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Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Truth About Birthdays

On the 29th of May, I will turn 29.  It will be my golden birthday. 
*This post will sound very narcissistic and self-centered, but 1) it's my birthday, leave it be and 2) I promise that the insights are worth trudging through my self-indulgences.

Every year as my birthday draws near, I realize that I get a sort of anxiety that seems to loom over me.  At first, I thought they could just be insecurities that are unmet - which, at the core of it, is true, but an incomplete diagnosis.  Then I wondered if they could be byproducts of past hurts or just a normal reality that other people face.  I don't think that everyone necessarily experiences this anxiety in the same way that I do or about the same things, but I do think that at the core, we all share the same reality.

I've noticed that I try to downplay any effort to celebrate my birthday, but deep down inside, I want people to "up play" it.  When I was young, it was all about how many people I could get to my party.  I have pictures somewhere that show me in our backyard with 40-50 kids, none of whom I know at the present time.  There was a clown, a mountain of presents, and of course a slip and slide.  Then when I hit junior high, this one birthday made me the coolest kid in a new school I was attending for two weeks.  Kids somehow got wind of this legendary birthday party that was going to happen and started to introduce themselves to me - I felt so powerful.  We would go to eat at some awesome restaurant (probably TGIFridays or somewhere like that), then go to Navy Pier to play laser tag and games, and then have a basketball tournament on my driveway.  The capacity was 12 kids (including me) so I could only invite 11.  When people found out what we were doing, everyone wanted in, so kids I never knew existed or kids that never even acknowledged me, one of maybe 7 Asian kids in the predominately Jewish school, would come up to me and befriend me like never before.  I wouldn't be surprised if they went on to be lobbyists in Washington D.C.  Exclusivity was the key to fame. 

Fast forward to my 25th birthday.  After junior high, I began to move like it was my job.  I moved from Chicago to Korea to Hawaii to Los Angeles to Guatemala back to Los Angeles then to missions in Kona, Hawaii and China back to Los Angeles to Wheaton (where I went to college) to Barcelona (where I studied abroad) back to Wheaton then back to Los Angeles.  By this time, I was spending birthdays with new people every year.  Not a single person, except my sister was present at any given birthday party that I had with friends.  I've had some special ones while I was travelling, on missions, and even back home, but the most memorable was my 25th birthday. 

For my 25th birthday, over the course of 5 celebrations, which included intimate dinners with friends in Beverly Hills and Anaheim, large gatherings at bars in downtown Fullerton, meals with friends at our local spot, and a large dinner at Yardhouse in Brea, I realize now that it was so special because people showed up to celebrate my life with other people.  I can't say I remember everyone who was there at the time, maybe just 10-15 or so of the maybe 100 people over 5 events who I am still in regular contact with today.  I would like to say that I mattered to every single person that came that that would rearrange their schedules to make celebrating my birthday their top priority, but most of the people who showed up, simply showed up because we had hung out in social settings and they probably had nothing better to do.  But there were a few people who really made it special.  Showing up is important, yes, but its what these few people did that really made it memorable.

I have learned to become someone who feels most loved when I feel prioritized above other things - especially when people change their schedules last minute for me - and when they express where I stand with them.  I think a lot of this was caused by the fact that I was always moving around and never really knew where I stood with people, thus I just had to stand wherever it was I was standing and see if anyone would simply stand with me.  I had been betrayed a couple times by people who were standing with me, then decided to stand next to someone else because they were a longer and more important friend (which I understand), but the understanding doesn't always alleviate the pain of being tossed aside or neglected.  And being the new guy, you were always the first to go - especially if your friends were in high demand.  Because I moved around so much, I grew a need to know what to expect so that I wouldn't be disappointed when I found out that I meant less to them then they did to me.  As long as I knew, and as long as people were sincere with me, I could decide whether I wanted to be in their lives and whether it was worth having them in mine.  I've been fortunate to keep many amazing friends along the way, but that was not without the great cost of being discarded by others as well.

The reason my 25th birthday was so special was because my sister, along with a small handful of friends took the time to see what made me excited and created a celebration that would make my favorite things the mode by which they showed their attention to me.  I believe that care is demonstrated by attention to details, especially details that are unspoken because the person doesn't yet know how to articulate them quite yet.  They knew I loved fine dining and fine wines - I was a snobby kid.  They certainly knew that I appreciated home cooked meals - acts of service are my love language too.  They also knew that I loved it when people made a big deal out of me - because when I moved, I had to be the one to gather people to celebrate instead of having others plan for me.  Furthermore, they knew that I liked it when people I knew got together and got along - something about bringing the past to the present and the sporadic to the consistent together was enjoyable to me.  Of course, I couldn't articulate this at the time (except that I liked fine dining and wines and thoughtful home cooked meals), but they picked up on it.  It probably helped that most of my friends had always been older than I.  Thus, the nice dinner in the Hills, the home cooked meal, and the mega-celebrations at Yard House and Downtown Fullerton were so special to me.  It wasn't simply because I had 5 celebrations - although quantity does make up for lack of quality at times -but because each of the celebrations were perfectly catered to maximize my scale of feeling loved.  People I knew for 2 years, paid attention to me, and made it their focus to make me feel special. 

This anxiety that people feel, that I feel, can only come from these looming questions that we all have, "Do I matter to someone else?  And how much do I matter?" 

I think with some people, they simply adapt to their current realities in a way to minimize disappoint.  This is a great thing as long as they aren't detaching themselves from the fact that we actually do need others in order to make it through this life in a meaningful way - not by using people opportunistically, but to be nourished by deep and genuine relationships that shape you and yes, can hurt you because they leave you exposed. After all, who wants to be forgotten as soon as they are of no use to someone else? These people who try not to need people take whatever they experience and build up theories about the world, how they cannot trust people and how they cannot let others in and how they cannot expect anything good to happen unless if they take it into their own hands, and they are all compelling experiences.  One person betrays you, another person manipulates and uses you, another person attacks you, and the last person kicks you while you are down.  Yes, its true, people make you want to give up hope, build up walls, and not jump into anything.  They don't want to let go of the anchor of self-preservation, even if it means that they are drowning at the ocean floor.  They don't realize that there is a 1000 foot chain that would give them plenty of freedom to rise to the ocean's surface without losing themselves in the process.

Other people elevate mattering to others too much.  How others view them, what people think about them, how they come off, and whether people care about them become everything to them.  They are unanchored.  They jump from one person to another looking for safety and validation.  They feel slighted quickly and don't have the patience to look beyond an isolated incident and focus on the trajectory of the relationship.  They look at one performance without paying attention to the patterns.  They become devastated when people ignore them, often times feeling rejected completely about minor things.  They don't push through difficulties if they see that someone else is quick to take their side.  They are unanchored, without a strong identity, adapting like chameleons without a spine.  They cannot leave destructive relationships because the stability of being in a bad relationship is better than not being any one's significant other.

Some people need to learn how to keep people out.  Other's need to learn how to let people in.  Everyone needs to learn wisdom in all things.

As for me, I am both of these people.  On the one hand, I am anchored and clinging to my anchor because I don't want to be hurt.  After all, I've experienced it many times without really knowing that it isn't normal to accept feeling betrayed as a constant in life.  On the other hand, there is a people pleasing spirit within me.  I want people to like me and care about me, so at times, I give up who I am for it.  Every relationship requires give and take, don't get me wrong, but Giraffes shouldn't try to be Ostriches.  They should try to be the best giraffe they were intended to be.

So what then?

Inside all of us, there is an anchored person and an unanchored person.  But beyond that, there is a person who wants to be cared for.  I've realized that my anxieties about my birthday derive from a deep insecurity about whether or not I matter.  This is why birthdays can be the most nourishing or devastating day of the year for people.  For those who minimize expectations, they do so because they are tired of being looked over, they convince themselves that they matter by looking at other things they have been validated in, and move on with their lives.  For those who want to matter too much, they scramble and scramble until they know that enough of the people they want to show up will be there.  Then when people are there, they are counting to see if everyone who is supposed to be there actually showed up.  One person becomes numb, the other person becomes too sensitive.  Now, do birthdays really make that much of a difference?  Probably not, but I think that we all experience these things to various degrees.  Some of us talk ourselves out of it, which others of us freak out because of it.  Whatever the case is, we must not ignore the deeper meaning behind the cry of our hearts.

For me, my birthday is a revelation that at the core of who I am, I want to know I matter to someone.  The reason birthdays are so great in my opinion, are that people can demonstrate that care for you.  By paying attention, carefully planning, meticulous consideration, and a pleasant understanding that your efforts to celebrate the life of someone will edify and enrich them is truly profound.  We all get insecure, wondering if we are good enough, if we are worthy, or if we actually do matter to others.  We all have our own lives, our own priorities, and our own responsibilities as well.  When we take the time to make someone else's life our priority, I think its the truest form of magic.  It brings a sense of wonder and awe, far greater than David Blaine or any other magician can perform on stage, because it reaches the center of someone's heart. 

Here's the truth.  We do matter.  And we matter to the most important person in the universe.  So much so that Jesus wanted to celebrate our existance.  He did so even though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  (Philippians 2:1-11).  You see, the way Christ celebrated our existance was by dying to himself so that we could enter into the ultimate celebration in eternity!  He made us a priority, completely disregarding his own self, and then demonstrated that we mattered by footing the bill himself!

For me, I think birthdays might just be reminders of how we should celebrate the lives of others everyday - at least those that are closest to us.  When its someone's birthday, you won't let them fall off the deep end (unless if you are at a pool party and throwing them in), you don't care about how much they make, what you get out of the relationship, but you simply just value them for living.  You put aside any conflicts, any past wrongs, any present issues, and focus on them, because your aim is to be there to let them know that they matter to you beyond all the junk that goes on in life.  You consider the ways they feel loved and you show up, standing with them, and assure them that you will not betray them or go stand with someone else.  And I think, just maybe, if we learned to live like this, we can be, see, and show glimpses of what Jesus describes as the Kingdom of Heaven will be like here on earth to the rest of the world.  After all, heaven will be the greatest celebration known to eternity.

*To all of you who made my birthday special, thank you.  Especially those of you who took the time to help plan it, drove from long distances, shared words of encouragement, and went out of your way to make my joy a priority in your life.  I doubt any of you will have actually read this, but just in case you did, know that I cherish you from the bottom of my heart for simply liking me and being my friend.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Psalm 44: When you know in your head, but not in your heart

I find it extremely therapeutic when I encounter a Psalm that seems to connect with the current state of my life and heart. For the past several days, a chasm between me and God seemed to be forming without any particular reason. I have been wrestling through this from a theological perspective, a psychological perspective, and a life experience perspective with no real avail. It felt like I was trying to crack a safe trying to figure out why even though I kept turning to God, my heart found itself feeling distant from the God who just a week ago, abounded in intimacy. Then I stumbled across Psalm 44.

Psalm 44 is the Psalm that someone can turn to when you seem to be in the eye of the storm. You have come to understand and accept that God is good in your head and remember His faithfulness on the Cross, but for some reason, still feel like there is a disconnect between your head and your heart. Essentially, this Psalm is for those who feel like their circumstances, immediate needs, and most pressing issues in their lives seem bigger than God to them. You have come to accept that nothing could really be bigger than God, but for some reason, there is something that seems bigger than Him in your life.

The Psalm opens up with a reflection and an acknowledgement of God's workings throughout the history of their people. How it was God who drove out the nations from Canaan, planted the people there, and then saved them from their enemies. The Psalm then goes into a recognition of how it was God's favor, not their abilities that had been the source of their blessings and their well-being. (v. 1-7)

Then in verse 8, the people say that they have boasted in God and that they will give thanks to Him forever signifying that God has gone above and beyond in proving His faithfulness and provision and involvement in their lives.

The Psalm then takes a rapid turn into the present where the people feel rejected, abandoned, and disgraced for they are being defeated by their foes and being put to shame by them. Using statements like "those who hate us have gotten spoil," "you have made us like sheep for slaughter," "you have made us the taunt of our neighbors," and "you have sold your people for a trifle," it would seem that everything in their lives are going wrong. (v. 9-16)

Then as quickly as the Psalm entered into a dark place based on the reality they were experiencing, it makes a surprising turn when the people say, "All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way; yet you have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death. If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart. Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." (v.17-22) One would expect when reading this Psalm that they would say that they have been wrong and repent of their disobedience, but instead, they speak of their faithfulness, knowing that God has a much more clear perspective of the conditions of their heart and the realities of their obedience.

The Psalm concludes:
"Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground. Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!" (v. 23-26)

Many times in life, we find ourselves distant from God because we have distanced ourselves from God through sin. Other times in life, we find ourselves distant from God because we simply haven't spent much time in fellowship with Him and only turned to Him when time was available because of our busyness. Then there are times in life, we find ourselves distant from God because we have made small compromises that have led us to a place that when we looked up, created a gorge the size of the Grand Canyon simply because we opened up a small portion of the dam that prevented the water from overpowering its way in. However, there aren't many times when sin, small compromises, or the busyness of life aren't the source of the distance we experience. There are times, when God just seems to be absent in the midst of our faithfulness to Him.

The Psalm clearly points out that the people have not forgotten God's provision and His activity in the history of their people. It also demonstrates that they have been true to the covenant and that they realize that God is a sovereign God - all seeing, all knowing, and all powerful - and that nothing could evade Him. Yet, even in the midst of their boasting in God and gratitude (v.8), God seems to be an absentee landlord who is letting those who dwell in His house get overtaken by thieves, robbers, and murderers.

Experiencing God comes in three forms: emotional, mental, and volitional. If God is at work in your life, there is a contemplation that begins to happen about the attributes of God and our lives in light of those attributes, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how it is the answer for eternal life, and how we ought to live based on the truth we know. You also experience God through a peace and joy that cannot be sustained on our own or be offered by anything in this world. There is also a surrendering of the will, to obey God through whatever circumstances you face because you trust in the Gospel, the goodness of His character as demonstrated through the Gospel, and His great sovereignty over all creation and all time. However, what do you do when God seems distant despite your obedience? What do you do when you know that all you want is more of God and He seems to be giving less of Himself? What do you do when you organize your life in a way that seems to align with His commandments and you keep getting slaughtered? What do you do when it seems like God has abandoned you?

The answer is in the Psalm.

1. Remember (v. 1-7)
The people remember God's faithfulness and they remember beyond their own lives. We have a tendency to become so egotistical that we think that if God's faithfulness is not demonstrated in our lives in the most clear ways, then He must not be faithful. We forget the Cross and the experience we had when the Gospel message worked in our lives. We forget the small and large ways He has sustained us throughout our own lives, giving us the grace we needed to get through some tough circumstances, and readily pouring out His love when we turned to Him. We forget the ways that unlikely events took place to allow us to get to certain places throughout our lives. We forget the times that there was no way we could have gotten out of a hairy situation or a difficult dilemma, but somehow, the check came in, the person walked through the door, the phone call came, we were given an extension, or we were found by someone who did not do us any harm. We are creatures who forget far too often, and for this reason, must practice the discipline of remembering.

When we remember, we are able to step back and see the current circumstances from a 10,000 foot view. It helps put things into perspective, to remind us that we are not the center of the universe, but that we are in just a moment throughout history. Remembering removes the weight of the current situation and gives us the ability to respond more clearly and not place more significance and meaning onto something than it really deserves. Remembering gives us the ability to connect the dots and rest in the truth that history proves God's faithfulness.

2. Boast in God and give thanks (v. 8)
To boast in God means to credit God for all good things. It also means to place Him as the object of our pride. Pride caused the fall, and it is the goal of pride to place ourselves at the place in our own hearts that God deserves to be. When we place God as the object of our pride, we no longer live for our own glory, but for His. This means that we let go of the things we want most in life that aren't God and thank God regardless of what circumstances befall us. This means that you have reasons to still worship when your someone you love gets cancer, or you still rejoice in the Cross when you hear of a dear friend getting killed by a drunk driver, or you still find God praiseworthy when you lose everything, or you still glorify Him when people are out to kill you. This is a tough calling to consider, but I would urge you to consider Stephen before he was stoned to death by those he went to share the Gospel with in Acts 7:

"Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep." (Acts 7:54-60 ESV)

If you consider Stephen, you will notice that as he was being stoned to death, he asked God to not let this act of murdering him be held against them. He was asking God to show them mercy, to forget the way he was killed, and to give them a chance as stones were pummeling his face. What could cause such forgiveness to overpower someone as they were being murdered for sharing the Gospel? The answer is in the beginning of the passage when Stephen said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." Stephen's murder is the ONLY recorded time in the Bible where Jesus is standing, not sitting, at the right hand of God. This picture is beautiful because you can see Jesus full of empathy as He experienced an unjust murder Himself as well as an anticipation to be able to say to Stephen, "Well done, good and faithful servant. The first moment of eternity with Me will quickly vanish all the pain, sorrow, and misery of the life past and the rest of eternity will be full of a joy and love that you could never have fathomed. Welcome."

When we boast in God, we boast in the work of the cross to find it perfect and complete, healing and restoring, allowing us to have patience with all the problems we face in life, knowing that there is a greater day to come in either this life or the next.

This boasting allows us to be filled with gratitude because we quickly recognize that it is not our efforts or even how meticulous we are with our faithfulness that gets us in right standing with God, but it is His love demonstrated through the cross and resurrection that give us the ability and strength to walk faithfully. We are thankful because we recognize that we aren't doing any of the good in our lives, and that God is blessing us with His favor.

3. Pray (v. 9-25)
Throughout the Gospels, we see Christ constantly going off into lonely places. Prayer is the point by which we express our dependency on God. We must not forget that God has created specific channels by which we can gain access to Him on earth. Of all of them, prayer is the most responsive in the sense that we can take all that is going on in our lives and just share it with Him. Prayer is also the mode of communication that God has allowed us to partake in to participate in Kingdom work.

However, in this Psalm, prayer seems to take a different role than what we would often times expect. Though we see the people acknowledging God and lifting His name up, we also see them describing their reality as they see it. They say things that would suggest that they feel pathetic, put to shame, humiliated, and defeated without an end in sight. They go on and on telling God that they don't just feel like God has left them, but that God has indeed left them. Sometimes, the reality is that things not only don't go our way, but the world seems to work against us.

In this Psalm, it appears that as they move from remembering the past faithfulness of God to describing the present turmoil of being destroyed, the people come to a place where they remember through prayer that they must connect the faithfulness of God in the past to a dependency on His immutable faithfulness throughout all time, including the present. Once they finish going through the realities that life is miserable and that there is no way out, they ask God to "awaken" and to "show Himself." This prayer from v. 23-25 demonstrate that they understand that intimacy is what God is looking for, not just acknowledgement. For through intimacy, we find deliverance. After all, Christ died so that we could enter into an intimacy with Him throughout all eternity.

4. Wait in trust (v. 26)
The difficulties in life often come in times of transition. The waiting periods between jobs, the agony of not knowing if she will say yes, the misery of waiting to hear back from a potential client, and of course, waiting for God to provide. The thing about God is that He wants to make it very clear to us that He is enough for us and is better than life. Everything in life seems to revolve around making the name and work of Jesus Christ to be central and completely sufficient for everyone who encounters Him. If God loves you, He will make sure that you get to a place where Christ is more than enough and you find that you lack nothing because you have Him. That means that you are more than fine if you applied to a million jobs and have not heard back, that you are more than fine when your boyfriend/girlfriend breaks up with you out of nowhere, that you are more than fine when everything you worked hard for slips through your hands, that you are more than fine when your best friend betrays you. Yes, you will experience the pains of life, but they will knock you down, not keep you down. You will find that Christ can lift you up from whatever it is that has brought forth pain in your life.

In Romans 5, we are reminded as Christians that we have been justified by faith and that we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God because of the access that has been granted by grace through faith. Not only that, we rejoice in our sufferings because it produces endurance, that produces character, that produces a hope that does not put us to shame - the hope of Christ. Rejoice in suffering? That sounds like psychological mumbo jumbo until you consider what it means. It means that this life isn't the end. That if we live in affluence or poverty, that if we were born into slavery during the 1800's or if we were born as royalty in the Middle East, that if we had nothing and gained everything or had everything and then lost it, that if we have Christ, we have every reason to celebrate every single day. However, there are times when God will feel distant or seem distant, and in those times, we can remember Psalm 44, the truth that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8), and the promise that He will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). During these times, its easy to look for substitutes. We will be tempted to turn to other things to bring us fulfillment and satisfaction, but we must remember that the enemy works in times of our weakness as God is made strong in our weakness. If we hold onto His promises and remember that there is a greater eternity to look forward to, that this life is but a blink of an eye, and that in all that we do, we can bring glory to God, how we respond to the times of dryness and the times of difficulty shift in a way that we remember that we are loved and that we are lights to the world, and that the world is watching us to see if what we believe is actually true. That the times when it seems like God has abandoned us (which in John 16 promises He would never do), what He is doing in us is to refine our hope so that it remains only in Him. It is precisely in this time that He is doing the slow work of building endurance which does not come in ready made packages, but through a careful growth process. That in this time, we can remember that He is producing within us an endurance that leads to character, and a character that recognizes Him as the source of all meaning.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Our Trials, Christ's Temptations

I find myself speechless from time to time as I examine the claims made in the Bible. There is something about taking time to consider what is being said in the Scriptures as life giving. I am convinced that if we spend time in the Bible through meditative prayer, meaning we actually think about what is being said and ask God about what is being said, we come to a place where Jesus becomes more clear to us. I think we can see this in both the Old and New Testaments.

In the books of James and Hebrews, we learn that the Greek word used for trials, peirazo, is also used for temptations. How can this be? Are all trials temptations? Are all temptations trials? How then do we escape the trap of falling into temptation? Certainly, we must consider the context in which the word is used, but more than anything, I think what is being communicated is a matter of the heart.

Everyone faces trials of various sorts and what I believe every trial ultimately does is one of two things: it draws us closer to God or it repels us away from Him. Every trial is worth acknowledging, even the trivial ones. The reason being is that every trial affects the human heart in a way that leads us to believe we must rescue ourselves from our circumstances or we must trust that God is our rescuer.

Trials repel us from God in more obvious ways to almost invisible ways through slow compromises and notions of self-reliance and self-dependance - these are the moments when we fall into temptation. We are tempted anytime we want something more than we want God, thus falling into the belief that what we cannot gain in Christ can be gained on our own. The most obvious ways are clear rebellion against God through immoral and unethical behavior to a blatant hatred of God for not giving us favorable outcomes in life. We become bitter, calloused, cold, and angry with God because we heard that God was a loving God and if God was a God of love, He would not withhold things we wanted from life. We expect to be blessed beyond our abilities, or at least at the same level as our peers. After all, what good is it to believe in God if we don't get anything worthwhile out of it?

The less obvious ways are generally only evident in the heart and visible through close examination. People who do not interact with you on multiple levels cannot say much about this. In our hearts though, we turn to God as an ultimate savior, but not an intimate one. He is only welcome into the places where we already have things figured out or into the places where we cannot figure it out on our own. In the space where we believe we can figure it out, we go in and out of debating whether or not we should fully surrender to the flow of things or if we should hold back and practice restraint on any sort of impulsivity. However, it is not even these things that really define the events taking place in our hearts. What we must constantly question is 1. am I trusting God or my own wisdom in this? 2. are humility and love driving my behaviors? and 3. what would Jesus encourage me to do in these circumstances?

Our souls are after control and power, and our hearts are after approval and acceptance. We allow fear to creep into our veins and drive our decisions more that we allow love to. This usually happens when we feel inadequate, unsafe, or threatened by something unfamiliar, unknown, and things that can potentially be painful. We often dismiss the need for faith by utilizing "wisdom" as our guiding light. I don't ever see wisdom and faith (trust and surrender) juxtaposed against each other. Instead, it seems as if wisdom requires an extreme amount of faith because wisdom is often used in times when there is no clear moral answer. Our hearts fortify themselves instead of fortifying our faith with walls instead of boundaries, defenses instead of treaties, and wars instead of feasts. We refuse to get lost again, to get hurt again, to be betrayed again, to be fooled again, to fail again, to experience pain again, so we hold onto what we know is familiar and inch forward when the tides are telling us to go with them so as to not get caught in the coral. Fighting the waves never pan out well for anyone, I know because I've tried and almost broken my neck, twice.

Every trial we experience, at the end of the day, whether its the struggle to put food on the table, or a conflict between loved ones, or learning to forgive someone that has wronged you, or trying to find ways to protect those you love, or coming to a place where we need to let go of your need to be respected, be in control, or gain approval and praise will affect the heart in ways that steer the direction our hearts face. They are either moments that measure how much you actually trust in God or moments that tempt you away from Him into other things. All of these things come from a place where we want something and whether or not what we want gets fulfilled.

The temptation of Christ is recorded in three of the four Gospels. Jesus was led into the the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan. After fasting for 40 days, Satan came to tempt Him in three specific ways. Studying this, after also reading through Henri Nouwen's "In the Name of Jesus" has given me insight into how our trials can turn into temptations if we are not careful.

Temptation 1: Stones into bread

Matthew4:2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Henri Nouwen calls this the temptation to be relevant. In other words, the temptation first set forth by Satan to Jesus was to do something that would make him matter - to give himself a way out of his hunger. To do something utilizing power, instead of expressing a type of gratitude that comes from experiencing grace regardless of the circumstances. We have to remember here that Jesus had been fasting for 40 days and thoughts of His provision of Manna to the Israelites for 40 years must've been flashing before His very own eyes. After 40 days, Jesus was completely empty in body. He had entered into this trial full of the Holy Spirit - in essence, in fellowship with the Godhead. After 40 days however, his body was calling out for nourishment, just a drop of something to fill His stomach. At this moment, Jesus was completely empty and as with anything else that is empty that needs to be filled, He was looking to be filled as well. Anytime we are hungry or in great physical pain, every reality outside of that one becomes null to us if we ascribe to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. However, Christ demonstrated that there was a greater reality He ascribed to, a reality where He would be able to rely on His relationship with the Father and the Spirit to be sufficient.

Henry Nouwen says that he is "convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal Gods love. The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God's Word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life." The temptation Jesus faced, that we all faced is to do something that matters. To leave a mark on society as someone who left a legacy worth noting. After all, how great would it be if we could feed the hungry, house the homeless, nurse the children, heal the sick, and care for the elderly? These things, Christ certainly called us to do, but that is not what the temptation is. We often times ignore how weak our hearts are. We are all trying to find significance somehow, to find meaning. Those that try to numb themselves by trying to distance themselves from allowing anything to matter to them are trying to cope with the reality that the things they have found meaning in the past have only brought them pain, so it would be better to disengage, then to engage.

The problems in being relevant come when we consider our strengths, assets, gifts, and abilities to be more important than they actually are for the kingdom of God. God does not use strength, but weakness, and we see that over and over again. For it is in weakness that we find that the only relevance we have is in our standing with Christ. It is in weakness that we can remain humble, to be patient, and to exercise a level of understanding that allows us to trust in the sovereign hand of God instead of relying on our own efforts. In other words, we learn to recognize that God doesn't need us, but His love for us drives our fulfillment regardless of the circumstances we face.

In life, there will always be immediate needs, deadlines, problems, burdens, and things to fix around us. No one wants to go hungry, and no one wants to see anyone else fall into a deadly sickness because of the lack of accessibility or into sex slavery because of our apathy. Sure, we always want to increase our capacities to be more effective in life, and there is nothing wrong with that. What should drive us is God's love, but the thing is, we cannot feel like we are full of God's love when we are searching for meaning in other things. The moment we try to be relevant, to define our own search for significance, is the moment we elevate ourselves above others and place ourselves at the pinnacle of importance. We come to a prideful conclusion that without us, there would be no way that things would get anywhere. The truth is, the world would be fine without us. God would still accomplish His will whether we were gracious to participate or not, so we shouldn't ever find ourselves feeling pressured to have to do something. The only thing we have to do is make sure that we allow God to love us, and even that is something we cannot do on our own strength. What makes us relevant to God, is the only thing that should matter - for in our relevance to God, we will become all the more relevant to the world through love. Relevance is a matter of the heart.

Temptation 2: Find out if you are who you think you are

Matthew 4:5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’

and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up,

lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

We all have identity issues. We go through the majority of our teens and twenties trying to figure out "who we are." Again, in a weakened state, Christ is put to the test. As Christ forewent food, a tinge of doubt might have crept in (theologically debatable: don't call me a heretic because I don't know where I stand on this yet), but the moment it might have, Christ was there prepared with the Truth of God's Word to stand on. He made a claim that what gives Him life is not food, but fellowship with God. This time, Satan attempts to throw Jesus off balance by making Him question WHO He is. We must remember that throughout all of eternity past, there was no want unmet, no desire unfulfilled, and no need that was felt in Christ through the Trinity (I won't go into the doctrine of the Trinity here). Christ was perfectly satisfied and delighted in the fellowship He had.

Then, to share His great love, God created the heavens and the earth and placed man on the earth. This was God's going public with His love. We know that Adam ate of the fruit tree, that Abraham was called by God, and that God used a bunch of imperfect people to be the spiritual bloodline that would lead to the Messiah. However, here he was, weak, empty, hungry, and exhausted. The devil wanted to throw Jesus off balance and made Him question the core of who He was, his identity.

The thing we have come to believe is that our identity is constructed from within. There is a belief that we are who we are because of something that we generated by ourselves versus being influenced and conditioned by external forces. We ignore the cultural variables that shaped our thinking, the relational experiences that shifted our thinking, and the value decisions that affected our choices. At the end of the day, we somehow draw the conclusion that our lives are a product of our skillful planning and strategic thinking over almost everything else. We start to take credit for where we ended up if successful and only if we fail, do we blame the world. Somehow, we made it. Of course, very few people believe this to this extreme, often times giving credit to their parents for having foresight or a mentor who decided to give them a hand up or just sheer luck, but you know that there is a seed of this "I did it mentality" when people get angry with others for being incompetent, impatient with people who are slow, show little compassion to those who are below them, and get frustrated when things don't go their way.

Our identity, if it is rooted in our abilities will always lead us to look down on people, to consider ourselves better than others, and to try to be the ones to humble others. We find a place we belong in the social stratum and exploit that position for our own gains, intolerant of people stepping on our toes, making sure that we get the respect we deserve for having reached a certain position, being affiliated with a particular group, or a member of a certain association.

At this moment, Jesus' entire foundation was being shaken. He was weak, yet was not overpowered. In this weakened state, Satan was trying to get Jesus to shake His belief in Himself - in God! Often times, our faith gets weak. Fortunately for us, it isn't the strength of our faith that saves us. It isn't our good works, nor our church attendance, nor our involvement in community service, nor our ability to be kind to the person that just irritated us. It is sheer grace - the undeserved love that God gave to us by coming to us so that we could receive Him. At this very moment, Satan was trying to get Jesus to question the Father's love for Him. After all, what Father would let their child plummet to their death if they had the ability to prevent it or to save them? When our identity is placed in anything outside of God's love for us, there is a great propensity to be insecure when the thing we place our identity in is threatened or depleted. If our identity is in relationships and our significant other leaves us, we become devastated. Our identity was placed in something that couldn't sustain it. If our identity is in our career or ability to make money, when that doesn't happen, we become depressed and driven by worry because our ability to provide was the reason we were worthy of love. Our identity was placed in something that couldn't sustain it. We place so much of our identity in things that we think would make us worthy to receive love that if they start falling apart around us, our security falls apart within us.

When Christ was tempted, He made it clear that God was God, and that God was not one to change. He understood the Gospel. His entire being was so oriented to bringing honor to the Father that there was nothing that could stop Him from trusting in the leading of the Spirit into the wilderness. He knew that He could rest in the Father's love for Him and the Spirit's good intention for Him even in the midst of extreme difficulties. His identity was in love, not in anything that He did or could do, not in proving that He was a somebody worth saving, and especially not in anything rooted in selfishness. Satan's attempts are always to tell us that God's love for us are not enough and that we cannot trust in the works He accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation.

Temptation 3: God is not enough, I will give you the world.

Matthew 4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”

How do you tempt God (Jesus) away from God? Again, we must remember that Christ was fully God and fully man - you will get a wrinkle in your brain from trying to understand that one. Essentially, Satan was attempting not for Jesus to disbelieve in God, but to disbelieve in God's goodness.

In this world, we must realize that there exist pulls and pushes to go in one direction or another. The temptation is to believe that these pulls and pushes are neutral, which if we considered them in their objective state, would be true. However, our subjective motivations are what defines whether the neutral becomes detrimental to flourishing. Our hearts are wired to desire. That's the good part. The sad part is that when sin entered the world, our desires became distorted. We began to want things we shouldn't want (think of kids wanting sweets before a meal) and the things we should want somehow became cloudy. We were intended to desire God because God is the only one that could fulfill all of our hearts desire without leaving any space. Our hearts began to take what it gathered through sight and make it the fulfillment of their desires. We must guard against this.

Satan knew that for Christ to even potentially give up His relationship with God, even in the midst of being weak and with the knowledge of what was to come on the Cross, that He would have to offer the world to Jesus, literally. No great job, no sexy spouse, no perfect kids, no amount of money, no amount of power, and no amount of fame would do the trick. It had to be everything the world had to offer bundled up into a package. Satan knew this because He knew the infinite value of God and the only way to distract Christ might have been to shroud His ability to see God clearly and to show Him something more attractive. Of course, Christ prevailed.

As we think about this, one thing that stuck out at the end is that after being tempted, Jesus was ministered to by the angels - almost as if He finished 10 rounds with Mike Tyson, Goliath, the Titans, and Hercules at the same time. We must remember that God will never leave us nor forsake us, that the times when we want anything more than we want God are times when we aren't letting God's love be sufficient in our lives. That in all things, even if we go through difficult moments in the present, it will pass. He will never abandon us, and will always be with us until the end.