Branches of Pride- Self-Pity

A couple weeks ago I decided to start a series focusing on the various sins that result from pride. My belief is that pride is the root cause of many of the sins we struggle with. Looking at the various branches and tracing the roots back to pride will hopefully help us as we learn what we need to repent of and how to ask the Lord to grow some weak areas in our lives.

This week I want to take a look at another branch of pride that many of us fail to recognize as pride: self-pity. Self-pity can be found in pretty much all of our lives. Some seem to pity themselves frequently while others have only the occasional struggle. Either way, self-pity is a sin.

For most of us, self-pity usually comes from a feeling of being treated unfair. Next, we start to compare ourselves with others and start to feel sad for ourselves. This could be at work, school or with family. Self-pity says “I deserve better than what I have.” So maybe your boss doesn’t give you that promotion you felt you deserved. Often, the result can be you going into a lot of self-pity and possibly starting a pity party, (more on pity parties later). Or maybe you see the other students at your school with a boyfriend or girlfriend and start to feel self-pity because you don’t have one.

Self-pity also can come from suffering. No one likes to suffer but most of us recognize that suffering is an inevitable part of life. So when suffering does come, many of us start to feel sad for ourselves. “Why me?” “What have I done to deserve this?” These questions are common self-pity responses to some sort of suffering.

The danger of self-pity is that it causes people to believe that somehow they deserve better. This is where we find the root of pride. Just like entitlement, self-pity says I deserve better or that this shouldn’t be happening to me. Self-pity tries to remove us from the realities of life by believing the lie that only good things should ever come our way.

Read this quote from Pastor John Piper to see what I mean:

“Boasting is the response of pride to success. Self-pity is the response of pride to suffering. Boasting says, “I deserve admiration because I have achieved so much.” Self-pity says, “I deserve admiration because I have sacrificed so much.” Boasting is the voice of pride in the heart of the strong. Self-pity is the voice of pride in the heart of the weak. The need self-pity feels does not come from a sense of unworthiness, but from a sense of unrecognized worthiness. It is the response of unapplauded pride.”

We struggle with self-pity not because we feel worthless but because we feel what we have done or sacrificed deserves praise. And this is why self-pity is ultimately rooted in pride. It is an elevated view of self and glory seeking.

So how can we deal with self-pity? I think the first response has to be humility. Because self-pity is rooted in pride, the solution for dealing with it is attacking the root. Philippians 2:3-8 gives us a great formula and example for being humble:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Jesus left us the greatest example of how to quench self-pity. If anyone should have had self-pity it was Jesus. Not only did he suffer unjustly more than any of us ever have or will, (a sinless man being executed as a criminal), but He also should have been praised because He alone was worthy of praise. No man has ever had a greater reason to have self-pity. Yet, Jesus humbled Himself and followed the plan of the Father.

In doing so, Jesus left us three important lessons. First, Romans 8:18 tells us “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” That any suffering or sacrifices we make today are nothing compared to the glory of experiencing God. So instead of feeling pity we push on and focus on the glory ahead of us. Jesus willingly gave up His life, (greater sacrifice then we give), in order to get more glory for God.

Second, that God sees the things we do that go unnoticed. That Jesus was killed in this life as a criminal, but that isn’t how God viewed His only Son. Maybe you feel like all the good you are doing doesn’t matter. Maybe you feel like no one notices or cares. This is where self-pity can start. But remember Galatians 6:9: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” We are working not for our praise but for our Father’s praise. We don’t give up because we know God sees our works.

Finally, Jesus shows us that we are to count others better than ourselves. He gave up much so we could gain. The lie of self-pity is that if I give up much I deserve much. But this is a self-focused statement, (which is why it is called self-pity). Instead of being so focused on how this effects our lives, shouldn’t we follow our Lord Jesus who gave much of Himself for the benefit of others? Notice in Mark 12:30-31 that we are commanded to love God and love others. Jesus doesn’t tell us we need to love ourselves first. We are commanded to put God first, people second which means we must put ourselves last.

If you struggle with self-pity and are always feeling bad for yourself, I hope these points can help. The last thing you want to do is having a pity party. This is where people will find others to also feel sorry for them which only causes the pride of self-pity to grow stronger and stronger. We see it all the time on Facebook and Weibo: people posting about their own self-pity and hoping others will join in their pity party.

Don’t fall for this foolish mistake. We were not made to pity ourselves but rather to rejoice in our God. Philippians 4:4 says it like this: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” That is the life we were called to. So stop allowing pride to create self-pity in your life. Follow our Lord Jesus’ example, humble yourselves and rejoice in the Lord.

Branches of Pride- Entitlement

I feel like I write about pride very often. I think I do this for two reasons. First, it’s a sin I struggle with. I find it easy to write about something I struggle with because I face the battle with pride on a daily basis. The second reason is because I believe it is probably the most prevalent and devastating of all sins and can be found as the root cause for many of the other ugly sins we commit.

While I usually try to deal with the roots of our sins, I want to change gears for the next couple of weeks and focus on the branches. My hope is that my recognizing some of these more obvious sins in your own life that you would be able to trace it down to the root of pride and start working on pulling that sin out. So the next couple weeks we will look at some sins that are rooted in pride.

I wanted to start this week with a real ugly one, but one we all struggle with at one time or another. It’s called entitlement. What is entitlement? It’s the belief that you deserve or are entitled to something good. Let’s take a look at a few ways entitlement rears it’s ugly head in our lives, how to combat this sin, and how it traces back to the root sin of pride.

Entitlement shows itself in many different ways. Just the other day I was walking and noticed a traffic jam at an intersection. All the cars had decided they wanted to go first. The entire problem could have been adverted had one or two people allowed someone to go first. But these people felt entitled. They felt like it was their turn and they needed to go first. This is especially true for those driving really nice cars. Many of them drive in a way that says, “Do you see my car? I am important, and thus I should get to go where I want, when I want.”

For others of us, entitlement comes out often in what we feel like we deserve. Maybe you feel like you deserve a promotion because you are a hard worker. Maybe you feel like you should get a good grade because your father is an important man. Maybe you feel like others should be nice to you because you are nice to them. These are all entitlement issues.

The way I most often struggle with entitlement personally is based on my learning. I often feel that others should take my advise or listen to my opinion because I have spent extra years studying and thus have more to bring to the table. I feel that my knowledge entitles me to be heard, and my opinion to be respected and followed.

The problem with entitlement of any kind is that is believes a lie. We think we deserve something good. Whether it’s based on our own merit, ability or personal connections, we believe we should be given good things and deserve to be first, top or better than we are.

We do deserve something, the problem is that it is the opposite of what entitlement tells us. The Bible says we don’t deserve good but rather punishment. Psalm 103:10 says “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” Also Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death…”

We deserve punishment and death because we are transgressors of God’s law. Praise be to God that He doesn’t give us what we deserve but sent His Son to die for us and save us from what we truly deserve.

And to me, this is the best way to deal with such an ugly sin: realize that without the grace of God your entitled to punishment, death and hell. In order to combat sin, it is usually doing the opposite of that sin that helps break it’s hold on your life. So for entitlement, opposite acts like humility and gratitude are great ways to break down entitlement. Realize that you aren’t as awesome as you think you are. You don’t deserve good but punishment and any and all good that comes your way is a gift. Be grateful for the good gifts God does give you and realize they aren’t from your hands, but from His.

Somewhere along the way we got this backwards. And this is where pride comes in. Pride is what has caused us to flip from a humble stance that sees all good from God into a prideful stance that believes I deserve good things because of my status, personality or ability.

Celebrities are our best example of this type of lifestyle. These people, because of their fame and fortune, live lives feeling entitled to do whatever they wish. Here you see the most prideful people on our planet. I fear that many of us look at these people and their lifestyles with envy rather than disgust and pity. I have many students who tell me their goal is to be able to do whatever they want all the time. May God have mercy on them and keep them from such an entitled hell as that.

Although brief, I hope you can see some areas where you have been acting entitled lately. Maybe it is obvious, (you are that BMW driver who always goes first no matter what), or something more subtle, (you think you should have good things happen to you because you are a “good” person). Either way, it is entitlement and it is one of the results pride can have on our lives.

My prayer for all of us is to realize how entitled we do act and repent. Ask God to forgive you of your pride and entitled nature. Ask Him to remove this ugly sin from your life. Learn to see that what you really deserve is the fire of hell and that by the grace of God alone you have been saved, (Ephesians 2:8-9). May we stop acting entitled and instead be grateful for the grace of our Savior Jesus Christ.

The Company You Keep

No one is completely uninfluenced by those around them. We may feel like we are the leader or influencer of our group of friends, but no matter how hard you try, those people you spend the most time with will start to rub off on you. If you take a second and think about it, you know how great of an influence those around us are.

So why do we spend so much time with people who negatively influence us? Why do we somehow believe that keeping bad company will help us and them in the long run? I want to look at three reasons we hang out with the wrong people and three corresponding solutions for how to change that attitude.

First, arrogance and pride. We are so prideful and arrogant because we think we won’t be affected by our friends bad behaviors. “Maybe they say bad words a lot but it doesn’t mean I will.” “Ya they are always lying to their family but I won’t do that.” “Man my friends always drink too much but I know when to stop.” These sentences are very common amongst people right before they fall headfirst into the same sins of their friends.

A great biblical example of this type of pride and arrogance can be seen in the life of King Solomon. He started out great by asking the Lord for wisdom to govern His people (1 Kings 3). This wisdom was a gift of God and should have been used for great things. But Solomon became arrogant. He knew the Lord’s commands but felt like he could somehow do what the Lord had told Israel not to do and be unaffected. That’s what happened in 1 Kings 11. Solomon knew that the Lord had commanded the Israelites not to take foreign wives because “for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” (1 Kings 1:2). But in his pride and arrogance, Solomon disobeyed God’s warning and sought after what he thought was best.

“He had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart.” (1 Kings 11:3). Out of arrogance, Solomon kept bad company and they turned away his heart. So what about you? Are you dating someone who you shouldn’t be? Are your closest friends trying to “turn away” your heart? Are you as arrogant as Solomon and think that keeping non-Christians as your closest influence won’t affect you?

If that is you, you need to repent and humble yourself before God. Admit that you aren’t as great or strong as you think you are. Ask God for help in seeking Him and His approval over the love and approval of those negatively influencing you. Find new friends who will point you to God rather than draw you away. Surround yourself with people that want to know and serve Jesus first.

Second, pity. We feel like these non-Christian people need a light in their midst. So while we recognize the negative influence they are having on us, we don’t want to cut off our relationship with them because we are hopeful that we can show them Christ and save them.

It is good to have compassion and pity on those who know not what they are doing. Christ had compassion on them and viewed them “like a sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:6). But having compassion and joining in with their sinful behavior are two very different things. We are told that Jesus spent a lot of time with sinners (Mark 2:15-16) but are also told that he never sinned (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is because Jesus was able to go into their lives and offer real change without being affected by sin.

We, however, don’t have such power. While we can often go into our friends sinful situations we rarely leave them untouched by sin. So how can we have compassion on our lost friends but still keep away from sin? Here are a few things that have helped me:

1. Do more one-on-one time rather than group time with people who tend to negatively influence you. Often when you are one-on-one you can more easily counteract their influence. But if you are in a group and five people are negatively influencing you then you will find it harder to resist and be a positive influence in their lives.

2. Pull them into your groups rather than being pulled into theirs. This can be difficult but why not invite this close non-Christian friend to play basketball with your Christian friends? Why not ask them to go shopping with your Christians friends rather than you go with all the non-Christian friends? It never hurts to ask and if the person is truly your friend they will want to spend time with you even if it is with other Christians.

3. Avoid troubled times. I once had a group of friends I referred to as my “daytime friends.” This was because I knew when it became night they would be difficult to hang out with because their focus changed. If your friends start to turn more negative at night, then make them “daytime friends.”

The final problem is selfishness. Maybe you have been friends with that person for a long time. You can’t imagine breaking off your relationship with them. This is pure selfishness. Why worry so much about a temporal relationship when your eternal soul is in danger? Makes little sense.

2 Chronicles 17-20 shows a great example of a bad friendship built upon selfishness. Jehoshaphat was a good king. But, in order to feel more secure, he made an alliance with two bad kings, (Ahab- Ch. 18 and Ahaziah- Ch. 20). The result was trouble and problems for Jehoshaphat. Rather than trusting in God and seeking good relationships, Jehoshaphat was selfish and ended up having the wrong friends around.

And that’s the final challenge I want to leave you with today. Are there some close friendships you just need to cut off? Are there some people that continue to negatively influence you but because you have been friends for a long time you keep them around? If yes, then take that step and stop hanging around those bad influences! Find some brothers and sisters to grow closer with so that you can mutually influence each other for the glory of God. May we stop being arrogant, foolish and selfish with our friends. May we be willing to cut off old friendships that are only dragging us down and find new ones that will help us and those around us know Jesus more. Take action now and make sure that those influencing you are the right people.

One Christian’s Political Perspective

I thought this would be a good time to announce my candidacy for the 2020 President of the United States. So if you are unhappy with the way things are going just hold on until then and you can vote for me!

But on a more serious note, I felt like I should write something about a Christian response to politics in the face of some worldwide political tension. America is torn asunder over the current Presidential election, China and Japan are at each others throats over a territorial dispute and much of the Muslim world is furious over a YouTube video. No matter where you live we are in a heated political time.

So I wanted to write this week about how a Christian should respond to the political tensions we are feeling all over the world. I am not here to tell you how to vote or which stance is correct on important issues. Rather, my goal for all of us is to realize some important truths about politics from the Bible rather than from our culture or political system.

First, we must remember above all else that we have one God, and no political leader or ideology can ever replace that. Reading Exodus 20:1-6 you see the first two of the ten commandments. Notice that both focus on keeping God in his place and not trying to put anything above Him. God felt it was so important to remind us that He is God alone that the Scriptures are full of His reminders about this issue.

Problem is that while we may proclaim this we often don’t actually believe it. I see many people writing on Facebook about how one candidate will “Bring America back to the golden days,” or another candidate will “usher in a new time of peace and prosperity.” But the reality is that no man can do that. Nor can any political system usher in utopia. We must remember that God is in control and that He is the one that changes, restores, heals and brings peace.

A great Biblical example of this is with the nation of Babylon. In the latter half of the Old Testament God uses the powerful nation to punish Israel. In Habakkuk 1:5-6 God tells us “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans (also known as the Babylonians), that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.” After Gos has allowed this He later also allows the great Babylonian nation to be crushed.

Other great examples can be found in Job or even in the Gospels. You see that no political power or great leader is or can take the place of God. So my first challenge is that during these uncertain political times we would all find our hope and faith in God first and foremost above any person, system or ideology.

Second, the Bible also tells us that we must respect and submit to the governing authorities. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1). First, and this touches on our last point, there is no political group or person in charge that God did not allow. Even the worst leaders in the world God allowed them to lead for a period of time and ultimately for a purpose. So we submit to these authorities because in doing so we submit to God.

Secondly, we must learn what it means to submit. Every time after the presidential election in America there is a group of people whining or complaining that their guy didn’t get elected. Comments like “Well I guess this is the end of America” and “I am moving to Canada” are common on Facebook post-election. Christians, is our faith so small and pathetic that we don’t trust that even if our guy didn’t get elected God can and will still work in our country? Do we really want to limit God that much? Instead of whining and making foolish statements about how our political ideas didn’t get chosen, why don’t we trust in God and realize that He rules over all politics. So rather than complaining, how about we learn to submit and support those who God has put in leadership even if they aren’t who we wanted.

On that note, when Romans 13 talks about submission to authorities it doesn’t mean blind submission. As Christians, our authority is always the Bible, not the government. If there is ever a law that is unbiblical than we don’t follow that law, we follow the Bible. However, this is idea is only to be used in instances where the law of the land tries to contradict the law of the Lord. We always must side with the law of the Lord over the law of the land.

Lastly, amidst all this political turmoil, we must remember that we have brothers and sisters in Christ on both sides. Americans, you have republican Christians and democratic Christians. Chinese and Japanese must remember that there are Christians in each country. We must remember that the Middle East has Christian brothers and sisters as well.

Often, when political tensions rise we forget that the other side is our family. Remember that all Christians, no matter what country or political stance they take, are our family. Remember that your identity in Christ is more powerful than your race, nationality or political stance. Romans 12:4-5 says “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

So democratic Christians love your republican brothers and sisters and vice versa. Chinese Christians love your Japanese brothers and sisters and vice versa. Middle Eastern Christians love your western brothers and sisters and vice versa. Your dedication to your family in Christ should be stronger than your blood relatives, race and nationality. If it is ever a choice between my country and Christians from somewhere else I will always stand by the side of my Christian brothers and sisters. May we all remember that and not let current political tensions cause us to lose our love for one another.

And while this may not cover all parts of how a Christian should respond politically, it is a few things I try to live by and think can be useful to all of us who proclaim Christ as our Lord. May we not put our hope in a person or ideology but rather keep our hope in Christ alone. May we learn how to properly and respectfully submit to the authorities that God has put in place. And may we remember to love the family of believers even if they stand on the opposite side of an issue, a political team or in a different country. May we Christians influence politics with our love for Jesus rather than letting politics influence us.

Kids Wearing Daddies Clothes

I think at some point every kid does it. They sneak into Mom and Dad’s room and try on all of their clothes. Then they run out to show their parents how amazing they look. Mom and Dad take some pictures, post it on Facebook and everyone comments how cute they look. And when a 4-year-old does it it is cute.

Not so cute when someone much older does it. In fact it’s not cute at all, it’s just sad. The truth is, there are many old people playing this game right now. They are wearing “grown-up” clothes but the truth is they are still children. You see, it is not age, marital status, a good job, money or having children that makes you an adult. It’s maturity. I know people younger than I who are definitely grown-up and I know people older than I that are still just big children.

The problem is our culture dictates what we consider to be grown up. So you are 18 or 21 and now, according to the law, you are an adult. Yet, most 18-21-year-old’s don’t really act mature like an adult. Sadly, many of these same kids continue to be kids in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s because they have decided that lifestyle is somehow mature. Beer commercials do a great job of trying to get us to buy into the drink their beer and act like an idiot and you will be a mature, accepted and cool adult.

Again, this is not what maturity is. Maturity is rather a heart condition. It has to do with your relationship to God, not to the world or it’s possessions. And that is why I want to look at three verses today that describe maturity to us so that we can leave behind foolish worldly maturity and seek after true maturity.

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Now this doesn’t mean you can’t be an adult and still have fun. That is what some cultures do and it is wreaking havoc, (many Asian cultures try to convince people that adults must be serious all the time and the result is very extreme and dangerous ways of expressing themselves through various sinful activities). You can be mature and still fun. Rather, it means giving up immature and foolish sins because you have grown-up.

For example, many high school student’s think it is cool to curse. Saying bad words is the cool thing to do at that age. But that is childish. It is sad when you hear a 40-year-old drop five F-bombs in a sentence and try to sound like he is 15 again. Many high school student’s just want to hook up and find as many girls or boys as they can. Again, this is childish immaturity, but we sadly see many so-called adults who do the same. These people still speak, think and reason like children even though their age has grown.

Rather, we must repent of these follies and leave them behind. We need to grow to desire our Lord more than childish, fleeting pleasures. We must reject what the world tells us to do for acceptance and instead seek after Him who accepts us as we are. So my first challenge is that we would all repent of any childish behavior we are currently doing and instead seek to live a mature life that represents our true growth in Christ.

“I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not ready” (1 Corinthians 3:2). Many kids pretending to be mature have this issue. They don’t take time to study, learn and grow. People graduate from college and are glad they never have to study again. The problem with this attitude is that it stunt’s your growth and you remain a big, immature kid rather than moving on to maturity.

Rather, if we are to mature as Christians but even just as people, we need to feed ourselves with solid food rather than milk. Instead of wasting our times watching TV why don’t we dive into the Bible? Instead of always talking with our friends about money, work and football why don’t we try to speak and discuss about the more weighty, heavenly things?

My challenge is that we could humble ourselves and to become students as we become teachers. That we would redeem our free time with solid food and more life-giving subjects rather than the milk of movies and TV that our culture uses to keep us numb and immature. That we would grow instead of what happened to these people: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.” (Hebrews 5:12-13).

“So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” (Ephesians 4:14-15). We need to be more solidly grounded in God. Grounded in God, not yourself! The lie culture tells us about maturity is that we need to become self-sufficient, completely able to take care of and deal with all of our problems ourselves.

The problem is we cannot possibly do what culture demands of us. We can’t take care of ourselves, we can’t be the lone ranger and we most certainly cannot save ourselves from our sin. If we could overcome our sin problems ourselves we wouldn’t need Jesus. But you and I can’t. I guarantee there is at least one sin that no matter how hard you try, it keeps coming back (If you claim there isn’t then I already know which sin it is that you struggle with). You can’t deal with this yourself. You can’t overcome. Not something the media would ever try to make a movie out of. But it is true. Only God can do it.

When we are not standing firm on Jesus or building our life upon Him, (Matthew 7:24-27), we tend to be thrown into confusion, doubt and anxiety a lot easier. We are tricked into believing whatever new doctrine comes out as long as the speaker is able to present it charismatically. Remember there will be many wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15), and thus we need to be mature in our faith so we will not be “tossed to and fro.”

My final challenge to us is that we would put our trust in God, not ourselves. That we would stand firm on Jesus as our Lord and that we would not be so easily deceived by new doctrine that is only lies of culture, (“The Secret” is a great example of lies that can sway those not growing with Christ).

So I hope that we can all grow up. We can stop pretending that we are mature and humble ourselves before God, repent and allow Him to truly help us mature. May we stop living in childish habits but instead grow into a mature life. May we stop living off of the food of infants and grow into mature people who need solid food. And may we not be tricked into the deceptions our culture proclaims to us daily, but instead be solidly founded in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Unknowable Mysteries

We live in a day and age when almost everything that is can be known or found out. For example, if you are curious who won the Super Bowl in 1976, how many countries there are in the world or the distance between earth and mars a quick trip to Google will provide you thousands of answers. We love to be informed.

But we also love to figure out and discover. Many of us love when we get the chance to solve some difficult problem that stumps others. This is also why many of us love the mystery genre of movies these days. I particularly love movies that keep you guessing the entire time. I sit in my seat and continually attempt to analyze and discover who did it and what will happen next. I don’t love the mystery, but rather I love solving the mystery.

The problem is when we take our desire for mystery solving to God. While God does reveal much about Himself to us, (“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13), He still leaves much about Himself shrouded in mystery. He gives us glimpses, (like when he lets Moses see His back but not His face in Exodus 33:20-23), but often doesn’t give us the whole picture.

And while many of us who love to know and be informed cringe at the idea of an unknowable mystery, I believe that this stance by God is good and is overall in the best interests of Him and His creation. So I wanted to share a couple points with you all today about why we should appreciate the mystery surrounding God and why, in some instances, rather than seeking to solve the mystery we need to just appreciate it.

First, because it shows the distinction between us and God. We are all born with a God-complex. We desire to be the god of our own universe. So we seek information and knowledge to have more control over our situation. That way we can pretend like we are actually in control of our life. The Greek mythologies were all about humans overcoming the gods. This was what happened to Job as well. He had some terrible things happen and he decided that he was entitled to some answers. He felt that God owed him an answer because it was his life that God had disrupted.

God answers in Job 38-41, but not how we would like Him to. He doesn’t provide all the answers to the mysteries that have been plaguing Job. Rather, He calls Job out for questioning God. He shows Job that there is a giant chasm between us and God and for us to call into question what He does is complete and utter folly. God is so beyond our comprehension that for us to question Him is basically like a pot questioning the person making it, (Romans 9:20-24). There are some things that remain mystery because God is God and we are not.

Second, mystery is good because it humbles us. We are such prideful and arrogant people. Go to a party and watch how everyone attempts to one up everyone else by showing their knowledge about something. We are constantly learning, (which is a good thing), but then taking our knowledge and instead of using it to bring glory to our King we use it to glorify ourselves. This is why Paul writes that “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).

When we don’t have the answer or can’t explain every situation something happens in our hearts. It causes us to realize that no matter how smart we are we can’t ever possibly know it all. It makes us realize there is and always will be someone smarter and even that smarter person can’t possibly know it all. It forces us to trust in God more because we can’t just trust in ourselves for every answer to the universe and that in turn brings us to praise God and to humble ourselves. Mystery keeps us trusting in Him who alone has all answers rather than in ourselves who only can see a tiny speck of the big picture.

Third, mystery helps us because we couldn’t possibly comprehend if we understood everything. Let me explain that a bit. I talk to many people who say they would believe God if He just showed Himself to them or if He just answered all their questions about every life mystery right now. The problem with that is that our feeble, sinful and finite minds cannot fathom this knowledge. We are so arrogant as to think that God could speak with us and that we would actually debate, argue or question Him in the process. The truth is we would either literally die from just gazing upon Him, (again see Exodus 33:20-23), or we would be so lost in His perfectness we would fall on our knees to shield our eyes, (Isaiah 6:5).

We are not meant to know every mystery because we cannot even began to comprehend the mysteries of God. It is an amazing miracle that He does communicate with us through the Bible, but that doesn’t mean that we can fully understand God. God reveals as much about Himself as we can handle. If you feel God has only revealed a little to you then that is you problem, not a God problem.

Now just because mystery is a good thing doesn’t mean we should not pursue wisdom. God commends Solomon for asking God for wisdom in 1 Kings 3. We are to spend our lives growing and learning so as to better understand God. But, this knowledge will never be complete. We cannot attempt to answer every question because it will always lead to complacency. Complacency because you figure you can’t fully know God so why even try to know Him a little or complacency because you feel you know enough and don’t need to learn anything else about Him.

So I hope that we can all learn to appreciate the mysteries of God and the universe He created more. Yes seek to grow and learn but also understand that there will always be some things you cannot possibly understand. And may that drive you to worship and praise our great God who is so far above and beyond us. May we thank Him for what He has revealed and that we can know Him personally, but may we also appreciate that we don’t worship a God who can be completely understood by us.

Awesome

It’s a word we all use way to often. “Today was an awesome day.” “That band is so awesome.” And because we use the word so much it’s almost as if it has lost it’s meaning. The word awesome originally was used only when something truly inspired awe. Something that made us stop, mouth wide open and say “Awesome.”

I know I personally have lost my sense of awe because I continually ascribe awe to situations that aren’t worthy, yet forget to ascribe awe to those truly worthy situations. And worst of all, I, like many of you, often forget to ascribe awe to God who alone is truly awesome.

Let me give you a scenario. What if Jesus came back right now? What if he appeared in the sky as promised in Revelations this second? Are you really looking forward to that? Are you too caught up in what needs to be done rather than excited for the culmination of all things?

As I watched a sunset the other day I felt that God was showing me just how awesome He is. Yet I was so preoccupied with what needs to get done, plans for the future and my own desires that I couldn’t just stand in awe of God.

And while I could discuss the reasons for why we don’t stand in awe of God, (each person has their own excuses but busyness, caught in sin or too comfortable are three pretty common ones), I want to talk today about the dangers of ascribing awesomeness to the wrong things.

First, when we don’t stand in awe of God we find ourselves sinning more easily. It is always easier to excuse and condone sinful behavior when we lack a proper respect for God. Look at what happened to the Israelites in the Old Testament. They would often dive into sin because they lacked an understanding of the awesomeness of God. In Amos 4:6-13 God recounts all of the ways He has punished the Jews for their sin. Yet they continued to rebel because they had forgotten the might and majesty of God. This is why God says things like “He who makes the morning darkness and treads on the heights of the earth.” (Amos 4:13). He is trying to get us to see just how awesome He is so we will return to Him.

If you find yourself struggling with a variety of sins, this may be a good reason why. The heart of every sin is a greater desire for sin than for God. Basically, we sin because we ascribe awesomeness to some sinful behavior when awesomeness alone should be ascribed to God. So we must look at the awesomeness of God if we are to overcome sinful behavior in our lives.

Second, a proper awe and respect for God gives us a greater desire for evangelism. When we see just how awesome God is we have a deep desire to see others come to know Him as well. This great awe and reverence is what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 13:45-46 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” It also caused Paul to “count everything as rubbish compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:8).

If we really were in awe of God, we would be much more fervent in our desire to see the nations come to repentance. So if you find that you are not as eager to share the Gospel as you should be, then pray that you would experience the awesomeness of God and that would stir in you a desire to share His amazing truth with others.

The third danger when we don’t see the awesomeness of God is that we lose perspective. What I mean is that when we understand how awesome God is we also start to understand how small we are, how temporary our problems and lives are and how brief our time and accomplishments are.

This is important because it helps us avoid two great vices: arrogance and despair. When you see how amazing God is you are forced to become more humble because you see how great He is and how bad you are. In the face of the amazingness of God, we truly are a breath (James 4:14).

This also helps us avoid despair because we see that God is bigger than any problems or trials we could experience. It is easy to be burdened and beat down by the trials of this life. But when we see how great and awesome our Lord is we are able to overcome. This what allowed the early apostles to rejoice after taking a beating (Acts 5:41).

So I hope all of us can understand that lacking a proper respect and awe of God can be a dangerous thing. May each of us pray, seek and desire a greater reverence for God this week. May we all be truly amazed at the greatness of God. May we desire Him more than sin and allow this desire to stir in us a longing to see others share this desire. And may we ultimately see just how awesome God truly is.

Forgetting God in the Midst of Blessing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest Assured

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Divine Act of Self-Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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