how do I become a Christian?

I’m often asked the question, “How do I become a Christian?” Additionally, I’m asked questions such as, “Don’t all religions lead to God?” Or, “As long as I am a good person, won’t I make it to heaven?” The bible answers all of these questions and makes it very clear that there is only one way to heaven and to God. You can’t work hard enough to get to heaven. You can never be good enough to get to heaven either.  The only way to heaven is to become a Christian – to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, gave His life for you by dying on a cross, and came back to life to offer you an amazing life with Him! Believing this and then choosing to give your life away for Him ensures you a spot in heaven.

The idea of “giving your life away” may seem a little weird to you. But the bible says that to become a Christian means that it is as though you have died to yourself (your wants, needs, desires, aspirations, goals – - everything!) in order to live your life for Jesus. There is a verse in the bible that reads, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) Simply put: My life is God’s life – all of it!

Let me explain to you in greater detail what all of this means. I hope you will take a few minutes to read through the four steps you to need to take to become a Christian:

1. Recognize God’s plan.

God loves you and has a plan for your life. The Bible says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, niv). This is God’s plan for your life—that you spend an eternity with Him in heaven.

2. Realize the problem.

Every human chooses to disobey God and do his or her own thing. The result is that we are separated from God because He is perfect and we are sinners. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, niv).

3. Respond to God’s remedy.

Because God loves you so much, He sent His Son to bridge the gap between you and Him that exists because of your wrong choices. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, paid the penalty for your sins when He died on the cross and rose from the grave. The Bible says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, niv).

4. Receive Christ.

By asking Christ to come into your life, you cross the bridge into God’s family. God then offers you ultimate forgiveness. You then have a relationship with Him and the privilege of spending eternity with Him in heaven one day. This is the only way to heaven! The Bible says, “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12, niv).

Have you taken these steps to receive Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? These steps are far greater and more meaningful than any other choice you will make in your life! You can stop right now, wherever you are, and pray a prayer such as this one:

Dear Jesus,

I realize that I am a sinner and I need Your forgiveness. I believe that You are the Son of God and that You died for me. I want to give my life over to You by asking You to forgive me of all my past mistakes. I now invite You into my life to save me and change me and be the Lord of my life. Thank You for loving me. Amen.

 

applying the “seek” and “call”

NOTE: I have received numerous questions via Facebook and email lately as it relates to students struggling in placing confidence in their relationship with God. This post is an actual response to a recent email I received from a girl struggling with her faith.

I am sorry to hear that you are having a rough go of things right now with your faith. I understand! I have been there too. I know that my walk with God is constantly under attack, and it sounds like this is what is going on with you too. Satan works hard to confuse us and to try and convince us that God is wrong, isn’t interested in us, or doesn’t even exist. He wants you to be confused and depressed. He wants you to feel hopeless and alone. He knows if he can get you there, then he might have a good chance of keeping you there. If he keeps you there, odds are in his favor that eventually you’ll just give up on it all with God. This is the worse decision you can make!

God does love you, even though your circumstance may not show it in the way you desire at this moment. What you have to work hard at right now is not confusing how you feel about who God is with what the bible says about who God is.  That’s why I say it all the time: God is NOT a feeling. God is a choice! When you feel like God is not responding, or doesn’t even take the time to receive your call, you have to make the choice in these moments to trust that He is still in it with you, and that He is still intimately concerned with your concerns.

As Christ followers, we have to push through the tough times and BELIEVE (Hebrews 11:1) that God is who He says He is, even when we feel lost and confused. Satan wants you to turn from God in the middle of your confusion. God wants you to turn to Him in the middle of your confusion. He wants to prove to you that He is who He says He is. He can do this is a plethora of ways. It may very well be that He chooses to do this as YOU choose to do your part in pursuing Him like you never have before.

Jeremiah 29:12-13 says, “Then you will call upon me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” The key here are the action words “seek” and “call.” These words are proof that we have to do our part to know God more and to grow in Him more. I encourage you to begin making it a daily action of yours to put the “seek” and “call” to action.

Colossians 4:2 says, “Devote yourself to pray.” This word devote means to commit, to make it a priority! Here are some suggestions to help you make the “seek” and the “call” a priority in your life:

 

“Seek”

1. Power off your mobile, laptop, iPad, etc. and focus on the “silence.”

2. Once in a quite place, spend time getting your heart and head focused on approaching God.

3. Make a list of things you want to talk to God about. I.e., things that bother you, upset you or frustrate you about your relationship w/Him. Don’t forget to also take time to thank Him for the good things in your life, because all the good is from Him.

4. Write down questions you would like to ask Him, and then talk to Him like you would talk to your closest friend.

5. Make a promise with yourself that you will commit time each day, if even just a few minutes, repeating “Seek” steps 1-4.

 

“Call”

1. Google in search of specific scriptures to help with specific struggles. For example, when I Google the phrase: “Scriptures to help me trust who God says He is.”, I found these scriptures:

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16 (NIV)

“That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!” “No one who trusts God like this—heart and soul—will ever regret it.” It’s exactly the same no matter what a person’s religious background may be: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help. “Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.” – Romans 10:10-13 (MSG)

2. Once you find scriptures such as these, write them down in your journal. Hang them on your mirror in your bathroom. Place them in a high traffic area of your home. (We do this at our house, often on the refrigerator, as a reminder to our family of God’s truths.)

3. Memorize scriptures that will help you develop confidence in who God says He is. (HINT: The key to memorizing them is reading them every day.)

4. Read and pray these scriptures out loud.  Romans 10:17 says that, “Faith increases when we hear God’s word.” Hearing His truths helps them stick in your head.

5. Find a friend and/or family member who can “seek” and “call” with you!

Knowing Christ, and growing in Christ more, is a life-long process of ups and downs and twists and turns, full of intrigue, frustration, anticipation, excitement and more! But I promise you, the more you put into action the “seek” and “call,” the more you begin to place confidence in Him and not your circumstances or feelings. As you do, you will begin to see that even if God chooses not to remove the challenges in your life, you will able to walk through these challenges more confidently, knowing you do not walk through them alone!

 

you and everything about you matters to God

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 3.51.29 PM

 

NOTE: This article appeared in the June 2014 issue of Direction Magazine.

If you are a sports enthusiast, then you can probably remember who won the last Super Bowl, NBA Championship, or World Series. If you are a gamer, then it probably doesn’t take you long, with controller in hand, to attain high levels on your favorite game. Maybe music is your deal. If so, there is a good chance that a mix of lyrics from various artists is shuffling through your mind at any given time. Or maybe you are a meaningless trivia nut. If so, you may enjoy finding answers to questions like these:

• Which ocean—the Pacific or the Atlantic—is saltier?

• What is America’s favorite flavor of ice cream?

• True or false? Babies are born without kneecaps.

• What is the last name of Elmo from Sesame Street?

• Or my favorite meaningless trivia question: forty thousand Americans injure themselves each year using ________?

The answers: Atlantic. Chocolate. True. Monster. The toilet. (Can’t imagine or explain that last one.)

You probably have a few of your own really good meaningless trivia questions.

Whether it’s sports, music, trivia, or something else, have you ever stopped to consider how much knowledge you possess? I am confident that we all know a lot about things that are important to us. I’m also confident that we all know a lot about things that really don’t matter for eternity.

Having a wide range of knowledge is important, but equally as important is the depth of your knowledge. Consider this: It doesn’t really matter what you know if you don’t know what really matters. In many ways, these first seventeen or eighteen years of your life will be the training ground for what’s next. God has a super big plan for what is next in your life—for what really matters!

There is great comfort in knowing that you matter to God. You are no accident. You are a person of significance and meaning. When God made you, He was really showing off. Colossians 1:16 is proof of this when it says, “everything, absolutely everything, got started in him and finds its purpose in him.” The key word here is “everything”! Everything excludes nothing. That means you are included in the everything!

To God, everything about you matters—your goals, aspirations, weaknesses, challenges, desires, ambitions, choices, relationships, past, present, and future. It all matters to Him.

Stacey, a senior in high school, approached me after I finished speaking at a Youth For Christ event recently to say, “I’m really freaked about next year. I know God has a plan for me, but I’m nervous about figuring it all out.” I encouraged Stacey to really work at enjoying the ride during her senior year. I told her that the questions and uncertainties she has about the “what’s next” after high school are a normal experience. And God wants to teach her to trust Him during all of this because she matters to Him.

This can be a tricky challenge for anyone, at any age. It’s not always easy to trust God, especially when you’re in the middle of a challenge. But know this: you do not face your challenges alone, because your challenges matter to God too. That’s right. God isn’t merely concerned about the fun, exciting, and glamorous rock star moments of your life. He’s also concerned about the intimidating, scary and challenging ones too. He’s concerned about all, because He knows that in both the super and the scary moments, He can prove Himself trustworthy to you…if you let Him.

Satan often spins his web of lies during such times of trouble. Be ready! He will try to use difficult moments in your life to convince you that God’s no longer in it with you. He knows the years until you graduate from high school are pivotal to the next many years of your life, and he will work overtime trying to discourage you and convince you that you no longer matter to God. Don’t buy the lies because they are as meaningless as the trivia questions you just read. What does matter? You matter to God, and that is an answer you can always count on!

 

 

 

questions you need to answer!

Polling shows that 75 percent or more of the U.S. population believe in God, believe that the Bible is the actual or inspired Word of God, and consider religion to be important to them. Yet only 30 percent attend church on a weekly basis and only 16 percent read the Bible daily. Obviously, there is a huge disconnect between what people say they believe and what how they actually live when it comes to the topic of religion.

This makes me think of what Jesus said in Matthew 7:21 (niv): “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Saying all the correct religious things isn’t what grants us access to God and, eventually, to heaven.

What does your life prove that you really believe? Are you building your life on the solid foundation of Jesus’s teachings or on the shifting sands of false beliefs (Matthew 7:24-27)?

You can know what to believe and how to live. Remember Foundational Principle 1 from “Start Here”: The Word is essential to success. The Bible is absolute truth. It’s how God teaches us what we need to know to live lives that are pleasing to Him. So let me give you some questions to answer concerning what you believe about religion. Then I will point you to the truth of Scripture to help you solidify what you believe.

1. Do I believe the Bible is the absolute truth of God?

Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8:3, niv)

As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. (2 Samuel 22:31, niv)

The entirety of Your word is truth, and all Your righteous judgments endure forever. (Psalm 119:160, hcsb)

Everything begins here. If you don’t believe the Bible is the infallible Word of God, then it’s only a matter of time before you lose confidence in who God is and His ability to guard and guide your life. You must know that you know that you know that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. Sure, just by saying this doesn’t mean that you are confident in what you say. But this is the starting point.

Of course, the more you are in the Word, the more you will believe in the Word. And, the more you are in the Word, the more confident you will be in knowing that the Bible isn’t just a book of words. The Bible is absolutely the words of God!

2. Do I believe all religions are the same?

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8, niv)

All religions are not the same. Some religious groups worship false gods. Some believe in God but don’t believe that Jesus was His Son. Some believe Jesus was a real person but don’t accept the fact that He died for us on the cross and was resurrected from the dead. Some don’t believe the Bible is the infallible Word of God.

Christianity accepts God as the only God and believes that Jesus is the Son of God, who came to earth, died for humankind, and conquered death by coming back to life and proving that He is the one true Savior of the world. We believe the Bible is God’s Word and the ultimate authority for everything we do. To be a Christian means one is a follower of Christ.

So before you believe the modern cliché that “all paths lead to God,” do yourself a favor and consider what other religions are teaching in contradiction to the exclusive claims of Christ in Scripture.

3. Do I believe there are multiple ways to get to heaven?

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6, hcsb)

Christianity is based on a person’s willingness to believe in and choose to live for Jesus. So Christians believe that faith in Jesus in the only way to get to heaven. You can’t just be a “good person” or just do “good deeds” (though, of course, if you believe in Jesus, you will want to do those things). There’s only one path to eternal life, and it’s through Jesus.

 

 

the graduate handook – - chapter 1

graduate-fullbook4

NOTE: Since graduation is right around the corner for many, over the next 6 weeks I will be posting chapters from my new book for graduates, The Graduate Handbook.

Congratulations! You did it. After twelve years of fall break, Thanksgiving break, teacher in-service breaks, Christmas break, spring break, and summer break, the big break is finally here! School isn’t just out for the summer; it’s out for good. Shake your principal’s hand, move that tassel, do your dance, and pose for the camera. You are a graduate!

Take a moment and take it all in. You deserve it. You’ve just closed a chapter on some of the best moments in the book called My Life. What a ride it’s been, huh? Can you believe graduation is finally here? In the past seventeen-plus years, some if not many of the following have happened to you:

You rode your bike without training wheels for the first time.

You spent the night away from home (and Mom and Dad) for the first time.

You got your first A.

You got your first F.

You popped your first pimple.

You had your first crush.

You had your first date.

You prayed to have your first second date.

You went to your first prom.

You scored your first touchdown.

You scored your first kiss.

You worked your first job.

You got your first paycheck.

You drove your first car.

You got your first speeding ticket.

You sang your first solo in front of a packed house…and you killed it!

You’ve covered a lot of ground since your first day of school. You’ve made a lot of memories. You’ve experienced a lot of firsts. And now, a new first that’s also about a last—high school graduation. Countless others have stood where you now are and thought, Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I am free at last! And, just as quickly, countless others have stood where you are, only to realize that “Thank God I’m free” can easily turn into “What in the world just happened to me?!”

The few months following graduation from high school are a mix of emotions at best. I wish someone had taken the time to talk to me about post–high school life when I was your age. These can be some of the best times of your life, but they can be some of the most influential as well.

During the next five years, change will be inevitable in many areas of your life, such as moving away from home, attending and graduating from college, choosing a career, choosing a spouse, developing lifelong relationships, starting a company, joining a new church, traveling abroad, living abroad, purchasing a house, buying a car, applying for a loan, and much more! The next five years of your life are critical years for you. During these years, big decisions that will affect the rest of your life and those closest to you will be yours for the making.

Exciting? It should be. Overwhelming? At times it will be. Thrilling? Hopefully so! You stand at a threshold with two guarantees: One, you never have to go to high school again! Two, everything is going to change and change fast!

Remember, your role moving forward is to plan. God’s is to direct. Your planning releases His direction.

You can’t control the unknown or unexpected. But you can position yourself so that, when change does happen, you aren’t taken off-guard. I want to offer you a heads-up on some of the big changes I experienced along the way to help you be prepared to best respond to the what’s next of post-graduation.

 Freedom—and Responsibility—Required

Within a few months of receiving my high school diploma, I had moved out of the house, out of the state, and into a dorm room and was living with a guy I didn’t know on a college campus full of people I had never met before. And it didn’t start out so well.

You see, while in high school, I had wanted to pierce my ear. Keep in mind that this was long before it became the norm, especially for a guy, to have his ear, nose, lip, chin, eyebrow, or any number of other odd places pierced. My dad was adamant that as long as I lived at home I’d better not put a hole in any of my body parts. So, as you have probably surmised by now, once I got to college, I pierced my ear. In fact, I did it the first week of school. To save money, I had the piercing done by someone I met down the hall in my dorm. My life, my ear, and my freedom, right?

One of the biggest misconceptions most any eighteen year old has is that being a legal adult makes him or her a mature adult. Actually, the only big difference between your seventeenth birthday and your eighteenth birthday is that, starting with your eighteenth birthday, you get to go to jail with the big people if you screw up. So in this light, I guess I should have paused to consider that allowing someone I barely knew to stick a needle through my skin in his dorm room probably wasn’t the smartest move. Several nights later, after a $420 visit to the ER because of an infected ear, I found out the important principle that with freedom comes responsibility.

Until now, you’ve had someone helping to set boundaries in your life and making many of the big decisions for you. Now it’s your turn. Now more than ever you have the freedom and responsibility to make your own decisions and set your own boundaries. In short, from here on—every choice matters!

 Life Will Never Be the Same

 Of course, there is no way to know for sure what is ahead for you in life. But you can be sure of this—life will never again be as it was while you were in high school. Whether this is good or bad depends on many of the choices you make, especially within the next twelve months of your life.

Many of these changes are obvious, such as a new campus, job, friends, bedroom, and more. And many, if not most, of these changes you probably welcome. One biggie is that, from now on, consequences from a poor choice can be much greater than ever before. Up until now, your parents have probably disciplined you in love to the best of their ability. Going forward, however, mistakes no longer simply mean that you are grounded or lose your driving privileges for a weekend. Mistakes can be extremely costly, such as getting expelled from college, being fired from a job, losing your income, being incarcerated, and more. In short, the world’s system of discipline won’t judge the same as Mom and Dad have in the past.

 Friends Will Scatter

 Most if not all of your friends will go their different ways after graduation. Some will go to college, others will begin a career, others will join the armed forces, and others will get married.

In the years since I graduated high school, I have seen only two of my high school friends, and that was just a handful of times. I have very little information as to where those friends are now or what they are doing with their lives. I have no idea where the rest of my high school friends are.

I realize that my situation may not become yours. But the point is, the likelihood that you will no longer associate regularly with your high school friends after graduation is high.

 Your Beliefs Will Be Tested

 “I will give you an F if you don’t remove the Scripture references from your term paper!”

I heard those words from my English 101 professor when I was a first-semester freshman attending Belmont University, a Christian school. Yes, a Christian school. I don’t remember everything I wrote in that paper, but I do remember that the grade I received for it would be 100 percent of my grade for that class. I also remember using Scripture references several times throughout the paper to support my thesis. Thus my professor’s startling comment.

My professor was adamant that God’s Word was not relevant and reliable and had no validity in her class whatsoever. I knew my beliefs would be tested at some point during my collegiate experience. I never fathomed it would come this soon, not to mention from my professor at a Christian institution. I absolutely did not want to begin my collegiate career with an F. I also knew that I would be disappointed in myself if I didn’t write what I believed in that paper and stand by it.

I chose to keep the Scriptures in the paper.

My professor didn’t flunk me, but she did give me a D. It was the first D I’d ever made. I wish I could tell you that was the only D I received throughout college. Unfortunately I cannot! But it is the one I’m most proud of.

Get ready! You’re in for a similar ride. Your beliefs may not align with mine as it relates to God. But know this: your beliefs will be tested, whatever they are! This happened to me, and not just in English 101. By the time I finished my freshman year of college, my beliefs about God, heaven, and hell came into question from new friends and co-workers that I made and met. And it wasn’t just my spiritual beliefs that were questioned. Likewise, there is a high probability that your beliefs about abortion, homosexuality, bisexuality, drinking, euthanasia, divorce, politics, the death penalty, and more will come into question in one way or another during the first few years after high school. This happened to me and it will happen to you too.

Do you know what you believe and why you believe it? Have you ever stopped to consider how, if asked, you would answer such questions as the following ones?

• What happens in the afterlife?

• Is it okay to marry someone of a different faith?

• Is abortion ever okay? Why or why not?

• What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

• If God loves everyone, why does He condemn people to hell?

This is just an example of what is to come. Now more than at any previous time in your life, it is critical that you know what you believe and why you believe it. Up until this point in your life, you have likely been surrounded and influenced by people with many, if not most, of the same beliefs as you. You, your parents, your family members, and current friends probably view things in a similar manner. This will change. Most of your new friends and acquaintances will have a different set of values than you and your family. If you aren’t solid in what you believe and why you believe it, you will begin shifting in your beliefs, and eventually you will become someone very different from the person you are today.

The point I want you to grab here is that your beliefs will be challenged, and challenged often, in a variety of ways from a mix of people. One goal of this book is to help you fully develop your belief system and lay down a strategy for remaining aligned in God’s Word so that you are prepared for the challenges of the next five years and the rest of your life.

Accountability Is Critical

Several people in my life today hold me accountable to God’s truths. These are a variety of people—some are family members and some are friends, some are similar in age to me and some are older. Helping me manage my time, pushing me to reach my potential, calling me out when I appear to be straying spiritually, and praying with me and for me are just a few of the ways that some of the closest people in my life help to keep me accountable. Such a process isn’t always comfortable or easy for me or them. However, these people are invaluable to me. And I hope I am the same for them.

I wish I’d had such people in my life when I was your age. I wish someone had told me the importance of having accountability partners and mentors in my life. I can’t stress enough how critical it is that you surround yourself with people who will keep you accountable. Here the quantity of people is not as important as the quality. This role cannot simply be filled by close friends or peers doing what they normally do. I am talking about the kind of accountability that isn’t satisfied with yes or no answers—accountability that goes beyond “I’m doing fine” answers, accountability that will look you eyeball to eyeball and ask you the tough questions about your life.

Such counsel may not be easy to find. But I am confident that if you search for it, you will find it.

Four Truths About Counsel

 1. Not all counsel is godly.

Proverbs 30:5-6 (niv) says, “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.” Sometimes even those with the best of intentions can mislead you by misquoting or mistaking what the Bible says. I learned quickly in college that there will almost always be a peer, professor, or co-worker who claims allegiance to God but offers counsel contrary to that claim. As you receive counsel from others, always use Scripture as the gauge by which you test such counsel to determine whether it is of God or humans. Simply put, if a person’s suggestions, recommendations, or condemnations aren’t in sync with God’s, then such counsel is wrong, no matter how popular, culturally relevant, or accepted the person!

 2. Not all counsel needs receiving.

You can’t always control the counsel you hear, but you can control the counsel you choose to take in and act upon. Pray that God will guard your heart from hearing, receiving, and retaining ungodly counsel. Proverbs 1:5 (niv) says, “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.”

 3. Some counsel will require humility.

There is a myth that once you graduate from high school you suddenly have more knowledge. The key word here is myth. Yes, hopefully the fact that you are graduating means that you have gained knowledge. But graduating doesn’t mean you have gained all knowledge! The older I get, the more I seem to meet people who have more life experience, more wisdom, and more discernment than I. And though their counsel has often left me humbled, it has also brought to my attention areas of my life that need addressing while equally pushing me to be a better person.

 4. Godly counsel is second to God’s counsel.

“You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into your glory.” The writer of Psalm 73:24 (niv) understood that no counsel was more real and relevant for him than God’s. Likewise, God desires a real relationship with you. Later in this handbook, I will talk in greater detail about steps you can take every day to know Him more. But know this now: if you commit daily to spending time with God, His counsel will guide you and grow you in ways far beyond your post–high school aspirations and dreams.

Lift It Up

Throughout this handbook,I will provide prayers to help you stop, think over what you have read, and pray it through. Obviously, you don’t have to pray our written prayers word for word. But whether it’s the words in this book leading you or your own, I hope you’ll take the time to pause, reflect, and lift your heart to Him.

That is certainly something you should be doing as you look ahead to all the changes you can expect in the months and years ahead of you. You’re about to make some big decisions that will help to set your course for life. So pray to God about it now.

Dear God,

Thank You for having Your hand on my life thus far. Thank You for bringing me to this new season of my life called post-grad. It would be foolish of me to believe I know it all and thus have no need to know You more. I want to know You more. I want to become the person You already know I can be. Throughout the next five-plus years of my life, I know there will be a lot to take in and live out. I don’t dare go it alone. Please lead me. As I spend time in this handbook, show me what I need to see about myself. Show me areas of my life that need addressing. And prepare me to go and live the life You have created me to live as a Christ-follower honoring You in it all. Amen.

 

you are a classic

forward magazine

NOTE: This article appeared in Forward Magazine, Spring 2014

I had a candy-apple-red ’66 Ford Mustang in high school. (If you are drooling right now, then you are either a fan of cars or you just really like apples.) I bought it for about $1,000. And then spent about another $3,000 and two years working odd jobs on nights and weekends cleaning offices, doing construction, bagging groceries, and even selling Christmas trees to make money to get it drivable. Many of my friends thought it was silly of me to put so much time and money into something so old. To them, it was just a car. To me, it was far more valuable than just a car. It was a classic, and I loved my ’Stang.

You may have something just as valuable to you. It’s healthy to have things in life that motivate you to accomplish goals and dreams. But of all the things that you place a high value on, nothing should be greater than the value you place on living your life to honor God. He created you and has a remarkable plan for your life. He thinks a lot about you, and He wants you to think a lot about you too!

In Matthew 10, while talking to His disciples, Jesus asks the question, “What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right?” He then proceeds with the good news that God cares what happens to the pet canary, but He cares more about what happens to you and me. Jesus goes on to say that we are much more important to God than even thousands of canaries. He even states that God loves us so much He has the very hairs of our head numbered.

So how many hairs do you have on your head? It’s almost impossible to know, isn’t it? But God knows. He knows everything about you, even down to the very last hair on your head. Why is this good to understand? Well, probably for many reasons. But this is especially good news for you to hold on to when you are having one of those days when it feels like the world would be better off without you. If you haven’t felt like this, hold on. You probably will at some point.

The truth is, we all have times in life when there are uncertainties. During this season of your life, there will be questions, struggles, disappointments, and fears. This is why it is so comforting to know that God understands this. He knows what you are about to face and He knows what you want and need more than you do. He knows what you’re doing right now and what you will be doing five years from now. God knows absolutely everything about you. And when He looks at you, He sees in you what I saw in that ‘66 Mustang – beauty and potential.

Psalm 139:13-16 is proof of this. I love this passage because it proves that God is on your side! The writer of this Psalm talks about the fact that God shaped you inside and out before you even took a breath.  He writes that God knows about every bone in your body and about every stage of your life. The last part of this passage is my favorite. I hope you’ll take a moment and check it out because it says that God knows about every day of your life, even the ones yet to be lived!

Sounds to me like God is saying, “Hey, you are valuable to Me!” I hope you’ll make a promise to remember this. Seriously! Remember what God says about you. God wants you to know that you were made for more—more than just getting by, settling, or giving in. Before you drew your first breath, God knew you. And ever since, He has had His hand on every aspect of your life. He knows you better than you know yourself, and He even knows the things you don’t know about yourself – like the amount of hair on your head! So, in the days ahead, if you ever start to wonder if you’re even “worth it,” pause and remind yourself that the Creator of the universe knows a lot about a lot of canaries…and He knows even more about you! And, He says, “You are a classic!”
 

 

 

living pure in a pure(less) society

NOTE: This is an article I wrote that appeared in Fusion Magazine, August 2013.

I was driving downtown recently to attend a basketball game at my alma mater, when I hear Brynnan, my 8 year-old, say to her sister, who was seated next to her in the backseat, “Cover your eyes, Bailey! Don’t look at the naked dancing people!” No, she wasn’t referring to one of those clothes-less flash mob moments. Instead, she was warning her sister to avoid looking at the 40-foot-high, 10-ton bronze sculpture of five naked woman and four naked men called Musica, which is located on Music Row, an extremely popular route through one of Nashville, Tennessee’s most traveled tourist areas. Her warning to her sister was one my wife and I often hear from her as we travel the “Roundabout” to watch Belmont University play basketball. And unfortunately, like us, millions and millions of people each year drive by this very public and large display of nudity.

This is just one of countless examples of a society seemingly enamored with becoming more and more pure-less! And, unfortunately, it’s not just about statutes. The onslaught of sexual impurity today is incessant. Many TV commercials are so skin-driven that it can be confusing to get what it is that some companies are really trying to sell. Of course, the internet and social media now make it possible to download just about any type of sexual impurity you desire, all with the click of a button while in the privacy of your own home. And, need I remind you it is virtually impossible to walk through a mall anymore without seeing skin. Stores such as Abercrombie, Hollister and, of course, Victoria’s Secret – - by the way, what’s up with this name…there’s no secret to Victoria! – - can easily cause some to struggle as they look into these store-front windows.

These aren’t merely struggles of the tweens, teens and unmarried today, but for anyone, of any sex and of any age. Sexual impurity knows no boundaries. Whether an actual physical affair, cyber affair or battle of the mind, for many it can simply be a thought or a glimpse at an image or person that leads them to a very dark place of impurity. I have counseled with many God-loving, church attending, happily married men and women who struggle with impurity in one form or another. Many of these people feel trapped, guilty and desperate for help and hope. Yet many, consumed with shame and embarrassment don’t know where to turn.

Before taking a bite of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve needed not to worry about their clothing. As Genesis 2:25 explains, the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame. It wasn’t that the two of them didn’t know they were naked. Instead, there was no shame in their nakedness. But after the fall, everything changed! Unfortunately, as a culture, it seems we are reverting back to the “no shame in nakedness” mentality. But, for all the wrong reasons! So, how does one strive to remain sexually pure in what seems to be an ever-becoming shamelessly impure culture?

First, it’s important to state the obvious – God has created you as a sexual being. He wants you to enjoy your sex life. I mean really enjoy it! This is what Song of Songs talks about in the bible when he describes in intimate detail his longing to be in the chambers of his bride, the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen.  He says, “How beautiful you are, your eyes like doves. Your hair like a flock of goats. Your lips are scarlet, your mouth is lovely. Your breasts like two fawns. Your lips drop sweetness like honey. Your tongue like milk and honey. My fingers dance all over you. Your stature is like a palm tree, your breast like its fruit. I will climb the tree and take hold of the fruit.”

Wow!  That’s some pretty steamy stuff.  Any idea who wrote this stuff? The author is King Solomon. Yes, the King Solomon in the Bible. Can you believe this is in the Bible? When I think of how beautiful my wife is, I’m not sure that “a flock of goats” comes to mind. But weird metaphors aside, this graphic description of two lovers is in the Bible for a reason: It tells us that God thinks sex is an awesome gift. And when we stick with His plan of sexual purity, it’s pretty amazing!

But God doesn’t just reveal the sensual side of sex to us in the Bible. He knows that His great gift can be seriously misused. So, He’s also got some very clear advice for us about sex. In 1 Corinthians 6:13, He gives us four really important words: Flee from sexual immorality. Let’s break down this verse into two parts.

1. “Flee from”…

Obviously you know what “flee from” means—get the heck outta dodge as fast as you can.  In this verse, God doesn’t sugarcoat His intentions for your sex life. He doesn’t say, “Stop and think about it,” or “Rationalize and work to justify it,” or, “Just don’t get to close to it.”  Nope. He gets right to the point and says, “Flee!” In other words, “Take off!  Escape! Put on your running shoes, lace ‘em up, and sprint full speed in the opposite direction!” It’s clear that God doesn’t want you to have anything to do with sexual immorality. But for many, this is where the trouble begins.

In today’s culture, “whatever works for you” has become the new definition of morality. It makes it really hard to know just what you’re supposed to flee from. The lines get blurred, and you can start making mistakes. That’s why it’s crucial for you to understand exactly what God is telling you to flee from. Which leads us to the second part of this verse.

2. “…sexual immorality.”

So, the obvious question is, “What defines sexual immorality?” Sex before marriage seems like the most obvious answer, right? But lots of people I’ve counseled, particularly those who aren’t married, or, those who wonder have far is too far think that as long as you just don’t “go all the way,’ then everything else is okay.

Yes, in 1 Corinthians 6:18, God is saying “don’t go all the way.” But if you think that’s all He’s saying, then you’re missing God’s truest intentions for your sex life. When God says to “flee from sexual immorality,” He’s not just saying, “Don’t have sex before marriage.” He’s saying to run away from any sexual impurity – jokes, thoughts, feelings, and even how you dress! We read a similar theme in Ephesians where Paul, the writer, says that we should not even have a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.

This is extremely important when it comes to the battle of the mind. Satan knows how to trip us up in this area. He has a customized plan for each of us, and he works like mad at trying to convince us that there are all kinds of loopholes in God’s rules, particularly as it relates to what is pure and impure. But he’s wrong. Dead wrong. God’s word is clear: Impurity is off limits.

Sexual immorality equals sexual impurity. And, sexual impurity equals sin. Period. No matter the situation. No matter the circumstances. No matter how in love you feel. No matter the emotion involved. No matter how good you are at justifying, rationalizing or convincing yourself that you deserve to indulge.

I know that just because I write it, and just because you read it, doesn’t make it easy to do.  This is tough stuff here.  It takes a commitment and a determination to living pure in a pure (less) society. It takes realizing Satan hates you and he wants you to blow it! So, you have to take action, and do so now. Here are 7 actions steps:

1. CHOICE

Choosing a life of purity is the first step. You’ve got to decide that you don’t want to live under the stronghold or guilt that impurity creates and choose to get serious about defeating it.

2. PROTECT YOUR MIND’S EYE

The struggle with impurity often begins in your mind. So, you’ve got to think practically when it comes to temptation. Make a promise to yourself to look the other way when walking in a mall that has those storefront windows or driving by those landmarks in your community that you know can trip you up. Turn the channel when a commercial, video or show airs this stuff. Work not to look at anything that might send impure thoughts racing through your brain.

3. KNOW WHAT YOU CAN’T DO

Different people have different things that flip that switch in their minds. Maybe using the Internet late at night when you are alone tempts you. Or, it could be something much simpler, like watching a movie or thinking about someone you really like. Only you know what gets you going, and only you know where to draw the line.

4. KNOW YOUR WAY OUT

Have a plan of action that you’ll use when you’re tempted. The key is to get your mind on something else.

5. SCRIPTURE

I know you’re probably thinking, “Sure Jeffrey…I’m going to actually recite a verse when my mind starts going to that place!” Well, it may sound ludicrous. But Psalm 119:9 reminds us that we can live clean lives by obeying God’s word. I encourage you to find scriptures that work for you and write them down. Hang them on the refrigerator or bathroom mirror at home. Memorize them. Make them your screen saver at work and repeat them out loud whenever you feel tempted.

6. HOLD YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE

Rather than making excuses like a lot of people do, choose to take action!  One way to do this is to find a friend you can talk to openly about your feelings, frustrations, temptations, and setbacks.

7. BE ALERT!

Be wise enough to realize that though there may not be 9-bronzed naked people dancing in your neighborhood, the traps Satan sets are everywhere. Have a plan before you ever get in the moment of temptation. Clearly articulate your intentions to strive for purity to your friends, spouse or dating partner.  And, be determined not to let Satan trap you!

If you are struggling with impurity, know that it is never too late to get it right with God.  Confess and give this problem to God. Ask for forgiveness from God. Ask God to give you courage to apply these seven steps.

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