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The Gospel

Sixteen Things Christians Can’t Do

Sixteen Things Christians Can’t Do

I used to (wrongly) think Christianity was all about what a Christian can’t do. And I don’t think I’m alone in that belief. I recently learned that this post has been my most popular post for the past five years. Every day it has new clicks, so I’ve beefed it up with new content. I’m reposting it here in the hopes that it will help many know Christianity is not defined by what we can’t do, but by what Christ did on behalf of sinners like us!  More

Your Gospel Toolkit to Help Teens

Your Gospel Toolkit to Help Teens

Do you feel inadequate to help teens in your life? Maybe you think you need a crash course in emojis as well as an active Snapchat presence before you can influence them for good.

You Aren’t Adequate to Help Teens

Maybe you’ve never gotten too close to teens because you’ve been afraid you wouldn’t know how to answer their questions or deal with their needs. Or maybe you’ve barraged them with Bible verses, but woken the next morning wondering, Did I really help them? Were my comments even relevant, or did I just heave a heavy burden on their back?

In one sense it’s not a bad place to be, realizing you have nothing to offer unless God works in their lives. Jesus knew what He was talking about when He said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” You and I will always be insufficient this side of heaven.

But today, I hope to point you in the direction you need to head in order to be able to help teens with anything and everything. I’m not saying there’s no room for a varied education—I love to learn!—but if I could advise you, I’d tell you to learn one subject inside and out. I’d encourage you to learn to apply it from every angle to any person’s life situation.

The Gospel Is Adequate to Help Teens

Are you ready? It’s the gospel that your teen needs—yes, for salvation (Rom. 1:16), but also for life. He or she needs you to help them see how Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection has everything to do with their Friday nights and Monday mornings . . . and everything in-between.

How do I know this? Because Scripture says so. Check out Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:1–2:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

Did you catch that? These people received the gospel by faith (in the past), they’re standing firmly in it (in the present), and they’re being saved by it (in the present and in the future).

What is this gospel which is saving them? Paul continues:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (vv. 3–4).

Why It’s So Tough to Apply the Gospel

“But Paula,” you protest, “if everything my teen needs (and everything I need) is found in the gospel, then why is it so tough to make that connection and to apply it to everyday situations?”

I think it’s because we don’t fully grasp the gospel’s significance and outcomes for our own lives. Also, it’s easier to deal on the moral, what-I-can-see-with-my-eyes level. Connecting the dots to how teens need the gospel means we must want more than just outward conformity.

I wonder . . . do we? Do we really want their hearts to be captured by God, or are we just after outward conformity to rules that make us feel comfortable when they’re abided by?

If you want the former (and oh, how I hope you do!), you have to get to the heart behind why they’re doing what they’re doing. The bad news is this will take longer. It’s not as easy as just saying, “Stop it!” or “Fix it!” You have to dig deeper to root motives.

But the good news is when you apply the gospel to heart issues, it has the potential to bring about real, lasting change from the inside out. So how can you begin?

4 Practical Ways to Get Started

Here are four tips for you as you seek to apply the gospel to teens’ lives (or anyone, for that matter).

  • Meditate on gospel truths. Familiarize and re-familiarize yourself with the gospel. Think about it. Pray prayers based on it, read books about it, and memorize verses about it. Talk about it with Christians and non-Christians. Pray that God would restore your wonder in what He has done for you through Christ. Breathe it, live it, talk it, and sleep on it. Don’t get over it.
  • Interact with teens. Approach them in church and show interest in their lives. Go see the play they’re acting in. Invite them to go shopping with you. Or come over to color with you (yes, coloring is fun for big people, too!). Love the teens around you; don’t just try to change them. Get to know them, listen well to them, and enjoy them. (Click here for ten practical ways to push past social anxiety.)
  • Pray. Rather than focusing on the fact that you don’t feel relevant, pray for the teens around you. Ask that:
    • God would help you see them as He sees them.
    • He would fill you with love for them.
    • They will “get” gospel truths and implications.
    • He will do what only He can do and give them full, abundant life in Christ.
  • Apply the gospel to their life situation. If your teen still has a glazed-over look, it’s possible you didn’t explain it clearly, or it’s possible their heart is hardened and their eyes are blinded to the good news. But know that the fault never lies with the gospel itself. It is, and continues to be, as Romans 1:16 says, “the power of God for salvation.”

Let’s Practice!

Click over to TrueWoman.com, and practice applying the gospel to a specific teen’s struggle.

 

The Gospel Is Never Old News

The Gospel Is Never Old News

“Titanic Sinks Four Hours After Hitting Iceberg” . . . “ON THE MOON! And It’s ‘One Giant Leap for Mankind’” . . . “Diana Dead.” All these headlines were breaking news at one time, but now they’re . . . old news.

For many Christians, the gospel isn’t much different. I don’t know about you, but for most of my life, I thought of the gospel as good news for unbelievers but old news for believers.

Boy, was I wrong.

The Gospel Is Still for You, Believer

News flash: The gospel isn’t mainly for your unbeliving neighbors!

But don’t just take my word for it. In Romans 16:25, Paul writes to believers, “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.”

Did you catch that? It’s the gospel that strengthens us as believers. The simple, familiar story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection on our behalf.

Here’s another verse, written about believers, that clues us in that the gospel isn’t mainly for our lost neighbors: “The gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth” (Col. 1:5–6).

Is the gospel bearing fruit and increasing in you and me? (Hint: If we’re not regularly rehearsing gospel truths, it probably isn’t.)

I like how Tim Keller puts it: “The gospel is not just the ABCs but the A-to-Z of the Christian life.”

Today I’m writing over on TrueWoman.com. Catch the rest of this post there.

Then, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you tended to think of the gospel as good but old news . . . or as good news for today and tomorrow and the day after?

3 Ways a Star Wars Villain Points to a Greater Story

3 Ways a Star Wars Villain Points to a Greater Story

My husband and I counted down the days. On Friday, December 15, Lucasfilm released the eighth Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi. We were there. Early. My hubby is the kind of fan who already knew the first two words of the upcoming film (“We’re not . . .”).

So naturally, after we married a couple of years ago, Trevor and I had a Star Wars marathon. He introduced me to all I’d missed out on in my deprived life up until that point. Now, I have to say, I’m a fan. In fact, I agreed to let Trevor design Iren’s baby announcement around Star Wars.

Consequently, today I’m sharing three ways Star Wars villain Kylo Ren points to a greater story. Check it out, and be encouraged. If you’re in Christ—no matter how dark your world may look—the dark side will not win.

3 Ways a Star Wars Villain Points to a Greater Story

If you saw the last Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, you’ll remember Han Solo talking about how a young boy who was once a Jedi apprentice turned to the dark side and destroyed Luke Skywalker’s fledgling Jedi academy.

When I saw who that boy became, I was reminded of a few ways the new Star Wars villain, Kylo Ren, parallels our actual enemy, Satan. (Spoiler alert for those who haven’t yet seen The Force Awakens!)

  1. Just as Kylo Ren was once a Jedi apprentice, Satan was once a good angel of light.

We know this because all God created was good, not evil. Genesis 1:31 shows God standing back, assessing His creation:

God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good (emphasis added).

  1. Both Kylo Ren and Satan rebelled against their former masters.

Just as Kylo destroyed Luke’s academy, at some point before Genesis 3:1, Satan rebels against God. Jude 1:6 fills us in on his journey to the “dark side”:

The angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.

  1. Both Kylo and Satan were wounded but given more time to work their evil.

After Kylo was defeated and scarred by Rey, Kylo retreated to his dark master, Snoke. We’ll see his fight continue against “the light” in some shape in The Last Jedi.

Similarly, God cast Satan out of heaven, but he was allowed to continue his work on earth for a time:

The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven saying “Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Revelation 12:9-12).

Satan was then crushed at the cross, as it had been foretold in Genesis 3:15:

“He [the offspring of the woman, Jesus] shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Hebrews 2:14 tells us:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself [Jesus] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil (emphasis added).

Yet the devil still limps around, like the scarred Kylo.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

Why didn’t God put a complete end to Satan long ago? Pastor John Piper explains it well in this excellent sermon:

Jesus Christ will be more highly honored in the end because he defeats Satan through longsuffering, patience, humility, servanthood, suffering, and death, rather than through raw power. And the more highly honored the Son is, the greater the joy of those who love him.

Ways This Star Wars Villain Does Not Point to the Greater Story

This is where the similarities between Kylo and Satan end. Because while Kylo and the other evil members of the First Order continue their terror in that galaxy far, far away, no one will ultimately continue Satan’s work.

Jesus Christ has risen to ensure that the darkness will not overcome the light. He is the stronger one! Soon Satan, sin, and death will be utterly and completely done away with. Revelation 20:10 gives us a glimpse into the future:

And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

This is incredible reason to rejoice! As epic as the Star Wars movies are, they are just that . . . movies. But Satan’s final demise (and sin and death’s) is as sure as a Star Wars nerd cooking up a terrible Rey parentage or Snoke origin theory.

What does this mean for you? The end to all:

Praise God. No matter how dark your world may look, the dark side will not win.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you (Romans 16:20).

3 Ways a Star Wars Villain Points to a Greater Story was originally published on Patheos.com.

Dear New and Overwhelmed Christian

Dear New and Overwhelmed Christian

It was so good to get your email and hear that you’ve been a Christian for almost a year now:

I’ve loved it, but it is also pretty overwhelming as I am just developing as a Christian and so many things are being thrown my way. Things such as Anglican tradition, special holidays, different perspectives of the Word and Christ, ways to act as a Christian woman, you name it.

I am not sure how long you’ve been a Christian, but I am pretty sure it’s been longer than I have been. Do you have any tips or advice you could pass on, which will help me in my journey with God as a new Christian? Advice regarding getting through the Word of God, praying always, listening to God, applying God to every aspect of my life, etc.?

First, praise God for giving you the gift of faith in Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice for your sins. I’m so excited I have a new “sister” in the family of God.

I’m sorry that the excitement of your new life in Christ has been crowded out by others throwing lots of stuff your way.

Don’t ever get over Christ and what He has done for you.

My main advice is this: Don’t ever get over Christ and what He has done for you. Remember that you contributed nothing to your salvation. You were dead spiritually.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him [Christ], having forgiven us all our trespasses (Col. 2:13).

Dead people can do nothing! God gave you the gift of faith in His Son. Without this gift, you would not have been able to see how beautiful His offer of salvation is:

By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8).

Guard yourself from believing that God will be more pleased with you if you read Scripture, pray, go to church, etc. Some Christians refer to these activities as “means of grace.” That’s because they’re not acts we do for God; they’re ways God graciously makes us more like Jesus.

So pursue these means of grace as gifts, not as duties. Here are a couple means of grace I’d start with:

1. Get involved in a solid church.

You need community; Christianity is not a solo sport. Here are three websites that can help you find solid churches in your area:

2. Study the Word of God daily.

All Scripture points to Christ, so this is where you go to look for and at Him. Ask an older, godly woman who has walked with God awhile to teach you how to read and study God’s Word. Here are a few posts I’ve written on the subject that will help:

Then take a deep breath. It’s okay that there’s so much you don’t know right now. I’ve been raised on the Bible since I was a little girl, and there’s still so much I don’t know! Above all, set out to know Christ.

As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving (Col. 2:6–7).

One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Robert Murray M’Cheyne: “For every look at self take ten looks at Christ.”

It’s fine to explore some of these other things, but above all, keep the main thing the main thing. Or rather, the main Person the main Person: Christ Jesus, our Savior and Lord. As you do, I can say with Paul:

I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).

Dear New and Overwhelmed Christian was originally published on LiesYoungWomenBelieve.com. 

3 Ways Darth Vader Points to a Greater Story

3 Ways Darth Vader Points to a Greater Story

In order to prepare for December’s epic release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, my husband and I had a Star Wars marathon. (Yes, I was one of the few remaining humans on this planet who had never watched Star Wars, but that has now been remedied!)

Do you remember the battle scene between Anakin Skywalker (before he officially became Darth Vader) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Darth’s old master)? Anakin is defeated, and then this video shows how he became Darth Vader just after.

As I watched these clips, I realized I was already familiar with a similar plot line—not from a fictional story, but from God’s infallible Word. Vader’s story parallels Satan’s story in at least three ways:

  1. Just as Vader was once a good Jedi Knight, Satan was once a good angel of light.

    We know this because all God created was good, not evil. Genesis 1:31 shows God standing back, taking His creation in:

    God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good (emphasis added).

  2. Both Vader and Satan rebelled against their former masters.

    Just as Vader desired more power, so did Satan. At some point before Genesis 3:1, Satan rebels against God. Jude 1:6 fills us in on his journey to the “dark side”:

    The angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.

  3. Both Vader and Satan were wounded but given more time to work their evil.

    Vader was severely burned in the lava pits, but Palpatine fitted the disfigured Vader with prosthetic legs and an arm as well as a life-supporting suit of armor, and his fight against “the light” continued.

    God cast Satan out of heaven, but he was allowed to continue his work on earth for a time:

    The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, . . . “Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Rev. 12:9–12).

    Satan was then crushed at the cross, as it had been foretold in Genesis 3:15:

    “He [the offspring of the woman, Jesus] shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

    Hebrews 2:14 tells us:

    Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself [Jesus] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil (emphasis added).

    Yet the devil still limps around, like the propped-up Darth Vader.

    Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

    Why didn’t God put a complete end to Satan long ago? Pastor John Piper explains it like this in this excellent sermon:

    Jesus Christ will be more highly honored in the end because he defeats Satan through longsuffering, patience, humility, servanthood, suffering, and death, rather than through raw power. And the more highly honored the Son is, the greater the joy of those who love him.

A Very Different Ending

This is where the similarities between Darth Vader and Satan end. Because while someone else rose to take Vader’s place and continue his dark work, no one will continue Satan’s work.

Jesus Christ has risen to ensure that the darkness will not overcome the light. He is the stronger one!

Jesus Christ has risen to ensure that the darkness will not overcome the light. He is the stronger one! Soon, Satan, sin, and death will be utterly and completely done away with. Revelation 20:10 gives us a glimpse into the future:

And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

This, my friend, is incredible reason to rejoice!

As phenomenal as the Star Wars movies are, they are just that . . . movies. But Satan’s final demise (and sin and death’s!) is as sure as an Imperial Admiral getting force-choked by Darth Vader.

Do you know what that means for you?

  • The end to all your fear.
  • The end to all your tears (Rev. 21:3–4).
  • The end to all your sin and guilt and shame.
  • The end to all your pain (Rev. 21:3–4).
  • The end of death (1 Cor. 15:26).

Hallelujah! No matter how dark your world may look, you can know this: The dark side will not win.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you (Rom. 16:20).

“3 Ways Darth Vader Points to a Greater Story was originally posted on LiesYoungWomenBelieve.com.” 

Christ or Crush? (Gives Great Gifts)

Christ or Crush? (Gives Great Gifts)

One Valentine’s Day when I was a teen, my boyfriend gave me a little teddy bear and a paperweight that said “Sweetheart” on it. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven!

Maybe you wish your crush would give you a teddy bear, but you’re happy that he gave you a piece of gum once, or that he let you drink some of his pop. You’re thrilled that your crush gave you anything at all!

Well, have you ever stopped to think about what Christ has given you?

I’d love to hear from you. What has your crush given you? What has Christ given you? And what are you looking to your crush to give you that Jesus Christ can’t give to you?

Christ or Crush? (Gives Great Gifts) was originally posted on LiesYoungWomenBelieve.com. 

Two Letters to My Landlord

Two Letters to My Landlord

I moved into a little apartment this past year, and ever since I’ve been praying that my landlord would come to know Jesus.

Are you sharing Jesus Christ with others, or are you settling for something less?

I’ve committed to leaving the place better than when I came and to being a thoughtful tenant. After all, everything I do reflects on Christ, as my landlord knows I’m a Christian.

Still, living well is not ultimately enough to share Christ with someone. People have to hear the gospel before they can understand it (Rom. 10:13–14).

My First Letter

So, one month when I sat down to write my landlord a note to accompany my rent check, I tried slipping God into my talk of cable cords, nail holes, and trashcans. (By way of background, my landlord had slipped a short note in my mailbox apologizing for not getting some work done for me, as her dad was sick.)

My note went like this:

No worries at all. Your care for your dad is infinitely more important than cable cords and nail holes!

In fact, it’s an example to me of how I desire to live in the future. And it’s beautiful to God, who commands us to honor our parents and promises to bless us when we do (Exodus 20:12).

Praying for you both. Let me know if I can do anything to help on my end (sorry, you beat me to the trash last night!).

Loving my apartment!

Gratefully,

Paula

Thankfully, my mom always taught me to sit on a message before sending it. As I thought about the note I’d written, I started to question . . .

  • Is anything that’s done apart from faith in Christ really beautiful to God? (Heb. 11:6).
  • Would this note give my landlord false confidence that she had an “in” with God apart from Christ?
  • Would this note ultimately be helpful to her if it didn’t point her to Christ?

Take Two

So I took another stab at it:

Thanks so much for patching those holes and removing the cable cords for me. And no worries about not getting to it until now. Your care for your dad is infinitely more important than cable cords and nail holes!

In fact, it’s an example to me of how I desire to live in the future, and it reminds me of Jesus. John 19 records that He made sure His friend would take care of His mom after He left earth—and He saw to this while hanging on a cross as the substitute for the sins of all who would put their trust in Him. How amazing to be thinking of others while in such agony!

All that to say, I’m grateful for you, and I’m loving my apartment.

I still need to get you the checklist—hopefully by early next week. Sorry for the delay (and for not beating you to the trash this week!)

Gratefully,

Paula

Why do I share this with you? Not because it was the perfect note. I realize it was . . . zealous. Possibly too much so. But:

  • Did it point her to the beauty of Christ?
  • And is time short?
  • And could I love her in any better way than sharing Christ with her?

I’ve been camping out in Colossians lately, which is quite possibly the most Christ-centered letter in the Bible. Paul wrote this letter not to his unbelieving landlord, but to the believing church at Colosse. He wrote it to urge them not to add to Christ. Christ is enough; Christ is everything:

“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).

Let’s make sure we’re not inadvertently doing the same thing by failing to point others to Christ. Let’s not forget the main point. Rather, the main Person. All of Scripture points to Jesus! (Luke 24:27).

Are you sharing Jesus Christ with others, or are you settling for something less?

Two Letters to My Landlord was originally posted on TrueWoman.com.