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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It keeps coming back to prayer

Prayer is the point where you express your dependency on God.

My prayer life seems to have power. This power is rooted, I believe, in my relationship with God. I am seeing things come together that I have been praying for, and those things that have still not come to pass, I am waiting with great expectation that God will bring about good.

I have noticed that two things have changed significantly since I started this 62 day project: 1. that I pray and 2. what I pray about.

When I sit down to be brutally honest with myself, my faith was "weak" at best. Getting to the point of actually praying usually meant that I had exhausted all my options before I turned to God. God was my last option. This revealed that I didn't really understand the power of God, but also that I believed God didn't have my back in most situations. I would literally turn to God when I was in trouble from my parents and asked God to fill my dad with compassion as he approached me in slow motion with the paddle. I asked God to make my dad forget or fill him with incredible love that he wants to hug me instead of hit me. That NEVER worked.

This was because I didn't really know the extent of how God operated. Could he have stopped my dad? Sure. Why didn't he? It doesn't matter. All that matters is that I was at a place in my life where I turned to God for my last resort, often times, seconds before the stupid thing I did returned to bite me in the butt. The reason I did so was simply because I didn't see God as personal and God as powerful. These two beliefs about God took Him in my life and made Him pocket-sized - to be no larger than any of the problems I was facing in life.

Now, things seem different. As I matured in my faith walk, I find myself praying always. Paul's call to us to "pray without ceasing" makes complete sense. I no longer pray out of guilt or obligation, but out of the same expectancy that a child has when they go to their parents for something they really want. When someone tells me of a difficulty they are facing, I pray in my heart that God would help them resolve the situation before I offer my own words of comfort. When someone says to me in anger that they don't like Christians and don't believe in God, I pray silently that God would open their eyes to the truth and deliver them from the pain that Christians may have caused them. When I find myself in a situation that makes me feel like I have too much on my plate to handle, I pray that God would honor the effort I put in and provide me with the resources or help to get through the circumstances with flying colors. In all things, I find myself going to God first.

However, that isn't all that has changed. As I have recognized that if God created the universe and that He sent Christ to die on the Cross and Christ's atonement for my sins is complete and that I am now a child of God, I realize that I can boldly go before God for anything and everything. As I mature in my faith, I realize that God's heart is greater than my own and as I continue to know what is on His heart, my own desires becomes transformed to His desires. No longer do I pray about what I want, but what I believe God wants - except maybe my receding hairline.

I remember as a child when I would sit against my bedside and pray to God for good grades even though I didn't study, that somehow, God would help me remember everything that I encountered subconsciously whether I paid attention or not. What I notice more now than anything is that I praise God in all things and all circumstances. I am also quick to recognize the sins in my life. However, most importantly, I find myself spending a lot of time praying for other people, especially people who don't know God, who are distant from God in their faith, and people who are going through tough times. I always find myself praying that people will be able to taste and see that God is good and that His love endures forever. I find myself praying that God will have His way and that I will get out of the way. And most importantly, I find myself asking that God will use me to minister to those who need to know Him. I don't pray so much about God's provision except when I recite the Lord's Prayer and what I find is God's pleasure when I pray. I find God's pleasure when I pray because I know He listens and He takes in every word I raise to His ears with great joy.

Lack of prayer is evidence of a lack of faith, which should be a wake up call. This shouldn't make you feel guilty to hear because the reality is, it's more a belief issue than a discipline issue. The problem is, we don't pray until we feel like praying, and more often then not, we don't feel like praying. We don't want to be the one to "initiate" because we want to be authentic in our walk with God. This belief leads you to believe is that you are the one initiating something with God. We must recognize that we can only respond in prayer if God calls us into a relationship with Him. People who haven't been called by God don't pray to God because they don't know God. Those in darkness don't come out of the darkness until they see the light. Those who live in sin stay in sin until they are rescued from it. Rest in the reality that you have been called and therefore, when you pray, you are responding to His love. When you realize that God was the one who arranged all of history so that you could approach Him, prayer no longer becomes a chore, but a daily blessing, where you find yourself excited to talk to God because you know He cares more about you than you could ever hope for and listens to every word you say with the greatest smile on His face.


NOTE: I've been asked to speak at a retreat. If you could, please pray so that I may be faithful to His word, full of love to the kids that attend, and that God would reveal Himself in a real way to each of the people that attend. Sept 9-11, 2011

Also, I am currently praying for someone who can lead worship and another male teacher. As always, the women seem to be ready and eager to serve God. Men, where you at!?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wealth and Salvation

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" - Mark 10:25

A dear non-Christian friend of mine sent me this passage this morning and asked me if I had written a blog post about this, saying "
seems VERY few professed Christians in the US actually pay much attention to this at all." This blog post is dedicated to my friend PB.

While catching up at 숯불집 (Soot Bool Jip - translated: charcoal fire house) in Koreatown, LA a couple weeks ago, we discussed the difference between people who call themselves Christians, but don't live like one and Christians that seem to count the cost of discipleship and live life differently. My friend is not a Christian and as many non-Christians seem to comment, the only difference he noticed between so-called Christians and non-Christians is that Christians seem to have a belief in God, but that belief doesn't seem to change them. I added that many people are just looking for an insurance policy instead of a real relationship with the living God.

This, I believe is the foundation of what Jesus was saying to the rich young ruler in Mark Chapter 10:
17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" 20And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." 21And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" 24And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." 26And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, "Then who can be saved?"

The reality is, people can put on the mask of the Christian faith because they were raised in the church. They can also put on the mask of the Christian faith if they have adopted the cultural norms of Christianity. If I wasn't willing to put all my eggs in the basket of faith, I personally would probably choose a life of sex, wealth creation, and fame, but for many, I believe that the idea of going to heaven is a good remedy to their lack of faith and their lack of willingness to give up the one or two things that are greater to them than God is. This, I believe is the blindness that covers us all.

The rich young ruler was clearly well-spoken, intelligent, sociable, and moral. He lived according to the laws of Moses and was raised with a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong. He was probably not much different from the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son who was perfectly obedient all his life, but was obedient for all the wrong reasons. For the elder brother, his obedience to his father wasn't because he loved his father, but because he loved the inheritance he would get from his father. At the end of the parable, the father has to come out to invite him to join the party, a great symbol for how God invites us to join him whether we are more like the rebellious younger brother or the self-righteous elder brother. Most likely, the rich young ruler was an upstanding citizen, very civil in his interactions with people, and by the standards of people around him, a very "good" person. But this wasn't what God was looking for.

I think there are many "good" people in this world. And as I continue to live life, my heart breaks when I find that these "good" people choose to reject God because they don't see that they need Him. It doesn't change the fact that I like them, or the fact that I think they are deserving of the same salvation through Jesus Christ as I am (which I am undeserving of), but too many people take a look at the world and assume that being good is what it takes to meet God. I think that its great to be nice, generous, kind, and serving. I think its awesome when I see people take the time out of their busy schedules to serve the poor and help the needy. It always moves me when I hear stories of sacrifice and stories of brotherhood. But at the end of the day, being nice helps you get along with people, it doesn't bring you into a relationship with God.

In the book of Job, the suffering servant talks about how he has also lived a blameless life. In fact, we are given a glimpse into the dialog between God and Satan. Satan was roaming the earth looking to snatch another person for the depths of hell and God said, "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" To that, Satan said, "Does Job fear God for no reason? 10Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face." Job had incredible wealth and prosperity, was a great person amongst his community, and commanded great influence and great respect amongst his people. So God said, do what you like, but don't touch him. So Satan destroyed everything he had. All of Job's stocks plummeted and were worth nothing, his cash reserves went up in flames, his income property was destroyed, his farms were burned, people robbed whatever he had left, and worst of all, all of his children were destroyed when the building they were in collapsed. To this, Job was grieved beyond all human measure, then came to his senses in his loss, fell to the ground, then started to worship God saying, "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD."

Every child he had was destroyed and everything he had was gone and he still worshiped God and blessed the name of the Lord.

Then, Satan requesting an audience before God again said about Job, "Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face." And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life." From then, boils came upon his skin, he couldn't sit or sleep, walking on his feet hurt and lying down was torture, it was as if he had 3rd degree burns atop of knife wounds and blisters all over his body. When his wife saw this, she said, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die." To which he rebuked her saying, "You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?"

Job's wife was telling Job to say that God isn't as good as He says He is. That God isn't all powerful, all knowing, and all wise, and that He wasn't as loving as Job thought Him to be. She was telling Him to rely on the wisdom of the world and accept what He sees as the ultimate truth and that if God truly cared, then He would do something about this situation. Job, alludes ever so subtly to what is necessary in Chapter 9.

Faith, in essence, is a pure dependency on God. It is the realization that we must believe, and keep believing that God is first and foremost sovereign over all things and that all that He does is for the good of those He loves. Ultimately, this means that nothing will happen apart from his allowance of it. Even though at the end of Job, he was blessed with far more than he ever had to begin with, I believe that it was through his suffering that he really learned this dependency on God. Everything he believed was revealed through his suffering and you could tell his belief was true because he remained true. The thing is, there is often times a huge gap between what we know about God and what we experience with God. Doubt is clearly standard protocol because we don't want to let go of the control we have over our lives. All people have an understanding that they can't control everything around them, but those that don't trust God do their best to.

The rich young ruler never really trusted God for those who trust God would be able to let go of what they have. In the modern day context, because we spend so much time investing in building up wealth for ourselves, building up an image for ourselves, building up a career for ourselves, of building up relationships for ourselves, we find ourselves hitting a point when we find it impossible to give those things up. We rationalize to ourselves that it doesn't make sense for us to give everything up because it took us so much time to build up what he had, and if we come to some point where we verbally say that we are willing to give it all up, we then find another reason why we shouldn't, often times using the excuses that we aren't 100% sure that God really wants us to give it up or that we have too many obligations and bills and that God wouldn't want us to. We use human reasoning to deny our need to step out in faith.

The thing is, faith isn't just a belief that something exists. It's a daily dependence that the many small decisions we make in wisdom will be used for the glory of God when our motivations are right with God and that we trust God with the results of our big decisions. This is what makes it all a relationship. Immediately before the rich young ruler approached Jesus with his questions, it says in Mark 10:13 that as Jesus was preaching, "they were bringing children to him (Jesus) that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." 16And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them." The rich young ruler must have heard about this child-like faith and began to question whether or not he had this sort of faith.

When I think of child-like faith, I don't think of one that is childish and immature, but one who fully accepts the good-will of the father. As a child places their faith in their father, they notice what delights their father, that their father does everything to protect them, and that no matter what, the father is there for their child. They simply accept that the father is good, loving, kind, and generous. They don't need to go out and build security for themselves on their own because their father's protection and care is enough for them. Essentially, they don't feel a need for anything because they have the father and know that the father will cover them in all that they need. The rich young ruler had spent so much time amassing wealth and protecting his wealth that he probably felt like God was going to take it all away if he didn't do some good. I don't doubt that he was a good person, but there is a clear cost of discipleship when following God that you must give up everything in order to follow Jesus.

Tim Keller, writing about Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones wrote, "In Preaching and Preachers, Lloyd-Jones warns preachers not to "assume that all…who are members of the church, are…Christians. This, to me, is the most fatal blunder of all." (p.146) He (Dr. Jones) goes on to say that many people have accepted Christianity intellectually but have never come under the power of the Word and the gospel and therefore have "not truly repented." (p.150) We must not preach as if everyone is a Christian, and we shouldn't think that believers no longer need the gospel, but only more "advanced" instruction. He (Dr. Jones) believed that church members needed to be exposed to the Gospel not only because some of them needed to realize they had never repented, but also because "all the people who attend a church need to be brought under the power of the Gospel."

The reason Jesus said it is easier for a Camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God is because we place more value on the things of this earth than we ought to, and we put more value on those things more than we value God. If you really take things into perspective, people are very myopic. We try to build up for ourselves, mini-kingdoms with our bank accounts and our friends, our girlfriends and our cars, our houses and our toys, and everything else we live for. We focus so much on the 100 years that we are living on earth that we pay little attention to what could be beyond these 100 years. And if we do pay some attention to what could be, we quickly dismiss it because it means that we have to give up the things we currently hold onto so dearly and love. We don't want to give up our aspirations to become an actress or our hopes to retire on our own estate, our white picket fence with two and a half kids or the career that seems to provide the stability and social affirmation we need. We don't want to give up our comforts or our current lifestyles and we don't want to change how we spend our weekends or our money. Even as you read this, you are probably saying, "Yea, why should I give these things up? I worked damn hard for them and unless if I am forced to, there shouldn't be any reason I should be willing to give up everything. Plus, why does God need this stuff anyway? Isn't He God after all?"

God doesn't want your stuff, He wants you. The thing is, as long as you are enslaved to what your have or the relationship (except marriage) you are in or the hope you have in your career or in your life that isn't God, He doesn't have you. He wants your heart and nothing else. The reason it feels like he wants you to give up so much is because you are too attached to what you think he wants you to give up. A good standard of measuring what your idols in life are is to look at the things you are most afraid to lose. For Job, even though he was in agony, it didn't pale in comparison to the goodness of God in His life, otherwise he would've just cursed Him.

There seems to be a clear distinction between people who have knowledge about God and the Christian faith and people who actually believe. Furthermore, the distinction seems to be clear that all who know and maybe even like the teachings of Christ may not have come to a point of repentance in their lives. Jesus foretold Peter that he would deny Christ three times before the rooster crowed. Peter did. Then He fell on his face in shame only to find that the love of God was greater. Repentance is the realization and the movement away from the things that enslave you the most. For Peter, it was fear that enslaved him more than His love for Christ, and as soon as he recognized how deeply rooted his sinful nature was, he immediately turned back towards Christ. He was no longer afraid of what the world would think of him because He found Christ's love to be so much greater than the world could offer. This belief, he demonstrated by requesting that he be turned upside down as he was being crucified for preaching about Christ because he wasn't worthy to die the same type of death that Jesus did.

In Job 9, Job says that it doesn't matter if you live a life without sin or full or sin, that all are not safe from the consequences of sin. He continues to say that God is God and that we are, but His creation and at the end of the day, we have no control over that which happens in the world. Then he expresses the need for an arbiter between humankind and God! One must remember that Job lived around the time Abraham did. This means that there was an understanding that being "good" wasn't enough to get you into heaven. No matter how much charity work you give, no matter how much you donate, and no matter how nice you are as a person, has no bearing in regards to eternity. All that does contribute to the good of mankind and I do think it is certainly admirable when people devote their lives and resources to causes that go beyond themselves, but if that was enough, that that would mean that we could save ourselves from Hades.

This world is the Titanic, a sinking ship. It was once perfect, but we chose to sin and ruined it. Those that hold onto the possessions on the ship will sink with it and those who let go and heed the call of the captain, will find themselves on a lifeboat. The thing is, there is more than enough space for anyone who wants to accept the reality that their possessions are meaningless and only those that do will let go of whatever it is that they are holding onto and get on the life boat. Some will refuse the call of captain because of their own pride, their own image, or literally because they don't want to lose what they consider so dear. They try and find a way to save themselves along with everything they are holding on to, but by that time, it is too late and they sink with the ship.

What can save you? Only Christ.

The arbiter that Job placed his future hope in was Christ. Resting in that hope allowed Him assurance of God's sovereignty that He would not be left to "save himself" and that He could rest like a child in God's arms. That is exactly what God is telling us to do except the afflictions of Christ have already covered all of our sins. By putting our full faith in the completed works of Christ through his crucifixion to pay for our sins and resurrection to defeat death, we are essentially accepting that we don't need to do anything except rest in what He did as a result of who He is. When we rest in Christ, we are truly free because we don't serve money or are enslaved by our deficiencies. We find that we are complete in Christ and that our moods don't change with the stock market. We hold everything with an open hand and don't tie ourselves down to things that the world considers supremely valuable because we recognize that God is most valuable and that everything pales in comparison. We begin to shed our need for comforts of the world, control over our lives, and the approval or respect of people. We let go of outcomes because we trust that God will take care of them and our work becomes better because everything that we do, we begin to do through our enjoyment of God. What the rich young ruler failed to see was that you cannot earn salvation. Salvation was a gift that was fully paid for by Jesus, who was 100% man and 100% God, so that if we simply trusted in who He says He is and what He says as a result of it, that we would find salvation for all of eternity.

Monday, August 22, 2011

How we let our circumstances become bigger than God in our lives

There is a popular saying about how people can see life as either a glass half-full or a glass half-empty. The interesting thing about the glass half-full/empty idea is that people have a notion that there is more to life than we actually experience. The fact that there is a glass that is half-whatever assumes that we only experience some of what life has to offer. Even though it is used as a metaphor and we can't really measure what we are missing out on, the reality remains the same: there is something out there that we are missing. The question is, can it be obtained?

This metaphor does both good and harm. It does good in the sense that it directs focus in our lives to the good things in life. In Philippians 4:8, Paul tells the church, "Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." There is a sense that we are to dwell in the things that are good in life. Acts of kindness and sacrifice, a movement towards justice, moments of peace, and reaching out to the poor, lost, and lonely all seem to fit these categories. There seems to be enough good in this world to think about so that we aren't constantly focusing on the bad. The problem is, that it is much easier to focus on the bad then on the good of life.

What happens when we focus on the bad? First, it makes us negative. From that negative state, we become either sad and depressed if we feel like there is no hope and we don't see an end to whatever we are dwelling on or we become upset and angry if we think that we can actually do something about the terrible situation on it. When we focus on the bad our thoughts begin to spiral downward, fast. It leads us in a state where we become so self-absorbed that we either feel like the entire world is working against us or find ourselves hopeless that we end up in a pity-party. Focusing on the bad prevents us from experiencing God because we end up thinking that God is malicious and small. We believe that God has no control over what happens and ultimately over all things.

There is a difference between acknowledging the bad in our lives and dwelling on it. Acknowledging it creates a pattern of learning and trust, dwelling on it simply makes you go deeper into the bad. The reality is that God is still sovereign and above all things. Its the difference between digging a hole to get to gold and digging a hole to make a grave. Through the bad, good can come out, but it depends on where you are digging. If you keep your thoughts in the bad, then you will end up swimming in it. What you need to do is keep your thoughts on the good, because the good will help you understand the bad, learn from the bad, and ultimately get through it.

What is that good? That good is God. Its only when we know God and trust in the God we know that we can get through all bad. Instead, most people end up committing "two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water." (Jeremiah 2:13). Essentially, what God is saying is that people aren't seeing that God is enough and discarding Him at the first sign of pain, suffering, and badness in life, and then, instead of drinking from the fountain of life, they are drinking from toilet bowls (as Mark Driscoll says). They are exchanging Voss Water for NY sewage.

The way that evil works in this world is that they say you are entitled to whatever you want. Whenever you don't get anything you want, evil speaks into your ear and says, "look, once again, God failed you," or "see, you were right, God doesn't love you, if He did, then you wouldn't have gone through that," or "if God were truly good, then you wouldn't be in the situation you are in now." Essentially, it keeps you focused on your circumstances and do everything they can to make you not want to trust that God is still above all that you are going through. When we listen to these voices, our circumstances become bigger than God in our lives and we become servants to those circumstances. We allow our circumstances to determine what we believe about God, what we believe about ourselves, and what we believe about the world. We allow our circumstances to take the place of God in our lives as we find ourselves consumed by thoughts of those circumstances.

The problem with the glass half-whatever scenario is that we end up focused on what we see. We are always assessing our circumstances and trying to make the most of it, instead of allowing God to bring the most out of it. You see, God wants to give us something greater, and all it costs on our end is trust and obedience. He wants to rock our worlds and give us a greater sense of peace and fulfillment than we could ever imagine, but we don't let Him because we are so busy trying to hold on to the little control we have over our lives. Essentially, because we make our circumstances bigger than God in our lives, we try to become god in our circumstances because we don't trust that God will do what He does best in it all.

God is trustworthy. After all, He holds all things together and works all things for the good of those who He loves. He knew us from before we were in our mothers' wombs and he created us carefully to become exactly who we are today. He wants more for us than we could ever imagine or want for ourselves and its only when we stop turning our circumstances into things that are bigger than God in our lives that we can experience the fullness of what God has to offer us here on earth. We've got one life, it makes sense to trust God with it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Its a daily thing

For 62 days, I've devoted myself to spending time in solitude with God for between 2-3 hours a day. Today is day 38. For 37 of 38 days, I set apart time to spend with God, but yesterday, I didn't.

In the morning, I went to a prayer meeting that we recently started at our church. We prayed for the city, the church, and for the people within our church for nearly 3 hours. This used to be sufficient in the past. I've had friends visiting from Europe and the Mid-West this weekend, birthday parties to attend, and just a general exhaustion from the week's activities. I've been noticing more however, that time "around" God is no longer enough.

In the past, I used to live with the mentality that as long as I was around God doing things like going to church, participating in Bible studies, attending worship services, and going to church retreats, that it was enough. I would generally pray at church or when someone/I was going through a rough time, and always before meals. This, I thought, filled the "relationship with God" meter.

In my walk with God, I've noticed that He was always enough, but I never really felt like I had enough of Him. Its like I'm addicted to something that won't give me any cavities, yet fills my belly with goodness. But the more time I've spent with Him in depth and in consistency, the more I realized that the reason I never felt like I've had enough of Him was because He has so much more to offer than I keep realizing. A relationship with God is like opening up your eyes for the first time and walking through the movie Avatar. The more you explore, the more fascinating He becomes. The sad thing is, we have a great temptation to just settle in a safe area, tear down the trees, and build walls to prevent us from truly experiencing all that He has to offer.

As I spend time in prayer alone (I believe corporate prayer is necessary too), I am realizing the greater need to engage in deliberate meditation upon God's nature and character. It is in His nature and character that we continue to find understanding in the world and love for other people. In is in His nature that we can accept His sovereignty and in His character that we can accept His grace. And through meditation, meaning I spend time trying to see God through the Bible, dwelling on various passages and verses, I see the perfect goodness of God.

The reason we need to do this is because if we don't, we end up meditating on the most random things. Early on in my faith, I would begin by trying to meditate on the goodness of God and somehow ended up thinking about how a piece of gum once got stuck in my hair. The scriptures provide you with an anchor by which you can float around the surface of the ocean that is God without deviating from who He is.

So what do I do?

I wake up, calm my mind and clear my thoughts of any desire of my own. I empty myself of my own will and then spend time reading the Psalms.

In the Psalms, I carefully read the entire Psalm once to get an idea of the trajectory of the Psalm, then go back to read each verse, one at a time, beginning to pray them if they seem to make an impression on me.

I usually find one or two verses that seem to stand out amongst the passage and I take about 2-3 minutes just asking God to reveal what they mean to me, and then sit in silence reciting the verse in my head over and over. Many times, I stand up and walk around in circles to help me focus better.

After, something usually happens where I see how God has been faithful in the way the verse describes in my life or how it gives me hope for the future and allows me to rest in Him in the present. I find a sort of peace through a greater knowledge of God in general and particularly in my life.

Then I pray, thanking God for all He is and all He does, and then go into a time of confessing my sins and asking God to make everything right on this Earth, meet my needs, and the needs of people I know - which usually entails allowing us to see more of God and understanding who we are as His children.

One thing I am certain of though. If I miss a day, I feel like I lost a day. Something no longer feels right when I don't spend time with God alone. It's becoming more and more precious to me that I have begun to arrange my social life around it. I don't go out as much, but find that I engage with people on a much more meaningful way. I don't think about things that don't really seem to add anything to life because there is SO much to think about God and then some. I find myself praying constantly throughout the day just asking God to help me see what He wants me to see. And all this happens in a state of joy, not anxiety, peace, not worry.

I want to challenge whoever reads this to do this on their own. I promise that what you don't know about God will amaze and what you learn about God will make you want more. After all, that happens with everything that seems to be good in this world. Take an hour out of your day and just meditate on God's word and pray to Him for a month. He answers prayers, I promise!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Real Christianity

1 John 1:5-10

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."

I don't think that most people who think they are Christian, actually are. This, has a lot of implications.

I think that we have become too lenient with the ways in which we define Christianity. Yes, salvation is free to us. Yes, Jesus died and rose again for everyone. Yes, if you accept Jesus into your heart, proclaim that He is Lord with your mouth, and believe in Him, then you are saved. But I don't think that we understand the extent of what salvation really is.

I am not going to write about whether people are saved or not, but more about how if you are saved by grace through faith, what your life should look like. As I mentioned before, yes, salvation is free, but it was paid at a great cost, and I think we need to count those costs.

Jesus, who is both 100% God and was 100% man, through obedience in God the Father, came down some 2000 years ago to serve as a sacrifice for our sins. Essentially, when we chose to sin (to chose our own selfish desires over God), we created a chasm between us and God that could only be bridged by a perfect sacrifice. This is why we try and earn our salvation by being good. We believe that if we live a moral enough life, then we deserve to pass go, collect $200, and enter into eternity with God. The thing is, this isn't true. Because we sinned on our own accord, something greater and perfect had to atone for those sins. When we accept Christ's sacrifice through the crucifixion and resurrection, what we essentially do is accept that we cannot stand before God on our own merit, but acknowledge and hold onto the reality that we must hold onto the pass by which Christ allows us to enter heaven through a relationship with Him. For those of you who only know clubbing analogies, pretty much, there is a sweet club which people aren't able to get into until they die. Those that want to go must get "hooked up" by Jesus through a relationship with Him that makes Him Lord over their lives while alive on Earth. When they get to the bouncer, Jesus simply says, "They are with me," which allows them entrance into the great eternal party. This is the gospel, that we did not die for Christ, but Christ died for us so that we may know Him who is greater forever and ever.

The great thing about salvation is that it is rooted in love. He doesn't force anything down our throats, nor does He give us anything that is bad for us. Everything is a gift of God and we, once we accept this gift, shouldn't be so foolish as to squander it. As I continue to read the Bible more and more, I don't think that salvation ends at one point. I don't think that just because you say that you believe in Jesus Christ, you are completely safe from wrath in Hades. People can say anything and think they believe it. When people truly believe something (especially something that is life altering), it alters their lives. This is why I think we need to realize the cost of salvation, not on our behalf, but the price that God paid for us.

My motivation for writing this is because I am exhausted from hearing people call themselves Christian and not looking even remotely like it. I think that Jesus set the bar for what Christians look like and Paul did a great job with the follow up. They we're both counter cultural and didn't fall in line with the sins of what was considered normal in society. However, I will add that although Jesus was God incarnate, Paul was the furthest thing from perfect. He was a murderer of Christians and a self-righteous bastard before God's love overwhelmed him. When he encountered God, he realized that his ways weren't aligned with God's ways and that he needed to change. This shows that God loves even the greatest of those who oppose Him. If you are in that place, you need not worry, for it is not "too late." In fact, maybe you are just on time.

When we hear the Gospel, we should think about the Gospel and meditate on it. When we do so, we should find ourselves more attracted to the love of God than to sin. This is where it begins. Once we experience the love of God, we begin a quest to kill sin in our lives simply by choosing God at every decision point. Going to church doesn't make you a Christian, but I do think that if you are exposed to the Gospel at church, God is trying to get your attention. It's very evident that true faith is believing and clinging onto the message of Jesus Christ, and doing so everyday.

There seems to be two stages (lifelong) of true believer-ship. The first stage after accepting the grace of salvation is to rely on God to kill sin. Our desire for God begins to develop a hatred of sin in our lives. Sometimes, it gets difficult because we are in hairy situations where a lot seems to be on the line. If we are dating someone, sexually active, and living together, once we know God, its not a difficult situation to resolve moving out since there is comfort and attachment there. However, comfort and attachment should not be used as excuses for sinning. Those who are Christian should be quick to realize that slander, lying, stealing, sexual immorality, dishonoring parents, etc. are all sins that must be stopped immediately. Usually, the Holy Spirit begins to work in our hearts to convict us. As we read the Bible, we should also become aware of the areas of our lives in which we are sinning. If we are regularly doing drugs, getting drunk, hurting people, stealing, treating people like garbage, or having sexual relations outside of marriage, we are in sin. If we are constantly justifying our actions and saying, "well, I'm only human," only to return to the action once again, there are some serious issues with our soul. The further we get from God, the closer we get to these actions and the less these actions seem to be wrong. The closer we get to God, the more our soul gets torn as we perform these sins in our lives. Something happens as God calls us to be closer to Him where we have a hard time accepting the dual nature of our lives. If nothing in our lives seem wrong, then the only indication is that we are distant from God.

The second stage of true believer-ship is that we die to ourselves. We don't go out there and commit suicide, but we begin to realize that the price that was paid for our sins was an eternal cost. We realize that we were bought with a price that is more than what we could ever earn on our own and that we aren't our own. But this doesn't turn us into slaves doing things we don't want to do. Instead, we learn to die to our own selfish desires, our own sinful yearnings, and our own self-dependent ways. We stop pursuing money, comfort, fame, status, prestige, security, approval, power and control and don't justify that we are doing certain things "for God" when those that know us best know otherwise. Instead, we simply pursue God. We begin to let go of our ego since we don't need the respect of man, we let go of our need for everything to be perfect because God is in control, we let go of our pursuit of money and wealth because God is a greater provider than our own ambitions, we let go of our desire for fame since bringing glory to God is greater than trying to be famous then giving God a quick shout out at the Emmy's, we don't engage in unhealthy relationships and don't give into the allure of successful people, and we don't build up a life that doesn't require faith.

Dying to self, in modern culture seems to mean that we are counter cultural. That means we walk away from friends that aren't willing to alter their lives for faith (but are always there for them when they begin to seek out truth). That means we are regularly meditating on the Bible and in prayer about our lives to seek out what aspect of God's holiness He wants us to learn. That means we spend more time thinking about God than about anything else in our lives. That means we reach out to people who we normally wouldn't reach out to, but find that their interest in God is aligned with our calling as Christians. Dying to self always leads to reaching out to those in the margins, those who are lonely, and those who are lost, but never participating in the same lifestyle activities as they do. In other words, you are kidding yourself if you think that you are being a good Christian by going to the bars and clubs getting drunk, picking fights, and hooking up with people because you are the only one of your friends that goes to church. Dying to self makes you look like a prude in modern society because as you enjoy more of God, you really don't enjoy anything that is unproductive in your walk with God.

There is a cost of discipleship that I think we need to consider. When we are saved, there seems to be a notion that it's a momentary thing and it's like buying an insurance policy. Real Christianity is radial. It is radical in the sense that everything you enjoy changes to what God enjoys. You enjoy helping people and serving people. You enjoy sharing the Gospel. You enjoy talking about God and what He is doing in your life. You enjoy the ways in which you see God working around the world. And most of all, you enjoy bringing everything back to Jesus so that He gets all the glory.

Frankly, I think people need to stop thinking they are safe from Hell because their parents took them to church and they had a couple of good retreats in the past. The reality of the Gospel is that once we know God, we realize that we aren't running from hell by following God, but running to God because we want more of Him. Its a radically different approach. We aren't motivated by fear, but love. Its only when we experience that love however, that it makes sense to keep running to God. And that's what believing is: turning to God and running to Him without ever stopping.

When I stop to ask people, how many people around you are serious about their faith, very few people say that they have more than one friend who truly seems to live a life "worthy of the calling of the Gospel." This means, that of all the people that go to church, only few people exemplify the love of Christ. This to me, seems to conclude, that people need to get a more clear definition of what it means to be a Christian. Christianity is not just a proclamation, but a daily relationship with a God who is greater than anything we could ever imagine.

Real Christianity is much more serious than the one we think Christianity is. It is covered with endless grace, motivated by an all consuming love, and driven by a hunger for more of God. It runs from sin because it knows that God is better. After all, why eat stale bread when you can dine at the French Laundry? People who are Christian walk away from sin and run towards God. People who are Christian don't seek the approval of men, but the approval of God. People who are Christian don't pursue wealth, security, and fame, but pursue the enjoyment of God. Sure, this sounds a bit radical, but when was Christianity ever not?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Worrying adds nothing

Worry adds nothing to your life.

Its so easy to worry about things that many times, we don't even realize we are worrying. Worry has become such a natural part of our existence that we have even categorized it into productive and unproductive worrying. I know this because there are things in my life that are under my control that I worry about and then there are things that I can't control that I worry about.

Worry about how people viewed me used to preoccupy my thoughts. I wanted to maintain an image to the world that was both respectable and enticing. It consumed my thoughts and made me behave in ways I never thought I would. I arranged my entire life including my decisions and social life to accommodate my desire to be viewed in a certain way. This was masked by utilizing my friendliness to build an image that makes me look good instead of bringing glory to God. I've realized that any indirect making God look good, isn't good strategy on our part, it's just God redeeming our sin. Our calling as Christians is to receive the love of God and love others as a result of that love we receive from God.

Worrying about the future is the hardest thing for me to deal with. On the one hand, one of my strengths according to Strengths Finder 2.0 is "Futuristic." It basically says that the future excites me and I can easily paint a grand picture of the future since I can so easy get there in my mind. The problem with this if not just taken as a tool to be used by God to grant people a sense of vision and hope is that I become anxious since I want the future to become the present, now. Patience gets thrown out the window, I become worried about things not working out, and then I get preoccupied by the anxiety that comes from waiting and not knowing what will exactly happen. Its like waiting for Christmas, but wondering how Santa will get into the chimney you don't have in a high rise you live in where the security is constantly watching 24/7. All the worry is pointless.

This worrying was always masked with a sense of duty and obligation to do something greater, instead of truly being faithful to what I have been given now. In the name of progress, I put God in my pocket and told Him that He couldn't come out until I figured everything out and solved everything on my own. The distinction was always subtle because I acknowledged God, but I never really trusted Him. Instead, everything I did was frantic, there was no peace in my heart, and I jumped every time I got a phone call or an e-mail. I was at the mercy of whatever I was pursuing.

The problem with worry is that it is very real. The problems we worry about are generally problems that merit stress and anxiety because so much rides on them. The salvation of someone that is close to us, the job we need to get, the acceptance letter from the college, or even the text from the really cute girl that you asked out are all very real issues that are very close to the heart.

The reason that worrying is pointless is because God is in control and as His children, we can move His hand through prayer. Hebrews 11:6 points out that "without faith, it is impossible to please God." If you really think about this, God is saying, "with faith, you WILL please God." The reason this is so profound is because at the end of the day, we all have very little control over what happens in our life. Just the other day, I heard about a car crash that killed a family, a young 20-something boy that fell off a cliff while hiking in Southern California, and people losing millions of dollars because people no longer have confidence in the stock market. We can barely control what other people do on the road as we drive to the market, what makes us think that we can control any more than a fraction of our lives?

God tells us to take a step back and climb a mountain. From the mountain top, when we look down, we don't see any one person's problem. Instead, we just see the entire city from one end to the other. Then we look to the left, then the right, then behind us and see that the lands and the seas span further than our eyes can see. Then you have to come to grips with the reality that since people cannot keep this all in place, God must be the one doing it. Government fails, economies fail, families fail, heck, even churches fail, but God, He never fails. He says, trust me for that is what faith is.

Worry is the demonstration of a lack of trust in a God that is completely trustworthy. He holds the entire universe in His hands and he zooms into us and says, I want to know you, to do you no harm, to keep you safe, and have you get to know me. Don't worry about anything because I am going to give you the best life you've ever imagined. There will be pain, but don't worry, its all for your good. Sometimes, it may seem like I've gone away, but I'm right behind you, watching you with love. If you think I'm not listening, quickly toss that belief aside, because I hear everything you are saying and want to give you more than what you ask for. Just trust me when I don't give you the things you think you want because I am going to give you something greater, Me! Faith casts out anxiety and love gives you confidence to keep trusting instead of worrying. Trust that God is good and that He knows what you need more than you think. When you rest in this, you will pray to God to bring about His will for your life, since you know that what He has in store for you could far exceed any bit of imagination and creativity you could muster up on your own.

God loves you, so don't worry! Be Happy!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Why people shouldn't fear being broken

"Lord, break me."

Too many people fear this prayer for all the wrong reasons.

There is a false belief that if we pray to God asking Him to "break us," that we will be left with nothing. The truth is that we will be left with Him and Him alone.

Brokenness is a concept that scares us because we don't like things that are broken, especially people. We shouldn't be surprised to realize that we quickly discard of anything that is broken. After all, what is the use of having a broken clock that can't tell time or a broken television around the house that we can't watch? We use logic that broken is useless and bad, so we try to avoid it at all costs. Brokenness is a concept in our Christian walk that I think we need a better understanding of.

To understand and describe the concept of being broken, many people use the analogy of how bones that have been broken at one point have healed incorrectly. Regardless of whether the bone was broken through a sports injury or through foolishness, in order to set the bone straight, we must break the bone once again so that the bones can reset correctly. The idea seems nice, but who in their right mind wants to experience the pain of breaking a bone again?! The reason why brokenness is so misunderstood is because we lack the perspective required to understand the value of it. I feel like this is misleading because it only focuses on the fact that we must experience a great excruciating pain in order to get to a place where things are good.

In Camp Pendleton, there are hills that the marines in training have to climb. When I went there, my friends showed me a series of hills that look more like small mountains called humps are utilized for training purposes. As the marines go up and down these massive hills, they are required to carry packs that weigh between 70-100+ pounds for between 3-20 miles. The reason they do this is to gain strength and, but for this analogy, we will consider what they gain as self dependency. As we go through life, we add weights to our pack when we should be walking without weights. We begin by adding expectations of how our lives should look; our careers, how much money we make, and how popular we are become a weight in our lives. Then we add our deficiencies that come from being in a fallen world; the desire for security, approval, and acceptance isn't found in God, but in success and achievement. Pain, failure, disappointment, and fear of the unknown add even more weight onto our packs. And as we continue to live life, we find that we are trying to depend on ourselves, constantly realizing that we can't depend on people, and that no one really knows us as well as we would like them to - all realizations that add even more weight to our lives. Pretty soon, we find ourselves carrying a pack that weighs more than we do simply because we don't really trust God. We don't trust God because we don't know Him. And because we don't know Him, we think that we have to take on all the problems of this world on our own.

We shouldn't be afraid of being broken by God. In fact, it should be our daily prayer. Only in a state of brokenness is there mending and healing. Only in a state of brokenness can we truly see ourselves as we really are, in need of a perfect God. Brokenness reveals the distance between how we live and how God wants us to live. If we can't sincerely ask God to break us, it means that we either have a distorted view of who God is or that we have something in our hearts that we deem to be better than God. Before I started Project62, I was in a place where my career in investment banking (including the status, security, and the stability it would bring me) was more important to me than God was. I placed more hope in my career than I found in God and I didn't want to trust God with my future because of that hope in my career. There was nothing I wanted to hear more than absolutely nothing from God, because if God didn't speak, I didn't have to obey. But He did speak, and how much I rejoice because of what He said.

Essentially, God reminded me that I could chase my tail for the rest of my life and still not experience wonder and security like I could find in my relationship with Him. He reminded me that He created the universe and holds it gently in His hands and then zooms into the lives of people so that we can get to know Him personally. He reminded me that I am much better of depending on Him instead of myself or anyone else because He is flawless and we are terribly flawed. He reminded me that He knows all things, He can do all things, and He will bring good from all things if I remain in Him. My fear of shifting my dependence on my career, myself, and other people unto God prevented me from experiencing God in the way I was meant to and when I did shift my trust onto Him, everything became good.

I realized that dependency, aka faith, is a gift from God. It allows us to shed our weights from our shoulders and place them onto Him. Through prayer, daily, I find that God is constantly taking the burdens, fears, anxieties, uncertainties, and hopes of my life and telling me to entrust Him with it. Through prayer, I find myself entrusting Him with all of my greatest treasures and finding peace at the end of each day because I know that He will take care of me. What brokenness isn't necessarily the pain that comes through destroying our lives, but the freedom that comes from not being chained down by all the expectations, burdens, and troubles of our lives. Brokenness is being stripped of all things that we should be relying on God for and then moving towards actually relying on Him.

At the end of the day, I know I can rely on God because He is good and what He began in my life, He will complete to the very end. He is more than enough to sustain me throughout all of this entire life. My problem is that I am so short sighted and overly practical that I plan everything on my own and create insurance policies against all possible scenarios. The thing is, God is enough in all of His goodness, love, and provision and its when we are stripped of everything except Him that we can see that. For those who are fortunate, they build on top of the foundation of that, and that alone. We are broken so that we can rely on the one person that is reliable for eternity and beyond.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

An undivided heart is what God calls us to have

I've been having a ton of conversations with people about relationships and being single these days. Even last week's sermon at church revolved around the topic of sex and relationships. It is clearly apparent, that when you look at modern society, romantic relationships play a huge role and take a huge chunk of our attention. Sex (of any kind) is clearly wrong outside of marriage. However, dating is another issue. I can't help, but wonder if what we are called to do is be a little more counter-cultural about relationships.

Today, dating seems to be all about the trial run. The guiding mantras seem to be, 'date around to find out how compatible you are with each other', 'have sex to see if you are sexually compatible', 'date a lot to see what's out there', and 'move in together to see if you can stand each other.' All of them seem to be marriage without the marriage. People grow extremely attached to each other, depend on each other as if they were each others' spouses, do everything that should only be reserved for married couples, then, walk away when the meter runs out. This sort of practice would not have been accepted even 50 years ago and here we are, calling ourselves progressive by handing out our heart to people we have strong feelings for without considering the implications. Heartbreak in our lives becomes normal and expected. Pain from relationships become a check point in which you can say you are living a "normal" life. And if you are one of those people who choose not to get into a relationship, there is the belief that you are either weird and no one likes you or you have a commitment phobia with a ton of underlying issues (which may both be true).

Relationships seem to define one's self worth. In modern culture, singleness is not honored, nor is it valued.

I live in LA. It's a city where the social scene is the night life and where most people don't know how to relate to each other when the sun is out (unless if they are on the beach). Usually, alcohol is required for people to be able to exchange conversation with each other without getting awkward. The places where less meaningful dialogue is required, the better the place is in the city. That way, we can just engage in the physicality of it all and be seen in the scene. I hear it so many times, but it seems much easier to hook up with someone, then have a real conversation with them after since you've already been somewhat intimate with them. Something about this just doesn't seem to be right. On the other hand, its like every other city in that people seem to frantically be searching for Mr. or Miss Right or jumping from relationship to relationship. Most people either seem to be searching, dating, breaking up, or getting over a break up.

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about what Paul meant when he said to the Corinthian church, (1 Cor 7:8-9) "Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." Normally, what people conclude from this passage is that there is a test for people to see if they are called to get married. If they want to have sex, then they are called to marriage. If they don't want to have sex, then they aren't. Once this distinction is made clear, they rest in that knowledge instead of going further with what God was saying through Paul. From that point on, they go through life with one eye on God and the other looking for "the one."

There is a big problem with this because this, for many people, gives an excuse to idolize relationships more than they love God. They put so much hope in the potential of a relationship that it distracts them from fully trusting God with their entire lives. Their incessant need to find "the one" takes them up and down on an emotional roller coaster that whenever they meet someone that might fit the bill they quickly go through their own checklist to make sure that the person is sane, has a fully functioning brain, and that all their body parts are in tact. They quickly go into acceleration mode to filter the guy/girl through the crazy filter and then decide to pursue the relationship. Then they date and give everything they got (mind, body, time, energy, and hope) into the relationship and when the relationship doesn't work out, they become sad and devastated. This belief that since we are called to marriage, we should always be on the lookout JUST IN CASE we end up meeting our soul mate makes it seem as if the search for the one is something that we are called to do that we spend more time seeking for the perfect person instead of becoming that person ourselves. We lose sight of God in the middle of any crises where we meet someone and the relationship doesn't seem to be progressing as we think it should. We don't trust God with our future spouse, because we've determined that because we have the desire to get married, we shouldn't feel like we need to give it up. The reality is, God called us to not have ANY idols in our lives; including the hope of meeting and marrying our future spouses.

Later in chapter 7, Paul writes that time in this life is short and that we must not waste our lives. Then he goes on by saying, "32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband." This clearly reflects that God certainty values marriage and deems it so good that He is willing to share your heart, your time, and your devotion with your spouse. What he isn't saying is that anything before marriage should look even remotely close to this. One thing that must be clarified though, is that God doesn't say that we are to consider our spouses as holding equal weight in our lives as God, but that there is a clear order that God is always primary, and if we are married, our wives or husbands are always primary above all things beside God. That means if our work gets in the way of our marriage, we are committing sin against God. If our children are of more importance than our spouses, we are committing the sin of idolatry. If our freedom is greater than our spouses, we are committing the sin of selfishness. In all things, minus the supremacy of God, are our spouses greater.

Immediately after, he says, "35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord."

God calls us to have an undivided devotion to Him!

Before my most recent relationship, I had been single for almost 7 years. After my first girlfriend nearly 9 years ago, I decided to be wiser with my next relationship so I devoted myself to being single. I went on mission trips, did church work, and lived a fairly good life. I felt as if I was ready to start dating since I have been single for so long. I read hundreds of books on relationships, marriage, and communication to understand the dynamics and what it would take to have a successful relationship. Although I do think that I was certainly more mature in the relationship, I look back towards the beginning of it and find myself realizing that even in my singleness, I had a divided heart.

When I was single, I was never really single. My heart (although not fully) was always set on finding the future Mrs. Chang. I would consider some women that crossed my path and put them through the filter and only because I was so picky, did I not date so much. If I wasn't as picky, I would've probably been a serial dater jumping from relationship to relationship. What I realized after reading 1 Corinthians 7 was that having standards and being picky don't determine whether or not your heart is divided. What determines whether or not you have a divided heart is whether or not you are always hoping to meet that person. You know if you are hoping to meet that person when every decent person that you encounter becomes a potential candidate to be the future Mr. or Mrs. (insert last name here). You think you have to play the odds because you really don't trust that God will bring the right person into your life. In essence, you think you have to do it since God isn't big enough to orchestrate such a grand event. This often happens when we forget that He created the universe and holds it in the palm of His hand.

You should be OK with being single for the rest of your life and enjoy God in that state before you go off and start a life with someone. When you are OK with being single, no man enters your mind. But more than being OK with being single, one must love God more than the relationships that they could be missing out on. As for me, even though the relationship status on my Facebook account read "single", the relationship status on my heart said "it's complicated". If you really trust that God is good, that He provides, and that His timing is perfect, then you will stop looking around and simply look up. When you look up to just enjoy God, God will work out all of His magic and bring about everything that you want. When you hope more for a relationship than you hope more for God, you commit an idolatry of the heart that is hard to distinguish and extremely difficult to let go of. However, when you let go, the feelings of liberation and joy abound as you find yourself trusting God in every aspect of your life since He is good enough to provide and trustworthy enough not to bring you harm. That is the essence of the undivided heart. A heart that trusts in God so much that any potential anxiety of the future or something the world says we should have is something we trust that God will provide as we learn to just love Him for who He is.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Giving up too soon makes you look crazy

The second leg of the journey always seems to be the hardest.

Before you begin any journey, there is always a sense of excitement of what is to come. Patience always seems to run thin as you want to hurry up and get out the door as quickly as possible. After all, every great journey begins with a single step and the longer you wait to get out the door, the longer it will take to get to the destination. If the journey ahead has much uncertainty, then there is certainly a level of fear and anxiety, but if you at least know where you are headed and what you might encounter along the road and at the end of it, the excitement usually surpasses any sense of fear of anxiety. I am on my second leg.

It's day 25 of my journey. Everyday, I find that my prayer life is growing stronger and my enjoyment of prayer is getting greater. But this was not always the case. My prayer life, as my friend Michelle likes to describe it, was "dry". Turning to God was a pain in the butt. I didn't feel like I was getting anything out of it, nor did I feel like I had much to say. But then, something changed.

When I was young, I hated going with my parents to visit my relatives in random parts of Chicago. It usually meant that we would usually spend an hour or two (because everywhere in Chicagoland seems so far) to get to a place, then spend the same amount of time to get back. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, we would drive to Michigan City, Indiana to go spend time with my family at my aunty and uncle's house. The drive there was brutal and through what looks like a series of ghost towns. I easily got carsick so that didn't make it any better and I always got into some sort of argument with my little sister that inevitably left us raising our arms until they got sore as punishment. Nonetheless, my parents told me I had to go so from as far back as I can remember I went.

As I kept going back each year, I learned an interesting lesson. It took me about two or three years to learn this, but I realized that if I just got myself to get in the car, then everything else would be good after that and that I could enjoy the ride there and my time with the family when I got to Indiana. As each year went on, the more I would spend my time in the car remembering certain landmarks and anticipate the day I would have with my family.

Many times, when you start the second leg of the journey, it feels dry because you haven't fully experienced how amazing the rest of the journey will be. A lot of time, the scenery seems a little repetitive and the landscape seems dull, and for miles, it feels like nothing is going to change. You start losing hope because you only remember the pain or nuisance it is to set off. Getting ready becomes boring because you think you know what the day will fully entail. You don't expect to get surprised, nor do you think you will enjoy yourself.

The reality is, the spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, reading the Bible, solitude, and fasting are like this. There is a middle ground where the excitement of opening up the Bible for the first time or praying for the first time is no longer there. The expectation that God is going to do amazing thing through your time with Him starts dwindling because you thought that God would speak through thunder and lightning instead of a subtle peace and a sense of joy of knowing Him. The feelings start to confuse you and what you built up in your mind seems like a let down for the most part. However, the reality is, that as the beginning of a journey (our immaturity in faith) provides excitement and expectation, the middle ground provides us with discipline and consistency. It allows us to see that God is faithful and what He is after isn't fireworks or for us to walk around in burlap potato sacks and live without electricity or running water. What God wants from us is for us to experience Him. He wants for us to experience His goodness, kindness, provision, mercy, love, joy, and abundance. He wants for us to experience His protection, holiness, comfort, and freedom. He wants for us to know Him.

The problem with the middle ground is that most people quit. They get disappointed because of the lack of bells and whistles and immediately discredit God and their own faith in God and say that its not worth it. The sad part of it is that the last leg is immediately around the corner. The third leg forward of faith gives us the confidence we lost because of our own false expectations from God. As we expected God to act and behave in a certain way and found ourselves disappointed, the third, fourth, and fifth legs show us that God does speak and that He does provide more than we could ever imagine, but He does so in different ways. In essence, we push through the middle leg to learn about how He speaks and how He interacts with us so that in our last legs, we can simply walk with Him. Dryness disappears and everything seems rich. Faith is fun and nothing else really seems to matter except for God and people. Prayer is great because you pray in a way that allows God to speak and through listening, you hear God personally in your life.

I feel like for most of my life, I've quit when I hit the second leg. I was always on the brink of experiencing God in an incredible way and then I quit because He doesn't move fast enough for me. My own expectations of how God should be got in the way of allowing me to see how God really was.

As I feel like I'm at the end of the second leg, I find life to be much more meaningful and colorful. My time with God is always fruitful and I enjoy spending hours on end with God on a daily basis. But most surprisingly, I find that my interactions with people are much more fruitful. God seems to be searching through the lands for people who will respond to His call. Will you?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Learning to walk with God in prayer

I am confident to say that I've been Christian all my life, but not really.

When we are young, I think its easy to give everything to God because we frankly don't have anything to really offer. We are dependent on our parents for nearly everything and the most we have to give up at our young ages are our toys and video games (which I don't deny is still a very hard thing to do). By saying this, I don't undermine the heart of the child that sacrificially gives their things for others because the sincerity to give at that age is still required when they age, but the weight is much smaller.

As we get older, we take into consideration so many more things. Our aging reality is that we have more responsibility and as we have more to be responsible for, we begin to arrange our lives so that we can meet those needs. We need to pay rent, buy a car, and take care of all the living expenses required to merely survive in this world. That means we need a job and a level of security so that if we begin to live a certain type of lifestyle, we can maintain it. Then to fill our loneliness or our sexual desires, we find a partner of sorts. The younger we are, the less we find the urgency to settle down with just anyone (especially if we are male). Men think without consequence, what sleeping with a woman does and women sleep with men because they like it themselves and don't think the guy will stick around if they don't. The older we get, this carelessness towards relationships turns into an urgency to find "the one". We get set up, are online to find that special someone, and are open to the fact that the next person you meet could actually be the one. We have our nets spread out so wide that there is no need to trust God through it - probably the most important decision ever. Whether it is our jobs, our relationships (both romantic and platonic), our lifestyle, or anything else in our lives, we usually take the approach that says, "God, I'm going to start walking this way and if you want me to stop, then stop me. Otherwise, I'll just keep going." We acknowledge that God is important, but not most important.

This causes issues in our hearts because it prevents us from really needing God. God becomes more of a safety net than our life source. Instead of saying, I'll play probabilities, we should be learning to walk with God. Walking with God is different then telling God you are going to go somewhere then looking back to make sure He is still around. We often act like babies in a room being monitored by God instead of children that are being taken around Disneyland. The difference is in the belief of how God is involved in our lives.

Walking with God requires that we listen. We listen when we pray. There is no other interaction that exists where we can stand before God and ask Him to speak to us. God speaks in many ways (usually through the Bible, prayer, the Church, and circumstances), but I find that prayer is the way in which we deliberately set apart time and space for God to speak to us. When we pray, we hear God speak, and when he speaks we learn that we need to trust Him to fulfill His promises to us. As we pray, we spend time adoring Him, confessing our sins, thanking God for being God, then asking God to supply us with all that we need to battle the sins of the heart and flesh. This should show us that there is a greater need in life for us to cling to God. Our hearts are always trying to replace God with cheaper substitutes. We want to call our own shots. We want to be the rulers of our own lives. We don't want to have to try and would rather just go with the easy options of mindless living since we have so many demands on life. We would rather frankly turn to people.

When we pray, God becomes our strength. He reveals to us as we listen, read His Word, and share our thoughts with Him how much He loves us. That love which was paid for by unbelievable torment, ridicule, pain, and suffering allows us to see that His love wasn't cheap, isn't cheap. He love sends us the message that we can slow down in life while simultaneously cultivating an urgency to share His love with others. We slow down to know Him instead of trying to build an empire for ourselves to gain security, status, and a sense of meaning in this world. We turn to Him instead of people because His wisdom is always greater and once we accept the reality that He actually speaks to those He loves (and He loves YOU!), we learn to quiet ourselves before Him and wait in expectation for Him to respond. The same love allows us to let go of all the stresses in the world and all the anxiety because as we walk with Him, He will allow us to rest in the fact that He has our circumstances in His hands and He hears our cries for help. And the very same love prevents us from feeling shame, hurt, or angry by people who look down at us and talk down at us, ridiculing us for our faith or something related. Something happens where a peace comes down and consumes us.

I've recently come to the conclusion that sin is preferring anything above God. Walking with God requires that we turn to Him at every point, that we trust Him with everything, and that we let go of the things that we deem more important than Him. I see far too many people living a faith life that seems to contradict what God wants simply because they are so tied to things that seem not to matter. I ask myself, why not live a more radical life? If we only have one life to live, then why not go all out and see how God uses us because we decide that nothing is as important as knowing Him intimately and putting Him above all else.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Kings and Puppies

Everyday I spend with God, the more colorful life seems to become. People become more interesting, the daily activities aren't as mundane, and I don't need an ounce of alcohol to have fun. All in all, life is good.

Over the past few days, I've been challenged at how I viewed God. I have struggled hard with certain theological views on God that have limited my desire to pursue Him simply because He just seemed so elusive. The reality was, I was walking with my head up my butt.

Realization 1: God is not a puppy dog that just waits for you to play with Him.

My sister and I have a dog named Chase. Anytime he hears the words "Let's go" or "Vamonos" (because I taught him a little Spanish), his ears perk up and he gets really excited. He moves in a way that is very cautious of your movements so that he isn't left behind and usually waits in front of the door as you make your ways towards it.
Often, I think this is how I viewed God: a pathetic, but adorable puppy that got excited at the chance to go out with me. This led me to have a prayer life what was centered around my comfort, a social life that came before knowing God, and a view of God that diminished Him to be the lucky one in this relationship. Of course, through my words and my regular Sunday attendance, no one could tell, but all the signs pointed to my low view of God. The fact that I scheduled God in last, after I scheduled everything else in reveals the place He really takes in my life.
I can't blame anyone because we are all busy, but if it is true that to those we love, we prioritize our time and arrange our schedule, then I don't think we really have any excuses. Sometimes, we need to put our business aside or get up a little earlier or say no to hanging out with our friends to approach God.
God isn't a needy puppy, instead He is the king. He is the Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Barack Obama, Prince William, Nelson Mandela, Michael Jordan, Kim Yuna, Beatles, Brad Pitt, all combined and an infinite times more. There are people I know that in order to have an attendance with, require that we completely change our schedules, dress appropriately, and learn proper protocol for. Approach the Queen of England and you are given a list of things you can and cannot do and say. People take this very seriously and consider it a huge honor to approach her. The same goes for our legal system. We cannot display any contempt in court or speak out of line without risking penalty. There is a deep reverence and respect for the person sitting behind the throne or the bench. The thing is, we have a God whom requires great fear and commands great awe, but allows us to approach Him as a friend. This, I find amazing in so many ways. The God of the universe calls us His friend.

Realization 2: God doesn't play hide and seek.
When you walk along the city streets of New York, most people are busy staring either at the ground beneath them or at their Blackberries and iPhones. I feel like we walk like this in our faith as well. After walking like this for a while, we begin to wonder where God is. We get caught up with our every movement and at getting to the next destination as quickly as possible, that we begin to peek down alleys and into dark corners because we don't see God as we are moving rapidly around the city. We search the bars, the taverns, the restaurants, and the tiny apartments that people pay ridiculous amounts of money for and we search for God in our busyness. We often times don't feel his love in circumstances where we are too busy for Him.
Then we decide to enjoy the stroll. One day, we realize that everything isn't that serious and that we can still do a great job without being stressed about the million pieces that need to come together. We begin to understand that we can only do what we are able to do and that the rest will have to take care of itself or we will trust that our wisdom and experiences can extinguish any fires that pop up. Once we do that, we release the tension in our shoulders and start walking with our heads up to notice all the unique architecture around the city - a great metaphor for God and His love in our lives.
The buildings around New York are close together and massive. Because we are so focused on getting to our next destination, we can't keep our eyes off the ground and in order to find God, we are only able to peek through the alleys. However, once we let go, we can realize that God is greater than our circumstances and that His love will cover us regardless of what bad things happen in our lives. As you admire one building, you turn a corner to see another. Walk past that building and you find another one of great magnificence. The love of God is not hidden in corners, but looming over you in ways you would've never imagined before. It isn't sparse, but abundant in every way. He is always there and it just takes a little bit of letting go and looking up to realize it.

This God, whose love is overwhelming is constantly drawing me into Him. The days are going by quickly and I am excited as each day ends. My interactions with people seem to be bearing great fruit and I've never enjoyed people as much as I do now in my life. He doesn't hide from us, but calls us from the rooftops and just tells us to look up. He says to know that His infinite bigness will cover us with eternal protection, approval, confidence, and satisfaction. There is none like Him and by simply believing in His love for us through the crucifixion and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, brings us all into a love relationship with Him that is oh so sweet!

God is good!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

It's not about what you wait for, but who you are waiting with

I don't think anyone on earth naturally enjoys waiting for something they want.

From birth, we want everything, NOW. We cried for milk NOW. We wanted our diapers changed NOW. And as we grew older, we wanted the latest toy NOW, the latest video game NOW, and for all the nerds out there, the most recent Harry Potter book NOW. We evolved with our interests as we grew older to want the newest iPhone, cars, clothing, purses, technology, jobs, girlfriend/boyfriends, or even work out routine. If a new restaurant came out, we wanted to go there NOW. Nothing seems to be as good as getting something NOW. In fact, everything in the service industry is oriented to satisfy this sense of NOW. The only place we don't want to go to now is to visit the dentist.

Based on our social standing and the wealth we have, things do change a little. The wealthiest and the most famous people rarely have to wait for anything as the world seems to rearrange itself to fit their needs. They get priority seating, they get first choice, they also get the first look previews. Special events are created just for them so that they can have a first glance at a new art exhibit or take a look at the newest line of super cars. As the service and luxury industry continues to thrive, there will always be a gap between the prioritization of the rich and the poor. But at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. All this will mean nothing and well, as for me, I have found that waiting is often times more fruitful than not, whether I enjoy it or detest it at the moment. Something about waiting makes the human experience that much sweeter.

There is a great equalizer though that serves as a good test for people. The thing about waiting is that it demonstrates one's sense of entitlement and their level of patience. Most people who hate waiting for anything will talk about how time is money (which is certainly true) and how they don't have time to wait like the rest of us. They get angry when things take a minute too long or if it doesn't show up when expected. They will literally go out of their way to bring a little wrath into someones life due to their "incompetence" in timeliness. Waiting also shows how much of a control freak they are and in what ways they value their time. People who have little patience simply don't have a grip on the common reality of the world, which is best exemplified by the law of the harvest. If you plant a seed, it will take time to grow, and you will need to wait for it to grow. Something about farming analogies always seem to make sense because we all have had experiences eating vegetables and fruits. However, for those of us who live in the city, it isn't farming that demonstrates our patience (and foresight and discipline), but our ability to wait at the DMV. The DMV isn't the only gauge, but it certainly is a good one. Everyone can probably agree that a great equalizer in society is the DMV. No matter who you are (except maybe politicians), you have to grab a number, wait in line, and often wait a long time before you are called (especially in LA). DMV days are good tests for me since I have to plan my entire day around it. There are now options to schedule an appointment, but even with an appointment, I am usually there for an hour. I've never been in and out of any DMV like it was a drive through.

The thing about waiting at a DMV is that you begin to look down on everyone else for making you wait and hate the people on the other side of the counter simply because they are there. We begin to think that only incompetent people work at the DMV and that if they weren't so lazy the line would move faster. We blame the immigrants from Central America or Asia for not being able to read the forms correctly and wasting more time. Then we get scared when the tatted up black guy with an angry look on his face sits next to us. And of course, we can't forget about the country bumpkin white family with 7 kids crying right behind us because they didn't fill out the registration. In the corner, you always see some guy or gal in a power suit and tie trying to make the most of the situation while talking on his iPhone and clicking away on his Blackberry clearly frustrated because he is too good to be in the same room as everyone else.

However, if you realize that everyone is in the same boat and that every one's time is just as valuable as yours and everyone has some place better to be, then you begin to see them differently. You see the struggle the immigrants are having and you ask them if they need any help since you speak a little Spanish and are ethnically from the same Asian decent as others. You see that the hardened tattoo guy is actually a really nice guy once you actually talk to him. The family with the kids are genuinely nice and just need a breather for one second so you play with the kids and alleviate them from having to pay attention to every single kid and stress out about losing one of them in the chaos. The guy/gal in the power suit is stressing out about a deal that might put his job on the line. Everyone at the DMV seems to be falling apart. What you realize at this point is that it makes the most sense for you to wait more. Every one's needs all of a sudden become more pressing then your own and you start to empathize with that. Waiting becomes an act of service and you humble yourself through the wait and enjoy the company of those waiting with you. You have a few conversations, get to know some interesting people whom you would've never interacted with on any other occasion, and if things go really well, minister to them. Somehow, waiting stopped becoming a dread and turned into a series of moments where you can truly see that you aren't the center of the universe.

The thing about waiting isn't necessarily about what you are waiting for. We all have to wait for stuff. Waiting is just a part of life, so we have to accept the fact that we will spend a good amount of time just waiting in life. But there is something greater in the waiting which we need to grasp.

I remember going to 21 Choices in Old Town Pasadena for some Cold Stone like mixed in Frozen Yogurt with a friend of mine several years ago. She's a child therapist so she would always point out behavioral tendencies in children and I would find it extremely amusing. During the summers, the lines to get 21 Choices were about 20-30 minutes long. As we waited in line, we had good conversation and on top of that started engaging with people in line, which is odd for people in larger cities because everyone is always looking for more personal space. We met a group of three people of which two were married together and their daughter. We conversed the entire time we were in line and even made plans to meet again. We met several times after that event and became good friends until they moved away to New York for work. But I find that being in situations where you are forced to wait can present great opportunities to meet people if you are just open to it. The benefits of getting to know new people certainly outweighed the cons of having to wait for ice cream.

Its not about what you are waiting for, but often times, who you are waiting with.

I am usually guilty of just trying to get to the destination that I don't enjoy the process of actually getting there. However, the great lessons of life seem to be placed within the journey. We admire heroes for enduring through their tumultuous processes to get somewhere.

As I've set apart two months to simply get to know God, the thing I've been struggling with is what is after these two months. What direction do I go? At times when I pray I focus so much on where I am headed that I forget that I am headed there with God and ignore God all together. I don't enjoy the time I get to spend with the great King of Glory and the protector of my soul. I forget that my Father in Heaven has opened up a channel for me through his great Son Jesus Christ to allow me to fellowship with Him, to enjoy Him. When I set my pace to slow down, to not be so anxious, and to just look to God, I find that the transformations take place. Peace settles in and calm runs through my veins. My perspective turns from my immediate needs to the eternal life I will live. Everything sort of works together to help me see the joy of waiting with God.

The thing is, if we are too focused on what we have to do and where we are headed, we tend to miss the most important moments of life. I have been to over 40 weddings now and a common thing I hear from the bride and groom afterwards is that they wish it wasn't so much a production. Instead, they wish that they could've enjoyed the wedding with their guests instead of running around trying to fill a time schedule. Yes, a large part of weddings is the production of it all, but I can't help but hear the message that the reason the production was even worth it was because of the people who were there to participate with them in the ceremony.

If no one likes the dentist, then all of a sudden, I find myself having the best time of my life in the waiting room because I know that God is with me.