It has been a VERY long time since my last post, some of you probably thought that I had forgotten about this blog, and I am sorry about that. I have been very very busy during spring here, with a big college preview trip with my youth group, starting a soccer program at our church, as well as the normal day to day goings on of youth ministry. However, I am back!

In the last few weeks I have heard over and over again a phrase that has really started to bother me. In all honesty and transparency, I must admit that I myself have been one of the ones to say it, so please don’t think that I am waving my finger just in your direction, I am an equal opportunity finger pointer! It is a phrase that we say with the best of intentions and utmost sincerity, but it is a phrase that demonstrates a lack of conviction in our culture. What is the phrase, you ask? The phrase is…..brace yourself this might get a little bit rough….are you ready? Are you sitting down? The phrase is…. “They are such good kids.

Whoa! Hold on now Caleb! Just what are you saying? You are a youth pastor, you spend your days and weeks around teenagers, and you are telling me that you don’t want to have good kids in your youth group?!

That is exactly what I am saying. I don’t want good kids in my youth group. I don’t want my son (and any future children) to be good kids. I don’t want to be a youth pastor who sends good kids out from his youth group. I’m just not interested in that! Now I may have lost some of you at this point. Perhaps some youth pastors who are thinking that I am embarking on a mission to start a new “Bad Kid Youth Group” cult. Maybe some of you parents are thinking, “I don’t want my kid going to his youth group! He doesn’t want my son to be a good boy! Who knows what he could be teaching there!” Please though, bear with me, and let me explain myself. Let me explain why I have no interest in “good kids.”

The first reason that I have no interest in teaching and influencing “good kids,” is because in our culture now, we have drastically lowered the standard for defining what a “good kid” is. Many times (not always) when I hear a parent, or a youth pastor or even just a member of the church say “That is a good kid” they are merely looking at the outward signs. If you were to read between the lines and expand on their thought it would read something like this. “Jane is such a good girl. She doesn’t do drugs, she doesn’t go to wild parties, she isn’t pregnant, and she gets straight A’s in school. She is such a good girl.” I probably lost even more of you (if you are still reading) as you say, “What kind of whack job are you Caleb?? You telling me that as a youth pastor you are ok with teens in your youth group doing drugs, partying, and having sex outside of marriage? Are you telling me that you don’t want those teens to do their best in school?” That is absolutely not what I am saying. I don’t want my teens doing drugs, but I also don’t want them to have gossiping tongues. I don’t want my teens to be going to drunken parties, but I also don’t want them to have a disrespectful attitude toward their parents. I don’t want my teens to be involved in premarital sex, but I also don’t want them to be filling their minds with lustful images on the internet. We live in a world that has made their own standards and definitions about what good is, and sadly, we as Christians have bought into it. As long as we can’t see any outward signs of sin, as long as our teens lives aren’t falling apart, we are satisfied. We have set mediocre expectations for our teens and children (and as a result for ourselves as parents, teachers and youth pastors) and then when they succeed in these mediocre expectations, we congratulate ourselves and them. God does not want mediocrity though! He is not just interested on the outward symptoms of sin. In Matthew 5:28, he says that in his perspective, looking at someone in a lustful way is just as bad as committing the act of sex with them. I John 3:15 tells us that hating somebody is just as bad as physically murdering them. Isaiah 64:6 makes it pretty clear that even the very best that we as humans have to offer is, in God’s sight, as worthless as filthy rags. You and I (remember, my finger is waving in a 360 degree circle) need to raise the standard that we expect from those kids God has entrusted to us. God makes his standard pretty clear in I Peter 1:16, when He says, “Be ye holy; for I am holy.” How does God define a good person? Holiness. No longer should we be satisfied that they are not doing drugs, not partying, and not having sex. Let us expect more from them (and ourselves) and then teach them to have these same standards of holiness in their lives.

The second reason I have for growing to hate the phrase, “They’re such good kids.” Is even more significant. I can just see some of you shaking your heads in disbelief…you thought my rant was almost over didn’t you. The second, and more important, reason I have for not wanting to have “good kids” is because as a parent and youth pastor, my interest is not in training “good kids” it is in training godly kids. Sometimes I hear people say that “so and so is such a good kid” and I have to agree with them. Sure they aren’t perfect, nobody is, but not only are they not doing drugs, partying and having sex, but they are also respectful to those in authority, they are kind to those around them (even their brothers and sisters), and they have a good work ethic. They are, relatively speaking, good kids. But what we have to understand as Christians, THAT IS NOT ENOUGH!!!! The Christian life is not just about following a set of rules, of not doing bad things. The Christian life is all about total submission to Jesus Christ, to literally be His slave, to actively do things for Him, just because He wants you to. A “good” kid will study their textbooks to get good grades in school, but a godly kid will study God’s Word to learn more about Him. A “good” kid will have a great work ethic, and will probably be able to get a good paying job. A godly kid will “do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31) regardless of the recognition they get or the pay they receive. They will serve God completely, no matter where it takes them. A “good” kid will obey the rules you give to them because they don’t want to disappoint you or be punished by you. A godly kid will obey God’s Word because he love the heavenly Father and wants to please Him. Proverbs 22:6 tells us to “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” The key word in this verse, I think, is not “train,” although that is incredibly important. I think the key word is “go.” Go is a positive action, not a negative one. This verse doesn’t say “Train up a child in the things he shouldn’t do.” Essentially, it says the opposite. Can I give you the Frink paraphrase? (Trust me, you will not be able to find this particular Bible version in your local Christian book store) “Train up a child in the things he should do for the Lord, in wholeheartedly following Him. Then when he is an adult and on his own, he will continue to follow the Lord.”

You and I need to stop settling for “good” and start targeting godly. Because the truth is, that not every person we think is “good” is actually godly. (If you don’t believe me, check out what Jesus had to say about the Pharisees in Matthew 23) Every person though who is truly godly, will be good. So lets stop being satisfied with good, and set our sights on godly.

In our study about David in youth group, we just covered the story of David and Mephibosheth. As I prepared for this study I was blown away by the amazing picture that is presented through the actions of David of the grace that God offers to each of us. I hope that you will be as encouraged and humbled as I was as I studied this passage.

The story of David and Mephibosheth is found in 2 Samuel 9. In v. 1, David says that he wants to find a descendant of Jonathan to show kindness to. That word kindness is a very very similar word to our word grace that is found in the New Testament. This is more than just doing something nice for somebody, it has the idea of giving a reward to somebody who is not at all deserving of that reward. At it’s very simplest definition, grace is receiving something that you don’t deserve. David’s actions here to Mephibosheth are a perfect picture of God’s actions to us.

1. His Grace was Unrelenting (v. 1-5)

Notice that David is the one who instigates this endeavor. In chapter 8, we find David in a time of war, as he fights against Israel’s many enemies and expands her borders. As we come to chapter 9, this period of war seems to have come to an end, and David has an opportunity to catch his breath and reflect. As he does so, he remembers the promise he made to Jonathan in 1 Samuel 20:12-17, where he promised that when he became king, he would show kindness to Jonathan and his family. Obviously, at this point Jonathan is dead, killed by the Philistines, but David remembers his promise, and actively begins to search for somebody to show grace to. During this time period, it was the common practice that when a new dynasty took power, all of the descendants of the old king were killed. Mephibosheth is living in Lo-Debar, which literally means “no pastureland.” Mephisbosheth is living out in the barren wilderness, hiding from the king. This is exactly how the grace of God is offered to us. Luke 19:10 says that “the Son of Man [Jesus] is come to seek and to save that which is lost.” Before Christ found me, I was living out in the barrenness of sin and death. Then Jesus came looking for me, and found me. 1 John 4:19 says that “we love Him because He first loved us.” That is His unrelenting grace. I have the choice to love the Lord, not because of anything I did, but because He loved me when I was unlovable, when I was hiding in a desolate wasteland, trapped by my sin. That, is unrelenting grace.

2. His Grace is Undeserved (v. 1-3, 8)

David makes it clear that his reason for showing this grace to Mephibosheth had nothing to do with the man himself. In v. 1, David says he is looking for someone from the house of Saul so that he “may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake.” When we look at Mephibosheth, we realize that he had nothing to offer. In v. 3 we read that he was lame in both feet, and even Mephibosheth calls himself a dead dog in v. 8. Grace was given to Mephibosheth, not on his merit, but on the merit of Jonathan. In the same way, the grace that is given to me has nothing to do with who I am or what I have done. Ephesians 2:8-9 says that the grace given to us is “not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” I have done nothing to deserve the grace that has been freely offered to me. I, like Mephibosheth, am a dead dog before the Lord, and yet he still unrelentingly offers me that grace. Why? Not because of my merit, but because of the merit of Jesus Christ. I Peter 2:22-24 tells us that Christ “who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth…who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” Christ, who was sinless, freely allowed Himself to be punished for my sins to satisfy the just demands of God. When David looked at Mephibosheth, he didn’t see a lame, dead dog. He saw Jonathan’s son. When God looks at me, he doesn’t see the sinful, dead dog, Caleb. He sees the righteousness of His Son, Jesus Christ. That, is undeserved grace.

3.His Grace was Unending (v. 7-13)

David, in showing grace to Mephibosheth, essentially adopted him. He gave him, as an inheritance, all of his grandfather Saul’s land. He allowed Mephibosheth to eat at his own personal table along with all his other sons and daughters. Now obviously, David’s grace ended when David died, because David was no longer able to demonstrate that grace. My God, however, will never die, and His grace is truly unending. The Bible tells us over and over just how much grace God offers.Romans 5:17 talks about an abundance of grace. Ephesians 1:7 tells us about the riches of His grace. Ephesians 2:7 mentions the exceeding riches of His grace. 1 Timothy 1:14 tells me that the grace of our Lord is exceedingly abundant. Then, my personal favorite, Romans 5:20. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” I know that in my life, sin has abounded. Hatred, jealousy, anger, lust, pride, laziness, selfishness…they have all been present in my life. I have lived a life that is abundant with sin. I deserve to pay the full price for each of those sins. But where my sin abounded, God’s grace abounded even more. I can never out sin God’s grace! That doesn’t give me license to go and sin as much as I want because God’s grace will cover it, that isn’t how it works. But you and I can know, that no matter what is in our past, God’s grace is abundant enough to cover it. No matter what we do in the future, God will never stop loving us, and will never withdraw that grace from us. Why? Because that grace isn’t dependent on what I do! It wouldn’t be grace if I deserved it! God’s grace is unending to me because of Jesus Christ. He never stops offering it, I can never sin so bad that He takes it away from me, His grace is completely unending.

4. His Grace was Unconditional (v. 7-10)

David, as he meets with Mephibosheth, and Saul’s servant Ziba, says several things about what he is going to do for Mephiboseth. In v. 7 he says “I will show thee kindness for Jonathan they father’s sake, and will restore thee all the land of Saul thy father, and thou shalt eat bread at my table continually.” In v. 9, he says to Ziba, “I have given unto thy master’s son all that pertained to Saul. Then in v. 10, he says to Ziba, “Thou…shall till the land for him…but Mephibosheth…shall eat bread always at my table.” Never once are there any conditions placed on Mephibosheth. There are no requirements that Mephibosheth has to fulfill to earn or maintain this grace. It is given freely. In fact, in v. 7 David is saying that he will show grace in the present, in v. 9 he has already shown the grace in the past, and in v. 10 he says that the grace will continue on into the future. This is God’s grace. The fact that we are living and breathing today is God’s grace in the present. Jesus Christ came to die for us as God’s grace was demonstrated in the past, and Christians are guaranteed an eternity in Heaven, as God promises grace for the future. We don’t do anything to earn it, as Ephesians 2:8-9 says. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” Praise God that His grace is unconditional, and that it extends for all of eternity!

Somebody may read this, who likes what they hear, but are confused. You might say, “Caleb, I want to experience the unrelenting, undeserved, unenending, unconditional grace, but I don’t know how to? I know that this gift of God is being offered to me, but how do I take it?” It is very simple, and is summed up in one verse. Romans 10:9 says, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” It is truly that easy. If you want to claim the grace of God, all you have to do is confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He is God. It isn’t enough to just say that He was a good man, because a good man could not merit the grace of God as Jesus did. Confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He is God, and believe that God raised Him from the dead after He paid for your sins on the cross of Calvary. If you truly believe that in your heart, if you tell the Lord that with your mouth, and you claim His grace to pay for your sins, the Bible says that you will be saved. Then you can begin to experience the full magnitude of God’s grace, each and every day of your life.

It has been quite some time since I last wrote. (My apologies) This has been due partly to the business of my schedule, and partly because there hasn’t been anything that has jumped out at me as something I would like to write about.

The last several weeks, I have been studying the life of David with our youth group. We have been working through some of the stories in his life, and learning some of the same lessons that David learned. The most recent story really caught my attention.

Many times I hear something along the lines of, “Well his heart was in the right place, that’s what counts.” Now many times, this applies to a child’s failed attempt to do a chore around the house, or to do something kind for their parents. (Just ask my parents about the disastrous yeast muffin incident of 1993!) However, sometimes we try to apply this same principle to our service of the Lord, which as we will see, does not work.

In 1 Chronicles 13, David has become the king over all Israel. This comes after Saul’s death, and a civil war between the tribe of Judah (ruled by David) and the rest of Israel (ruled by Saul’s son Ishbosheth). Upon unifying the kingdom, David then goes to war with the enemies outside of Israel, and defeats both the Jebusites and Philistines. It seems as though after this torrid time of upheaval in the kingdom, there finally comes a moment for David to “catch his breath,” and he develops a desire to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to its proper place in the tabernacle of God.

To understand where the Ark of the Covenant has been, we have to backtrack all the way back to the beginning of 1 Samuel. In the beginning of this book, when Samuel himself was still a child, he was under the care of the high priest Eli. Eli was himself a godly man, but he was a very poor father (a lesson for another time for all of us parents) and his two sons, Hophni and Phineas, were very wicked. They abused their authority as priests both for personal gain, as well as for sexual favors from the woman who came to the tabernacle. In course of time, Israel was at war with Philistia, and the battle was not going well for them, so Hophni and Phineas brought the Ark of the Covenant out to the battle with the belief that its “power” would win the victory for them. Well, as we know, the Ark had no power in and of itself, the power was from God who was unhappy that his people would use the Ark in such a disrespectful and unholy way. He caused Israel to lose the battle, Hophni and Phineas were killed, and the Ark was captured by the Philistines.

The Philistines took the Ark as a trophy of their victory over Israel’s God, and placed it in the temple of their god, Dagon. The One True God was angered by this, and miraculously destroyed the idol of Dagon. The Philistines panicked at this, and began to send the Ark from city to city, and wherever it went, it brought disaster to the inhabitants of the city. Finally, they sent the Ark back to Israel with gifts for the Jew’s God, where, through a long series of events, it ended up in the house of Abinadab, for possibly as long as 100 years. (You can read the whole story for yourself in 1 Samuel 2-7). This is where the ark is when we pick up the story in 1 Chronicles 13, as David expresses a desire to bring the ark home.

1. Human Consultation (I Chronicles 13:1-4)

The first problem we see in this story is in what caused the impetus for David to bring the ark back. In v. 1, it says that “David consulted with the captains of thousands and hundreds, and with every leader.” David begins to get an idea in the back of his head that he would like to bring the Ark back to the tabernacle, where it belongs. Now, I don’t think anybody would disagree that this was not a bad idea, in fact it is very possible that God himself planted that thought in David’s mind. The problem is, that David goes immediately to his human counselors for advice. Some of these men were likely his closest friends, men that he had been on the run with from Saul for all those years. It is very likely that some of them were very godly men as well! The problem is that they were just men. Nowhere do we see David asking God for his direction in this matter, nowhere do we see him spending time in God’s Word, or in hours of prayer. He just assumes this is what God wants him to do, and in fact, when the decision is made, in v. 4, the defining factor is not God! It says that “the thing was right in the eyes of all the people” and so they decided to go ahead with their plans. Let me just say, that no matter where our heart is, no matter how pure our intentions are, if we ever go forward with any endeavor without seeking the Lord’s will and direction first, that endeavor is doomed for failure. Look at other men in the Bible who made the same mistake! Abraham slept with Hagar to “help” God provide a son. Jacob and Rebekah “helped” God by tricking Isaac and cheating Esau out of his blessing. Moses “helped” God free Israel from Egypt by murdering an Egyptian. The list could go on, but the point is clear. No matter what place your heart is in, if you do something for the Lord without seeking the Lord first, the result can be disastrous – as we will see.

2. Hasty Conveyance (I Chronicles 13:5-8)

David made the decision to go get the Ark of the Covenant, and decides that the most logical and expedient way to get it from point A to point B is by a cart pulled by oxen. This makes sense to our logical minds. If you are moving a couch, or a big bookshelf, you are going to get a truck or a trailer, or at the very least, a dolly, to make the work less. Remember, the Ark was made out of solid wood, covered in gold, and to boot had a couple slabs of stone inside of it! If it was my job to move it, I would want it to be on wheels too! The problem though, is found in Exodus 25:12-14, where God gives specific instructions about how the Ark should be transported. “Thou shalt cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in the four corners… and thou shalt make staves of shittim wood…and thou shalt put the staves into the rings by the sides of the ark, that the ark may be borne with them. ” God makes it pretty clear. The Ark was too precious to be transported like a sack of grain on a cart, it was to be carried by hand by the priests and only the priests. In fact, in Numbers 4:15, it says “the sons of Kohath shall come to bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die.” The priests were allowed to carry the Ark, but the poles were not just for convenience, but also for protection, because the Ark was so holy that anyone who touched it would die. God’s holiness is serious business, and our worship of Him is serious business. David was very sincere. In I Chronicles 13:8, it says that he and all Israel were singing praises to God with all their might! But no matter how beautiful their music was, they weren’t doing things God’s way. No matter how sincere I am, no matter how great my desire is to glorify God, if I don’t do it His way, it does not glorify Him at all.

3. Horrific Consequences (1 Chronicles 13:9-14)

David’s heart was in the right place, but his actions weren’t and the consequences were devastating. 1 Chronicles 13:9-10 says that “Uzza put forth his hand to hold the ark; for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzza, and He smote him, and there he died before God.” We hear that, and our first reaction is to say “Wow, that is kinda harsh! All that Uzza did was try to keep the Ark from falling and maybe getting damaged!” I think David had the same reaction as in v. 11 it says that “David was displeased because the Lord had made a breach upon Uzza.” What we, and David, are forgetting, is that God makes the rules. God, who breathed our universe into existence, who created the very laws that keep that universe running smoothly, and who literally holds us together, makes the rules. I don’t know about you, but I remember playing tag as a kid, and there was always that kid who kept changing the rules, who kept changing base to whatever object he was nearest to. That isn’t what is going on here! God isn’t changing the rules, he created the rules. He isn’t adding new rules to an existing game, He created the original game! You and I could invent our own game, and name it whatever we want, and make whatever rules we want. When we played it with others, as long as the rules were explained clearly, we would be perfectly justified for enforcing the rules, no matter how difficult they might be. That is so true of God. He created our universe, He created us, and He told us very clearly what the rules were that we are to play by. When we disobey those rules, as Uzzah did, the rules must be enforced, because God is just. Because David didn’t play by God’s rules, a man lost his life, and the job didn’t get accomplished. The story tells us that David was scared, and they stored the Ark in the house of a man named Obed-Edom for three months. When you or I try to do a good thing but don’t do it God’s way, not only is God not glorified, but the thing we are trying to do may not even get done.

4. Humble Correction (1 Chronicles 15)

If you skip a chapter over to chapter 15, you find the conclusion of the story. I am so glad that the story didn’t end in chapter 13, and that even when I mess up, the story doesn’t have to end there. Look at how David responds. “Then David said, ‘None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites: for them hath the Lord chosen to carry the ark of God.” For three months, David has been trying to figure out why, when his heart was so clearly in the right place, things went so horribly wrong. Then the light comes on. In my imagination, I see him reading through the Torah, and he stumbles on a verse in Exodus that has been long forgotten. The light all of a sudden comes on. “Oh!!! I get it now! The Lord wasn’t angry because I tried to bring the Ark back, He was angry because I didn’t do it the way He commanded me to! It isn’t supposed to ride on a cart; the priests are supposed to carry it!” Later in v. 12 and 13, after organizing a new effort to bring back the Ark, he says this. “Sanctify yourselves…that ye may bring up the ark of the Lord God…for because ye did it not at the first, the Lord our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought Him not after the due order.” David understands. The problem was not that his heart wasn’t in the right place, it wasn’t that he was acting from the wrong motivation, the problem was that he wasn’t doing things God’s way. As you continue to read chapter 15, you find out that the Ark was successfully brought home, and David rejoices with an exuberant celebration! I think that every one of us, at one time or another, has tried to serve the Lord from the very best of intentions. Our hearts are in the right place, and we have a sincere desire to do what is right and to glorify Him. Sometimes though, we get wrapped up in our own plans, and forget to seek the Lord’s blessing and guidance in our efforts. When this happens, the consequences may be disastrous, its true. We then have to turn to the Lord, and ask what we did wrong. We examine our hearts, to be sure our motives were pure, we acknowledge that we were wrong, and then we ask what we need to do different. We seek His will first, then figure out how to do it His way. When that happens, we can finally, truly, bring glory to the Lord, just as David did.

It is the New Year, and if you are like me, you have a list of things that you want to accomplish or change this year. You may (like me) have an (undisclosed) amount of pounds that you want to remove from your body. Perhaps it is a particular habit that you would like to break, or maybe a financial goal that you would like to meet. Whatever your goals are, I want to encourage you to not neglect the most important goal that we should make not just at the beginning of the year, but every day of our lives – the goal of being more holy. Holiness means to be undefiled and set apart for the Lord’s use. If you have not already set that goal, I want to challenge you right now to make that your goal for 2014, and to give you some practical advice from the book of Daniel on how to achieve that goal.

1. Have a Decided Purpose

In Daniel 1 we read the familiar story of Daniel having “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with…the kings meat.” (v. 8). In our English language, we use the word purpose as both a verb and a noun. When we use it as a verb (as it is in this verse) it means to set a goal or resolution for ones self. The first step toward achieving a goal is deciding that you will do what it takes to achieve this goal. You cannot say you want to do something, but not be willing to do what it takes to get it done. For example, if I want to lose some weight, I cannot make a commitment to lose weight, but be unwilling to increase my exercise and decrease my junk food consumption. “Purposing” is not just saying that you want to do something, but rather that you will do something, no matter what it costs. I am sure that most Christians would say that “want” to be more holy, but would they say they will be holy, and be willing to remove the junk food of sin in their lives, and to exercise more often in God’s Word and prayer? It is easy to want something, it is another thing entirely to do what it takes to achieve it. John 2:15 tells us, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Are you willing to purpose in your heart that you will love the Lord enough to be holy for Him, no matter what it costs?

Purpose can also be used as a noun, in which it refers to the objective you are aiming for. Notice what Daniel’s objective was. The kings food, although most definitely delicious, would have been sacrificed to idols. According to Jewish law, this would make it sinful and unclean for a God-fearing Jew to eat. Daniel’s objective was not to be more healthy (although that was a side effect) nor was it to be more successful (although that also happened). His sole objective was to be undefiled, to be holy, for God.  I was thinking about this, and realized that to my shame, often times I am more wrapped up in my earthly purposes than I am in heavenly ones. I am more committed to losing weight or breaking an annoying habit than I am in being more holy for my Lord. Shame on me! Holiness is not an optional objective, it is a command! I Peter 1:15-16 – “But as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, “Be ye holy; for I am holy.”

2. Have a Detailed PlanWhether you are committing to losing weight or being more holy, the decision to do so is vital, but without a plan on how you are going to do so, that decision will be meaningless. When you make your plan about how you are going to become more holy for the Lord, consider a few things.

     – Make it specific – Notice Daniel had a very specific plan about how he was going to avoid defiling himself. He asked the eunuch to allow them to eat vegetables and water for 10 days. (v. 12) He didn’t make a commitment and then expect God to just fill in the details, he purposed and then he planned. What is your plan to be more holy? Where do you struggle the most? Do you have a hard time exercising spiritually? Do you have a difficult time being regularly in God’s Word? Do you lack a consistent prayer time? Is their spiritual junk food in your life? Are their sins in your life that continually defile you so that you are unholy? Are their things that you are filling your mind with that are unholy? Figure out what in your life is holding you back from holiness, and then make a specific plan about how that will change.

     – Make it attainable – Again, notice Daniel’s plan. He asked to be allowed to eat vegetables and water for just 10 days. Understand, in his heart he was committed to never eating the kings defiled food, but in practice he aimed for just 10 days. If there is a specific sin that is holding you back from holiness, in your heart you should have a desire to never commit that sin ever again, but make it your immediate goal to go a week or two without choosing that sin. If you struggle with spending time in God’s Word, don’t make it your goal to study for two hours every day, but rather to spend 15 minutes each day studying. Make your goal something that you can achieve and then build on that! Although the Bible never tells us, I personally believe that Daniel never defiled himself with the kings food, but he started with just 10 days.

     – Make it measurable – After the 10 days of vegetables and water, Daniel and his friends were compared to the other young men, and they were found to be much healthier and vibrant. Their progress was clearly measurable. Measure your spiritual progress! Keep track of the days in which you avoid that sin and temptation that drags you down. When you do fail, don’t let it discourage you, don’t let it make you abandon your purpose, rather repent of it, and start again! Keep a journal with your Bible where you mark down the date, the passage you read and something that grabbed your attention from those verses. When you miss a day, don’t let it cause you to give up, but rather let it encourage you to be more faithful. Make a plan that you can measure so that you are aware if you are improving in your efforts to be set apart for the Lord.

3. Have Dependable Partners

Daniel did not go at it alone. In v. 7, we read the names of the three friends who were right beside him in his commitment – Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. In our efforts to be more holy, dependable partners are vital. I Corinthians 10:13 tells us that “there hath no temptation taken you, but such as is common to man.” No matter what you are struggling with, somebody else has, is and will struggle with it, and there are people that can share in your struggle with you. If there is a sin you are struggling with, ask a godly man or woman to meet with you every week to see how you are doing. Find someone who will not just pat you on the back when you are doing well, but will kick you in the pants if you are slacking off! If you don’t have any idea how to study the Bible or pray, find someone who can teach you! If you are not involved in a local church, find one that preaches God’s Word and get stuck in! Watching sermons on the television is fine, but those men on the screen cannot come alongside you and give you practical help in being more holy! There are accountability programs for addictions, for dieting, and for finances – we should have an accountability program for our relationship with the Lord.

4. Have Divine Progress

In v. 17-20, we read about the results of the ten days, and afterward. Their commitment was a resounding success – but that success was from God. Did Daniel have a detailed plan? Yes, but the results were from the Lord. Did he have wonderful partners? Absolutely, but his greatest partner was the Lord. As I seek to be more holy, this is probably the area where I struggle the most. I make a commitment to do what it takes to be set apart for the Lord. I make these awesomely detailed and specific plans of how I am going to get there, and I get godly people who I trust to help me along the way. Sometimes, though, I forget that without the Lord’s help, all my best efforts are worthless. Too often I get so wrapped up in how “I” am going to change myself. I get focused on how great the details of my plan are, and how I am going to achieve the results that I want. That is not the way to go. The reality is that we have to make a commitment to be more holy and that we have to have a plan about what we are going to do to achieve that result, but that ultimately, the result is the Lord’s responsibility. Philippians 2:13 says, “It is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” The most vital step of all, more important that any spiritual goal we want to achieve, more important than whatever 10 step plan we put together, is the willingness to be changed by God into whatever He wants us to be. We have to understand that our plan could be flawed. Just because we read our Bible every day doesn’t make us automatically holy. Just because we have the most godly men and women helping us, our success is not guaranteed. We have to surrender ourselves to the Lord, to commit ourselves to being holy and willing to let Him change us in anyway He sees fit.

Will you make the commitment to be more holy? The truth is that nobody is “holy enough” every one of us has room to be more holy, more set apart for the Lord to use. As you make plans about the money you will save and the weight you will lose, will you also make plans to be set apart and undefiled for the Lord to use?

 

 

I was recently reading through some notes I had written from my personal study of God’s Word, and came across these devotional thoughts from Psalm 105:1-5 that I wrote several years ago. As I read them, I was really challenged in regards to my approach to worship and reminded again of just how worthy our Lord is to receive all the honor, praise and glory I can give Him. I just wanted to share these thoughts with you, I hope they will challenge you just as much in your relationship with our Lord.

 

Today I was reading Psalm 105 in my personal devotions, and the beginning 5 verses of the Psalm really jumped out and grabbed me by the scruff of the neck. The focus of this Psalm is remembering what God has done for us, and most of the Psalm is spent in a historical overview of all that the Lord has done for Israel, starting with Abraham, and going until the Israelites are out of Egypt heading for the Promised Land. The clear focus is on giving God the glory because He is worthy, and that is what worship is…”worth”ship. Praising God because He is worth it. The first five verses are what captured my attention though , especially as I have been really thinking a lot about worship. There are three aspects to our attitude if we want to worship God.

Praise – “Give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name: Make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him;Talk of all his wondrous works!” Psalm 105:1-2

 
The first component to truly worshiping God is the one we typically think of the most often and that is praise. There are three aspects to our praise here, firstly, we thank Him for what He has done, secondly we praise Him for who He is, and then lastly we tell others about Him. How often do we as Christians take time to praise God for what He has done, who He is, and perhaps the most difficult one, to tell others about Him? It is easy for us to speak about how worthy Christ is, and to sing songs about His worthiness, but how often do we demonstrate how worthy He is by what we say? We should constantly be talking about our God, because he is worthy of all “worth”ship we can give Him!

Pursue – “Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord! Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face evermore!” Psalm 105:3-4

The second part of really worshiping God is to pursue Him. The word “seek” here holds the meaning “to frequently strive after.” Christians, our lives should frequently be consumed with a passion for the Lord, and to strive after Him, to not let anything get in the way. It says we are to seek the Lord and His strength, but also to seek His face. It is easy to seek the strength of the Lord, as we face circumstances in life that are too much for us to handle. How often though do we simply seek His face? How often is it enough just to be in His presence, simply enjoying intimacy with the Lord? Is He just a powerful being in the sky who gives me stuff and punishes me when I am bad? Or is He my friend? My Abba?

 

Ponder – “Remember His marvelous works which He has done, His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth.” Psalm 105:5

The last part of worshiping God is remembering. Christian, when was the last time you just sat down and remembered everything that the Lord has done for you? His marvelous works? What more marvelous work could there be than sending Jesus Christ to die for your sins? His wonders? What is more wonderful than a God who is not limited by anything except Himself? A God who created our universe in 6 days just by speaking? The judgements of His mouth? Have you thought lately about what a righteous, just, and holy God we serve? Have you pondered lately on His words through the ultimate book the Bible?

 

Christian, God doesn’t ask you for your worship, He demands it. Because He is worthy! Are you going to give Him the attitude of worship He deserves?

The Leaves of the Heart

We are in the full swing of fall here in West Virginia, and I love it! Fall is my favorite season of the year. In my opinion the crisp, yet not quite cold, weather is perfect, and I love seeing the beauty of the trees around me, which are quite spectacular in the hills of West Virginia. The one thing that I do not enjoy about fall though, is raking leaves. Somehow it seems like every tree on our street has figured out a way to dump their leaves on our yard. This past Saturday I spent over 3 hours trying to clean up leaves. I was raking, blowing, gathering, wheeling, dumping and sweating. I made a mountain of leaves that King Kong would be proud to climb, and yet at the end of it all, as I looked around my yard, I almost despaired, because it seemed as though I had not made any progress at all. During those three hours of raking and piling leaves, more had fallen, and the areas that just 15 minutes ago were “leaf-free” were now scattered with leaves once again. Less than a week later, my yard is really in need of being raked again.

As I continued to work, muttering under my breath about the neighbors trees that have the nerve to drop their leaves on my yard, and over the week as I saw more and more leaves accumulate on my once tidy lawn, I realized that my heart is just like my yard, and that sins are just like those leaves. No matter how many times I confess sins to the Lord, no matter how many times I commit to serving and obeying Him, it is never too long before sin comes creeping back into my heart, and I have to start all over. If you are anything like me, there are times when you want to just give up, to let the leaves win, and make no effort to tidy up the “yard of your heart.” However, this is not the way we should do it, and there are some lessons we can learn about leaves and yards that apply just as truly to sins and hearts.

1. Un-raked leaves damage yards.
Last fall, I was, to put it bluntly, lazy. I really don’t enjoy raking leaves, and as I just said, it seems pointless sometimes. I regularly cleaned the driveway off, but decided to just let the leaves lay in the yard. There was a problem though. As I blew the leaves off the driveway, a mound started to develop along the edge of the driveway. Rather than pulling out my wheelbarrow and hauling it away, I merely scattered it around the yard and left it be, causing there to be a wide but relatively shallow (less than a foot) pile of leaves in my yard. My “theory” (or excuse) that justified this was that the leaves would rot and fertilize my yard, making it stronger than ever. Unfortunately it didn’t work that way. The grass under the leaves died, leaving me with a big bare spot that took quite a while to grow back. The truth is, that sometimes we are just too lazy to deal with the sin in our lives. We get tired of fighting the same battles over and over again, and decide we will just let it be. We may even try to deceive ourselves into somehow thinking that these sins are not really wrong, that they are actually good for us, maybe even that they are God’s will for our lives. The reality though, is that just like that unattended pile of leaves destroyed my yard, unattended sin will destroy our lives. Proverbs 10:29 says, “The way of the Lord is strength to the upright: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity.” Matthew 7:13 says, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.” Sin has a horrible effect in the life of a Christian, but it has an even worse effect on his relationship with God. Psalm 66:18 tells me that “if I regard iniquity in mine heart, the Lord will not hear me.” Don’t let the leaves of sin pile up in your heart! Confession and cleansing may be a never ending process, but it is a process that is worth it! The alternative for a Christian is too horrible to even consider!

2. Un-raked leaves look ugly.
This fall I have been incredibly busy. I have juggled soccer coaching, my church ministry, events and trips that had to be taken, and the added responsibility of my son. I knew that I absolutely needed to rake the leaves this year, and I had no intention of destroying my grass, but by the time I had an opportunity to do it, my yard really looked bad. I had leaves in the flower beds, leaves on the drive way, leaves in the gutters, leaves were even starting to creep into the house every time we opened the door. When I was finally able to get outside and take on the hordes of leaves, I compared my leaf infested yard to my retired neighbors crisp manicured leaf-free lawn, and I realized just how much of an eye-sore my leaf problem was. This is the effect that un-confessed sin can have in our lives! Firstly, our sin is so ugly that God the Father can not look at it! Sin is so ugly to Him that He even turned His back on His own Son when He was carrying my sins on the cross! This in itself should make us want to clean up our hearts, but our sin can also look ugly to the people around us. If I had a dollar for every time somebody told me that Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites, I could hire somebody to take care of my leaf problem for me! Sadly though, many times they are right. Too often, Christians talk about “being saved” and “loving Jesus” and “going to church,” then turn around and behave just like the world does. Why would somebody listen to what I want to tell them about Christ if I have allowed my heart to become just as ugly as theirs? Why would they want to hear what I have to say when they can see evidence of those leaves of lust, anger, pride, greed, and dishonesty? Do our hearts make the gospel attractive to those around us?

3. Raking leaves is good exercise.
I have to tell you, I am not in the best shape of my life. I could stand to lose about 20 pounds, and long gone are the days where I could run 3 or 4 miles at a time. Now I am lucky if I can run 3 or 4 hundred yards at a time! The layout of my property is such that the back of my yard ends in a small strip of woods, and is a perfect place to dump the unwanted leaves. The problem with this setup is that my back yard rises quickly in a sharp 10 foot hill. I probably went up and down that hill 20 or 30 times with a wheel barrow load full of leaves, and I gotta be honest with you, by the end of the day, I was dying! My calves were burning, my quads were begging for a break, and my shoulder and back muscles were on the verge of getting out their signs and setting up a picket line! It was hard work, and yet I know it was good for me. I think we would all agree that trying to keep our lives free of sin is hard work, and that we are not always completely successful at it. However, we have to understand that even if we don’t achieve the goal of perfection (which I am far from) that the effort we put into it strengthens us spiritually, and equips us to better serve the Lord. Paul pretty much presents this exact thought in I Corinthians 9:24-27. “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. i therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”

How is the yard of your heart? Are there leaves accumulated in it? Have you let things go? Has your relationship with the Lord been damaged because of those unconfessed sins? Don’t let that discourage you! I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Grab a rake and a wheelbarrow, and start cleaning up the yard of your heart!

Image  —  Posted: October 31, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Wait for It….!

Posted: October 10, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Recently in my personal devotions, a verse in Isaiah really jumped off the page at me. I want to briefly share it and a few thoughts I had about it with you all. I hope that you will be as blessed and challenged as I was. Isaiah 30:18 says, “And therefore will the Lord wait, that He may be gracious unto you.”

That one simple phrase in the middle of the book of Isaiah seemed to jump right off the page at me, grab me by the shirt collar, shake me out of me pre-coffee drowsiness, and say, “What is the Lord waiting on to show grace to you, Caleb?” Now don’t get me wrong, God shows special grace to me every day. The very fact that I am breathing, and that I have enough control of my faculties to type on this computer is a demonstration of His grace. However, this verse got me to thinking. Could MORE grace be shown to me? If so, what is holding God back from showing it to me?  In studying and meditating on it more, I believe there are three things that God could be waiting for in the life of a Christian to show them more grace.

1. He is waiting for us to repent of our sin.

This one verse is plonked down right in the middle of a series of woes that are pronounced against Israel. In chapter 28, a woe is uttered against the pride of Israel. Chapter 29 sees woe pronounced against Jerusalem, the city of worship, for turning away from God.  Later in the chapter, another woe is spoken which condemns those who have tried to deceive the Lord. Chapter 30 seems to bring almost a climax to the woes, as the open rebellion of the children of Israel is condemned. Israel was in a dark and wicked time in their history, a time in which they had abandoned the Lord, had decided to trust in themselves and the strength of men rather than in Him, and had turned to the worship of their own idols. God is always gracious to His children. He gives us air to breathe, keeps our hearts beating, and above all gave us the gift of eternal life. However, I believe at times, we miss out on grace and blessings that He is just waiting to give to us, because we are unwilling to let go of the sin, pride, and selfishness in our lives. Let it go, so that God can extend that extra grace to you!

2. He is waiting for us to learn our lesson.

The woe that is pronounced in chapter 30 of Isaiah is directed at rebellion, and more specifically, at the rebellion of trusting in the strength and counsel of man, rather than the strength and counsel of God. As Assyria prepares to invade Israel, rather then turning to the Lord for protection, they asked Egypt to come protect them. What a slap in the face of God! The very people that He delivered them from hundreds of years before, are the ones that they turn to for protection. We as men understand the desire to protect those we love. Imagine how hurt you would be if your wife was in some situation where she had to go to the hospital, and the first person she called was not you…it was an ex boyfriend. How great would you feel? We know that is not acceptable, but yet it was exactly what Israel did to God. He makes it clear in chapter 30 that the Egyptians will be worthless in helping Israel, and then says something very interesting in v. 15. “For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; ‘In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength; and ye would not.” God had given Israel the key to success, the key to confidence and peace, but they refused to pay attention. There are times in my life, where I refuse to pay attention to the lessons and messages that God is trying to teach me. Sometimes, I don’t get the message because I am allowing the hustle and bustle of life to drown out His voice. Sometimes, it is because I have allowed my focus to become fixed on something other than Him. Other times, it is because I am too busy trying to fix my own problems to listen to Him tell me how to fix them. At times, we do not receive the grace that God wants to give us, because we haven’t learned the lessons He is trying to teach us.

3. He is waiting to receive the most glory.

As Christians, we must never forget that our sole purpose for being here on earth is to glorify God. Everything that goes on in our lives and everything that goes on around us is to bring glory to the name of the Lord. Too often we live as if God’s purpose is to make our lives easier, but the truth is, our only purpose, whether through ease or difficulty, is to exalt and glorify the Lord. This is made clear in the second part of v. 18: “therefore will the Lord wait, that He may be gracious unto you, and therefore will He be exalted, that He may have mercy upon you.” Sometimes, God waits to show grace to us, because He is waiting for the exact moment, that when that grace is extended to us, we bring the most glory to His name. Think of a showman of any kind – a magician, a comedian, a musician or even a circus performer. They are not going to do the best part of their act first! No magician is going to do his very best trick as soon as his show starts – they want you to wait, and build anticipation looking forward to that trick. A comedian will not tell his funniest joke right away, he too will set the stage and whet our appetite for that hilarious moment. The trapeze artist will build the suspense with lesser tricks before he does his most death defying stunts. So too with God! He waits, builds the anticipation, whets our appetite for His grace, and then, at the exact right moment, when He will receive the most glory, He extends it. This is not selfish, nor egotistical! If we think that, then we are being selfish and egotistical, because in our minds we are saying that our comfort is more important than God’s glory. We are not a priority! God, who created this universe, created us for the sole purpose of glorifying Him, and sometimes, He waits to extend that little extra grace, because in waiting, He glorifies Himself that little bit more.

What about you? Do you feel like there are times in your life that God does not extend as much grace as He could? Don’t blame Him! Clean up any sin in your life, start learning the lessons He is trying to teach you, and make glorifying Him your only priority! I bet you will be surprised at the results!

It is NFL season again, and I am loving it! My Colts are 2-1, Peyton Manning’s Broncos are dominating the league at 3-0 right now, and probably the thing that makes me the most happy is the Steelers are 0-3 and are below the Browns in their division…talk about humiliation! Here in the area that I live in, football is king. Friday nights are spent at your local high school watching your team play, than Saturday’s are spent watching your college team play, and then Sundays are spent watching the NFL. Now don’t get me wrong, I love sports! I thoroughly enjoy NFL season, and harassing those poor Steelers fans in our church. I love to watch soccer, and keep a very close eye on the English Premier League. I regularly listen to ESPN Radio, and stay up to date on what is going on in the NBA, MLB, and whatever other sport they happen to be talking about. So don’t be thinking that I am hating on sports. But what I have come to realize is that in our country, sports is and has become one of the most prominent gods of the age.

II Corinthians 4:4 says, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (NIV) When we think of a false god, we may think back to Old Testament times, when Israel was worshiping carved images of Baal or Dagon, or to the Greeks and the Romans and their temples and statues to their false deities. However, I think perhaps we need to rethink our idea of what a false god is. World English Dictionary defines god as “any person or thing to which excessive attention is given.” The harsh reality is that sports, along with other things such as wealth, family, relationship, or career, has become a god in the lives of many Americans throughout our nation, and not just the unsaved. The passage in II Corinthians says that the god of the age has blinded the minds of unbelievers. It goes on to say though in v. 5, “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.” If we as Christians are being pulled away by the exact same gods as the unbelievers are, how can we expect to preach Jesus Christ to them to open their eyes? We must recognize the gods in our lives, so as to put them away. Here are some of the ways that I believe we place sports above God in our lives.

1. Our money

The average cost of a NFL ticket varies from team to team, but is typically at or above the $200 dollar mark. Now I am not here to tell you that it is wrong for you to go to an NFL game, but I do want to challenge you with the question of whether you are willing to spend that same amount on the Lord’s work. Many times I hear people say they can’t afford to tithe, and yet they just took a trip to Disney, or to a pro sporting event, or just bought the latest I-phone. The reality is that all of us here in the USA have the money for the things we make a priority. It is not my place to tell you what I think you should or should not spend your money on, but if you have money to spend on other things, and you do not have money to give to God, than those things have become a god in your life. I am not here to tell you how much you should give to your local church, but I do believe it is a biblical principle that we decide how much we are going to give God, and then no matter how difficult it is, no matter what financial circumstances arise, no matter what we have to sacrifice, we give God what we had “purposed in our heart.” (II Cor. 9:7) Don’t allow sports to become a god financially!

2. Our conversation

Again, please don’t misunderstand me, I am not trying to say that it is wrong to talk about sports. I believe that sports can be a valuable tool to use to build a relationship with a non-believer to seek opportunities to share the gospel with him. I love to talk about sports! If I get a chance to let a Steelers fan know how much I am enjoying watching their team play right now, you had better believe I will take that opportunity! However, are we just as ready and eager to talk about the Lord and our relationship with Him as we are about our favorite (or least favorite) sports team? I Peter 3:15 says that we should “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you…” If somebody asks you for your opinion on that controversial call in the fourth quarter, I bet you have an answer. If they ask you who the best quarterback in the league is, you will explain why Peyton Manning is the obvious choice. If they ask you who is going to be in the World Series, you will have arguments for your favorite team. What if they ask you to explain why you believe in God? What if they ask you what it is that makes you different from your other co-workers? Are we ready to give an answer then?

3. Our time

This is probably the biggest area of our lives in which we struggle with making sports a god. I absolutely know it is for me. I spend probably a few hours every week, reading articles about my team, watching them play, listening to commentators talk about them, and making tweaks to my fantasy team. Is there anything wrong with watching a sporting event? Is it wrong to be involved in a fantasy football league? Is it wrong to know the stats on your favorite players? No it is not! However, what is it that you are devoting your time to? Now I am not saying that you need to take a notebook with you, and keep track of how many hours you spend on sports as compared to how many hours you spend with the Lord, although that may be a good idea for some of you. What I am saying, is which one gets the priority? Any time that I ask somebody how there devotional life is, and they say that they don’t have time for their devotions, I call them out on it. That is absolutely not true! You say you don’t have time for a few minutes in God’s Word? Did you check your facebook today? Did you read any articles on ESPN today? You say you didn’t have time for church, yet you spent three hours in front of the tv watching the game? In my opinion, our distribution of time is the biggest demonstrator of who or what our god is. I am not saying that in order for you to be able to watch a 3 hour football game you have to spend 3 hours reading God’s Word. I will say though, if you had the time to watch football for 3 hours, and you say Christ is your Lord, you had better make time during the day to study His Word and talk to Him.

Over and over again I see in our country that sports have become the god in the life of Christians. They come to church, as long as the game isn’t on at the same time. They read one verse on their “verse of the day” app on their phone, and then spend the next hour checking scores. They pour hours and hours into disciplining their bodies to be a good athlete, and are unwilling to discipline their minds and hearts to be faithful servants. (I Cor. 9:24-27)

I want to leave you with two verses. The first I am sure is very familiar to you.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heave, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
Where is your heart? Where do you spend your money, your conversation, and perhaps most importantly, your time? Do your actions demonstrate that God alone is your God? Or do your actions demonstrate that sports, or money, or a relationship are your god?
And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim, and Ashtoaroth, and the gods of Syria, and the gods of Zidon, and the gods of Moab, and the gods of the children of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines, and forsook the Lord, and served not Him. And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the children of Ammon…..And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against thee, both because we have forsaken our God, and also served Baalim.” And the Lord said unto the children of Israel, “Did not I deliver you from the Egyptians, and from the Amorites, from the children of Ammon, and from the Philistines? The Zidonians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites, did oppress you; and ye cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand? Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation. (Judges 10:6-14)

September 11. It is a date that to my generation holds as great a significance as does December 7 to my grandparents generation. It is a date that to those of us who were old enough to remember, will always be seared in our memories. I remember that I was in New Zealand on that day 12 years ago, and I remember waking up with my Mom telling me I needed to come watch the TV. It was a terrible and tragic moment, and over the next days, I was proud to be an American in a foreign country. Now, today, 12 years later, as I reflect on what went on that day I do so from the perspective of an American who was living in a different country. I want to share a few thoughts with you all from that slightly different perspective.

1. Appreciate the patriotism of this country.

I lived 15 of my first 19 years in New Zealand, and let me tell you, patriotism here in the USA, and patriotism in New Zealand are just not the same. There is not the same dignity and level of respect given to the flag and national anthem, there is not the same honor and remembrance given to the soldiers who have served our country, and died defending our freedom. There is not the same sense of pride and appreciation for those soldiers who are currently serving the country, or for those veterans who served previously. It is just not the same. In New Zealand, the only truly patriotic day is ANZAC day, in which those who have fought in the ANZAC Corps (Australia and New Zealand Armed Constabulary) are remembered. Even then, the average person does not spend much time remembering those who fought and died for their country, but rather is concerned with how crowded the beach will be, or if they can get tickets to the sports game. Here in the USA, we celebrate Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day as official holidays, not to mention Flag Day, Patriot Day, Constitution Day, and Pearl Harbor Day. During each one of those days, the attitude of the average person towards that particular event, or to our military, is so much more respectful, and of seeking to honor those who have served or died for our country. Let me tell you all, you are blessed to live in such a patriotic country. Never take it for granted!

2. Do not abandon the Christian Foundation of this nation.

Both New Zealand and the United States would be called “Christian” nations today, but that is really where the similarities end. While America was settled first by those seeking to escape religious persecution, and then was established as a nation under Biblical principles, New Zealand was settled by whalers, farmers, traders, prospectors, and some missionaries. Although there was a Christian influence at the beginning, New Zealand has never been able to claim the godly foundation that the United States can. Do not take this for granted! This lack of a biblical principles in their inception as a nation has played out in the morals that New Zealand displays today. Although there is rampant ungodliness on display in the United States today, it is not anywhere near the extent that it is in New Zealand. In New Zealand, prostitution has been legal since 2003, and the legal drinking age is 18. In 2009, a law was passed preventing parents from physically disciplining their children. Gay marriage has been legalized throughout the whole country. The normal attitude of the people in New Zealand is that they are willing to tolerate anything except you being “intolerant.” New Zealanders would still call themselves and their country “Christian” but let me tell you, that is far from the truth now. I don’t pretend that the USA is an overwhelmingly godly country, and that sin and perversion is not rampant here, but praise God that the foundation we were built on has had an influence even until today, holding back the overwhelming wickedness of the world. Be grateful for the godly beginnings of this nation, hold tightly to that heritage, and do your best to guide our nation back to that Biblical basis!

3. Do not take God’s blessing for granted.

As I mentioned earlier, I remember almost like it was yesterday the attacks that happened 12 years ago. I still remember vividly seeing those replays of the planes crashing into the twin towers, and seeing and hearing the shock and horror of those who were eyewitnesses to the tragedy. I also remember hearing those who were behind the video cameras saying over and over again, “Oh my God, oh my God.” I believe that those people at that time were crying out to God, asking for his mercy and protection. In the weeks and months immediately after the attacks church attendance was up all throughout the country as people were awakened to this country’s need of God’s blessing and mercy. But now 12 years have passed, and spiritually, that day has become a distant memory. We have forgotten how God has blessed our country throughout the years, we have forgotten how He has strengthened us to be the dominant military power in the world for decades. We take for granted the incredibly high standard of living that is the norm for each one of us. We have become distracted by our gods of sports, technology, career, relationships, wealth and even family. We have over time pushed God into the background of our lives, as the pain of that tragic day has worn off. We have embraced the philosophies of the world that teach tolerance of all beliefs and actions. We have agreed with our silence, that abortion is acceptable, that it is unloving to take a stand against sexual immorality of all types, and that marriage doesn’t really have to last for a lifetime. We have become like the children of Israel in Judges who cry out to the Lord when difficulty arises, but when the Lord brings protection and deliverance, they quickly forget and return to their old ways. We must beware, lest when the next time of difficulty comes, and we cry to the Lord for deliverance, He respond to us as He did to Israel in Judges 10:11-14. “Did I not deliver you [from your enemies]? Ye cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand. Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation.”

I just want to close by posting some lyrics from “While You were Sleeping” by Casting Crowns. These words, I think, sum up the state of our nation now, 12 years after the events of 9/11. If we expect God to continue to protect and bless us, we must wake up, and make Him the only One True God in our lives!

United States of America
Looks like another silent night
As we’re sung to sleep by philosophies
That save the trees and kill the children

And while we’re lying in the dark
There’s a shout heard across the eastern sky
For the Bridegroom has returned
And has carried His bride away in the night, in the night

America, what will we miss
While we are sleeping
Will Jesus come again
And leave us slumbering where we lay

America, will we go down in history
As a nation with no room for its King
Will we be sleeping?
Will we be sleeping?

United States of America
Looks like another silent night

 

So I know that I am not the first one to write about this subject, and I am pretty sure that I will not be the last, but I have to express a few thoughts about Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance. Let me start by saying, that if you have not seen a video of her performance, then don’t bother. It is lewd, crude, vulgar, and in my opinion disgusting, and absolutely not worth your time. The only reason that I watched it was because as a youth pastor, I try to stay somewhat up to date with current trends in the music and entertainment culture, and I felt it was something that I needed to see so that I could form a first hand opinion about it. That being said, after watching the performance, and hearing the outrage that was expressed because of it, two questions began to form and play over and over in my mind.

1. Why are we shocked?

Over and over again, I heard people express shock at this performance, seemingly surprised that Miley Cyrus would perform such a gratuitous and sexualized dance. My question is, why are we shocked? Are we shocked because we remember Miley Cyrus as that cute and innocent girl on the tv show Hannah Montanah?  Miley Cyrus is not the first child star to go from a seemingly innocent image, to a raunchy and sexualized star. Both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera quickly spring to mind as celebrities who began their careers in innocent fashion, and yet when they became older, quickly morphed into sexual icons and symbols of lust. Why are we shocked? We have proven time and again in our country that sex pays, and that a curvy figure and sensual dance moves are more important for a singer than are her voice and musical ability. Why are we shocked? Is it because this performance was live? Her actions are no worse than many music videos that are widely viewed on the television and internet. Are such gestures and motions acceptable as long as they are hidden away on the MTV channel and Youtube? Why are we shocked? Because this performance went beyond our social sensibilities? We should be shocked, but the source of our shock should be that such actions offend a righteous and holy God, and that we as a nation have stood by and not taken a stand against such filth in our entertainment culture.

2. What are we doing about it?

This question came to my mind, and is honestly specifically directed toward parents. What music are you allowing your children to listen to? Do you have any idea what is on that Ipod or Iphone of theirs? Have you taken time to listen to the music they are listening to? Forgive me for meddling, but I think you need to periodically take your kids MP3 player and see just what it is they are listening to. What is the message that the songs are conveying? Make no mistake, the artists singing these words are examples and role models to your children…what are they teaching? I looked at a list of the top 10 songs of 2012, and was disturbed by some of the lyrics and messages these sons were conveying.

The number one song of 2012 was by a band called LMFAO and is titled “Sexy and I Know It.” Frankly, I am not comfortable posting the lyrics to that songs on here, I think the band name and song title are plenty to tell us this song is not worth listening to. They also have the number 7 song of 2012 entitled “Party Rock.” Again, I am not comfortable publishing the lyrics verbatim here, but this song is clearly referencing a party at which there is drinking and sexualized dancing. The number four song of 2012, “The One that Got Away” by Katy Perry, talks about “making out in a Mustang” and “stealing your parents liquor.” Are these messages we want our kids hearing?

According to billboard.com, I looked at the lyrics of the top 10 songs on the radio right now. Right now the 7th most listened to song on the radio is called “Get Lucky” and it repeatedly says, “We’re up all night to get some, we’re up all night for good fun, we’re up all night to get lucky.” Is that the philosophy of relationships we want our kids learning? At number 6, “Applause” Lady Gaga repeatedly says, “I live for the applause.” I have no doubt that is true for her, but I don’t want my children living for the applause, I want my children living for the glory of God! Jay-Z’s song “Holy Grail” is filled with foul and blasphemous language and is the 5th most popular song on the radio right now. The song that Miley Cyrus performed on stage at the VMA Awards, “We Can’t Stop,” is currently the 3rd most popular song on the radio. Listen to some of her lyrics. “It’s our party, we can do what we want,” “Red cups and sweaty bodies everywhere, hands in the air like we don’t care, cause we came to have so much fun now, got somebody here might get some now.” Elsewhere, the song talks about dancing like you are in a strip club, lining up in the bathroom to snort cocaine, and for me, perhaps the scariest line, “Remember, only God can judge us.” There is absolute truth to that line, God will judge Miley for these songs, and will judge those who commit such activities, but will He not also judge us for allowing our children to fill their minds with these things? The last song I would like to look at has been the most popular song on the radio for 11 straight weeks, and it is the song that Miley joined for the second part of her act along with Robin Thicke, entitled, “Blurred Lines.” I will not post any of the lyrics on here because they are too foul, but let me tell you there is no doubt that these lyrics are clearly and explicitly talking about sexual activity. This is the most popular song on the radio right now, and I can assure you that if you are not monitoring your child’s listening habits there is a good chance that they have heard this song, and that they are listening to it on a regular basis. What are we going to do about it?

You may have been shocked by what Miley Cyrus did at the music awards. I hope your shock came because you were horrified at how far from God’s standards we have allowed our standards to come. But now I ask you, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to what your child is listening to? Are you going to be the “cool parent” who doesn’t interfere in their teenager’s life, and lets them make all their own decisions and mistakes? If you do, let me be frank, you are making a mistake. Do you really want your child to aspire to look like, act like and even dance like Miley Cyrus? Or Britney Spears? Or Jay-Z? Do you want the messages and worldviews that these celebrities present in their songs to be the messages that fill the head of your child? Do you want them to be told over and over again that drinking, one night stands, drugs, and sexual dancing is acceptable? These celebrities will have an influence on your children if you let them. The question for you is whether or not you will show discernment, and prevent these negative influences in your child’s life.