You are Forgiven

I think it is vital that we understand that as a Christian we are forgiven. So many of us get caught up in moralism and trying to be a good person. This is not the Gospel message. Becoming more Christlike through lifelong sanctification is, but moralism and the pursuit of moral perfection is the lie of every other world religion.

As Christians, we do want to become more Christlike in our daily walk, but we also recognize that we fall short time and time again. I am not perfect and often find myself feeling guilt or shame that I am not as good as I think I should be. But the Apostle John’s words in 1 John 1:8-10 shine light into the darkness we often put ourselves in.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 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 1:8-10).

So today I want to look how these 3 verses can dramatically shape the life of a Christian and can hopefully bring the non-Christian to a place of repentance and forgiveness.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” ( 1 John 1:8). The first step towards forgiveness is admitting fault. You must realize that you have sin and then admit and confess it to God. Now God already knows what you have done, said or thought, so why the need to confess?

Confession is a humbling act and makes us realize our fragile nature. When we confess that we have done something wrong, (sinned), we are laying down our pride and asking for God’s help. God’s forgiveness can wipe clean any and all evil we have committed. God can forgive our daily moral failures, (the things we shouldn’t do but did and the things we should do but didn’t do).

The problem is most of us “deceive ourselves.” We feel no need to confess wrongdoing to God. We feel that each person is free to make their own moral decisions and that truth is a subjective thing. This attitude only shows that “the truth is not in us.” If you feel you have nothing you need to confess and be forgiven of by God then you sadly do not know the truth. If you are unsure of what you need forgiveness for than pray and ask God that He would show you your sins against Him.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). Second, we see here that when we do confess our sins that God is faithful to forgive. Notice there is no description of the degree of sin. That’s because in God’s eyes all sin is equally evil. God does not say He will forgive a lie but not murder. He doesn’t say He will forgive arrogance but not selfishness. You see that every sin, whether it is something you did, said or thought, will be forgiven.

This massive truth is important to grasp. When I look back at my past I see so much selfishness, arrogance, worldliness and many other sins. I see things I did, said and thought that are wrong and sinful. I see things I didn’t do, say or think that I should have. I see moral mistake after moral mistake. And then this causes guilt and shame because I realize I am not as good as I think I should be.

But, that is what makes the Gospel and this verse in particular so amazing. God has forgiven each of those sins I have committed. I have no need to feel any guilt or shame for my mistakes and moral failings. Now I don’t want this to take away from the seriousness of our sin. The amazing truth is that I am forgiven and cleansed from such a great evil.

“If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10). But again many of us will look back on our lives and not see sin. I often hear people say they don’t regret anything in their past, that each thing that occurred was a new experience and helped their overall growth as a person. What a lie from the devil! I don’t regret hard times or when trial came my way because it did help me grow, but I do regret each and every foolish word or deed I did that dishonored God. How arrogant we must be to try and condone our sin or use it as some platform for moral improvement!

Rather, I hope we can all look back and find things in our lives that we do truly regret. That we know we shouldn’t have done, said or thought. And may we see those things as sin and confess them to God for we know that He will truly forgive us and we can be set free from any guilt or shame we may have.

So Christians, stop acting like you have no sin. Confess your sins to God. And not just the obvious ones. Confess your wrong motives, your selfish ambitions and bad thoughts as well as the more blatant sins you commit. If you don’t know which of the harder to see sins, (jealousy, idolatry, selfishness, pride, doubt, fear), you are struggling with, then ask God to reveal them to you so that you can confess them and be forgiven and cleansed. Daily confess your sins to God and be set free.

Non-Christians, you need to realize that your life is sinful. You are not as good as you pretend to be. Moral truth is not subjective. You have made mistakes and need to be forgiven. Confess your sins to God. Turn to Him who alone can cleanse you and set you free from your sins. Your good deeds will never outweigh your bad. You can never make up for your past wrongs. Rather, you must be forgiven of them and that comes only through the precious blood of Christ. Turn to God, confess and He is faithful to forgive.

May we all realize our need to be forgiven and then go to Jesus, the only place where true forgiveness can be offered. May we stop living with guilt or shame because of our past deeds or because we aren’t as good as we think we should be. May we stop lying to ourselves that we don’t have sin or moral failings. May we stop believing the lie of moral subjectivity and instead believe the truth of Jesus. My hope and prayer is that we would all turn to Jesus and be forgiven.

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.

Everything to Everyone

I remember when I was growing up I used to listen to a song called “Everything to Everyone” by Everclear. It’s not a Christian song but it did make me think how we are so prone to do just what the song describes. In the song they use terms like “jump through the hoop” and “play all the right games.” Doesn’t that sound like us and our relationships? And so today I wanted to talk about the right way to be “Everything to Everyone”, (yes there is a right way!) and the wrong and sinful way.

We’ll start with the sinful way because I feel like this is where most of us are. Being “Everything to Everyone” can look different for each of us. Maybe you are a people pleaser. You will do whatever it takes to make those around you happy, even if it isn’t Gospel-centered. Or maybe you’re a yes man. Even if someone is wrong you’ll always say yes or agree to keep them happy.

And what about those chameleons? You are a completely different person depending on what group you are in. I find this one especially prevalent in youth groups and among Christian University students today. You put on your “Christian” colors when at youth group but then change out of those and put on your “jock” colors with the athletes or your “stylish” colors with the beautiful people. We change our appearances in order to please others and be accepted by them.

Even Peter struggled with this. “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14). For those that don’t know, Cephas is Peter in Aramaic.

We all struggle with people pleasing, being a yes man or acting like a chameleon sometimes. But those are only symptoms. The true sin inside of us is much deeper than just these symptoms. They allow us to see what sin we are struggling with but in order to overcome these sins we need to get at the root of them. You can’t just take the top off of a weed and hope it doesn’t come back. You have to dig the root out.

The root causes of trying to be “Everything to Everyone” are numerous. But I believe most, (if not all) boil down to two main roots: fear and vanity. Even these two are closely related and sometimes the line between them can be a bit blurry, but for the sake of our argument let’s say they are different.

Fear tends to cause us to people please because we are terrified that we aren’t good enough to be accepted just as we are. So we act in a way we would never normally act in order to be approved. People who operate out of fear tend to follow the stronger personalities in the group and don’t really want to be alone. Rejection, loneliness and depression are other common symptoms that go along with fear.

The sin here is that you are putting your worth and value in others opinions of you rather than Christ’s. When we seek the approval of man we forget that the only approval that really matters is that of God in Jesus Christ. Paul tells us “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 some of us people please out of vanity. We already think we are amazing, (I know you’d never say it out loud), and want others to share in our praise of ourselves. We want to make everyone happy so they will in turn make us happy by telling or showing us how great we are. This attitude feeds our ego’s and thus we crave more praise. And while this can also be fear based I put it in it’s own category because I feel like there is a possibility that the motivation for this type of vanity is in vanity itself.

Our world has become consumed with self-love. Many people believe that you can’t truly love others until you love yourself. This idea has snowballed into billions of dollars spent on marketing the idea that we need to love ourselves first. People don’t buy BMW’s because they really love their neighbor. And so we people please and change our colors to feed into our ever increasing desire for self-love. The Bible, however, isn’t very interested in self-love. Read Matthew 22:34-40. Notice self love doesn’t even make the list. So basically in Jesus’ view our love should look like this: 1. God. 2. Every other person on the planet. 3. Last and in this case least, ourselves. Bet you won’t see that in any marketing campaign anytime soon.

So whether it is fear or vanity based, this “Everything to Everyone” approach is sinful and needs to stop. I know that is easier said than done, but I think the answer comes by looking at the Biblical way to be “Everything to Everyone.” In 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 Paul sums up why he tries to be “Everything to Everyone.” “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

And this is how we are set free from our sinful people pleasing. Rather than trying to be “Everything to Everyone” out of fear or self-love we try to be “Everything to Everyone” for “the sake of the Gospel.” This doesn’t mean Paul was a Christian with some people and cursed like a sailor with others. It means that no matter what group of people Paul was with he would treat them and act around them with the goal to “save some.”

Which is where I want to leave you all this week. Stop living in fear that others will reject you if they only knew the real you. Stop loving yourself as much as the world tells you you need to. Rather love God and love others. Be willing to adapt to those you’re around not like a chameleon but rather as a respectful and loving ambassador of Christ. And remember the motivation is always to see God glorified and to see more share in the blessings of the Gospel. May we all be set free to live in such a way this week.

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.

What Surface are you?

Please note two new links I have added to the side of the page. Both are named Secret Church. One is in Chinese and one in English. Both have great teaching on many different aspects of the Christian faith.

So today while I was doing my daily devotion time, I read a well known Christian story. If you haven’t been around Church that long I will give you a little background of the story first. When Jesus came to earth he often spoke in parables. These are story’s that use earthly terminology to describe something heavenly. Commonly, Jesus would use terms from farming or fishing, common jobs at the time, to allow people to understand an important heavenly truth. But Jesus also spoke this way so that only the elect could truly understand their meaning, (Matthew 13:10-17). So it was very common for Jesus to speak this way, and it was also common that many people wouldn’t understand, (again, Jesus did this knowing that they would not grasp the heavenly implications).

So the parable I read today is called the parable of the sower and goes like this:

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” Matthew 13:1-9

Now after reading this parable some of you know exactly what each of the four surfaces mean. Again, if you aren’t really sure what each means go to Matthew 13:18-23 and read Jesus’ explanation of the four different soils. My purpose today is not to try and explain the parable. Jesus has already done that and I can not do better at explaining something that God has already explained. Rather, my goal today is for us to take a deeper look at ourselves and try to see which path we may find ourselves on.

I say this because I believe every person, (Christian and non-Christian alike), who reads the above parable assumes they are the good soil. We all assume we are on the right track. While most people will say they aren’t perfect, few will admit they aren’t even good. So my challenge to each of us today is to really examine ourselves. For non-Christians this means looking deeply at whether or not you truly believe you are “good” enough on your own, or if you are in need of a savior. And for Christians, this means examining whether or not you truly know Christ. Paul says “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?-unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (1 Corinthians 13:5).

So let’s examine the 3 other types of surfaces and see whether or not you pass the test. The first type Jesus describes is those who have heard, but don’t really understand and so they just don’t try to understand. To me, these people sound arrogant and prideful. It seems as though, because something is difficult for them, they excuse it as rubbish rather than admitting they might not have all the answers. Instead of seeking after truth, they leave it alone and go on with their everyday, self-indulgent life.

Is that you? Are you someone who has never even really given Jesus a chance? Maybe someone told you about Jesus and you scoffed at them because you feel like Christianity, the Bible and Jesus don’t match up with modern science and your own intellect. Or maybe you were interested but couldn’t understand, so instead you went back to something easy to grasp. Or maybe the idea that ultimate truth does exist and can be known scares you, so you have avoided seeking the meaning of life in exchange for self-exaltation.

Or possibly you relate to those on the second surface. These people receive the Gospel message with joy. They look “born-again” and people all around start to see amazing evidence of it. But inside they know they were never born again. This second group sounds like selfishness is their sin. They like Jesus for His forgiveness, but choose not to read any part where He says we will suffer. They chose Jesus because He makes them happy and provides hope and joy for them now. But as soon as their life is anything but comfortable and easy they curse God or ask why He has abandoned them.

Is that you? Did you choose Jesus just as a “get out of hell free card?” Did you choose Him because you think He will make your life comfortable and smooth? Are you hoping that He will bless you with all you want and need? Are you willing to listen and suffer with Jesus or only choose Him as long as it benefits yourself?

The third group of people are those who have heard of Jesus, but have decided that the pleasures of this world are far greater than what Jesus can offer. These people tend to struggle with materialism and covetousness. They find their worth in their possessions, their pleasures and most likely, their money. They can’t understand verses like Matthew 13:44-46. Jesus promises heaven, but He says we have to give, suffer and sacrifice on earth. These people would much rather get, party and seek pleasure than anything else.

Is that you? Are you so focused on seeking pleasure, (money, possessions, sex, comfort, etc…), that you care little for anything else? Have you decided the pleasures of here and now are better than those offered after death? Does the idea of giving all you own to the poor terrify you?

In all honesty, we really probably relate to all three types of soil. Sometimes I struggle with my pride, other times my selfishness and still other times with materialism. How could I be the good soil? Well thanks be to God that I am not meant to be good soil on my own. Only through the cross can I possibly overcome these temptations to sin and instead produce “hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Christ has made me into the good soil.

Non-Christians, my prayer is that you will realize that no matter how hard you work or how much you try you can never be the good soil. It is like a patch of dirt becoming a garden. The dirt can’t cause this to happen on its own, but rather needs a farmer to come and work the ground, plant the seeds and care for it. May you see that Jesus has come and has offered to do this with your life.

Christians, may we test ourselves. May we not grow comfortable thinking we are the good soil when pride, temptation and future suffering are waiting for us. May we realize that each soil represents our life and that for us, we must cry out to Jesus. May we humbly run to Him who made us good and continue to cling to Him forever.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself

What’s your biggest fear? I feel like this is a question we always like to ask jokingly with friends or family. When I ask this question I usually hear things like snakes, heights, public speaking or maybe women, (all quite scary!). I will admit, even though I try to act like this big tough guy, spiders have always creeped me out. They are just so nasty looking and some can even kill you! While each of these things above can be scary in their own way, they are not really what we are scared of.

So what are you REALLY scared of? Being alone the rest of your life? Being a failure? Change? Not being in control? Wasting your life? Death? The list could go on and on, but I feel like all of our surface fears are only the result of some deeper fear. For example, if you are afraid of snakes my guess is that you really fear death. While non-poisonous snakes may still gross you out your fear level drops once you know it can’t hurt you. And that fascinates me. It is always amazing to me how much we can change when fear sets in. I have seen some of the most logical people in the world go seemingly nuts due to fear.

And that’s the problem. While fear can be useful, (like when a mother is so scared for her child’s life she is able to fight off a bear), it mostly causes us to do strange things. Ever wonder why that great girl settles for that terrible guy or why that honest hard working man starts to cheat and lie at work? It’s all because of fear. We are so afraid that we end up doing things we know are wrong just to make the fear go away.

In almost every culture in the world, the answer to fear is to cover it up rather than deal with it. Its kinda like how I clean my apartment. Instead of actually getting on my hands and knees and scrubbing the dirt out, I sweep it under the couch or throw a rug over it, (sorry Mom I know you taught me better). That’s how we treat fear. We know that actually dealing with our root fear will take some effort and work, so instead we cover it up with whatever is easiest at that time.

Look at America. The news is going crazy today because Osama Bin Laden has been killed and claiming “justice has been done.” But has it? Did killing Bin Laden bring anyone back or really alleviate any fears? I hate to say it, but there is still evil in the world. You kill one and another even more evil pops up. This is why revenge and killing never work. It only causes more revenge and killing. Yet because we fear death or loss we rejoice when an unrepentant sinner is sent to hell. “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” Ezekiel 18:23. Out of fear we Americans have exalted ourselves to judge when in actuality we are no better than any Middle Eastern terrorist and need Jesus as much as they do.

Or look at China. I am always saddened to see the empty look in many of my students eyes. They have fears and doubts about life and their future, but instead of trying to talk about them, they go to the bars and drink away their fears. Or maybe they go to KTV and try to “relieve pressure” as I have heard some say. Or sadly many men go to the red light district to forget about the fears of life. Why is smoking so popular in China? Because it helps calm the nerves of all the pressures that we face everyday. These all provide a quick fix to fear but none offer any real lasting help.

But I don’t want to just cover up my fears, I want to solve them. But how? I cannot solve my own fears, (if I could I wouldn’t be afraid in the first place!), and culture only tries to cover them up. Thanks be to God for His Word and the answer to all our fears! I have found two very clear answers on how to solve our fear problem.

The first is love. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us” 1 John 4:18-19. When you experience perfect love it casts out fear. But perfect love is not something you can find from your friends, family or culture because each of these things have been stained with sin. Perfect love comes from Jesus Christ alone. I love verse 19. Our love all comes from Jesus. He first loved us with his perfect love and if we remember that and abide in this amazing love it casts away our fears!

The second is trust. Once you understand and know the perfect love of Jesus it allows you to trust him. Read Psalm 23. I especially like verse 4: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Wow. I don’t know about you, but my fears seem pretty petty compared to “walking through the valley of the shadow of death.” That sounds like a really bad place! Yet even in the worst scenarios or fears of life, God is there.

And this is the crux of the issue. Our fears all come from a love and trust issue. If you do not know the love of Christ you can’t possibly trust Him. And if you can’t trust Him then life looks unpredictable, random and scary! But if you know perfect love, if you have experienced the love of Christ that casts out all fears, then I challenge you to trust that there is nothing unpredictable, random or scary to God! Trust in God who holds everything in place and controls every part of creation. If you believe God loves you then why fear? May we all realize that fear is not meant to be covered up, but rather it is to be cast out by the perfect love of Christ. And may we confidently trust that the God who loves us is also in control of every single element of the universe.

Please leave your mask at the Cross

So my Pastor from the states told me I should check out some Matt Chandler sermons at http://northway.thevillagechurch.net/sermons He is currently teaching a series on Habakkuk. Habakkuk? Who teaches a sermon series on Habakkuk? Well I am glad Chandler is because he had some great stuff to say that really challenged me and gave me some things to think about that I want to share with you all.

Anyways, the book of Habakkuk starts out in verses 2-4 with the prophet Habakkuk basically questioning God. Using words like ” you will not save?” verse 2 and “why do you idly look at wrong?” verse 3. The pious in us want to scold Habakkuk for his lack of faith and tell him to be quiet and that God has a plan. But there is something inside us all that connects with Habakkuk when he makes his cry before God. And Habakkuk isn’t the only one who does this. Look at Job. The whole book of Job is about him seeking the Lord in order to have his questions answered!

Or look at the greatest example of this in the whole Bible: King David. David, called a man after God’s own heart, (Acts 13:22), makes the most blatant and unabashed questions before God. Read Psalms! Psalm 8 and 9 talk about how mighty the Lord is and then turn the page to Psalm 13 and David is asking where God is! The Psalms are full of questioning and doubting.

Yet, when we walk in the door at Church today, or we get together with other Christians we repress any feelings of doubt, fear or struggle and put on a big smile. We feel like we need to wear a mask in order to hang out in Christian circles. Why do we do such a crazy thing? Where did this come from? Well I believe it comes from sin, particularly the sin of pride. We look around and think, “Wow, everyone else has their whole lives so nicely put together, they wouldn’t understand all my sins and failures so I better just wear my mask and keep any doubts buried way down deep.” Is that what David, Job or Habakkuk did?

My belief is that in order to grow closer to Christ, we need to be willing to enter into our doubts and sins and be able to work through them, not just repress them. That’s why Jesus gave us the Spirit and the Church! While the spirit convicts us of sin or failure, the Church is a place we can go to work through those issues Biblically to know and better glorify Jesus! But it is easy and comfortable to keep the mask on. We can just continue to go through life pretending we have everything together, or we can be honest as David, Job and Habakkuk were about our doubts.

But how do we do this? I can’t just show up next Sunday morning stand up and yell “I had impure thoughts this week!” That probably wouldn’t really help anyone. So what can be done? Well I thought a list of do’s and don’ts may help guide us as we seek to remove our masks and prayerfully walk with others as they do the same.

DO: Take your own mask off first and do not try to remove other people’s masks, (Matthew 7:1-5). I believe that as we are honest about our doubts, sins and failures in seeking Jesus Christ that others will join with us to know Christ more. When you stop pretending everything in your life is fine others will be more open that there lives aren’t perfect either.

DON’T: Don’t use vague Churchy words. I feel like the word “sinner” used to carry more power, but we have watered it down so much. Almost every Church will say they are full of sinners, but will never actually go deeper and describe those sins. It is easy for me to say I am a sinner, it is much harder for me to tell someone that I was an arrogant jerk to someone this week. (Note: I had a great idea, that we should all go to Church sometime with those name tags that say, “Hi, my name is…” and then write what sin we have been struggling with that week like pride, lust, or greed. Maybe a better small group activity, but just a thought). Being precise about which specific sin or doubt we have allows us and others to work through it together to know Jesus much better than the vagueness of “sinner” language.

DO: Join a small group. It is hard enough to be open and honest about our doubts and sins but doing that in a large group only multiplies the problem. A small group, (ideally five or less), is a place where we can start to take our masks off and walk with others as they do the same.

DON’T: Don’t use nice verses out of context or in the wrong situation. Romans 8:28 is a great verse, but you need to use it understanding the context in which it was written. Try reading all of Romans before you use Romans 8:28 too much. Also, if someone dear to me just died, don’t sit down and tell me Romans 8:28. Even I, the most insensitive man in the world, would consider that pretty cold. We need to remember that all verses in the Bible are profitable and useful, but we also need to be careful not to use them out of context or use them to rationalize our own man-made traditions.

DO: Pray, a lot! As we seek to know Jesus more, ask for the Spirit to guide us through our questions. And always, ask Jesus! We ask Jesus for help in many areas, but it seems like doubt or lack of faith is not one of them. We often repress questions and doubts when Jesus is more than willing to answer. Check out the prayer the man says in Mark 9:24. This is a prayer we should be making more often than we do. In Job, Habakkuk and the story in Mark 9, the most amazing thing is not what people asked, but that God answered. Ask God for help understanding HIM more.

DON’T: Don’t forget that God is God. In writing all of this I am not trying to say that we have any right to tell God how to run things. Read Job 38. Who are we to question God? We are not in control, HE is. That is why I think we have to remember that in our asking questions, our purpose and goal is to know God more. We ask not because we want to tell God how to do HIS job, but rather because we want to understand, know, and glorify HIM more.