Shocked no, Disgusted yes

This week I had a situation happen to me that showed just how far off our view of sin is. Maybe some of you share the same skewed perception. My friends and I were traveling and we paid someone to get us some food. To make a long story short, the lady lied to us repeatedly, was extremely rude and ended up cheating us out of some money.

Now when this occurred many of the friends I was with were shocked at this person’s behavior. They thought, “how could someone treat another human being like this just for money?” I, however, was not so shocked because, based on my understanding of scripture, this is not really a shocking thing.

We are told throughout scripture that all people are fallen, sinful and completely evil, (Romans 3:10 and 23). Also, we are told that people will naturally hate us because we are different. “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” (1 John 3:13). And while I don’t think these particular people were treating us badly because we were Christians, (I think they were just greedy), the point still stands that sinful people with treat others badly.

And that is what I want us to see first this week. We should not be so shocked when we see evil. When someone treats us poorly or unfairly we should not be surprised. In fact, we should be more surprised when people actually treat us nicely. The truth is, there are many people who are not living for Jesus. “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:19). And while there is some common decency based on culture, when you get right down to it most people are mainly concerned with their own benefit. Thus, you should not be surprised when someone tries to take advantage of you for their own gain.

Sin shouldn’t shock us but it definitely should disgust us. And this leads to our second issue with sin. We all are not disgusted enough by sin. Yes those really gross sins you are, (genocide, abortion, rape, etc…), but not your own sins. We seem to condone or excuse our own sins but are never really disgusted by them. And this is exactly why we continue in our same sinful pattern for years.

Instead, we need to view sin like God does. “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” (Psalm 5:4-6). God is absolutely disgusted by all sin. He hates it and abhors it completely. We, on the other hand, seem to be off put by others sins and often apathetic about our own. We most definitely do not see sin the way God does.

And so my hope this week is to reverse that idea. Instead of being so shocked when others sin against us and then condoning our own sin I want us to be disgusted with our own sin and not be so surprised when others sin against us. So there are two things I think that can help us start to see sin the way God does.

First is prayer and study. I think for us to have eyes like Jesus we need to ask. Jesus tells us “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7). Instead of praying for health or a more comfortable life, why don’t you pray for something that can have a greater impact. Pray for conviction and to see sin as God does. With that you also need to study. The Bible is full of stories about sin and what God thinks about it, (read the story of the Israelites in the Old Testament to see what I mean). The combination of study and prayer opens our eyes to see sin more clearly.

Secondly, you need to stop comparing yourself with others and start comparing yourself with Jesus. It is so easy to be shocked by others sins yet lack a disgust for your own when you always compare yourself to other evil, sinful people. I can always compare my sins with someone worse than me or someone who struggles with a sin I don’t. And every time I do it makes me seem like some great person, (which leads to a lack of disgust about my own sin) and them seem like some evil, God-hating person, (which leads to my shock).

Rather, compare your life and sin to the life of Jesus. In every possible way, Jesus is a better person than each of us. His worsts are still better than our bests. When you start comparing yourself to Jesus you realize you are more disgusting and evil than you originally thought. Also, you start to see the sin done against him and the pain he endured and you are less shocked when sinful people treat sinful you in a sinful way.

So may we stop being so shocked when people sin against us. May we understand that we all are evil, fall short and need Jesus’ forgiveness and grace to help us. May we stop being ok with our sins and instead be as disgusted with them as God is. And may we stop comparing ourselves to others in order to condone our sinful behavior but instead compare ourselves to the only perfect One to ever walk this planet. Lord give us new eyes!

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.

We have an Enemy- Part 2

Last week we acknowledged the fact that we are all in need of a Savior. We cannot save ourselves and we are all the furthest things from heroes, (even though our culture wishes to tell us otherwise). And while we do have a hero Jesus Christ our Lord, we also have an enemy.

As much as we all wish it wasn’t true, there is someone who hates us and will stop at nothing to see our ultimate destruction. His name is Satan and he is a fallen angel whose goal is to get as many to hell as possible. This is the first truth we must all realize this week. Satan and hell are real. We find it so easy to talk about heaven, (even non-Christians), but few of us like to admit or consider the reality of Satan and hell.

We learn a bit about Satan in a few places in the Old Testament. We learn he is a fallen angel who introduces sin to mankind and is constantly looking for ways to trip up God’s people, (Isaiah 14:12-15, Ezekiel 28:13-19, Genesis 3:1-15, and Job 1:6-2:7). And while my purpose this week is not to show the history of Satan I think it is important that we all have an understanding of his background a bit. So check out the verses above before going on.
在圣经的旧约里面,我们可以在某些章节里面了解到一点关于撒旦的描述,我们可以知道撒旦他是一个堕天使,引诱人陷入罪的里面,并且不断地使上帝的儿女绊倒(圣经中的以赛亚书14:12-15;以西结书28:13-19;创世纪3:1-15;约翰福音1:6 – 2:7) 。我这周分享的目的并不在于告诉你们撒旦的历史,我觉得重要的是要让你们知道一点关于撒旦的背景,所以我希望你们在继续读下去之前,可以翻开圣经去查阅一下上面提及的章节。

My goal today is for each of us to see what Satan’s attacks look like, and how we can be prepared for them. But before we look at how Satan attacks us and what the Bible tells us to do in response, I think it is important to note two vital mistakes we make when it comes to Satan.

The first is that we try to ignore or hope he isn’t real. To pretend an enemy doesn’t exist doesn’t make them less powerful, but actually allows their work to be done in relative ease. We have to admit and understand that we have an enemy named Satan who is real in order to combat him. The second vital mistake we make is that we either give Satan too much respect and thus live in fear, or too little respect and are easily deceived.

We are told not to fear because our Hero, Jesus Christ, is greater than our enemy Satan and has overcome. Romans 16:20 says “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” Also Revelation 20:10 says “and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” We know the end of the movie. God wins, Satan loses. So we need not fear because we know our Hero is greater than our enemy.

At the same time, this does not give us an excuse to like arrogantly, as though we did not have an enemy. The truth is that Satan has been around much longer than you and me. He knows the Bible, God and Jesus far better than we do. So to be as arrogant as to think that we can take Satan on by ourselves is quite a foolish endeavor indeed. In John 8:44 Jesus calls Satan “the father of lies.” While we need not fear Satan because we have a Savior in Jesus, a healthy respect for Satan is good in order to be prepared for his deception.

Now that we understand our enemy a little better we can look at the primary ways he attacks us and how we as servants to Jesus can respond. The first way that Satan attacks the children of God is through lies. Satan will tell us anything to get us distracted from God. Genesis 3:4 says “But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.” This is only a few verses after God had told them not to eat of the fruit or they would die. Satan uses deception to get Adam and Eve to eat the fruit. And this he still does to us today. He puts little lies into our thoughts, our culture or our friends and family members. Lies like, “God can’t exist in this scientific age, you are the top of the evolutionary chain.” Or “You can do what you want because you know what’s best.”

Satan’s lies are many and they continue to lead us astray. So what can we do? We can respond the same way Jesus does to Satan in Matthew 4:1-11. Each lie Satan told Jesus, Jesus responded with a Biblical truth. So in order for us to combat the lies of Satan we need to know our Bibles. Read it. Memorize it. Ask Biblical teachers about it. And then when a lie comes to you, (through your thoughts, the media, your friends or family, etc…), have those verses on your mind and ready to combat Satan.

Secondly, Satan tricks us with pleasure. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says “In their case the god of this world, (Satan), has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Satan tells us that pleasure is the ultimate purpose to our lives. This tactic of his has been widely successful over the last 100 years as modernization has made getting pleasure much easier. People devote their entire lives to getting money in order to pursue sex, material possessions, travel, or whatever else they think may bring them pleasure.

In order to combat this desire for pleasure, we need to look at some of the great examples from our King and also from His Word. Verses from Jesus about this include Matthew 6:19-21 and 24-34, Matthew 13:44-46 and Luke 18:24-25. Paul gives us some other great ideas in Philippians 3:7-8 and 4:11-13. The book of Ecclesiastes is also quite helpful in combating this attack. Ultimately, we need to learn to desire Christ and His Kingdom more than any pleasures this world could possibly offer.

Finally, Satan also uses pain to hurt the children of God. Satan may give someone a disease like cancer in hopes that through this disease or pain they would lose their trust in God. Satan knows that many of us can believe and trust God when everything is good, but when some kind of pain or hardship comes many will turn their back on Christ. These people only trusted Christ for what He could do for them. This ideas basically turns you into your own God and Jesus into your servant whose job is to take care of you.

If you are struggling with pain and maybe even questioning God, there are some great places in the Bible for you. The first is the entire book of Job, especially the end where God speaks and shows Job that he cannot fathom the ways of God and instead needs to be silent and trust. Also, having a mindset that we are only here temporarily but the afterlife is eternal can often help those who are suffering right now.

Next week we will consider what our job is in all of this. If Jesus is our Hero and Satan our enemy, what is our role? The verses I have listed above are just a small amount. Open your Bible and find more. The Bible is full on the topic of our enemy and his attacks. Also, a few good books about this problem are “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis and many of the autobiographies of some of our Christian ancestors.
下周我们会细想一下我们在这世上应当做什么?如果基督是我们的英雄,撒旦是我们的敌人,那我们的角色又是什么?我曾经听到的关于以上这个问题的回答只有很少的一点。打开你的圣经去找到更多关于这方面的记载,就会看到整本圣经的一个很重要的主题就是关于我们的敌人以及它对我们的攻击。同时,关于以上这个问题亦有一些很好的书籍可以给大家参考,例如C.S. Lewis写的《The Screwtape Letters》 以及其他的很多关于基督徒的自传。

Whether it is lies, pleasure or pain may we stop falling victim to the attacks of Satan and learn how to stand strong in Christ. As Paul says, may we put on the full armor of God.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. -Ephesians 6:10-18
以弗所书 6章 10-18节:

I Need a Hero- Part 1

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).

You were made with a purpose. You knew there must be more to life than your mundane, everyday existence. To even consider that our life boils down to birth, school, work, family, retirement and then death just sounds sad. And yes, those things are very important and play a major role in our lives. However, none of them are the reason for our existence.

And while some of you may say there is no reason for our existence, that we just happened by random chance, my purpose today is not to write a formal argument against such a theory. If you believe there is no reason for our existence I can point you to many resources that can say contrary to that. But the thing I want to point out today is our unfulfilled desires hint towards this “something more” purpose of ours.

You have a longing to make a difference. And that longing is good. In fact, God gave you that. He made you that way. Problem is we have taken that longing and instead of using it to fulfill His mission we have tried to create many of our own little tiny missions in order to fulfill that longing.

Why do we love movies so much? Because they allow us to put ourselves in the place of the hero and feel like we have made a difference. Video games, fiction books and even music all at times play upon this theme. We love it when good defeats evil. Even much of the charitable work we do feeds this desire to make a difference in the lives of others. And while all of these things provide a temporary “I matter” feeling, that soon fades and we find ourselves wondering what we’re here for yet again.

So my challenge and hope for you all today is to see that God has a reason for you being around. That HE has a plan and purpose for you, and that if you will actually take that step and pursue God’s mission you will see that you are part of the movie. So in part 3 of this series I will talk about what exactly our mission is.

But before that we have to talk about where our mission comes from. The truth is we are all part of the movie. And while we wish we could be the star, that role has already been cast. Jesus is the star of the movie known as History. This movie also has a bad guy, (named Satan, we will talk more about Him next week). But in order to truly understand our mission, we have to understand who we are serving.

Our culture, media, the world and our own sinful desires want us to believe that we are the purpose. That we are the main focus and the hero. We are told we can be anything we want as long as we try hard. So we start living our lives with this view. That we are the reason. And once we believe this lie, we start treating others as if they should believe this about us as well. Watch how people act while driving. Everyone seems to believe that they are God of the road, and any car that will not allow them to go first must be demon possessed.

Or even worse, we twist Bible stories to make us feel hero-like. How many of you have read the story of David and Goliath? If you haven’t you can check it out in 1 Samuel 17, but I feel like many already know it. Now when we think of this story, which part do you think you identify with? Most people, sadly even many pastors, would tell you that you are David and that you can overcome any of your big problems, (like Goliath), by trusting Jesus. What a sad lie this is!

The truth is you are not David. If anything you are one of the other soldiers who was too scared to do anything. And this truth is so vital and so important I find myself talking about it almost every week in this blog. You can’t save yourself, you’re not the hero. Rather, you are the evil, sad, helpless guy in the movie that must be saved.

That stings our pride, doesn’t it? The true reason people try to keep their distance from Jesus isn’t because they just don’t believe the facts. It’s because their pride can’t come to grips with the fact that they need a savior. Same thing that got Satan kicked out of heaven, (Isaiah 14:12-15).

Which is why we are so desperately in need of a savior. We are born evil. Not just born sinners, born evil and rebellious against our true King, (Psalm 51:5, Proverbs 21:2, Genesis 8:21, Ephesians 2:1-3, etc). We have no reason to be the hero. If anything, we look more like the villain. We run around thinking we are playing hero while we are actually just foolishly following the bad guy’s plan the whole time.

In order to stop this backwards, “I can save the day” mentality that the world wants us to believe, we need to humble ourselves, see our lives and desires for what they really are, (evil), and cry out for help. This week we all must realize that Jesus is our Hero and our King whom we serve. Without this, we have no hope and no purpose.

Next week we will look more at what exactly Satan, (the evilest of all time) is up to, and finally in week 3 we will look at our purpose and place in all of this.

So may we all realize that Jesus is the Hero, and we are merely servants. May we know that we are born evil and through amazing grace, (Ephesians 2:8-9), Jesus saves us. May we realize that our longing for more is good, but it is a longing for God, not for our own glory. May we lay down our pride and cry out to the greatest Hero this world has ever known, Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior.

Just Playing in the Wind

Is anyone feeling any kind of letdown after Valentine’s Day this week? I feel like holidays are often a catalyst for feelings of letdown, depression or doubt. We get so hyped up for the holiday that when it comes and doesn’t meet our impossibly high expectations we feel like we missed something. This often leads us to feel a kind of post-holiday depression or drought. And while Valentine’s Day may not give you that post-holiday longing for more, I am guessing Christmas, your birthday, or even the weekend does.

Yes the weekend is an amazing break from work, but it never lives up to our expectations and only leaves us feeling down Sunday night that it has already gone so quickly. And yes Christmas is an amazing celebration each year, but the day after Christmas feels like nothing special even happened that entire month leading up to it. So why do we do this to ourselves? Well I think Ecclesiastes has some answers for us.

Multiple times in the book of Ecclesiastes you see the writer describe something and then call it “vanity and a striving after the wind.” (1:14, 2:17, 2:26, 4:16). I have just named four places where you can find this term, but it appears over ten times throughout the book. And I feel like this is our ailment. We are all just content playing in the wind.

Here’s what I mean. We continually try to find something to put our hope for happiness and pleasure in and then this thing inevitably leaves us feeling empty and unsatisfied. Our chase for happiness is as foolish as a child chasing after the wind. Sadly we look in all the wrong places than wonder why happiness continues to allude us.

We are so consumed chasing after minor pleasures or something as silly as happiness when true joy awaits us. C.S. Lewis put it like this:

We are half-hearted 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.

So what’s the cure? How can we be satisfied rather than have this continual longing that can never be fulfilled? Well the simple truth is that we need to change what we are chasing after. We need to stop pursuing these lesser pleasures that the world says will make us fulfilled and instead choose to pursue Jesus Christ and His mission.

What the world says will fulfill you can easily be seen everywhere. Wealth, fame, physical attractiveness, a comfortable life, a successful job, sex, abundant possessions, food and drink or whatever else you have set your hope on. All of these can basically break down to self-indulgent pleasure. The world says that for us to be truly satisfied we need to reach a point where our pleasure, (whatever it is we do to get pleasure), can be carried out uninhibited. For example, if we find pleasure in eating, then we can eat whatever we want whenever we want. If we find pleasure in possessions, we can buy what we want whenever we want. If sex, we can sleep with the most beautiful or handsome people whenever we please. If fame, then people will all praise and worship us when we want.

And for many of us these things look like a great life. However, the truth is they are merely “vanity and a striving after the wind.” Why do people who use drugs continually look for harder more dangerous drugs? Why do rich people need even more money? Why is one brand new BMW not enough? Why do people cheat on their supermodel wife? Because we believe satisfaction can only be found in more, but we forget that more is never enough.

Jesus offers us an alternative to this never ending quest for more. “Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14.

Jesus offers us such an amazing gift. Satisfaction. He offers us the ability to be satisfied in him. This means we don’t have to keep striving after things that only leave us feeling let down in the end. This means we don’t have to compare ourselves with others. And the second half of the verse makes it even more incredible. Once we know Jesus, we will have such an overflow of satisfaction in Him that we get to go and share it with the world. Thirsty people who have been chasing after the lesser pleasures of this world can come to us and we can share our satisfaction in Jesus with them.

And this is why we must store our hope or our treasure in the right place. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay u for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and were thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:19-21).

So my hope is that all of you will seek Jesus as your ultimate treasure. I hope that you will stop seeking after the pleasures this world offers, that you will stop chasing the wind of happiness and vanity and instead drink deep from the well of joy that comes from Jesus alone.

Reclaiming Biblical Love

With Valentine’s Day this week I felt like this would be a good time to address this crazy little thing we call love. More importantly, to address how “love” has transformed over the past 10-20 years so that now it barely looks like the thing it used to be. It looks even less like the Biblical prescription for it.

To illustrate just how far our idea of love has declined, let me give a few examples. On a recent plane trip I noticed that at least 3-4 of the movies listed under romance were solely about affairs or repetitive one night stands. In numerous current TV series, (such as The Office, Modern Family, etc), multiple characters have engaged in some kind of affair or one night stand, all under the guise of comedy.

These are just illustrations from the entertainment sector. If we look at real life we see a divorce rate around 50%, abortions and teen pregnancies at all time highs, and extra marital affairs an all too common occurrence. Also the news of high profile people, (athletes, politicians, actors and actresses), engaging in affairs seems like an everyday event. Christians aren’t exactly immune to this type of behavior either.

A recent CNS News report dated January 21, 2002, said, “Born-again Christians are just as likely to get divorced as anybody else in American society, and the vast majority of those identifying themselves as divorced and born-again actually got their divorces after converting to Christianity, according to a new book called ‘The Divorce Reality’.”

So when did love lose it’s, well, love? I think there are a few reasons for the increase in divorce, affairs and one night stands. The first and I believe main cause that has allowed these rates to grow has been our culture’s obsession with pleasure and happiness. We are fixated on pleasing ourselves above all else. So when marriage gets tough, we get divorced. When a prettier girl comes along, we have an affair. We are first and foremost interested in our good and our pleasure. And this mystical idea of romance shown in movies only furthers this point. Movies like Twilight, Titanic, and Friends with Benefits all claim to show romance but really just give us a perverted view of self-indulgence.

Secondly, we continue to try and push the boundaries of right and wrong. This may be in part do to some kind of evolutionary thinking that says we need to adapt or die, or maybe because we have grown bored with many traditional ideals. This is best evidenced in our movies and TV shows. When I was growing up PG-13 meant some cheesy action, maybe one bad word and some violence. Now PG-13 means at least one or two “F-bombs,” a steamy sex scene and blood everywhere. TV series now get away with showing affairs, same sex kissing and even explicit sex. This is clearly to our liking as the movies and shows that get the highest ratings always seem to be those that push the boundaries of any kind of moral values. (Compare Family Matters to Modern Family and you will see how much has changed).

Third, we are more closed off to communication than ever before. I find this fairly ironic considering we are the most connected generation ever. We can now communicate with people anywhere in the world at any time, and usually quite cheap. Social networking, online chatting, text messages, emails and cell phones are all daily necessities. Yet, do we really communicate? We may talk a lot but I feel like very little communication actually takes place. People no longer have accountability partners or groups. People don’t talk about struggles in marriage. We have closed ourselves off from others and the tragic result is an isolated, sin filled, self focused life style.

So what’s the cure? How we can put more love back into love? Well of course we need to turn to the Bible and see what God has to say.

First, we need to learn what love and marriage is really about. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8. We learn what love truly is by being in a relationship with God. I believe that apart from Jesus we cannot truly understand what love is. Yes people can partially see and experience love if they are not a Christian, (we call this God’s general grace). But, true love can only be experienced when God is not part of the equation, but the focus and reason for the equation. “We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

Second, we need to follow the Bible’s guidelines and prescriptions for love and marriage. I don’t have time to dissect each of these sections of verses thoroughly but instead will briefly discuss each and then you can do more study on your own. The best verses on marriage in the Bible can be found in Ephesians 5:23-33. Here Paul shows us how to live as husband and wife. He shows that out goal is not happiness and pleasure but rather that the husband would represent Jesus Christ and the wife represent the Church. Love and marriage done to represent the love and marriage of Jesus and the Church is what true love is really about.

Other good sections to consider are 1 Corinthians 13 which shows some characteristics of love, (these are not just confined to romantic love but love of any kind). As you read over some of these, (love is patient, love is kind, etc..), think about if our modern idea of love or that portrayed in popular media follows these verses or not. Also, Genesis 2:24-25 shows the idea of one man and one woman. Not one man and many woman or one man and one man. Matthew 5:27-32, Jesus talks about adultery and divorce and how we are to avoid both and view both with a higher standard than what our culture deems right. Finally, Leviticus 18 has some laws about what kind of sexual relations we should avoid. There are many other verses throughout the Bible about these topics, but I feel this list should be a good starting point for those looking to reclaim Biblical love.

Third, we need to get connected. We need to have people we can openly talk to about anything. We need to be able to talk about marital problems with brothers and sisters who can help, encourage and pray for us. We need to have accountability partners who we will be open about if we are struggling with porn, premarital one night stands or about considering an affair. We need to learn to open up and communicate. Don’t isolate yourself. Jesus gave us the body of believers to work as a body, (1 Corinthians 12:14-31). So be willing to open up and share with fellow Christians and also be willing to be an ear or voice in their lives as well.

So may we not just love like the world does, but rather strive to love as our Lord Jesus Christ does. Let us throw off this false ideal of self-satisfying romance and rather run after a deep, true love that can be satisfied in Christ alone. May we not let movies and TV shows tell us how to love, but look to God and His Word for the truth about love. May we not waste this Valentine’s Day or any other day seeking after a love that cannot quench. May we love, because He first loved us.

Opening Our Eyes

So after another two week hiatus I’m back. Vacation is nice, but it also kind of gets me off schedule and undisciplined. Hopefully being back at work and on a regular schedule will help me be more disciplined about this blog and about my own spiritual walk as well. Which leads me to a verse I read today as I was doing my devotions this morning. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18).

The verse struck me for a few reasons today and hopefully it will strike you as well. The first thing I noticed was the first part of the verse which says “Open my eyes.” Now if you think about it, this is a strange thing to say. The act of opening eyes is a personal one. When I wake up in the morning, my wife does not need to force my eyes open in order for me to see for the day. But rather I manage to it by myself. So I found it interesting that the Psalmist would make a request that his eyes be opened.

And in these three simple words I think we find a profound Biblical truth. The opening of our eyes, (or in this sense, the ability to see and feel as God does, or to understand God and His ways more), is something we cannot hope to do ourselves. This is not something modern ears likes to hear. We have been taught that we can do anything through hard word, dedication, education, teamwork or whatever other value your culture or society has emphasized.

However, the truth of this verse and of the entire Bible is that we are unable to save or help ourselves. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). The opening of our eyes is a passive act. Jesus does the work. This amazing truth, when truly understood, cannot only help you understand Christianity as it is meant to be, but can also help you better understand and overcome sin in your life.

The problem most of us have with our sin, (arrogance, lust, covetousness, jealousy, pride, anger, selfishness, greed, you name it), is that we feel like if we work hard at it and just persevere, we can overcome it on our own. This is not Biblical and not from Jesus. This is modern American culture creeping into the Church yet again. The truth about your sin is that you cannot overcome. You are not good enough or strong enough to be able to. Rather, you need to call out for help to the One who is wholly able to save, cleanse and overcome. Rather that put your chin up or grit your teeth and bare it, why not try to humbly fall down and cry out for help?

Which leads to the second part of the verse mentioned above. The Psalmist describes the Law of God as “wondrous.” Now when many look at the statues and laws God has set forth, “wondrous” is the last thing to come to mind. Harsh, cruel, strict, impossible, unfair, ancient, useless, and boring may be some that more readily come up, but rarely do people describe God’s Law as “wondrous.”

And again, this is because we have stained lenses through which we view God’s perfect law. It is not God’s law that is off, it’s us. God’s law is not out of date or repressive, rather we are rebellious and will look for any claim we can against perfection. However, there can be no claims made against perfection, so we start to manifest them based on our own failings rather than scriptural, perfect truth.

For example, maybe I read Matthew 5:44 which says “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and think to myself, “Self, there is no way you can or should follow this verse. I mean, just think of how badly your enemies have treated you. They are in the wrong, not you. To love and pray for them would be to overlook their offense.”

Now you may not have this exact train of thought, but I can imagine many of you have had something like it. We feel like our circumstance somehow makes us void from the Law of God. We think that if God really knew my situation He would understand my anger. He would be ok with it. Once we have this thought, we have decided we would rather keep our eyes closed with scales and view God’s Law through our lenses rather than try to view our life and situation through the perfect lens of God’s Law.

So my advise to all of us this week is to cry out for help. Stop trying to open your own eyes, but instead humbly throw yourself at the feet of Jesus and ask Him to help. Cry out that He would save you. Cry out that He would heal your wounds. Cry out that He would help you defeat some sin in your life. Then be amazed at how wondrous He truly is and at how wondrous His Law is. Open our eyes Lord Jesus.

BUILDING UP or tearing down?

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Are you REALLY doing this? Or are you more likely to be the critical person who finds fault with everyone? Or are you that person that tears down others for a laugh?

I feel like this idea of building up or encouraging one another has somehow been lost over the years. We are more likely to crack a joke about someone than we are to say something nice about them. I’m not sure if it’s our entertainment, (watch TV or a movie and count how many times they build up and how many times they tear down and you’ll see what I mean), our sarcastic sense of humor that loves to exalt ourselves while belittling others, or just our hyper critical attitude disguised as pushing someone to become a better person. Whatever it is, we aren’t the most encouraging people around.

I have noticed this lately in my own life. I see two problems. First, I am not really encouraging others. I am much more likely to joke or criticize than I am to build up. Second, I don’t really have many people encouraging me. This may be because of my joking and critical nature. You get what you give right?

Well whatever the reason is for this lack of building up in our lives and those around us, it does not come from God. We are not meant to be a people who tear down, belittle and criticize all the time. So what can we do? I have thought of a few things that may help us become the type of people who can “encourage one another and build one another up.”

First, I think we need to daily remind ourselves to encourage others. I think the best way to do this is to start the day with prayer. When we pray first thing in the morning it sets the tone for the rest of the day. If you are like me and find it easier to criticize than to encourage, then pray each morning before you leave the house that you would seek to build others up rather than to tear others down today. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “pray without ceasing.” If we pray over this each morning I believe you will start to see changes in the way you interact with people.

Also, when you get home at night you can look back at the day and maybe journal or think about how you did that day with encouraging others. Again, this time can be spent in prayer and reflection with God. This gives you two opportunities to consciously think and pray about encouraging others.

Second, I think we need to gather with others who are encouragers and learn from them. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

The people you hang around will effect you. If you are around people who like to encourage and build up you will find that it becomes easier for you to do that as well. But the opposite is also true, so make sure you are aware of the people around you most frequently and those speaking into your life. (This is also a great place to plug small groups. I advise each of you to find 10 or less people you can gather with weekly to study, pray, and encourage one another).

Finally, be willing to encourage when others don’t. I think we often encourage once we see others doing it. It’s easy for us to say something nice once someone has already said something nice to us. But what about when no one has said anything nice? What if people are actually being quite rude? Paul tells us in Romans 12:14 to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”

If we are always going to wait for someone else to take the initiative, are we really following the Bible when it tells us to bless others even when they curse us? Christ followers, we must be a people who are willing to encourage and build up even when no one is willing to do the same for us. We must stop waiting for encouragement but rather be willing to take the initiative and build up those around us.

This isn’t some easy three step guide to becoming an encourager today. In fact, becoming a more encouraging person is a hard thing to do because it completely goes against our sinful nature. But thanks be to God that he gives us help and enables us to do such things for His Kingdom. There are many other things needed to become a better encourager, (first and foremost a relationship with Jesus Christ!), but hopefully these ideas will give you something to either meditate on or try in the coming weeks.

So may we stop just following culture and start following Christ. Let us no longer look for every fault or make a joke at another’s expense, but rather let us be marked by our encouragement. May we continue to gather together and build one another up. May we stir each other up to do good works. And most importantly, may we encourage each other to seek and savor our Lord Jesus Christ as the Day draws near.

Do you actually know why you believe what you believe?

This week I wanted to challenge both Christians and non-Christians with this question. I think we often have a belief in something, but we fail to look at where did that belief come from or why we actually believe it. My goal this week is that whatever you believe you will actually take a closer look at it. For Christians, to better understand your faith and to be able to share that faith with others. For non-Christians, to understand that your non-belief is a belief, even if you don’t think it is.

For non-Christians, your lack of faith actually is an even greater faith than Christianity. I find it interesting that non-Christians demand proof for God or say they will believe once they can see Him, yet demand no such proof for their own beliefs. Just as Christians often use the Bible, (in non-Christians eyes), as a type of “get out of jail free” card, so do non-Christians with science. Show me evolution from a single cell organism and I will believe. My only challenge to non-Christians is to judge yourselves and your beliefs by the same measure you judge Christianity. If you demand proof or a sign then give us proof or a sign. Don’t just believe there is no God because your school, your teachers or your parents told you so. If you don’t believe in God then go and figure out why you believe that before you charge Christians with having no ground to stand on.

For Christians, the Bible tells us we need to be ready to give an answer for our faith, or a reason for your hope, (1 Peter 3:15). But many of us Christians, when asked why we believe, either don’t know what to say or make some comment about how the Bible tells me so. The truth is, that is not why you believe. Just because a book, (now I know the Bible is a special book, but stay with me for a moment), tells me to do something doesn’t mean I blindly do it. I have some sort of faith already if I am to believe whatever this book says.

So, why do we believe? I am not going to answer this exhaustively because that would take hours upon hours, but I do want to suggest three things that may help you the next time you are faced with this daunting question. But I want to preface this by saying that really the only reason you believe anything is because God has opened your eyes to the truth. We did not choose God, HE chose us, (John 15:16). These three suggestions of why you have faith all flow from the fact that Christ allowed you to see these things. Without Christ illuminating your heart, you can not see these things, you can not know God, and you can not be saved. It starts and ends with God.

First, we believe from creation. We look around at the vastness of this world and our universe and it tells us there must be something higher than just our little human lives. We look at the detail and intricacy of creation, (our distance from the sun, four seasons each year, the complexity of our cells and DNA), and it tells us there must be something more than random chance. Someone must have created this for it to work so perfectly. Someone must hold all of this in order so that it doesn’t become completely chaotic. Romans 1:19-20 tells us that God has shown Himself to us through HIS creation. It even uses the word “plainly” to show us that when you look around at creation it is clear there is a God.

Second, we believe from experience. The reason people become Christians is not because we have logically shown them their folly and they decide that God is the only logical choice. Usually, people become Christians because they see others changed lives. Someone is healed from a disease, (John 9), or someone transforms from a drug addict into a model citizen. Your testimony of how God showed you HIS light is often the most powerful tool in showing people the Gospel. We are drawn to transformation because we all know something is not right. We have this universal sense of right and wrong, yet many of us choose not to follow it. Why do even non-believers often stay faithful to their spouse? It’s not against the law and it certainly isn’t evolved morality, (look at America, the most “evolved” nation in the world with more divorce and affairs than anywhere else). Rather, God has actually written his law on our hearts, (Jeremiah 31:33). There is a longing for justice and goodness, not because we have evolved into morally good beings, but because God is good and we want to follow Him.

Third, we believe from unfulfilled lives. No matter how hard we try, we never seem to achieve perfection. Either it is our personality that needs tweaks, our job, our relationships or even the weather. We just never get to that place in our lives where we are completely satisfied with everything. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” We are always left feeling unfulfilled because only God is meant to fulfill us. We long for eternity, and our unfulfilled lives on earth show that.

Again, this is only meant to be a brief discussion on why we believe what we believe. You can search online for more in depth reasons and proofs. My purpose today is just to get all of us thinking why we have whatever belief we have. And that by better understanding our faith we may better know and worship God. May we all build our belief on our Rock and Cornerstone Jesus Christ. May we be ready to answer those who would question our faith. And may we show the world that ultimate truth can be found in God alone.

Money in the Bank

So as promised, I will be talking about money this week. I feel like money is one of those subjects we all have an opinion about, but also are worried to talk about very openly. It seems like everyone has some great plan or perspective on money, but in reality, most of our words don’t match up with our actual monetary transactions. Because money is such an important part of our lives, I feel like how we view, earn and spend money reflects where our heart really is.

Our culture has much to say about money. Advertisements continually try to convince us that money and stuff will lead to happiness. So many of us have bought into the idea of “Work hard, play hard” or “My best life now” that many of our lives center around money. Now as Christians we know that “the love of money is the root of all evil,” (1 Timothy 6:10), but I feel like we Christians use this verse to defend our lifestyles. We claim we don’t love money, (because that would be evil!), but our actions tell a different story. Or, we err on the other side and become so tight with our money people wouldn’t describe us as “joyful givers” (2 Corinthians 9:7), but rather as stingy misers.

So what does the Bible have to say about money. Well actually the Bible has a TON to say about money. But being from a baptist background, I am going to focus on three key points I think each of us need to practice.

The first is the idea of good stewardship. This is for those people out there who can’t seem to save any money. The Bible teaches us that God gives each of us different blessings, (talents, finances, etc..), that he expects us to use for His Kingdom and glory. In Matthew 25:14-30, we read about three men. Two men used their blessings while the other just wasted it. We can see that God expects us to use whatever He has blessed us with to yield an even better return.

In order to do this, we cannot just be frivolous spenders or stingy savers, but must learn how to invest and grow the blessings God has given us. Some practical things you can do to help you use your finances in order to grow them and yield a better return for the Kingdom are to make a budget, plan ahead and distinguish between needs and wants. I feel like these three things will help you plan, invest and utilize your financial blessings for the King. A good website to help with some financial planning from a Christian perspective can be found at

Secondly, we need to be generous. I feel like Christian generosity and giving has decreased greatly since America’s economy has worsened. Christians, when times get tough, we need to be the ones on the forefront of giving. Yes you need to be responsible with your money, (as I said above in being a good steward), but I feel like we often use stewardship and responsibility as an excuse not to give.

Isn’t God in control, (Ephesians 1:11)? Isn’t God the one who gives and takes away, (Job 1:21)? Rather, most of us live like this man: “And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry!” (Luke 12:18-19). Sounds kinda like retirement or the American dream doesn’t it?

We have become so consumed with safety that we are unwilling to do bold things with our money for Christ. Again, we need to be good stewards and provide for our families first, but does my family really need an SUV when a minivan will do just fine? Do we need a 6 bedroom house when only 4 of us live there? Do we really need all those things in our garage, spare bedroom or shed? My guess is Christians are just as over indulgent as those outside the Church, we just do it in a less obvious way.

Finally, we need to remember to be content. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” We are so busy “keeping up with the Jones’” that we have forgotten that it is completely unbiblical to do so! Instead, Jesus tells some to sell all they have, (Matthew 19:21), and to not lay up treasures on earth but rather focus on treasures in heaven, (Matthew 6:19-21). I feel like we identify more with the rich young ruler mentioned in Matthew 19:16-24 than we want to admit.

While I don’t know how this will look in your specific life and situation, I do what to challenge to you take a long hard look at how you are using your finances. Are you saving for the future? Are you investing so that money earned today can be used to serve the Lord in the future as well? Are you content with the old car you have, or do you have to get that nice new BMW? Are you living within your means or even BELOW your means so you can give more money away to those who are really in need?

I want to close with the story of George Mueller. Mueller was a Pastor who lived with his wife in England in the 19th century. He noticed that there were many children on the streets, so he decided to open his home as an orphanage to them. He never asked for any support or money from anyone. He just saw a need and met it. George and his wife prayed to God to provide rather than asking others. Well over their lifetimes, the Mueller’s opened five orphanages and housed over 10,000 orphans! They also were able to fund all of these houses on donations they never even asked for! Rather than fund raisers and asking others, they went to their Heavenly Father who “knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8). May we be willing to do the same and live radically with our money for the glory and praise of our King.