Unpopular Decision Making

There are some decisions in life that will be unpopular even if they are right. We often put some much emphasis on making a decision based on utilitarianism, (the greatest good for the greatest number of people), majority or which sounds like it will be the easiest. But oftentimes people in the Bible don’t do that.

Take Paul for example. In Acts 21 we read about Paul’s decision to go to Jerusalem and the reaction of those closest to him.

“While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” (Acts 21:10-14)

How could he make such a decision? Wasn’t it clear to him that he would be imprisoned and ultimately die? Didn’t all of his friends urge him to do something else? Paul made his decision based on the Holy Spirit’s leading, not on what was the obvious or popular choice. He had no idea what would become of him. He only knew that God was leading him to Jerusalem at this time and for him not to go would be sinful.

So my question to start us off this week is: Are there any unpopular decisions you need to make this week? Is there an area where God is pointing you one way but people or circumstances are pointing you another? Can you make that unpopular decision? If these questions seem tough to answer you’re not alone. Making a decision in the face of opposition, (especially from those we love most), is never fun. So I want to give a couple ideas that may help us as we endeavor to follow the Lord’s leading in our lives, even when it seems unpopular to those around us.

First and foremost you need to get your priorities straight. I feel like a broken record cause I say this so often, but you will not be able to follow the Lord’s leading in your life if you are preoccupied trying to please man rather than God. “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10). Or Jesus says it even more strongly in Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

Both of these verses are dealing with the same issue. Are you going to follow, love and serve Jesus first and foremost or are you going to follow, love and serve people and then give Jesus your leftovers or whatever is convenient? When Jesus becomes Lord of your life He will not be satisfied with leftovers. He wants your everything and all. Your first and foremost. Your best. So if you wish to be able to follow the Lord’s calling in your life you must not allow the idol of relationships to hinder you from making the unpopular decisions.

Any person who has left their home country to go abroad and proclaim the Gospel can identify with this. Usually there is someone, (family, friends, coworkers, etc…), who urges them not to go. They may have good reasons, (finances, distance from loved ones, difficulty or danger in new country, inconvenience, etc..), but none of these reasons could ever truly outweigh the cost of going to the nations with the Gospel.

In the 19th century a man named John G. Paton decided he would travel to an island known for cannibalism. In fact, two people from the same ministry had been eaten only 19 years ago. So when Paton decided to go it was a very unpopular decision. Here is the exchange between Paton and another man from his ministry:

A Mr. Dickson exploded, “The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!” The memory of Williams and Harris on Erromanga was only 19 years old.

But to this Paton responded:
“Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”

This is the kind of faith we need to make unpopular decisions as we follow the Lord’s will. Secondly, we must be willing to do what’s right no matter the cost. Paul could have stayed away from Jerusalem. Jesus didn’t have to go to the cross. The Bible is full of men who did the right thing even if suffering was before them. This is why Jesus commands us: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24).

We so often aren’t willing to follow our Lord’s leading because some fear prevents us. Jesus, Paul and John Paton all knew that death was not the worst thing that could happen to a person. They were all willing to follow God in the face of suffering and loss. If we are to make unpopular decisions that glorify God then we too must be willing to walk wherever the Holy Spirit would take us, even if that leads into some kind of suffering.

So I hope we can all take away some things that will help us make those unpopular decisions to follow God first. May we stop worrying and trying to please the majority but rather listen and carefully seek which direction God is pointing. May we move forward when the Lord signals rather than being hindered by fear. My challenge to you all is to make that unpopular decision this week.

Don’t allow unpopularity amongst your loved ones to hinder you from following God. Don’t allow potential suffering to keep you from following Jesus. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:33-34)

Modern Idolatry

I think sometimes when we read the Bible and it’s warnings against idolatry we can become a little conceited or arrogant. Because we read things like Exodus 20:4 that says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

Our modern, “enlightened” ears find it hard to believe that people would create something and then call it their God. We see it as complete foolishness and folly like Isaiah did in Isaiah 44:16-17: “Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

And while there are many places that still worship something they themselves have made, most of us would never be won over to this kind of faith. We understand that God cannot be made by our hands lest we be God for making Him. So maybe many of you, like me, saw the countless warnings of the Old and New Testament a bit redundant and unhelpful.

But recently I have been doing a group study by a pastor named Timothy Keller and he shared some thoughts on what idolatry truly is. So I wanted to share some of the bits I picked up from it with you because I think it will help us see this dangerous sin lurking in each of our lives.

First, because we do not make carved images like people of ancient times, we must identify our idols. Carved wooden images of before have been replaced with our more modern idols of status, possessions, fame, acceptance, approval, work or even independence. We have not, like we wish to believe, become more intelligent and enlightened than our ancestors. Rather, we have just exchanged the idols of old for new ones to fit our modern culture. So while idols may continue to be something we can hold, (money, possessions, a person), they are more likely something we dream of, want, wish to attain or strive for.

For each person the idol may be different, but if you look deeply they are there. You can find your idol mainly in two ways. First, think of the thing you are most afraid to lose and that is most likely your idol. So for example, if you are worried about people not liking you, then your idol is most likely approval. If you are most worried about your job or career not working as planned or becoming a failure, then you may have a work idol. Secondly, look where you spend your time and money. If all of your time and money is spent trying to make yourself look good, (clothes, make-up, the gym, etc..), then your idol is probably your appearance. If you spend your time and money on a specific social cause, then that may be your idol.

The thing about idols is that not every one of them is inherently bad. Social justice, people liking you and being successful at work are all good things. But they become idols when they take the ultimate or supreme place in our lives. This is why God’s first commandment was “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3). Because idolatry is a sin we must take this seriously. I hope that each of us can take a long look at our lives, (our greatest fears, our greatest desires, where we spend our time and money), and try to identify which of these modern idols are taking hold in our life.

Secondly, once we have figured out which idols we struggle with, we need to smash them. Just like God commanded the Israelites to smash the idols in their midst, (Exodus 23:24 for example), we too must smash our modern idols. But doing this may be more difficult than it sounds because there is nothing physical to smash most of the time. If you idolize your appearance it doesn’t mean you need to beat yourself up. And if you idolize approval it doesn’t mean you need to be a jerk so people won’t like you. Rather, smashing idols is moving them back down to where they belong and putting God back up where He belongs.

How can this be done? Hard work, will power and trying your best won’t suffice, especially if this particular idol has had a hold on your life for a long time. Also, if you remove this idol it is likely another will fill it’s spot, (many of us struggle with multiple idols so if we take down one another one will pop up quickly). So we must displace the idol or idols in our life with something greater: God.

God alone can and deserves to take the highest place in our lives. He alone is able and He alone is worthy. In order to do this, we first must repent. We must confess to God our idols and not pretend like they are not a problem, (“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” 1 John 1:9-10). One we have confessed and recognized this idol in our life, the idol starts to lose it’s power and hold over us. So we first must come to God in humility and confess whatever it is we have placed above Him.

Next, we need to work at replacing the idol with God. This is done by spending more time and money focused on God than our prior idol. This is done by spending more time in prayer and studying God’s Word than on whatever idol took that place before. This is also done by finding greater joy and peace in God alone and recognizing that this idol can never give us the joy and peace that God alone can. And as we continue to do this we begin to see God reigning in our lives where He alone belongs.

Now this isn’t some quick two step process to get yourself idol free. This is something that takes years and will have to be done over and over and over again as new idols pop up in our lives. But if we continue to confess and repent before our Great God and daily crucify our desires and misplaced joys then we can start to have victory over these idols in our life by, through and for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So I hope that we can all come to realize what idols are holding power in our lives right now. Look at your time, your money and your fears and see what thing, (maybe even a good thing), is wrongly taking the place of God. Then repent, confess and go back to God for His help. May we not be so arrogant as to think the warnings of idolatry were only for those in the ancient world. May we see these dangerous modern idols for what they are and daily displace them with He alone who is worthy to be Lord of our life.

The Gift or the Giver

I know they say it is better to give then to receive, but sometimes I find that hard to believe. I mean I do really like giving gifts, (ask my wife who got some flowers today), but I really, really like getting gifts. I still love it when I get any kind of gift, even a free toy in my cereal. Christmas and birthday’s are always some of my favorite times of the year because I know gifts will be coming my way.

Now some of you may think I am just ridiculously selfish, (which I am, as we all truly are) while others may completely identify with my statements. Regardless, I don’t really know anyone who doesn’t like a gift. Yes maybe they like a word of encouragement or some quality time together more, but I believe most if not all people still like it when they get a really good gift.

The hope is that the gift is more of a symbol that represents the relationship between me and the giver. Thus, my gratitude, focus and love should go to the giver of my great gift. However, oftentimes I am so enamored with the gift I neglect the giver. I get so caught up in what a great gift it is I forget the whole purpose of the gift in the first place: for the giver to show love and appreciation to me.

And sadly, many of us do this with our Greatest Gift Giver, Jesus Christ. Jesus has given us the greatest gifts ever imagined. Creation, salvation, eternal life and every other good thing that exists are all amazing gifts from God. And while these gifts are truly amazing and great, they are still gifts. They should not be an end of our love and appreciation but rather a means to greater love and appreciation for God.

So today I want to discuss two ways we can shift our love, appreciation and focus from the great gifts Jesus gives to the Great Gift Giver Himself.

The first thing that has helped me is to better understand the gift and it’s purpose. Why does God save? Why does God create and give us such amazing things? At many places throughout the Bible, (Isaiah 48:9 and Ezekiel 20:9 to name a couple), God acts or chooses not to act “for His Name’s sake.” Psalm 106:8 says “Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power.” The verse is in reference to not destroying, but rather saving the Jews after they were rebellious.

Just like He has forgiven us when we were rebellious. God didn’t save us because He really thought we were cool or He needed us on His team or because we deserved to be saved. He saved us for His name’s sake. He gave us the amazing gift of salvation, (and all other gifts He has given), to bring glory, honor and praise to His name. Now I know some of you think this is selfish and if I did it it would be. But for God to do things ultimately for God’s name isn’t selfish, it’s Godly. Because if God gave us gifts for any other purpose than the glory of His name then that thing would be God. If God gave gifts because He had to love, then love would be God. If God did it because it was his duty to save, then duty would be God.

So as you marvel at the amazing gifts of God’s creation, salvation and eternal life, (because these gifts should be marveled at: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8), remember that the purpose of these gifts is His name because He who gives the gifts is much greater than the gifts themselves.

Secondly, I must learn to choose and desire the giver over the gift. For example, would you still want your husband or wife if they never gave you a gift? Would you still want your parents if they showed you deep love yet never gave you a gift? Praise God they do give gifts and praise God that He does as well.

But I always like to ask this question: Would you still love, follow and serve God even if it didn’t mean eternal life? Would you love and follow God just because He is God? Because He is so lovely and perfect that loving Him is a natural result? That can be a tough question to answer and praise God that He does give good gifts that reflect His perfect personality.

The point I wish to make though is what do you really love, God or His Gifts? This is why we study our Bible and pray frequently. These things teach us and help us understand the Great Gift Giver so that we love and desire Him more. This way, the gifts become a means to greater love and joy in Him rather than an end to our love in themselves.

So for example, I continue to learn to grow and appreciate my wife more. As I do so, and she blesses me with any kind of gift, the gift in turn causes me to desire, love and appreciate her more. This is where the prosperity Gospel got off track. They believe that loving God is a greater means to the end of greater gifts rather than the gifts being a greater means to the end of loving God more.

This is an important distinction because any good gift can become an idol. God has given us the amazing gifts of comfort, convenience and pleasure. However, when we start to see the gifts as an end in themselves rather than a means to praise, honor and glorify God, then we have broken Exodus 20:3-5 where we are told to “have no God’s before God.” How sad when we focus so much on the gifts of God we neglect the Giver!

So my hope, prayer and challenge this week to us all is to look at each and every amazing gift God has given you, (you can even Count Your Blessings and name them one-be-one if you want), and understand why God has given them to you. Look at each deeply and understand He provided you with these things for His Name. Also, may we all learn to use God’s gifts as a means to better worship, glorify and praise Him rather than using the gifts as an end in themselves. May we love our Great Gift Giver not just the gifts He has given. May His gifts bring us to love and worship Him more.

Why we Strive

As you read the New Testament you see a lot of talk about striving. Paul tells us “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14). In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus tells us to “Enter through the narrow gate” and “the way is hard that leads to life.” These are just a few examples, but over and over again we see people in the Bible talking about having to strive if we wish to follow Christ.

This is very different than how our culture wants to portray Christianity. We treat the New Testament covenant and Jesus as love and blessing alone with no more troubles or hardship for those who follow Christ. As I spend time with other “believers” I am shocked at the blatant disregard for the idea that “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33). Modern Christians, especially in America, have become too comfortable and consider the blessings of following Christ, yet forget to remember the strife and struggle that comes with that as well.

German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoffer called this “cheap grace.” The idea that we need not strive, press on and struggle through this life but are just treated to heaven on earth is a cheap gospel and not Biblical. Yet it is what many of us believe and how we live our lives. The opposite of cheap grace is what Bonhoffer calls “costly grace.” This is grace that cost our Lord Jesus Christ his life and calls for ours as well. Bonhoffer says, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Come and die? Us? Yes! That is what the gospel says about US! Very different than the continual blessing and ease presented in most Churches today.

But my point today is not to talk about how modern Christians have bought into the cheap grace of comfort and complacency, but rather to talk about why we choose costly grace. If Christ calls us come and die, why do we follow? When our world and culture makes promise after promise about prosperity, comfort and happiness, why do Christians reject these for Christ? Why do Christians reject good jobs to serve in third world countries? Why do Christians give up nice homes to live in the inner city and minister? Why do Christians use their hard earned income on charities rather than a new gadget? Why do we willingly choose to die and give our lives? Well there are a few reasons I’d like to discuss and I hope by looking at these reasons we can reject “cheap grace” and throw ourselves head first into “costly grace.”

The first reason is that cheap grace promises things it can never fulfill. This is what the entire book of Ecclesiastes is about. Cheap grace says accumulate, chase comfort, use Christ for your gain. And this is exactly what Solomon did. He had it all. More money, pleasure and fun then any of us will ever have. Yet look what he says in Ecclesiastes 2:10-11.

“And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”

Christians choose costly grace because we know that pursuing cheap grace will ultimately leave us feeling empty. As we try to fill our lives with cheap grace we need more and more because it never satisfies. Christians reject the false gospel of cheap grace because we know it is a bottomless chasm that will only drain our soul. Rather we know costly grace, although difficult, fills the void with the cross of Christ and thus completely satisfies.

The second reason, much like the first, is that we give something lesser for something greater. Paul is our best example of this. After telling us all his accomplishments and why compared with the most religious he was even greater, he says in Philippians 3:8 “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.” In essence, he is telling us “I used to chase after cheap grace with my own accomplishments and walking the wide path, but all of that is nothing compared to the costly grace of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord.”

Christians willingly follow Christ to the cross because we know that we are letting go of something lesser to gain something greater. Even if that lesser thing seems really amazing. Paul would have been one of the highest ranking Jews around. This meant respect, honor, money, power, anything a guy could ask for. And Paul says he counts that all as nothing compared to knowing Christ. And to note, knowing Christ didn’t bring Paul respect, honor, money or power, but rather beatings, stonings, persecutions, and ultimately execution. But that trade was worth it to Paul and to true Christians because we get Christ with costly grace.

The final thing is because it gives us joy. Cheap grace gives us a cheap happiness that comes and go, but costly grace brings joy. How else could this happen? “Then they, (Jesus’ disciples) left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41). They were rejoicing because they suffered. How often have any of us rejoiced BECAUSE of suffering?

Yes we pray a prayer to get through suffering, we grin and bear it and we thank God once He’s helped us through the suffering. But how often do we rejoice because of it? Costly grace enables us to see temporary sufferings in the right light. We know that joy is the final result so we continue to press on because we know that which is gained is better than that which we suffer or lose.

And for these reasons and more, we press on, we strive, we don’t give up. But not on our strength, but on His alone so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). If it is my hard work and effort that strives then I can boast in myself, but if it is His work in me that allows me to strive and press on, then God gets the glory. So I hope we can all understand why we choose to reject comfort and happiness of this world and instead choose everlasting joy offered through the cross of Christ. May we reject the false Gospel of cheap grace offered in cultural Christianity and accept the temporary difficulties and everlasting joy found in the costly grace of Jesus Christ.

Forgetting God in the Midst of Blessing

I, like many of you, don’t have a great memory. My excuse is that I am always looking ahead and planning that I don’t have much space left in my brain to remember the past. This is obviously a huge overstatement, but I do sometimes tend to forget some things from the past because I am so preoccupied with the things of today and tomorrow.

And this is where a very dangerous thing can occur. We can get so preoccupied on today or tomorrow that we forget where we have come from. And this can in turn cause us to forget who we worship and the purpose of our lives. In Hosea 13:6 God says concerning the Israelites “but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me.”

Time and time again this happens in the Old Testament. The Lord blesses Israel. They became comfortable and then complacent. They forget about God and chase after idols and other sins. God punishes them for their sin. They repent and the process starts again. That is the story of the Old Testament and of each and every one of us.

We too, like the Israelites, have a tendency to forget. But notice that we, just like the Israelites, tend to forget following the Lord’s blessing not His rebuke. I find it interesting that in the times the Lord blesses us the most we often turn His blessings into idols and stumbling blocks for ourselves but when He rebukes we often come running back to Him for His help. So today I want us to consider a few ways to remember where we have come from and how to see God’s blessings in the right light instead of stumbling over them.

The first thing we have to continually do is to remember to worship the Blesser not the blessing. It is so easy to be grateful about a blessing or an answer to prayer that we forget who provides these gifts. We then turn the amazing blessing or gift into an idol because we lose sight of where it came from. James 1:17 tells us that EVERY good gift “is from above” and is “coming down from the Father of lights.”

We must give glory to God for each blessing we receive rather than taking the credit for ourselves, some other person or the blessing itself. I love Matthew 5:16 because it teaches us that when people look at us and say “good job” we point up to heaven and say “He did it and it’s all for His name.” As we look at each blessing as “He did it and it’s all for His name” we continue to worship the Blesser rather than stumbling over the blessing.

The second thing to remember is where you have come from. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God. And such were some of you.”

Now if you look at that list and think “well I am not any of those so I must be safe,” you are missing the point. We are all those things. Each of us are one or more of the people Paul just described. We have all fallen short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23). Remember this. Meditate on this. You were dead, you were helpless, you were on a path to eternal hell. Until the second half of 1 Corinthians 6:11 happened. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” This is the theme of the entire book of Hosea. We are all whores who have gone astray but the love of our Lord and King takes us back. Remember this when blessings come so you don’t get too comfortable and forget where you have come from.

This leads to the last thing I think we should consider and it is one I talk about probably more than anything else. For us to remember God in the midst of blessing we must seek humility. I truly believe humility is one of the most important things a Christian can pray and ask God for more of. Because a humble person realizes my above two points. They realize that all gifts come from above and that we are pathetic and disgusting without our Savior’s grace.

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6). Humility helps us to see ourselves, others and blessings in the correct light. We see that we can do nothing and gain nothing apart from Jesus, (John 15:5). We see that we cannot save ourselves through our own effort, (Ephesians 2:8-9). And humility helps us to remember and more importantly glorify God when blessings come because we see that all blessings are ultimately about Him not us.

So I hope we can stop forgetting our Lord in the midst of good. May His blessings lead to praise rather than sin. May we glorify Him when He blesses rather than worship the blessing He has given. May we remember that we once were lost, naked, shameful and disgusting and that we didn’t solve our own sin problem. May we remain humble and realize that all blessings and our entire lives are for the glory, honor and praise of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Rest Assured

I tend to write about the harsh truths of the Bible more than anything else. I do this because I think our “modern” culture has tried to water down the true Gospel time and time again. I feel like we Christians need to speak out against these false Gospels of prosperity and comfort promised in Churches around the world. We need to share the true Gospel of Christ. This Gospel calls mankind evil, (Matthew 7:11), promises suffering, (John 15:20), says the way is narrow and thus difficult, (Matthew 7:13-14), and encourages us to “take up” an instrument of death and torture in order to follow our Lord, (Luke 9:23).

And it is important to understand our sinful nature and the earthly suffering that comes from following Christ, but sometimes I forget to mention just how amazing a thing it truly is to follow Christ. And I could talk about being forgiven of millions of sins, (1 John 1:9), being allowed into the presence of God in heaven, (John 3:16), or the fact that I didn’t even have to save myself! (Ephesians 2:8-9). But what I want to focus on today is the amazing assurance we have when we trust in Christ and the resulting peace that comes from it.

Lately my life has been insanely busy. Without boring you with all the details, let’s just say that every single part of my life has needed a lot of attention lately. Usually just a few things demand my time, but lately it truly has been everything. I often lay awake at night thinking about some problem that needs fixing, tomorrow’s workload or even my own sin and my unworthiness to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. And so today I want to share with you four promises from the Bible that have helped me get through the busy and stressful times.

I’ll start with Romans 8:38-39 because not only is it an amazing promise to help us deal with anxiety or stress, but I believe it is one of the most amazing promises ever offered in all of the history of mankind. Let the words sink in. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height not depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Wow. Paul is basically saying there is nothing, NOTHING, that can separate us from God. But there is a catch. This only occurs through “Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This brings peace and rest in stressful times because often our own sin and inability is what causes us grief. We get frustrated that we should be a better person than we really are. So we either go into “woe is me” mode where we question our salvation and walk around feeling sad or into “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mode and we try to fix it, overcome it and solve our sin problem ourselves. I’ll help you all out and tell you neither of those work because they completely neglect “in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If you know Jesus you can rest assured that no matter how far you stray, no matter how much you neglect your relationship with God, Jesus will keep working and changing you and pulling you back to Himself. This isn’t a license to sin, (Romans 6), but rather an amazing assurance that brings us rest and bring praise and glory to God.

Which leads to the second thing to do when stressed. Just like we must depend on Christ for our assurance of salvation, we must depend on Christ by crying out to Him with our stresses and needs. In Matthew 7:7-11 Jesus teaches us that when we pray to Him He does answer. Yes the answer isn’t always what we want to hear, but He does answer.

The problem is that we rarely cry out to Jesus. When a problem arises we may ask a few people to pray for us and we ourselves may pray a couple times about it but that’s usually it. Then we figure it’s time we handle the problem ourselves. Very American but not very Christian. We spend too much time facing our problems head on when we should be facing them on our knees in desperation before God. Rather than trying to be your own savior, why not rely on Him who is truly Savior? “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:18).

Third, we need to rely on the Body of Christ. Again, our culture tells us not to bother others with our problems and so we independently fight battles and deal with stresses we were never meant to. Yes we need to handle small problems ourselves otherwise we may become overdependent and act like a child. But if you are dealing with something big, why not go to your Brothers and Sisters for help? I love the description of the early Church in Acts 2:42-47. Christians were made to take care of each other.

So maybe this week I have a problem I don’t know how to solve but my Christian brother does. So he helps me so my load is lightened. Then next week he has a problem and he can come to me with. This way we all share each others burdens. We tend to either be a constant burden giver, (always asking for help but never offering it), or a constant burden receiver, (always offering help but never asking for it). Both are unhealthy so may we learn to mutually give and receive each others burdens.

Last, remember that whatever stress you have it is temporary. Sometimes we see our stress as never-ending so we just dread because we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 teaches us an important lesson. We find ourselves in different seasons all the time. Maybe this is the “work is kicking my butt” season. Or the “have to study every free second” season. Or even the “why did we have kids” season. Regardless of where you are, realize that it is temporary and that you will enter a different season later.

This is also a good reminder for those in a more comfortable season of life right now. That will change. So don’t fall in love with your new found comfort and ease but realize it is a season, praise God for it, and prepare for the next one. Also, realize that whatever season you are in, Jesus has you there for a purpose. Look for the purpose in the season you are in to better understand what Jesus is trying to teach you.

So I hope all of us can find rest in these amazing Biblical promises. May we understand that nothing can separate us from God when we are in Christ. May we realize that Jesus does answer prayer and that we need to rely on Him more. May we rely on the Body of Christ and also help others carry their burdens. And may we realize that all stress is seasonal. I hope we can all find rest this week no matter how stressful our lives seem to be.

The Divine Act of Self-Reflection

Last week we looked at the negatives of self-reliance. So this week I thought we should look at a positive self act, the act of self-reflection. With our lives constantly changing I feel like the need for us to reflect back on past events is vital to help us move through whatever present state we find ourselves in.

But before we talk about what exactly that means, we need to understand what it doesn’t mean. I am not talking about dwelling on your “Glory Days.” I feel a lot of people like to think back to a time when their life seemed almost perfect. Problem is, they start to wish they could go back there or that their current life could somehow shadow that former glory.

Three problems arise with this “Glory Days” mentality. First, we tend to remember things differently than they actually happened. We idealize situations that weren’t possibly as good as we remember. Second, we long for an impossibility. People who wish to return to their happy childhood long for something that just won’t happen.

Which leads to the third and final problem. This longing often makes people stuck. The best example of this can be seen in small towns across America. The stud high school sports star, worshiped by their small town, is unable to move on to bigger and better things. The big fish in the small pond doesn’t want to be a small fish in a big pond. The result is 40 and 50 year old’s who still think, act and talk like 18-year old’s. Their joy comes through telling old stories about their greatness or trying to relive their dreams through their children.

So let’s be clear that is not what I am talking about. I don’t want you to dwell on those old “Glory Days” and get yourself stuck in the past. Rather, I want us to look at a few reasons why reflecting on our past can help us grow, mature and get through whatever present situation we find ourselves in.

First, reflecting on the past keeps us humble. Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:11-12, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

I feel like sometimes when we start to notice the growth and improvement in our lives we tend to forget God. We tend to forget just how far we have come from the person we used to be. Paul tells us to remember that not long ago we were lost little children until Christ came along and saved us. How dare we become arrogant and prideful now? A great chapter about this is Ezekiel 16. God is speaking to the Israelite’s but the same truths are for us today. He compares us to a prostitute whom He has rescued and provided for. But over time we forget what He has done for us and prostitute ourselves out yet again.

Divine reflection keeps us humble. It keeps us from forgetting that God saved us and that the person we are today is only because of what He has done for us. Secondly, divine reflection helps us get through the tough times. Maybe right now you aren’t arrogant, you’re hurting. All you think about is your pain and how much it hurts. You have forgotten God. How can there be a God with all of this pain and suffering?

We can’t let our current circumstances allow us to forget the kindness God has already showed us. Psalm 77 and Isaiah 63:7 are two places where we are told to remember what God has done in the face of current troubles. Reflect back on the times God has provided. Remember when God helped you or gave you a way out. Doing this will shine light into your current trouble and help you to see there is hope. If you are hurting, remember all the good God has done for you and may it bring you hope in your current situation.

Thirdly, divine reflection helps us remember the goodness of God in the midst of comfort. Just as we grow arrogant and forget what God has done, also we grow comfortable and forget our need for Him. Countless times in the Old Testament, (Genesis 9, Joshua 4, etc…), God instructs the Israelite’s to build an alter or to do something to mark a covenant. The reason God does this is because He knows we are so prone to grow comfortable and forget (Deuteronomy 8:11-20).

Maybe you have grown comfortable and thus grown cold towards God. Maybe you came to God in need but now feel like you have no needs. Repent and turn back to God. Don’t be like the Church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-21). Remember back on all the Lord has done for you. Don’t grow complacent. Reflect and come back to the passion and joy you once had.

So I hope all of us can spend some time in reflection this week. Please don’t dwell on the past lest you risk getting stuck there. May your past never be the best time of your life. Rather, if you have become puffed up and self-sufficient, remember who you once were and the sins you once committed so readily. Remember back to how the Lord saved you from your prostitution. Remember that you did not save yourself but that He came and saved you.

Maybe you are hurting now. Remember all the good He has done for you over the years. Reflect on the blessings and countless times He has provided more than enough. May this bring you hope in your current troubles. Or maybe you have grown comfortable, complacent and cold. Maybe you just don’t desire God like you used to. Reflect back on all of the good that God provided. Remember that you are where you are and have what you have because of what He did. Remember when you didn’t have anything and that He was and can still be your joy. May we all remember the past in order to grow in our love and trust of the Lord in the present.

Heroes of the Faith- Hudson Taylor

I recently finished a small autobiography on Hudson Taylor. For those of you who do not know Hudson Taylor I will give a brief introduction. My advise though is to do your own research on this man and his remarkable life.

Taylor was born in England to Christian parents. He became a Christian during his teen years thanks to the fervent prayer of his mother. Over time, Taylor became interested in China. He studied medicine in hopes that he may be able to go to China to bring healing to the Chinese bodies and souls. In 1853 he set sail for his first trip to China. He spent a total of 51 years in China sharing the Gospel. He is also the founder of the China Inland Mission which was responsible for much of the early inland mission work done in China. All during one of China’s most tumultuous times due to constant civil war, corruption and suspicion of foreigners.

And so today I want to give you all three things that struck me as I read about Hudson Taylor. I think his life leaves us an example we can yearn to follow as we attempt to share the Good News with all the nations (Matthew 28:19). Please understand that these words are not only meant for those who feel a call to go overseas to proclaim the Gospel but are also life lessons we can take as we go anywhere to share what Jesus has done.

The first thing that struck me about Taylor’s life was prayer. I was amazed at how much time he would spend in prayer. His answer to almost any crisis was to pray about it first, and then act later based on the Lord’s leading. Also, he would pray most fervently when praying for the salvation of those around him. He would spend much time in prayer which provided him a “peace that surpasses all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7)

I think we can all improve our prayer lives. We live a time when everything is meant to be quick. Fast food has replaced the family meal, email has replaced the posted letter and Wikipedia has replaced the library. I think we are much more prone to act first and pray second these days. I believe if we would follow the example Mr. Taylor left us to spend deep time in prayer, asking God for guidance before we search our own minds, we would better understand the will of God.

Also, I think we can better learn how to pray. Taylor would pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), but he would also spend time praying for things with eternal significance. He would continually pray for the salvation of those around him, even his enemies. Or he would pray that the work of God may be furthered in some remote area. And always with the understanding that “Yet not my will, but your will be done.” (Mark 14:36). How much time do you spend praying for protection, comfort and ease which only effect this life when you could be praying for changed hearts, open doors and God’s will? May we learn to pray as Hudson Taylor did!

Secondly, Taylor’s faith is a challenge to all us today. He not only prayers but also actually believes God will do it. Or once he has prayed Taylor trusts that the Lord’s will would be done. Two amazing stories come to mind for Taylor’s life. First, before Taylor had even gone to China he became very ill. Doctors believed he would soon die. He spent any of his conscious time in prayer and trusted the Lord. He was able to recover miraculously without many of the medicine and rest that doctors had ordered him. Secondly, with his finances he learned to never ask anyone but rather ask His Heavenly Father who would provide. Anytime he was down to his last penny and it looked as though he may soon starve God would provide him the exact amount he needed at the perfect time.

Compare that faith to our doubt filled lives today. We pray, but then we do everything we can do to solve the problem, not really trusting that God will answer our call. We pray, but we doubt God will or wants to, so instead we do. We are truly “double minded” and “unstable in all our ways.” (James 1:6-8). This is also a reason many of us choose not to go into full time mission work. We can think of too many excuses not to trust God, (it could be dangerous, I don’t have the money, what about my family, etc…). And while there are many good reasons to stay home and share the Gospel there, I challenge you all to consider if you are staying at home to seek those lost around you or because you don’t trust God outside your comfort zone.

Finally, I was amazed at Hudson Taylor’s perseverance. 51 years in China is no small accomplishment especially during the time he was here. Many times he fell ill, or was beaten or had his things stolen yet he continued to try and reach our to the Chinese people. He saw many family members and good friends die, (many of his children and his first and second wife died before he did), yet he continued the work. He could have gone back to England and stayed there any time. Many of his children probably would have lived if he had been closer to better conditions and more adequate healthcare. But Taylor “counted it all as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:8).

We, on the other hand, tend to retreat or run at the first sense of danger or discomfort. Millions are perishing in their sins but we dare not go to them because we fear we may not live with as much comfort and ease as we have at home now. What a sad generation we have become! We may even try to go some place difficult but stay there 1 year at the most. What ever happened to those who would leave all for 51 years to share the Gospel? We have replaced perseverance in missions with many short term trips scattered around our schedule and comfort level.

So I hope you all can be as challenged by the life and work of Hudson Taylor as I am. I encourage you to read more about him yourself. But I hope you won’t just read but you will also act. May we carry on the legacy of this great man of the faith, Hudson Taylor. May we learn to pray without ceasing for the salvation of those around us. May we have faith in God more than our faith in ourselves. May we learn to persevere and choose God’s work over our comfort.