1 Corintians 7 1 John 1 Abandon Abraham Academic Gospel Acceptance adoptee adoption All to Us Anxiety Armenian Aslan Bitterness blind faith Branch bread of life Brokenness C.S. Lewis Cain and Abel calling Calvinist camp pendleton character Chris Tomlin Christianity Circumstances Cliffs community Conversion Covenant Culture Daily Darkness Dating Decisions Delight Dependence Desire Deuteronomy Disappointment Discipline Dying Emotions Endurance Environment Esau Eulogy Examine Exodus 16-18 Exodus 18 Exodus 3 Exodus 4 Faith Famine father father's heart Fog Free Diving Free Will Friendship Genesis 24 Genesis 32 Genesis 4 Genesis 5 George Mueller Giving Up Glass Half Full Glory God God's Glory Good Gospel Grace Growth haunted Head vs. Heart Healing Hit and Run Holiness Holy Flame that Burns Holy Spirit Hope Hurdles Idolatry Impute Influence Intimacy Isaac Israel Jacob James K.A. Smith Jesus Jethro Jewish Tradition John 12 John 14 John 5 John Piper John Young Kim Jonah 4 Leadership Light love Mark 10:25 Marriage Matthew 22 Matthew 5 Measurement mediator Mercy Me Mission Money moses Naomi Near Death Noah North Korean OCD Offering old testament Overwhelmed Pain paralyzed Past Patterns Paul Washer Philippians 3 Philippians 3:8-11 Prayer Preaching Predestination Project62 Promises Psalm 25 Psalm 44 Pushing to the End Quiet Time Quitting Rebecca Relationships Righteousness Rock Rock Climbing Romans 12 Romans 5 Romans 8 Romans 8:28 Ruth Salvation Sanctification Satan Self Dependence Singleness Sins Sovereignty Striving Suffering Surrender Tears Temptation Theology Tim Keller True Christianity Trust trust in God Undivided Heart vocation Waiting Walking with God Wealth Worry Zen

Friday, November 25, 2011

A North Korean's Perspective on Christians

Me: (after finding out the North Korean goes to church) Are you Christian?
North Korean: Yes, but that doesn't seem to mean much anymore.
Me: What do you mean?
NK: Well, almost every person I meet calls them self Christian, but they don't seem any different from anyone else. They go to church to meet a spouse, and then when they find their spouse, they say "amen" and stop going. I'd be surprised if even half the people who call themselves Christian actually are. It's probably more like 10%.

I don't know about you, but when I heard this, I was rocked. How sad a reality it is that when an outsider sees the Christian population, they can tell whether someone is authentic or not. I think that what we need to do as Christians is to examine ourselves to make sure we are of the faith. That means, we should check ourselves to make sure we truly trust in the Gospel of Jesus Christ - to believe that Christ came down to earth to die for our sins so that we would no longer be separated from God. If we believe this, our lives will look radically different than the person that doesn't believe this.

Jesus said, Matthew5:14 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." In these verses, there is both an automatic result and a passive action that is taken by those who believe Jesus as their savior. The first byproduct is that Jesus will shine through you if you believe in Him whether you do anything or not. There is a quality about accepting the Gospel that prevents anything from hiding the relationship that we have with God. If we believe, we cannot hide our faith because it defines us. The second thing is a mandate: that we reveal our standing before God to others. If we have Jesus, we want to share Him because He helps us see that being loved by Him is better than life itself. As someone would share the best news (ie. getting into the college of their choice, getting their dream job, or meeting their soul mate), people who know Jesus cannot contain the fact that they have Him in their lives.

My new friend pointed out in her statements that there is a clear disparity between what people think Christianity is and what it actually is. For her, to be able to embrace Christianity, she had to defect from North Korea in fear, go through China, climb mountains at night, and walk through Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand with almost no money, and the thought that it would be better to commit suicide than be taken back. Both her parents died. Her sister and her grandmother were captured and for almost 10 years, she has had no contact with them. The thought of believing in an invisible God was utter ridiculousness to her until recently, when she tried to pray to God and found that God answered her prayers. For her, faith only makes sense if a person is all in, not wishy washy.

As I confront the Gospel, I find that the life and death of Jesus calls for a full surrender to trust Him with everything - including that He knows better than we do about what we need and how we should live our lives. As I contemplate my new friend's story, I must consider that for most people belief is a luxury, and faith, a commodity that can determine life or death. I am forced to wonder what Christians would look like under persecution - including the punishment of death. I wonder what my faith would look like under persecution. It is recorded that throughout history, Christianity has grown under times of persecution; I am sure that as people have clung to the Cross, there were others who completely denounced it as well.

I don't know much about Paul Washer, but it seems like as he preaches, his central message is for people to truly examine themselves to make sure that there is a congruence between what we believe and our actions. This sermon jam might be something we should actually consider.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Why we Settle for Mediocrity

Ruth 1:16-17 But Ruth said, "Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you."

When I observe life and what it has to offer, I wonder if the great majority of us end up settling for mediocrity due to our own limited perspectives. The amount of self help and self actualization books and seminars that are available are unprecedented. If you want financial mastery, inner peace, relational bliss, or anything else for that matter, there is a how-to manual in order to achieve it. If you don't believe me, just go to the bookstore. When I look at what is out there, I wonder if they lead us to mediocrity in their promises of wealth in 10 steps, happiness in 3 decisions, and freedom in 5 easy payments of $29.99.

As I have been studying the book of Ruth to prepare for a preaching engagement I have coming up at a retreat in Michigan, I have been confronted with a terrifying reality that Ruth did what most people in our contemporary society (and throughout all of history) wouldn't do.

[If you are going to be attending the retreat in Michigan and happen to stumble across this, please don't read it or else you will fall asleep during my sermon]

The setting of the book of Ruth is during the time of the Judges, known as a 400 year period where "every man did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25)" It was a period marked with rebellion against the God who rescued them out of Egypt through grand gestures that made God undeniably real. People quickly forgot how God had been faithful to provide for them in the wilderness for 40 years. As they settled into the promised land, they quickly became comfortable and made their plots of land their world and became the gods of their own existence.

At the time Ruth was written, there had been a great famine in the land and in order to survive. Elimelech (Naomi's husband/Ruth's father in law) decided to move to Moab, where people whose heritage traced back to Sodom were. Moabites were known as wicked people and Israelites were not to associate with them. In Deuteronomy 23:2-3, the law decreed that "no one born of a forbidden union may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD. 3 "No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the LORD forever..." These were serious words from God so why did Elimelech move there?

As with anyone, the reason we pick up and move our entire lives around is in hopes for a better life. This is what Elimelech was in search for as he moved his family from Israel to Moab; to be foreigners amongst a people group that were considered wicked by his community's standpoint. But the hints that we are given about Elimelech are that more than just leaving his community and going to Moab in search of a better life, he had actually departed from his faith. His two sons, named Mahlon and Chilion did not possess Hebrew names. They possessed Canaanite names. This was a significant symbol of the departure from faith at least among the men of Naomi's family - something common even today.

Then within a ten year span while living in Moab, Elimelech and his two sons died leaving Naomi with her two daughters-in-law. Naomi, faced with an astronomical loss, hears that the famine is now over in Israel and that a harvest is going on. Again, with nothing to lose, and only hope to gain, she returns to Israel with her two daughters-in-law. As they began their journey however, she realizes that she was sentencing them both to a life of poverty and misery. Since Naomi had no son, no land, and no family, she was pretty much an elderly grandmother left to fend for herself. She knew her two daughters-in-law would not find acceptance in Israel and would very likely be ridiculed, hurt, or even killed. She also knew that if they stayed in Moab, they could start over: their family, their friends, a potential suitor, and everything that was familiar was in Moab, not in Israel. If they left Moab, they would be leaving a promising future of comfort, acceptance, and security for a life of uncertainty, despair, poverty, and a high chance of death. At this, Naomi's daughters-in-law made divergent decisions: Orpah went back to her family while Ruth said, "Where you go I will go, your God will be my God, and may only death separate us."

We are all faced with decisions on a daily basis. Few of us are faced with life altering decisions like Orpah and Ruth were. For Naomi, her only hope was in returning to Israel, but not Orpah and Ruth. Once they weighed out the pros and cons however, the logical choice would be to return to their homes since the very thing that tied them to Naomi - their husbands - were no longer there. However, we see something that we don't often see today; Ruth made the difficult choice. Ruth's decision reveals a few things about our relationship to God and our relationship to people that we often overlook due to our immense social networks and busyness. It is something that resonates more with the small rural towns of America (or China) and not with the urban centers that is driven by efficiency and the philosophy that time=money.

Here are a few things that Ruth's decision reveals:

1. Believing in God requires Trusting God.
I think that there is a HUGE disconnect in modern society that makes people believe that if you believe in God, then it means that you trust God to truly provide. Ruth made it very clear that she trusted God through her decisions: she had no one to turn to beside God in this new land she would enter. It was, for her, the confirmation of her conversion to the faith of Naomi. Ruth was literally forsaking all safety in order to pursue the faith of Naomi. She knew that if she remained in Moab, she would quickly forget the God of Naomi and re-adopt the cultures, customs, and beliefs of the Moabite people. As she accepted God, it dictated the decisions she made, which led her to "cling" to Naomi and return in an act of pure sacrifice. Trusting God is the true indication that we believe in Him.

2. Trusting God leads to a deeper relational commitment with people.
Its a gloomy thought that when we come to know God, we find living this life utterly meaningless, while simultaneously filled with more meaning that we could've ever imagined. Thoughts of an eternity with God make this world seem bland in comparison, yet we are filled with a vigor for life to share the "love" we have received with others. It confronts everything we believe about relationships from being consumer-based, to be based on commitment through love. We see this clearly in Ruth. She had every right to be a consumer and return to her parent's home to start life afresh, but instead, love motivated her to cling to Naomi and to suffer if she suffered, and die if she died. In her decision to follow Naomi, she gave up her hopes for a stable life, a happy marriage, a complete family, everything that determined the worth of someone in that context. For modern times, it would've been as if she gave up an Ivy League Scholarship, a prestigious career, and the perfect husband to serve the poor in Skid Row or Sub-Saharan Africa.
I live in LA, the most relationally consumerist city in America (possibly after New York). People here are always weighing their options before committing to a social event, loosely accepting invites with the option to opt out, and if you look at any weak social group, the amounts of "maybe attending" on evites and Facebook is laughable. The sweeping culture is rooted in how can I benefit from this person instead of how can I serve this person. The motivation isn't love, but the reward gained from association. Sure, I'm being a little negative, but I know what I'm talking about; I was once a part of the problem.

3. What we think is great, is actually mediocre unless if they are of God.
The more I study the scriptures, the more God shows me that my desires are too small. Comparatively, people will say I have ridiculous standards for what life should look like, but as I continue to let go of what I want God to give me, I see that I held onto things because achieving and gaining those things defined what a "worthy" life was to me. When I stepped back from my decisions of giving those things up, I saw that my entire definition of what a worthy life looked like was actually pathetic, small, and limited compared to the reality of knowing God.
What God seems to do over and over again is to tell us that unless if we desire Him above all things as He is objectively most desirable, that we will always trade in the real deal for a knock off. Everything outside of God will lead to disappointment, sadness, and frustration because they will not satisfy. If we find satisfaction in them, they will lead to an immense amount of stress and anxiety as we will always be afraid of losing them.
But as we let go of things, God shows us that knowing Him is enough and from being fully satisfied in Him, he shows us that there is something better to live for. At the end of Ruth, we see that someone refers to Ruth as being better than 7 sons. Culturally, this signifies that Ruth was better than perfection to Naomi. Having a family with 7 sons was having the ideal family, one that had enough labor, would bring in many grandchildren, and could carry on the name proudly. To Naomi, God blew her expectations away through Ruth and her child. To Ruth, God blew her expectations away through Boaz. To us, God blew our expectations away through Jesus and will blow our expectations away as we continue to get to know Him until we are glorified with Him in eternity.

What God wants for us may not be what we want for ourselves, but it will always be better than we could ever hope for or imagine.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sanctification is a Zen-like OCD

"I don't know man why is it so hard to just be okay with God; maybe I need to give up my fight with him. As simple as it sounds, its the biggest challenge of my life. Will I ever be able to let go? I don't know. I'm a fool. I feel like I cannot live in the secular world in order to fully give in to God. I just want to scream right now." - my friend on g-chat

During a Bible study, a young man asked the group, how do we fully accept grace without getting lazy or taking that grace for granted? How do we let God love us without feeling like we need to earn His love by doing stuff in return? In other words, how do we do this thing called faith? What both my friend and the young man was struggling with was sanctification.

Sanctification is the process of making something holy. To sanctify means to set apart. Therefore, when we are sanctified by Christ, we are constantly being set apart and made holy. In the word sanctify, there is both a reference to an ongoing process and a state of completion. As we grow to bear the image of Christ more and more in life, we must not forget that we are already there and not yet there at the same time. Christ's work completed our work of salvation and if we accept his purity to cover our impurity, we have nothing to strive for, but to continue to love God for His love for us and to share that love with others. One thing we recognize when we find ourselves regenerated or justified in Christ - a.k.a. saved - is that we are infinitely dirtier than we could ever imagine ourselves to be and God's love is infinitely greater than we could ever imagine it to be. As we went around giving words to the young man, I thought of an analogy that might help us understand what sanctification actually is.

For those of us fortunate enough to have our own homes or rooms we know the feeling of what a clean room is. When everything is in the right place, there is no dust on the windows or dresser, our clothes are perfectly folded, the trashcan is empty, and our bed is made, we recognize that things are the way they should be. However, when our rooms get too messy, we can often times find ourselves overwhelmed with the daunting task ahead of us. We don't want to clean the room because it seems like there is no end to it and even when we break it up into sections, we dread the entire process. If you enjoy cleaning, just read trying to understand the intention by which I write and come over to clean my house from time to time as an act of love :) .

Once we are justified by Christ, what I think happens is that we see how the room should be. In other words, we recognize that if things are out of place, if there are cobwebs forming, if dust is getting layered, and if the trash is all over the room, we see that the room is not in the condition it should be in. We instantly recognize how great a clean room is and how much we enjoy a tidy room. From that place, we move towards maintaining it in every way possible because we gain pleasure from it. As ridiculous as it sounds, when our rooms are clean and organized, we become overwhelmed in awe that we don't want to change a thing or even put a crinkle in our sheets. I think that's why people let out a sigh of relief when they return home to find that their rooms are clean.

Sanctification is the process of keeping the room clean once we realize how clean it can be. We get a zen-like OCD (forgive the heresy) where we want to make sure we are pure and blameless before God, but are at peace because Christ is our purity and our blamelessness before God. We literally desire purity with all that we are, but don't fret about it with anxiety. We don't strive to clean the room, nor are we neurotic in anyway. Instead, we experience a type of holy dissatisfaction with anything wrong in the room, and a joy as we continue to remember that our room is clean because of Christ. We don't do it out of bitterness or grudge, but we do it out of joy because we know that there is more pleasure in keeping the room clean than in it being dirty - at least in an ideal world.

As we continued to share with the young man during Bible study, a fellow Wheatie who went to Wheaton College with me added to my analogy. He said, "But the greater reality is that God cleaned the room for us, and that anytime it gets too dirty will clean it again." That is the beauty of the Gospel. God gives us a standard He expects us to live by, and then He says, "Don't worry, just enjoy the room (Christ) I have cleaned for you and I will keep it clean. You don't have to do a thing except rest in the clean room!"

If we are Christians, we find ourselves constantly struggling with the dirtiness of life and the tension of God's holiness as a deep contrast. I think the thing we must remember daily is that Christ is our righteousness in that everything he did for us is added unto us. The point of grace is that we don't have to do anything except for receive it with open hands in a dependency that God in his great love and might knows exactly what we need to be satisfied in this life and the next. This reception changes what we see and how we see the world. It gives us a perspective that more clearly sees God's heart and by default connects our desires to His. If we struggle between desires, most likely, we haven't truly tasted God. As we all know in theory that sugar is sweet, but unless if we taste it, we don't really understand the actual sweetness of it. The same is true for Christianity, we may know that God is good and His love is perfect, but unless if we taste it, we won't desire for more of it because we've never tried it. We cannot forget however, that He offers it to us constantly and if we find ourselves struggling with desires to both embrace the world and deny it, it only proves God's prodding in our lives to show us his abounding love.

"Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." - C.S. Lewis

Dedicated to H.S.C.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

God will NEVER abandon you.

John 14

There is a confidence we have when we are part of a group in which we have experienced acceptance. We are all searching for acceptance and through it, we gain both strength and confidence. We find our place in the world through it. Consider the shy person that seems to break out of their shell once you "get to know them." We have learned from early history that there is a strength in numbers, a strength in unity. To be a part of something helps you find an identity and we learn through the process of being socialized within a group. We gain a sense of self worth and comfort with ourselves knowing that we belong and that we are accepted. As we grow in the knowledge of people and are known and accepted by them, we are able to live under an umbrella that we are validated in our lives.

The same thing occurs in romantic relationships as well. Many people enter into relationships to fulfill and satisfy the desire that someone will validate them, accept them, love them, and adore them. Some relationships are great as both parties turn towards each other, move towards intimacy with each other, and learn to delight in each other. Most relationships in my opinion, fall shorter than a standard that I believe we can attain. Most people who have a strong desire to "complete" themselves through relationships, find themselves stuck in a place where they know they aren't in the best of relationships. However, they choose to stick with it because they have already committed to it and don't want to experience the pain of loss.

What I propose is that Jesus can fill you up where no one else can and that Jesus is the source of satisfaction you have been searching for all your life. The best part is, although Jesus roamed the earth nearly 2000 years ago, He promises to this day, to never leave us abandoned.

In John 14, we see the chapter begins with Jesus telling the disciples, "Let not your hearts be troubled." Prior to this statement, Judas had just left them to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and said to the disciples, "yet a little while I am with you. Where I am going you cannot come." (John 13:33) To this, Simon Peter asked Jesus, "Where are you going?" Jesus replied, "Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow me afterward." Then Simon replied, "Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." To this, Jesus said, "Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow til you have denied me three times." (John 13:36-38)

As chapter 13 comes to a conclusion, we see the beginning of what appears to be the end. Christ tells His disciples that they will not be able to go where He is going, giving them a sense that the person they left everything for will be abandoning them. If we place ourselves in the sandals of the disciples, we will quickly come to the realization that whether we were once a fisherman or a tax collector, that we left our careers to follow someone who said we would have bread, life, and freedom from want for the rest of our lives. The disciples dropped everything that they had built their lives around to follow Jesus; they forsook their aspirations to follow a man that seemed to have something that was extraordinary even if He didn't look like it. They gathered a crowd of people who depended on them and saw the great works that He did and became famous because of Him. They were given the authority as His disciples to heal, chase demons, and help the helpless. But they always had Him to go back to. They knew that at the end of the day, they would be able to gain insight and fellowship with the source of their peace and confidence.

Now, they were about to be left alone, to fend for themselves, with the growing expectation that people had of them coupled with the mounting pressures that the religious leaders were placing on them. On one side, they were pursued for their authority and message by people who needed a hope to be fulfilled within them. On the other, they were being persecuted by the religious leaders because they seemed to be anarchists who wanted to turn over the existing order of things. On both sides, they knew that they had to keep turning and pointing to Jesus who was both the hope and the very thing the religious law pointed to as its ultimate fulfillment.

So Jesus said, "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me." Jesus recognized the flood of worry that abandonment would cause. He quickly addressed it by being the voice they needed to hear and giving the words that an authoritative voice could give to calm their anxiety about the uncertain future. Then He reminds His disciples that as they place faith and trust in God, to place it in Him also. He elevates Himself to the same position of God because He is God, warranting all trust, dependency, and faith to fall on Him and the things He says.

What Jesus does next is astonishing. He uses an analogy that many people today fail to recognize as a cultural tradition of the time. He says in 14:2-4, "In my Father's house, are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going." The common custom of the time was for the bridegroom to return home to build an addition to the his father's house during the time of his engagement. This is where he and his future bride would live until he was either able to start his own family or inherit the house from his father. This was not intended to be used to compete with fellow followers about who would get the bigger room.

Thomas then replies, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Immediately, we can see that Thomas and the rest of the disciples have heard only that Jesus was leaving them and discarded that they should not worry. To this, Jesus points to Himself, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."

Without missing a heartbeat, Philip says to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." Their fear of losing Jesus is a panic as Jesus seems to only be telling them that 1. He is leaving, 2. one day they will reunite, so 3. don't worry. There seems to be no indication of where they are going. However, we know that they don't need to know anymore. Jesus, over and over again calls us to trust in His person over His promises. He wants us to know that the object of faith is what matters. This is why Jesus replies, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father?' Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?"

He goes on, "The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it." What is comforting about this passage is that Jesus is passing a relational authority over to his disciples. Up to now, they did works in Jesus' name and all was dispensed through Christ. This was done so that they would learn to depend on the completed works of Christ on the cross and so that He would be preached by them. This allowed them to recognize that Christ was the ultimate atonement for sins, something they learned growing up was necessary for them to be "right" with God. Here, Jesus tells His disciples that the relationship between them is what makes them right with God.

He continues, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him for he dwells with you and will be in you." At this, the disciples are called back to the revelation of the law into two fundamental commandments: 1. love God will all your heart, soul, mind and strength and 2. love your neighbor as self. In other words, Jesus says, "If you love me, you will continue to love me, and love others." Through this continued fellowship, He says that even in the absence of Christ, there will be no abandonment, that whether they recognize it or not, there will be power in the fellowship. This trust that they place in Christ will allow them into the fellowship that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit participate in. As Christ leaves, the Holy Spirit will come in power to lead people into the truth of the Gospel; that we are all saved by grace through faith in Christ.

Christ builds into the conversation something that the disciples (and the rest of us) should take to heart, that "He will not leave us orphans." (v.15). He promises us that we will do greater things, and it will be covered with peace that we may not be troubled or afraid. We must remember that God adopted us and took us in when we rejected Him. We can be comforted in that even as we rejected Him, He kept pursuing us to the point of sacrificing His Son so that we may be able to stay adopted by Him through eternity. His love for us came when we were the ugliest and most horrible of people and remained with us at the most excruciating cost to Him. On this reality, we can rest that God will never abandon us - because even when we try, He sends out His Son to find us, rescue us, to the point of death. In this, we can be comforted even when life seems too hard to bare.

Monday, November 7, 2011

You are Not Alone

Exodus 18:18b - "You are not able to do it alone"

I don't know anyone that doesn't have a hard time trusting God when it comes to things that really matter to them. Think of any application process whether it be college or a job, or how your child is raised, or even your significant other, and easily, you find that those experiences are often times filled with anxiety, fear, frustration, and sometimes even a neurotic depression. I notice that most people have a hard time trusting God because they haven't experienced His trustworthiness. It is often more a theory than a reality, one they understand and accept cognitively, but have a hard time relating to in a personal manner.

As I read Exodus 16-18, what I see recurring with Moses is a burden that he carries alone to lead a million people. To put this into perspective, we are talking about a man who was raised by his Hebrew mother, then educated in the Egyptian courts, then tended sheep for nearly 40 years in the desert. It would be similar to a boy raised in the slums, who went to private boarding school while never fitting in, and then moved to Idaho to potato farm: not what anyone would consider leadership training. However, what we see Moses learned in the desert was to strip away from all the desires of the reigning culture of the time and be find contentment in whatever circumstance he was in. His making a home, finding a wife, and having children are all indications of this acclimatization. He learned that the prevalent culture in which he grew up wasn't the defining culture and that he could live differently, without experiencing the pressures he thought he needed to embrace to achieve success.

As he led the Israelites out of Egypt, he was confronted first with the obvious need to organize the movement of a million people at once. For most, getting 10 people on the same page is quite a task, but multiply that by 100,000 and you have the daunting mission ahead of Moses. Add to that the fact that he was leading people who had been slaves motivated by fear and deficiency all their lives didn't help. On top of that, they would often times complain to him that the certainty that came with slavery was better than the uncertainty that came with freedom adding more stress and pressure to the matter. However, after seeing the wonders God performed in Egypt, Moses was now confident that God was with Him and that He could do anything through him. Thus, we see Moses calling upon God to part the Red Sea, provide Manna and quail to feed the people, and gush water out of a rock to quench their thirsts. However, Moses' understanding and experience with God ended with his personal involvement in accomplishing the things of God.

In this passage, we see Jethro observing everything that Moses is doing to organize and lead the people. Upon hearing what God had done in Egypt, we see in 18:11 that Jethro, the High Priest of Midian and Moses' father-in-law, recognizes that the God of Moses is "greater than all gods." At first glance, it may appear that Jethro is still practicing a form of polytheism, but what he is actually doing is attributing to God the ultimate position of God. He recognizes that the God who revealed himself to Moses is indeed, the true God. Then as he sees the inefficiencies of Moses' leadership, tells Moses that he cannot do it alone and then proceeds to give Moses a method of governing the people of Israel by finding "able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens." Whatever they could handle on their own, Jethro said, trust God and let them, and have the more difficult matters brought to Moses.

We learn three things in this process. First, we see that God calls us to wisdom and organized governance with things. Second, we see that there is a necessity for prioritization and for reflection amongst our circumstances. Third, we see that God is constantly calling us to grow in our trust for Him as it will show us how near He actually is to us.

We know that God calls us to wisdom when we look at the book of Proverbs. But clearly, what Moses was doing wasn't wise in any way possible. We regularly see that the Israelites grumbled to him. He would then, often deflect that grumbling to God and tell the people that if they complained to him, they were actually complaining about God. As Moses immediately listened to his father-in-law's words, we see that organized governance was something that God deemed good and necessary when looking at the sheer numbers of people. We also see just how busy Moses was in chapters 16 and 17. Over and over, we see that Moses is constantly directing people, and getting complaints for just about everything. All this led to him regularly feeling frustrated and angry with the people. Moses simply didn't take time to think through some of the practical issues because he was always fixing the problems and the complaints of the people. He was putting out little fires when an entire volcano was erupting. The author is showing us that Moses had too big a task to manage alone.

Up to this point, his job, in many ways, was "easy." Moses was told to simply show up and have his brother talk as God performed some of the most incredible miracles raining havoc on the land of Egypt because of Pharaoh's pride. Now, he wasn't only addressing Pharaoh and a group of Hebrew elders, but the entire population of slaves that followed him out of Egypt. While before, Moses was only responsible to bring a message before Pharaoh and watch the power of God work, he was now charged with leading an entire nation being the only one who had the power of God manifesting through him. This in many ways prevented him from delegating and allowing others to step up since God's authority rested with him and God's power was displayed to him. Moses became comfortable being the dispenser of God's power to the people and was now confronted with the reality that he would need to trust God in a way that he never has before. He was being called to engage in a much bigger God. Moses knew God as personal and powerful, but most likely believed that God's power extended through Moses alone. God was going to show Moses that His authority spanned much further. Moses was called to trust in the sovereignty and providence of God through other imperfect people that at best, weren't corruptible individuals.

Many times in our lives, God wants us to expand our need to need Him. He wants to show us exactly how far His reign extends and that He is sovereign over all things. He wants to demonstrate to us His trustworthiness in all things and that regardless of human flaw, His will will be accomplished. More than anything, God wants us to let go of our own complacency in being able to control our environment. It is clear that how much we trust God is demonstrated in difficult times when things seem to be too big for us to handle, not when things seem easy for us to control.

I think when people graduate from college, people are confronted with 2 major decisions: career and significant other/marriage. These two decisions cause more anxiety, worry, stress, and frustration than anything else for post-grads. Constantly confronted with discontentment with either-or, people either learn to follow a pattern of settling for mediocrity, being paralyzed by doing nothing, or emphasizing one to the point they have to neglect the other. If these aren't significant issues, there are other issues (ie. friendships) that have been elevated to take the place of these. However, most people I encounter, are regularly thinking of these things.

The interesting thing about both jobs and marriage are that they are often times dependent on the decisions and judgement of other people. Your resume can take you far, but never all the way. I was told by a CEO friend of mine that his classmates who graduated with him from Harvard B-School have been having a hard time finding work due to the economic crisis and were willing to take jobs with him for less than half the pay they had before. We see that life often fills us with the need to worry, but God often fills us with the need to trust.

When I scan the Bible, all I see throughout is that God is faithful. That as long as we are able to recognize that having God is better than having anything in life, that we will never be in want. I look at my own life and my own desires for a flourishing career and a woman who experiences the love of God, and find that I can now quickly come to my senses and see things as they are. I see so many people having to climb out of the hole they've dug for themselves in search of fulfillment in anything except for God. I see so many people still stuck in the hole digging further in hopes to find what they we're created to only be able to find in Christ.

I was sharing with a friend of mine, to whom this entry is dedicated, that through God's grace, we are standing on the finish line at a track. The temptation for us is to want to think that the finish line is actually the starting line and that we must run around the track in order to merit that which Christ has already accomplished for us. However, God wants us to just recognize all that it means to be standing on the finish line without having to run around the track, everyday of our lives, for the rest of our lives. We will undoubtedly see the hurdles we need to jump, but God is saying to resist the temptation to jump those hurdles, because if we place our trust in Him, we will be able to rest in the fact that we've already overcome them.

What we learn from Jethro and Moses is that God is much bigger than our problems, our stresses, and our abilities. We also learn that in order to trust, we truly must learn to let go of things, to rest in Him, and be okay with whatever result we get knowing that on our end, we worked to glorify God. The greatest lesson in all of this is that, if we are called by God in His love, He will constantly push us to a point where we either trust Him more or find the weight of the world we are trying to carry on our own too much to handle. He will not let us carry a burden we don't need to carry and through the process of revealing His greatness, He will continue to show us the ways in which he is bigger, closer, more loving and more powerful than we could ever imagine.

Psalm 25

Dedicated to B.S.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Knowing God Personally vs. Knowing God Academically

Philippians 3:8-11

"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- that I may know Him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."

Paul warns us not to place our confidence in ourselves, our social connections, our status, our privileges, our abilities, our knowledge, and our accomplishments. Outside the church, it is extremely easy to see that people are striving to make the most of their lives by getting somewhere with their lives, affiliating themselves with the right people, and making a name for themselves.

When we look around, we can't help, but notice that the entire world seems to follow a certain pattern. There is nothing wrong with getting a great job, being well connected, or pursuing excellence in any field, however, I do believe that what Paul is getting at in this passage is that they are limited in their ability to satisfy, and in no way, shape, or form, can they be anything more than distractions when the crap hits the fan.

It is then pretty evident as we view what Paul considered rubbish (utter garbage), we see him listing everything from doing the right things, knowing the right people, being a part of the right social class, and having the right skills. He said going to Harvard is good, but it isn't really anything special compared to knowing Christ and understanding what Christ did. Being a world renown doctor or the CEO of a multinational is good, but it isn't anything worthwhile compared to having received an eternity with God through Christ. Having won the Nobel Peace Prize and recognized by the Gates Foundation is good, but again, nothing compared to what Christ provided for him. In other words, a perfect life by the world's standards is meaningless without knowing God and worthless in comparison to having Him.

So what the heart of what Paul is trying to say? For Christians, we all understand that Christ is sufficient in our minds, but in our hearts and our wills, we seem to push against that believe by needing to add things to it or desiring other things. Paul is very clear that he once had everything the world could offer - friends, status, skills, knowledge about the things people thought were important, a great family, and everything else people would consider a blessed life. King Solomon even wrote as a king that all is vanity, and that anything this world tries to produce as a source of ultimate satisfaction will always fall short.

As I was in Bible study a few days ago, a friend of mine approached a few of us in a group and just said that she just felt like she didn't want to have anything to do with God. She had encountered John 8:47 where Jesus says, "Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God." She struggled with the thought because she couldn't "hear" God speaking to her and she had recently experienced people getting unctions and impressions from God through prayer about specific things in peoples' lives. A large part of it made her question how personal God was and how special she was to God. She knew in her head that she shouldn't feel this way, but she just didn't want God emotionally. We all then "Christianized" her with concepts and theological points of the Gospel that were true, stacking them on top of her problems, but it made no difference. She was clearly open to getting out of her current way of thinking, but none of us could get to the heart of what she was experiencing. One guy said that she just needed to rest in her identity in Christ, someone else said that she just has to know that God loves her no matter what, I added that it wasn't the physical act of "hearing," but receiving the Word, but it had no affect.

The reality was, we we're telling the Gospel without sharing it.

Yesterday, I got this from her:

"remember this weird funk i'm in? i don't think i was right to attribute it to the out-of-context verse i had read, because i still feel something is wrong after the words of encouragement from a number people from last night which made me feel better.
it's gotta be something else. i'm frustrated because i'm confused about what it is i'm going through, and i want to blame God for it. and what i'm concerned about is that i have no desire to go to God with it. I'm tired. I just want to be alone."

I asked her a few questions, then she responded with this:

"maybe i have been spending too much time with people...
the constant questions are: what do i do with my life? what does God want me to do? why am i here? am i currently living my life in a way that is pleasing to the Lord? i question my sincerity and love for God.
I am down in the dumps. I don't feel like God speaks to me directly anymore. When I read the Bible, the words don't hit home because I know they're not meant specifically for me. They're meant for everyone. Thus, I don't feel special. It's difficult for me to understand that I have a special place in his heart (no matter how many times I hear that he loves me, he finds joy in me, etc).
i think there's some sort of feeling of want to give up. i feel hopeless, and i don't even know why. it may or may not have to do with my job, i don't know. my mind and heart feels clouded, and instead of wanting to turn to God, i want to"

After this, I called her, asked her a few more questions, then shared what I thought was at the heart of her condition. As I kept hearing her talk, I kept hearing this sense that she was striving for something else beside God in her pursuit of God; a condition commonly experienced by EVERY Christian. You see, everything in us is always trying to fight completely submitting to God because we don't want to lose control and meaning in our lives, when the fact is that God gives us the greatest meaning and Him being in control is the reality of life. What my friend had done was turn her desire for God into an academic pursuit of a knowledge of God. She had overloaded her input channels by doing a devotion on her iPhone, a workbook, listening to sermons online, reading a book, and reading my blogs on top of her study of the Scriptures and prayer. In other words, she had too many voices all calling for her attention that she couldn't hear God's voice.

As Jonathan Edwards would say, "Its one hing to know the honey is sweet, but a totally dufferent thing to taste it and therefore know that it is sweet."

A lot of times, we turn our relationship with God into a religion. We place knowledge of God above intimacy with Him. We look at other people and see where they are at in their abilities to answer questions, participate in debates, and share the Gospel and we wonder why we aren't there, when what God simply wants us to do is to love Him and to love others. From that, we will be able to share who God is because the presence of God in us is the power of God. Knowing the attributes of God cannot be minimized as it provides us with a framework to be able to discern things of God and things not of God. However, knowing God academically and knowing Him personally are two completely different things even if they are related. Knowing God personally unleashes the power of God in our lives to reveal all truths to us simply by trusting in God as our savior, that even though we don't know much about God, God will lead us into greater intimacy and that He loves us as much as Christ loved His disciples.

For those that find themselves frustrated with their relationship with God, its important to ask whether you trust God will all you are or if the thing that will satisfy you is more of something else. For some, the thing that prevents them from trusting God is their love of money, comfort, power, or status. For others, the thing that may be preventing them from experiencing the peace of God may be that they have turned God into a school subject to compete with others in. Whatever it is, God is calling all of us back to the reality that by His stripes, we are healed and through the Cross, we are free from all wants and desires that bind us from experiencing His ever faithful love.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Why God Wants Us to Trust Him

As I continue to explore Exodus 3-4 I keep finding myself confronted with God's patience with Moses as he tries to weasel himself out of returning to Egypt to confront his greatest fear, the wrath of Pharaoh. However, in each of God's responses to Moses' five attempts to get out of the task of freeing a million slaves from the most powerful person of his time, you see how God gives Moses (and the rest of us) exactly what he needs regardless of whether he is aware of it or not.

As God tells Moses that He has heard the cries of the Israelites and knows their sufferings, He said that He will deliver them out of the bondage of slavery. After God says He will rescue the Israelites, He tells Moses that He will send Moses to Pharaoh that he may bring God's people out of Egypt. The thing that intrigues me is that after God said He would bring the people out of Egypt, He invited Moses to join Him. I believe He did this for three reasons: 1. the reality of sin still existed and the holiness of God was still hidden from the world as it would destroy them to experience it, 2. Moses was going to be the ultimate foreshadowing of Christ, and 3. God wanted Moses to experience something that no one else had the privilege of experiencing in the past - what Moses was about to experience would radically alter every ounce of being within him.

Instance 1: God says go to Pharaoh, Moses says, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?"
Response: To this, God said, "I will be with you and one day, you will remember that by a sign: that you will serve Me on this mountain again."

The reality is, God's presence is enough. Over and over, we will come to see that as Moses continues to lead the Israelites through the desert, what He seeks is the manifest presence of God. God promised this from the beginning to Moses, something only promised to the children he adopts (see earlier post on Exodus 3-4). Those who abandoned God have found themselves to be orphaned, and as they are orphaned, the thing they lack is the presence of a good father. At Moses' response, God gives Moses a new identity, as His child. God tells us, as He told Moses, that we have the full protection and the full acceptance that a supremely good father gives to His children. The interaction with the bush should've been enough, but for Moses, his paralyzing fear of Pharaoh was enough to doubt the power of God that was evident before Him. The most incredible thing is how God responded in the most gentlest manner, understanding fully the stronghold that fears can have over people.

The thing we struggle with most today is the thing that Moses struggled with as he first encountered God was a notion of what it meant to be in a relationship with God and how intimately involved God was in His life. We struggle with accepting the goodness of God while simultaneously struggle with accepting the awesome power of God. We have a hard time trusting in His promises because we have had at best, mediocre examples of what a True Father is like. We don't know the extent to which we can trust Him so we tread lightly instead of trusting boldly that God will accomplish in us what He promised He would. We listen to the world about how our lives should look (or even the Christian church - which leads to self righteousness) without paying attention to the shouts from Heaven that we have been fully accepted, completely embraced, and seen without fault before God the Judge by an initiated grace by the Father through a received faith in the Son, witnessed by the Holy Spirit. What we must remember through this first response is that God rescued us while we were still sheep in the thorn bush, mended our wounds, and gave us a home that will last forever.

Instance 2: Then Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' What shall I say to them?"
Response: God said, "Say this, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"

We see both an alleviation of fear and a remainder of hesitation in Moses' response; you see him anticipating the doubt that will consume the people of Israel, while simultaneously being filled with his own doubts. To this, God, for the first time in history reveals a name, a name that reveals His essence - that God is undefined by anything and that He defines all things. This revealing of a name is something extremely personal and extremely awe instilling. The reason its so incredible is that it continues to show that God is not a God to be ignored, yet is full of patience and compassion. His benevolence extends to the reality that people don't get it right the first time. In fact, I think this shows that it may not be about getting it right at all. So what then?

Moses fully understood that people would doubt that God had come to Moses. After all, Moses was never really accepted by either the Egyptians nor the Israelites. He was always someone in the middle. He was a stranger to the people he was born into and a stranger to the people who adopted him. This encounter with God was also something that was the stuff of legends. For decades since the time of Joseph, the only thing they felt was abandonment and if a hero were to rise up, the last person they would've expected was the betrayer Moses. Without doubt, they would have experienced both bitterness and jealousy at Moses' privileged position and upbringing. Moses needed a personal knowledge of God that they would not be able to refute, one that revealed His Prophetic calling to the people.

We are often times afraid. Its not something to be ashamed of, but something to be aware of. As humans, we have a tendency to find ourselves in wonder and fear through a variety of circumstances. I believe we were never made to sense fear as God is not a dangerous God. I have a problem when pastors say, "pray this dangerous prayer" as if it will truly cause you to find yourself in a circumstance that you really shouldn't be in. I do believe that we were called to revere in things and find ourselves in awe as we do when we climb the summit of a mountain or encounter a whale in a tiny boat in the middle of the ocean. When we find ourselves insecure or paralyzed before people, our sense of awe has been perverted into fear. What was originally meant to help us realize the supremacy of beautiful and inspiring things have become tainted to cloud our vision from everything except self preservation. This is what Moses encountered. Instead of finding himself in awe of the encounter, he was consumed with the paralysis that fear instilled, and forgot Who he was encountering. It made him elevate his life above God's glory and power, something that would be able to sustain his life in this earth and beyond.

Instance 3: Then Moses answered, "But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, 'The Lord did not appear to you.'"
Response: The Lord said to him, "What is that in your hand? Throw [the staff] on the ground."

Moses still has no idea what the extent of God's power is even as God is demonstrating the power that exists in the presence of God, Moses is blinded by fears of the unknown. He fails to recognize that God's presence with him will more than suffice as a source of strength and power. The incredible thing here, is that God doesn't rebuke him, but continues to extend his interaction with Moses. God knew that Moses would be filled with doubt himself if others doubted him. As he was blinded by what people may think of him, he failed to grasp onto how God chose him. Then, God commanded Moses to throw his staff on the ground and it turned into a snake. After, God told Moses to stick his hand in his robe and it became leprous. It seems evident that God keeps proving to Moses that as he obeys, God will do all things so that all he needs to do is open his mouth and throw things on the ground. God gave him signs, like that of a crown or a signet ring, to symbolize Moses' position with God. God wanted Moses to be fully secure in his call.

Essentially, God is showing you how to ride a bike, and you may think that you are pedaling on your own, but you aren't because He is holding on to the back of your seat making sure you don't fall. The thing we forget as we learn to ride a bike is who is teaching us. For people who learned from someone else, its a fond memory that we carry throughout life. For me, it was my dad who ran and held me upright as I kept pedaling faster. The thing we must not forget is that regardless of how scared we are, the people who taught us wouldn't let us go if they didn't think we couldn't ride solo. We must also not forget that even if we were confident in our ability to ride, they wouldn't let us go until they knew we were ready.

Instance 4: But Moses said, "Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but am slow of speech and of tongue."
Response: The Lord said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.

God now directly addresses what is at the heart of Moses' anxiety: the rejection of people and the fear of failure. God reveals even further that he is intimately involved in the creation of all things, that He makes people mute, deaf, seeing, and blind. That His abilities extend beyond the abilities of man, therefore, Moses should not be afraid of man.

As God kept telling Moses to go and that everything would be taken care of, and that he will one day remember that the Lord is faithful by the fact that he will worship on Mount Horeb again, Moses kept wondering "What if God doesn't show up and the people don't believe me?" We have to look at the promises of God that He will never leave us nor forsake us. That regardless of success or failure, the thing that matters is how we go about the thing we go about and who we go about it with. God tells us that we don't need to worry about whether we will be rejected by people because He has already fully accepted us. God tells us that we don't need to worry about failing because He has already accomplished the one thing that makes an eternity of a difference and what he desires from us is that we trust him, not succeed for him.

Instance 5: "Oh, my Lord, please send someone else."
Response: Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, "Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite?"

Many times, people think that God wants us to do things we don't want to do. We think that if we follow God, that He will make our lives miserable. I have found this to be one of the greatest lies that the enemy uses to deceive us. The only times we don't want to do something that God wants us to do is when we place something as more significant than God. In other words, we idolize something else. With reverence, we see that Moses clearly operated in awe of God. After all, he just encountered God and any encounter with God elevates our understanding of Him and consequently, our view of Him rises. He is asking for someone else to be sent because of two things: 1. the fear that has been preventing him from trusting in God and 2. because he doesn't yet see the endless wonder that is revealed through the glory of God.

Two things stand out in this short, yet powerful interaction. First, as God tells Moses to go and is once again refused, He continues to extend his patience and compassion. This is after God 1. gave Moses a permanent identity in Him, 2. revealed an extremely personal aspect of Himself to Moses, 3. bestowed upon Moses signs that other people will be able to recognize his new identity, and 4. rebutted all of Moses' fears and reasons why he didn't want to go. But, he does something that allows Moses to see a glimpse into the future. Moses had interacted with God in such a way that even his appearance was transformed. In other words, Moses had a higher dosage of God's holiness in him. Aaron, would therefore act as a mediator for Moses as Jesus would one day do. As Aaron would stand between the power of God in Moses and the people of Israel and Egypt, Jesus would stand between the the holiness of God and us thousands of years later. The second thing we learn from this is that as we continue to read the book of Exodus, Moses' confidence in the Lord increased tremendously. The reason God wanted Moses to go wasn't solely for the sake of the Israelites who would be rescued from slavery (a significant reason, but not the only), but also that Moses would be able to know God more completely.

God wants us to trust Him because He is trustworthy. When we think we are taking a step of faith off a cliff, what we must realize is that God has harnessed us and builds a bridge for us to cross over any gorge and canyon. We should trust God because in that trust, are we able to see more accurately, who it is we were created to know.