, Jesus says, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." And that's what we have to keep our focus on. I want to be forgiven for every sin that I have ever committed, but I need to be able to forgive others when they sin against me if I want that to happen.

It's also worth noting that just like we should forgive others for their sins, we should also not judge them for their sins. It's important to not judge others for their imperfections, but instead to love them through their mistakes. We are imperfect ourselves, so what gives us the right to judge others for their imperfections? I love how Paul puts it in Colossians 3:13: "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." I love how he says to bear with each other, and I love how he says to forgive people for whatever it is they did and move on. 

But that's rarely an easy thing to do. My flesh is always sure to put up a fight. Bearing with each other can get messy and uncomfortable. It's so much easier to just pass judgment on their failures and to not put up with them. But that's not what Christ calls His children to do. He calls us to put up with each other when we go through highs and lows, ups and downs. I'll be the first to admit that I am not very good at that. I am so quick to judge a brother or sister in Christ for the sin that's in their life. And when it comes to evaluating my own life, I tend to be much slower to judge. It's funny how that works, isn't it? I am much more forgiving and understanding towards myself than I ever am towards other people. Of that, I am deeply ashamed. I wish that I was better at loving people despite their failures. I want to be better at forgiving people instead of holding grudges against them. But that is something I have been working on and praying about lately.

See, I know that people will sin against me. I know they will let me down and disappoint me. The will hurt me. They will betray me. And that's part of life. But I think we often forget that. We tend to forget that we are imperfect humans who tend to make pretty big messes. And I am not innocent of that. I've made more than my share of mistakes in life. And that's why I chose to forgive others: because I want them to forgive me, and because I want God to forgive me. If I want to be forgiven for my sins, I have to be able to forgive others their sins against me. It only makes sense, doesn't it? If I can't forgive my own Christian brothers and sisters, why should I receive forgiveness myself?

I am reminded of Matthew 7, where Jesus says, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." I am always so convicted when I read this passage. It's just such a blunt truth that Jesus doesn't event think about coating over. He delivers His message with frank honesty, and it never fails to hit home with me. In the same way I judge others, I too will be judged. And the measure I use for others, it will be measured to me. In other words, if you are gracious and forgiving, then you will see grace and forgiveness. But if you cannot forgive others, and if you unashamedly judge others for their shortcomings, or even what you see as a shortcoming, then so you will be dealt with in the same manner.

And so, the option given to us is to judge and hold a grudge, or to show grace and forgiveness. And how we treat other people is how we will be treated, both by men and by God. And that's why we are called to "bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another" and to "forgive as the Lord forgave you." So bear with each other. We aren't perfect people. We will make mistakes, we will be stupid, we will hurt each other, we will let each other down. But the Bible says to love each other unconditionally and to love each other from the heart.

So instead of putting up walls, instead of judging, instead of holding grudges, instead of ending friendships over stupid disputes, can't we learn to get along? Can't we learn to bear with each other in our weaknesses? Can't we learn to love each other unconditionally? None of us are perfect, and if we can't learn to bear with one another, we will all end up alone.

     "Love bears all things..."
     ~1 Corinthians 13:7

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Serving God Through The Wreckage

Have you ever felt like your life has crashed in on itself? Have you ever wondered what God could be thinking, why He chose to shake your life up so much? I think a lot of times, we tend to look at the bad things in our life as punishment from God. If we get fired, if someone we love dies, if we are betrayed by someone we trusted, if we lose our financial security, if a family member gets cancer, we tend to look at the situation with a negative attitude.

We get frustrated with the stress and uncomfortableness of the situation, and we often turn our angry and frustration towards God. And I'm as guilty as anyone else. I do it too. It's so easy to get mad at God when things don't go my way.

I think that in our finiteness, we aren't able to understand how God works. The way God does things, the plans He has for us, and the reasons He allows bad things to happen are beyond our human comprehension. That's why verses like Romans 8:28, which says, "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," and Jeremiah 29:11, which says, "'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,'" become such cornerstones in our lives. These verses are great reminders that even though we don't understand why God does everything the way He does it, He is in complete control, and He does everything for the good of those who love Him. When I read these two verses, I am so humbled and comforted because they remind me that good will come out of every situation I go through, no matter how horrible and terrible it may seem.

I feel like reading about the shipwreck in Acts 27 is a perfect illustration of this. In Acts 27, we find Paul caught yet again between a rock and a hard place. He is a prisoner on board of a ship of the Imperial Regiment of the Roman army. He is being taken to Rome to appear before Caesar to appeal the false accusations made against him. But on their long journey, winter sets in, which means the sea is very dangerous to be on. Waves toss back and forth violently and harsh storms ravage the waters. The ship Paul is a prisoner on finds itself in the middle of one of these storms. Battling the storm for fourteen days, Acts 27:33 says that the ship's crew hadn't eaten for the entire two weeks.

You'd think that Paul would be pretty put out about the situation. If I were him, I'd be thinking, "Okay, first I get arrested for preaching the Gospel, then I get falsely accused about stuff I didn't say, and now I'm on my way to a likely death in Rome, but low and behold, I also have to get caught in this storm with little chance of survival!" But as we read this story, we see that Paul had the exact opposite attitude. As the story develops, we come to find out that Paul was the most calm and the most level-headed man on the entire ship. Throughout the course of the journey, Paul proved himself trustworthy and a good leader, winning over the crew of the ship. And Acts mentions several times how much the Roman centurion guarding Paul trusted him. He, a prisoner, was able to take charge and lead the men to safety.

What I find really cool about this story is that Paul says that an angel came to him in a dream and said that the Lord had plans for Paul to appear in Rome, and graciously promised to deliver all of the men with Paul to safety. How awesome is that! And so with God's guidance, Paul was able to guide the men in safely reaching land. Their plan was to run ashore, but the ship got caught on some reefs, and they had to abandon ship as the waves began to tear it apart. And just like God promised, all 276 men aboard that ship survived. It was incredible! And it was all God.

But it doesn't stop there. They shipwrecked on a tiny island called Malta. Luke, the writer of Acts, recalls how generous and friendly the islanders were to them, showing them "unusual kindness" by building a fire for them and welcoming them in because of the rain. Now something interesting happens next. Acts 28 says that Paul went to gather brushwood to toss onto the fire, and as he put the brushwood on the fire, a snake slithered out of the brush because of the heat and bit Paul on the hand and fastened himself on. Even the islanders saw the horrible irony. Acts 28:4 says, "When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, 'This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.'" 

If it were me, I'd be so discouraged and put out! How disheartening, to be bitten by a mere snake! But that isn't how Paul handles the situation. Acts 28:5-6 says, "But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god."

God had promised Paul that he would appear in Rome before Caesar, and I fully believe that Paul handled both the shipwreck and the snake situation so well because He knew that no matter what he went through, God had promised to bring good out of the situation. He trusted God to get him through the rough times and God never let Paul down. 

And check out what happened on Malta after the snake incident. Luke writes, "There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and for three days entertained us hospitably. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. They honored us in many ways and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed." If Paul had never been shipwrecked, he would never have gone to Malta. Paul died later in Rome, and if it weren't for the shipwreck, that little island called Malta would never have been reached with the Gospel. And if Paul had not been bitten by that snake, the islanders would probably not have noticed that there was something different about Paul, and they probably wouldn't have treated the crew as well as they did.

So if you are feeling like God has shipwrecked your life, my question to you is this: Is your trust and confidence in Him, or do your actions show that you doubt His sovereignty and the unparalleled wisdom of His plans? If your life has been shipwrecked, and if you've been tossed around and shaken up, are you sitting there nursing your wounds and patting your own back, or are you making the most of the opportunity to further His kingdom and to be a light in a dark situation?

When your life gets wrecked, I encourage you to look for ways you can serve God through the wreckage that you never could before. Just as Paul would never have reached Malta, what impact can you make, what people can you reach, who's life can you change because of the storm and the shipwreck that you have been through? 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sing to Him a New Song

Can I be honest? I get tired of hearing the same songs over and over again in church. And if we're all honest, I think we all feel that way. The truth is that when worship leaders play the same songs over and over again, the songs get old. And it doesn't matter how good a song is, how catchy the beat is, or how meaningful the lyrics are. If a song is overplayed, it leaves a bad taste in our mouths. And the problem I have with modern day radio and modern day worship leaders is that they overplay and thus kill really good songs. At the moment, I'm thinking of How He Loves, Our God, Revelation Song, Mighty To Save, How Great Is Our God, From the Inside Out, Indescribable, and Forever Reign, to name just a few.

Am I alone in wishing that the worship leaders at our churches decided to play worship songs that are new, fresh, and up-to-date? I mean, today in my church, we played How He Loves and the Heart of Worship, among others. As good as these songs are and as much as these lyrics once meant something to me, I'm tired of hearing them constantly in church. I have heard them so many times now that they no longer hold the same the meaning.

There is a reason the psalmist wrote six times something like, "Sing to the Lord a new song" (Ps. 33:3; Ps. 40:3; Ps. 96:1; Ps. 98:1; Ps. 144:9; Ps. 149:1), emphasis mine. So if David, the writer of these Psalms, the great lyricist, the great songwriter, the man after God's own heart, said to sing new songs to the Lord, don't you think there's something to it? If you play the same song over and over again, if you preach the same sermon over and over again, if you watch the same movie over and over again, if you go to the same restaurant over and over again, if you play the same video game over and over again, if you read the same book over and over again, it's bound to get old. There's no way around that, and there's no denying that. If you do something so often that it becomes routine, you'll probably end up losing your passion for it. You have to keep your experiences new and fresh.

If you don't sing new songs in church, your worship experience will become routine and eventually, lifeless. You have to keep your worship music fresh and new, otherwise you will eventually get tired of it and lose your passion for it, or worse, for the One you're singing about.

Now I know that in their defense, worship leaders would tell me that they play songs that everyone knows because, well, everyone knows them. And every good worship leader knows it is so much easier and safer to just play songs that everyone knows, right? (Note the sarcasm.) To this I would say: even though they all know this song now, there was a time when no one knew this song and someone had to teach it to them; what songs are they missing out on now because you aren't leading them in new songs?

There's really no excuse for worship leaders to have a small repertoire of songs that they play.  The truth is that there are a lot of incredible worship artists out there who are putting out some absolutely amazing worship songs. Just listen to Hillsong Live and Hillsong United, Kristian Stanfill, Elevation Worship, John Mark McMillian, Fee, Passion, Christy Nockles and Kari Jobe and you will find some amazing songs, songs that aren't hard to learn and that can easily be played in your church whether you have a full band or not.

So people, we don't have to put up with routine, mundane, and boring worship services! Get out of the rut and play some new stuff! I am tired of staying quiet about this and putting up with it because it isn't something we as Christians should have to deal with. To me, it's common sense that if you overplay worship songs, they lose their meaning. Let's not cheapen our worship experiences with overplayed, cliche Christian worship songs. It's high time the worship in our churches and in our youth groups changed for the better.

We should approach the throne with a hunger for His presence and a hunger to glorify His name with our voices and our instruments. We should have a spirit of excellence about us, a desire to lay our all down at the cross, both in heart and in performance. To cheapen the King with half-hearted worship and half-hearted effort is a sin. It's a half-hearted effort to praise and glorify and worship a God who deserves more than what we can offer Him. So how can we be okay with settling for just-okay worship songs and just-like-last-week's worship services?

     "Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy."
     ~Psalm 33:3

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Being Far From God

It's been over two months since I posted, but I'm back! You might have been wondering where I have been and why I haven't been posting, and the truth is that I have no reasonable excuse for my absence. Back in April, I began to struggle with inspiration for posts. I became discouraged and decided that taking a leave of absence would be the best thing. I thought taking a break from my blog would somehow improve my relationship with God.

In all honesty, I was beginning to feel dry. In the month of May, I posted only one post; normally I post eight to twelve per month. I also stopped reading my Bible faithfully; I still read it every day, but I read it with the purpose of checking it off my checklist. And one thing I've learned is that when you stop studying and reading and memorizing the Bible, everything else in your life will start to come apart. And I simply got out of that habit of really reading my Bible each day. When that happened, I began to lose touch with God. I felt very far from Him. And that scared me. I'm not used to feeling dry or far from God. When I prayed, I didn't feel Him talking back. It felt like my prayers were just bouncing off the ceiling. I felt distant from the One I was used to being very close with.

But I didn't really know what to do about it. I didn't know how to get close to God again. The problem was that I could tell something in my life was wrong, and I knew it had something to do with my relationship with God, but I couldn't quite pinpoint the problem.

But thankfully, things didn't stay that way. In July, I went to Life Action Camp (a Christian family camp) in Michigan for four weeks. I spent a week there with my family, and when my family went home, I stayed behind with my brother to work three weeks of volunteer work there at the camp. This was my fourth summer working at this camp, and our seventh camping as a family. Each year, Life Action has not failed to both challenge and encourage me spiritually. I have grown so much over the years at Life Action, and can point to several life changing moments that have happened to me there.

And 2012 was no different. God used the speakers, the sermons, the devotionals, and my friends and authorities to speak to me. God reminded me of many truths that I had forgotten. He revealed to me some sin in my life and challenged me to deal with it. He reminded me how great and powerful and almighty He is, and how human and weak and frail I am. He reminded me how important it is to keep Him on my heart's throne, and how disastrous it is when I let the things of this world rule my heart instead of the One who created this world. He told me that to ignore my spiritual gifts was to ignore the One who had given me my gifts and talents. And He showed me that the things I love about this life pale in comparison to how glorious and wondrous the world to come will be.

I hope you will return here to Letters From Logan over the next several weeks and months to see what God has been teaching me and how He has been growing me. I have much to write about and much to share, and I look forward to sharing it! It's my hope and prayer that you'll read my posts and get at least one thing out of each one. I'm super excited and can't wait to see what God has in store!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Nehemiah: A Godly Leader

I love reading the book of Nehemiah. It's the perfect inspirational story for the working man. The book of Nehemiah records the story of how this guy named Nehemiah is called by God to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls, which have turned to rubble. See, when the Israelites returned home from being exiled to Babylon as punishment for their sins, their walls had been torn down and their gates were burnt to the ground. So the city had no protection from invading armies, and it was considered disgraceful and shameful for such a prominent city as Jerusalem to be stripped of its protective walls. But God burdens Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls.

In Nehemiah 1 and 2, Nehemiah talks about how he got permission from the king of the country he lived in to return home to Judah to return it to its former glory. And in Nehemiah 3, he goes to Jerusalem and check out the situation. After touring the entire perimeter of the city, he approaches the officials and nobles and tells them what he is about to do. He writes, "Then I said to them, 'You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.' I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, 'Let us start rebuilding.' So they began this good work."

I love the simplicity in Nehemiah's approach: he saw a need, he prepared and planned for what it would need to solve the problem, and then he motivated everyone else to help out. It's so simple, and yet so effective. And they rebuilt that wall. It wasn't easy. In fact, it was incredibly challenging. A lot of people tried to stop Nehemiah and his crew. Chapter 4 shares all of the opposition and troubles they faced.

People came and mocked them. They made fun of them. They ridiculed their work. Even the Israelites began to doubt that the workers would ever get it done. And they received death threats from their enemies. They continuously were threatened by enemies and people who wanted to see Jerusalem continue to lie in ruin.

So what did Nehemiah do? Did he sit down and pout? Did he lose his vision? Or his patience? Or his endurance? No. In Nehemiah 4:13-18, Nehemiah writes, "Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, 'Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.' When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to his own work.

"From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked."

I think that's incredible. Nehemiah stood so boldly in the face of opposition. He didn't cave in. He did the exact opposite: he dug in. He fought even harder to complete the vision God had given him.

Nehemiah was the type of guy who knew how to lead. He wasn't a self-serving or self-absorbed man, but he did demand respect. He was good at delegating jobs and coordinating a large amount of people to accomplish a big task. He could definitely motivate people, and this is evidenced by his ability to get so many people from so many different regions of Israel to rebuild the wall. And he was a committed, determined individual; he didn't back down in the face of death threats and he stood strong when the city of Jerusalem began to doubt him.

I have a lot of respect for Nehemiah and the way he led. I see his persistence, his integrity, his determination, and his passion for God's chosen people. Nehemiah was a man who loved God and who loved his country. He wasn't afraid to do whatever it took to follow God. And that's the type of leader that I want to be.