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.

Unpopular Decision Making

There are some decisions in life that will be unpopular even if they are right. We often put some much emphasis on making a decision based on utilitarianism, (the greatest good for the greatest number of people), majority or which sounds like it will be the easiest. But oftentimes people in the Bible don’t do that.

Take Paul for example. In Acts 21 we read about Paul’s decision to go to Jerusalem and the reaction of those closest to him.

“While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” (Acts 21:10-14)

How could he make such a decision? Wasn’t it clear to him that he would be imprisoned and ultimately die? Didn’t all of his friends urge him to do something else? Paul made his decision based on the Holy Spirit’s leading, not on what was the obvious or popular choice. He had no idea what would become of him. He only knew that God was leading him to Jerusalem at this time and for him not to go would be sinful.

So my question to start us off this week is: Are there any unpopular decisions you need to make this week? Is there an area where God is pointing you one way but people or circumstances are pointing you another? Can you make that unpopular decision? If these questions seem tough to answer you’re not alone. Making a decision in the face of opposition, (especially from those we love most), is never fun. So I want to give a couple ideas that may help us as we endeavor to follow the Lord’s leading in our lives, even when it seems unpopular to those around us.

First and foremost you need to get your priorities straight. I feel like a broken record cause I say this so often, but you will not be able to follow the Lord’s leading in your life if you are preoccupied trying to please man rather than God. “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10). Or Jesus says it even more strongly in Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

Both of these verses are dealing with the same issue. Are you going to follow, love and serve Jesus first and foremost or are you going to follow, love and serve people and then give Jesus your leftovers or whatever is convenient? When Jesus becomes Lord of your life He will not be satisfied with leftovers. He wants your everything and all. Your first and foremost. Your best. So if you wish to be able to follow the Lord’s calling in your life you must not allow the idol of relationships to hinder you from making the unpopular decisions.

Any person who has left their home country to go abroad and proclaim the Gospel can identify with this. Usually there is someone, (family, friends, coworkers, etc…), who urges them not to go. They may have good reasons, (finances, distance from loved ones, difficulty or danger in new country, inconvenience, etc..), but none of these reasons could ever truly outweigh the cost of going to the nations with the Gospel.

In the 19th century a man named John G. Paton decided he would travel to an island known for cannibalism. In fact, two people from the same ministry had been eaten only 19 years ago. So when Paton decided to go it was a very unpopular decision. Here is the exchange between Paton and another man from his ministry:

A Mr. Dickson exploded, “The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!” The memory of Williams and Harris on Erromanga was only 19 years old.

But to this Paton responded:
“Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”

This is the kind of faith we need to make unpopular decisions as we follow the Lord’s will. Secondly, we must be willing to do what’s right no matter the cost. Paul could have stayed away from Jerusalem. Jesus didn’t have to go to the cross. The Bible is full of men who did the right thing even if suffering was before them. This is why Jesus commands us: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24).

We so often aren’t willing to follow our Lord’s leading because some fear prevents us. Jesus, Paul and John Paton all knew that death was not the worst thing that could happen to a person. They were all willing to follow God in the face of suffering and loss. If we are to make unpopular decisions that glorify God then we too must be willing to walk wherever the Holy Spirit would take us, even if that leads into some kind of suffering.

So I hope we can all take away some things that will help us make those unpopular decisions to follow God first. May we stop worrying and trying to please the majority but rather listen and carefully seek which direction God is pointing. May we move forward when the Lord signals rather than being hindered by fear. My challenge to you all is to make that unpopular decision this week.

Don’t allow unpopularity amongst your loved ones to hinder you from following God. Don’t allow potential suffering to keep you from following Jesus. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:33-34)

Recent Musings

Because this week is a bit busy with work and moving apartments I decided I would do something simple. I thought I would post a couple of my journal entries that I have done recently. The purpose of this is twofold. First, to encourage all of you to perhaps make journaling a part of your devotion time daily. It doesn’t take long and can be quite simple but definitely adds a layer of depth to what you have just read. It allows you to meditate on a particular verse that stuck out to you and really allow it to sink in which often leads to more practical application of it.

Secondly, just to be encouraged by what the Bible has to say. I think we get caught up in learning about the Bible from secondary sources we often forget that we should be learning first and foremost from the primary source of the Bible itself. These two verses and the thoughts afterwards were just my initial reactions to the verses read. I did not cite secondary sources I look other information up, but rather just allowed God through His Word to speak to me. I hope that you can do the same. So I hope you enjoy this slightly shorter post this week and can still take something away from it.

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)

To count everything as loss is to truly understand life. We are so often entangled with so many cares and concerns of our temporal life that we neglect that, when compared with knowing Christ, they are mere rubbish. Yes they can even be good things, but no good thing can count for anything when in comparison to Christ. That I may attain to this passion after Jesus. So as to be so enamored with Him that I can even call my greatest joys and accomplishments “rubbish” in light of His greatness. Lord, set my heart aflame with this kind of passion. May I desire You for You are to be desired above all else.

“They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.” (Ezekiel 44:23)

The role of the Levitical Priests were to distinguish between the “holy” and the “common.” It is important that I also understand this difference and how to distinguish between the two. Too often I wrongly try to make the holy common or equally bad the common holy. The chasm between these two is very great and I greatly err when I allow them to grow too close in my life. May I, like the priests, be able to show the people around me what is holy and what is common. May I make the clear distinction in my life between the “holy” and the “common” and may others around me be able to see the difference and praise my Father who is in Heaven.

Awesome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction to Moralistic Deism

Moralistic Deism: a term many of us have never heard before. I first heard this term listening to a sermon by Matt Chandler where he introduced it to explain how many professing Christians may actually not be Christians. He uses the term quite frequently and rightly so. And while many of us maybe haven’t seen this term before, it does accurately describe many of our belief system. While many of us claim to be Christian, we are merely Moralistic Deists. So today I thought I would introduce this term to those who have never seen it before.

So what exactly is Moralistic Deism? Well by taking it apart we see that it is focused on morality, (Moralistic), and also focused on the belief in a God, (Deism). So in it’s most base form, Moralistic Deism is a belief in God and the accompanying good words or good morality that follows such a belief. If you are good and you believe in God, this may be you. Sounds a lot like Christianity right?

And this is the extreme danger found in Moralistic Deism. It sounds so close to Christianity that many fall for the false promises it makes. I mean, when we hear about a cult or some other false belief we can easily brush it aside. But Moralistic Deism’s danger lies in its subtle differences. And that is what I want to warn us all about today. Just because you believe in Jesus and are a good person does not make you a Christian. It does make you a Moralistic Deist, but that is not Biblical nor able to save you from sin. There are three primary ways Christianity and Moralistic Deism differ.

But before we look at those, please don’t assume you are Christian and that this Moralistic Deism is talking about your friends or those other people. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” Notice he doesn’t say test your neighbor or the other people at Church but rather “test yourselves.” So as we walk through these three differences, I encourage us all to test yourselves.

The first and primary difference between Christianity and Moralistic Deism is Jesus. Moralistic Deism loves Jesus and wants Him to forgive us, but doesn’t really rely or depend on Him for their lives. Being a Christian is not just about knowing facts. James tells us in James 2:19 “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe- and shudder!” Believing that Jesus actually died and rose again is only half the answer. The problem is that this knowledge is often where Moralistic Deists stop.

The second part of having a knowledge about who Jesus is is applying it to your life. The demons know Jesus is God, but do they want to serve, love, honor, glorify and praise Him? Do they call Him Lord? A number of verses, (Romans 10:9-10, 1 Corinthians 12:3, Philippians 2:11, etc..), emphasize confessing Jesus as “Lord.” I once heard a British Pastor talk about how Americans have really lost this idea of Lord because we don’t have anything like a Lord in our culture.

But basically Lord means ruler or king. So when we follow Jesus we not only know that He died and rose but we also confess that He is Lord of the universe and of our own personal lives. Moralistic Deists treat Jesus like a Genie rather than Lord of their lives. Is Jesus Lord of your life? Do you want Him to be in control and be the reason you live? Or do you just want Him to help you in those areas you can’t seem to help yourself?

This leads to the second difference between Christianity and Moralistic Deism and it’s one that has been a struggle for Christians ever since Jesus left the earth. It is this idea of grace vs. works. Paul spends most of the New Testament preaching against works based salvation, yet we still want to save ourselves. I’ll pick one verse, (there are many), where Paul tries to show grace through faith is what it means to be a Christian, not works based salvation. Galatians 2:16 says, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

Christians and Moralistic Deists both strive to be good people. Christians are motivated by love and do good in reaction to the good already done them by Jesus. They do good works naturally out of the goodness of their transformed heart, (Luke 6:43-45), and when they make fleshly errors they run TO Jesus in confession and repentance. Moralistic Deists are motivated our of fear and do good to try and earn God’s favor. They claim to have been forgiven by Jesus but seem to neglect Him by trying to earn what HE has already done for them. When Moralistic Deists make fleshly sins they tend to run FROM or hide from Jesus. They feel ashamed and instead of going to Him who alone can forgive and heal they run and try to fix it or deal with the problem themselves.

Do you do good works because you know Jesus and want to bring glory to His name? Or do you want to earn some kind of cosmic reward? When you mess up do you fall on your knees before Jesus and ask Him to restore and heal you? Or do you stay away from Jesus until you can fix yourself and can come back to Him looking good?

The third difference is where we put our focus and hope. Christians are Christ focused while Moralistic Deists tend to be self-focused. Christians realize Jesus is Lord and that He alone can save us from ourselves. Moralistic Deists like Jesus and find Him useful, but ultimately depend on themselves to save.

An example of this is in prayer. A Christian prays “your kingdom come your will be done” and “not as I will but as You will.” (Matthew 6:10 and 26:39). The heart of a Christian’s prayer is centered on God and His glory. Yes we still ask for “our daily bread” and other needs, but our ultimate focus is on His will. A Moralistic Deist tends to pray only for needs that they can’t do themselves. Miracles, healings or anything else they can’t fix themselves. But if they know the answer or how to solve the problem they rarely go to God, (Numbers 14:39-45).

Do you pray and rely on Jesus to save and forgive? Or are you self-focused and pray only for that which you cannot do for yourself? Do you see your life as a means to bring glory and honor to God? Or do you see your life as a means to bring glory and honor to yourself?

I pray that each of us would examine ourselves this week. I pray we would ask these questions and seek to find whether or not we can truly call ourselves Christians. Many use the word but some use it wrongly. May we not be those who thought we were Christians yet our Lord says He never knew us, (Matthew 25: 31-46). May we not just be Moralistic Deists who do good and believe in Jesus but rather be Christians who do good because they know Jesus is the universe’s and their personal Lord and Savior. May Jesus be our all-in-all and the reason we breathe.

Rest Assured

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using Our Time for the Eternal Rather than the Earthly

The fact that you are even reading this blog is a miracle. Depending on your reading level, you can probably finish this off in 5-10 minutes. That’s assuming you actually read the whole thing, (I know many won’t even make it to the end before there is something else that snatches their attention away). But even those 5-10 minutes are considered precious in our lives of packed schedules and overcommitments.

And so I thought today I would look at something I think we all struggle with: making time to spend with God. This includes prayer, study, meditation and reflection as well as Church and Bible studies. Many of us assume Church on Sunday is enough spiritual activity for one week. This statement is as foolish as saying we only need food or water once a week.

So first the problem. We are all busy. But honestly, we aren’t as busy as we think we are. How many of us have 10-12 hour work days like those living in third world countries? How many of us are farming from sunup to sundown like our ancestors? And think about all the modern conveniences we have. Things like cars, the internet, microwaves and cell phones make life in the 21st century the fastest it has ever been.

Seems like we should have more time, but for some reason we still don’t. And while I understand our busyness is a partial issue, I don’t think it explains why we struggle to have time for prayer and reflection but work less and live more convenient lives than ever before.

No I think the real problem is our priorities. While Christians profess Jesus is the most important thing in our lives, we rarely act that way. How many of us can speak like David talking about God’s law in Psalm 19:10: “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” Maybe if we looked at our Bible this way we would open it a little more often.

But our priorities have become totally out of whack. And I see this problem presenting itself mainly in two ways. First, we over commit. We have some free time in our daily schedule and we pack it with another activity. And while these activities might be good, (outreach, fellowship, etc..), they often force us to lose time with God because we find our lives are too busy.

Second, we prioritize entertainment, fun and relaxation over time with God. Many of us rush about and try to check everything off our daily to-do lists so we can sit down around 7 or 8 PM for what? The sitcom we can’t miss? A drink with our friends? Checking fantasy football stats online? Once we finally have a free second we spend it on fleeting, earthly passions rather than eternal, heavenly joys.

And so maybe this is you. Maybe you find yourself far from God or drifting away. Maybe you just can’t seem to find time with God. Maybe you wish you could pray or meditate more on His Word, yet the daily pressures of life prevent you. You know I am not just about presenting a problem but also practical solutions! So hopefully these four ideas can help you make time for what truly matters.

First, make it THE top priority. How can we as Christians claim Jesus is Lord of our lives when we only throw Him our leftovers? Where you spend your time and money is where your heart is really focused. I challenge you all to consider this. You have time to eat and sleep each day right? Well why not sacrifice one meal, (we already eat too much anyways so giving up one meal wouldn’t be the worst thing), or give up an hour of sleep to spend time with God in His Word and in prayer? Jesus says in Matthew 4:4 “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Second, make a schedule. You plan when you will go to the gym, so why not plan your quiet time with God? We seem to think it’s nonspiritual to have a planned time with God, but this is far from the truth. If you find that your daily schedule is packed already, then mark out an hour or so each day that is just for you and the Lord. If you don’t plan it there’s a good chance you’ll rationalize why you didn’t have time to pray or study today.

Third, understand that saying no is acceptable and good. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:37 “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything else more than this comes from evil.” Notice Jesus didn’t say your no needed to be yes. It is good to say no sometimes. One reason we lack time with God is because we value time with others more than our Heavenly Father. Rather, be willing to say no to someone so that you have time to spend with God each day.

Finally, make sure your quiet time is actually quiet. Many people try to do their prayer or study while they are doing something else. Your commute to work is a great time for prayer, but shouldn’t be the only time you pray. Reading the Bible in a noisy cafeteria is a great way to spend lunch, but it shouldn’t be the only time you open the Bible. Psalm 46:10 says “Be still, and know that I am God.” Notice the command to be still first. Also, Jesus would frequently go to “desolate places to pray.” (Mark 1:35, 6:31, Luke 6:12-13). And in Matthew 6:6 we are told to “go into your room and shut the door,” when we pray.

God knows we get distracted easily so He commands us to seek Him in a quiet place. Also, I think this a great time for us to meditate and reflect on God. I know the word meditation has some bad connotations because of other religions, but it is a good word. When is the last time you just dwelt on the eternal nature of the trinity? Or that God spoke and creation happened? Or even consider the amazing grace a perfect God would extend to sinful humans through his Son? (2 Corinthians 5:21). Spend time in prayer, study and meditation this week, but make it a quiet place.

Hopefully these are words of encouragement for those who seem overburdened with life and seem to have no time for God. I hope we can all learn what is really most important and that our actions will reflect that this week. May we see that the problem lies with us, not our busyness. May we make God and time with Him our top priority. May we be willing to schedule time with God and say no to others in order to keep our appointment with Him. And may we pray, study and meditate daily in a quiet place so that we can completely focus on Jesus. Let us reclaim our schedule’s and our lives for the glory of God!

Self-Reliance: One Reason you don’t Desire God

Being brought up in a culture like America teaches you many useful tools. One such tool Americans try to instil in their children is the idea of self-reliance. And at face value this seems like a virtuous quality to pass on because it teaches people to give back to others and society rather than take. However, at it’s core, self-reliance starts to erode our relationships and most importantly decreases our desire for God.

And so this week I wanted to unpack how exactly self-reliance tears us away from our souls true desire and leads us into a place where we feel like we don’t need God or where we feel like we are stuck in a pattern of sin. So I want to look at two ways self-reliance plays out in our lives and then discuss what we can do to deal with this epidemic.

First, self-reliance most clearly rears it’s ugly head in our self-righteousness. For the non-Christian this is the idea that because I am a “good” person I have no need for a Savior. Many non-Christians feel like they do not need Jesus to save them because they don’t need saving. Yes they aren’t perfect, but most try to make the good outweigh the bad and thus deem themselves “good” or at least not “evil.” (I like to use the term evil to describe all mankind, not just non-Christians. I feel as though most people would not consider themselves evil even though the Bible tells us otherwise, (Genesis 6:5)).

For the Christian, the self-righteousness disease is also fairly plain to see. While the non-Christian will outright deny their need for God, the Christian does so in a much more subtle manner. Again, the Christian depends on their good works to outweigh their sin but they do so seeking approval from God. So when a Christian has had a good day he feels good about his works and when he has sinned he feels shameful. However, often we feel these emotions not because we have honored or dishonored God, (which are good reasons to feel pride or shame in your accomplishments), but rather because we either earned or lost favor with God. This is exactly how the Pharisees viewed their works: as a means to earn something from God and thus be rewarded. (Matthew 23).

The natural results for the Christian and non-Christian practicing self-righteousness are the same. Acceptance of your own sin, (you start to excuse your own sin because you don’t want to be too hard on yourself if you are your own judge), judgment of others sins, (you become very impatient with others because they don’t match up with the standard of righteousness you have set), and ultimately a lack of desire for God, (if you are self-righteous you either don’t need God because you meet your own standard or despise God because you can’t earn his approval).

Secondly, self-reliance leads to less dependance on others which in turn erodes relationships. Don’t we love movies where the one guy is able to beat an entire group? Don’t we like the idea of a lone wolf who is able to conquer impossible odds? We even had a show called “Lone Ranger!” (I find it funny that even the Lone Ranger had a partner). Our culture, which preaches self-reliance so heavily, has in essence brain washed us into thinking we need to handle our own problems and overcome obstacles by ourselves. We have even started to view others as weak or needy if they ask for help.

This stands in stark contrast to what the Bible has to say. Genesis 2:18 says, “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Ecclesiastes 4:8-12 basically laments for those who have no one to work with or help them. Acts 3:32-37 describes the early Church and the importance of them being together. And also Hebrews 10:25 teaches us “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another- and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Self-reliance, although useful in a small dose, has taken over the way we think. And now because of it we are left with shallow relationships, unable or unwilling to break our sinful habits and most depressing, lacking a need, desire and thirst for God. So what can we do?

Well first and foremost we need to repent. Frequently repent. So many of us deny having this problem yet wonder why our relationships, desire for God or sinful patterns remain unchanged. The first step in solving a problem is to admit you have one. I encourage us all to DAILY repent of this sin. Jesus was talking about the Pharisees but this same verse can also apply to us who feel no need to repent of our sin of self-reliance. “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” (Matthew 13:15).

Secondly we need to open up with others. We need to be willing to share our shortcoming with others so that we remain humble. When we only share the good with others we often start to believe only the good we hear. Also, we need to stop using a high standard for others and a low standard for ourselves. Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:2 that “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” A good rule of thumb is to view others as Jesus views you, with grace. This helps to remind you that Jesus has been so graceful with you so you can be graceful with others. And rather than that low standard we use for ourselves, (often from comparing ourselves to people who sin more than we do), start comparing yourself with Jesus and you will see just how short you fall from the mark.

Finally, we need to meditate more on grace. I really feel like we don’t spend enough time dwelling on the grace of God. Self-righteousness and works based salvation makes sense to our sin-stained hearts. Grace is heavenly. Thus we have a hard time grasping it and soon fall back into self-reliance. Spend some time this week reading and meditating over God’s grace. Some good verses to check out are 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Ephesians 2:8-9. Take some time to study and pray over these verses so that you can better understand what grace really means.

So I hope we can all forsake self-reliance and self-righteousness in exchange for the amazing grace only offered through the blood of Christ. I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes, (which if you have been reading my blog for a while you probably remember it), from a man named Jim Elliot who lost his life trying to evangelize an unreached tribe in Ecuador. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

Forgive or Else…

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15).

In these two verses we see two amazing promises. One good and the other terrifying. We see that God will forgive us. What a glorious promise! But we also see that God will hold back forgiveness if we are unable to forgive others.

Wow. What a glorious yet frightening truth. So it would seem to me that our ability to forgive others is pretty important. At least important enough for Jesus to make the above statement. So today I want to look at forgiveness and it’s central role in our lives and our salvation. So let’s start by looking at how our ability to forgive relates to Jesus’ forgiveness of our sins.

Now it’s extremely important, actually vital, that you understand this first point. God’s forgiving you is what allows you to forgive others. Your ability to forgive others does not earn God’s forgiveness. He is not waiting for you to forgive your arch enemy before He saves you. Rather, Jesus is teaching us that God’s forgiveness does such a work in our lives that the natural response to this work is our ability to forgive others.

Maybe a little complex. Well Jesus thought so too so he gave us a parable to try and explain it in a way we would understand.

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35).

It basically breaks down to this: we have been so unfaithful and so undeserving to God, yet in his graciousness He forgives us of all of our iniquity, (again think of every sin you have ever committed, that’s a lot of iniquity!). Thus because we have been forgiven of so much we are now able to forgive others. Jesus has forgiven us thousands of times, we should be able to forgive others the few times they have wronged us.

You see our ability to forgive horizontally, (to other people), is only possible if we have first been forgiven vertically, (been made right with God through faith in Jesus Christ). So the statement Jesus makes about forgiveness in Matthew 6 is not some kind of works based salvation. Rather, it is the glorious truth that because Christ has forgiven all of our numerous sins that we are now free to forgive others who have hurt us! And that our inability to forgive others shows our lack of understanding about God or because we have never experienced Christ’s forgiveness.

Now I know some of you are probably thinking, “That sounds nice, but he doesn’t know my situation. He doesn’t know what that person did to me. I can’t forgive them. To forgive them would mean that I am ok or happy with what they did. They will walk all over me if I act like that!”

It may be someone who lied to you and broke your trust. Maybe someone even cheated on you or murdered someone close to you. In China, many find it hard to forgive the Japanese for what they did in the war. Regardless of whether or not the other person has asked for your forgiveness, you need to forgive as Christ has already forgiven you. Sadly, the above statements are all too common in the Church today. We so easily forget how much Christ has already forgiven us.

If you are finding it hard to forgive others let me give you two points of advise. First, the reason you may not be able to forgive others is because you don’t really have a relationship with Christ. Going to Church does not equal a relationship with Christ and forgiveness of sins. The ability to forgive others, (even those who have done us unspeakable harm), only flows from our hearts first being transformed by the forgiveness of Christ, (Ephesians 4:32). So if that’s you, seek to know Christ first and his transforming forgiveness and see if forgiving others becomes more natural.

Secondly, some of you do have a relationship with Christ, but are allowing some unrepentant sin to prevent you from the joy of forgiving others. My advise to you is to repent and be set free. Living in unrepentant sin keeps you from missing out on so much joy. Forgiving others is an amazing gift from God, but Satan prefers we not share in this joy. Thus repent and be set free.

Also, if you find it hard to forgive someone who has hurt you very badly, my advise is to pray for them. Two years ago my computer was stolen. At first, I hated the man who did it and was hoping one day I would find him and pay him back. But I knew this was wrong. I know the Lord will repay, that’s not my duty, (Romans 12:19). So I started to pray for this man. I prayed he would come to know Jesus. I prayed he would find a life away from crime and that the Lord would protect and guide him. I don’t hate him anymore and hopefully one day I will see him again in heaven. Prayer often is God’s tool in changing our attitude.

So I hope that all of us can learn to forgive just as Christ forgave us. May we see just how much Christ has forgiven us and in response forgive others. May we repent of any sin hindering us from this joy and pray for those we find hard to forgive. May our hearts be transformed in order to forgive as only a follower of Christ can.

I have attached a story below of amazing forgiveness. These people experienced a terrible tragedy and rather than respond as the world would, they instead followed Jesus. I hope it impacts and challenges you just as it did me.

On Monday morning, October 2, 2006, a gunman entered a one-room Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. In front of twenty-five horrified pupils, thirty-two-year-old Charles Roberts ordered the boys and the teacher to leave. After tying the legs of the ten remaining girls, Roberts prepared to shoot them execution with an automatic rifle and four hundred rounds of ammunition that he brought for the task. The oldest hostage, a thirteen-year-old, begged Roberts to “shoot me first and let the little ones go.” Refusing her offer, he opened fire on all of them, killing five and leaving the others critically wounded. He then shot himself as police stormed the building. His motivation? “I’m angry at God for taking my little daughter,” he told the children before the massacre.

The story captured the attention of broadcast and print media in the United States and around the world. By Tuesday morning some fifty television crews had clogged the small village of Nickel Mines, staying for five days until the killer and the killed were buried. The blood was barely dry on the schoolhouse floor when Amish parents brought words of forgiveness to the family of the one who had slain their children.

The outside world was incredulous that such forgiveness could be offered so quickly for such a heinous crime. Of the hundreds of media queries that the authors received about the shooting, questions about forgiveness rose to the top. Forgiveness, in fact, eclipsed the tragic story, trumping the violence and arresting the world’s attention.
Within a week of the murders, Amish forgiveness was a central theme in more than 2,400 news stories around the world. The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek, NBC Nightly News, CBS Morning News, Larry King Live, Fox News, Oprah, and dozens of other media outlets heralded the forgiving Amish. From the Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates) to Australian television, international media were opining on Amish forgiveness. Three weeks after the shooting, “Amish forgiveness” had appeared in 2,900 news stories worldwide and on 534,000 web sites.

Fresh from the funerals where they had buried their own children, grieving Amish families accounted for half of the seventy-five people who attended the killer’s burial. Roberts’ widow was deeply moved by their presence as Amish families greeted her and her three children. The forgiveness went beyond talk and graveside presence: the Amish also supported a fund for the shooter’s family.

Heroes of the Faith- Hudson Taylor

I recently finished a small autobiography on Hudson Taylor. For those of you who do not know Hudson Taylor I will give a brief introduction. My advise though is to do your own research on this man and his remarkable life.

Taylor was born in England to Christian parents. He became a Christian during his teen years thanks to the fervent prayer of his mother. Over time, Taylor became interested in China. He studied medicine in hopes that he may be able to go to China to bring healing to the Chinese bodies and souls. In 1853 he set sail for his first trip to China. He spent a total of 51 years in China sharing the Gospel. He is also the founder of the China Inland Mission which was responsible for much of the early inland mission work done in China. All during one of China’s most tumultuous times due to constant civil war, corruption and suspicion of foreigners.

And so today I want to give you all three things that struck me as I read about Hudson Taylor. I think his life leaves us an example we can yearn to follow as we attempt to share the Good News with all the nations (Matthew 28:19). Please understand that these words are not only meant for those who feel a call to go overseas to proclaim the Gospel but are also life lessons we can take as we go anywhere to share what Jesus has done.

The first thing that struck me about Taylor’s life was prayer. I was amazed at how much time he would spend in prayer. His answer to almost any crisis was to pray about it first, and then act later based on the Lord’s leading. Also, he would pray most fervently when praying for the salvation of those around him. He would spend much time in prayer which provided him a “peace that surpasses all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7)

I think we can all improve our prayer lives. We live a time when everything is meant to be quick. Fast food has replaced the family meal, email has replaced the posted letter and Wikipedia has replaced the library. I think we are much more prone to act first and pray second these days. I believe if we would follow the example Mr. Taylor left us to spend deep time in prayer, asking God for guidance before we search our own minds, we would better understand the will of God.

Also, I think we can better learn how to pray. Taylor would pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), but he would also spend time praying for things with eternal significance. He would continually pray for the salvation of those around him, even his enemies. Or he would pray that the work of God may be furthered in some remote area. And always with the understanding that “Yet not my will, but your will be done.” (Mark 14:36). How much time do you spend praying for protection, comfort and ease which only effect this life when you could be praying for changed hearts, open doors and God’s will? May we learn to pray as Hudson Taylor did!

Secondly, Taylor’s faith is a challenge to all us today. He not only prayers but also actually believes God will do it. Or once he has prayed Taylor trusts that the Lord’s will would be done. Two amazing stories come to mind for Taylor’s life. First, before Taylor had even gone to China he became very ill. Doctors believed he would soon die. He spent any of his conscious time in prayer and trusted the Lord. He was able to recover miraculously without many of the medicine and rest that doctors had ordered him. Secondly, with his finances he learned to never ask anyone but rather ask His Heavenly Father who would provide. Anytime he was down to his last penny and it looked as though he may soon starve God would provide him the exact amount he needed at the perfect time.

Compare that faith to our doubt filled lives today. We pray, but then we do everything we can do to solve the problem, not really trusting that God will answer our call. We pray, but we doubt God will or wants to, so instead we do. We are truly “double minded” and “unstable in all our ways.” (James 1:6-8). This is also a reason many of us choose not to go into full time mission work. We can think of too many excuses not to trust God, (it could be dangerous, I don’t have the money, what about my family, etc…). And while there are many good reasons to stay home and share the Gospel there, I challenge you all to consider if you are staying at home to seek those lost around you or because you don’t trust God outside your comfort zone.

Finally, I was amazed at Hudson Taylor’s perseverance. 51 years in China is no small accomplishment especially during the time he was here. Many times he fell ill, or was beaten or had his things stolen yet he continued to try and reach our to the Chinese people. He saw many family members and good friends die, (many of his children and his first and second wife died before he did), yet he continued the work. He could have gone back to England and stayed there any time. Many of his children probably would have lived if he had been closer to better conditions and more adequate healthcare. But Taylor “counted it all as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:8).

We, on the other hand, tend to retreat or run at the first sense of danger or discomfort. Millions are perishing in their sins but we dare not go to them because we fear we may not live with as much comfort and ease as we have at home now. What a sad generation we have become! We may even try to go some place difficult but stay there 1 year at the most. What ever happened to those who would leave all for 51 years to share the Gospel? We have replaced perseverance in missions with many short term trips scattered around our schedule and comfort level.

So I hope you all can be as challenged by the life and work of Hudson Taylor as I am. I encourage you to read more about him yourself. But I hope you won’t just read but you will also act. May we carry on the legacy of this great man of the faith, Hudson Taylor. May we learn to pray without ceasing for the salvation of those around us. May we have faith in God more than our faith in ourselves. May we learn to persevere and choose God’s work over our comfort.