Tis the Season for Change

Thanksgiving is just a few days away. For many of us that means food, family and football. But for others of us it means the last day before the big Christmas season kicks off. I have always wondered why they call it black Friday. Yes it is the biggest shopping day of the year, so maybe for men it is also the darkest/saddest day of the year.
感恩节将至。对于很多人来说意味着食物,家庭和足球。 但是对于其他人来说是圣诞节前的最后一个节日。 我经常疑惑为什么人们称之为黑色星期五。 的确,它是一年中最大的血拼日。很多男士也称之为一年中最黑暗的日子。

But I want to challenge us all this year to make a change. I know it has almost become cliche, but I really feel like we have all lost touch with what the Christmas season is really supposed to be about. “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:35). We have all heard the second half of that verse even if we have never opened our Bible, but rarely does the whole idea put forth in this verse make it into our Christmas festivities.
我建议你们挑战自我来次新的转变。我知道这很迂腐,但我还是感觉到我们都渐渐遗忘了圣诞节本应具备的意义。 我凡事给你们做榜样,叫你们知道应当这样劳苦,辅助软弱的人,又当纪念主耶稣的话:施比受更为有益。(使徒行传20:35)

Christmas is a time to remember the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We celebrate because the King has come into the world. And then we follow our King’s example. We serve. We give. We sacrifice. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45). My question to you is, are you really serving, giving or sacrificing?
圣诞节是记住我们的主,我们的救世主降生的日子。我们庆祝因为我们的君王已经来到这个世界。我们要跟随祂。我们付出,我们牺牲。“因为人子来,并不是要受人的服侍,乃是要服侍人,并且舍命,做多人的赎价”(马可福音10:45)

Here’s what I mean. Did you know that 1% of annual Christmas sales in the US could lead to more than 1 million rescue operations for those trapped in forced labor or the sex slave trade? (http://www.ijm.org/content/advent-conspiracy#). Just a puny 1%. That tells me we are spending a whole lot on things we don’t really need while neglecting some of the most glaring needs of this generation.
这是我们的理解。你知道每年1%圣诞节的销售业绩需要花费1百万美元支付那些大规模的劳动力。只是1%呀。 这告诉我们我们在一些不必要的事情上花费很多,却忽略了这一代最重要的东西。

We do give. Problem is we are busy giving to those who can and will give back to us. I buy a gift for you so that or because you bought a gift for me. We buy each other more stuff that we think we need today but will end up in the trash, the garage or that random junk drawer within five years. Worse yet, we teach the next generation that having more stuff or materialism is what is important. Christmas is not the time to teach materialism, it’s the time to teach the Gospel message through giving and service to those most in need.
我们也会付出。问题是我们忙于为那些会给予我们回报的人付出。我买礼物给你因为你曾经送给我。我们为彼此送我们需要的礼物,但是五年内我们会把它们遗弃。更糟糕的是,我们教我们的下一代得到更多的东西,唯物主义才是最重要的。圣诞节不是教孩子们物质的时候,而是通过付出,给予去传授福音。

So I am proposing something radical because that is exactly what kind of life Jesus calls us to lead. As you are making a Christmas list or sharing with your loved ones what you want, I want you to check out this website: https://secure3.convio.net/ijm/site/SPageNavigator/HGC_Home.html. This is a charity I give to and can say they are doing some great work in the world. They have numerous needs and opportunities for you to help.
所以我现在提出一些比较激进的想法因为那才是耶稣想让我们去实现的。当你在计划圣诞行程时候,我希望你能看看这个网页。 这是我奉献的慈善机构,我敢说他们真的为了这个世界做了很多 很好的事情。 他们有很多地方需要你帮助的。

What I am proposing is that you ask others to donate to a need instead of buying you a gift. Now I am not telling to to donate instead of buying gifts for others. You still need to buy your family and friends gifts as they have asked. But maybe instead of asking for an iPhone you could ask that someone receives emergency medical attention. Instead of a new bike, how about a bike for someone who desperately needs one in order to get to work or school. Instead of more PS3 or Xbox games, how about freedom for someone caught in slavery against their will.
我的建议是你可以请求别人捐赠而不是给你买礼物。我的意思不是说叫别人捐赠不叫别人买礼物。如果需要你同样需要为家人朋友买一些东西。但是你可以请求别人捐赠一些紧急的医疗用品而不是Iphone。 相对于一辆新的自行车,那些急需自行车去上班去上学的呢?相对于PS3等游戏机,想想那些为自由而奋斗的困在奴隶?

And this is just one great charity. There are numerous others that have needs that you could help with. I find it interesting that when the economy isn’t good, giving, especially charitable giving decreases. However, I don’t feel like Christmas spending has decreased much. Woe to us if we are a generation that continues to indulge in pleasures while millions are in desperate need. And that goes for me as well. If any of you are looking to get my anything for Christmas, you can find my list here.
这只是其中一个慈善机构。还有很多的机构很多的人需要我们去提供帮助。我发现有时候很有意思,当经济萧条的时候,奉献,特别是慈善奉献会减少。但是,我从来没感觉到圣诞节的支出费用会有多大的减少。 哎,我们还是处于一个沉湎于享乐而很多人却在受苦的年代。如果你们从我这里得到圣诞礼物,你可以看看我的单子。

So may we no longer celebrate Christmas by celebrating the false gods of materialism and pleasure. Rather, may we be willing to give without expecting in return. May we will be willing to sacrifice our comfort for another’s freedom. May we stop following culture’s command for more, and rather follow Jesus’ command to give. Let’s start a new tradition this Christmas season and write a Christmas list full of treasures in heaven on it, (Matthew 6:19-20).
所以我们应该不要继续敬拜物质与享乐的神了。 愿我们大家都能发自内心的不求回报的付出。愿我们都能真心的为了别人的自己牺牲自己的舒适。 愿我们都能停止跟随文化,而去跟随耶稣基督。让我们一起开心新的一切,开始新的圣诞传统,积累天上的财富。 (马太福音6:19-20)。

Slow Down

So I have been a little busy this last week. How about you all? Is anyone not busy out there? I feel like we have replaced the word “good” with “busy” when someone asks how we are doing. We have managed to pack our daily lives full of tasks, appointments and people. But in all this busyness, do we still have time for God?

I would argue that probably the thing causing the most damage or harm to a Christian’s walk with God is our schedules. We have hundreds of different people or jobs that require our attention. And because these seem to be more clearly visible and urgent we set our Bible down and go deal with whatever the problem is. We have pushed our time with God back to “when I have a moment.”

But just as any relationship suffers when we don’t invest time into it, so does our relationship with God. If I only spend time with my girlfriend once I have completed all of my other daily tasks she won’t be all too happy and our relationship won’t grow. Yet, for some reason, we do just that with our relationship with God. So how can this change?

Well I don’t have some grand secret to making your life easier. I can’t add an hour to each day or tell you some master plan to improve your efficiency by 25%. But I can tell you some things that have helped me.

First, get your priorities straight. Most of us will make sure we spend time with loved ones. Most of us make sure we sleep 6-10 hours a night. Most of us have time for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And many of us make sure to watch the same television program each week. But when it comes to our Bible or prayer time, we just squeeze it into whatever is left. We have given God left overs.

David says in Psalm 63:1, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” I love this picture of David desiring to know the Lord. Very few of us actually know what it means to be starving. But watch us get just a little hungry and we will not stop until we can eat. Do you ever get like this with the Word of God? Do you ever desire it so much you will not stop until you can study or pray or worship? I think we have our priorities way out of line when our God is given mere left overs.

Secondly, I think we need to simplify. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” We need to find time to be still before the Lord. Devotion time on your way to work in traffic helps the road rage, but doesn’t really help us focus on God. Checking your cell phone at Church every 10 minutes for a score update isn’t being still before the Lord. Praying and doing five other things isn’t being still with God.

I find it interesting that many older people I talk with wake up at 5 or 6 am and do their devotions each morning. It’s not like they got old and started doing this, but have been doing it for over 50 years! Their generation understand the importance of starting the day out in silence with the Lord. If you are having a tough time finding time to be still before God, try waking up a little earlier.

Finally, I think it’s good to schedule or organize time to spend with God. I know some worry that this will take the spiritual aspect out of it, but I can promise it doesn’t. When we get busy, having a schedule makes sense. We schedule other important things in our lives, so why wouldn’t we schedule time for our most important relationship? The thing is, you have to stick to it. We often start with a great schedule, but soon something happens, our schedule gets thrown off, and we are back to handing God whatever was left from our busy day.

This is why scheduling is related to the idea of simplicity and priorities. For example, if I have a date scheduled with my girlfriend, I am not going to call that off unless it is an emergency. Treat your devotion time as if it were a date with your Heavenly Father. Don’t allow it to be something you can do another time, but make it an important part of your daily life.

So I hope that each of us can try to slow down a bit. Yes I know you are busy. I just don’t want your busyness to be your undoing. So get those priorities straight, get organized and even wake up earlier if need be. I can tell you that there is nothing more important than having daily time with God.

The Beauty of being Wanted

It’s nice to feel needed isn’t it? I think it is human nature to enjoy the feeling that someone needs us. Mom’s love it when their children need them, (well maybe not when they are little all the time, but wait til they get older and leave the house!). We love the responsibility at work to know that we are a necessary part of our companies success. Or we like to join organizations or clubs to feel like we are needed by the group. Even kids like it when their friends can’t do something and need their help.

Even as Christians, we love feeling needed. We sometimes think, “I bet God loves me so much because of all this amazing work I am doing for Him,” “If I were not here, this work would not be done,” or “I am so necessary and helpful to my Church.” But the truth is, none of those statements are true. Read your Bible and you will see that the exact opposite is true. God doesn’t need you. “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” Matthew 3:9.

Depressing isn’t it. To think, I used to value myself and my importance in this life so highly, but the truth is, I am not all that important. If I am replaceable by a rock, then am I really needed? In fact, my life is only a small blip on the radar of history. “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:14. 100 years from now, most likely no one will know my name. 99% of us won’t make it in the history books or leave such a legacy that people still talk about us for years to come.

And after reading this you may not feel cheerful. Why should I do ministry or serve God if He doesn’t even need me? Why should I even care if it will all be forgotten anyways? Well those are understandable questions which is why we must understand this important truth: We are not needed by God, but we are wanted. It may seem like a minor difference, but let me unpack it a bit.

The truth is, God doesn’t need anything. Within the trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God has everything He would ever need. Some people like to think God was lonely, needed love or needed help so He created man. But God already has perfect community and love within the trinity and an all-powerful God does not need any help from weak and pathetic humans. Even our most righteous acts to God are only “filthy rags” to Him (Isaiah 64:6). So man was not created out of any necessity, but rather out of a desire.

God, being perfectly loving, holy and good, wanted to share Himself. He wanted to share the good things in His creation and ultimately Himself with us. God’s ultimate goal and desire is to get glory and praise for Himself. Now I know many of you are thinking, “Wow, God sounds so selfish!” But think about this, if God was seeking the glory or praise of anything else, would He still be God? Whatever deserves our highest praise is God. Thus, God gives glory and praise to the only one who is worthy of it: himself.

And that is what makes the Gospel more and more amazing. Jesus did not save us out of necessity. Jesus didn’t have to come down. Jesus didn’t have to die on a cross and bear all our sins. He could have stayed in heaven and let us all go to hell. We didn’t deserve it and he didn’t have to. But He wanted to.

That should inspire us. Instead of feeling depressed because God doesn’t need us, we should instead feel humbly in awe that God wants us. Think about how messed up you and I are! And the perfect God who created everything wants us! That means a lot more to me than if God reluctantly needed me for some task.

Which is how we need to view our lives. In John 16:33 Jesus tells us that He has overcome the world. He doesn’t tell us that we will overcome, or give us a guide on how we can do it. Rather, Jesus tells us to take heart and trust Him because He has overcome! I think too often, in service, work and even our lives, we put too much stock into our own ability to overcome. Will power and dedication, although two very good traits to have, are not the answer to overcoming sin in your life. Jesus is!

So stop serving God or doing anything for God as if He needed you. Stop trying to come to God with filthy rags full of pride. Rather, in humble gratitude serve God. Remember the words in Ecclesiastes 12:13 “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

May we all see how amazing it is that the God of the universe wants us. That we are not needed like some part of a machine, but rather are wanted like a beloved child. And may we respond with humble service to our King out of gratitude and desire to worship God who alone is worthy of our praise.

Is Gratefulness Dead?

So before I start this week, I need to mention that whole May 21st end of the world thing. I want you all to know that not all Christians were on board with that group. In fact, most of us were completely against it. Matthew 24:36 makes it pretty clear that not even Jesus himself knows when the end will come. So how could we, messed up sinners, presume to know if the Son of God doesn’t even know? But I do want to extend grace and hope to those who did think May 21st was the end. Come back to Jesus. Come back to what the Bible really teaches and not some “secret code” that you think the Bible has. Jesus’ grace is great enough even for misinformed people.

Anyways, this week I thought I would talk about something that has been bothering me lately. It seems more and more people are busy marching along in life, not knowing the dangerous path we are all on. It is the slippery slope of “more”. Our world has become a world of bigger, better, and faster. No matter what culture you live in, the driving force behind it is this idea of getting more. It could be more money, more friends, more happiness, more experience, more knowledge or more anything.

But is this a good thing? Is this drive for more and more really something that is making our lives and those around us better? I am afraid that in our pursuit of “more” we have forgotten two very important words: gratefulness and contentment. Think about it. Nowadays do we talk about someone in a complementary way using those two words? Usually they are used in a negative sense. “He just seems to be content with his life,” is used rather than, “Wow, he is so content with his life!” For some reason we have associated contentment with laziness and lack of ambition.

And this is the lie of “more.” Satan and the world wants us to believe that true joy and life is just barely out of our reach. If we just have a little more (insert whatever you think you need more of) we will have joy and meaning in life. So we keep trying to get more of whatever that thing is but the more we get the more we want! The danger is even when we get what we thought we wanted, we are still left wanting more. It seems to be a never ending cycle.

That’s why I have started to wonder if gratefulness is dead. I had just finished teaching some students and was walking to another lesson earlier this week. Teaching English is often frustrating because the main reason students want to learn English is to get a higher paying job so they can buy more pleasures. As I was walking, I saw a man on a cart who had no legs and was rolling down the street.

That’s when it hit me. All week I had been hearing people with different life problems but very little gratefulness. I heard lots of complaining and worrying but not much contentment. How many of you are grateful you have two working legs? How about two working eyes? Clothes? Three meals a day? Friends? The Internet? How many little things do you take for granted everyday that others would love to have? Look at your life. I can honestly tell you that if you are able to dress yourself each morning and walk to work you are amazingly blessed! Yet instead of being grateful for these blessings we seem to forget how much we really have and complain about minor inconveniences.

The saddest part is that we are so ungrateful for the most amazing gift ever. Yes it is an amazing gift of God that you have good health, enough money to live on and loving friends and family. But all of that is nothing compared to the fact that the only Son of God died for you. A perfect man suffering a terrible death for ungrateful sinners. And instead of being satisfied and content with Jesus we think we need more of what the world offers in order to be happy.

But there is hope. The Bible teaches that the answer to the trap of more is contentment and gratefulness. “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). God is enough. Actually God is not just enough, He’s more than enough! You don’t need God and money, God and a good job or God and a spouse. While money, job and spouse are all good things on their own they are not God. True contentment in life can only be found in Jesus Christ.

And that’s what I hope you all do this week. I do want you to find more, but not more of what the world has to offer. My prayer for you all this week is that you would find more of Jesus. That you would love, honor, serve and glorify God more. That you would find your hope and joy not in more stuff but in more Jesus. That you would all realize that God is more than enough for you and that true joy, gratefulness and contentment in life are only found in Him.

May we be like Paul in our outlook on life: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13). May we stop seeking more fleeting pleasures and instead seek to know the risen Son of God. May we realize that Jesus Christ is truly more than enough.