Thursday, December 14, 2006

Intentional Wisdom

In the book Craftsmen author John Crotts makes a strong point, “You will never accidentally run a marathon. You will never just happen to become a doctor. In the same way, you will never accidentally become wise.” (p 142)

A runner trains for months, even years, to run a marathon. A person studies years to become a doctor, logging many hours in libraries, labs, and hospitals. For both the runner and the student, the future goal drives the current behavior. Decision after decision is shaped by what is best to accomplish the goal.

The pursuit of wisdom is similar. It requires a young person to be very intentional. No one stumbles into becoming wise. No one accidentally loses his folly and gains wisdom. No one simply wakes up wise one day. To grow in wisdom we must intentionally pursue it.

It starts with a healthy fear of the Lord. We need to know who God is and how he acts and stand in reverential awe of him. We are to understand his all-knowing and all-powerful ways and live with a fear of him. We are to know his unchanging nature and his sovereign control over all and stand in awe of him. This is the essential first stage of growing in wisdom and requires us to study the attributes of God and think carefully about who he is.

We need to study the Word of God and conform our lives to God’s standards. This requires faithful reading and studying of scripture with the goal of applying it to our lives today. “How does this apply to me right now?” should be the question on our minds as we read. This is intentional growth in wisdom.

We need others – the many godly individuals around us. We need the advice and wisdom of our parents for us to grow in wisdom ourselves. We need the example of godly pastors, teachers, and coaches to help us understand how to live in a way that is pleasing to God. We need to intentionally ask others about their convictions and seek to grow in wisdom ourselves. When we hang out with the wise we will become wiser ourselves. This is intentional growth in wisdom.

What can you do to day to grow in wisdom?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Being a Christian Student

If you are in middle school, high school, or college, God has called you to be a student. This is your main “job” in this season of your life.

What are the essential qualities of a Christian student?

Here are a few thoughts:

1. Humility – As a student, you are under authority and learn from your teachers. To learn you have to acknowledge your ignorance of a topic or principle and listen carefully. Humility helps you learn from your mistakes, ask questions when you do not understand, and pursue help when confused. Humility prompts you to study because you do not assume you have mastered all the material the first time.

2. Perseverance – The school year is more like a marathon than a sprint. It requires you to work hard day after day, night after night. Perseverance enables you to be diligent over the long run and to pace yourself throughout the year. It helps you work hard and do your part as you trust God for help.

3. Faithfulness – Faithfulness means doing your best in the time that you have. Is God more pleased with an A or a B? Neither, God measures our faithfulness. Do we come prepared for class, do we listen carefully and take good notes, do we review our notes and study, do we seek to understand the concepts and not just get the homework done, do we keep track of all the details and stay organized. These all relate to faithfulness.

4. Long-term thinking – Christians need to be always thinking about God’s will for their lives. Students need to see today as a chance to prepare for the future calling God has for them. Learning isn’t just for today. It will affect us as husbands & fathers, wives & mothers, members of our local church, and our influence in the workplace & our neighborhood. We are to be stewards of the gifts God has entrusted to us.

These are just four qualities that come to my mind. What are some that come to your’s?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Living All Out for God

Psalm 119:1-2 says, “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart.”

Psalm 119 contains 176 verses about the importance and power of the Word of God. Without question the Psalmist loves God’s Holy Word and calls us to know it, love it, and live it. Blessings flow from God to the man who walks according to the law of God. He honors those who know and keep his testimonies.

The last phrase of verse two catches my eye, “who seek him with their whole heart.” God blesses those who seek him with all of their heart. But what does this look like? What does it mean to seek God with your whole heart?

Yesterday I attended a varsity boys soccer game where my school’s unbeaten team was competing against the only other unbeaten team in the league. #1 and #2 were meeting to determine who would be regular season champion and get the #1 seed in the playoffs. They guys on my team, and just about everyone at school, had been talking about the game for almost a week. The players thought about the game, planned for it, practiced for it, and looked forward with great excitement. Then they played with all their heart and strength, battling for every loose ball, jumping for every high cross, sprinting to beat the other team on a break. Despite losing 1 to 2, they prepared and played with their whole heart.

I think this gives us a good picture of what it looks like to seek God with our whole heart. We need to think regularly about him, talk frequently about him, prepare ourselves for his service, and live all out for him. We need to think about his character and ways, we need to talk about his working in our lives with our friends and family, we need to pursue him daily by reading his word, we need to serve those around us who are in need, we need to worship him as Lord over every part of our life and every part of our world.

The varsity guys are already looking forward to the playoffs and an opportunity for a rematch with the #1 team. They’ll be seeking a championship and play with renewed focus.

Let’s commit today to seek God with our whole heart.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Endorsements of Growing Up Christian

"Growing Up Christian is a great book. Karl Graustein gets it! He understands the pitfalls and dangers that track with the rich privilege of growing up in a Christian home. He addresses all the standard temptations; getting ensnared by sin, presuming oneself to be saved, craving for popularity. In winsome, “kid friendly” ways he turns the reader to knowing God, knowing the Bible, solid theology, fellowship with others. This book has a look and feel that young people will appreciate. Much of the teaching is found in engaging interactive text boxes that will make this book a small group leader’s dream. I look forward to seeing this book used in the church I serve."
-Tedd Tripp, pastor, author, conference speaker

"With much attention paid to converts, teens who grow up in the church sometimes feel like second-class citizens in their own home towns. This book can help them to count their blessings and pray for more."
-Marvin Olasky, Editor of World Magazine

"Growing Up Christian will provide a shot of encouragement to those uncounted teens who have grown up immersed in Christianity."
-Ken Smitherman, President of Association of Christian Schools International

"If you've found yourself saying, 'My testimony isn’t very exciting. I grew up in a Christian home,' then Growing Up Christian is just the thing to help you see how your Christian upbringing is an asset not a liability. The book’s wise teachings and compelling stories will affirm your faith, strengthen your resolve, and equip you for culture-shaping leadership."
-Jeff Myers, Ph.D., President, Summit Ministries

"As a 'church kid' myself, I know the dangers that accompany being so familiar with the things of God that you take them for granted. . . .[this] book is one that can shake teenagers and parents out of a false sense of safety and ignite a much-needed spiritual passion."
-Joshua Harris, pastor, author

Friday, September 22, 2006

True Joy

My cable company recently sent a pamphlet to me. The title on the front says, “Happiness is only a power button away.”

This is quite a promise: happiness when I turn on my TV and cable box, joy when I watch my favorite sports team, contentment when I catch the latest installment of a sitcom, happiness when I catch a movie, joy when I see the latest reality show, etc…

My cable company promises something that they cannot deliver, yet they do describe a lie that I have often embraced. They cannot deliver true, lasting happiness, nor can I find the source of joy through my TV. I will not find enduring joy in any one of the 70 or more channels I can surf. I will not find soul-satisfying pleasure and contentment from anyone except the living God.

Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Jesus encourages us to find joy in obedience to him (John 15:11) and consider trials to be joyful (James 1:2). God gifts us great gifts to bless us: material blessings, wonderful friendships, closeness with siblings, a spouse, children, etc. Joy may come through a variety of means, but the source of joy is the God who gives each of every good thing.

God may be glorified, and should be glorified, through the television programs we watch. He can feed our hearts and increase our joy in him through a quality program. But remember that happiness is a matter of our hearts and not just simply the result of turning on the power button to our TV. It isn’t found in the new car we get, the clothes we wear, the friends we hang out with, or the boy friend or girl friend we want.

Look around at the advertisements on TV, in magazines, or on websites. Observe the messages of the marketing pros. They want us to think we will find happiness in things. But don’t believe the lie. Recognize the false message and reject it. Look to God for true and lasting joy.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Rich Christians?

Does God want all Christians to be wealthy? Does salvation change the heart and lead to financial prosperity?

The cover story of the September 18, 2006 edition of Time magazine talks about a growing emphasis on financial prosperity in some churches.

Have you ever thought about this?

Take a few minutes to check out Dr. Al Mohler’s comments on the Time article. As usual, Dr. Mohler addresses the heart of the matter and provides biblical insights that should shape our thinking and our heart attitude towards God and money.

…and by the way, God does not promise financial riches, but he does promise spiritual riches and the presence of the Holy Spirit, which are far, far greater!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Word & Friendships

Yesterday we looked at Hebrews 4:12 and discussed how Scripture is a living and active tool that God has given us to shape our lives. Today I want to look at one verse and use Scripture to begin to shape how we view friendships.

Proverbs 13:20 states, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”

The book of Proverbs contains general principles that apply to life. This particular verse addresses our friends and companions. It makes the simple point that our friends influence us. We may be inclined to think we are strong and we influence those around us, but the reality is that more often than not our friends influence us.

We begin to dress like those around us, like the same bands that our friends like, play the same sports our friends like, watch the movie that the group wants to see, and enter into the discussion the group is having.

The issue isn’t whether or not our friends influence us, but instead the types of friends we have. We can control the individuals we chose to hang out with. We can focus on spending time with friends from work, or friends from church, or friends from school, or friends from our sports team.

Take a minute and think about your closest friends. With whom do you spend the most time? Picture their faces, your topics of conversation, and the activities you commonly do with them.

Now comes the hard part: Would you classify them as wise or foolish?

Scripture is clear: the companion of the wise become wise and the companion of the fool will suffer harm. Let this truth pierce you thoughts, your motives, and your actions and today consider what it means to pursue wise friends.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Living & Active Word of God

Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

How do you view Scripture? What is your mindset towards the Bible? Do you view it like the author of Hebrews does? Let’s consider this verse and let it shape the way we approach the Word.

The Word is from God, Lord Most High. It is living and active and has a real affect on the life of the reader. It is sharp and penetrating and separates truth from error and right from wrong. It is discerning and evaluates our motives and out thoughts.

The Bible isn’t like all the other books on our bookshelf. Does Shakespeare make claims like this? Does Mark Twain describe his works like this? The Bible makes unique and powerful claims regarding its purpose and nature because it is unique.

The Bible isn’t an irrelevant, old book written in the first century A.D. It is alive and has a purpose for shaping our lives today. Use it to evaluate your heart. Examine what it says and measure your thoughts by its standards. Read it to discern God’s will for your life. It is active, meant to be active, and forever will be active in the heart of a genuine Christian.

Let’s commit to daily read our Bibles with anticipation that God will shape us through his Word.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Heavenly Care

Psalm 68:19 says, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation.”

Every day we have a new set of challenges, obligations, and work to complete, and more often than not we face more than we can accomplish before the day is over. We need the help of others, but more than anything else, we need God to bear us up as the psalmist describes.

We have a sovereign Lord who controls all. We have an omniscient Father who knows everything. We have an omnipotent God who is all powerful. And he knows and loves us personally, ready and able to care for us in our daily burdens.

He gives us peace as we see the mounting tasks ahead. He gives us joy despite the hard work we face and the challenges we encounter. He gives us strength and perseverance to complete all that we can. He surrounds us with people who will encourage and support us – our parents, godly friends, pastors, and teachers.

We need to form a mindset and a heart attitude that looks to God for our strength while we are faithful to work hard and do our part. We need to lean on his understanding instead of our own. We need to trust his ways and seek to follow them.

I believe this mindset and heart attitude is most reflected (or not reflected) in our prayer life. Do you regularly pray, looking to God for help? Do you lift up your daily needs and commitments to him? Do you start your day with a declaration of your need for the Holy Spirit to be at work in your heart and life? Do you praise God for daily bearing your burdens?

Let’s commit today to look up to our Lord who provides heavenly care for his sons and daughters. And let’s praise him for daily bearing us up.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Christ Backward, Upward, and Forward

In the book Practical Religion J.C. Ryle states, “The ancient Christians made it a part of their religion to look for His [Christ’s] return. Backward they looked to the cross for the atonement for sin, and rejoiced in Christ crucified. Upward they looked to Christ at the right hand of God, and rejoiced in Christ interceding. Forward they looked to the promised return of their Master, and rejoiced in the thought that they would see Him again. And we ought to do the same.”

Christ backward, Christ upward, Christ forward should be the motto of every Christian.

Christ backward – Jesus’ sinless life, death on the cross, resurrection from the dead, and ascension into heaven comprise the glorious and powerful gospel message. Those who believe it and place their faith in Jesus Christ and his atoning work will be saved, their hearts made new.

Christ upward – Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for us. This is amazing! The living Son of God speaks on our behalf, pleading before the Father for us. There could be no better person for the task of knowing us – our needs, motives, desires, pleas.

Christ forward – Almost all of us will meet Christ within the next 80 years. We will either pass away and meet him in heaven, or we will witness his second coming. Looking forward to the day when we come face to face with Christ should motivate us to life for him now and look forward with anticipation to that glorious moment.

Look backward today and see your Savior and his atoning work on the cross for you. Look upward today and praise him for interceding for you. Look forward to the day you will see him face to face. Let Christ backward, Christ upward, and Christ forward be the cry of your heart.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Real Faith

This summer I have been reading Practical Religion by J.C. Ryle. J.C. Ryle lived from 1816-1900 and was a pastor in England. Despite the simple and bland title, “Practical Religion,” this book is profound and pierces the heart.

In the third chapter of his book, Ryle focuses on the difference between real religion and unreal religion – the difference between genuine faith and fake faith. He ends the chapter with five ways to evaluate your faith and determine if it is real or not. Here they are in my own words:

1. Does your faith flow out of your inner most being? It isn’t enough for your faith to just be on your lips, or thoughts in your mind, or emotional feelings. The Holy Spirit must be in your heart.
2. What is your view of sin? Genuine faith will always take sin seriously – as a grievous offense to our Holy God.
3. What is your view of Christ? Real faith glories in Christ as the Son of God, Savior, and Redeemer without whom we have no hope.
4. What is the fruit of your faith? Real Christianity always shows itself in godly thoughts, words, and actions that flow from the heart.
5. What are your thoughts and habits towards public prayer, worship, and preaching and towards private Bible study, prayer, and worship? Genuine faith demonstrates itself in a person’s desire to pursue and praise God in public and private ways.

There is such a think as false assurance – believing you are saved even though you are not. Please take some time to consider the five questions above. There is a difference between real and fake faith, and it is imperative that we evaluate ourselves.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Finishing Strong (II Timothy 4:7-8)

Scholars believe the book of II Timothy is Paul’s last letter, written while in a Roman prison awaiting trial and probably death. This context helps us understand the urgency and importance of the letter. Paul loves Timothy as a son and wants to communicate some closing remarks and ask Timothy to come see him as soon as possible.

In II Timothy 4:7-8 Paul states, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”

Paul knows his days are numbered, and he is reflecting on his life and faith. He sets a great example for us in how to live and to finish strong. We need to follow his example and fight the good fight of the Christian life. We need to finish the race – the many years ahead of us where we can live all out for Christ. We need to keep the faith and passionately follow our Lord all the days of our life.

We do this because our triune God – Father, Son & Holy Spirit – is glorious, gracious, and loving. He first loved us and is worthy of our love. He awakened our hearts and desires the full attention of our hearts. He is all-wise and all-knowing and should be the main focus our thoughts.

And at the same time, we can look forward to “the crown of righteousness” that our Lord will award us on the day we meet him. There is great reward for the Christian – in this life and especially in the future when we are with God in heaven.

How are you currently fighting the faith? Are your determined to run the race all out for God? Are you committed to finishing strong? Are you faithfully praying for help from the Holy Spirit to do this and to keep the faith?

Monday, August 21, 2006

God’s Word

II Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (ESV)

How do you view the Bible? How does it shape they way you live?

If you are like me you probably have ten or more Bibles in your house and have read through most of the Bible many different times. You know the layout of the Bible, the stories of the Bible, and the facts presented in it. You believe godly men penned the Bible, and you know God helped them write it. Yet knowing the contents and background of the Bible are very different than letting it shape your heart, your thoughts, and your actions.

II Timothy 3:16-17 inspires me to more deeply treasure the Word of God. It is very words of God. He truly inspired the 40 different men who wrote various books of the Bible. He placed the words into their minds as they sat down to write or dictate the pages of the Holy Scripture. When I view my Bible as “breathed out by God,” I approach it with reverent awe, expectancy, and humility.

The Word of God has a purpose for our lives – teaching, reproving, correcting, and training in righteousness. It isn’t a quaint book for decorating a bookshelf or coffee table. It is a guidebook for the Christian life. It navigates our motives and speaks to our hearts. It describes the world we live in and the temptations we will face. It outlines the laws of God, which protect us and hem us in. It describes our triune God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And in all of this, it teaches us, reproves us, corrects us, and trains us, making us more like Christ.

For what purpose? The verse ends by describing the man of God who is “competent, equipped for every good work.” The NIV version states it this way, “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” God has a calling for each of us. The Word of God makes us competent and thoroughly equipped for the calling.

How can you let the Word of God equip you today?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Teen Testimonies

In June, teens from First Baptist Church in Beaumont, Texas studied Growing Up Christian with their pastor, Justin Childers. The teens then sent me their thoughts regarding the book, which blew me away. Thanks guys!

Here are their comments::

Thanks for helping me in Growing Up Christian. It was the most inspirational book I have ever read. Bree F.

Thanks for writing Growing Up Christian. It helped me realize what I have been taking for granted. I just want to say thank you. Toria D.

This is a great book you took very deep thought and made them understandable at the teenage level not many books are like that. Thank you very much. Rachel M.

Hey man! (Karl) I am really liking the book. Its making me think about stuff ya know, which usually doesn’t happen, so anywho, thanks a lot. Dustin M.

Hey Karl, I really appreciate you writing this book, I really understand how growing up in a Christian home can be a blessing and dangerous at the same time. You have really covered some deep things that make me think a lot. Thanks again for writing this book. Allison C.

Hey Karl! Thank-you so much for writing this book! It’s really helped me understand things like humbleness & being thankful for being able to grow up Christian! I’ve never really thought about some of this stuff before! Thanks again! Lauren D.

Hey Karl, I want to thank you for writing that great book! It opened my eyes to look at everything as a blessing and that it is in God’s hands. Also, it made me think about how serious sin really is. I should battle sin and repent to live a life that is according to the Bible. Thanks for everything. Clint G.

eHey Hi Karl, I want to thank you for making this book. My favorite things in the book was ch. 10 out of all the chapters it was my favorite why because I was more talkative in this chapter then all of them the other thing is that I didn’t even know that loving the world was a sin thank you for putting that in the book I have been more careful about the things that I love in this world. You have been the best author out of all the devotion books that I have ever read. I have even been watching everything God has blessed me with I have been more thankful and I have been more humble. Well thank you and God bless you. Hannah A.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Correction

I recently became aware of a mistake in the opening story of chapter 7, which is the story of Jeff Matovic and the remarkable medical procedure that helped him overcome the Tourette Syndrome he suffered from for most of his life.

Below is the letter I sent to Jeff and Debra Matovic on June 24th. It expresses my respect for them, my regret for referring to their marriage as “on the rocks,” and the plan to change the wording in future printings.

Karl


Dear Jeff and Debra,

I first saw your story on Good Morning America, and I was deeply moved. I am so glad that the DBS surgery was successful and you can now do the many things so many of us take for granted.

Debra, thank you for taking the time to call me this week and sharing your concerns about the wording used in describing Jeff’s story and your marriage in chapter 7 of my book. It took great courage to call, and I am deeply grateful. Thank you as well for clarifying that your marriage has always been strong.

Although I do not know you personally, I respect you both for the way you have endured significant trials. Please know that I in no way intended to harm you or your reputation. I apologize for referring to your marriage as “on the rocks”, and I am truly sorry that this phrase was included in the story.

P&R Publishing has agreed to change the wording in future printings. I also plan to post a comment on my website, and I plan to provide a link to your future book when it is available on Amazon.com.

I trust that as people read future copies of your book and mine, they will look to you both as heroes who have endured physical trials, promoted the needs of those with Tourette Syndrome, and demonstrated great love and commitment to each other.

Sincerely,

Karl Graustein

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Tested and Approved in Christ

In the closing chapter of Romans, Paul takes time to greet many individuals. Just names to us, but individuals Paul carried on his heart.

In the first part of verse 10, Paul states, “Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ.” This is the only time Apelles in mentioned in Scripture, and Paul describes him as “tested and approved in Christ.” This is a high complement, something I desire for myself and all Christians.

I teach Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus at my Christian school, and at the end of the year my students take a thorough and challenging Calculus exam. It takes them over three hours to complete the exam, which assesses their knowledge of all areas of Calculus I. When my students get their scores, they are declared tested and approved to get college credit for Calculus I or tested and not approved for credit. They endure a test and a judgment is made about their individual qualifications.

With Apelles, we are not told anything about his test, but we are clearly told by the Apostle Paul that Apelles was approved in Christ. He may have been faithfully laboring in the Roman church, enduring persecution, caring for the sick and needy, or preaching the gospel. Whatever he was doing, he proved to be a devoted follower of Christ.

Have you been tested and approved in Christ? When you go through a particularly challenging week, like final exam week at school, you are being tested. Did you rely upon God for help and endurance during the time? Did you pray to him seeking to lean on his wisdom and strength instead of your own? Did you prove to be a faithful steward of your time and gifts? Did you see how God used this time to refine you, to make you more complete? Are you a stronger Christian as a result?

The tests we face can be small or large, but they do reveal the state of our hearts. If they reveal impatience, anger, jealousy, or laziness in our hearts we have work to do. If they reveal a heart that patiently endures, trusts in God, and understands our limitations, we have much to rejoice in.

Remember, we don’t earn our salvation by what we do or how we respond to trials. Salvation is by faith alone; once saved, always saved. But we are all at different places in our walks with God and our growing as a Christian. Tests, trials, and challenging situations reveal where we are at and can identify sins we need to repent of and practices we need to grow in.

Let’s strive to be like Apelles, who was “tested and approved in Christ.”

Friday, June 02, 2006

Sin or God?

Romans 6:23 states, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Total opposites – death and life, bad and good, destruction and blessing. This verse makes is clear that the choice to pursue sin or pursue God has two completely different outcomes.

The wages of sin are damnation. When we live in a way that gives attention and effort to the desires of our hearts, we store up for ourselves the wrath of our holy God. Although this is natural for us, we are accountable for every sin we commit. We deserve death and separation from God for just one of our many sins.

“But” is a glorious word in the Bible. In this passage it contrasts death and life – the sinful life and the life lived by faith in Christ.

But God gave us an incredible gift in Jesus Christ our Savior. He provided a way out of our sins and a solution to the problem within each or our hearts. He sent his only Son to live a sinless life, to die on the cross, to bear the full wrath of God for our sins, and to rise from the dead. Through faith in Christ we are credited with his righteousness and can approach our holy God. Ultimately, our relationship with the Lord is restored, and we can anticipate eternity with him in heaven.

Thank you Lord for providing a way out of our natural sinful state, which leads us all to death. Thank you for sending your Son to die for us. Thank you for the glorious gift you provide to us if we believe in you. Help us to rejoice in our salvation and long for heaven – eternity with you.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Test of Prosperity

Hosea 10:1, “Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself. As his fruit increased, he built more altars; as his land prospered, he adorned his sacred stones.”

As Israel prospered more and more, they turned further and further from God. They failed to see that God was the source of every good thing that had happened to them, and they seemed to look to themselves and false gods instead of the true God.

Have you ever considered prosperity to be a test? It is easy to see how a trial is a test of our faith or perseverance, but we often overlook the tests we experience when things are going well.

When our basketball team wins the league championship, we have a test of our pride. Will we give the glory to God? Will we honor our teammates and coach? Or will we promote ourselves and boast of our individual accomplishments?

When we get our first car, we have a test of responsibility. Will we be wise on the road? Will we honor God in the music we listen to and the conversation we have while in the car? Will we use the car to serve others or serve ourselves?

When we get into the college we have always dreamed of attending, we have a test of stewardship. Will we seek to develop our gifts and our mind to the glory of God or to the glory of ourselves? If we are going away to school, will we get quickly involved in a local church and Christian organizations on campus?

When things go well, we can get comfortable. When everything falls into place, we can assume we can take it easy. But instead of taking prosperity for granted, we need to see the opportunity God provides us in these times. Will we be grateful to him? Will we be others-focus? Will we use our prosperity to help others?

Let’s pray for prosperity for each of us, but let’s even more strongly pray that we will pass the test of prosperity when it comes.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Faithful Holy One

Hosea 11:12 refers to God as the “faithful Holy One.”

Do you know God’s faithfulness? Do you know it in your head as a truth? Have you experienced it in your life? Have you embraced it in your heart?

Scripture says that God uses suffering to produce in us perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-5), yet in the midst of suffering it can feel like God has forgotten us. Therefore we need to prepare now for the future trials we will encounter. We need to drill into our heads the reality of our faithful God who will never leave us nor forsake us (Joshua 1:5). Then when trials come we will be ruled by truth instead of our feelings. We will be comforted but the truth of God ever with us instead of overwhelmed by our current situation.

Ironically, when trials have passed we can look back and see God at work at every step along the way. Although we tend to not be faithful to him, he is always faithful to us. He uses these types of situations to humble us and to make us complete (James 1:4). He reminds us of our weakness and his strength. Ultimately he equips us for future situations we will encounter. He is a faithful God!

Hosea also refers to God as the “Holy One.” He is unique and separate and above all. He is sinless and pure. He delights in righteous, holy living, and he calls us to be holy because he is holy (Lev. 11:44-45). He can have nothing to do with sinners or sin, except punish sinners and pour out his wrath on them due to their sin.

The holiness of God should prompt us to fear him. He is so far above us we cannot fully understand it. And when we consider our natural sinful state, we should tremble at the wrath of God we deserve.

Yet our faithful God is faithful when we are not. Our holy God has provided a solution to our sinful state. In love, he sent his only Son to the earth to die in our place. Jesus became the perfect sacrifice on the cross. He bore the full wrath of God for us. When we place our faith in the finished work of Christ, God grants us the righteousness of Christ in the place of our sin. What an amazing exchange! Jesus takes our sin and we are given his righteousness!!!

So today, let’s remember that our God is the faithful Holy One.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

An Unwise Exchange

The book of Hosea details the unfaithfulness of the nation of Israel and describes the punishment of God. All the while, God’s faithfully loves the Israelites despite their rejection of the one true God.

Hosea 4:7 states, “The more the priests increased, the more they sinned against me; they exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful.”

This verse paints the picture of the Israelites, and I believe serves as a warning for us today.

Despite more spiritual leaders (priests), the Israelites sinned even more. They exchanged the glory of God and the worship of the one and only God for something else. They gave up the best and pursue disgrace. They gave up first class to travel by foot. They gave up true riches for poverty and shame.

Where do we exchange the glory of God for something far less? How does this passage apply to us today?

This week I saw the headline of an article that said Internet use can lead to self-destructive behavior. The article focused on one particular self-destructive behavior, but I see how it leads to many. Hours spent surfing can lead to a neglect of important relationships. Sitting in front of a computer for countless hours can result in poor physical health. The ever present temptation to view inappropriate images can lead down a slippery slope into more and more sin. Joining exclusive Internet groups (like MySpace) can lead to gossip and compromise. The Internet is one arena where we have the potential to either glorify God or exchange his glory for a disgraceful lie.

What are other areas? Here are a few: athletics, musical gifts, friends, money, music, friends, movies, cars, girl friends or boy friends, sleep, etc… Is there any area in your life that you have exchanged the glory of God for something less? Is there any aspect of your life where you pursue something or someone to the neglect of God?

If you are like me, you will easily identify multiple areas of compromise? Due to our natural sinful nature, we will worship ourselves, our possessions, or our friends when we should be worshiping God. The first step in change is to confess to God our sin and experience his wonderful forgiveness and power to change. Then talk about this with someone wiser and more godly than you – a parent, pastor, or godly friend. Explain your situation and ask for help.

Let’s commit today to hold fast to the glory of our God. Let’s strive to pursue him first and foremost. Let’s aim to never exchange his glory for something or someone else.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Much to Rejoice About

Isaiah 60:10 states, “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

Do you rejoice greatly in the Lord? Deep down within you, do you delight in God?

When our basketball team wins a big game, we shout with joy. When we earn an A on a science test, we smile with sincere delight. When we pick up our paycheck, we take pride in the fruit of our labor. Joy, delight, and rejoicing are often the result of something done to us or by us.

Isaiah speaks of the greatest event that can ever happen to a person – our great salvation brought by the finished work of Jesus Christ. Although we were sinful from birth, Christ came to earth to save us. He lived a sinless life and died on the cross, bearing the full wrath of God in our place. When we believe in Christ, God grant’s to us the righteousness of Christ – he sees us as if we have never sinned. We have been robed in the righteousness of Christ. How amazing! How wonderful!

What is our response to this astounding news! Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice, in our loving heavenly Father and in our selfless Savior. Delight that through his work on the cross we are no longer alienated from God, but instead we have been adopted into the family of God.

We truly do have much to rejoice about!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Heart & Actions

In Mark 7 Jesus corrected the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. He made it clear that their hearts were far from pleasing to God, even though they said things that appeared to be godly. Jesus knew their thoughts and motives, and he rebuked them for acting godly but lacking godliness of heart.

Over and over in the gospels, Jesus corrected the Pharisees – the respected, religious leaders of the day. Despite their position as spiritual leaders and their attempts to follow the law, Jesus expressed his displeasure in them. Why did Jesus feel this way about this group, a group that would have been revered by Jews in Israel?

I believe it is because Jesus is much more concerned about our hearts than our actions. This doesn’t mean he overlooks our actions, but it does mean that he first and primarily is concerned for our hearts. Do we desire to please God? Do we want to follow his ways? Do we yearn to live for him? Do we seek to honor him in all our words and actions? Do we have a genuine love for him? Have our hearts been transformed and regenerated by the truth of the gospel?

A person doesn’t become a Christian by simply acting like a Christian. We cannot earn our salvation just by deciding to speak like a Christian and behave like a Christian. Ultimately, we cannot get right with God and please him simply by doing good things or speaking in a godly manner. We need our hearts transformed from stone to flesh – unbelieving to believing in him.

Once our hearts are regenerated, we can and should expect to see godly thoughts, words, and deeds in our lives – not to earn salvation but the fruits of salvation. A changed heart leads to fruit that is pleasing and honoring to God.

Growing up in a Christian home, we can easily be focused mostly on our words and actions. Our parents and church have specific rules and expectations. We can learn to talk like a Christian and act like a Christian simply because of what we see around us. We can even act this way to try to avoid disciple or correction. We can learn to live the Christian and fail to examine our hearts.

But what a shame it would be for us to learn to live like a Christian but not be a Christian at heart. We need to make sure we know and love Jesus personally. We need to examine our hearts to make sure we have genuine affections for Christ and desire to live all of life for him. We need to pause and examine our hearts to see if we possess true, saving faith.

Let’s learn from the mistake of the Pharisees and let the challenge Jesus gave them pierce our hearts. Let’s learn to focus first on our hearts and look for godly fruit in our lives to follow.

Monday, April 03, 2006

A New Week

It’s Monday morning, and the new week is upon us. Classes, after-school activities, homework, and part-time jobs await us. We can anticipate countless interactions with friends, family members, and co-workers. We can expect much good, but we also know we will probably face a few trials.

As you look ahead to the week, where does your source of strength and hope come from? Is it in yourself – your abilities, your intellect, your plans? If you are at all like me, you are quick to depend on yourself and slow to depend on God. I find myself, in my arrogance, counting on my wisdom instead of seeking God and his perfect way. I find myself trusting my plans and my abilities instead of trusting his perfect plans and infinite wisdom.

Let’s commit this morning to trust God instead of ourselves. Let’s trust the infinite, all-mighty, all-knowing God who works all for our good. Let’s trust God as he uses our parents, teachers, and pastors to guide us. Let’s trust God as we faithfully seek to do his will.

Have a great week!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Christ Jesus

I Timothy 2:5-6 states, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all many…”

A mediator helps two parties in disagreement or conflict to resolve their differences.

Why do we need a mediator between us and God? Because God is perfectly holy and we are naturally sinful, there is a huge divide between us and God. He is the righteous judge who must punish sinners, and we are the sinners with a natural inclination towards sin. He can have nothing to do with us, except punish our sin. We desperately need a mediator between us and God.

Amazingly God sent his son to die on the cross and serve as our mediator. When God sees our sin, he sees the punishment for it that Christ endured. When he looks at us he sees the righteousness of his son, which he has credited to us. The divide is gone, the conflict resolved, the difference disappeared—all due to the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ.

How should we respond? Stunned, amazed, grateful, committed to tell others of this good news. Let’s resolve today to look at the finished work of Jesus Christ as the loving work of God for us. Let’s live life aware of the amazing grace and mercy shown to us. Let’s live all out for him and his kingdom. Let’s praise God for our mediator and our ransom paid.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Maturing Through Trials

James 1:2-4 states, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

If you are like me, you find it hard to consider trials as pure joy. How can a broken arm be considered good? How can being cut from the softball team be joyful? How can a sickness be a happy event?

Trials are difficult circumstances or events in our life that are hard to endure. They often take us by surprise and stretch us beyond our normal capacities. And as we look in detail at this truth from James, we can learn to look at trials as God working for good in our lives.

First, trials test our faith. They provide a perfect opportunity for us to gauge our ability to trust God, to believe he is fully in control, and to look to him for strength to endure. How would you evaluate your faith in the midst of trials?

Second, trials develop perseverance in us. They stretch us spiritually, emotionally, and physically. As we learn to trust God more and more and trust God to help us and as we see him meet us and assist us through the trial, we will develop perseverance.

Third, trials are part of our maturing as Christians. It is amazing that we can become stronger Christians as the results of trials. As we see God meet us in a particular trial, we will be better prepared for the future trials that are sure to come. As we recognize our weaknesses and limitations, we will be humble and turn to God, Scripture, and others for help. As we come to know trials, we will be better equipped to serve others in need.

Don’t we all want to grow in faith, perseverance, and maturity? Don’t we all want to be complete Christians, lacking nothing? When we think of the present, we will not like trials at all, but when we think of the future, we can, with faith, consider them pure joy.

Let’s keep our eyes on Christ and the future work he will accomplish in our present trial.

Friday, March 03, 2006

A Lot on My Mind

Last night I went to bed with a lot on my mind. Thoughts of projects I need to finish, people I need to call, and tasks I need to be complete filled my mind as I tossed and turned in my attempt to fall asleep.

This morning I woke up with a lot on my mind. The same unfinished work immediately popped into my mind when I opened my eyes. Fighting to get back to sleep, I began to review my to-do list, which seemed to only get longer and longer. I gave up, and I jumped out of bed early, with a lot on my mind.

What do you do when you have a lot to do and a lot on your mind? What do you do when your to-do list is extremely long and overwhelming?

If you are like me, you are tempted to be anxious and worry. That’s why today and every day like today, I need to live in Ephesians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

In this passage God directs us to not be anxious but instead to turn to him in prayer, lifting up our requests to him with thanksgiving. This means we can and must battle our worry and fears by turning from ourselves and our situation and to the Lord of all. We need to pause from our thoughts of the day ahead and focus our thoughts on Christ, who is interceding on our behalf at the right hand of the Father.

The promise is amazing – the peace of God, which transcends all understanding. Instead of fretting and losing sleep, we can experience peace from God. Instead of anxiety and worry, we can experience calm from our heavenly Father. This is what we need guarding our hearts and minds!

So today join me in living in Ephesians 4:6-7. I need to take my eyes off of my situation and look to the Lord over my situation. I need to take my eyes off of my power and look to the One who is all powerful. I need to take my eyes off of my solutions and look to Him who knows all. In the end I will experience the peace of God which transcends all understanding to guard my heart and mind.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Redeemed

“‘I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.’ Sing for joy, O heavens, for the LORD has done this; shout aloud, O earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the Lord has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel.” Isaiah 44:22-23

This passage describes the Lord’s heart for the nation of Israel and for each of us. Even though the Israelites forsook their Heavenly Father and began to worship other gods, he was willing to forgive them, sweep away their sins, and take them back. For us, he is willing to adopt us as his sons and daughters despite our natural sinfulness and our repeated patterns of sinning against him. This is absolutely amazing!

Look up at the sky and watch a cloud pass by – there for a time, but quickly passing by. Consider the morning mist – present for a short time, but then burns off. God treats our sin in a similar way. Our sin is present and he completely and justly hates it, but due to the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross, he sweeps it away.

God pours out his wrath on his Son instead of us, the guilty. He is holy and must punish wrong doing, and he loves us, providing the solution for our sins. He sweeps away our offenses and our sins, and he redeems us for himself. He brings us into his family and gives us the righteousness of Christ.

This is glorious news! We should shout aloud and burst into joyous song for the Lord has redeemed us. He has swept away our sins and saved us. This is an amazing display of his glory, power, and love.

Stand amazed today at your loving Heavenly Father and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for you.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Forget God???

God miraculously rescues the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, he faithfully provides for them for 40 years of wandering in the desert, he stops up the Jordan River to allow them to cross into the Promise Land, and he helps them defeat the Canaanites as they take possession of the land. God’s chosen people with their faithful God protecting and providing for them at ever turn. Yet Judges 2:10 describes the shocking news of the next generation of Israelites, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.”

How can this be? How can the faithfulness of God be forgotten? How can the nation God has chosen neither know him nor what he has done for them?

Scripture doesn’t describe the process, but if the nation of Israel is like us, we can imagine how this might happen:

1. Maybe they were distracted by what the good they found in the Promised Land, focusing more on the gifts of the land instead of the Giver.

2. Maybe they became enchanted with the idols of the Canaanites and began to worship them instead of the only true God.

3. Maybe they failed to tell their children about the goodness and faithfulness of God.

Let’s make sure that we rejoice in our Lord and let everyone around us know of our love for him. Let’s make sure that no one is ever surprised to find out that we are Christians. And let’s commit to educate our children in all that the Lord has done for us and Christians throughout the ages, inspiring our children to know and love him as their personal Savior.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Our Words Matter

In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul lays out what a Christian should believe – the essential truths of the Christian faith. Then he transitions to how a Christian should live.

In 4:29 he pauses to provide extremely helpful guidance for how a Christian should speak. He states, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

First, a Christian should be marked by what he doesn’t say. The term used for “unwholesome” literally means “rottenness” and “giving off rottenness.” These are words that have a destructive effect on those around us – gossip, slander, malice. Theses should not be on our lips.

Second, a Christian should say words that are helpful for building others up and benefit those who hear. Christianity isn’t demonstrated just by avoiding evil; we must also pursue good. With our mouths, we need to encourage, be thankful, communicate gratefulness, and help those who are down. Our words are to be a blessing to others and meet the needs of those around us.

Notice Paul focuses on the effect our words have on others. We live in a community and function in various groups – our family, our classmates, our friends. Our words can make our social circles stronger or weaker. A genuine Christian should aim to build up others and avoid tearing them down.

How do you talk to your parents and siblings? How do you talk with your closest friends? Evaluate yourself with the standards of Scripture laid out in Ephesians 4:29, and seek develop a personal, biblical conviction regarding your words.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Promise for the Weary

Are you wiped out physically, emotionally, or spiritually? Than Isaiah 40:29-31 is a prescription and a promise for you, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

We have a God who is in the business of giving strength to the weary and power to the weak. He knows our condition, understands our deficiencies, and comprehends our needs. Plus, he is capable of renewing us with physical strength, renewed focus, grace for the new day, and a fresh passion for living for him.

Everyone becomes tired and weary. Young and old wear out physically, get to the end of their emotional strength, and go through spiritually dry seasons. We shouldn’t be surprised when this happens to us. It should remind us that we are human and have limitations. We each need rest, sleep, and renewal. This shouldn’t surprise us, but it should humble us.

What do we do? What is God’s prescription? It is to hope in him. We many have limitations, but God does not. We may grow weary, but God does not. We may stumble and fall, but God does not. We may be overwhelmed by our circumstances, but God is not. And when we realize how strong, stable, and firm our God is, we will learn to trust him and hope in him all the more.

The result will be a renewal of our strength. We will still have our limitations, but there will be new grace for the new day head. We will be equipped to run again, to walk again. Trusting in God, we will be ready to face the challenges of every day life.

Lord, help us to hope in you.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Humility

I am currently reading Humility: The forgotten virtue by Wayne Mack. It is clear, convicting, and encouraging. I highly recommend it.

Here are a few points and quotes from chapter 1:

How do we know humility is tremendously important?
1. The Bible frequently commands us to be humble
2. The Bible frequently warns us to rid ourselves of pride and warns of its serious consequences
3. God promises to bless those who are humble in heart

“While a humble person may not experience blessing as this world defines blessing, God promises that the humble in heart with know His blessing.”

“Apart from the grace of God in our lives, we all naturally tend to ignore God and exalt ourselves.”

“Ultimately, as we grow in humility, we are becoming more and more like our Lord Jesus Christ, and that is a great privilege!”

Mr. Mack does a great job of explaining how a prideful person focuses on himself, while a humble person focuses on God and others. I have been challenged to consider what my focus is. I feel the natural tug in my heart to look at myself, my desires, and my actions. I tend to exalt myself, whether through words to others and even more in thoughts only known to me. I’m sobered as I’m reminded how God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Lord, help us all to cast of our self-focus and pride. Enable us to humbly exalt you and serve others. Equip us in the battle against our naturally prideful hearts, and help us to choose to be humble. Remind us that this is the way to life, joy, and peace.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Our Amazing God

Psalm 36:5-9, “Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. O LORD, you preserve both man and beast. How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”

Have you considered the character of God? What is He like? How does He act? How do we know?

Scripture is our primary source of information about God. The bible records many stories about individuals and a lot of history of the nation of Israel, but underlying it all is the story of God – His ways, His attributes, and His interactions with mankind.

At times scripture teaches us directly about God. I love this passage from Psalm 36. I especially enjoy reading it outside, where I can see the sky, mountains, and water. It paints a grand picture of a few of the attributes of God, yet His ways and abilities are far greater.

God’s love is so great that it reaches to the heavens (and even more). His faithfulness is so huge that it reaches all the way to the skies (and beyond). He is so righteous that you can think of him as an immovable, mighty mountain (and stronger). His justice penetrates far down, like the deepest part of the ocean (and deeper).

Our God and His love towards us are priceless. He has completely transformed us in a way that we could never do for ourselves or purchase for ourselves. He sent His Son to live a sinless life, suffer death on the cross in our place, bear the full wrath of God for our sins, overcome sin and death, and rise from the grave – all for us. This is priceless!

We can find refuge in the presence of our God. He is a source of comfort, support, and protection in the midst of trial. From the abundance He has, we can feast and be nourished. He delights in being our refuge, and He equips us for living the Christian life.

Ultimately He is the source of light and life. He gave us a new life in Him. He placed His light in us that we might have life and live all out for Him.

We serve an amazing God!!!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year

I hope you saw God’s faithfulness in your life in 2005. God was incredibly faithful to me over the past year, and I look forward to all that He has in store in 2006.

What are your new year’s resolutions? As you form your list of goals, consider Galatians 6:7-10, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

These verses remind us of three things:

1. God has laid out a truth that will always hold true: A man reaps what he sows. This has both a positive and a negative promise. If you sow to please God, you will reap good. If you sow to please yourself, you will reap bad. It is guaranteed!

2. Don’t become weary of doing good. Although you may feel like you do not see the good as you sowing to please God, continue to persevere. You will, in time, reap an abundance of good if you do not give up.

3. Look for opportunities to do good to all people. Opportunities abound, if we are watching for them.

What are some ways to sow to please the Spirit? You can study the Bible and seek to apply God’s truths to your daily life. You can faithfully attend church and worship God and listen to your pastor’s preaching. You can listen carefully in youth meetings or chapel services and evaluate your thoughts and actions. You can humbly confess your sins to your parents, pastor, or trusted friend. You can serve in your church or help out those in need. You can reach out to individuals around you that need a friend. In all these things, remember that God is faithful to His promise, “A man reaps what he sows.”

So, as you consider your resolutions for 2006, consider how you can sow to please the spirit and do good to all people. By His strength and power, we can all persevere in these things.

I pray that God richly blesses you and your family in 2006!