Saturday, December 20, 2014

It's Not about the Baby

There's something about that image: Shepherds standing in adoration, angels singing praise, a father embracing his bride, and that bride pondering the wonderful, peaceful moment.  And then there's the center of the whole scene - the entire focus of the night: the baby.  The child, Jesus, lying gently in a manger.  Everyone loves the thought of it.

But why?  In a society that has so forsaken God, why do people accept - and even embrace - the mention of the Son of God coming to earth?  Why does our anti-Jesus culture suddenly love Jesus?

The answer is simple: they don't.

Sure, they love the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, but they don't really love the Messiah.  To the world, the Christmas baby is a symbol of peace, of love, of hope, and of joy.  But he's just that: a symbol.  The fact is, just like the "loving Jesus" society embraces, this baby Jesus has been stripped of nearly every truly divine quality and left as a mere "feel-good" idea.

He's lost his power.  His judgment.  His terrifying holiness.  His unrelenting wrath against all sin.  And because of all this, he's lost his gospel.  The Almighty King has been replaced by just... a baby.

Perhaps you think I'm taking all of the joy out of Christmas.  However, there can never really be joy without Christ; and we've done exactly that: we've managed to take Christ out of Christmas without even removing Him.  The Church is tricked into thinking that the world is worshiping God when it's really worshiping a baby.

But the baby in the manger is also the One we worship.  He's not the same baby, though.  This baby is God Himself, Who chose to become the lowliest.  He came as a weak infant, but He was - and is - so much more.  He's still God.

He's the Maker of the universe.  He's the eternal Judge.  He's the Commander of all the heavenly armies.  He is Jesus Christ, and no one will ever be able to diminish a single thing about Him.

So when we celebrate Christmas, we worship the Lamb who was slain to pay our debt forever.  And that is the true joy of Christmas.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Knowing the God We've Forgotten

"I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers ... that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe." (Ephesians 1:16-19, emphasis added)

In today's society, the church is being increasingly compartmentalized into two groups: believers who "feel God" and ones who "know about God."  Sadly, as the dichotomy widens, both factions are pushed further and further apart to the point that both are extremes that often stray far from the Truth of Christianity.  In order to truly know God, however, it is crucial for us to find the truth in each of these viewpoints without swaying from scripture and so jeopardize a close walk with Christ.

The first view, "feeling" God, is mostly characterized by Evangelicals.  It began during the first Great Awakening, when dynamic preachers starkly contrasted the dull churches of the day.  These men gripped the emotions, but Christianity became consistently characterized by individual feeling and experience rather than true belief.  Doctrine was kicked to the curb as "spiritual experiences" took precedence.

Alternatively, as the Evangelical movement swept the country, some resisted by holding tighter to church organization, ordinance, and tradition.  While they preserved many sacred aspects of the faith and taught proper theology, they, much like the pharisees of Jesus's day, began to lose the fervor and zeal for the God they served.

And so it has continued to this day.  It is not difficult to notice that the Church of today has almost entirely embraced the Evangelical extreme.  As the philosophy of naturalism becomes much more common, belief in the Maker of the universe seems like fantasy.  Christianity has become therapeutic; "love," "faith," and emotional experience are the primary ideals of the Church, giving it a mystical feeling with little to no foundation in reality.

So what does this mean?  How does all of this help us to know God?  It's simple, really: we must regain the right perspective.  We can't develop a Christian worldview simply by having a "God experience."  Today, knowledge about God is second-priority - even shunned, but God wants us to know about Him!

But even more so, the Lord desires that we know Him.  This means that we not only feel His presence, but we diligently seek to understand who He is.  And yes, that requires studying His word.  It requires prayer.  It requires talking about Him with fellow believers.  It requires things that our "Just me and Jesus" society ignores.

I could really go on and on about this.  I invite you to continue the conversation in the comment section!  In the mean time, though, remember that merely knowing about God or feeling God is not enough.  We have to know God!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

I am Dead

"Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God."  Colossians 3:2-3

I am dead.

There's no way to sugar-coat that.  It's not mystical.  It's not figurative.  It's real.

I am dead.

In Galatians 2:20, Paul says that we have been crucified with Christ.  Romans 6:6 states it similarly.  The message is spread throughout the Bible, in both the New Testament and the Old, yet we take it so lightly.  Simply by looking at the language of scripture, it's plain to see that this fact is far more than just an idea.  It's a reality.

To be crucified is not a light thing.  We are each told to pick up our cross (Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23), but in the days of the Roman empire, this action meant the end.  When a man picked up his cross, his friends and family would never see him again.  There was no chance of return.  His fate was sealed.

I am dead.

I have been crucified with Christ.  Nathan Tasker no longer exists; he died at the age of fourteen.  My friends and family will never see me again.  There is no chance of return.  My fate is sealed.

But that's not all.  I died, but I was replaced with a new man (Colossians 3:9-10).  This new man is not Nathan Tasker, however.  My identity is found in Christ (Galatians 2:20).  So if I have truly died, how can I continue in my old ways (Romans 6:1-2)?  How can I use Nathan Tasker - that man who lived from 1996 to 2010, who is now just a part of history - as a pattern to follow?  That's not me.  Christ is who I am, completely.

There is no partial crucifixion.  There is no partial surrender.  There is no partial death.  If you have truly been crucified with Christ, there is no turning back.  It's over.  Everything earthly about you must be put to death - murdered (Colossians 3:5).  You are of Christ, and now the life that you live - every moment, every situation - has to be lived for Christ.

I am dead.

And I die every day.  I am nowhere close to matching the perfect holiness of my Creator; I may never be.  Every day is an opportunity to crucify everything earthly about me: my old habits, my old desires, my old thoughts.  If I want to call myself a follower of Christ, I have no choice but to follow Him in crucifixion.  There is no middle ground.

I am dead.  Are you?

Monday, November 10, 2014

This is the Day

"This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it."  (Psalm 118:24)

Have you ever taken a moment to think about this verse - I mean, really think about it?  Most of us think we know exactly what this verse means.  We should rejoice, because God allowed us to live!  It's a new day!

This passage certainly is pretty straightforward.  Even so, many of us still fail to realize what "This is the day that the Lord has made" really means in its entirety.  What does it mean for God to make a day?  It's definitely not merely a "You made my day" kind of thing.  It's much more.

When God created the earth, He said it was good (Genesis 1:31).  He created everything for a reason.  And even since the Fall, God still creates things with a purpose.  So when we say that this is the day that the Lord has made, it means that He planned it.  He orchestrated it.

Because we live in the here-and-now, we tend to think that some days don't have much of a purpose.  Well, here's another day at work.  Another day of school.  Another day of life.  But God is eternal.  He's the beginning, the end, and everything in between.  He doesn't make anything meaningless.  So if God made this day, then He has something very special in mind for it.  That's not just poetic; it's literal.

God didn't create a day that is meaningless.  He made this day - this hour - this moment - to change something in your life.  Sometimes, though, we can diminish the plan God has for a day.  We can choose not to live in the Spirit, and so completely miss out on what God was going to do in and through us that day.  What God does in and through us is greatly dependent on how closely we walk with Him.

Maybe God wants to inspire a person through something you do or say.  Perhaps He desires to use this day to bring someone into a relationship with Him by using you.  He could yearn to use today to reveal to you a profound aspect of His character that you hadn't experienced.  Or, He might use this day to prepare you for something even greater tomorrow.  But this will never become a reality if you don't align your life to His will day by day.

This is the day that the Lord has made.  Rejoice and be glad in it.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Leaving a Legacy

By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.  (Hebrews 11:5)

To leave a legacy is an incredible thing.  It takes one simple, corruptible, finite life and uses it to affect generation upon generation afterward.  Just about everyone will leave some kind of legacy, whether good or bad, even if it's just to their children or a small group closest to them.  It's the legacy of those who have impacted humanity for centuries that is truly great.

Enoch was of the seventh line from Adam.  Not much is said about him, actually.  His entire life if summed up in about four verses (Genesis 5:21-24).  Yet much of his legacy is found in verse 24: "Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him."  He's one of the only two individuals in scripture to not die (the other being Elijah; see 2 Kings 2:9-12).

But it wasn't the fact that "God took him" that gave him a legacy.  It was what he did: "Enoch walked with God."  What does it mean to walk with God?  To walk with God is to keep His commands.  It's to love Him with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  It's to stay in constant communication with Him.

But that's not very big, is it?  I mean, Noah built an ark, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, Elijah stopped the rain.  What made Enoch's stroll with the Lord so special?  You see, leaving a legacy doesn't mean doing something incredibly huge to be a spectacle to all.  Sometimes the greatest legacy requires simply faithfully walking with our Heavenly Father day after day.  But I'll tell you what: that can be one of the hardest things you could ever do.

Andrew was a disciple of Jesus whose primary focus was to bring other people to meet the Messiah.  He brought his brother Simon, who became Peter.  He brought the boy with five loaves and two fish.  He wasn't in the limelight, but he did what God wanted him to do.  Both Andrew and Enoch built a legacy, but it wasn't through being in the forefront.  It was through humble service.

What will be your legacy?  Will you do something big for God?  Will you build a life worth remembering, or will you waste it on what doesn't matter?  The greatness of your legacy depends on the faithfulness of your walk with God.

Friday, October 17, 2014

I am a Hypocrite

Have you ever felt like a hypocrite? like those around you seem to hold you in such high esteem, yet you feel as if you're really just a let-down?  I certainly feel that at times.  I may teach a Bible class, I may author this blog; but when I look at my life, sometimes I think Wow, I still am so far from where I should be.  I've gotten so many things wrong.  I'm a hypocrite.

Jesus talked a lot about hypocrites, actually.  In Matthew chapter 23, He addresses them with "Woe to you," "Woe to you," "Woe to you" (Matthew 23:13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29).  Six times He uses this phrase.  Jesus definitely isn't happy with hypocrites.  

So what does it mean to be a hypocrite?  A definition of a hypocrite is "a person who claims to have moral standards or beliefs to which his own behavior does not conform."  Ouch.  According to this definition, I suppose we're all hypocrites.

Or are we?  Although Christianity is not merely a moral standard, the Bible does lay out quite the formidable standard: perfection, basically.  To be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).  So why didn't Jesus just say "Woe to everyone," since none of us are perfect?

Quite fortunately, our moral perfection (or lack thereof) is not what gets us to heaven.  The perfection of Christ, who took our place, is what allows us to enter into the glory of the Father.  The miracle of the gospel is that we don't have to be perfect in and of ourselves in order to be saved, nor do we claim to be perfect.  

You see, that was the problem of the Scribes and Pharisees, whom Jesus regularly called hypocrites.  They claimed to follow the law, to be perfect, essentially, but their behavior was far from it.  For us as Christians, however, perfection is our goal, not our requirement.  We claim to continually submit to Christ, and so we should do.  We claim to allow Him to change us each day, and so we should do.

We are not hypocrites.  I am not a hypocrite.  You are not a hypocrite.  We may make mistakes, but we can take them to Christ (1 John 1:9, 2:1).  However, this is far from an excuse to keep on sinning (Romans 6:1).  Don't let your failures leave you depressed, feeling like a hypocrite.  Use them as a reminder of your perpetual need for the grace of Jesus Christ, and find joy as He continually removes those things so that you and I can become the instruments He has created us to be.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

When the Nation Crumbled

In the book of 1 Kings, during the course of chapters 11 and 12, we find a very didactic - yet not-so-often-told - account of a pinnacle point in the history of the nation of Israel.

The story takes place just after the death of one of the most famous kings: Solomon, who was not only the wisest king, but the wealthiest as well.  However, even this did not secure his dedication to the Lord.  Sadly, Solomon turned his back on the very One who had lifted him up to greatness (1 Kings 11:1-10).  But I digress.

When Solomon died, his son, Rehoboam, began to reign (1 Kings 11:43).  Soon thereafter, Jeroboam (who was a servant of Solomon) and many others came to Rehoboam, asking him to lighten their workload (1 Kings 12:1-4).  And as any newbie to the throne might do, Rehoboam decided to consult some people for advice.

This is where things begin to escalate.  King Rehoboam consulted two different groups: the older men, who had been with his father Solomon, and the younger men, Rehoboam's peers.  The older men advised Rehoboam to lighten the workload (an advantageous political move), but his friends told him to show his might by increasing the workload (1 Kings 12:6-11).

We, nearly 3,000 years later, can find ourselves in a surprisingly parallel predicament.  With each passing generation in our culture, the separation and tension between the older and younger Christians of the Church increases formidably.  Each side pushes at the other, further widening the dichotomy.

While there are many aspects of this cultural divide and many ways in which the Church can and does fight against it, the story of Rehoboam gives us an amazingly beneficial lesson.  You see, Rehoboam chose to listen to his peers.  As a result, God's chosen ones underwent a painful split that separated the people into Israel and Judah, severing the nation.

As young adults in the Family and Body of our Lord and Savior, was must realize what is at stake.  We have to bridge the generational gap by earnestly seeking to learn from those who have been blessed with experiences and wisdom that we do not have (Titus 2:1-8, Proverbs 19:20).  Don't shy away from tuning your ear to the counsel of the wise.

Monday, September 08, 2014

A Story Worth Telling: Two Years of Not Just a Teen

"Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work withing us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen."  (Ephesians 3:20-21)

As of today, Not Just a Teen has existed for two years!  These past years have been an incredible journey for me as I have grown closer to my Heavenly Father.  In looking back over Not Just a Teen's history, I can't help but to see a story of God's overwhelming grace.  If you care to join me, I'll share that story with you.

In a way, I suppose, you could say that Not Just a Teen began more than just two years ago.  It has, in reality, been a story nearly four years in the making, and it began when I came to know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Growing up, I had always thought myself to be a Christian.  I believed in Jesus.  I was the "spiritual giant" of my church's youth - or so I was called.  I did more than most Christian youth ever do.  But I had never done one thing: ask Christ into my heart.  It took a year-long period of sinful struggle that brought me crashing to my knees before I realized that I still lacked His salvation, and that I could amount to nothing without His redeeming power.

But this story is more than just my personal testimony, so we'll move on.  About a year and a half after being saved, I was beginning to feel a strong burden for my generation of teens, especially for those in the Church who weren't growing in their faith - or who hadn't even been born again at all.

On top of this, a number of questions probed my mind: What if I died tomorrow?  Who would know my heart's cry for my culture?  Would anyone even know I gave it a thought?  What evidence would there be of this faith that I hold?  What would my legacy be?  Would I just be remembered by my peers for my sense of humor or my knowledge?  It was out of these questions that Not Just a Teen was born.

Ever since I wrote the first post, I have seen God work in amazing ways.  I have been blessed to write over 40 posts, spanning from topics of purity,the church, and motivational quotes to colorful allegories and metaphors pertaining to scripture.  Some have been entertaining, some have been written with a heavy heart, but all have been written out of lessons that the Lord, by His grace, has taught me personally.

One of the most notable posts was "Those Who Were Different: A Lesson from Hershey Park," a story from my own life pointing out the need for guys to appreciate girls who dress modestly.  This post was unique, though.  I had submitted it to one of my favorite blogs, The Rebelution, for them to post on their site.  I explicitly remember kneeling, trembling, praying that God would use the post to touch at least one - just one - life.

The response was not what I had anticipated, to say the least.  When the story was posted on The Rebelution, it was immediately met with dozens upon dozens of people reviling me personally, and even Christians in general, for being legalistic, hateful, judgmental, and even sexually-obsessed.  The post was woefully misinterpreted, even by some of those in support of it.

Although many people responded harshly, there were also many who were encouraged.  And while the "slander" was small in comparison to the trials of many faithful believers, God was able to use it to open my eyes in compassion to the fact that many people - even Christians - have been deeply hurt by false views of Christian beliefs, modesty simply being one of them.

This was just one example of God's work through Not Just a Teen.  There have been many other posts that have challenged, uplifted, and instructed youth and adults alike.  I am inexplicably grateful for this, and I am hopeful for what the Lord is yet to do.

As I look back over the posts I have written, I am utterly humbled by what Jehovah has done.  Even to this day, the recurring themes of Not Just a Teen - sacrificing our all, aligning our lives to His Word, letting Christ flow through us and express Himself through our actions - still resonate in the posts.

I don't know what God has in store for me and this blog in the future, but I do know that He has shown His power to do mighty things.  So now, I shall walk with Him each day in obedience and love, knowing that it is only in The Almighty that we can have any hope to bring a lost and dying world to its Wonderful, Merciful, Compassionate, and Benevolent Creator.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Worst Hobby in Existence

Model trains, trombones, computers... We all have are hobbies, don't we?  Some play instruments, a few can draw, others can knit.  These are things that identify us and make us unique.  Hobbies can be just about anything!  But here's one thing that should never, ever be a hobby: our faith.

Wait, what?!  That's right, our faith.  You see, sometimes we can see Christians who are really passionate about their faith and dismiss it as something they're just "really into."  Sometimes I think my friends see me like that.  Jim's into cars, Kate's into fashion designs, and Nathan... well, Nathan's into the Bible.

Not that we shouldn't be "into" God and His Word.  We should!  But our faith is so much more than just something we turn to in our spare time.  We can't decide when or when not to act Christ-like or live according to scripture, as if Christianity were something that could be put down or picked up at our leisure.  Our faith is something we live out every second of every day.

How does that happen, though?  How does our faith in Christ impact our every moment?  It starts in our hearts.  The Lord says that we must each guard our heart, for from it flows the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23).  What we pour into our hearts will determine what comes out of them (Proverbs 15:28, Luke 6:45).

One of the most effective lies the Devil has permeated into the core of humanity is "Oh, that doesn't affect me."  Foul language doesn't affect me.  Inappropriate dress doesn't affect me.  Those are flat-out lies.  The heart is like a sponge, and every single thing that it is allowed to soak in will eventually find its way out.  In order for Christ to be shown in every venue of our lives, our hearts must be close to that of our Creator.  And it begins with what we choose to pour into it.  

As we grow closer to Him through His word, prayer, and fellowship, we will find that our choices change.  We won't listen to the same music anymore.  We won't watch the same movies anymore.  Everything - I mean everything - is seen in a new light.  Our choice of music, movies, media, etc. is not what brings us closer to God, but those things are sure to change as our hearts become knit with His.

Your faith is not a hobby.  Don't act like it is.  Every aspect of your life displays your faith in Christ.  Pour into your heart only what is good (Philippians 4:8).  Strive for a heart of beauty and you will unravel a life of beauty.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Not Just a Teen Goes Social!

For those of you who didn't already know, Not Just a Teen is now on Facebook!  Check out the Not Just a Teen page at  There you'll find not only each post, but also other quotes, verses, and pictures to encourage and uplift you in your walk with Christ!

Also check out the Not Just a Teen page on Instagram for inspiring, faith-based pictures: @notjustateen.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Lesson from Freddie the Bird

This morning, as I was preparing to go to work, I happened to look out the window and into our backyard.  On the side of our deck, I saw a number of young birds perched.  The birds had obviously just recently learned to fly, and they still had some of their early, soft feathers.  Some of the young birds were fluttering to and fro, down to the ground, and then back up onto the deck.

However, there was one bird who didn't seem to want to move all that much.  Freddie, as I called him, just sat as low as he possibly could on the edge of the siding, occasionally getting a bit frightened if one of his fellow fledglings flew too close.  Come on, Freddie! I thought. Why don't you fly like all the rest of your little bird buddies?

As I watched the fledglings, I realized that we, too, can be a lot like Freddie.  God has so much planned for us, but we too often don't experience the amazing things that God has in store.  So how do we tap into God's incredible life plot?  Just like Freddie, there are a few things we have to do.

1. We need to get our adult feathers.  In order to fly, birds can't keep the same soft feathers they used to have.  They need feathers fit for flying, and so do we.  Our "feathers" are our understanding of the deep truths of the Word of God.  Paul explains this as moving from the "milk" to the "meat" of the Word (1 Corinthians 3:1-3, Hebrews 5:12-14).  We can't expect the fruit of a godly life without first basking in the light of the Word of God.

2.  We need to drop our baby feathers.  While this may seem to be equivalent to the first point, there's another aspect to losing our old feathers.  As Christians, we tend to carry around lingering attitudes and beliefs, which we had before we were saved.  It's critical that we leave these behind!  Any behavior that does not match that of Christ must be removed from our lives, for it will destroy us (see Romans 6).  This requires that we allow God to examine our hearts and show us what we need to change (Psalm 139:23-24).

3.  We need to jump.  We've all heard the cliche: "Take a leap of faith!"  To some, this phrase means practically nothing, but it's imperative to learn to jump out of our own comfort zones and into God's will, for the two are seldom the same.  The Bible says that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  We may not understand what our Father is doing or why He wants us to do this or that, but He has called us to follow Him regardless.

Sometimes, even birds are afraid to fly.  But how sad would it be, though, if they never tried, and completely missed out on God's wonderful gift of soaring through the skies!  Our Savior has an impeccable plan for each of our lives (so much better than the ability to fly!), but we are too complacent in our own lives to experience it.

I find comfort in the fact that the Maker of the universe knows when a single bird falls from the sky (Matthew 10:29-31).  We are so much more loved that birds.  How much more will our Abba Father guide and protect us as move past our Freddie-like fear and leap into His glorious will!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Only Way

Beaten with rods.  Whipped relentlessly.  Pierced by thorns around His head.  The Holy One of God - the King, the Son of the Most High, the Almighty - was tortured beyond comprehension.  The All-powerful Messiah's body was unable to bear the weight of the cross on which He was to die.  Eventually He was hung on it, amidst ridicule and mockery.  He died one of the most shameful, painful deaths that anyone could ever die.  But it was the only way to save humanity from their sins.

Or was it?

Sin came into the world so easily; through one man (see Romans 5).  Was all hope lost after the first sin, though?  Was God powerless against the sin that entered the earth through Adam?  Of course not!  He made a promise, even then, that He would send a Savior to the world (Genesis 3:15).

But He didn't have to make that promise.  He could have just obliterated Satan the moment Satan turned against Him, and purged the earth of sin on the spot.  He could have purified the earth with a gush of Heavenly fury.  But why didn't He?

He did it for us.  But most of all, He did it for His own glory.

God could have put everything back to the way it was.  But He's so much greater than that.  His plan of salvation is one of tragedy, but of hope; of defeat, but of victory; of agony, but of joy.  It's difficult for us, on earth, to understand God's beauty, holiness, and magnificence without first knowing the ugliness, imperfection, and woefulness of sin.  That's why Jesus died: so we could know Him, and know His incomparable, incredible beauty.

But more than this, Jesus died so that He could be glorified.  "Father, the hour has come," He prayed.  "Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you" (John 17:1b).  God is glorified in our lives when we choose Him over everything else and worship Him for who He is.  Knowing that we would better savor Him and His majesty after first knowing the worthlessness of sin, He chose to write the best, most heroic story imaginable, so that we could experience His joy to the utmost (See John 15:11, 16:20-22).

Jesus didn't have to die.  But He did.  He could have wiped out sin completely.  But He didn't.  Instead, He chose to lay His own life down (John 10:18).  He chose to endure the cross, to endure the beatings, to endure the whippings, to endure the mockery, to endure the blood, to endure the aching, and to endure the shame.  And He did it all for His glory.  He did it all for us.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Arguing with the Manual Writer

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Many think that the Bible is just a book of encouragement, merely a collection of stories, or simply a bunch of rules.  However, these are all false conceptions of the Word of God.  Yes, the Bible can be encouraging.  Yes, it contains stories of men and women of history and even has rules.  But as Christians, we know that it's infinitely, unfathomably more.

Think about just how amazing it is that we have the Bible.  It's God's very Word!  By His words, the universe came into being.  With His words, He calmed storms and healed a myriad of sick people - both physically and spiritually.  And on top of that, He has given that Word to us!  The question is, though: do we act like it?

I've heard some say that the Bible is a Christian manual.  While the metaphor misses some essential elements of scripture, there is some truth in it.  Life, you could say, is sort of like building a bicycle.  Why would you attempt to build one without consulting the manual for guidance?  I've never heard statements such as these:
"Yeah, but this manual doesn't apply to my bike."
"I know it says that, but with this bike, I'm sure it would work better this way."
"But if the manual writer were in my situation, he would see that it doesn't work."
"Well he didn't really mean that when he wrote it, what he really meant was this."
See how silly that is?  Yet we, whether intentionally or unintentionally, constantly use these excuses in our lives.  The great "Manual Writer" of life knows and has revealed to us, among other things, the best way to live life.  He created life itself, so how could my plan or idea possibly top His?  I can't see the end, but He can see the end, the beginning, and everything in between.

It is crucial that we line up our lifestyles with the Will of God, according to His Word.  If an aspect of your life is contrary to His word, change it!  Who are we to argue with the Author of life?  It's as foolish as arguing with the manual writer.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Deaf to the Spirit

In the last post, I talked about the necessity of being wholly God's, and used 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 to explain its extreme importance and greatness:
"Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies."
In this post, we're going to look at the same verse, but in a slightly different light.  Again, contextually speaking, Paul is writing primarily about the sexual immorality of the church of Corinth, but there is another universal truth that we must understand: we are each the temple of the Holy Spirit.

In Old Testament times, the dwelling place of Emmanuel (meaning "God with us") was between the cherubim on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant.  He literally had a tent (the tabernacle), just like the rest of the Israelites.  He dwelt with them.

When Christ laid down His life, however, something changed.  The veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn from top to bottom, symbolizing that we can enter into God's presence without an intermediary.  He no longer dwells in temples made with hands (Acts 7:48), and is not longer simply with us.  He is in us.  How amazing it is to know that the Maker of Heaven and Earth, the Alpha and Omega, and the Savior of mankind would choose to dwell in us!

Too often, though, we take for granted the fact that we have the Spirit of Almighty God in our hearts.  Our perception of Him becomes that of a deity who allows us to live our own lives without interference unless we ask him to help us out, rather than that of a personal God who is constantly seeking to speak to us and mold us into who He wants us to be.  In reality, too many of us are deaf to the Spirit.

How do you live your life?  In the choices you make, entertainment you enjoy, things that fill your conversation, and in your day-to-day behavior with your family and friends, do you live like Christ is watching, guiding, and shaping your life? or do you do your own thing, as if He's distant and just "there for you?"

The more we listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, the more our lives will resemble Christ and His love.  The more we allow ourselves to become distracted with our own plans, lives, and desires, the more we deafen ourselves to the Spirit.  Let us live every moment remembering that the One Who holds the universe chooses to live and work in our hearts.

Monday, May 26, 2014

To Be Wholly His

"Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies." 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

It is undoubted that our generation of Christians has become the epitome of lukewarmness. We have become so much like the world, either in a compromising state of spiritual laziness or in a vain attempt to make Christianity look easy-going and free-spirited, that we have made it nearly impossible for unbelievers to see us as any different. What's even worse is that we often praise this as being an accomplishment! 

We have become comfortably content with our lifestyles and have bought into the lie that if we go to church multiple times a week, read some scripture each day, save our first kiss until our wedding day, and maybe pray a tearful prayer every so often, we are spiritual giants. While it is true that, in comparison to most youth today, this is fairly impressive (in fact, those are all very good things), there's something wrong. If this is all that separates us from the world, we have missed the whole point. And the point is simple: we are not our own.

Now, although 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 is contextually speaking about sexual immorality in the church of Corinth, Paul is using an ever-present Christian truth: that we do not belong to ourselves (see also Romans 6). Our bodies, souls, and spirits are no longer ours; they are wholly, utterly, and uncompromisingly Christ's.

Are you fully surrendering yourself to Christ? That's not rhetorical. It is absolutely vital that you answer that question for yourself with the utmost honesty. If you want to know if you are fully giving yourself to Him, answer these questions for yourself:

What do I think about the most?
What do my friends and I talk about most frequently?
Do I yearn to read God's Word and to talk to Him?
Do I obey and delight in His commandments?
If someone were to see my every action and hear my every word and thought, would they see a Christian living solely for Christ, or would my life be muddied with worldly behaviors and influences?

Let me be the first to say that I am far from passing that test. Even so, I choose to give my life completely to Him, and to surrender my paths to Him and allow Him to change my ways and make me into the image of His Son. And the more I do that, the more my thoughts become centered on Him, the more I desire to spend time in His Word, and the more I can be His servant and vessel.

Watching my generation and some of my closest friends, many of whom were once close to Christ, become swept away into a compromising state of lukewarmness hurts me deeply. Christ didn't die to save a part of us. He died to save all of us. I don't want to be my own. I want my every thought, my every word, my every action - my everything - to be wholly His.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

You Can Do This! ... Or Can You?

     In Christian society today, one thing that is most desired by the Church is inspiration.  We want to be inspired in our walk with Christ, to be encouraged to keep going, and challenged to be better.  In fact, inspiration, although there are a number of different ways we use the word, is extremely necessary for our faith.

     However, over the number of weeks, I've noticed something increasingly dangerous about this.  On social media sites, we often like to share motivational pictures or quotes that we think are nice.  This too is good, but it's not necessarily this that is particularly bothersome.  The danger in our "inspiration" these days is what we choose to inspire us.

     You see, many "motivational" quotes that we use actually encourage us - often without our realizing it - to not rely on God.  Statements such as "You're strong enough for this," "You can do whatever you set your mind to," and "Don't do things for others' approval, do things for yourself," actually reject Christian principles.  While they often have slivers of truth, we need to be careful what we're actually saying.

     The main way I see "inspirational" quotes like this contradict Christian beliefs is in their purely humanistic base.  Where in the Bible does it say that we are strong enough, we can do what we set our minds to, or that we should act for our own benefit, without clearly and explicitly explaining that the omnipotent God is the source of this strength?

     The point is this: we need to be well aware of what we say when we try to spread encouragement and inspire others to trust God.  Are quotes such as these bad?  Not necessarily, but they do give a false - or at the very least, incomplete - message about our human capabilities versus God's almighty power.

     We, as the Church, need to understand that "inspiration" is not patting our brothers and sisters on the back and telling them that they have the power to get themselves through any of life's situations.  We simply don't.  Our inspiration has to come from the basis of our Creator's unlimited power, and our feeble weakness.  The inspiration is not found in ourselves; it's found in clinging to the One who has promised to work everything out for good for us (Romans 8:28).

      Inspiration is critical to a Christian's life.  We need to be encouraged - but we need to be encouraged in Christ our Savior!  Next time you want to share encouragement with someone, do so not in the trust of humanity's weak and constantly failing nature, but instead in the might of our Father's everlasting right hand.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

A Dream or a Nightmare

I'm sure you've heard it before: "Follow your dreams."  It's the message we tell kids, teens, and even adults.  And it certainly is a nice phrase!  It inspires people to reach high, press on, and accomplish big feats.  So what's wrong with it?  Essentially, nothing's wrong with following a dream.  The only problem is... the dreams are wrong.  That's right!  Our dreams are just plain wrong.

Wait a minute.  Who am I to make the judgment that someone's dream is wrong?!  What about the people that dream to become motivational speakers? authors? presidents?!  Although these are certainly very commendable vocations, they are completely and utterly wrong if they do not involve one crucial element: Jesus Christ.

You see, when children are asked the age-old question "What do you want to be when you grow up," the reply is usually something vocational, but seldom involves God.  And if someone's dream does not involve God, we run into a wide variety of problems.  Essentially, the problem is simple: they're our dreams.

Now, let me stop and say right now that I am certainly not - at all - against someone pursuing a career, nor am I even against someone having a dream!  I certainly have dreams of my own, and I am pursuing a career.  Where we go wrong with, however, is that we don't let God have His place in them.  His place being, of course, everything.

Basically, we get the order reversed when it comes to our dreams.  Instead of trying to fit God into our dreams, we need to start with a pursuit of God, and let our dreams follow suit.  We shouldn't follow our dreams, we should follow God, and our dreams will follow Him as well.

According to Proverbs 16:9, "The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps."  The question is: who's planning your way?  Are you, or is God?  If you plan your way, you'll only find disappointment.  But if you follow the Lord's plan, He'll establish your steps with His Mighty and Abundant Hand.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Life's Kinda Like a Tree

     Throughout the Bible, analogies are used frequently.  They help us to apply what we see to our spiritual journey, and explain deep truths in ways that are easy to understand.  Among the dozens of analogies used in Scripture, we can find quite a few that have to do with plants.

     Plants, you ask?  Yes, plants!  They're nothing out of the ordinary, yet the Lord uses something so common to point out things He wants us to see.  From the Psalms to Paul's letter to the Galatians, let's take a look at three ways God uses plants to teach us about aspects of our faith:

     The first of these is Galatians 5:22-23, or as we would better know it, the "Fruit of the Spirit."  Okay, okay, so this passage isn't exactly talking about fruit from a tree.  In these verses, "fruit" simply means "a result" or "payment," so essentially this could be called "the result of what happens when you walk in the Spirit."  However, the common title is, in my opinion, much more exciting.

     But if this passage isn't about edible fruit, why am I using it?  You see, edible fruit is, in a sense, the "result" of the life of a tree.  So, let's look at the fruit of the spirit in the same way; many times, people try to get to heaven by being good - by having love, joy, peace, and so on.  This, however, is not the right way to do things.  It's called morality.

     How silly it would be to try to make a tree by stapling a bunch of apples to some branches?  It wouldn't make any sense at all!  The tree must come first, and then the fruit will come as a result; not the other way around.  This brings us to our next analogy, found in John chapter 15.

     In this passage, Jesus tells us that He is the Vine.  For this example, however, let's say he's the "trunk."  Christ calls us the branches.  He says "Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit."

     We see here that Jesus Christ is the "trunk" (so to speak) from which we, as the branches, must grow.  Notice that it isn't until after He makes this point clear that fruit even comes into the conversation.  Again, the order remains the same: Christ comes first, and the fruit comes afterwards.  Bearing fruit is not the most important thing on the list; letting Christ be the foundation of your life is essential.

     With this, we move on to our last scripture: Psalm 1.  In it is an explanation of the man who delights in the law of the Lord.  Basically, this man has Christ as his foundation.  The plant analogy comes in verse 3: "He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers."

     Thus, by what we've learned from the previous scriptures, our life becomes a tree.  Christ is the trunk, we are the branches, and our actions (and our character) are the fruit.  This seems like a simple enough point, but it is critical that we understand it.  We, as corrupt humans, cannot be the center of things, nor can our good intentions.  Only Christ can do that.  This order simply cannot be emphasized enough.

     This has been a fairly long post, but believe me, we have not even scratched the surface.  There are dozens and dozens of other points that could be made from the passages I used.  I encourage you to discover them for yourself.  You will find a plethora of wisdom in just a single verse!