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!