Monday, February 27, 2012

His name is holy

A few hours ago, I was sitting in a room with a group of other highschoolers. For the most part, the conversation was light-hearted and friendly. But at the same time, it wasn’t. The conversation was peppered with expressions that took the Lord’s name in vain. Whenever this happens, I start to get really upset–God’s name is holy; we shouldn’t use it flippantly! On the other hand, how are my friends supposed to know that it’s wrong to take the Lord’s name in vain if they don’t first know that He is holy? When we’re with Christian friends and they start talking wrongly, then we should lovingly remind them what the Bible says. If we’re with a group of people who don’t know or care much about God, we should first be telling them about who God is. He is holy, just, and good...a God of truth and without injustice...righteous and upright is does anything else make sense until you first understand that? Creation, the Fall, the Law, Jesus’ Death and Resurrection–how can they understand any of that until they first know what it’s all built on? Before anything else, they need to know that God is holy, holy, holy a million times over, the Lord God Almighty, merciful, mighty, glorious...that He is God.

"No one is holy like the Lord, For there is none besides You, Nor is there any Rock like our God" (1 Samuel 2:2)

"Let them praise Your great and awesome name–He is holy" (Psalm 99:3)

"Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord!" (Psalm 105:3)

"For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name" (Luke 1:49)

"Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested" (Revelation 15:4)

..."and they do not rest day or night, saying: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!’" (Revelation 4:8)

Could you please pray for me to be able to lovingly and wisely handle these situations?  Have you been in a similar position before?  How did you respond?

Monday, February 20, 2012

You can't collect $200 without first passing Go

"You shall have no other gods before Me.

"You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

"You shall not murder.

"You shall not commit adultery.

"You shall not steal.

"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

"You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s."
(Exodus 20:3-17)

"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
(Matthew 5:3-10)

Which do you prefer–the Law or the Gospel? The one that results in punishment, or the one that results in salvation? When you think of it that way, it’s a no-brainer. Of course we want the one that saves us instead of the one that condemns us!

Many people today want just the Gospel. But how can you have the Gospel without the law? The verb "save" requires an object. You were saved from something. You were saved from the punishment you deserved by breaking the Law. You can’t enjoy the salvation of the Gospel without first realizing that you are condemned to death by the Law. Then the news of the Gospel is indeed good news. First comes the Law, then comes the Gospel.

While the Law is generally represented by the 10 Commandments, much of the Gospel is summarized in the Beatitudes. The Law applies to all people; everyone is judged by the perfect standard of God’s Law. The Beatitudes, on the other hand, are God’s blessing to those who love and follow Him. 1 Peter 3:9 says, "knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing." The blessing is a special benefit that applies to the believer. All are judged, but only a few are given the blessing. Only the Christian can inherit the kingdom of heaven and become a son of God.

You can have the Law without the Gospel, but you can’t have the Gospel without the Law. You can have punishment without grace, but you can’t enjoy grace without knowing that there was a punishment.

Monday, February 13, 2012

God's in His heaven, All's right with the world

One of the greatest gifts God has given believers is peace. "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27). While the rest of the world worries about the future, we’re told, "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things" (Matthew 6:34). While the world frets over all the evil it causes itself, God says, "Do not fret because of evildoers nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass and wither as the green herb. Trust in the Lord..." (Psalm 37:1-3). But perhaps one of the most vivid pictures of peace comes from Psalm 2:1-4
Why do the nations rage,
And the people plot a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
"Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us."
He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The Lord shall hold them in derision.

God laughs at man’s "vain" plans. He’s in control of everything! Don’t worry about tomorrow–why? Because God is sovereign. Nations raging and people plotting don’t take Him by surprise. He who sees when a sparrow falls knows the outcome of the battle before it happens. When we look around our world and shake our heads over the mess we’re in–the evil, ungodly, iniquitous mess–we can still have confidence that God is in control; yesterday, today, and forever. The world we’re in has a problem. It’s not taxes, government, or war. It’s sin. And it’s not going to leave until God re-creates the world and restores it to perfection. We don’t have to despair of sin (or its results), though, because God is still here, and He’s still in control. He still sits in the heavens and laughs. Man can’t plot anything against God–He had the first word, and He’ll have the last word, because He is the Word.

Psalm 2:10-12–Now therefore, be wise, O kings;
Be instructed, you judges of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
And rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,
And you perish in the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him

Are you willing to trust the Lord even when the nations rage and everything seems hopeless from our perspective?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Why I'm not memorizing the Bible

Yes, you read that correctly. I’m not being sarcastic–it is possible for Bible memory to be a stumbling block for Christians.

Bible Bee opened my eyes and taught me something about myself: I was capable of memorizing huge portions of Scripture. Before 2009, I struggled getting through my one verse a week for school. After the 2009 National Bible Bee, I began memorizing verses, chapters, books "for fun" during my personal devotions. I learned so much and developed a love for Scripture unlike anything I had ever known. Yet at the same time, I began falling into the dangerous trap of turning Bible study into an academic exercise.

Eager to learn more, I continued to keep a vigorous memory schedule during the months I was not participating in Bible Bee. Last year, as a 10th grader, I made it my goal to have the entire New Testament memorized by the time I finished college. I figured out approximately how many verses I needed to learn per month and fulfilled my quota. If I continued my plan, I would have all but two epistles memorized by the end of the school year. I could definitely do this.

The past few weeks have been extremely busy for me. School and extracurricular activities all managed to coincide their deadlines. In between a few hours’ sleep and a cup of coffee, I continued my memory work, loving the Word but struggling to keep up.

My mom had warned me before not to speed-memorize the Bible. We’re supposed to meditate on it. Feed on it. Not just slurp it down. I justified my method, feeling that the constant read, memorize, review that I did every single day was anything but speedy.

Then, I realized I had fallen into the trap. Bible memory was becoming something I do. It’s not supposed to be that way. It’s supposed to be God working in us, not cramming facts into our minds as a mental exercise. God still worked in me as I crammed the facts, but I was so busy "just getting through" that I didn’t leave time to listen to Him.

Here are a few "traps" that I fell into:

  • I love challenges.  I enjoy training my mind to do something new and love the thrill of accomplishing it.
  • I’m being a good Christian.
  • We’re supposed to meditate on His Word day and night, so the more words knew the better. Forget the quality as long as there’s quantity.
  • I want to do well at Bible Bee. Memorizing more would give me a better foundation when competition season starts.
  • I do everything fast (well, not when I’m driving. Apparently I’m too slow then...). Talking, reading, playing piano–everything’s best at top speed. Naturally, Bible memory also became a game to see how quickly I could memorize.
  • And, of course, there’s that little giant called pride. It makes me feel good to know how devoted I am to the Bible (obviously there’s a problem with that. It’s called self-justification. It doesn’t work. Memorizing words won’t save you, but meeting the Word will).

I’m going to continue studying and memorizing Scripture, but I think I will change my goal. Rather than aim for memorizing huge hunks of the Bible, I’m going to slow down and focus on each individual verse. I’ll keep reviewing old verses; hopefully, I will fully learn them! Oh the depth of the riches–who can fully know the glorious mysteries of Christ? When Bible Bee starts, I’ll do more new memory work again, but for now, I think I will slow down and learn to quiet my heart and meditate on the wonder of God. Eventually, I would like to have the whole New Testament–or, Lord willing, the entire Bible–memorized, but for now, I will slow down and take it verse by verse, step by step; always pressing toward the goal, but not being consumed with the prize; running steadily with endurance rather than running quickly and stumbling.