Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Myth of Modesty

{image source}
The topic of modesty has caused unimaginable division, especially within the Church. The reason is clear: we’ve focused so much on how women dress that we’ve lost touch with the heart of God. Sure, sometimes we’ll throw in the male side of the discussion, but our attention still isn’t in the right place.

The problem is that the outward appearance is such a tiny portion of modesty that it’s no wonder why we’ve gotten things so wrong!

I have yet to read a description of modesty that explains it as it really is (not that one doesn’t exist; I simply haven’t found it). So what I’d like to do is try to paint for you the whole picture of modesty and destroy the myths that have caused such ungodly division.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

God Doesn't Make Sense (And I'm Okay with That)

{image source}
We live in a world that wants so desperately to know God. That is, we live in a world that wants to be able to understand God. To know His thoughts. To predict His movements.

We want God to make sense.

But there’s a problem. We’re humans. We live in our own corner of the universe with our own worldviews, ideas, and values. We, with our peephole-sized view of the world, determine our own idea of how things should be.

So, in the face of a Divine Master that doesn’t match our concept of “God,” we humans reject Him. Even though His reality is substantially clear, we deny Him and choose to follow our own desires (Romans 1:20-21).

This is a bad enough problem in a lost society, but this kind of thinking is invasive; it’s found its way even back into the lives of redeemed Christians.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Relationship Series: Now What?

{image source}

We’ve arrived at the sixth and final post of The Relationship Series. Over the course of this series, we’ve talked about a number of not-so-popular relationship topics. We’ve discovered the purpose of marriage and our roles as husbands and wives in it, we’ve discussed courtship with its purpose and application, and we’ve uncovered the real meaning of purity.

As I mentioned in the previous part in this series, though, many of us have years to go before we’ll marry or even begin some sort of relationship. So in reading these posts, you may find yourself asking this question:

“Now what?”

“What can I do now to prepare for marriage?” ­­We began to answer this question in Part 5 by talking about purity. We found out that purity is much more than simply “not crossing the line,” but is really a pursuit of Christ. This, of course, is the most important aspect of preparing for marriage. How can we expect to please God in our relationships if we aren’t pleasing Him in our individual lives? Therefore, chasing after Christ and His holiness is the most essential part of becoming ready for marriage.

In addition to following the Lord in purity, there are a number of specific things we can do to prepare ourselves for being godly husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers.

Monday, August 03, 2015

The Relationship Series: The Heart of the Matter

{image source}
Throughout this six-part series on relationships, we’ve discussed marriage and courtship, each with their own purposes and meanings. In short, we’ve covered the “relationship” part of The Relationship Series. But chances are that most of us aren’t married or even ready to court.  Does that mean we're off the hook? Hardly.

So what do we do before we’re ready for a relationship? The answer is simple: get ready.

Too many of us arrive at adulthood and suddenly come to the realization, “Oh no! I’m not prepared for marriage!” Worse yet, we use our unpreparedness as an excuse to pursue petty, commitment-less relationships. We seem to have this idea that one day we’ll wake up suddenly ready for marriage, but that’s simply not going to happen. We need to get ready.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Relationship Series: The "How" of Courtship

{image source}
Through The Relationship Series, we’ve discovered some of the less-often discussed parts of relationships. We’ve talked about purposes of marriage that are not so commonly learned (Part 1), roles of husbands and wives that far too few people understand (Part 2), and a form of dating that is entirely counter-norm (Part 3).

This post is no different. In the last post, we began to talk about the “Why?” of courtship. Now, let’s look at the “How.”

Honestly, there’s no black and white handbook for courtship. There’s no formula or set of rules. Even so, there are several key aspects of courtship that make it distinctly different from dating. Let’s explore each one and discover why they’re important.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

The Relationship Series: Let's Talk about Dating

{image source}
This is now the third post in The Relationship Series. In the first post, we discussed the primary purposes of marriage: Procreation and Representation. We discovered why they’re important and what they mean in marriage. Then, last week, we found out what it looks like for a husband and wife to fulfill these purposes. We looked at the roles of a husband as a Priest, Prophet, Provider, and Protector, and the importance and beauty of the submission and “management” (so to speak) of a wife.

To be honest, though, we’ve barely begun to explain marriage. It’s the incredible unifying of two individuals. It’s one of the greatest manifestations of love on earth. It’s the intimate knitting of two hearts. It’s to be treasured above nearly all else. It’s practically indescribable.

Because of this, it seems to make sense that finding the right man or woman to marry is vital. Indeed, it is! Quite understandably, it’s become one of the most popular topics among the Church’s youth. There are countless video series, books, and programs, all centered on the issue of dating.

So how do you date in a Christ-honoring way that will produce a godly marriage? The simple answer: you don’t.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Relationship Series: Husbands and Wives

In the last post, we discussed marriage. We delved into its two-fold purpose: procreation and representation. Procreation, as we discovered, is much more than simply “having kids,” but is a far greater calling than it is often credited. Marriage also serves to represent God, firstly in His relationship to the Church, but also in the relationship of his triune nature.

Is this really all there is to marriage, though?

If both individuals in the relationship are working toward the same two purposes, of what importance is it for a wife to be a wife and a husband to be a husband? In other words, is a wife’s role different from that of a husband’s? And if so, why?

If you read last week’s post, I hope the answer is already coming to your mind. The roles of husbands and wives are different, because they are specifically designed to fulfil the purposes of marriage. If we do not fulfil our roles as husbands and wives, we will never fulfil the purposes of marriage.

The begging question, then, is “What are the roles of husbands and wives?”

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Relationship Series: What's the Point of Marriage?

Hey everybody!  As many of you have noticed, there haven't been any posts on Not Just a Teen for over a month.  This is due to the crazy business of my life for the past few months, but (prayerfully) things are slowing down a bit!  To the best of my ability, I hope to be back to the regular, weekly posts.  Thank you all so much for your support, and God bless! :D
{image source}
With so many varying definitions and implications of “marriage” in the world today, everyone seems to have their own idea of what the purpose of marriage truly is. Some might say it’s to enhance both individual’s gifts and abilities in improving the world. Some might say it’s to provide a necessary social structure for the family and community. Some might say it’s to bring you enjoyment. Some might even say that marriage has no purpose at all.

But from a worldview centered on God’s Truth, what is the real purpose of marriage?

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

How to Deal with Offenses: Part 2

{image source}
In Part 1 of this post, we discussed the very first part of Matthew 18:15: “If your brother sins against you.” As we found, there is a vital point to understand in dealing with offenses, and it is that we have to do something. We must either take it directly to the person with whom we have an offense, or we must let it go. To do anything else is to gossip or hold bitterness; either is sin.

Now let’s look at Matthew 18:15-17 for ourselves and see Jesus’s “four-step” process in dealing with those who sin against you:

Saturday, May 02, 2015

How to Deal with Offenses: Part 1

{image source}
Let’s face it. People are difficult. Personalities clash, cultures battle, and ideals often oppose each other. Dealing with other people, especially within the Church, can be complicated.

Because of this, one of the most difficult – yet common – troubles we have as Christians is resolving offenses. It’s so easy for us to feel as if we’ve been wronged, and so we often look to the person with whom we have an issue, hoping that they will somehow change. We try to avoid conflict, so we do nothing.

But what should we really do?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Gospel, The Gospel

{image source}

“The Gospel, the Gospel,
Fragrance in words.
The sea of my soul is calmed when it’s heard.”
(The Gospel, Jimmy Needham)

It’s the focal point of scripture. The entire Old Testament points forward to it, and the entire New Testament points back to it. If the Bible were a novel, the Gospel would be the climax. If it were a musical score, the Gospel would be the resounding fortissimo after an intensifying crescendo.

The Gospel is nothing short of awesome.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

How am I Ever Going to Change?

I’ll be honest. I want to change. As a matter of fact, the more I am changed to be more like Jesus Christ, the more I recognize how desperately in need of change I still am.

Truth be told, that’s always going to be a reality. While I’ve been given the power to walk in holiness, I will never reach the state of Christ’s absolute, innate perfection. I will always need to change.

Sometimes, though, change seems impossible. No matter how much I try, I am in many ways still the same. I’ve come to realize, though, that unless I understand a number of things about change, that will always be the case.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Lies and Truths of Hard Times | Guest Post By Laura Owens

{image source}
Everyone has times when life is hard.  Times when life blindsides you, and it’s all you can do to put a smile on your face and act normal around people.  Times when you really do want to trust God, but in the back of your mind there are the questions “Does He really know what He’s doing?” and “Why is this happening to me?”

Hard times like these are pivotal to our lives and our faith.  It’s a fork in the road – will you cling to your belief in God, or will you turn your back on Him? 

Many lies have cropped up concerning tough times, and at one point I fell for them.  It took me a long time to recognize these lies for what they were.

Lie #1: God has forgotten you.  

God has promised never to leave you, and He will never break that promise.  In 2 Timothy 2:13, Paul writes, “if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”  He can not deny His Spirit within those who have called on His name for salvation!  If He can’t deny us, how then can He forget us? 

Lie #2: You can’t ask for help.  For one thing, that would be weak.  For another, God gave you this time; handing it off to somebody else like that is a cop-out.  

This lie gains its power from the fact that most of us don’t really want to tell people that we’ve got problems.  Our self-sufficient mindset rebels against the very thought of showing weakness like this.  

Really, pride is most of what keeps this lie alive.  God never said, “You must get through life on your own.”  When God made man, He said, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  That holds true today – it is not good for a person to be alone, to have no one to talk to, pray with, even vent toward.  A friend can pray for you and give you wise counsel and support.  A Godly friend (or sibling, or parent, or cousin…) can help you get through.

Lie #3: God is getting back at you for something.  

God does not get back at His children!  It doesn’t matter what you did last month, God does not retaliate when you sin against Him.  Matthew 5:45 says “For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” 

Rain falls on the righteous, too – and if you’re a Christian, He sees you as righteous.  He sends hard times for our good, not because we deserve them.  If you’re going through something right now, you are not being punished – it’s quite the opposite:  God, in His infinite wisdom, knows that you need to go through this time for your own good.

There are also great truths that can help you get through hard times with your faith intact.  These are some of the things I have learned along the way:

Truth #1: This time is growing your faith more than anything else could.  

Last June/July, God allowed circumstances into my life which really caused me to question my ideas about God and what I could trust Him with.  For a month and a half, I tried to understand what was happening and how I could still trust that the Lord still knew what He was doing.  

Now, nearly a year later, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.  My faith in God is stronger than ever before, because of my time of testing.  God uses these times to strengthen us in ways we can’t see or understand.

Truth #2: It’s okay to cry.  

For a long time, I resolved never, ever to cry when I was going through a tough time – that was a manifestation of a lack of belief, right?  To cry was weak, childish, and foolish.  But then I remembered:  Jesus cried.  

Since then I’ve come to believe that if you truly want to honor God, even your tears will be honoring; in a way, you’re saying “I can’t handle this,” which gives Him opportunity to step in.

Truth #3: God will get you through this.  

God draws near to hurting people; I felt Him most strongly when I was at my lowest point.  When we’re so broken down there’s not much of us left, we give Him the opportunity to step in and build us up into something infinitely better than we were to start with.  You will hit hard times, but God will always see you through!

In the words of my “online friend” Ethan H:

“God is good. Always. Even when it's hard. Especially even when it's hard.”

Laura Owens is a homeschooled sophomore from the East Coast. She is the third-youngest of eight children, and she loves every minute of it! When she's not doing schoolwork or working at her part-time job, she can be found speaking Spanish, reading, or writing.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

The Second Day

{image source}
Here we sit between these two important days in Christianity.  Yesterday was a remembrance of Christ’s death, commonly known as Good Friday, and tomorrow is Easter, the remembrance of His resurrection.  These are times when, among other things, we look back at the events of the gospels and reflect on the first day and the third day.

But what about the second day?

Interestingly, scripture doesn’t tell us very much about the second day.  For most of the Jews at the time of Jesus’s crucifixion, the second day was just like any other Sabbath.  They rested from their everyday tasks and devoted their time and attention to the Lord and away from the cares of the week. 

For the disciples, though, this was far from an ordinary Sabbath. 

Unknowingly, the disciples were standing between the two most important events in all of human history: Christ’s death and resurrection.

But on this Sabbath day, the disciples had only witnessed the first of these events.  In light of the horrifying occurrences of the previous day, I’m sure that “rest” would have been the furthest thing from their minds.

Truth be told, we all can find ourselves living in the “second day.”

Maybe nothing earth-shaking will happen today.  Maybe it’s just an “ordinary” day.  Maybe, as with the disciples, the only thing that characterizes today is the feeling of despair from what might have happened yesterday.  Maybe it’s the “second day.”

We may have many “second days” in our lives, but we have no reason to despair.  Had the disciples remembered the words that Jesus had spoken to them, the second day would have been filled with anticipation, not grief, because they would have understood that the Lord had a greater, miraculous plan! 

Likewise, God has promised us that He will work all things out for good, if we love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). 

So, like the disciples, we too can look forward to the “third day” – the day when the Lord will bring good out of all of our present circumstances!

Whether you are facing your “first,” “second,” or “third” day, remember that we serve a risen Savior, one of Whom David said,

“Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
that he may deliver their soul from death
and keep them alive in famine.” (Psalm 33:18-19)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Tested by Fire

{image source}

“The crucible is for silver, and the furnace for gold,
                and a man is tested by his praise.”  (Proverbs 27:21)

When we think of a Christian being “gold” tested by fire, or perhaps silver being cleansed of dross, we usually think of trials.  We think of Christians enduring hardships and pain, and so strengthening their faith.  This is all perfectly sound and biblical, but I believe there is little that tests a believer’s faith like praise.
History shows that when the Church is under persecution, it grows stronger.  It’s when things are going well, however, that the real testing begins.  You see, trusting God in persecution is relatively easy; we have virtually no choice but to fall back on the Lord.  (I use “easy” in the broadest of ways here.  Don’t get me wrong, persecution is tough!)  But when we’re praised, we have a choice as to who’s going to be glorified in the situation.

While trials test our faith in God’s power through endurance, praise tests our true loyalty and love for our Savior.

Praise gives us an opportunity to decide whether we will glorify God or ourselves.  The problem is that most of the time we choose the latter.  As human beings, the sin nature encourages us to seek praise.  Practically everything we do is influenced by what we think others will think of us.  Earlier in chapter 27 of Proverbs, though, we’re given a piece of advice concerning praise:

“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
                a stranger, and not your own lips.” (Proverbs 27:2)

This exhortation shows us where our focus should be – or perhaps more accurately, where our focus shouldn’t be: ourselves. 

Praise shouldn’t be something we seek for ourselves, because the more we are glorified, the less Christ is glorified.

I think this is generally obvious, but I’ve found that we often fail to realize some of the underlying ways in which we seek praise.  For instance, I can sometimes be tempted to try to impress others by explaining how “busy” I am.  It’s easy to want to ensure that others know just how rough I have it.  But what am I really seeking?  The truth is, I’m just looking for recognition – praise.
Recently, the Lord has been showing me that if I do something noteworthy, whether it’s a sacrifice I make or a kind gesture, I need to keep it to myself.  In fact, He’s been showing me that many times I need to do everything in my power to prevent anyone from ever finding out something that might bring me glorification!
This is truly what makes praise the “testing fire.”  Am I going to seek that I be lifted up, or am I going to seek that Christ be lifted up?  I need to be so Christ-focused, and subsequently so others-focused, that I’m the last person to come to mind.
The purpose of my life is to bring praise to Christ.  Yes, I will receive praise sometimes.  But if my focus is in the right place, the praise that is given to me will simply be reflected onto Christ and those around me, and people will begin to see that I am not worthy of any praise; my life will reflect the fact that the praise belongs to the One Who has given me everything.

There are so many aspects of praise – both practical in principle, so I invite you to continue the discussion with us in the comment section!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Light Pollution

{image source}
It’s one o’clock in the morning, but I’m driving – driving for hours and hours.  I pass the grocery store, then the gas station, until I’m finally miles from any hint of civilization.  Some would call it “the middle of nowhere,” but I’ve arrived at my destination.  I step out of the truck, look up at the night sky, and immediately my eyes are met with billions upon billions of bright lights, shining like the very angels of Heaven.

Then I wake up.

I climb out of bed and stare out of my bedroom window.  But, to my disappointment, there is not a star to be seen; only dozens of street lamps, gleaming with a hazy dullness in the foggy night. 

This is light pollution.

Okay, okay, so that never actually happened.  It was just a clever illustration to segue to the point of this post.  Even so, we’ve all experienced light pollution to some extent.  In some places, because of all of the artificial light, it’s nearly impossible to see the natural lights that the Maker of the universe has placed in the sky.

In the same way, we can often become light pollutants, preventing those around us from gazing upon the glorious Light of the Bright Morning Star. 

(Revelation 22:16, 21:23)

You see, we are to be lights shining in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Philippians 2:14-15), but sometimes we’re shining the wrong light.  There’s only one light that is acceptable: the light of Christ.  This light is impossible to produce of our own doing, but is the natural effect of Christ living in our hearts.  Every other form of light is unacceptable, and only prevents the True Light from having precedence.

If those around us are not seeing the light of Christ shining in our lives, it is likely that the “light” we’re displaying is only bringing attention to ourselves.  This real purpose of being a light, however, is that others would look and immediately see not us, but Christ alone (cf. Matthew 5:16). 

In this sense, we are to be like a mirror, simply reflecting the Person of Christ without attempting to be seen ourselves, similarly to the way the moon reflects the light of the sun.  

Let us all be so focused in our love for Jesus Christ and for other people that we reflect – and become – His one true light, not polluting the earth with the dullness of our own self-centeredness but instead pointing solely to Who He is!

Monday, March 16, 2015

"On Fire" for the Lord

{image source}
In the modern Church, we have so many “Christian” clich├ęs and words we like to use.  These phrases can often lose their meanings over time, as we continue to use them without a full understanding of what they mean.  Even so, Christian “catch phrases” aren’t bad in and of themselves, so long as we ensure that we know what we’re saying.

One of my personal favorites is “on fire for the Lord.”  We mostly use this in reference to someone who has an outwardly evident passion for the Kingdom of God.  But I think we often forget a number of key aspects of being on fire for the Lord – aspects that are crucial to our understanding of what such a passion looks like.

Fire needs fuel

In order to burn, any fire needs heat, oxygen, and fuel.  You could take each of these three elements and further the analogy, but let’s just focus on the fuel.  If fuel feeds fire, what feeds faith?  The answer boils down to three basic things: scripture study, prayer, and fellowship.

Now, I should clarify that these are not the source of the fire.  They are only three “spiritual disciplines” that help us to connect with the source – Christ.  It is certainly possible to do all three and still not know the Savior.  But this would be like having the wood without the heat!  Nevertheless, scripture, prayer, and fellowship are all necessary for Children of God.

Back when I was in scouts, we would occasionally have fire-building competitions, in which you had to burn a piece of string about a foot off the ground.  The problem was that most of the scouts just threw leaves into the fire without giving it any substantial, lasting fuel!  Obviously, the flame died quickly.  In the same way, if the proper “fuel” is not given to the fire, or not given frequently enough, our “fire” will soon die.

Fire consumes

Let’s face it.  Christian phrase or not, the idea of a person being “on fire” is unpleasant, to say the least.  This is, of course, because fire burns.  It hurts.  It consumes everything in its path.

What does this mean for us?  What is consumed in a Christian’s life?  Well, everything.

If we truly want to be “on fire” for the Lord, we cannot hold anything back from His consuming fire (cf. Hebrews 12:29).  Just as gold is refined, God will burn up everything in our lives that is not of Him, whether it be relationships, hobbies, habits, comfort-zones, or any other idol.  He will leave behind only that which is a part of His desire and plan for our lives.

Understandably, this hurts.  It stings!  We may be pushed to do things we don’t want to do or may not feel comfortable doing.  We may be ridiculed by friends or family.  We may have to give up something to which we’ve been clinging.  Whatever the case, it is up to the Fire to decide.

Fire brightens the dark

Physically speaking, fire releases energy, and it does so in two forms: heat and light.  If fire is present, these two will be as well – guaranteed.  The same is true in the life of an “on fire” Christian.  Since the Bible has so many examples of light in darkness, let’s focus on that.  

If a Christian is “on fire,” there is no question whether the light of that flame will be shining.  Also, it is said that, in complete darkness, the human eye can see a flickering candle from up to 30 miles away.  Combining these two facts about light, it follows that, in this dark generation, the light of an “on fire” child of God will most certainly be noticed by those around them (Philippians 2:14-15).

For this reason, we don’t need to be concerned with whether others are seeing our light.  Our concern must instead be whether that light is even shining – whether we are truly on fire for our Lord!  If that is the case, our light will not be able to be hidden (cf. Matthew 5:14-16).

When we say we want to be “on fire for the Lord,” we have to know what that means.  Fire requires a constant fuel to feed it.  It consumes everything in its path, burning up anything that is susceptible to flame.  Lastly, it brightens the darkness around it without fail.  To be on fire for the Lord is by no means and easy or a comfortable affair.  But is it worth it?  Absolutely.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

"What is That to You? You Follow Me!"

{image source}

When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’  Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?  You follow me!’  (John 21:20)

Peter had just had a humbling, intimate encounter with his Savior – his dearest Friend.  After experiencing the awesome forgiveness of the Lamb of God and declaring His love and devotion for the risen Christ, Peter was given a glimpse of what he was to do and what he was to face as a disciple of Jesus.

Yet, after debatably the most incredible experience he had ever had with his Master, what did Peter do?  He looked around at all the other disciples and said, in effect, 

“But Lord, what about them?”

The truth is, we are way too often just like Peter was.  We look around at those next to us when we should be looking to our Savior.  We compare ourselves to them, hoping that we can somehow measure up.  But all the while, Christ is saying to us, 

“What is that to you?  You follow me!”

There are so many ways in which we compare ourselves to others.  Some of us beat ourselves down for not being as faithful as the rest.  Others of us do the opposite, looking down on others and patting ourselves on the back for our supposed holiness.  Still others look at those more righteous than us and either harbor jealousy or try to live up to their standards.

However, these are all wrong.  It’s as if we’re all scrambling around, trying to align our lives up with someone else’s path, while completely missing the straight and narrow path that’s been laid out right in front of us!

Now, it’s perfectly acceptable – and even encouraged – to try to imitate and look up to those who are ahead of us in the journey of becoming more like Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).  But if we spend our lives trying to live up to any standard other than Christ’s – whether it be a friend’s, church member’s, or even one we’ve created for ourselves – we will stray further and further away from our Heavenly Father.

Are you trying to live your life according to someone else’s standard?  Am I?  Jesus Christ sees our vain, anxious struggles to measure up to others and asks us, “What is that to you?  Are they more important than I am to you?  Did they die for you?  Are they the Alpha and Omega?  You don’t follow them.  You don’t follow those around you.  

"You follow me.”

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

How to Deal with Far-from-God Friends: Part 2

{image source}
In the last post, we began to discuss how to handle friends who are drifting from the Lord.  However, it’s such a difficult issue to handle, that I can’t merely give a step-by-step guide to solve it.  Thus, part one of this post focused on the most important piece of these situations: my own attitude.

Before I can hope to see any change in those around me, I need to keep several things I mind:

I’m not all that close to God either.
Are they truly a Christian?
Is it my place to confront this person?
And finally, I can’t change anybody.

I must understand, then, that even though different situations and relationships may require that I respond differently, the principles outlined in the previous post are always applicable.  And while the four points of part one are important, they are by no means the only things to consider.

Knowing this, if the Lord has directed me to talk to a certain friend about his or her lifestyle or attitude, how do I go about doing so?

As I’ve stated before, every situation is different, because every person is different.  Even so, when I approach a friend who is drifting away from the Lord, I must always do so in two ways: in gentleness and in love.

In gentleness

The most important aspect of gentleness springs from this understanding: My friend is more important than his or her behavior.

Simply put, this means that I must always value my friend more than I value “fixing” their lifestyle.  Ultimately, if I am only making matters worse, I need to stop.  It is not worth losing a brother or sister.  Thus, in order to explain my concerns to a friend in gentleness, I have to be able to gauge how open and honest I can be with them without pushing them away. 

Is my friend someone who will respond well to my pointing out every weak area at once, or will it be better if I only suggest a single aspect of concern for now?  Will they understand the severity of their behavior more if I use scripture, or if I explain to them the consequences of their actions?

As these questions imply, how I confront a friend depends largely on who they are and on the traits of their personality.  Obviously, then, I can’t hope to be gentle if I don’t take the time to get to know them on a personal level! 

In love

At first, love seems synonymous with gentleness.  It is entirely unique, though, mainly because love is completely and utterly genuine.  I can have the wrong intentions and still be gentle, but that is not so with love!

Love (or agape love, more specifically) is wanting and seeking the best for others.  Again, the principle of gentleness is evident: I value my friend more than I value changing their lifestyle.  If I become so focused on trying to “fix” someone’s character, then my focus is no longer on Christ, and therefore no longer on love.

The fact that love is genuine is crucial.  Love is real.  If I act like I have no faults at all, why would anyone want to listen to me?  If I am to be genuine, I have to admit that I need to work on some areas too.  In fact, many times friends will be more open to change if I am open and honest about my own failures.  In this way, we become “accountability partners,” spurring one another on to good works (cf. Galatians 6:1-5, Hebrews 10:24).

In the end, if someone doesn’t see my genuine love and care, I will have no effect.  It’s important for them to know that I am not merely confronting them for confrontation’s sake.  I am doing so because I am concerned for them.  I want the best for my friend, not the spiritual, emotional, and even physical turmoil to which their current lifestyle is taking them.  I want to love them as my Savior loves them.

If the Lord is directing me to speak honestly with a friend about issues of sin, I must begin with my own mindset, knowing my place before Almighty God.  I must first take the matter to Him, and then approach my friend in love and gentleness.  When I approach each situation with Christ as my focus, He will work out everything else.

As I have mentioned before, there are so many situations in regard to friends who are drifting away from the Lord that I cannot possibly explain how to approach each one.  I’ve tried, however, to share some general principles and considerations to take into account, which can be applied to any circumstance.

I invite you to share your thoughts, advice, and questions in the comments section!  I would love to continue the discussion with you.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

How to Deal with Far-from-God Friends: Part 1

{image source}
Having grown up in the church, I’ve seen many young people seemingly drift from our Lord.  At one point, it seemed like they were close to Him, but now it seems as if they’ve forgotten Him.

This is a saddening thing.  But even more saddening is the realization that this is not at all uncommon.  In fact, it’s become the norm in the Church today.  Left and right, youth are packing up and leaving the church in hordes.

As I see this happening, I’m forced to ask the question, “How do I deal with friends who are distant from God?”  It’s a touchy situation.  However, unless I’m going to allow them to walk away from the faith entirely, there are a number of things I must understand.

I’m not all that close to God either.

When I look to the wondrous perfection of the Lord, seeing His holiness, love, purity, and grace, I cannot help but come face-to-face with my own imperfection, sinfulness, filthiness, and incapability.  As I stare out across the chasm between God’s flawlessness and my own pitiful unworthiness, “close” doesn’t seem to be a fitting description.

In comparison with the distance between my character and my Savior’s, the difference between my “closeness” and that of anyone else is fractional at best.

Yet if I thought it were only a matter of who’s “closer” than whom, I would be missing the point.  Our position on the journey of sanctification is not really as important as our direction.  My job is to point people to my Savior; the rest is up to Him.

Are they truly a Christian?

If I am to ever try to bring people back to a right relationship with God, I must determine where they stand with Him.  My response to a brother or sister who is drifting away from the path of righteousness is different from my response to someone who is not a Christian at all.

Ultimately, the lifestyle of a non-Christian’s life is not my highest priority.  While it’s easy to focus on others’ behavior, my job is to spread the gospel and let the Lord take care of the rest.  So if my friend is not displaying evidence of a regenerated heart, there’s not much of a point in my trying to “fix” their lifestyle.

However, if I know that this friend is indeed a Christian, I have another responsibility.  As passages such as James 5:19-20, Galatians 6:1-5, and Luke 17:3 explain, I am accountable to my brothers and sisters as a member of the Body of Christ, and they are accountable to me.

(I won’t expound in this post how to tell whether a person is a Christian, but you’re welcome to discuss that in the comments!)

Is it my place to confront this person?

After realizing my own weakness and evaluating the relationship a friend has with the Lord, it’s important that I know when to confront a brother or sister and when to only pray for them.  After all, I can’t confront everyone, even though we all have areas of sin in our lives.

Fortunately, Matthew 18:15 gives a key condition to confronting sin: “If your brother sins against you …” (emphasis added).  Thus, if another Christian wrongs me personally, it’s my responsibility to resolve it.

But what if a friend is committing a sin that doesn’t involve me?  Am I to leave it alone?  Since there are many specific situations, this is largely something I must determine myself.  Each circumstance requires careful prayer and consideration.  (I will also leave this for further discussion in the comment section, since it is such a broad issue.)

I can’t change anybody

Ultimately, no matter how much I try, no matter how sincere my intentions, I will never be able to change anyone.

But really, why would I want to?  From my experience, just about everything I try to change of my own power fails.  Miserably. 

I can’t change anybody.  But that is just the way I want it.  I can rejoice, knowing that the very One Who has the power to change my hard heart can use me as His instrument to do His work in the hearts of those around me!  What an incredible thought.

So before I can hope to help any wayward friend, I need to ensure that my attitude is right.  I must understand that I’m not as close to my Savior as I may think.  I must ascertain where my friend is with the Lord.  I must know when it is right to confront them.  And finally, I must realize that I cannot change anyone of my own effort.

With this understanding, if God is prompting me to confront a brother or sister, how do I go about doing so?  How do I talk to someone about my concerns without turning them away?  Be sure to come back Wednesday, when we’ll discuss the “how” of dealing with far-from-God friends!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

God or Others?

{image source}
We all know that our individual relationship with God is of prime importance.  Studying scripture is essential in bringing us closer to our Lord and Savior.  In the same way, prayer is also crucial.  Perhaps some of us are faithful in such spiritual disciplines; more likely is the fact that we still have a lot of work to do in that area.

But what if I told you that bible study, prayer, and other individual disciplines are not the most important part of a Christian’s life?

Sure, those things are necessary – and we should take joy in them!  But if all of us spent the entirety of our lives with our faces in a book or our heads bowed, who would be living out that faith?  We can mature in our knowledge of the Heavenly One as much as we want, but if there is no evidence of that knowledge in our lives, then our efforts will have had very little purpose.

We seem to have the idea that our relationship with God comes first, and our relationships with others come second.  But this is simply not true.

Don’t get me wrong; no one in our lives should be equal-status with the Lord.  However, our relationship with Him and our relationship with others are not separate.  As 1 John 4:20 explains, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

If, in our relationships with others, we are not showing evidence of the One Whom we claim to know, then our knowledge is of practically no value.  But if we truly are growing in the knowledge of the Holy One, it will be absolutely unmistakable to those around us.

Our problem is that we tend to have an individualistic mindset with our faith.  We are taught that we owe nothing to other people; our faith in God is all that matters.  While there is some truth in this, do Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 resemble such an attitude?

As Christians, we are called to serve others, putting them ahead of ourselves (Philippians 2:3).  We cannot continue to isolate ourselves, thinking that we’re choosing that which is most important, even if that "important" thing is a noble pursuit.

Like I said in last week’s post, balance is the key.  If we spend no time with the Lord, yet try to live out His word in our lives, we will face a contradiction.  But in the same way, if we live our lives being more concerned about what we’re getting from God than what others are receiving, we will neglect Christ’s calling.

Let us pursue Christ and allow the two sides to fall into perfect balance, growing as individuals and strengthening Christ’s body as a whole.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

How Do I Balance it All?

{image source}
In our lives as Christians, it seems that there are so many things on which to focus.  Read scripture, nurture relationships, share the gospel, be patient, be kind … and on and on the list goes.  When we focus on one thing, like patience, we lose sight of many other issues and create a dozen more things on which to focus.  It’s a lifelong battle to juggle everything.

Obviously, balance is necessary for a healthy life.  But how can we possibly focus on everything at once – every character quality in which we need to grow – and not lose sight of some other thing that requires our attention?  How do we find a balance?

Eastern religions and the New Age movement will tell you that the key to balance is essentially escaping life, be it escaping the bounds of reason, culture, or social relationships.  But in reality, we are not meant to escape life.  We are to be in the world, not separated from it – and yet still achieve this balance.

Our biggest obstacle in trying to achieve balance is, well, trying to achieve balance.

If we try to juggle every issue in our lives, we will end up dropping the ball in every area.  The truth is that achieving balance is outright impossible for us broken humans.

When we understand that balance is an impossible feat for humanity, we come to realize that there can be only one source of balance: Christ.

We tend to have the wrong approach to our relationship with the Lord.  We focus on the small things – our character, works, etc. – and think that those things will bring us closer to the Lord.  However, our focus should first be on the Lord, and everything else will come as a natural result (cf. Matthew 6:33).  

That is, after all, what the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23) means.  It’s the natural result of walking in the Spirit.

So how do we find balance in life? Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ alone.

We must stop trying to juggle everything in our lives, because we are utterly incapable.  Instead, our focus must be entirely on Christ.  When we make Him our sole pursuit, following His lead, we will find that all the things on which we used to focus will come naturally (cf. Psalm 37:4).

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Fear is a Sin

{image source}
As it turns out, the Lord has quite a lot to say about fear in His word.  In fact, some claim that the Bible tells us 365 times not to be afraid!  Understandably, there are plenty of examples, such as Isaiah 41:10, Philippians 4:6-7, Joshua 1:9, and (a personal favorite) Matthew 6:25-34.

The topic of fear, though, is unique.  We Christians love to quote passages about casting away fear.  They make us feel safe and secure - and rightly so!  But what makes the subject of fear so unique is that we treat it differently than just about any other issue.

When God says, "Do not steal," we avoid stealing.  When He says, "Do not lie," we avoid lying.  But when He says, "Do not fear," we take a moment or two to ponder God's peace and then move on.

Do we not realize that the Lord commands us not to fear, just as He does other sins?

Yes, that's right.  Fear is a sin.  Recall 1 John 4:18: 
"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love."  
Fear and anxiety are complete opposites of the nature of the Almighty.

The problem is that we often fail to view fear, anxiety, and the like, as sins.  We think that they are forces over which we have no control and are dictated by our personalities or our past experiences.  But are these justifiable excuses for sins such as pride or hatred?  Of course not!  Why do we continue to try to explain away our sin?

Now, if my only aim in this post were to explain that fear is a sin, I would be missing the most important point.  The fact that fear is a sin should not leave us without hope.  Rather, it should fill us with joy.  Why?  We have been set free from sin!

If fear and anxiety were forces beyond our control, what hope would we have of escaping from their grip?  But, as Romans 6:14 explains, 
"For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace."
Fear, anxiety, worry, doubt.  They're all sins.  Because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross, however, we have the power - and the responsibility - to put to death such sins in the name of Jesus!  And that is reason to rejoice.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

When the Light Meets the Dark | Guest Post By MimeforJesus

{image source}
This would be so much easier if my eyes were still used to the dark!” I muttered to myself as I crept through the dark downstairs of my home. I’d unwisely turned on the light in my bedroom just before leaving to go get a drink, and I was regretting that decision because I couldn’t see clearly anymore.

Light changes things – you can be perfectly happy seeing in the dark, until someone turns the light on for a second or two; then you can’t see anything when the lights go out again. God’s light affects how we see in the darkness around us, too; if you live in God’s light, whenever you’re in the darkness you’re not gonna be as comfortable as the folks who’ve lived there all their lives.

Like it or not, we’ll never see well in the darkness – we’ve been accepted into the service of a God who is described as Light, and His light has permanently changed how we see things. It’s also true that we’ll never blend in when we’re in darkness, and whether we try to or not, we’ll be shining a light wherever we are, and people will not like that.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve sometimes wished that I could be more comfortable in the darkness – I’ve wanted to be able to listen to the same songs as my co-workers, and not be turned off by the lyrics. I’ve wished I blended in with the darkness, too – I’ve wanted to be a part of the only teen group at my church, which is almost entirely made up of nominal Christians.

 But then I realized: that’s not my job. As followers of Christ, we are called to be the “goody-two-shoes”; we’re not supposed to blend in. Folks should wonder what’s wrong with us, why we aren’t like them. That’s how we will reflect God’s light into their lives.

I know, they’re not probably going to like the way we live, they are likely to talk behind our backs about how we’re uptight - but we weren’t called to be friends of the world.

When we live lives of light, people will notice, and they have two choices – they will either be interested and ask why we act like we do, or they’ll brush us off as legalistic, fundamentalist Holy Rollers who need to get a clue about the real world.

The second response is more common – people who are in darkness “will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. (John 3:20-21)” In my experience, we make people feel guilty without even trying, because we’re living relatively clean lives, and then they look at their lives and they see everything that they justified for so long because they were no worse than the other people they knew. They will try to push away any light that makes it into their area.

But there will be people who wonder what makes you different, and who will want what you’ve got. They are the ones who will be drawn to your life of light, even if seventy-five percent of people think you’re nuts. So for the sake of those who will be affected by our lives, let’s go out there and let our light shine!
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5) 
“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16)

MimeforJesus (otherwise known as Grace Owens), is a homeschooled sophomore from the East Coast. She is the third-youngest of eight children, and she loves every minute of it! When she's not doing schoolwork or working at her part-time job, she can be found speaking Spanish, reading, or writing.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Paradox of Invisible Pride

{Image source}
We all know that pride is dangerous.  “Pride goes before destruction,” the Bible says.  The problem with pride, though, is that it’s so easy; it almost comes naturally.  In fact, pride is incredibly common – so much so that everyone struggles with it.

However, we tend to have a very limited concept of pride.  Sure, we can spot the obvious forms like arrogance and boastfulness, but when it comes to finding the deep pride within ourselves, we often completely miss it. 

In this way, pride is ironic.  The more pride you have, the less you see.  There are a myriad of manifestations of pride that seem to escape our sight; take an honest look at your own heart as we discuss three of the most undetectable:

1)  The Pride of Hardship

James 1:2-3 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”  The Lord allows trials in our lives to test our faith, producing in us the fruit of the Spirit, such as patience and joy.  For this reason, we are to rejoice in times of hardship, because we know that God will work everything together for good (Romans 8:28).

However, the temptation for Christians when we suffer, whatever the means, is to become pleased with ourselves.  While it may very well be true that we are under trials for a good reason, we assume that it is because of our own faithfulness, looking at those around us who are not experiencing such testing and subconsciously claiming ourselves to be the “better Christians.” 

And worse yet, we feed off of the sympathy of others, actually desiring hardship so that we can bask in the pity we receive!  This is a far cry from “boasting in our infirmities” (2 Corinthians 2:9).

The reason why we so often fail to recognize this type of pride is because we make pride practically excusable in such situations.  When brought low by suffering, who would dare to think that pride would even be possible?  Yet it is in our lowest moments that pride has the greatest appeal and the subtlest appearance.

2)  The Pride of Holiness

Sometimes, however, we seemingly have every right to think ourselves more righteous than the rest.  In fact, maybe we are more righteous than the rest!  I’m not talking about those of us who only think we know it all or are “holier than thou,” but those of us who may indeed believe so justly.  We read our Bibles daily, we quote scripture, we volunteer, we dress modestly, we don’t cheat, lie, or steal – we truly feel that we’re not too far away from where the Father wants us to be!

Maybe that’s true.  Maybe we’re closer to the Lord than any of our friends.  Maybe we’ve gotten just about everything right; we can check off the Ten Commandments and Fruit of the Spirit like a grocery list.  But realize this: we are never so close to God that we are out of the reaches of pride.  As we become holier, pride becomes equally sly.

In fact, those of us in whom pride has taken residence can be the very ones who appear to be humble!  We dismiss compliments, but do not direct that praise to God; we are simply pleased in the fact that we are not boastful.  We become prideful in our humility.

3)  The Pride of Passion

Often in our walk with Christ, we can become discouraged and upset when we see those around us not living as Christ desires.  Many of us have a specific message we want others to hear.  Maybe we want them to feed the hungry, save the lost, or give to the poor.

The problem is that, as our passion grows to help others understand what the Lord has revealed to us, we can develop a deadly, prideful habit: the “if only so-and-so could hear this” mentality.  It’s a pride of passion, so to speak.  I’ll be the first to admit that this is a difficult one for me.  Even as I type this post, it’s easy for my mind to drift to others who might “need to read” it.

Of course, many times this is acceptable – even necessary.  But the pride comes when we are so focused on teaching others that we don’t search our own hearts in humility and apply truths to our own lives – whether they are from a sermon, article, or just an everyday conversation.

The truth is that pride is tough to find and even tougher to remove.  It’s shady, but it’s comfortable.  We quickly spot the pride in others, but we fail to see how much it is controlling us.  To put it in Jesus’s words, we are too busy removing the “speck from our brother’s eye” that we forget – and even tolerate and embrace – the “plank” in our own.

Nothing in this article can remove your pride or mine.  That is up to each of us and the Lord of Hosts Who is in us.  Pride is dangerous.  But the price of allowing it to remain in our hearts is even more so.  Let us all cast self aside and walk in a mindset of humility, just as Christ did (Philippians 2:5-11).

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Giving Opportunity to God

Sin is a powerful force in the lives of God's children.  It entered humanity as a result of choice; first by doubt, then by distortion, then by outright denial of the Creator's words.  Since then, each person is born into a sin nature - an innate desire to please ourselves and disobey the Lord.

Because sin is so destructive, it is obvious that we must avoid it with everything.  After all, sin is everything opposite of God's nature, and darkness can have no presence with light (1 John 1:5).

However, oftentimes we approach sin in the wrong way.  We think of it as a decision to make only when we are faced with it - a "cross that bridge when I come to it" mentality.  But if this is our approach to sin, we will constantly fail.

Ephesians 4:27 tells us to "give no opportunity to the devil."  You see, the devil tempts us when we give him an opportunity.  We give it to him.  Freely!  We give him opportunity when we put ourselves in a position that makes it easier to sin.

We can put ourselves in a position to sin in many ways.  For instance, it could be in switching the TV to that channel that we know can sometimes be inappropriate or even hanging out with friends whom we know can be gossipy.  Whether through friends, media, or even time management, we can often put all the pieces in place that will make it hard for us to avoid sin.

Thus, in order to avoid putting ourselves in a position to sin, we must avoid any opportunity that might make it easy to do something contrary to the Father's will, even in practical ways.  But there's even more than that.

In 2 Chronicles 12, we find that the king of Judah, Rehoboam, did evil "for he did not set his heart to seek the Lord" (2 Chronicles 12:14).  From this and many other instances in scripture, it is clear that in order to avoid giving opportunity to the devil, we must first give opportunity to God.

In other words, the best (and only) way to avoid a position of sin is to purposefully put ourselves in a position to honor the Lord - to put all the pieces in place to make it easier to avoid the temptation of sin.  This, of course, implies that in all of the practical ways we mentioned previously (media, friends, etc.) must be used to seek and honor the King of kings!

Sin is a powerful force in the lives of God's children.  But even more powerful is our Father in Heaven!  Let us use every opportunity - every venue - to put ourselves in a position to bring glory to the One Who gave us salvation!

Do you have practical ways in which you put yourself in a position to honor the Lord?  Tell us in the comment section!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Surround Me Not, Oh Lord!

During our church service today, we sang a song entitled "Surround Me, Oh Lord:"
"Surround me, oh Lord.
Surround me, oh Lord.
Surround me, oh Lord.
Let Your presence fill this place."
Perhaps it's not the most doctrinally enriching of songs in history, but I give it credit.  As I stood with the rest of the Praise and Worship team singing, a thought hit me and resonated throughout the rest of the service: Do we really want God's presence?

Sure, we love the idea of the Lord's presence surrounding us.  We want to feel empowered, uplifted, and filled with joy and zeal.  And indeed it is right that we should desire these things!  But if this is what we expect from an encounter with God, many of us will be woefully disappointed.

Think of Jesus in the temple (John 2:13-22).  I'm sure that, when the religious leaders looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, they expected a similar feeling to ours.  But what did they find instead?  The Christ drove out the merchants and animals, poured out the coins, and flipped the tables in righteous anger.

Are we ready for this same Jesus to surround us with such holiness and power?

The truth is, this Jesus wants and is ready to surround us with His presence.  But, because of our desire to dwell in our mediocre comfort-zones, we actually push Him away at the moment He tells us something we don't want to hear!

Don't get me wrong, our Father will fill us with joy and zeal; He will empower us and uplift us.  But He will also change us.  Any experience of God will undoubtedly result in a change.  Worship is the realization of who God is - in all His might and majesty - and therefore, it is a realization of how small and unworthy we are.

If we are truly surrounded by the presence of God, we will seldom be comfortable.  He will tell us things we may not want to hear.  We will be convicted and pushed out of our comfort-zones.

Do you really want to experience such a God?

I do.