Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Most Important Word in History

     A baby in Bethlehem.  Angels singing praise.  Shepherds eager to spread the good news.  There's something so tranquil about this moment.  Something so... joyful.  The epitome of perfection was made flesh.  The Son of the Most High God was dwelling among men.  Our very salvation was resting in the arms of a human being!  The mere thought of it is baffling.

     But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

     We often think of this as the beginning, where it all started.  But did it really begin here?  Let's back up for a minute.  Before the manger, before the shepherds, before Mary, there sits on the throne in heaven an infinite God.

     Looking over His creation, the Father sees the sin that corrupts the hearts of humanity.  Why do they constantly turn their backs?  Yet in spite of this, the Almighty knows what has to be done.

     Speaking to His one and only Son, God says, "Do you see those people down there?  My people?  I want you to go to them.  And although they will reject you, mock you, and even torture you, I want you to live among them and teach them.  And, Son, I want you to lay down your life for them.  Will you go?"

     In this moment - this answer - rests our hope.  On it rests the lives of a girl named Mary and a man named Joseph.  On it rests the lives of every human in the history and future of the planet.  It is as if the entire universe holds its breath as the answer comes from the Savior's mouth:


     Yes!  What obedience!  What love!  That the Son of Man would be willing to live among and die for us, sinners, is unthinkable!  Who could possibly have such a willingness as to give their very life that others might have salvation?

     Yet we today are asked a similar question.  Will we commit our lives to serve the Holy One, no matter what the cost, no matter what we feel?  Do we have the obedience and love to be fools for Christ that others would come to know Him?  Will we be the Isaiah's of our generation and say "Here am I, Lord! Send me!" in a world of darkness?

     The Maker of Heaven and earth is awaiting your answer.  Will your answer be yes?

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Path to Redemption: An Allegory (Part 3)

         Just at that moment, however, Messiah arrived and dove into the sea.  With blows and attacks, Messiah freed Lost from Sin and Shame and cut the bindings of Works and the Law.  Lost, desperate for air, swam frantically in hope of reaching Redemption.  However, with Death threatening to pull him under, he could not find his way.  Much to his relief, though, Lost reached the shore.  But, unfortunately, it was the shore from which he came.  He was back where he started, with no hope of reaching Redemption. 
                While Lost was trying to find his way, Messiah struggled against the Sin and Shame under the sea of Death.  The beasts that had at first taken Lost began to pull Messiah under.  Joined by beasts such as Sorrow, Grief, Anguish, and others, Sin and Shame eventually accomplished their mission.  Messiah was dead.  Lying on the shore, without hope, Lost cried,
Surely he has borne my griefs and carried my sorrows! 
The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all! 
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
                Lost looked longingly across the sea of Death.  How would he reach Redemption now?  His savior was dead.  What further hope would he have? 
                Just then, as these thoughts ran through his mind, Lost noticed that the waters began to recede.  The great sea of Death began to disappear as if by magic.  For
God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death,
because it was not possible for him to be held by it
                As the sea vanished, Lost looked in hope of finding Messiah, but he was not there.  Messiah sat at the right hand of the Father in Redemption, saying “It is finished.”
                With the final drops of Death disappearing, Lost saw a path clearly marked, leading the way to Redemption.  The path was called Grace.  Running at once with all the speed he could muster, Lost made his way to the palace.  Upon his arrival, he heard a voice say
Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.
                Let your name no longer be Lost, but let it be Redeemed.”
Entering into the court called Thanksgiving, the newly named Redeemed heard all the people singing praises.  The sound of their worship was so sweet, it welled up inside him.  Without shame, he sang out with the others in praise to his savior:

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

The End.

The Path to Redemption: An Allegory (Part 2)

Fortunately, the sea was quite near the country.  It was well-known to the people of Fallen; its name was Death.  At the shore, Lost looked across the sea.  Focusing intently, he could vaguely make out a glowing castle just on the other side.  The rumors were true!  There was a city, and there must be a King! Lost, with excitement, sought for a way to cross.  Just when Lost thought he would find no way of getting across, however, he was relieved to find three men with a boat at the shore.  The boat’s hull read “Deceit” and the men’s names were Legality, Morality, and Vanity
                “Hello!” yelled the men.  “Is there anything we can assist you with?”
                “As it might happen, I believe there is,” replied Lost.  “You see, I wish to cross the sea to find out whether or not there truly is a King and a palace called Redemption.” 
                “Oh, yes!  Redemption!” cried the men.  “We’ve been there many times!  In fact, we were just on our way there.  Hop in the boat, and we’ll take you.”
                Surprised at his luck, Lost eagerly joined the men and the four set out across the sea.  When they were just a little ways off, however, Legality, Morality, and Vanity stopped the boat. 
                Meanwhile, far off in the palace of Redemption, the King looked out and saw a boat in the distance.
                “There, far off, are Legality, Morality, and Vanity,” He said to his Son, Messiah.  “And who is the other?”  For a moment, silence fell, but then a voice spoke.
                “That is Lost, oh King,” replied a servant named Prayerful.  “He was a friend of mine from the country of Fallen before I came here.”
                Messiah exclaimed, “If he continues with those three, he will no doubt fall prey to their lies and be killed.  Father, allow me to go and rescue him, for
I have come to seek and save that which was lost.
                The Father consented.  “Go to him, before he is destroyed.”
In the boat of Deceit, Lost was already learning of his mistake.  Much to his astonishment, Legality, Morality, and Vanity seized him and began to bind him.  Legality, with a rope called the Law, tied up Lost’s hands and feet.  Morality took out a cloth called Works and covered Lost’s eyes, blinding him.  Vanity, lifting Lost over the edge of the boat, threw him overboard.  This done, the three men sped off as fast as they could to the shore. 
                Meanwhile, Lost struggled in vain.  Sinking lower and lower in the sea of Death, Lost had no hope of escape.  Then, from under the water, beasts arose called Sin and Shame.  They began to pull at Lost, deeper and deeper into Death. 

The Path to Redemption: An Allegory (Part 1)

The Path to Redemption

Nathan Tasker

                Long ago, there was a land that was dark and dreary.  There was no beauty, no flowers; no sunrise to color the sky.  Everything was bleak and dull.  The country was called Fallen.  In this country, there lived a man name Lost.  Lost was no different from any of his fellow townsmen; he would walk the streets, going about his business, occasionally stumbling for lack of light to guide his way.  So it went for all the people of Fallen.  But one day, as Lost was meandering the streets of Fallen with his friend False-Wisdom, something unique happened.  Unexpectedly, they ran into (quite literally) a stranger, whose name happened to be Messenger
                “Good day!” said Messenger enthusiastically.  Lost and False-Wisdom weakly returned the greeting. 
                “Haven’t you heard the news?”  The stranger asked. 
                “What news?”
                “Why, the King has invited all the people to His palace Redemption, of course!  How could you not have heard?”
                “The King?” retorted False-Wisdom quickly.  “Why would anyone believe such tall tales?  Everyone knows the only ruler here is the prince of this world, Deceiver.”
                Lost, however, remained silent.  He had heard stories such as this before, but this time, he felt something deep in his heart, causing him to listen. 
                “Well, Lost?” False-Wisdom inquired.  “Haven’t you heard enough of this crazy talk?”
                Lost, ignoring False-Wisdom, asked of Messenger, “Where is this palace that you mentioned?  I reckon I might try to find this place.  I’m getting quite tired of hearing rumors that I don’t know are true.  I want to find out for myself!”
                “It’s nearer than you may think,” replied Messenger.  It’s only just across the sea.  I’d take you there myself, but I have to someone I’m supposed to meet.  If you find a way to get across the sea, though, you’ll be right there.  Good luck to you!”
                With this, Messenger bid them farewell and was off.  Lost at once set out, much to the dismay of his friend False-Wisdom, to seek out the truth in the stories that had been going around.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Make Me a Servant

Photo from deviantarts.com

     This isn't exactly a typical post of mine, but I just wanted to share some lyrics.  Our Friday night Bible study sang this song last week, and now I can't stop singing it!  The words are really powerful and the melody is equally meditative.  I know I desperately need God to make me His humble servant, content in simply doing His will.

Make me a servant, Just like your Son
For He was the servant; Please make me one

Make me a servant, Do what You must do
To make me a servant, Make me like You.

Make me a servant, Take all my pride
For I would be lowly, Humble inside;
Giving to others With all that I do
In love for my brother; Make me like You

Make me a servant, Filled by Your might
And may all my labors shine with your light
Show me Your footsteps and what I should do;
For now and forever, Make me like You.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Values in Motion (Part 2)

     In the last post, we talked about our values - mainly how we know what they are.  In this part, however, let's see how values affect our lives personally.

     Now, it seems quite evident that our values would affect our actions (in the form of our ethics).  That's what we talked about in the last post.  But beyond that, what difference do values make?  You see, our values are building blocks to something even larger: our name.

     In order to understand this, we need to clarify what we mean by "our name".  Obviously, my values won't change the fact that my name is Nathan.  So this couldn't very well be "name" we're talking about.

     Proverbs 22:1 states it this way: "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold."

     Still, while "Nathan" is a good name, this isn't the "good name" that Proverbs talks about.  This good name is how we're known to others.  It's what comes to mind when they think of you.

     You can think of anyone in your life, and you will find that you have a concept in your mind of what that person is like.  When we hear "Jesus", for example, we think "Savior, God, Christ".  But when we think "Satan", we may think "Devil, sin, evil" or something along those lines.

     The "name" of each individual on earth is determined by the values and ethics that they hold.  Some have a good name, and others have a bad one - all grounded in their values and ethics. 

     When people hear your name, what do they think?  Do they see you as a faithful Christian serving God, or just another church-goer?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Values in Motion (Part 1)

     We all have values.  They permeate our lives and show themselves in our actions and behavior.  Our values (and our character as a whole) are what we do when no one is looking - and what we're willing to stand for when others are looking.

     Whether we realize it or not, we all have our own values.  Many times, though, we don't know what those values are.  That's a bit of a scary thought, isn't it?  Deep in your heart, you stand for something - but you may not even know what it is!

     So how to we know what are our values?  One of the easiest ways to spot our values is in one place: our ethics.

     Now to a lot of us, "values" and "ethics" seem kind of synonymous.  Aren't they the exact same?  No, they're not.  While they deal with the same issue (our character), ethics are when our values are put into practice.

     The best way I've heard it stated was this: Ethics are values in motion.

     The main difference between values and ethics is that values are subconscious ideas, whereas ethics are conscious decisions.  The conscious choices you make reflect the values that you hold.  You choose your priorities, and you govern your time accordingly - all according to your values.

     But what affect do values have in our lives and futures?  Where do we get our values - and can we change them?  Because there are so many points to this topic, I will have to save them for the next post.

     Until then, take a look at the ethics in your life - your choices.  What do your decisions say about your values?  Every choice we make continues to build up a value.  What values are we building?

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Be the Example

     I'm really sorry I haven't written anything for a while.  I thought summer would give me a lot of extra time, but (as often happens) that wasn't the case!

     As one of the many things I've done these past few weeks, I gave the sermon at my church last Sunday.  It was definitely a great experience, and one I hope to have again in the future.  Until then, however, I thought it would be good to share a little bit of what I spoke about last week.

     The main verse of the sermon was 1 Timothy 4:12 (the verse pictured above).  In our youth-centered society, the church loves this verse.  "Let no one despise your youth"... We teens certainly enjoy the supposed freedom from this verse regarding age discrimination.

     There's a problem, though.  This isn't the end of the verse!  If we truly want to claim these words, "Let no on despise your youth," we need to look at what is required in the proceeding text, "but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (emphasis added).

     Often times we want to just take the first part of the verse and leave off the second.  But how can we expect not to be "looked down on" when we're not being "the example to the believers"?  This verse isn't just  a feel-good message, it's an expectation for our behavior as young Christians.

     To illustrate my point, I took the congregation to the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel chapter 17.  In this story, Saul "looked down upon" David, so to speak.  In spite of this, however, David rose up and conquered the 10-foot Philistine (whose armor, by the way, weighed as much as I do) with a single stone when no one else would.

     This too is one of America's favorite passages regarding youth.  But if you read chapter 17 of 1 Samuel, you see that David did not just stride in to battle willy-nilly (Did I really just use that phrase?).  David had an example to match his boldness.

     David was obedient to his father without question (verses 17-20), he gave all glory to God (34-37), he walked in courage and not fear (45-47), and portrayed many other character traits throughout the chapter.

     You see, before we expect to seen as mature Christians, we need to exemplify the behavior of such.  And in order to find out how to be that example, we must look to the word of God and to the example of Jesus Christ.

     There are many who follow behind us.  They are looking for our example, to see what we will stand for and what we will stand against.  They are looking for us to be the example in word, conduct, love, spirit, faith, and purity.  What will they see?

Sunday, June 09, 2013

To Be Continued...

     We all know these words.  "To Be Continued" are debatably the 3 worst words in modern America.  Nothing crushes a great TV episode quite like a mandatory waiting period.  

     TV shows nowadays have a way of getting you to form theories, predict endings, and heighten your hopes like never before.  You have a big "plan" of sorts for how you think it may end, only to be left with these three resounding words echoing in mysterious despair.  

     Why am I going on about TV shows, you ask?  There is actually a very good reason (and it's not just because I like TV...).  Just like an audience watching an episode of their favorite show, God looks down on humanity, waiting - hoping earnestly - for His own plan to be fulfilled.  Except unlike an audience, God has power over the outcome.

     God looks down on the lives of His children, piecing together every one of our problems to evolve into a magnificent climax that could make even a grown man shed a tear or two in delight.*  

     But where does this "To Be Continued" phrase come into play?  As God watches and guides our lives, sometimes we don't see His big plan.  Sometimes we want to put the brakes on things and say "Wait a minute God, can we just stop here and come back a little later?"  

     The problem is, we push things off without realizing that God is piecing it all together into His wonderful plan.  We need to stop trying to force our own twists into God's holy "plot", and just allow the great Director of our life's film to piece together the ending that will blow our minds.

     Don't label God's plan with a simple "To Be Continued."  No one likes those words.  And remember this: neither does He.


     *"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Power of Silence

Romans 14:22b, NKJV
     It's been said that "Actions speak louder than words."  And in a way, this is true.  Just saying we'll do something but not sticking to our word does not say much good about our character.  Actions certainly do speak.  But words do as well.  Have you ever considered, though, how much power is in our silence?  That is the topic of this week's post.

     As I've learned about leadership, one of the best sayings I've heard is "Silence is acceptance."  This holds so much truth.  No one truly knows our opinion unless we speak our mind.  Otherwise the opinion of the majority will rule.

     So what if we don't speak our mind?  What if we stay silent about our faith or convictions?  What does that say?  Quite understandably, it says nothing.  In the sight of bystanders, we've just proved our faith to be, well... we haven't really proved our faith to be anything!  But that's the point.  Our silence does not prove anything about our faith.

     In the presence of sinful conversation, action, or overall environment, what does silence do?  It does nothing.  In fact, this goes a step further: silence shows that we are completely comfortable with the situation. Our silence "approves" what's going on, which is just what Romans 14:22 mentions.

     Are you condemning yourself in what you approve?  Is your silence showing others that you're content with sin?  This is something that I struggle with often.

    Silence is acceptance.  What are you accepting?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

There's More to the Story

Romans 14:8-9, NKJV
     If asked what Jesus did for you, what would you say?  Most people would say that He died for them.  And what a humbling statement to think that He would die for us - unworthy, dirty sinners!  The problem is, though, many times we just stop there.  We don't see that there was much more than just a death needed to save us.  We don't see the big picture.

     Now in no way am I minimizing the death of Christ.  When He died, He took our sins forever to be labelled as His.  I can never ignore that!  But what made His death so powerful?  Thousands of people have died for the uplifting of God's kingdom.  What made this so special?

     You see, if Satan can't use us for his evil purposes, he might as well try to take us off the earth so we can't do any good.*  So wouldn't that make Jesus's death a victory for Satan?  The answer is a strong and resounding no.  

     Just after the fall in Genesis 3, God curses Satan, saying "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."  Satan certainly got his punch in, but Jesus's was yet to come.

     The part of the story we most leave out is this: Jesus rose from the dead!  He conquered death, so it couldn't have dominion on us!  Without that piece of the puzzle, we'd just be serving a dead god.

     So how does all this relate to Romans 14:8-9?  This verse emphasizes Jesus's reign over both the living and the dead.  Without His resurrection, we would have no hope!  Now, however, nothing (not even death) can separate us from Christ's love.  

      If you're living, Christ is Lord.  If you're not, Christ is still Lord.**  Jesus is Lord of all!  "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ... For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:35, 38-39).

                         - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

     *Despite this fact, God will sustain those for which He still has a use on earth.  It's the reason you're here!  For a purpose.  If you didn't have one, you wouldn't be here on earth.  (But that's another post topic entirely)

     **Of course now that I think about it, I guess zombies are a little out of luck...     

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Letter to the Future You

Sometimes we wish we could have a conversation with ourselves once in a while.  A talk, heart-to-heart, where we could be completely and brutally honest - where we could talk about our deepest struggles, pains, longings, sings, and more.  That would be great, wouldn't it?

Last year, at a Family Bible Camp at Camp Yolijwa in PA, our Senior High leader had us write a letter to ourselves.  He collected them, each completely sealed, and then mailed them back to us a few months later for us to reflect upon our own words.

This experience had an incredible impact.  It was the first chance I had ever been given to have a true conversation with myself, and every time I read the letter, I am humbled over and over again.  This is a more generalized version of my letter (the original is quite specific and personal), but I hope that you could be blessed by it - and maybe inspired to write one of these yourself.
"Dear Nathan,
Many times you might not take the time to think of where God has brought from.  The struggles you had years ago may not be the same ones you have now.  Take the time today to think of just how far Christ has brought you - and how insignificant you still are compared to all that He did.   
You don't struggle with the same vices that you did before, but I know that there are deeper things that lie within you that tear you apart even more.  Be honest with yourself.  You've compromised your morals, tried to "fit in" and "measure up", you've had sinful thoughts and a bad attitude with your parents, and most of all a deeply rooted pride.  
Don't think that just because you know more than others, don't do everything they do, and do extra good things that they don't, that you somehow don't need God as much as others.  You need Him just as much as they do - and even more.
 I know that you have plans for your future - going to Bible college, finding the woman whom you will marry, and eventually starting a family of your own.  But don't forget that before you can do any of these things, you must first love God with all of your heart and continue growing ever closer to Him.   
You're already reading scripture daily - great!  But don't let it end there.  Don't read it just to get it over with and checked off a list.  Ask God and beg Him to show you things that you've never seen before.  Plead daily that God will mold your heart to be closer to His and to make you broken before Him, to have a heart yearning for others to know Him better, and to think of yourself less - but God more.  
Don't let your feelings for one girl obstruct your desire for the perfect wife.  Feelings pass away - you're seen it before.  Just watch others' actions and their heart before thinking any more of them.  Be patient and trust in Christ for Him to find the right one.  
Stay strong in the Lord and keep growing closer to Him in all you do.
His blessings,

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Share Your Input

     I'll apologize right now: this isn't really a legitimate post.  I'm sorry I haven't been posting as often as I'd like!  Unfortunately, I won't be able to get to writing a post until after this weekend.  But until then, I'd like to direct you to a new page of the blog: Share Your Input.

     This page allows you to share your thoughts about Not Just a Teen, about life as a Christian; about anything, really!  Well... within reason, I suppose.

     If you have any comments to share, questions that you'd like to pose to other Christian teens, or any other feedback, this is your chance to share!  You can recommend future posts or simply share your thoughts.  You can suggest changes or improvements, share what you've been learning in your walk with Christ lately, share new ideas, or anything else you have on your mind!

     I invite you to check out the new page and share your input.  I'd love to hear from you!


     P.S.  The Rebelution, my favorite site (by far) for Christian teens, has recently re-vamped their website.  There are many more possibilities and opportunities for you to share and receive ideas for doing hard things, plus countless other articles and videos for your encouragement.  Check them out!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Freed from the Law, Bound to Grace

     It's what most of us resented when we were kids.  It's what we can't live without now.  It's what many think that Christianity is based upon, but others think Christianity freed us from.  What is it?  Rules.

     In the Bible, these "rules" were written in the form of the Law.  The Law, in our modern Christian culture, seems like an outdated and even slightly cynical concept.  I mean, Christ came to save us from legalism, right?  True.  But if we don't view the Law in the right perspective, we'll miss God's timeless plan.  The Law did (and still does) have a purpose.  God didn't create something just because He wanted to free us from it.  He wanted to free us from sin, and the Law was simply a part of His plan to do so.

     Our perspective of the Law starts all the way at the beginning.  Just after God creates humanity, He tells them, "You shall not".  He establishes obedience by... guess what?  A rule.  Had He not given them this commandment, how would they know what was wrong and what was right?  This was the role of the Law.  Romans 5:13 says "for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law."  Before the law, nothing was officially established as right or wrong.  The King James Version explains it like this: "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith." (Galatians 3:24, emphasis added).  The Law was our teacher.  It taught us right from wrong.  Because before God could free us from sin, we had to know what it was we were being freed from!  If we hadn't had the law, Christ's death would have been in vain, because we wouldn't have known the reason.  

     Now that we see the relevance of the Law, what is its relevance today?  Since we're freed from the Law, we don't need to follow it, right?  So we don't have to worry about getting tattoos (Leviticus 19:28) or sacrificing lambs (Leviticus 4, 23, Numbers 7, etc)?  Not exactly.  You see, God's law wasn't just a list of do's and don't's.  It was His will.  The Law showed the deepest desires of the Lord: to be glorified, to be worshiped  and for us to sacrifice to Him.  God's desires have never changed.  We aren't required to keep the law because Christ has set us free.  We live in grace.  But still, the concepts of the law show what God desires.  You can do what you like, but God has already given us His will.  As 1 Corinthians 10:23 says, "'All things are lawful,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful,' but not all things build up."  

     Because of God's grace, we can always be forgiven.  But that does not mean we should live in sin.  "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:1-2).  Live in the grace of Christ, but keep His Word ever close to your heart.  

     Next time you talk to God, thank Him for the Law.  Thank Him for showing us what sin is.  But thank Him all the more for His saving grace.  Thank Him that we are no longer held to the Law; that He accepts us just as we are.  And thank Him for His awe-inspiring plan of salvation.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

More than a Set of Pews

     What is your concept of the church?  What value does it have to you?  Many of these kinds of questions have been left unanswered by today's youth; and if they have been answered, too often the answers are shaped by a worldly view.  The topic of whether or not the church is necessary in Christian life is becoming increasingly controversial in our culture.  Teens, even at young ages, are leaving the church in hoards.  Some argue that the church is only meant to convert non-believers and isn't required for those who are Christians, or that it's too judgmental, legalistic, or simply that they "aren't supposed to be there."  While the reasons for youth leaving the church vary quite a bit, I believe it is our mindset that first needs to change.

     If you think the church is simply an organization or a spiritual recharge station, you're wrong.  The church is not an organization, it was instituted by God.  If He commanded and established the church, how could we possibly brush it off as a mere formality?  Ephesians 5:25-30 tells us of God's incredible passion for the church.  He gave Himself for her, He cleansed her, and most of all He cherishes her.  Knowing this, how could we possibly think the church is just another organization?

     More than this, the church is much more than a spiritual recharge station.  Now you might say, "But that's basically what the church is, isn't it?  We come to get filled up, right?"  Well, yes and no.  The church is certainly a place where we can (or at least should) be able to get encouragement and get pumped up to pursue righteousness in our lives.  But if we come just for this, we're missing the entire point.  A "spiritual recharge station" implies that it's all about what we're getting.

     The early church is the greatest example of what our modern churches should look like.  In the entire book of Acts, every Christian was so fired up for Christ that they met in people's homes, gave everything they could to the ministry, and spread the news like a raging wildfire.  Unfortunately, it seems that we have lost this passion.

     It's not our job to sit in the pews and just hear the Word, it's our job to go out and do it.  Christ intends for the church to lead the ministry, but how can it if no one steps up?  Even as young people (especially as young people), we need to step into the ministries of the church.  Our generation needs to see youth who are passionate about the role of the church, and who are right there fulfilling their calling, not just sitting in the pews.

     What do you think is wrong with the church today?  What can you do in your own church that will inspire other youth to step up?  I'd love to hear your comments!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

While We Were Yet Sinners

     He was tortured.  He was beaten, whipped, bruised, spat upon, and countless other things.  Who knows what those who abused Him were thinking as they killed him?  Yet the Lord Jesus asked His Father to forgive them "for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).  Not only did He ask that they be forgiven, but He was paying for that forgiveness at that very moment.  As He hung on the cross bleeding, nails pounded into His wrist and thorns thrust in His head, He was accepting the punishment for their sins.  For the first time, the Father turned His face away from the Son (Matthew 27:46).  And He did it all for them.  He did it all for us.

     In Romans 5:8, it says "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  Think of the time you hurt Christ the most.  Even in the very moment of our worst sin, Christ was looking upon us.  But He didn't hate us.  He loved us.  When we slapped Him in the face with our sin, Jesus said of us, I'm going to die for them.  Yes, they've run from Me.  Yes, they've tortured Me with their sin.  Yes, they've beaten Me over and over and over again.  But I want them.  I love them.  They're My beloved children.  I will die for them.

     Even in writing this post, there are so many more aspects of Christ's life, death, and resurrection that I want to tell you.  It's the most important part of the Bible!  All of God's Word is centered around it.  It was prophesied from Genesis to Isaiah and even the Psalms.  The very story of God's love is climaxed with this moment.  Perhaps I'll share some of these things in future posts.

     Until then, if you happen to read this before Easter is over, remember this moment for the rest of your day.  Treasure Jesus's amazing love for you.  If you read this after Easter, realize that only the world celebrates Christ's resurrection on this day alone.  As Christians, we celebrate His love for us every day!  Let your life be centered around Jesus's love and sacrifice, because He not only died - but He lives.  And He's watching your life unfold.  Let it be for Him.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Church of Tomorrow

     "Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." - 1 Timothy 4:12, ESV

     The scripture above is a very popular verse that was part of a letter from Paul to the young Christian Timothy.  I especially love both letters of Timothy because they are a message from Paul, a champion in the faith and early church, to a young, growing Christian like you and me.  But instead of a dumbed-down, simplistic message, Paul told it to Timothy straight.  He didn't have to drop to Timothy's level; he spoke to him like the Christian brother that he was.  

     I've seen many churches emphasize this verse, telling youth that they are special - that they are the "church of tomorrow."  While this is true, I believe we put way too much emphasis on the first part of the verse and ignore the second part.  Honestly, if the youth of today are truly the "church of tomorrow".... we're doomed. Our culture has already lifted youth onto a pedestal that pushes parent, church, and even government authorities down to a point that youth now dominate society.  We focus so much on not letting anyone look down on our age that we forget that we are an example to every other Christian - whether young or old.  

     However, there's a reason why Paul put our example as believers directly after telling Timothy to let no one despise his youth.  It's because it's not just the responsibility of an adult to not look down on youth.  It's our responsibility too.  It's our responsibility to step up to the call to be more than youth and to be the example.  We need to be the example by edifying one another (Colossians 4:6, Ephesians 4:29), behaving like a true Christian (Ephesians 5:8), walking in love (Ephesians 5:2) and in faith (see Hebrews 11), and in our purity (Matthew 5:8, 2 Timothy 2:22).  This is how we are to be an example.

     Yes, we are the church of tomorrow.  But more importantly, we are the church of today.  What are you doing now that makes you a good example to others?  Are you encouraging other teens to grow in faith, or are you just part of the crowd?  We have a whole generation to reach.  Let's be the example - in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Walk Worthy of Your Calling

     In the last post, I wrote about finding God's will for our lives.  This week the Lord has been showing me more about this topic, so I want to add a new focus to it in this post.  The verse that has probably been most meaningful to me in my studies this week has been Ephesians 4:1:
"I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,"
     My last post focused on the calling that the Lord has laid upon our hearts, and I was blessed to hear of all that the Lord has been calling some of you to do.  Ephesians 4:1 mentions our callings, but it takes it a step further by telling us to walk worthy of them.

     So what does it mean to walk worthy of our calling?  It certainly doesn't mean we deserve it.  Nothing we do can ever make us deserving of what Christ gives us.  He has blessed us more than words can explain (Ephesians 3:20) - much less what we could ever deserve!  We can never be worthy, but we strive every day to become worthy.  In all of His life on earth, Jesus never commanded us to do something that we could simply do on our own.  We need Him for everything.

     How do we walk worthy of our calling, then?  Paul answers this in the following verses of Ephesians 4:

"with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
     Too many times we think that being "worthy" involves more doing.  Sure, the Lord wants us to do things for Him, but this does not come first.  "For by grace you have been saved, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)   What comes first is not works but instead humility, kindness, patience, unity, and peace - certainly not things we can do by ourselves.

     Submitting our "works" to God and allowing Him to change our hearts is hard, but it is the only way we can walk worthy of our calling.  When we arrive in heaven, we will be judged for what we have done and will be rewarded accordingly.  While our works (or lack of) will not void our salvation, what a sad day it will be if our list of works for Christ fit on a napkin.  Let's build a library of accomplishments - a library built on a foundation of humility.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Understanding God's Incredible Will

     Has the Lord ever put something on your heart?  A ministry?  A task?  Or simply a random act of kindness?  Many times we ask God things like "Show me Your will for me" or "Reveal to me my calling."  It's amazing when He shows us these things.  It's our assignment from Christ.  

     Sometimes, though, we misunderstand our calling.  We want God to give us something new, something exciting - something we'll love to do.  Many times, however, we don't get this.  As a man from my church shared in our men's Bible study today, sometimes God wants us to do what we're already doing - He just wants us to do it more.  We can bounce back and forth with our own "callings" from Christ, but sometimes He just wants us to obey Him and to do what he's already asked us to do.  

     I've jumped from one thing to another, trying to somehow please God through my works, but if it's not what He's asked from me, there's not really much of a point.  It's just works.  "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast," Ephesians 2:8-9 explains.  It's not about what we can do for God, it's what He can do through us.  We just have to be humble and have faith in Him.

     The first part of God's will for our lives is that we obey His word: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome," (1 John 5:3).  If we're not operating in line with His own words, how can we expect to please him?  Once we know we are obeying His commands, we can begin to ask for Him to reveal to us His will for our work in His kingdom.  If, for some reason, you do not see God revealing it to you, check to see if He has already called you to something, but you've not seen it.  

     Sometimes the Lord has already revealed His will to us.  He has given us our assignment, and it is up to us to do it.  He may be whispering to you, "You're already doing your calling. Just do it more.  Let Me take control and guide you where I wish."  His will is always incredibly amazing.  Has God given you a calling?  Leave a comment!  I would love to hear how God is working in your life.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Our Eternal Home

     Have you ever stopped to think about just how amazing God is?  about how powerful He is?  about how majestic all of His works are?  Take a moment to let just a piece of His beauty sink into your heart:

      Of course, this is only a very small sampling of some of God's wonderful creation.  These images doesn't even come close to showing His magnificent power.  They can, though, cause us to stop and think about His greatness.

     Not only did the Lord create all of these amazing things, but He did it in just six days.  He didn't even need to lift a finger!  He just spoke, and it came to pass.  This is the wonderful power of God.  Not only did He create all of this for us, but He takes it a step further in the book of John:
"In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." - John 14:2, NKJV
     If God could create a planet such as this - with all of its amazing places, structures, and creatures - in just six days, think about how awe-inspiring heaven will be.  He's had two thousand years to prepare our eternal homes for the day we'll arrive.  He's preparing a place for us that we can't even imagine - just because He loves us that much.  Amazing, isn't it?  Nothing can ever compare with His glory!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Christians, Redefined

     Last Saturday, as I was reading the book of 1 John, a thought came to me.  Oddly enough, it didn't even come directly from 1 John.  I don't know which one, but some verse in that book sparked a thought in my mind.  The thought took me back to Acts 11:26:
"And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." - ESV, emphasis added.
      This scripture adds a piece of information to Christian history that is definitely worth remembering.  It's the first time we were called Christians!  Although nowadays we view it as merely a label or a name, when it was first used it was a description.  This name, in one word, could sum up all that the early believers were like.  It had power.  I can imagine that whenever an early believer heard it, a chill went down their spine.  They were humbled by it.  Why doesn't this word have the same effect today?  I believe that it's because our generation has forgotten its meaning.  Quite simply, the word "Christian" means "Like Christ."  It sounds reasonable enough, right?  Those who followed Christ were said to be like Him.  But think about how that name came into existence.  They were named Christians simply because the first thing that popped into others' heads when they saw these early followers was that they looked just like Christ.  Their actions and behavior were shaped like none other than the Savior whom they were following!

     How do you think we compare with this today?  If the word "Christian" didn't exist, how do you think non-believers would describe us?  Would they say we're like Christ?  Sadly, I'm not so sure they would - at least not most of us.  Sure, there are some Christians out there who truly resemble Christ in their actions, but do you?  Do I?  Honestly, I don't know that I do.

     So let's act as though the word "Christian" didn't exist.  Let's act as though there was nothing that could distinguish us from the world but our actions - not a t-shirt, not a necklace, not a bracelet.  Nothing.  Only our lives can separate us.  Live your life so that your very being resembles the life of Christ.  And when you hear this word - this awe-inspiring, sobering word - remember Who it is that you're really like.  Remember to always be like Christ.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Oh Noes! Not a Valentine's Day Post!

     As is most apparent by now, Valentine's Day is just about upon us.  Usually viewed as a romantic holiday for couples, what can Valentine's Day offer to those of us who are single?  Does God have a lesson for us to learn about relationships, even before we engage in one?  Yes.  There are many topics that could be shared about relationships to a single person.  In fact, I had trouble just narrowing down what topic I wanted to post!  So what do we need to learn before we engage in a relationship?  You guessed it... purity.  

     Now before you close the page on me, this isn't a post about a list do's and don't's, telling you what's too far and what's not, or even how or when you should go about finding a relationship.  This is so much more than any of those things.  Purity is something we don't just carry with us outside of a relationship; it's something we take with us our entire lives.

     Before we go any further, though, let me tell you what purity is not.  Purity is not a boundary or a "do not cross" line.  It's not simply physical, and it's most certainly not something we can brush to the side.  What is purity then?  The best way to view purity is as a direction.  We walk in purity, not around it, not across it, and definitely not over it.  Purity is not allowing lust to get in the way of our pursuit of God.  We walk toward God, not swaying to the right or the left, and not getting sidetracked by that guy or that girl we might like.  This is the direction of purity. 

     So now that we know a little more about what purity is, how do we, as guys and girls, walk in it?  Let me start by outlining what our responsibilities as guys are.  To know how we can best walk in purity involves knowing how those of the opposite sex are wired.  In his book, Sex is not the Problem (Lust is), Joshua Harris outlines this: "Their [a girl's] desire is often rooted in emotional longings.  They're stimulated by touch.  They're excited by being pursued."  So how can we interact with those of the opposite sex purely?  We stay away from doing what would distract a girl's attention from God and protect her from those who do!  Now be careful with the last part of that statement.  I'm not saying we should try to control someone's choices.  But as those who are trying to follow God and live in purity, if a brother in Christ is acting flirtatiously with a sister in Christ, being accountable to each other as Christians (1 Corinthians 5:11-13), we can politely advise him to stop.  We know the world will not protect a girl's physical, emotional, or spiritual purity, so we as Christians must protect our sisters from those who are simply out for the chase.

    For the Christian girls, you have some responsibility here too.  How can you walk in purity?  One important way is to not be someone who encourages her brothers in Christ to chase after her.  Not every guy knows their responsibilities in purity, not everyone has read Joshua Harris's book, and certainly not everyone has read this post, so you can't expect everyone to act in a godly way.  Whether you realize it or not, the way you dress, speak, and act can all have a humongous effect on a guy's heart.  So don't be the girl who provokes others to pursue her.  As Joshua Harris's wife Shannon says, "There's a big difference between dressing attractively and dressing to attract."  This goes for the way you act too.  What is truly attractive to a godly man is a girl's character and not her appearance or flirtatious behavior.  

     This has been a pretty long post, but I hope that it reminds you to always pursue purity by first pursuing God, and keeping your brothers' and sisters' purity in mind with how you act.  For us singles on this couple-centered day called Valentine's Day, remember that God has someone saved for you.  You have to save yourself for them.  Until then, God is asking us, "Will you 'be Mine'?"

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Stepping Above "How about that Weather?"

     NOTE: You may notice that this and the last post do not involve the "Real man" and "Real Woman" pages.  I did this intentionally as I have chosen not to continue posts in a series such as this.  While I wholeheartedly support the ideas these pages introduce, I will be choosing topics of my own to post about that are important to me.  These topics (as my last post shows) will many times be similar to what the Real Man and Real Woman pages point out, but I feel that allowing God to guide what I post can (and has already) change courses that I, in my feeble mind, have set.  You can still find the Real Men and Real Women pages on a separate page on this blog that I will be adding soon, and if there are any points or other topics that you would like me to write about, feel free to write a comment letting me know!  Now, back to the post...

    As the subtitle of this blog states, I want to encourage teens to step above our culture's definition of a teenager and to reach God's calling to live faithfully for Christ; to be a Christian!  Now you may be thinking, I'm already a Christian.  What more is there to step up to?  Well, simply being a Christian isn't exactly what I'm talking about.  While becoming a Christian is the most important decision you can ever make, too many times our generation just stops here.  I want my generation to not just accept the label of Christianity but to live it out in their lives!

     So how does this start?  What's the first step from being a nominal (by name only) Christian to becoming a true Christian, living solely for Christ?  Surprisingly enough, I believe one of the first steps is simply stop thinking of "real life" as being separate from our lives as Christians.  When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, the life of a Christian becomes our real life!  They can't be separate.  It doesn't matter if you're around your friends, at church, youth group, at school, or anywhere - you are a display of Christianity for the whole world to see.   Realizing that the world is watching us is one of the first steps toward becoming a true Christian.

     Not only is the world watching our behavior, but so are our fellow Christians.  How do we portray our belief in Christ to the Christians around us?  This part, interestingly enough, is also quite simple.  I believe that one of the most important things we Christians (and especially Christian teens) miss is fellowship.  Having serious conversations about biblical things is something that, for some reason, we choose to ignore.  Listen to a conversation between a group of friends and how often will you hear Christ or a biblical principle emerge? Not very often at all.  Why not?  Why don't we want to have a serious conversation as fellow Christians?  The answer is because it feels weird.  Our hearts, being desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), don't feel comfortable mentioning Christ!  Think about that.  The souls of God's creation don't want to mention the Creator!  Yet like many hard things, we must deny our hearts' evil desires in order to have fellowship with other believers.  To some, this may seem like an odd concept of fellowship.  Usually "fellowship" involves simply a bunch of Christians getting together, eating some food, and having a good time.  This can very well be fellowship, but if Christ is not in the midst of the conversation, no real fellowship is taking place.

     Do you want to have more fellowship with others?  Do you want to break the long-ingrained line between everyday life and Christianity?  Do you want to live for Christ?  If you want to be mentioned in the Book of Life, you should be mentioning the Writer of the Book in your life.

     (Thanks to my friends Jared and Matthew, whose joking inspired the topic of this post.)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Those who were Different: A Lesson from Hershey Park

     For those who don't realize just how important modesty is in our generation, please read this story from my own life:

     Like many high-school students, I enjoy a good day at an amusement park - just about anyone would.  This time I was with my friend Thomas, riding roller coasters and having a great time at Hershey Park.  Being invited to go along with Thomas and his family on their annual trip, I was thrilled!  As you might imagine, it's not all the time that I get to go to Hershey Park.  At nearly the exact moment we arrived at the park, Thomas and I darted for the nearest coaster.  Amid the excitement and the thrill, though, there was something that began to tear at me.  No, it wasn't the fact that I lost in Chess against his little brother on the way up (he cheated, of course).  It was something all around me.  But it wasn't hiding away in the shadows.  It wasn't even subtle.  It was the clothes girls wore.  I know, I know, I should have seen it coming.  It's summer.  It's an amusement park.  It's our secular culture, for goodness' sake!  For some reason, though, it hit me differently this time.  Anywhere I looked, I was bombarded with it.  What really bothered me wasn't as much what they were wearing, however, but how they were wearing it.  Scattered throughout the entire park, students were wearing their school's t-shirts.  What could be wrong with that?!  But left and right, girls had somehow found a way to get around a standard dress code.  Whether it be rolled up or even cut apart, they simply didn't want to conceal themselves.  How could people dress this way?!, I thought.  What are they trying to gain?  They're just going to reveal themselves to everyone?!  It was almost impossible to look anywhere without finding this kind of dress smack dab in front of you.

     This was just the beginning of the day.  Don't get me wrong, I still got to have some fun riding the coasters.  Between trying to keep the "Hershey's Milk Chocolate" song out of our heads and screaming our heads off at each ride, we had a blast!  Somehow, though, the immodesty around me kept grinding at my heart.  Like many things the devil throws at us, the constant need to guard my eyes - along with the disgust at how my generation dressed - wore me down.

     So there I was, standing in line for Storm Runner for the third or fourth time in a row, wondering how many more times we could get in the second row before everybody else realized it was the shortest line.  I was tired - not just from the long day but from the sickening immodesty of my generation.  Just as I was about to doze off in line, however, Thomas nudged me.  "Now those are two respectable young ladies," he proclaimed.  And that they were.  Among everyone else, these two girls had chosen to wear long skirts and regular t-shirts, one of which said "Purity is in."  These two young ladies stood out - not because of immodesty, but because of the modesty that they portrayed.  At that moment, I was immensely grateful that God had placed those two girls at that park to remind me just how appreciative I should be of a girl's modesty.  I was so thankful, in fact, that I almost walked over to the girls and thanked them myself.  Looking back, I should have.  Sometimes I don't think girls realize just how important their modesty can be to us guys.

     Of course, it's our job as guys to guard our eyes.  There will always be girls out there who don't portray the modesty that God intends.  But when someone does, we should be grateful of that effort of purity.  And for those of you girls who pursue modesty, let me be the first to say... Thank you.