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.

Jesus is Better Than…. Part 1

Sorry it has been so long since I updated this. I feel like that is what almost all people who blog say at one time or another. I had some problems with the website but have it back running correctly so I thought it’s about time I share some thoughts with you all.

There has been somewhat of a theme lately in much that I have been studying, hearing and reading about. Whether it was from a book called “Future Grace” by John Piper, listening to sermons by Pastor Matt Chandler, or watching a Christian Conference from the US, it seems like everyone is talking about this common idea.

It’s a good thing too because the Bible talks a lot about it as well! So these guys must be on to something. What is so important that all these different people and groups are saying the same thing? Well, it’s Jesus of course! But not just Jesus, the guy who heals, helps, saves and forgives. It’s more about Jesus than about what He does for us, even though the things He does for us are pretty stinking amazing too.

This week I wanted to share some thoughts based on a lot of stuff I have been studying about how we view Jesus. It has greatly helped me and I hope it will help you too.

The thing we need to realize about Jesus is He is more than just what He did or does for us on a daily basis. Yes, Jesus forgives you of your sins past, present and future. Yes, He allowed you into heaven even when you deserved hell. Yes, He took the punishment on His perfect back for you. Let us never forget these things!

But let us also not forget that our love and our faith in Him is not merely based on what He did but more so on who He is. That is why I titled this message “Jesus is Better Than…” My goal and hope is that you can see that Jesus is better and to be more desired that anything in this universe. In two weeks I will talk about why Jesus should be desired more than anything else, but this week let’s look at what happens when we desire Jesus more than anything else.

First, it helps us battle sin. Psalm 119:9-10 says “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.” You see that if we are to keep our lives pure and free from sin we must live according to God’s Word. But how can we do that? By seeking Him with all our heart.

Sin is a lie. It promises satisfaction and fulfillment but never comes through. So when we sin we are basically claiming that the promise of the sin is greater than the promise of God. It’s the same trick Satan used on Eve in Genesis 3. Satan put temptation and doubt in Eve’s head completely contradictory to what God had said. That’s what sin does. It causes us to either believe that God is enough or that this sin will bring us joy.

That’s why realizing that Jesus is better than anything else will help combat sin. When we truly know and believe that Jesus is better than jealousy, pride, arrogance, selfishness, or any other sin we struggle with, we stop following that sin’s lie and it loses power over us.

Do you have some sinful habit you just can’t seem to shake? What lie are you believing about that sin? Repent and realize that Jesus is greater and more desirable than whatever that sin falsely promises. Realize that your true joy and hope comes from God alone and that by trusting in any counterfeit joy you will only be let down in the end.

Second, it’s brings purpose and passion to your life. Ecclesiastes 12:13 says “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” You see, when you aren’t living with the right meaning and purpose in life it brings emptiness and despair.

But foolishly, we keep trying to find our purpose and joy in life in other things. Watch TV and every advertisement is an ode to how great you are or how great you could be by using that product. The world tells us to pursue what is focused on us but forgets to mention that that path leads straight to emptiness and eventually hell (Matthew 7:13).

This isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, people trying to find their purpose in anything but God has been happening since Creation! However, one of the best examples of this type of living can be found in the life of Solomon. You can read his story of his various pursuits in the book of Ecclesiastes.

Basically Solomon had or pursued anything and everything that our world falsely promises to provide joy. You want power? Solomon had more. You want wisdom? Solomon was the wisest in the world. You want women? Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines. You want money? Solomon had a massive palace with tons of gold. You want friends and approval? Solomon had massive parties with tons of people.

But after Solomon mentions each of these things he makes an interesting statement. He says that each is “vanity and a chasing after the wind.” These are the things you are wrongfully pursuing in hopes of finding joy. Solomon had them and saw that they don’t fulfill. That is why he made that statement in Ecclesiastes 12:13. Only Jesus gives your life true purpose, passion and joy.

Why do so many rich and powerful seem so sad? Because they have what you hope will bring joy but they still don’t have joy. You at least have hope because you don’t have it yet, but these people have it and still feel empty. We see the rich, the famous, the popular all commit suicide or talk about wanting more. Why? Because they have put their purpose in a lie.

Only putting your faith and hope in Jesus can give your life passion, purpose and joy. Everything else will promise much but deliver little. That is why my challenge for each of you is to remember than Jesus is better than (insert anything here). He is better than money. Better than power and fame. Better than friends and popularity. He’s better than life!

Again, in two weeks I will tell you why that is. But this week just stop and contemplate what it would mean for your life if you truly believed and lived as if Jesus was better than anything else. May we see that Jesus is better than anything and everything and may that set us free from sin and give our lives true passion, purpose and joy.

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.

A Man After God’s Own Heart?

If you have studied the Bible and have ventured into the Old Testament you may have heard about a guy named David. He is responsible for writing a bunch of the Psalms and is honored as one of the greatest Kings Israel ever had. He is also the only person referred to in Scripture as a “Man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22 and 1 Samuel 13:14). Think of all of the great people spoken of in the Bible, and only David has ever earned this honored title.

Yet, sometimes it is hard to understand what makes David a man after God’s own heart. Reading through the story of David you start out loving the guy. He seems to do everything right. But after he becomes King he stumbles. Maybe stumbles doesn’t do his sin justice. He falls hard. He makes some of the biggest, most selfish sin mistakes humanly possible.

First, he is checking out some guys wife while she takes a bath, (coveting your neighbor’s wife is a no-no according to the ten commandments (Exodus 20:17)), and then decides to sleep with her, (that breaks his second big commandment in Exodus 20:14). Then she becomes pregnant but her husband is off at war. So David knows he’s in trouble. Instead of fessing up to the already huge mistakes he has made, he decides to have the guy killed to try and cover it up, (and murder makes three of the ten broken in Exodus 20:13). You can read the entire story in 2 Samuel 11.

David broke three of the ten biggest commandments from God in one semester. Yet, God still considered David a “Man after my own heart.” How can this be? How can a man who covets, cheats and murders be a man after God’s own heart? That is what I want to discuss today. I want to look at three reasons why David is a “Man after God’s own heart” and hopefully it will help us as we pursue that same title for our own lives.

First, David is a man after God’s own heart because God choose him. God’s choosing makes us what we are. Romans 9:15-16 says “For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” This is the ultimate reason why David was a “Man after God’s own heart.” Because God chose Him to be, just like He chooses you and I to be called His “sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:18). This is the first and most important thing to remember.

But why is David called a “Man after God’s own heart” while others are not? Yes God chose Him as He chooses us, but there is also something about David that sets him apart. Was it David’s acts? He doesn’t like that great of a guy right?

So secondly, we need to remember that our actions are no better than David’s. It is easy for us to look at this three heinous acts of David, (and they are heinous, evil and sinful), and shake our finger at him in shame. Yet, we neglect that we too have committed those same acts. James 2:10-11 says “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder you have become a transgressor of the law.”

We seem to put extra emphasis on certain sins while we tend to water down others. It is usually the sins we struggle with that we water down while the sins we don’t seem to struggle with tend to be the ones we think are most important to keep. So if I struggle with jealousy I rationalize it as a second tier sin. But because I don’t struggle with drunkenness then that must be first tier and extra serious. God however doesn’t see sin that way. He sees all the sin we have committed in the same light. So while you maybe haven’t killed anyone or committed adultery, your actions are no better than David’s. So if we are just as bad off as David on the outside, what makes the difference between us and David?

That leads to the third, and most important difference between us and David: the heart. David’s faith and trust in God and his heart’s desire to be with God are amazing examples to us. In Psalm 19:7-10 David describes God’s law as “sweeter than honey” and “more to be desired are they than gold.” Now I don’t know about you, but I have read God’s law and don’t often feel quite the same way. Or Psalm 63:1 where David says “my soul thirsts for you” and “my flesh faints for you.”

Or, one of my favorites, when David is returning from retrieving the ark of the covenant and dancing like a madman to praise God, (remember David was supposed to be a highly respected King at this time), his wife chastises him for acting foolish and not “kingly.” This is what David says, “I will make myself even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” (2 Samuel 6:22). David didn’t care what his wife or anyone else thought about him. He cared what God thought and sought to honor, praise and glorify Him.

And this is why David is a “Man after God’s own heart.” David’s works are as evil as ours. David did not earn God’s favor by doing something, but rather God freely gave it to him as He freely gives us grace and forgiveness today. But David responded to God’s grace with a heart full of gratitude, praise and love for His Mighty Lord.

So what about you? Where is your heart at? Are you more worried about what others may think of you or about praising your Great God? Does your heart thirst for God more than gold? Do you desire Him and His Word more than water in a dry place? My hope and prayer for us all is that we can become more like David. That we can desire God so strongly that every part of our life is affected by His immense greatness. That we are so deeply in love and passionate about God that we will do anything to bring Him glory. May we all be men and women after God’s own heart.

My Work or Jesus’?

This week I am going to deal with an idea that is mainly discussed in Christian circles. But next week I am going to start a series about some very basic, logic based proofs for Christianity. Hopefully both will be helpful no matter what situation you are in.

I remember my favorite verse in high school was James 1:12. “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” The thing I loved most about the verse was the idea that I would need to overcome some difficulty in order to be rewarded.

This idea taps into my maleness or “hero complex” as some have called it. Most men love to be the hero so any chance they have to overcome some adversity in order to reach a final goal or prize is always loved. Look at movies men love: Rudy, Hoosiers, Batman, James Bond, Mission Impossible, Star Wars, etc… Each movie has a hero, (or team), that is faced with a very difficult situation and by overcoming that difficulty they receive a prize, (saving the universe, getting the girl, winning the championship).

We love when our work earns us a prize. But is the overcoming spoken of in James 1:12 really my work? How can I reconcile a verse like James 1:12 with Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” How can I stand the test and receive a prize if it is not based on my work? Am I the one earning or is it a gift of God? These are tough questions and many great scholars have argued over this for years. What I want to look at is how these verses can be viewed in accord with each other rather than at odds.

To do this, we first must recognize that these are not necessarily two completely opposite arguments. God’s work for us and our work in sanctification are not mutually exclusive events. They are two things that work together to help us produce fruit or to remain steadfast under trial.

We commonly make two errors. First, many of us put too much emphasis on our work and neglect God’s work in us. This leads to a devaluing of Christ’s sacrifice for us as well as a lack of proper respect of God’s sovereignty. Romans 5:8 says “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It is Christ’s work that set us free from our sin.

Second, many of us solely focus on Christ’s work and neglect our own part in our standing steadfastly. This often can lead to stagnation or complacency, (the idea that I don’t need to work at it cause God will change me when He wants), as well as a lack of disgust with sin and our responsibility of sin. James 2:26 says “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” There is a work that is done by us as well in response to faith.

Rather then leaning too far on either side, we must see how the two ideas work together in harmony. Now there is part of this that remains a mystery, (how the sovereignty of God and man’s free will work together completely will only be fully understood in eternity), but I believe a healthy view of the two will allow us to see sanctification in a new light.

First, we must recognize that the actual act of salvation is by grace alone. God saves us. We are completely unable to respond to God until He has opened out eyes to His amazing truth. Romans 8:30 starts like this: “And those whom He predestined he also called.” You see that God’s choosing us happens before His calling us. Thus, we cannot answer God’s call until He has chosen to call us. Then we can act in response.

Second, once we have been saved by grace alone through faith alone we are given The Helper. This again, is God’s work in us, but this allows our work to soon begin. The Holy Spirit is given to those whom God calls and teaches, grows and helps us know God more. Romans 8:26 says “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Paul uses an example from prayer to illustrate that we don’t work without God’s help.

Finally, our part comes in. Now that God has saved us through grace and has given His Spirit to help us grow, we are able to do, act and grow like never before. This is why you hear stories of people who tried to quit smoking but couldn’t until they met Christ. These are people who were alcoholics and couldn’t quit until they met Christ.

Once Christ comes and makes us new (John 3:3), our work begins and coincides with His. God is working in us through the Holy Spirit and now we are able to work alongside God in our sanctification. Now we are able to stand steadfast in the face of trial. Now we are able to have works that reflect our new life in Christ.

But remember that it is God who acts first. Christ sets you free. The Holy Spirit instructs, convicts and grows us, and then you respond in kind. This way, God gets the glory so that none of us may boast before God.

I hope this short treatise on a big idea can be helpful. I know there is much more that can be said about this topic but for today’s discussion I hope the above will suffice. I do feel it is vital we get the order right so that we may give glory to God for what He has done for and in us rather than boasting in ourselves. But I also help that we will realize that as the Holy Spirit convicts and instructs we must act and grow as well. May we understand that our God saves us and that He provides the help needed in order for us to do the work He has called us to do.

Identity Crisis

Who are you? I mean more than your name, really who are you? When someone asks this questions does it ever make you stop and really think about who you really are? Well that’s my goal here today. So take a minute and think about the question: who are you?

Did anyone really stop and think for a minute? I am always curious whether people actually do that. Either way, your identity is important. Whether it is something you think about frequently or something you have never really considered, finding your identity is basically like discovering who you are and what you are here for. Those are two pretty big questions that make people lots of money who write about them. Seriously, go to a book store and look for books about discovering one’s purpose or identity and you will be amazed.

Today I wanted to talk about how we all have an identity crisis. We all, at some point, struggle with figuring out who we really are and what our purpose is. We can all sometimes seem to lose our true identity in the midst of lesser identities influencing us. So if that’s you and you are not exactly sure who you are and what you are here for then hopefully today should be helpful.

But before that we need to look at where people wrongly put their identity. The problem with discovering your true identity is that there are many counterfeits out there in the world today. And while these identities may seem legitimate they are not who you truly are.

First, your true identity is not in your race, nationality, gender or culture. Galatians 3:28 tells us “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I think many of us are proud of where we come from but this is not who we are. It is ok to be “Proud to be an American” as long as you don’t allow that to become your identity. Voting, paying taxes and cheering for America during the Olympics are all good things, but they don’t identify who you are or your ultimate purpose. They are not ultimate things.

We fail to grasp who we are when we reduce our identity down to the place we were born. This means that my brothers and sisters in Christ from another country are closer in relation to me than those who do not believe but were born in the same place. This means that while patriotism is a good thing it is not an ultimate thing. You are not ultimately American, Chinese, Japanese, etc.. You are a new creation in Christ.

Also notice that our identity is not even our gender either. Chauvinism and feminism cannot exist in the Church. We are no longer stereotypes of ourselves, (over-emotional women, hardhearted men), but are a new creation in Christ and thus must not allow our gender to ultimately define who we are.

Second, your true identity is not in your relationship to your family, friends, children or spouse. Jesus instructs us in Luke 14:26 that “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.” This verse is often hard for non-believers to understand because it sounds so harsh, but when truly understood in the context of what Jesus says this becomes an important piece of teaching for us to find our ultimate identity.

Jesus is dealing with a case of mistaken identity and a common one at that. We often identify ourselves by the relationships we have. I am a son, a brother, a husband, a friend and one day a father. And each of these relationships are very important. 1 Timothy 5:8 says “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for the members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” So does this verse conflict with what Jesus said? Not at all. We are instructed to provide for our families and love is one of the things we must provide.

What Jesus is teaching us is that we cannot find our ultimate joy, purpose and identity in our families. While we need our families and need to love them, if we make them and our relationship to them our ultimate identity then we have again faltered. The problem with finding your identity in people is that people will never live up to your expectations.

So if I expect my child to be a genius and he turns our to be an idiot then I have lost my identity. How many marriages end in divorce because one spouse didn’t live up the expectations of the other spouse? Loving, nurturing and cherishing your family members are important and Biblical, but making them our ultimate purpose and identity is foolish and ultimately sinful.

Third, your true identity is not in your social status, job position, degree earned or achievements. Ephesians 2:9 says “Not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” While this verse is referring to how we obtain salvation it can also apply to this idea. We cannot boast in our own works, ability or accomplishments because they will all become rubbish on the final day.

Finding your identity in your accomplishments is a very dangerous thing because it will always lead you towards depression or arrogance. Depression because your job or degree or accomplishment isn’t as high as someone else with whom you compare yourself. Arrogance because your job, degree or accomplishment is higher than those you compare yourself with so you become proud and “puffed up”.

So where should we find our identity? In Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (Ephesians 1:4-5).

Your true identity is only found in Him who created you. In Him who came to this earth to suffer and die for your sins. In Him who rose again and opened your eyes to His glory. When we understand our identity in light of Christ then we are able to understand who we are and our purpose here. Then we are able to live for our country, our family and our job in a way that is proper and not in conflict with our true purpose and identity.

So stop finding your identity in where you were born, who you are in relation to others or what position you have at your company. All of those things can change anytime and will never fulfill all our expectations. Rather, find your identity in Christ, the One who never changes and will always exceed every expectation we have for Him. When we find where our identity should truly be placed we can finally discover who we truly are. We are Christ’s and Christ is ours.

Majesty

Looking back over the last few weeks I realized that I have been too “us” focused and not enough “God” focused. I think it is often easier to talk about “us” because it has to do specifically with “us”. It’s easier to see, feels more practical and seems to be a great need because it pertains to each and every one of us.

And while talking about us is important, (people need to realize our part in sanctification as well as our sin problem), the things we usually discuss tend to focus on the temporal rather than the eternal. Any subject pertaining to sin, while very important because God hates sin, only relates to this life because there is no sin in eternity. Any area where we are disappointed, angry, upset or tempted only relates to this life because eternal life has no such things.

So this week I wanted to rectify this mistake, (and hopefully continue to do so ongoing), and get the focus back on God. In order to do that, I wanted to take a quick look at the majesty of God and give three quick reasons that we should daily be in awe of Him. And while there are 10,000 reasons to daily be in awe of God, I felt these big three are often overlooked even though they are so massive and weighty.

The first massive, awe-inspiring fact about God is His eternal existence. Genesis 1:1 starts like this: “In the beginning, God…” That right there should be enough for us to stop, fall on our knees and praise Him. God has existed for all time and will exist for all time. He has no beginning or end. Nothing made Him and nothing can destroy Him. He is not bound by time, but rather, He is the author and perfecter of time.

He also doesn’t change while being eternally present. Malachi 3:6 tells us “For I the Lord do not change.” God doesn’t need to improve, He’s already completely perfect. He doesn’t fade or get worse with time. He doesn’t learn. He doesn’t forget. Any time in the Bible that mentions God “relenting”, “changing” or even “forgetting” only applies to His relational attributes towards us, but not His being or presence. God speaks of forgetting our sins, (Hebrews 8:12) but it is in the context of His great forgiveness that He doesn’t count our sins against us rather than Him actually being unable to recall our sins to His mind. God can’t forget because He cannot change because He is perfection and perfection need not change. We worship a mighty God who eternally exists with no beginning or end and with no need to change.

Secondly, God speaks and it happens. Back to Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Also Genesis 1:3 says “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” God created everything we see before us. And it’s not like He had to exert a great effort to do so. God speaks, stuff happens. Just by His spoken word light entered the universe. Man speaks and he can barely get a dog to sit or stay. God creates everything by a spoken word. We typically create through much toil and difficulty.

Just imagine how immensely powerful and awesome our God is! Be in awe of His eternal existence but also of His unimaginable power. He’s not like Harry Potter who can say some spells or use a magic wand. His power is far beyond anything our minds can even imagine. He speaks or even just thinks it and it happens. Nothing can stop His power and decrees nor should we wish them to be stopped because they are always good and perfect. His power should cause our minds to be put to folly and our hearts to be filled with praise.

Which is what makes the third point even more amazing. God is infinitely powerful. God is eternally present. Yet, for some reason beyond our comprehension, He stoops down to live and die for you and me. Isaiah 40:17-18 tells us “All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with Him?” I would say that God is like a human and we are like ants to Him but that doesn’t even give the comparison justice. All we can say is God is awesomely powerful and great and compared to Him we are nothing. Actually, less than nothing.

Yet, He saves us. He came and died on a cross so that we might know Him. He didn’t just teach us or force us to change our minds, He came down and showed His great love for us. And all the while we treated Him as our enemy. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:10). We were enemies and less than nothing in comparison with Him, but He still came to save. He still desires to be in relationship with us. He loves us even when we love everything but Him. He is faithful when we are faithless.

Wow. That type of majesty should cause each of us to praise and worship Him more. So maybe you have grown cold. Maybe you once sought God with a passion but busyness or the cares of life have choked out your joy. Then remind yourself of who God is and what He did for you. Or maybe you don’t know God. You don’t even think He exists. Then look closer at who He claims to be and see that He truly exists, creates and loves in spite of our weaknesses. May we daily dwell on who God is and what He has done for us. May His amazing greatness and His amazing love fill our hearts with praise. And may we not walk in apathy or feel distant from God any longer, but rather look at his majesty and and worship His Great Name.

The Gift or the Giver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numb

It goes by many names. Jaded, cold, complacent, hollow, empty, calloused and distant. But my favorite term to describe this phenomena is numb. What I mean is that feeling you have when you don’t really have any feelings towards God. You are just kind of existing. Sure you remember that passion you once had for the Lord, but somewhere along the way it slowed and turned into what you are currently feeling.

It happens to us all at some point in our Christian walk. Some of us it may happen only once but for most of us average folk we find ourselves in this numb state over and over again. What does God have to say about us being numb towards him? Nothing good. “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:16). “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1). “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27).

And while each of the verses above cover a different aspect, (being lukewarm, doing acts without love, being a hypocrite, focusing on outward appearances with wrong motivations), each can find their root in a numbness towards God. So I believe that being numb towards God is a very dangerous thing. But it still happens to us all! So what should we do about it? I’d like to discuss four things that help me when I am struggling with numbness towards God.

The first thing I find helpful is to repent. I find that I often feel numb or distant from God not because HE isn’t there but rather because I am living in unconfessed sin. But 1 John 1:9 tells us “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” What an amazing truth! But rather than go to God when we sin we have a tendency to run from God because we have sinned. Satan fools us into thinking we can only come to God when we have it all together, so when we don’t, (which is often because we are all sinful), we find ourselves praying less and not confessing sin. The longer this process goes on of living in sin without confession and repentance, the more numb you will start to feel. So if you find yourself feeling numb or cold towards God today, is their some sin you need to confess? Try going to the Lord rather than running from Him.

Second, we need to be with other believers. Just like we tend to run from God instead of to Him when we sin, we often do the same with our brothers and sisters. Instead of going to our community of faith and asking for prayer and help we instead keep our distance because we somehow don’t feel worthy to be there unless we have our act straight. While this is commonly found amongst Christians today it is completely unbiblical. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

This looks different for each of us. Maybe some of you have a great small group where you can go when you are struggling with sin or feeling distant from God. Maybe it’s even your entire Church you can go before and they will lovingly encourage and restore you. For me, I have a few guys in my life I can email or talk with. Anytime I am feeling stuck in sin or distant from God I can share with them. They in turn pray and encourage me through those times. Oh what a blessing Christian community truly is! If you are feeling numb, go and spend time with other believers that we may mutually encourage one another in those numb seasons.

The third thing I have found helpful when I am feeling numb is worship and praise. Psalm 100:1 says “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!” A very key word there is “joyful.” It doesn’t say make a begrudgingly forced noise to the Lord. When we worship and praise our Creator it forces us to be joyful because we realize how amazing He is! This can often go together with appreciating his creation. Go to a majestic spot and listen/sing worship to God. Praising God with our mouth, viewing His splendor through creation with our eyes and hearing music given to us from His hand often will help jolt you out of that numb feeling.

The final thing I like to do is to read a book by a Christian author. I especially like to read autobiographies. This is the same as reading the Psalms. I am currently reading “Confessions” by St. Augustine. To hear his raw emotion and his struggles laid bare help me to realize I am not alone. To read through the Psalms and see David say things like “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1). To read that these great men of the faith even had struggles and times of numbness helps me realize that I am not alone. Read from other Christians and see how they struggled and how God faithfully brought them through.

So if you are struggling with feeling numb towards God, I hope these four things will help you. Confess your sin and repent. Go and be with other believers. Praise and worship God for He is great and worthy to be praised. And read from others who have shared similar struggles. My prayer is that can all overcome this numb time we may be having through God’s grace and help. May we turn to Him to restore our passion. If you have any other ways that help people regain their passion after God, feel free to post them below. I’d love to hear what others have to say!