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.

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.

In Need of Thanks

I guess it is only right to write a blog post about being thankful this week. Me and every other American writer will most likely say something about being thankful. So, because I wouldn’t want to disappoint, here is my take on thankfulness.

I find it interesting that we give one holiday a year to the idea of being thankful. We obviously know the importance of being thankful because it has it’s own holiday, but it almost seems like we give it this one week each year and then sort of forget about it the rest of the year. I mean do you ever tell people what you are thankful for outside of Thanksgiving day? I know some of us do but I’d dare say most of us don’t.

And I feel like that’s a problem. So today I wanted to discuss two problems with our idea of being thankful and what we can do to adjust them during this year so we can learn to be more thankful people in 2013.

The first issue I see is that people don’t seem to know what we should be thankful for. We seem to expect so much from others that we aren’t really thankful when we get what was expected. Are any of us truly grateful for the guy working at McDonald’s who hands us our food? Or for the cashier for giving us the correct change? We may say thanks but we don’t really feel thankful because these are things that we expect to be done right.

The Bible tells us “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24). Are you thankful just for the fact that today exists? Often we are not thankful for our good health until we get sick. We aren’t thankful to our loved ones until we lose them. We aren’t thankful for our job until we get laid off. There are so many things we need to be thankful for on a daily basis, yet we often overlook them because we for some reason we expect that past performance equates with future promise.

Even worse, we aren’t very thankful to God. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1). Do you thank God for His steadfast love? “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28). Are you thankful for be allowed to enter God’s Kingdom?

If you find yourself taking these things for granted then change is needed. If you take the little blessings of life for granted then start to reflect on how great a blessing it is to have someone give you correct change, for the ability and means to order fast food, for the health you have, the family you have and the job you have. Tell them. I often hear people say “My parents know I am grateful because I show them.” This is a lazy excuse. Yes continue to show them your thankfulness but something special happens when it is vocalized. Make this a normal part of your week.

But most importantly, thank God for who He is and what He has done for you. This should be a daily part of our prayer. Don’t take His many blessings for granted or even worse, act entitled like you deserve any blessing you have received. Remember that we all deserve death and damnation and every day God grants us life and the gift of life after death in Him are things that should be truly praised. Realize what you have to be thankful for and you will be a more thankful person.

Secondly, I am not sure what you want to call it, but lets say its a combination of laziness, busyness, lack of depth in relationships, trying to act tough or cool, too self-sufficient and complacency. This is quick thanks to someone with no heart behind it. Or the desire to show gratitude but not doing so because it feels awkward or difficult to show such open emotion. Or you honestly don’t even think to thank someone because you are so caught up in your own life or your own ability to do the same task better.

The core of this problem is me. I am my own worst enemy. Instead of being grateful for what someone has done for me I often start comparing if I could have done it better, critiquing so the person can help me better next time or constantly moving onto the next task without stopping to appreciate what has just been done for me. Psalm 50:23 says “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”

Our problem is that we have not ordered our lives rightly. We are so enamored with ourselves that we forget that God’s greatest commandment was to love God and then love others, (Matthew 22:37-40). We are at the bottom of the list as far as who God expects us to love. Our culture tells us we must love ourselves before we can love others. That we must care for ourselves first in order to care for others. That we must be thankful to ourselves before we can be thankful to others, (independence vs. healthy dependence on others).

The problem is that this attitude, while very cultural, is not very Biblical. Rather, get your priorities straight. Love God. Love others. And then love yourself. When you mess up the order you lose your thankfulness because you feel you don’t need to be thankful or quickly move to the next thing in your life.

So may we all be more thankful this Thanksgiving but may it not stop there. Lord, help us not to allow one holiday a year to the extent of our thankfulness to you and to those who help us everyday! May we realize just how many things we should be truly thankful for. May we verbalize our thankfulness to Jesus and to those around us. And may we stop being so in love with ourselves and be grateful for the love and help the Lord has provided and the love and help those around us have provided to us. May we be a people marked by our thankfulness in the midst of an ungrateful world.

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.

Modern Idolatry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gift or the Giver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Closet Christianity

“Oh, you’re a Christian? I had no idea.” I remember hearing these words from a friend when I was in high school. We had been classmates for over a year and shared a common group of friends. Yet, she was completely shocked when I told her I was a Christian. I look back on this conversation with a bit of regret and shame.

To think, in my class I had the opportunity to share Christ’s love with many who did not know Him. Yet, because of my preoccupation with self-image or trying to act like a cool high schooler I had failed to shine any light into that classroom. I had always told myself that people will know I am a Christian by my works, so then I don’t need to ever really open my mouth about it.

Many people site Luke 6:43-44 as to why they don’t need to share their faith with words. “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit.” The idea is that people will know I am a Christian by my acts. And while this is true, I believe this verse is more of a confirmation of words, such as if a person claims to be a Christian yet lives in a continual pattern of sin. Then we know that even though his words say one thing, the fruit in his life tells us his true nature.

So while I truly believe our works or fruit are very important witnesses to the world, (James 2:14-26 is a great section to show that our works are a natural response to faith. Thus, one who says he has faith but no works really has no faith at all. Works are the result of a true faith in Jesus Christ), I also believe we cannot only rely on them as a witness to the nations. There can be no closet Christians.

Jesus says this plainly in Matthew 10:32-33: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Those are kinda scary words. You deny Jesus, He will deny you. Now thanks be to God for his grace that He leads his true remnant back to Himself even when they have denied Him, (see the example of Peter during Christ’s resurrection). So today I wanted to talk about two ways we deny Christ with our silence.

The first way is by being silent about our faith. I would also bet this is the most common way that we deny Christ. We are given so many opportunities to share the love of Christ with others. Maybe it’s at work, at school, on the bus, with an old friend or family member, the possibilities are endless. Yet, each time we find an excuse for our silence on the matter. If we don’t know the person very well we excuse our silence on our faith because we feel we don’t know them well enough and it might freak them out. Then, if we know them too well we have developed a pattern of talk and behavior and to speak openly about Christ with them would also weird them out.

The truth is, many times sharing Christ with a non-believer is going to weird them out. So the question isn’t their reaction but rather your heart and motives. The true reason we don’t share Christ openly with our words is because we don’t want that person to view us differently. We, sadly, are more worried about what others think of us rather than what Christ thinks of us. Paul tells us in Galatians 1:10 “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or I am trying to please man? If I were still trying please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

If this is you, and you find yourself silent about your Savior with certain groups of people, then pray and repent of this attitude. Ask God to give you the courage to share the most important thing in your life more openly. Ask Him to take away your desire for the praise of man and to give you a greater desire for the praise of God. Spend time learning from others who are bold to share. Learn how to openly share with gentleness but also with urgency. Remember this is eternity we are talking about, so understand the importance of what you need and want to share.

The second way we deny Christ is by being silent over the actions or lack of faith in others. This is where Christians tend to err one way or the other. One group of Christians believes it is their God ordained duty to speak out and condemn all sin and those who commit such sin. They blast people for their unrighteousness yet forget to share the love of Christ. They forget that Jesus spent most of His time on earth with sinners, (the very same people many Christians today harass) and that he instructed us to look at the plank in our own eye before picking at the spec in another (Matthew 7:1-5). These people resemble Pharisees more than Christ followers. They know about God’s justice but forget that He loves and forgives.

The second group of people is just as bad though. This group of Christians doesn’t want to sound harsh like the first group, so they either keep their mouth shut or just condone or even applaud sin. This is a lot of the liberal Christian movement in America. They want to show people Christ’s love so they basically allow their Church members to live anyway they please. Gay pastors, living together before marriage, open drunkenness and the like can often be found and condoned here.

While these are extreme examples, this group may also live rightly but just shut their mouth against any sin. So maybe a good friend is cheating on their girlfriend, yet, because this Christian doesn’t want to offend his friend, he keeps silent. He condones or excuses his friend’s actions but forgets that God is a God of justice. These people forget Romans 6 and the wrath and justice of God. They talk so much love they forget God is also just and justly sends sinners to hell.

Are you one of these people? Do you blast people for their sin yet don’t love and restore them to God? Do you condone and excuse sin in those around you because you don’t want to offed? Do you only talk about the justice of God but not His love? Do you only talk about the love of God but not His justice? If this is you then repent. Pray that God would help you to see He is a God of love and justice. Pray that God would give you the courage to speak out about sin, but that he would also enable you to do it in a gentle and loving way.

So I hope that we can learn to open our mouths this week. May we stop living in such fear of others and instead rightly fear our Creator. I challenge each of you this week to openly share your faith with someone you haven’t shared it with before. Take the step of courage and God will be with you. I also encourage those of you who are around people living in sin. Speak up that sin is never right. But I also encourage you to do this with humility and in a way that seeks God’s glory, not your own. May we honor and glorify our savior this week with our actions AND our words

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!