Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Guest Post

    This last week, I had the opportunity to write a guest post for Defying Depravity. If you haven't already gone over and checked her blog out, Lauren is great friend who does an awesome job running it! It's got some great articles you should definitely check out. Anyhow, thanks, Lauren! Here's a link to the article.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Death Has Lost Its Sting

    "'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord."

     On a teen forum I regularly follow, the question was asked this week, "Why do we fear martyrdom so much? Is it just a human instinct we need to squelch? Or is there a purpose for that fear?" In direct answer to the question, yes, I think there is a reason for it. To keep us from simply traveling to the closest country with persecution, walking to the nearest security officer, handing him a gun, and telling him that I'm a Christian. Persecution for the sake of being persecuted helps no one!

     But at the same time, it's a good question, and one that deserves an answer. Honestly, it's hard not to look at the many verses in Scripture promising rewards to those who suffer persecution for the sake of Christ (Matt. 5:10-12, Heb. 11:35b-40) and not think that maybe we as American Christians have missed the boat a little. I mean, has there ever been a church so comfortable and lukewarm in history?

     So, what are we missing? Well, first off, I think we're missing an attitude change that Paul shares with us in 1 Cor. 15 (the passage written above). If we could just get this passage engrained in our minds, we might begin to live a little bit more like Jesus!

     When was the last time you went to a Christian's funeral? I have had the displeasure of having gone to several (I hate funerals). But what really gets under my skin is at Christian funerals, there is no joy! I can understand that at funerals for people who were not saved or maybe we're not sure. Okay, then I can understand gloom.

     But we're standing beside a Christian's casket, tearfully saying that we are gathered together today "to celebrate the life of", while acting as if he is in hell! If we really believe what we claim to believe, this is the best day of that dude's life! So, right there is an example of how we missed the boat.

     To some up what I'm trying to say, basically we have skipped over the concept of victory over death, won by Jesus Christ. There is no longer any fear of death. Death is not some abominable show-stopper stalking every one of us, but rather yet another power governed by a sovereign God that is simply another pawn in  His hands. And secondly, when it is my time to go, what actually happens? Am I not instantly ushered into the presence of the very Jesus I gave my life to serve and know better? Is that somehow supposed to be a punishment?

     Now, please don't misunderstand me. I am not a superhero. Yes, I am scared of death. I am not presenting these concepts as things I have mastered but rather things the Bible teaches, and as sheer logical concepts that we can see if we only take Scripture's statements to their logical conclusions. So don't get me wrong. Yes, I fear death. I am very much afraid of death.

     But as a Christian, that doesn't make an extraordinary amount of sense. Why do I fear death the way I do? Well, obviously, the finality of it. But what if that means I am forever better off than I am here? Wouldn't that soften the finality a little bit into a more golden picture? And toss in there physical pain; that too is one we think about. But again, what if that small window of pain brings about ultimate bliss and happiness? Even here on earth, I am willing to suffer marginal pain in order to gain something greater. How much more should I be willing to suffer immense suffering for eternal bliss and eternal satisfaction in the God I've given myself too?

     So, the question really comes down to: is the prize worth the pain? Well, I think Jesus and Paul both spend a lot of time on that one! Let's just glance for a moment at Lk. 14 where Jesus proclaims that if we are going to follow Him at all, we should count the cost of whether or not He is worth it. But let's skip straight to Paul's words, since I think his make the point the best.

     "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us."  (Rom. 8:16-18)

     Let's think that over for a moment. We, as children of God, are heirs of God and coheirs with Christ if what? What does Paul tell us that our being a coheir with Christ dependent on?

     If we suffer with Him. If we are joint-heirs of the sufferings of Christ, then we also become joint-heirs with the glory of Christ. So, tell me, is the prize worth the pain? Is the destination worth the expense?

    Well, let's ask Paul. He's the man who was whipped, beaten, shipwrecked, robbed, interrogated, and finally beheaded. What does he say? "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us." Let's see now, does Paul think the prize is worth the pain? Apparently! His claim is that the pain isn't even worthy to be compared with the glory!

     There's your answer. Is martyrdom to be dodged at all cost? Is it something to be feared? I don't think Paul would tell you so. Rather, his life seemed to reflect an adamant, maybe even stubborn, chasing after the risk and danger that following Jesus with his whole heart entailed. Yes, plenty of suffering was a part of that road. Yes, even death was a part of that road. But the prize!

     What does Hebrews 12 tell us after reading the horrific accounts of torture and martyrdom detailed in chapter 11? "Fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart."

    There you have it. The prize is worth it. And we endure the pain by fixing our eyes on the prize and constantly rehearsing His own act(s) of love to us. We endure the suffering, even place ourselves in positions of risk that demand it, by locking our gaze on the One who has run the same race before us.

Good Song

Friday, June 26, 2015

Romans 9

    I'll be continuing the Romans series today, this chapter being Romans 9 today. This chapter is the chapter in which Paul begins to articulate the role of God's sovereignty in our salvation; a message which he continues throughout the next two chapters, 10 and 11. Once again, this is yet another reason why I believe Romans is such an incredible help in understanding exactly what happens during what we so often times refer so flippantly to as salvation.

    Paul is speaking of the choosing of Israel from among any other nation as God's chosen people to whom first to reveal His Law and ultimately His Son. But in Gal. 3:14, 29 and Rom. 11:17, 24, Paul outlines that we (the community of NT believers) are the elect since the death of Christ. While before the New Covanent, Israel was the elect (the olive tree referenced in Rom. 11), since Jesus' death, we have been grafted into the election and this choosing becomes one of both Jews and Gentiles on an individual basis, rather than a national identity.

    So, what this means (and we'll look at this in more depth in chapter 11) is that the election is of two different groups. One election is of Israel as a nation (the natural branches from chapter 11), the other election is of believers, both Jews and Gentiles (the grafted branches). Rom. 9 is speaking generically of the election, and I personally believe that Paul is speaking of both, since the chapter references attributes of both elections. Even more, the election of believers grafts us into the natural election, making the two separate elections one.

    V. 1-5 speak of Paul's incredible desire to see his own countrymen, the ones who rejected Jesus even after seeing Him, saved, even if at expense of his own salvation. This is an incredible heart for the lost. Paul's love for his own Jews was so great that, while recognizing their heritage of the Law (v. 4), he was willing if possible to forego his own salvation if by it the Jews would gain grace.

    V. 6-8 is where Paul begins differentiating between the two elections and describing the overlap. As we know from Genesis, Abraham had two children, Isaac and Ishmael. Only one was the child of promise, and only one was the elect of God. Only Isaac's descendents were the children of promise and thus God's chosen.

    But that leads us to ask a question. How did God choose one to be the beneficiary of all His blessings and to be His chosen people, but then reject the other? How did God decide? Was it simply because Isaac was better or wiser than Ishmael? Was it because he just naturally desired to follow God more than Ishmael did?

    Well, to explain that, Paul steps forward a generation to Jacob and Esau (v. 10-13). Instead of choosing who God would bless based on some innate merit or human choice, God demonstrates His own sovereignty in the entire situation by choosing which of Rebekah's children would be His while they were still in the womb. Before either one had chosen who they would follow, and before either had done anything, righteous or otherwise, God had already decided which one He would love and bless.

    Why? Why would God do this? Well, it says clearly in v. 11. "...in order that God's purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls." God gives us this striking example in order to illustrate that salvation is not dependent on yours or my works or free will, but because God has chosen to draw you and I to Himself.

    V. 14-23 address the objection that if you have ever been in a discussion with someone who is an advocate of man's total free will you will have heard before. But that's not fair! That wouldn't be just. That would mean God is deciding who will follow Him and who will not in spite of us!

    Yep, that's exactly what it means. In fact, that's actually what it says! V. 15-16 say it very clearly! "For He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' So then, it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." It's not up to us. Accepting or rejecting God's mercy is not up to us.

    And while some of you may be staring at the screen with your mouth gaping, this isn't a new concept. We've already spoken of man's enslaved nature in chapter 1-3 and other random places throughout the book. Man never chooses God, because he is a slave to sin and dead in sin. Man's natural desires, until God chooses to intervene, is to reject God and to be a hater of God. Thus, without God's sovereign intervention, we would forever reject Him.

    Paul gives an even stronger example here in v. 17, where Pharoah is mentioned as simply a pawn in God's hands that is raised up for the express purpose of making God's power known. Think about that! Pharoah was brought to the thrown of Egypt with the long before ordained purpose of bringing glory to God by rejecting His commands and being killed.

    Really, Paul sums it up with v. 18. "So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires." It's hard to get much clearer than that. God has mercy on those whom He has chosen to be recipients of His mercy, and those whom He desires to glorify Himself through His strict justice He hardens. Either way, God is glorified, either through His justice or His mercy. And honestly, that is the entire reason for our existence, isn't it? Should it really surprise us so much that God is using us to bring Himself maximum glory when that is the reason for our creation?

    Again though, Paul brings up the objection in v. 19. Why does God hold any of us accountable? If we're simply fulfilling what God has foreordained for us to do, why are we still held guilty for our sins? Well, the simple answer is that we are simply acting completely consistent with our sin natures. While God is hardening certain individuals against Himself (11:8-10), those individuals are also acting completely consistent with the desires of their hearts as shown in the first three chapters of Romans. Even while obeying God's sovereign choice for their destruction, they are doing so by following their natural desires of their own sinful hearts and minds.

    But Paul's answer is even simpler. Hold on. How can we even ask this question of God? Paul doesn't even bother to answer the question here! He simply points out that we are in no position to require that God explain His actions to us. Paul effectively shuts down the entire discussion by telling us that it is not our place to require a reason of God for why He does what He does. He is God, and He does as He pleases. And when we reject what He says because it runs contrary to our opinion of how it should go, we are placing ourselves in a position far beyond our fragile human state.

    So, if you want me to sum up the doctrine I've been speaking on throughout this whole post, I would do so with v. 22-24. In fact, I would sum up the entirety of sovereign choice doctrine with these three verses. "What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy. which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles."

    This is ultimately the purpose of our salvation from God's perspective. Not only does He delight in us, but He desires to bring Himself glory through it, whether to highlight His wrath and power through the destruction of rebels or to highlight His mercy upon those of us whom He has chosen to snatch from our rebellion. Each of us have the same phrase describe us, that it was prepared beforehand what would occur. Rather than this being a choice simply dependent on us (which would require me to have some spark of righteousness in my natural spirit with which to choose Christ, which is contradicted by the many verses on man's depravity), this a decision which God made many years ago, that has resulted in Him forebearing for ages the sin and rebellion of those who He had prepared to show His power and wrath against sin through.

    V. 24-33 make a turn for the more comforting, lighter side. These verses should speak strongly to us as non-Jewish believers, since had the first election been the only election, then Israel would still be the people of God rather than those of us who are now the children of God. Rather, God chose to name some of us, Gentiles, as His people. We have been reconciled, even those of us who are not the privileged Jewish race, to be His children.

    Here, He calls us His people who were not His people. The very people who throughout the OT were the enemies of the Jews God know has reconciled with Himself, and now brings into the family of the believing Jews, making all of us together the heirs of the promise of Abraham (Gal. 3:21).

    Even here though, Paul continues to address the same issue He had in the first part of the chapter. V. 27-29 tells us that all Israel is not who will be saved, but rather a remnant that God sovereignly saved for Himself. V. 29 even says that if God had not sovereignly intervened to save the remnant, the entirety of the nation would have continued in their sins, even as Sodom and Gomorrah. Here, we see God Himself saving men from their own natures in order to preserve them as His people.

    V. 30-33 continues a strain that must have shocking to Paul's Jewish readers. Gentiles, the ones who did not have the Law of God, were now ushered into His family by His grace through their faith, while the Jews, those who had so scrupulously kept festivals and celebrations, were denied entrance because of their lack of faith.

    Yet again, Paul returns to works vs. faith salvation. Gentiles, those despised by the Jewish nation received salvation through their faith, while the Jews were rejected because of their attempts to earn salvation by works. Why did they try to earn it? Because they tripped over what v. 33 refers to as the "stone of stumbling and rock of offense". To the Jews, Jesus' message of freedom from the Law and spiritual freedom rather than literal freedom from Rome was enough to chase them away. Rather than exercise faith in this offensive stumblingblock, they preferred to continue to try to work their way into God's favor. And because of this, they did not obtain righteousness.

    If you have any questions or disagreements, feel free to comment below. I'm certainly open to anyone disagreeing with my viewpoints on this chapter, so feel free to say so. I would be happy to see your reasons behind your disagreement or agreement!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Good Article

    Two years ago this month (I don't remember the date), God began transforming me from someone who knew about Him into someone who longed to actually know Him. My sister gave me a copy of Radical by David Platt. Reading that book was what God used to change my entire perception of what it meant to follow Jesus.

    Anyhow, I read the book, and I just kinda sat on it for a few days, letting everything turn over and over in my mind. I was pretty moody those few days, and I remember finally one day, both my parents and my brother were both gone and I was home alone. It was one of those stormy days that makes me stop and look out the window for a while. As I was home alone though, my brother sent me an email with a link to a blog.

    I'm not sure what made him send it to me that day, but it smacked me across the face. It was the last straw. I remember breaking down and crying, staring out the window, after reading the email, struck by the enormity of how selfish and faithless my Christianity was, and just how far off I was from actually following Jesus.

    That was the evening I spent down at my thinking spot (a little pond in the back of my neighborhood in the woods where I go to think when I have a problem), with rain pouring down on me. That was the evening I finally told Jesus that I was going to follow Him. Not that I just merely believed He existed and that I wanted to go to heaven when I died, but that I would follow Him.

    So, that said, I hope this article makes an impact on you as well.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Love and Fear

    In the church today, a very common miss-conception takes place. And while it's understandable, that doesn't make it any more true. Unfortunately, the problem with this particular lie, like many others, is that it influences our understanding and view of the character of God.

    Generally, there are two sides to this lie. One is the hard side, the legalistic side. In this worldview, to use an analogy of Michael Horton's, an angry God carries a stick, waiting for you step out of line so He can bring down His figurative whack across your shoulder blades. God is the harsh, unforgiving God who demands perfection and moralism, and who condemns you for the slightest fault, waiting with his cannon of hellfire and brimstone for a slip-up.

    In response to this uninviting legalism, many churches have responded with a different lie, that of God as a mushy-gushy bundle of love, like your loveable cuddly grandmother. Wrath couldn't be further from God's new and improved nature! From this new worldview, God is basically a cosmic life-coach there to help you solve life problems in the most convenient, comfortable way possible. And if you choose to be a Buddhist or a Muslim, well, God wouldn't actually send "good" people to hell!

    Both positions can find some Biblical backing. One can hardly deny the presence of the wrath of God in the OT, for example where God condemns the entire earth (with only eight people excepted) to death by drowning for their sin. Equally noticeable is the presence of this Jesus on earth who eats with publicans and sinners, speaks with prostitutes, witnesses to the cultural outcasts, and does the generally unacceptable actions out of pure love, while these people rarely hear a word of anger from Jesus lips.

    But if they're both in Scripture, than what should our response be? And how can God be both worthy of our undying love and adoration, combined with helpless affection like that of a child, yet He also demands respect and even fear?

    I'm going to give an example I hope you can understand. One of my taekwondo coaches is a retired Master Sergeant in the Air Force special forces, after several years in the navy. He's a tough guy. So the first year I began taekwondo, I would see this guy, speak with him sometimes, and I was scared to death of him, as was our entire class. He would yell at us, chew us out, make us do push-ups, and seemed all-around scary to my young eyes.

    Then I began attending his school along with my home school. This made me begin spending a couple hours a week with this guy. Then, this last year, the man has been my coach at a Nationals and a World Championships, and I have spent hours, one on one training with this man. And now, while the rest of the class feels scared when he walks in the room, I'll walk up, clap him on the shoulder, and crack a joke with him.

    What changed? He's the same guy. He's still a get-in-your-face-and-chew-you-out couch. He's still the same sergeant. But now, he's my friend. He's not just a coach. He's someone I've shared time with, and talked to, and suffered with. I've seen him stand up for me at a time I couldn't for myself. He's proven time and time again how much he is willing to sacrifice for me.

    My respect for him hasn't lessened, it has actually increased. He still has the same power to make me do push-ups and so on, but now I know him. And I know that he cares about me. As I've come to know him better, I've learned to couple both respect (deep respect) with care. He can be scary. But he still cares for me, and I know it.

    When we think about how we can love a God that's also fear-inspiring, I think we need to think of an analogy like this. While we should never forget the awesome wrath of God, we don't know God as a fire-spewing sociopath waiting for us to step out of line in order to pour brimstone down on us. We instead know Him as a God who cares and loves us deeply.

    But you know what this new realization with my coach doesn't make me do? When I saw him tonight, I did not walk up to him, clap him on the shoulder and say, "Wassup, dude? How ya doin', man?" I would have spent the rest of the night doing push-ups and burpees. You know why I don't do that?

    Because even though I've come to know this man as a friend, I don't forget 1.) to respect him and 2.) the power and authority this man has. Even as my friend, I show him the respect he deserves, because I know just what he can do.

    Even while we love Christ and recognize His love for us, we make a mistake when we then assume that God accepts whatever scraps we have leftover for Him. He is a majestic Creator, who stoops down to love you and I. And let's not forget that.

    So, we see too seeming opposites walking together, fear and love. We approach God with the love of a child for his father, but with the respect and fear of a creature walking into the presence of King. And even while Christ has made us heirs of His promise, we must not forget the wrath against sin that is a part of God's nature, and the deep power that is God.

    Thus, God is neither an egotistical, fire-breathing dragon nor a cuddly, soft grandmother. He is rather a King, a Creator, who stoops to pick up fallen, depraved man and love him with a love he does not deserve. And we would do well to remember how undeserving of His love we are! And as we come to know God better, we begin to understand and enjoy His love, while respecting His power and might, and fearing His wrath against sin.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Romans 8

    Before I left for Italy, I was working on a series through Romans. While I enjoyed doing the series very much, I've had trouble coming back to it. Thus, it's been nearly a month since I have done anything in Romans.

    Since it's been that long since we've been over Romans, let's review a little bit. Chapters 1-3 were Paul's argument for man's depravity and utter guilt before God. This was the argument for why God's wrath is kindled against every man, and why no one, Jew or Greek, can be preserved from God's anger by the Law. Chapters 4-6 deal with the atonement and justification, and our new status with God. Chapters 7 and as we'll see today 8 deal with the concept of life after salvation.

    Romans 8 opens with one of the most beautiful verses of the Bible (ok, yes, I say that a lot. There's a lot of "most beautiful verses in the Bible!). "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according ot the flesh, but according to the Spirit."

    There is no condemnation. None. We have been set free by Christ. What a beautiful thought! Our accuser has been answered, our debt paid, our status changed, our position raised, and our sins forgiven. Through Christ, we are no longer condemned. The judgment is gone, and in it's place is only freedom!

    But even here I want you to catch the language Paul uses. Constant references back to the law and reference to Christ as the sacrifice both point back to the Law. Again, Paul is reinforcing the point he made before. The Law has been fulfilled in Christ. Christ is the fulfillment that the temporary sacrifices in the Tabernacle and Temple pointed forward to. This was language that pointed to the Messiah. He is the fulfillment of the law.

    V. 5-14 discuss walking in the Spirit versus walking in the flesh. I don't have the time to discuss all these verses, but I would recommend you take the time to read them. Suffice to say, our natural state is that of the flesh, displeasing to God. In that state, we can do nothing that pleases God (v. 8). Rather, we are in complete rebellion against him. This is the state of unsaved man, referred to as depraved man.

    This unregenerate man without Christ is referred to as "dead" apart from the spirit of God. So we're talking about a dead man in rebellion against God. That's what each of us was before we were saved. This is why, when Paul pronounces us alive through Christ in v. 11, v. 12-14 makes the statement that we are "under obligation" no longer to the flesh. We are now sons of God.

    I want you to think carefully about the language Paul uses hear. It doesn't seem to reflect as if we have a choice of being under sin or not. Many people claim that sin is a choice we make, as if you can choose not to sin apart from Christ. Paul doesn't leave us that option. He clearly tells us that man's default setting is "dead" and "under obligation to the flesh". Those aren't words that imply free will and free choice. It doesn't reflect the attitude that we can just choose one day to come out from our bondage and follow Christ, particularly if seen in light of v. 8 that says that in this state, we cannot do what is pleasing to God (which would include repentance). Without a direct act of God, man is hopelessly stuck in his lost, depraved condition.

    That's what makes v. 15 so much more meaningful. If we can grasp how low we were as sinners and how undeserving we were of God's mercy, we may begin to grasp the enormity of the statement in v. 15, where we pronounced children of God, to the extent that we can cry out to Him, "Abba, Father!"

    Brennan Manning, in his well-known sermon on this topic, said that the word "Abba" was one of the simplest words in the Hebrew language, probably something very similar to our word "Da-da." This was not a deeply intellectual word or a grownup word. This was the word of a baby or very small child looking at their father. This would have been a child's first word (probably after the Hebrew equivalent of "ma-ma", but you get the idea!)

    That's where we stand now. We stand now before God as His children. And we greet Him, not as an independent, grown son no longer dependent on the Father, but with the humble love of a child, dependent on his Father for everything. We stand before Him helpless without Him. That's what "Abba" means!

    V. 16-18 I've already blogged about here, so I won't repeat what I already wrote. V. 19-25 address that the world itself is longing for hope, groaning under a yoke they don't realize they are subjected to. While they long for freedom and meaning from the bondage they're in, we hope and long for the redemption of our bodies (something that will occur only in heaven). Our hope is in (v. 24) what we cannot see, not in what we already can.

    Now, if you've missed the whole idea Paul has communicated through the book about God's gift and grace to His children, you have another chance to see the picture here. V. 26 opens up with the point that while we cannot pray as we ought, the Spirit intercedes for us, interceding in "groanings to deep to be uttered." What mercy! What we in our ignorance cannot do, God Himself does in our place! Not only does He lower Himself to die for us, but He maintains the position as our Mediator for all eternity.

    V. 29-30 (Yes, I'll come back to v. 28) point out what I believe is an evidence for the predestination of the believer. I'm not going to go deep on this idea since we'll be spending a good bit of time on it next time (Rom. 9 is a bit of an unavoidable discussion on the topic).

    V. 28-39 sum up our protection in Christ. If you don't have your Bible in front of you, look away from this screen, open up a tab, go to Biblegateway.com, and look up Rom. 8: 28-39. Paul says what needs to be said, without me adding much. Suffice to say, I'll echo the words of Paul, "If God be for us, who can be against us?"

    If God is with us, who cares about the opposition? We serve a God who controls all things, and who will not allow anything to separate Him from His children. We cannot be separated from the love of God by any earthly or heavenly power. I quote this Rich Mullins quote a lot because I love how he describes the love of God so beautifully, "The reckless, raging fury that they call the love of God." We cannot be separated from it! His love is bound to His children for all eternity.

    You can't outsin God's love. You can't outrun it. You can't hide from it. No matter what you do, or where you go, or how far you run, you can't get away from the love of God. No creature, not demons or the Devil can separate you from God's love and care. You are in the hand of a loving Father, and no one will pluck you from His hand (Jn. 10:29). Rest in the loving care of your Father.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Good Song

     This is a song from Andrew Peterson that I really like. I just ran across it the other day, and it sounded vaguely familiar. Then my brother walked in and pointed out that it was a song my oldest brother (who married and moved out of the house 8 years ago) used to play when I was a little kid. Anyhow, the memory of that made it even cooler! I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

This is No Game!

    Y'all may be tired of hearing about my January trip to Malawi, but I can't say enough how much this trip affected my faith. Thus, I remember story after story, lesson after lesson that needs saying! So, here goes another!

    While at the training center in Nkhotakota, I was able to spend one day going out into a little fishing and farming village on the shores of Lake Malawi, going door-to-door witnessing with an interpreter. So I spent about three hours out doing that, then I came back to our training center just in time to meet up with another one of the American guys coming back from a different village. So, since neither one of us were tired yet, we decided to turn around and head back to the village we'd just come from and see if we could hit some of the smaller homes.

    We stopped at the first house on the outskirts of the village and were able to witness to a Muslim woman, then as we were walking into the village, a woman came out and began speaking to our interpreter in Chichewan. I don't know Chichewan, so I just kinda sat there and looked dumb (I'm really good at that; I've practiced a lot). Soon, our interpreter led us to follow after the lady over to this tiny mud-brick house on the edge of the village.

    On the way, our interpreter quickly filled us in. A girl at this house was sick, and her mother wanted us to pray for her. By this time, we'd been in Africa for over a week and were kinda getting acclimated to the shock of doing new things, but this one still caught me off guard. Anyhow, as we walked up to the house, it struck me.

    There, lying on a mat outside the little hut, was a young girl, I don't remember how old. I couldn't tell you know what she looked like, except that she was too weak to move. I remember as we huddled by her mat, praying that God would heal this girl. And I remember that was when it clicked.

    While we read stories of these things happening around the world, they aren't just stories. They're not fluffy little tales to make you feel uncomfortable. They're real world events, happening around us. They're not a statistic on a page or a number in a magazine. They are a living, breathing soul, facing an eternity either with God or eternally separated from Him.

    I'm not sure how much I can tell you in this article. Until you see a child's stomach bloated with hunger, or look at a girl lying on a mat, possibly dying, in a place with not enough food and no medical care, you don't get it. You will continue to walk along, blissfully ignorant of brothers and sisters around the world, who are dying!

    We're not playing games here, people! These are people, children, who are dying, every day, while we complain about the humidity and the rising gas prices. Real people, real children, who die, every day. Are you getting the picture?

    As we grow to love as Christ loved, we begin to hurt for the world as Christ hurt. We can see the pain evident on Jesus' face as He looked at wayward Jerusalem and begged them to follow Him. We can hear the love to the outcast in His voice to the Samaritan woman and the lepers whom He healed. And how can we claim to follow this same Jesus, and not show the love He showed?

    Tell me, how can we claim His name, identify ourselves with Him, yet not love as He loved? We don't even seem to care most of the time! The most we may do is utter a quick prayer occasionally. Maybe we choose not to discuss it because it's an uncomfortable topic of conversation in our comfortable homes over our warm meals.

    But comfortable or not, it's time someone brought it up. There is a real world out there, a real world of dying people. This isn't some sort of game that you are not a part of since you were born in America.

    Can someone explain to me how we can have a part of the body of Christ suffering in Africa, dying even, and we in the church can't even remember to pray for them? Are our priorities mixed up or what?

    A lot of people close talks like this with words like, "You can't ignore it, but..." Well, I'm gonna be honest. This is a topic you can ignore. You can pretend they don't exist, that they won't face God. You can pretend they're not sick, they're not hungry, and you can pretend that God never promised that the love we show to Him is the love we show to the least of these. You can pretend that it's not your job. You can pretend that you won't face God.

    You can pretend all that. That's been our preferred method for the last 100 years. But I am going to ask you not to. You know what? Sometimes it's uncomfortable to face the truth. So, while I realize we can't all up and go to Africa (even if that would end all their problems rather than just complicate them), you can pray. You can support people who are doing the work over there.

    C'mon, you teenagers who are trying to follow Christ! You can't follow Christ and not hurt with those who are hurting! You can't follow Christ and not show the love He commanded us to show! So please, remember your brothers and sisters in Africa in prayer. This isn't a fluffy little game. This isn't a time of peace. It's a time of war. And it's high time we realized that.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Funny Video

    So while it's a bit off topic, I thought after how long my last post was y'all deserved a break. So here is a humorous video from Studio C, a great YouTube channel. No, there is no theological lesson to be learned from this! At least, none that I can think of... if you can, cudos to you!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Courtship and Dating

    Okay, guys and gals, I'm going to attempt to tackle a subject I have avoided up to this point. I have spent the last couple weeks thinking over and researching different views of this discussion, and I finally decided to go ahead and post on the topic.

    Our youth culture today is full of examples of short-term boyfriend/girlfriend relationships between teens and sometimes even pre-teens more and more. I could give many examples, from a 12 year old boy in a youth ministry I once helped with who bragged about his first kiss with his girlfriend, to a 13 year old girl who went into great detail describing her boyfriend with my dad, to another 13 year old boy whose aunt told my dad about his habit of going to the mall to meet up with pretty girls. True, this is one extreme of the dating culture, not necessarily the norm, but still disturbing.

    First of all, when did that become normal? What's the point? I'm all for friendships between guys and girls, but what's the point of forming a particular attachment of "this is my boyfriend" or "this is my girlfriend" when nothing will come of it for years, and you both know it?

    But on the other end of the spectrum, we have another extreme. Courtship, an idea espoused by many fairly well-known, conservative Christian leaders such as Eric Ludy, Josh Harris, Bill Gothard, and more, has made its debut in the last twenty years mostly in the homeschooled circles in which Doug Philips and Bill Gothard left their mark. Beyond the concept of courtship is the even more extreme version of spouse-finding backed by Jonathan Lindvall known as betrothal.

    So amid all these older men, what can I say that's new on the topic? First off, I'm not presenting a system of how you should find a spouse. For goodness sake, I'm 17 years old and have never had a girlfriend. I'm not here to give you relationship advice or concepts for finding a spouse. You'd be dumb to listen to me!

    But I do want to share thoughts. You can critically examine them or you can throw them out as outrageous, I don't really care. I'm simply putting down a couple of thoughts I've had recently on the subject.

    One of the first problems I've run into is that nearly every person you speak to in conservative, family-integrated circles has a different definition of courtship, and pretty much no one has bothered to define dating. It's very hard to have an intelligent conversation on a topic if both sides are undefined. So, I'm going to do my best to define them first.

    First, it's fairly hard to find a working definition of dating. Since it is by far the main method of finding a spouse in the US, most people would simply define it as "the method used to find a spouse"! For example, Wikipedia (which I am not a huge fan of anyway) defines dating as "a part of the human mating process whereby two people meet socially for companionship, beyond the level of friendship, or with the aim of each assessing the other's suitability as a partner in an intimate relationship or marriage." With a definition that broad, pretty much any method of finding a spouse would be considered dating, including courtship.

    So, since it is hard to find a specific definition for what most courtship advocates consider the opposite of courtship, I'm going to define "dating" for this particular article as "short-term, romantic relationships". The majority of the time, this method seems to have little to do with actually finding a spouse and more to do with having fun with a member of the opposite gender, but for the sake of this article, I'm including both short-term, recreational dating and more serious, focused dating under the same heading. It will be easier to define if we don't try to fit it into one sentence but instead describe it, as I'll do later with courtship.

    Dating in general involves going out on multiple dates with different people over time to find a suitable spouse. These dates can be simply recreational or with the fixed intention of trying to meet someone you would be willing to marry, but both would be included under the heading of dating. Dating is generally done almost entirely between the two people in the relationship, with little to no external control from outside the relationship.

    So, with dating semi-defined (defined as best as I can!), let's try to move on to courtship. With an entirely different problem from dating (which has no real workable definition I could find), courtship has so many definitions that it would be hard to find one that actually covers all aspects of the system of thought. For example, well-known courtship proponent Bill Gothard defines courtship on his website as, "Courtship is experiencing the blessing of God by loving the Lord Jesus Christ and honoring both sets of parents." While a guy/girl relationship is implied because of the phrase "both sets of parents", it isn't even clear from that definition we're even talking about a romantic relationship rather than simply something we are all called to do Biblically. I mean, we're all called to honor each other and love Jesus. That doesn't mean I'm in a courtship!

    Others have similar problems. I've heard many people say that courtship is "dating with a purpose". I don't find that definition satisfactory though, since I know many people who have "dated with a purpose" yet still have come nowhere close to what most courtship proponents would consider true courtship. Some websites, such as the fairly known Christian question website http://www.gotquestions.org/ define courtship by its attributes, some of which it listed as no physical contact and a platonic type relationship unclouded by emotion. These, while some courtships do include these standards, aren't universally accepted as courtship.

    So, again, I'm forced to define courtship simply by its attributes. Courtship is a more serious method of finding a spouse, in contrast to the tendency to simply be recreational. Strong parental involvement (particularly of the girl's parents) is usually an important factor. Many courtships are also known for their lack of physical contact (different couples draw the lines in different places), presence of a chaperone, and more serious nature of the relationship. However, like dating, the term "courtship" covers such a broad spectrum of ideas it is hard to judge what true courtship is.

    I'm going to be bluntly honest. Both ideas scare me. On the one hand, the idea of dating as a flippant, almost recreational method of meeting with girls seems pointless and hurtful. There's a reason so many videos and articles are made about breakups, because through dating, if you plan on having boyfriends from the time you're 12 to when you marry at 22, you will have broken up multiple times. Toss in that since I at 17 am not ready to get married and I have much better ways to spend my time, the concept of dating really doesn't hold much appeal to me.

    At the same time, having grown up in courtship circles all my life, I've seen and heard enough courtship (what I consider) horror stories to make me rather nervous to touch the whole package. So, if I appreciate neither side, what's the point of the article? Good question! I'll get to that!

    I've pointed out several of the problems I have with the modern dating sphere, but I'd like to turn my attention over to courtship now. Courtship has its own set of problems. Anyone who has grown up in these circles have heard the stories of way over-protective dads (I could give you the list if you wanted) that made life hard for prospective boyfriends. While I may choose to try to go deeper with a girl who proves logical and thoughtful, that is no guarantee that her father is that way. I hesitate to involve myself in a relationship in which someone who I have no control in choosing has full power over our mutual relationship, no matter his rationality or spirituality. Also high on the list is the idea espoused by many courtship proponents (such as the Duggars) that the guy and girl should spend no time alone together. Usually, the reason given is accountability or to remove temptation from the couple's path. There just seems to be a lot of room for error there, long lasting, devastating error.

    So what I want to do with this article (have I really spent this much time just trying to get to this point?) is point out some of the problems I see with both systems. Yes, you heard that right. I like neither system the way I've seen them occur.

    So let's start with dating. What do I find unsettling about dating?

    1.) Recreation. It becomes fairly obvious when you speak to most dating teens that seriously getting to know the other person with the intention of marriage is not the goal. Usually, it's an attempt to find the prettiest girl and go out with them. The majority of the time, the goal seems to be either having fun or attaining status of "wow, I went out with the prettiest girl in the school" or whatever. I have never had a dating teen brag to me about how deep and intellectual his discussion with his girlfriend had been the night before. I have had teens try to show me pictures of their girlfriends so I'd tell them just how pretty they were. The goal in this type of relationship is fun, rather than a serious finding of a spouse. If I want fun with a girl, there's no need to call her my girlfriend. I'll just initiate a card game with her at church or strike up a conversation at taekwondo, with no need for the exclusivity that goes with the term "boyfriend" or "girlfriend".

    2.)  Breakups. Why can you find so many videos on breakups on YouTube and articles online? I've never even tried to find any, yet there they are, sitting in your suggestions bar on YouTube. Why? Because breakups happen a lot! As I said before, if teens plan on dating from when we're 13 to when we're 24, we're talking about a roughly ten year span of dating! Chances are you won't be dating the same person all ten years. That means you will have broken up, probably several times. Honestly, I don't see the point to putting yourself through that. Why do you need a boyfriend at 14 years old only to break up with them at 17, so you can pick up another boy at 18 and date them until you're 20, and so on? I'm even being generous with the length of time there, since we've all heard of the more common, six month, four month, seven month dating relationships.

    Those are my two major issues with dating. But what about courtship? Courtship was the savior, right? Supposed to preserve us from the current problems of spouse finding, correct? Well, I find some problems here too!

    1.) An over-emphasis on parents. In response to dating's problem of nearly no parental influence, courtship shot back with the concept of parental controls in the courtship. Sure, go for it. I got no problem there. But then you begin hearing the stories of fathers who made admittedly suitable guys wait seven years to marry their daughters, just because they said so, no reason given. Or dads who spend months drilling a guy to see if he's a suitable match for his daughter. Soon, it seems no longer as if the guy has to win a girl's heart, but as if he must win her father's heart first! Sure, I want her dad's blessing. And I want him to get to know me, and I hope his daughter asks his advice about me. But that's not the same as putting me through a six month examination about theology, career, money-handling, etc.

    2.) An intensely strong (borderline legalistic) emphasis on standards. In the circles I've been in, the higher the standards and the harder they were to keep, the more spiritual the couple must have been. If you managed to attain the "no-touch" courtship, you were the model couple, obviously spiritually more mature than the couple who *gasp* held hands! Never mind that the Bible never says where the line is beyond not crossing the line of fornication. Ignoring that, many courtship proponents have built an incredibly complex system in which physical contact at all becomes a no-no. The idea of shaking hands with any girl in the church except the one you're courting just seems weird to me! We should not judge others on extra-Biblical standards of our own making.

    3.) Chaperones. Now, I have nothing against the idea of chaperones going along on dates. If that's the way you want to do it, go for it! But let's be honest that there are things that I would like to tell my prospective wife on a date that I don't particularly want to tell her brother. There are ideas and dreams that you may feel comfortable sharing with a young lady you are becoming close to that you don't particularly want to share with whoever else is at the table. Plus, discussions about beliefs usually carry on more freely between two people rather than three.

    So, I imagine a lot of you are saying right now, "You haven't helped at all! All you did was criticize both!" And I suppose that's true! But here's my point!

    Below I'm going to share some thoughts. Please take these as thoughts, random ramblings from a teenager, not from a mature elder who has been through a relationship and seen the world! These are simply the ponderings of somebody who has spent a good bit of time in these circles! These are not rules you must follow in order to gain God's favor, and you are not less spiritual than me if you disagree! These are simply the things I think make sense. If either dating or courtship makes perfect sense to you, go for it! There's nothing wrong with either system as long as you do them in a God-honoring way. This isn't a question of theological truth, just personal preference.

    1.) Let's not even bother with the whole girlfriend/boyfriend thing until we're ready for marriage. C'mon, seriously, what's the point of having a specific "girlfriend" (I'm not speaking of friends that are girls, but rather of a particular romantic relationship) at 14 years old? What's the point? You can't get married for at least a few years (assuming you stick with the same one that long), and you're simply distracted! So, let's just lay off the whole deal until we're ready for that step. That means old enough and close to mature enough (I'm not sure you're ever mature enough, but you get the point), at a minimum.

    2.) What's with the big deal with guys being friends with girls, and vice versa? Look, I realize there are people at church who like to put together couples in their heads. I also realize that when they see guys and girls talking together, it gets the little wheels in their heads turning. But could they please keep their mouths shut about it? Just because guys and girls are friends doesn't mean there is anything romantic going on, and bringing it into the discussion will simply make what was probably a harmless friendship awkward. So please, people, let guys and girls get to know each other, as friends! Let us play games and talk together. Let us get over our fear of the other gender and learn to interact with them!

    3.) When you do get ready to get to know a young lady (I'm speaking to the other guys on this one), bring her family into the discussion. Different people feel differently about whether or not you should talk to her father first, or get permission from him in order to have a courtship at all. That's not my point here. My main point is to involve her family. Let her parents know what you're doing. Don't dodge her dad like he's the plague. Talk to him, explain your interest, and get to know him better. No, you don't have to fall in love with him. No, you may not even get along with him that well. But have the respect to talk to him (and her mother) when you want to get to know a young lady. How much sway parents will hold over the relationship can be decided depending on the two young people's personal beliefs and how they've been raised. But at a minimum at least get the parents involved.

    4.) No, if you leave a Christian young guy and a Christian young girl together, they will not immediately begin kissing if you leave them without a chaperone. Despite the somewhat popular belief that teens have absolutely no self-control, that is actually false in some of us (go figure!). If our parents have trained us to follow the Holy Spirit and live for Jesus, they can hopefully trust that we won't whip around the second they turn their backs and begin doing wrong things. I'm not sure what the problem is that so many homeschooled, courtship-minded parents think is wrong with us that it is absolutely unthinkable that we would be left alone with a young lady (or vice versa). I think most of the Christian parents who feel this way have worked to instill in their children these standards of self-control. At least some of us teens try to keep these principles not because of the presence of a chaperone but because we love Jesus Christ and want to please Him.

    5.) Watch the physical side. How far is too far? I couldn't tell you! All the Bible says is to flee youthful lusts and avoid fornication. That's all Paul thought needful to tell us, so I'm not going to go beyond that. However, be careful of it! At the same time, hugging a friend of the opposite gender at church is not wrong! Why do we have to complicate everything?

    So, those are some thoughts I thought I'd just put out there. Again, these aren't rules that you must live by. As you probably noticed, there isn't much Scripture in this post. You wanna know the reason? Because God didn't choose to devote a whole lot of time to this topic in Scripture. Yes, He showed a lot of different ways of finding a spouse, but He never labeled any of them as His particular preferred method. And before you decided to go imitate whatever methods you find in the Bible, I would take a quick look at some study materials on the difference between historical narrative and Biblical principles for living! While the Bible may speak of Ruth finding a husband by curling up at his feet on a threshing floor, surrounded by sleeping men, that is probably not a recommended method today. While it may mention marrying captives taken in war, again, not a recommended method.

    So, take 'em or leave 'em, it's up to you! These are just some simple thoughts I had. I'm not sure if these thoughts mean I believe in courtship, dating, both, or neither, and honestly, I don't really care. If you have any further thoughts, objections, or questions, please leave a comment below and I'll do my best to answer it!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Peace in War, Rest in Battle, Joy in Sorrow

    I remember a particular evening in Malawi. It began with all five of us from Texas gathered outside on a little stone wall looking up at the millions of stars in the African night sky. Anyway, as different ones of us came and went doing various nightly chores, I don't remember who else was there for this little episode, but it's not important for the story. I remember just randomly bursting out laughing, and the other guys around me all looking at me quizzically, like "What's wrong with Taylor now?"

    I remember telling them, "We're crazy. I've never had so much fun in my life, never felt more satisfied and joyful in the Lord. And I really shouldn't be! I haven't had chocolate in two weeks, I've been sleeping under holey roofs, slogging down muddy roads, pushing mini-buses and pickups through the deepest slickest mud I've ever seen, going to the bathroom in a hole, and doing ministry things I've never done before. We're crazy to be enjoying this so much!"

    We all laughed at the time, because it was true. Most of us agreed (and I whole-heartedly meant it) that if there was any realistic way we could have stayed, we would have. I fell in love with Africa.

    "What kind of weirdos are you?" ask the normal people of the world, the grandparents, the family friends. "What kind of nutcases are you raising?" my parents see in every quizzical little eyebrow twist of people they tell about my trip. Who enjoys that? Why would you enjoy that?

    Too often, we treat sacrifice as if it is horrible, and that living a sacrificial and thus "rough" Christian life is incredibly spiritual, rather than default real Christianity. We shy away from a risky Christian life that may involve awkward, difficult things as if it's just not worth the cost. Maybe we'll be rewarded in heaven, but it's not worth the hell on earth, we may think to ourselves in our deepest heart of hearts.

    But when we respond that way, we're missing the promises of Jesus that his yoke his easy, and his burden is light. His promises of joy and peace have not been forgotten or abandoned. So a radical Christian life isn't a joyless wandering through life, just slogging our way along until heaven. Instead, we are called to have joy during the journey, through the hard times.

    When we have the attitude that the Christian life is a joyless drudgery, just limping through life until heaven, we miss out on the joy of following Jesus on earth. Jesus promises joy and peace if we follow Him, even through the harder times.

    Yes, it involves a mindset that the world might consider crazy. It doesn't make a ton of sense to enjoy a lack of luxuries. It isn't necessarily intellectually explained.

    But you truly do feel most fulfilled when doing what you know God wants you to do. I'm someone who hates meeting new people, yet I can remember the joy I've felt while going door to door giving out gospel tracts. Those are times that I am doing something I'd ordinarily hate, but I enjoy doing it simply because it is for my God.

    When God guarantees us rest, He is promising rest in the midst of the greatest turmoil and peace in the midst of a great war. He's not offering us a life of relaxation, but rather fulfillment during a struggle. His promise of rest is not a promise of laid back nonchalance for the fate of the rest of the world, but rather a peace of mind and restful reliance on God during the most stressful and wild of times.

    Yes, we are guaranteed a life of counting the cost and dying to self. But we are also promised a life of rest and peace. John 14:27 is a promise from Jesus to His disciples that He guaranteed His peace for them.

    Timeout. What do you mean Jesus promised the disciples peace? The same disciples who lived difficult lives, horrible lives by the world's standards? The same disciples who died in horrific ways of martyrdom? Those guys?

    Yep, Jesus guarantees us peace in the midst of war. He guarantees us rest in the middle of battle. And He guarantees us joy in the most adverse and contrary situations, situations where the world will look at our joy and pronounce us crazy, and we'll just nod our heads and agree.

    What gives us joy in the midst of trial? What gives you joy when you're doing things for God you'd never do for anyone else, things the world sees and pronounces insane? Well, several things really. First of all, His presence. We are guaranteed the presence of the Holy Spirit with us. And to someone in love with Jesus, that's a motivation and a confidence like no other. Secondly, we have His peace. We have been reconciled with the Father, made sons of God, and whatever the outcome of our lives, we can have peace. We can have rest.

    So, as you go through life, the crazy times and the hard times, remember! God doesn't just call you to a difficult, costly life. He calls you to rest in Him during those difficult times. He calls us to bask in His peace even while in the most strenuous of exercises in faith. He calls us to sing of His joy in the most unlikely of circumstances. We can rest in Jesus during the battle, we can experience peace during war, and we can know joy in the sorrow surrounding us.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


    Of all the characters in the Bible besides Jesus, I think David is my favorite to study. He is a man of opposites, one moment the forgiving, running outlaw, the next the vengeful king marching to destroy his enemies. One moment writing stirring songs about God, the next committing a heinous act of sin. One moment a king of a glorious empire, the next a stranger on the run. One moment an unknown shepherd, the next a feared warrior.

    Honestly, what other character in the Bible is comparable to this guy? When you examine David as a warrior, he is unsurpassed in Scripture. Seriously, the man killed two hundred men in order to win the woman he loved. He killed a giant and war hero while still a teenager. He was reported to have killed tens of thousands of men in the songs sung by the women of Israel. He was not your typical gentle, meek man we may picture when we hear "man after God's own heart".

    There are several things I would like to point out from David's life that make him such an incredible study. If ever a man personified the grace of God to a sinful man, David demonstrates it. David, a man God claimed followed after His own heart (Acts 13:22), committed some of the greatest sins recorded in the entirety of the Bible. Adultery, the murder of one of his most loyal followers, pride that entailed the slaughter of 70,000 Israelites, besides the extreme bloody wars that covered Israel during his entire reign.

    Yet still, through all this blood and sin, we see a heart desiring to follow after God, perhaps more than any other character of the Bible. Nowhere else do we see the desire for God personified as in the Psalms, where David pants after God, wakes up early to find Him, purposes to dwell in His presence forever, and relies on Him for strength. David may indeed be the most extreme character of the Bible both ways, both toward evil and toward good.

    You get to hear me say it again. The story of David is a story of God's grace and mercy to undeserving man. If ever a man deserved to die for his sin, it would have been David. To order his own soldier's murder so that he could steal the man's wife is about as low as you can get. To betray a loyal friend to take advantage of his widow is nearly as low a sin as shown anywhere else in Scripture.

    Yet through it all, we see David cling to God, pouring out his heart with grief over his sin. Again, David did nothing half way. When in sin, David committed heinous sins. When in repentance, David went all the way with repentance, even writing it into a song to be sung by the entire nation! Not a common action of a dictator after a huge mistake!

    So let's take a look at Ps. 51, David's famous psalm of repentance. Why is David still considered a man after God's own heart despite the hundreds of men's blood on his hands, even innocent blood? I think the entirety of Ps. 51 will show you!

    First off, the attitude David writes of his repentance is incredible when compared to the typical behavior of rulers is amazing. David writes with obvious brokenness, begging God for mercy and accepting full responsibility for his sins.

    I think sometimes we fail to recognize the vastness of God's grace over our sin because we miss the vastness of our sin. We are never truly struck with the greatness of our sin. There is no lessening of the sin by David. You can see by His very words, particularly his opening words, "Be gracious to me. O God, according to Thy lovingkindness, according to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgression." 

    David learned an important lesson for his repentance. Forgiveness didn't come from rationalization or excuses, but from brutally honest submission. You can see David throwing himself on the mercy of God, without excuse or blame-shifting, but instead relying on God's radical forgiveness.

    David was not considered a man after God's own heart because David was such a great guy. David is described as a bloody man, a hard man. We've already seen him as a sinner, a great sinner. Now we see him repenting, with a broken heart. It reflects through this entire psalm, as he begs for mercy from God and entreats God for a clean heart, a new start, and fresh desires (v. 7-10) and begs for God not to disregard him or forget him, but to instead restore his desires for God (v. 11-13).

    But while David strikes me as being supremely self-confident, it is incredible to see his reliance on God reflected time after time, through nearly every story of David. He constantly inquired of God, asking for direction, begging for guidance and protection, both in battle and at home. This raw dependence on God shows up plainly in Ps. 23.

    Sometimes we forget that this psalm, this beautiful song of protection and care of sheep (with us as the sheep), was written by one of the bloodiest warriors of the ancient world. Literally, a man who killed lions, bears, and giants as a teenager, and men by the thousands in his twenties, and by the hundreds simply to marry the girl he wanted, writes this psalm of gentle care and protection by God.

    Guys, if David admitted that he was weak enough to need God to carry, provide, and protect him, I think we probably should to. We should remember, no matter our strength, skill, or maturity, every good gift comes from above. Everything good we can do comes from God. And we should trust Him and recognize our dependence on Him!

    That opens us up to our very last thing. 2 Sam. 22 is toward the end of David's reign, after much of his family has turned on him, the final years being marked by rebellion and murder among David's own family and generals. Yet, still, David, this mighty man, still says that God is his rock, fortress, deliverer, shield, horn, salvation, stronghold, refuge, and savior (v. 2-3). What reckless reliance on God, for everything! Despite David's rugged strength and power that made him one of the most feared men of the time period, we still see this recognition of his shortcomings and of his need and dependence on God, for everything.

    So, David wasn't really that strong, right? I mean, he was just relying on God to protect him. That's what the weak do, right? Well, what does David say in v. 35? "He trains my hands for battle, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze."

    Now I've shot a small compound bow, which are tremendously easier to shoot that a simple long bow. I want any of you who have ever shot a longbow to stop and think for a moment about the strength required to shoot a bow made of bronze! A metal bow.

    Is this reliance on God for the weak? Yes. But what does He do for the weak? He makes them strong, strong in Him! He empowers them to do great things for Him, not through their vast strength, but through His! When David lists the things he's done to his enemies (v. 38-39), how does he tell us he did it? "For Thou hast girded me with strength for battle; Thou hast subdued under me those who rose up against me."

    David's strength, his victories, were not his own. He clearly says that his strength came from God. So take just a minute and think about that. David, the mighty warrior, killer of his ten thousands, called God "my deliverer". Can He be any less to us? Are we so much stronger than David that we no longer have any need of this God? Are we fine to face life on our own, with our own strength? Are we any more resolute to face temptation than David?

    As we go through life, we must remember that strength comes from the Lord. Whether you are strong or weak, we are dependent on God for our strength. We cannot face life and stay strong through it without Him.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Good Song

    This song is one of my favorite non-CCM songs. My mom (who can't stand CCM) loves this song so much that I memorized it several years ago for the express purpose of singing for her when she was depressed. Anyhow, I hope y'all enjoy "I Can Go In" by Abigail Miller.

Monday, June 8, 2015


    Have you ever had the feeling that you will never measure up, never be righteous enough, never be good enough? Have you ever had the idea stuck in your head, despite your resistance, that God is waiting on the other side of the huge pile of your sin for you to get it all worked out before He will love and accept you? Have you ever had the notion engrained in your mind that you will never be able to do enough?

    Well, you're right. You will never do enough. You will never measure up. You will never be the perfect sibling, the perfect friend, the perfect parent. You can never be the perfect person, on your own.

    But that is where the love and grace of God enter the picture. We do not have to measure up, because Christ has made us perfect. We do not have to be righteous enough, but Christ has already made us so. We do not have to work through our sin on our own, because Christ already has.

    We are the ragamuffins of this world, the imperfect humans of this world who fall, and fall again, rising only to fall again. We are the living examples of Romans 7, repeated over and over again. We are the ones who struggle, who are tempted and tried, who fail and fall. We are the weak, the tempted, and struggling. And we are the recipients of the grace and love of a beautiful and wild Savior.

    Brennan Manning writes in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, "'But how?' we ask. Then the voice says, 'They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.' There they are. There *we* are - the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life's tribulations, but through it all clung to faith. My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.”

    The beauty of the Christian life is not that I now live the victorious Christian life, lived abundantly, perfectly, and rapturously all the time. Rather, the beauty is found in an all-sufficient Savior who shows His sufficiency not when I am strongest, but when I am weakest. When my self-sufficiency is gone, then can Christ's shine through me.

    Our absolute greatest realization as we look at our Christian lives, dotted sometimes with past sin, temptation, and pain is that I am loved by God, and accepted through the gift of Jesus Christ. I am accepted. I have been made right with God. Justified. Redeemed. Everything that I am, better or worse, is simply a side note to the fact that I am accepted by God. No longer is my defining characteristic my sin, my shame, my failure but instead my status: a child of the living God, loved, accepted, and covered.

    I want us to take a moment and think about that word "accepted". It's a powerful word. How often do we hear of teens doing stupid things because they want to be accepted? But what does it mean?

    Does it not mean to be loved, cherished, cared for, despite whatever baggage and problems you may carry? To be accepted is not to be dutifully loved but to be the recipient of grace, love despite the problems, the pain, the baggage, the shame. Accepted for who you are, not who you will be or have the potential to become. Accepted as a child of God, a weak, sometimes wandering child, but a child of God. Accepted as one who is precious in the eyes of God. Accepted. Loved. Cherished. Adopted.

    "“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”
                                                                          -Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Good Song

    I dare say a lot of y'all have heard this song before, probably from the more popular David Crowder Band. But since I'm not a big fan of David Crowder, this is the version I prefer by John Mark McMillan. Hope you like it!


Friday, June 5, 2015

He is There

    "Why are the nations in an uproar, and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand, and their rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed: 'Let us tear their fetters apart, and cast away their cords from us!'"  (Ps. 2:1-3)

    Let's just face it: the world can be a depressing place. The world, despite what you may hear, is not full of all flowers and sunshine. There's also death, disease, and heartache. And as we scan through the world, sometimes that's all we can see.

    Being a Christian doesn't make it a ton easier at this point (we'll get to how being a Christian really does help later, but at this point in the thought process, being a Christian doesn't really help). In fact, in a way it makes it worse. Rather than looking at numbers on a page or statistics in a magazine, we're staring at souls with an eternal destiny, people Jesus loves, people we are called to love. And when we look into the face of that starving child in Asia, we are looking into the face of a child dearly loved by God.

    Where is God in the home of an abused girl, beaten and abused by the very people she should be able to trust the most, during what should be the happiest times of her life?

    Where is God when a child dies in Africa of a disease that could have been stopped?

    Where is God when villages are raided in Sudan and the girls taken for slaves and the boys for child soldiers?

    Where is God during the catastrophes and tragedies that end life with such staggering numbers?

    Where is God when we look around ourselves and see the poor in our own cities, the people under bridges, the teens hooked on drugs?

    I've been thinking about this the last few days. When we strive to love like Jesus loved, we begin to hurt more with those who hurt and weep with those who weep. While I still don't cry much (like hardly never), I've begun hurting much more for those in these situations. And the deeper we love the world, the more it will hurt to see this, and the more we will want to see it stop.

    There are several answers to the questions I posed above. First off, one answer comes from the verses following the ones I posted above from Ps. 2. "He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them (speaking of the wicked who plan His overthrow). Then He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury: 'But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain.'"

    Why is this a really neat passage? Because while the powerful of the earth are scrambling to stop God, to defeat His purpose and disobey His commands, God is not scrambling to regain control. He isn't dashing around, desperately trying to put out the fires. He is calmly in control, and continues about His plan, which His enemies apparently cannot defeat. So, God is control, and the wicked's day will come.

    But secondly, what I kinda thought of that I hadn't thought much about before was about the question itself. Don't you figure that that question, "where is God..." was probably what the disciples were asking in the upper room? Or what Mary probably gasped out between sobs at the foot of the cross? Maybe it was the question that floated through Peter's mind as he went back to casting his nets for the last time. Maybe it was the thought in the mind of Nicodemus and Joseph as they laid Jesus in the tomb. "Where is God? Where is justice? Where is the protection for the righteous and the innocent?"

    Where was God? God was exactly where He always was, in firm control, allowing these things to happen in full obedience to His divine decree. No, He wasn't caught off guard, or momentarily destracted. He was exactly where He has always been, in control.

    Where is God? He is exactly where He always was, in firm control, allowing these things to happen in full obedience to His divine decree. He is in the same place He was when Joshua asked what happened after the catastrophe at Ai. He is in the same place He was when Elijah begged God to let him die after Jezebel's pursuit. He is no more out of touch, distracted, or away today than He was then.

    So, where can we find peace when all around us it seems evil is advancing? In the arms of a sovereign, loving Savior. A Father who loves, and who is not lost, but in control. A Savior, who brought our greatest joy out of what seemed the greatest tragedy in human history. A sovereign God, who plans out the world for His greater glory and to make His power and majesty, but also His mercy, known. That is where our faith must lie during the tragedies of life.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Jesus is Around Here Somewhere... I Just Don't See Him

    While in Rome, my dad and I had the chance to visit the Vatican City and St. Peter's Basilica inside the city walls. While it would probably have been a lot more spectacular had I been a Catholic, it was still an incredible experience, even as a Reformed Protestant (about as non-Catholic as you can get!). But the three hours I spent inside the city made me think a lot during our trip.

    As you walk through the Vatican, you see incredible works of art, magnificent objects that are literally priceless. Who knows what they would be sold for! Works of art for which men dedicated years of their lives, sometimes even their entire lives, to accomplishing. And as you walk through the city, the headquarters of this religion, you see the splendor and the incredible glory of the amassed wealth and power of this particular church.

    But when you take a step back from the wonder and amazement all this might bring at first glance, you begin to wonder something. Where is Jesus? You might tell me that He is in all these paintings around me, woven in the tapestries around me, painted on the ceiling above my head, chiseled into the sculpture I'm looking at. But I'm not asking for a picture of Jesus. I'm asking where the heart of Jesus is in all this?

    How can we reconcile that Jesus, a penniless Jewish rabbi with only twelve consistent followers is head of a church that spent millions in self-beautification? Where is Jesus' love for the poor, for the sick, for the lost reflected in the wealth and ceremony of this giant organization? Where are the teachings of Christ to love your neighbor as yourself reflected in the huge churches that tower above a lost city?

     But the point of my article is not to criticize the Catholic church. My point is instead to strike a blow at us, who would read this article, nod our heads, and call down our figurative fire from heaven on them for their hypocrisy, while ignoring our own.

    Are our churches any different? Are our Christian lives any different? How much of our Christian life is discussing Christ, talking about Him, but not actually showing His love? How much of our church time do we spend walking all around Jesus, touching, feeling, tasting, smelling, without ever actually taking part in what Jesus did and said to do?

    No, our American churches (at least for the most part) don't hoard massive amounts of money. No, they don't build massive statues of our leaders. No, they don't spend millions on ornate graves of saints and popes. But we have our own alternate ways of doing "Christ's" work.

    When we drive by the poor under the bridges in our town in order to go to our comfortable pews and hear about Jesus, are we any less hypocritical than the Catholics who built extravagant churches to celebrate Christ while ignoring His work? Do we do ignore Him less when we build $25,000,000 churches, with gyms and cafeterias, while Uganda starves and Sudan dies? Can we truly point our fingers at the falsity of Catholicism's inconsistencies while we do the same under a different cloak and a different guise?

    What would happen if the church began recognizing that the church is not a building, but is a body. A body of people united under a common cause and Savior, with the same purpose. No, the purpose is not to become greater and greater so that God will become greater and greater with us. No, the purpose is not to build the biggest and the greatest so that God will be the biggest and greatest through our accomplishments for Him.

    What if we realize that our purpose, our united motive, is to spread Jesus Christ, both His story and His love, across the world, to every single person? Would our attitudes change, our ambitions, our drives, our goals, our means, our processes? Would our strategies change for church growth? Would our daily lives change?

    If our acts of worship to God ceased to be the public acts in front of everyone (whether it be the building of an ornate cathedral or the giving of an extra long opening prayer at church) and we began to understand that our obedience to God is the showing of love to others, I think our churches would change. I don't think we'd spend our money or our time the same way. If we understood the war we were engaged in, and the goal at the end, I think our strategy for winning would change.

    See, if the goal of the church is simply to bring people in and get them to pray a prayer, then we're going about it perfectly. We want the biggest, most fun looking building you can find. We should soften the gospel down to its smallest, easiest to swallow dose in order to be accepted by the greatest number of people. We should come up with the grandest, most comical schemes to make church look "cool" and "fun", convincing people that following Jesus isn't just the right thing to do, but the fun thing to do.

    But if the goal of Jesus Christ isn't just to stop at conversion, but instead to motivate and inspire a group of people to spread His name, His glory, and His love, then we're going about it all wrong. You don't show love by flaunting the biggest building or greatest programs. You don't show love by driving by the poor to get to a comfortable building to sit and hear about loving. You show love... by loving.

    What I fear we've done is we've made Jesus into such a comfortable, laid back part of our life that He is only necessary or even used at conversion, then abandoned in favor of me. We spend our Sunday's, and for that matter our entire weeks, not loving like Christ, not demonstrating Christ, but just talking about Him, maybe hyping yourself up for the work for Him you've convinced yourself you'll do one day.

    The church's job is not to make ourselves look good, successful, or cool. It is to communicate Christ on earth. We are His body. We are His hands on earth, the tools through which He communicates His grace and love. And if we do not, then the body of Christ is ignoring its very purpose.

Monday, June 1, 2015


    I'm HOME! First off, thanks to everyone who has been praying for me! I could feel the support. I'm just jumping on here briefly before trying to catch up on some sleep. I've only slept about six hours in the last thirty-six, so I'm tired!

    Praise- I am completely uninjured! Nothing even vaguely resembling an injury happened to me, so big praise for that! Even though I did not place in the tournament, I am still healthy!

    Prayer- If you remember, one of my teammates, Billy Saar, received a concussion. This was his very first major tournament, and he's only 14, so he was very nervous. Last I heard, he was still in the hospital in Italy, so prayer would be appreciated! Secondly, someone either accidentally grabbed or stole my sparring bag full of about 400 dollars in gear from the tournament. So please prayer that that would be returned to me! That's a pretty big loss, especially since some of it was borrowed and I will have to buy it back for the person I borrowed it from!

    Again, thank you, everyone, for your prayers and support! I appreciate them immensely!