Branches of Pride- Self-Pity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Branches of Pride- Entitlement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Company You Keep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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.

The Divine Act of Self-Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

Wandering Hearts

Honestly, I am not a big fan of hymns. I typically like something a little more upbeat. But the thing about hymns is there ability to use few words to convey massive theological truths. If you stop and actually think about the words, (rather than getting distracted by the lack of electric guitar and drums), you can learn a lot about God, His Word and even ourselves.

Today I want to focus on a truth that caught my eye, (and ears), while listening to the hymn “Come thou fount.” It was originally written by Robert Robinson in the mid 1700’s but it’s truths still ring true, if not even truer, today. This is the last four lines of this amazing hymn:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

What amazing insight into the human condition in those four simple sentences! Why do these words resonate so deeply, even 300 years after they were written? Because it speaks a truth many of us are too afraid to admit.

We all, like the Prodigal Son, (Luke 15:11-32), have found other things that attract us away from the God we love. And so I want to look at two truths about our desire to wander away from God and then talk about how to deal with this problem.

The first thing you need to realize is that we are ALL prone to wander. The Bible tells us “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). And while we know this truth, we often forget it when we look around our Church and then start to compare. We see the pastor, deacons or just other very Godly people and can’t imagine that they struggle or doubt like we do.

The truth is, every pastor, deacon, mentor or the most Godly people you know still have doubts. Still have some sin in their life they just can’t let go of. This is because this is their nature. We are ALL prone to wander because we are born that way. How we wander or stray may be different for each of us. Some may fall into a struggle with drugs, alcohol, pornography or any of the more visual sins. While others of us wander by trying to keep all the rules and earn our righteousness. One type of wandering says “I don’t need Jesus because these other pleasures will satisfy” while the other says “I don’t need Jesus because I can do the work He is trying to do for me.”

So my first advise to all of us out there is to stop looking and comparing ourselves with others. Realize that those “perfect” people you see in Church are as messed up and doubtful as you even if they act like they aren’t. Rather than comparing, may we learn to be open about our struggles, doubts and failures so that through it we may build up the Church.

The second truth about our desire to wander away from our God is that this desire to wander does not make you unsaved and beyond redemption. I think sometimes we start to question our salvation when we have these feelings of doubt or when we start to desire something more than God. Now it could mean you aren’t saved. It may mean you don’t desire Him because you don’t know Him. But I think often it is our sin that continues to get in the way.

We know God loves us and that we also love Him, but we often feel a stronger desire for something else. And when that comes we question if we really love Him at all. This is where community is so vital. Once Satan has this foothold, (Ephesians 4:27), he will continue to whisper little doubts into your mind until you start to question everything about God. Rather, when we struggle with doubts and sin, we need to be able to go to other believers and share with them. We must be open about any and all doubts and sins. The doubts you are too afraid to share are the ones pulling you further from God. We must expose our doubts and sins “to the light.” (Luke 12:3).

And that leads us finally to what are we supposed to do about all of this? How can we stop trying to wander away from God? Well the answer lies in the last two lines of the hymn:

here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

Honestly there really isn’t some guide to prevent our hearts from wandering into sin or doubting God. There isn’t some magic formula that will help you keep your eyes on God at all times. Rather, it is humility and dependance on God that sustains us through these times. He is the one that must hold us and carry us through. Just as a child must trust their parents to help them safely cross a busy road, we too must rely on Jesus as we traverse difficult paths in our lives.

And so you may feel “prone to wander” today. Maybe there is a sin or doubt in your mind that just won’t go away. Maybe you keep it hidden because you are afraid that only you have that struggle. Maybe you keep trying to work and work to fix it, but it always seems to be the same. Then may you, in humility and dependance on God, cry out for Him to “take and seal” your heart. May we respond to our doubts and our desire to wander from God just as Peter did in John 6:68-69: “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

We have an Enemy- Part 2

Last week we acknowledged the fact that we are all in need of a Savior. We cannot save ourselves and we are all the furthest things from heroes, (even though our culture wishes to tell us otherwise). And while we do have a hero Jesus Christ our Lord, we also have an enemy.

As much as we all wish it wasn’t true, there is someone who hates us and will stop at nothing to see our ultimate destruction. His name is Satan and he is a fallen angel whose goal is to get as many to hell as possible. This is the first truth we must all realize this week. Satan and hell are real. We find it so easy to talk about heaven, (even non-Christians), but few of us like to admit or consider the reality of Satan and hell.

We learn a bit about Satan in a few places in the Old Testament. We learn he is a fallen angel who introduces sin to mankind and is constantly looking for ways to trip up God’s people, (Isaiah 14:12-15, Ezekiel 28:13-19, Genesis 3:1-15, and Job 1:6-2:7). And while my purpose this week is not to show the history of Satan I think it is important that we all have an understanding of his background a bit. So check out the verses above before going on.
在圣经的旧约里面,我们可以在某些章节里面了解到一点关于撒旦的描述,我们可以知道撒旦他是一个堕天使,引诱人陷入罪的里面,并且不断地使上帝的儿女绊倒(圣经中的以赛亚书14:12-15;以西结书28:13-19;创世纪3:1-15;约翰福音1:6 – 2:7) 。我这周分享的目的并不在于告诉你们撒旦的历史,我觉得重要的是要让你们知道一点关于撒旦的背景,所以我希望你们在继续读下去之前,可以翻开圣经去查阅一下上面提及的章节。

My goal today is for each of us to see what Satan’s attacks look like, and how we can be prepared for them. But before we look at how Satan attacks us and what the Bible tells us to do in response, I think it is important to note two vital mistakes we make when it comes to Satan.

The first is that we try to ignore or hope he isn’t real. To pretend an enemy doesn’t exist doesn’t make them less powerful, but actually allows their work to be done in relative ease. We have to admit and understand that we have an enemy named Satan who is real in order to combat him. The second vital mistake we make is that we either give Satan too much respect and thus live in fear, or too little respect and are easily deceived.

We are told not to fear because our Hero, Jesus Christ, is greater than our enemy Satan and has overcome. Romans 16:20 says “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” Also Revelation 20:10 says “and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” We know the end of the movie. God wins, Satan loses. So we need not fear because we know our Hero is greater than our enemy.

At the same time, this does not give us an excuse to like arrogantly, as though we did not have an enemy. The truth is that Satan has been around much longer than you and me. He knows the Bible, God and Jesus far better than we do. So to be as arrogant as to think that we can take Satan on by ourselves is quite a foolish endeavor indeed. In John 8:44 Jesus calls Satan “the father of lies.” While we need not fear Satan because we have a Savior in Jesus, a healthy respect for Satan is good in order to be prepared for his deception.

Now that we understand our enemy a little better we can look at the primary ways he attacks us and how we as servants to Jesus can respond. The first way that Satan attacks the children of God is through lies. Satan will tell us anything to get us distracted from God. Genesis 3:4 says “But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.” This is only a few verses after God had told them not to eat of the fruit or they would die. Satan uses deception to get Adam and Eve to eat the fruit. And this he still does to us today. He puts little lies into our thoughts, our culture or our friends and family members. Lies like, “God can’t exist in this scientific age, you are the top of the evolutionary chain.” Or “You can do what you want because you know what’s best.”

Satan’s lies are many and they continue to lead us astray. So what can we do? We can respond the same way Jesus does to Satan in Matthew 4:1-11. Each lie Satan told Jesus, Jesus responded with a Biblical truth. So in order for us to combat the lies of Satan we need to know our Bibles. Read it. Memorize it. Ask Biblical teachers about it. And then when a lie comes to you, (through your thoughts, the media, your friends or family, etc…), have those verses on your mind and ready to combat Satan.

Secondly, Satan tricks us with pleasure. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says “In their case the god of this world, (Satan), has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Satan tells us that pleasure is the ultimate purpose to our lives. This tactic of his has been widely successful over the last 100 years as modernization has made getting pleasure much easier. People devote their entire lives to getting money in order to pursue sex, material possessions, travel, or whatever else they think may bring them pleasure.

In order to combat this desire for pleasure, we need to look at some of the great examples from our King and also from His Word. Verses from Jesus about this include Matthew 6:19-21 and 24-34, Matthew 13:44-46 and Luke 18:24-25. Paul gives us some other great ideas in Philippians 3:7-8 and 4:11-13. The book of Ecclesiastes is also quite helpful in combating this attack. Ultimately, we need to learn to desire Christ and His Kingdom more than any pleasures this world could possibly offer.

Finally, Satan also uses pain to hurt the children of God. Satan may give someone a disease like cancer in hopes that through this disease or pain they would lose their trust in God. Satan knows that many of us can believe and trust God when everything is good, but when some kind of pain or hardship comes many will turn their back on Christ. These people only trusted Christ for what He could do for them. This ideas basically turns you into your own God and Jesus into your servant whose job is to take care of you.

If you are struggling with pain and maybe even questioning God, there are some great places in the Bible for you. The first is the entire book of Job, especially the end where God speaks and shows Job that he cannot fathom the ways of God and instead needs to be silent and trust. Also, having a mindset that we are only here temporarily but the afterlife is eternal can often help those who are suffering right now.

Next week we will consider what our job is in all of this. If Jesus is our Hero and Satan our enemy, what is our role? The verses I have listed above are just a small amount. Open your Bible and find more. The Bible is full on the topic of our enemy and his attacks. Also, a few good books about this problem are “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis and many of the autobiographies of some of our Christian ancestors.
下周我们会细想一下我们在这世上应当做什么?如果基督是我们的英雄,撒旦是我们的敌人,那我们的角色又是什么?我曾经听到的关于以上这个问题的回答只有很少的一点。打开你的圣经去找到更多关于这方面的记载,就会看到整本圣经的一个很重要的主题就是关于我们的敌人以及它对我们的攻击。同时,关于以上这个问题亦有一些很好的书籍可以给大家参考,例如C.S. Lewis写的《The Screwtape Letters》 以及其他的很多关于基督徒的自传。

Whether it is lies, pleasure or pain may we stop falling victim to the attacks of Satan and learn how to stand strong in Christ. As Paul says, may we put on the full armor of God.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. -Ephesians 6:10-18
以弗所书 6章 10-18节:

I Need a Hero- Part 1

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).

You were made with a purpose. You knew there must be more to life than your mundane, everyday existence. To even consider that our life boils down to birth, school, work, family, retirement and then death just sounds sad. And yes, those things are very important and play a major role in our lives. However, none of them are the reason for our existence.

And while some of you may say there is no reason for our existence, that we just happened by random chance, my purpose today is not to write a formal argument against such a theory. If you believe there is no reason for our existence I can point you to many resources that can say contrary to that. But the thing I want to point out today is our unfulfilled desires hint towards this “something more” purpose of ours.

You have a longing to make a difference. And that longing is good. In fact, God gave you that. He made you that way. Problem is we have taken that longing and instead of using it to fulfill His mission we have tried to create many of our own little tiny missions in order to fulfill that longing.

Why do we love movies so much? Because they allow us to put ourselves in the place of the hero and feel like we have made a difference. Video games, fiction books and even music all at times play upon this theme. We love it when good defeats evil. Even much of the charitable work we do feeds this desire to make a difference in the lives of others. And while all of these things provide a temporary “I matter” feeling, that soon fades and we find ourselves wondering what we’re here for yet again.

So my challenge and hope for you all today is to see that God has a reason for you being around. That HE has a plan and purpose for you, and that if you will actually take that step and pursue God’s mission you will see that you are part of the movie. So in part 3 of this series I will talk about what exactly our mission is.

But before that we have to talk about where our mission comes from. The truth is we are all part of the movie. And while we wish we could be the star, that role has already been cast. Jesus is the star of the movie known as History. This movie also has a bad guy, (named Satan, we will talk more about Him next week). But in order to truly understand our mission, we have to understand who we are serving.

Our culture, media, the world and our own sinful desires want us to believe that we are the purpose. That we are the main focus and the hero. We are told we can be anything we want as long as we try hard. So we start living our lives with this view. That we are the reason. And once we believe this lie, we start treating others as if they should believe this about us as well. Watch how people act while driving. Everyone seems to believe that they are God of the road, and any car that will not allow them to go first must be demon possessed.

Or even worse, we twist Bible stories to make us feel hero-like. How many of you have read the story of David and Goliath? If you haven’t you can check it out in 1 Samuel 17, but I feel like many already know it. Now when we think of this story, which part do you think you identify with? Most people, sadly even many pastors, would tell you that you are David and that you can overcome any of your big problems, (like Goliath), by trusting Jesus. What a sad lie this is!

The truth is you are not David. If anything you are one of the other soldiers who was too scared to do anything. And this truth is so vital and so important I find myself talking about it almost every week in this blog. You can’t save yourself, you’re not the hero. Rather, you are the evil, sad, helpless guy in the movie that must be saved.

That stings our pride, doesn’t it? The true reason people try to keep their distance from Jesus isn’t because they just don’t believe the facts. It’s because their pride can’t come to grips with the fact that they need a savior. Same thing that got Satan kicked out of heaven, (Isaiah 14:12-15).

Which is why we are so desperately in need of a savior. We are born evil. Not just born sinners, born evil and rebellious against our true King, (Psalm 51:5, Proverbs 21:2, Genesis 8:21, Ephesians 2:1-3, etc). We have no reason to be the hero. If anything, we look more like the villain. We run around thinking we are playing hero while we are actually just foolishly following the bad guy’s plan the whole time.

In order to stop this backwards, “I can save the day” mentality that the world wants us to believe, we need to humble ourselves, see our lives and desires for what they really are, (evil), and cry out for help. This week we all must realize that Jesus is our Hero and our King whom we serve. Without this, we have no hope and no purpose.

Next week we will look more at what exactly Satan, (the evilest of all time) is up to, and finally in week 3 we will look at our purpose and place in all of this.

So may we all realize that Jesus is the Hero, and we are merely servants. May we know that we are born evil and through amazing grace, (Ephesians 2:8-9), Jesus saves us. May we realize that our longing for more is good, but it is a longing for God, not for our own glory. May we lay down our pride and cry out to the greatest Hero this world has ever known, Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior.