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)

Antiques

This summer my beautiful wife and I walked around an antique store. The store was massive with hundreds or maybe even thousands of items from decades long ago. And what struck me as I was looking at all these amazing relics of the past was that at some point in time, someone had worked very hard to make enough money to buy these beautiful objects. Maybe they had worked overtime just to make enough money for their family to enjoy such an object. And years later here it was, in an antique store.

So my question for each of us today is: what are you working for? It’s a question deeper than just the love of money but rather what is the reason you work and earn a salary? Why do you have a job and for what purpose do you work hard? Today I’d like to discuss two wrong motivations and two right motivations for our hard work.

The first wrong motivation is to put all your hard work and dedication into something that is temporal. When I say temporal I mean something that will not last or will fade with time. Solomon has the same thing to say in Ecclesiastes 2:18-26. Here he basically realizes that for him to work hard to earn nice things and money only to have those nice things and money go to a “fool” when he dies is a waste. Why should he, or we for that matter, work our whole lives only to earn some stuff that will end up in an antique store one day?

This usually plays out in one of two ways. For men, this will be electronics, tools, cars, or something else that he is interested in. While owning stuff isn’t a sin it can become one when we make that thing our pursuit and it becomes an idol and we end up working our lives to gain future garage sale items. For women, this usually plays out in purchasing things for your appearance. Clothes, shoes, purses all end up at Goodwill eventually.

And this even translates into how much emphasis you put into your physical beauty. While I do appreciate that my wife does wear makeup and does look nice for me I never want her to invest all her time, money and energy into trying to stay young a beautiful because that would be focusing on a temporal thing. I once had a student tell me her biggest goal in life was to always look young and beautiful. I told her a story I once heard of a wise man who picked up a pile of dirt and said, “this was once the most beautiful woman in the world.” This student had the wrong motivation.

Now before any of you accuse me of being irresponsible with my savings let me make a note. I do believe that each of us should have a job and earn money based on the gifts God has given us, (Paul is a great example of this in Acts 18:3). We also are to save accordingly for the future and to provide necessary, (key word here is NECESSARY), things for our family, (1 Timothy 5:8). But we cannot use these things, (being responsible with my money, saving, etc…), as a crutch or an excuse to use our money primarily for temporal things.

The opposite of working for the temporal is the good motivation for our hard work and dedication. This is working for the everlasting. Notice that no product or vacation is everlasting, (and memories don’t count cause they die when you do). That means for us, our ultimate goal is not something but rather some purpose. Jesus says it clearly in Matthew 6:19-20. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Making your life about stuff only adds worry. You are worried your stuff, (your car, house or the stuff in it), might break, get stolen or get lost. And if your purpose is tied to your possessions you only end up brokenhearted when they inevitably fade. But Jesus offers us the chance to spend our time, money and energy on something greater. These “heavenly treasures” he speaks of are our chance to use our resources to reach out to those around us with the Gospel of Jesus. Use your house as a place to invite people to study God’s Word. Use your car to drive people to Church. Use your money to fly overseas and hand out Bibles and clean water to those who have neither.

When we choose to invest in the eternal rather than the temporal we find joy not in our possessions but rather in how they can be used to bring glory to God. This leads to the second wrong motivation for why we work, and that is to purchase unnecessary wants that end with us. What I mean is when we spend our resources just trying to gain other resources to make our lives greater or more comfortable we have missed the mark.

Rather, a healthy motivation is to use our hard work and resources to gain other resources that can spread to others. It is basically multiplication versus addition. And if you are older than 3, you know that multiplication will always yield the greater result. When we work hard just to gain stuff to add to our collection we only do addition. But when we work hard to use our resources on others we see multiplication. This is because we cannot serve two masters as Jesus says in Matthew 6:24. We either will serve Jesus and thus use our resources to multiple His glory or we will serve Mammon, (or money, possessions, etc…), to attempt to add to our stockpile of goods.

I saw a great example of this firsthand when I was in college. I went to a Christian conference with a group of men from my Church. I was the youngest guy there and as a college student, didn’t have a lot of extra income to spend. I had a job though and felt I was able to afford anything on the trip that was needed. The night before the conference we went out to dinner and a man from our Church named Dennis offered to pay for my meal. I told him I had a job and could afford it and that he didn’t need to do that. But he insisted and said, “When I was younger an older man at Church did this for me, so now I am doing it for you. And one day, you will do it for others.”

And since then I have had the chance to do the same thing for others. Dennis could have saved his money and bought something nice for his house with it. He could have just put the money in the bank or towards a nice vacation. But rather he decided to use his money that he had worked hard for to take care of someone and his influence was multiplied.

So my hope is that we don’t spend our short time on earth chasing after future antiques. And that we don’t spend our limited time just gaining things that only add up when we have the chance to use our resources to multiply God’s Kingdom. So may we rightly understand why we work and use our resources for the eternal. May we always seek to multiply our resources by using them on others rather than just adding to our stuff collection. And may we do it all for the glory, honor and praise of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Social Club or Meaningful Community?

The word meaningful has lost some of it’s meaningfulness. In this era of quick thrills, bells and whistles, our definition of meaningful can be summed up in whatever makes me feel good now. We say a sermon we just heard was meaningful, yet we completely forget the speakers message a week or so later. A song that was meaningful for me in college is now a mere afterthought. And sadly, the really meaningful people in my life can change every few years.

With this loss of a deep, long sighted meaningfulness, it is no wonder that our Christian communities are the same. Whether it is Church or a small group, we have traded meaningful community for cheap thrills. We go to get “recharged” or “refueled”. Some of us go to be entertained or because we are lonely. Christian community is now an event, not a lifestyle.

Here’s my problem. Social clubs provide a great chance for people to mingle and feel connected, but they rarely transform lives. True Christian community is so special because of its ability to completely transform. This idea is perfectly portrayed in a line from the classic song “Amazing Grace”: “I once was blind but now I see.” The amazing transformation that Jesus offers is actually fleshed out through a deep, meaningful community of believers.

I want to stop here and read Acts 2:42-47. As you read this, consider if there is any type of community other than Christian community that is like this. Also consider if your current Christian community is like this.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Wow. That is what I want to be a part of. Many don’t like Christian community because they accuse it of being stale and religious. But the above passage does not sound stale or religious at all. The early Christians lived out their faith. They weren’t looking for entertainment or for some weekend refueling. They were looking for deep meaningful community. The kind of community that awakens the dead.

Now what should we do in light of such a verse? Well the absolute last thing you should do is go and complain to your Pastor that he is not doing a good job. Or worse yet, leave your Church and start searching for one that clearly does the above. While some of us may need to reconsider what Church or small group we attend, most of us have a better option.

My advise for those of you looking for this type of community is to start right where you are. “Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.” (1 Corinthians 7:20). Here Paul is specifically addressing slaves. He encourages them to remain slaves rather than try and free themselves. His point can be taken that the Lord has placed you in a set of certain circumstances in which He has planned for you to make a difference. Yes there are times when the situation isn’t good, the community is unfruitful and we must change. But today I want to focus on how we can help our community right where we are.

There are three quick things I want us to consider in trying to achieve a more meaningful community. The first is service. Just as Jesus pointed out in Mark 10:43-44 “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” Of course, Jesus did this himself by dieing on the cross for us, (Mark 10:45). Leaders of Acts 2 communities are people willing to serve. So leaders, let us serve and in doing so set an example for our people to follow.

Second, we must be generous. Generosity is one of those traits we all think we have yet none of us really do. Giving 10% to Church and some money to charities at Christmas time, but then spending more money on yourself and family than the money you gave is not exactly generous. In the community described in Acts 2, you see that they gave to all “who had need.” We Americans do not like to give or share our possessions because we feel we have earned them and that if others haven’t then they are lazy. This attitude is reeking havoc to generosity and meaningful community in America. Let us remember it’s not our stuff anyways, we are just borrowing it from God for 60-80 years, and thus can share it with others.

Last, we need urgency. The early Church leaders believed Jesus would return any day and thus lived a life of study and evangelism. We don’t expect Jesus to come back anytime soon, so we have grown lazy and complacent. Do you feel an urgency to share the Gospel with those around you? With those around the world? Do you feel an urgency to help someone in desperate need? We don’t live with any urgency because our lives have become too comfortable. I once read a quote by a Christian that said, “Once I get too comfortable somewhere I know it is God telling me it’s time to move somewhere else.” Our communities need urgency in sharing the Gospel and proclaiming the Good News to the Nations.

Again, all three of these things can be done right in the community in which you are. Lead by example. Complaining and accusing only destroys community. Rather, take these things to heart and live them this week. May we stop being satisfied with entertainment and recharging and instead seek after meaningful, committed community. May we be willing to serve, give and do so as if the world were about to end. May we be the community of believers that Christ can call His Bride.

Where Up is Down and Less is More

I work a lot with University students. The nice thing you get to see when working with students is a lot of anticipation and hope for the future. Almost every student thinks they will have a great future. It is rare to meet a student who thinks, once they graduate, they will live a mundane meaningless life. They all want to be the top dog, the highest on the corporate ladder, and have everything needed to make them comfortable.

Sadly, this is the lie of culture. These students, like many of us, have believed that the higher position you are the happier you will be. Or the more stuff you own the more pleasurable your life will be. However, time after time we find that this is just the opposite. The more you have the more you want. The higher you climb the more you want to see the top. And once you get there, then what?

Now I am not saying that it is bad to try your best. Being a CEO is not a sin, (well sometimes it could be depending on how exactly you work as a CEO). In fact, we are told to work in all things as if we are working for God, (Colossians 3:23-24). So to work hard and to try your best is not a bad thing at all.

The problem is, we have made it our focus and our goal. Rather than working as to glorify and honor the Lord, we are working to glorify ourselves or to make more money to live the opulent life we think will bring us joy. While this longing for more is good, (I believe it is an actual longing that can only be filled by the Lord), we have decided to stuff it with temporary, worldly pleasures.

As C.S. Lewis once said:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Now let’s consider an alternative Kingdom. This Kingdom does not consider your high position but rather considers your humility and service to others, (Matthew 20:25-27). This Kingdom doesn’t care how much you own but rather focuses more on how much you give away, (Luke 18:22). In fact, the King of this Kingdom was a homeless servant who gave his life for his people, (Mark 10:45). This is the Kingdom of God.

And because of sin we have exchanged this amazing Kingdom and King for lesser pleasures offered to us by the world. So I want to challenge us all in two ways.

First, for non-Christians, are you really finding joy in your life? Is the constant struggle to climb the ladder of success and to live a more comfortable life really bringing you peace, joy and love? My guess is if you really examine yourself and your situation, it’s probably not. That longing you have for greatness is a longing to know the King. Rather then continue to believe the lie that says you are the King, will you realize that Up is Down and Less is More? Will you come to Jesus, in humility, and confess your sins and serve the True King?

For Christians my challenge is for us to make God’s Kingdom visible here on the Earth. The early Church did just that.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” -Acts 2:42-47

Can we Christians live in such a way as to show the world God’s Kingdom? Can we truly believe that pleasure and joy in God is far greater than any pleasure possibly offered here on earth? Yes Christians, we agree with these statements, yet our lives rarely reflect it. We say Jesus is Lord and spend more time and money on ourselves than serving our King. Your time and money will point you to who you serve. Christians, does your life reflect that of Jesus or do you merely give whatever scraps you have left from yourself to your King?

So may we all see that bigger is not always better and more is not always all that it’s cracked up to be. May we stop playing with mud when the beach is available to us. May we stop exchanging true joy for fleeting pleasures. Instead, may we follow our King’s example. May we humble ourselves just as he humbled himself and give just as he gave, (Philippians 2:6-8). May we live as if we are residents of God’s Kingdom rather than Satan’s.

Tis the Season for Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Call to Passion for a Worthy Cause

I have been a little under the weather this week which is why this is a day late and going to be a little shorter than usual. You all can pray for recovery, for guidance and for help as the school year starts! Anyways, I wanted to talk a little bit about passion this week because I feel like September may be a month for you that either brings more passion or seems to take it all away.

I feel like all of us are passionate about something. I love football and basketball so you could say I am passionate about sports. Some people love hiking and camping so they may be passionate about the outdoors. Some crazy people love their work, so they could be passionate about their jobs. And others are simply passionate about their friends and family. You can be passionate about your country, your political party, your education, your health, and even your diet, (lets be honest we are all passionate about food).

And while most of these things are good, are they really worthy of the passion we give them? Think of the time, energy and money we spend on these passions. I’ll use my own as an example. I love football, so I will often wake up early to watch the game. I will pay lots of money to go watch a game or buy a shirt with a big O on it, (Go Ducks). I will even make loud noises of approval when my team scores, and loud noises of anguish when my team loses. I spend countless hours, way too much money and a lot of energy just so I can enjoy this passion of mine.

Like I said before, most of that is fine for what we call Christianity today. But I am left to question if somewhere along the line you and I got things wrong. What if we had the same passion for God that we do for the things mentioned above? What if we spent our time, energy and money worshiping and glorifying the Creator of the Universe rather than on these other passions? “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21). I feel like this would be something worthy of our passion!

Do any of you wonder why you just can’t kick that habitual sin in your life? Ever wonder why you seem to make the same mistakes over and over again? Ever wonder why something you thought would finally bring you peace and joy has only led to more stress and difficulty? I think a lot of this happens because we have traded a worthy passion, (Passion for God) for something lesser.

So my first challenge this week is to right the ship, to have passion for God. To become more eager to open the Bible than to turn on the TV. To be more excited to walk into Church than into a stadium. To be more thrilled to pray than to travel. To desire to worship our King more than to enjoy a relaxed comfortable day.

Secondly, I challenge us all to have passion for the things God has passion for. I am not sure if God is a football fan or not, but I do know God loves people and holiness. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27). Are you passionate after holiness? Do you want to be holy because God is holy, (Leviticus 11:44, 1 Peter 1:15-16 and Matthew 5:48), or do you just want to be holy enough to get into heaven?

With that, do we really love and care for people in need. I encourage you all to stop reading and look on the left side of this website where it says “Blogroll.” There are many groups who are doing some amazing work among those suffering most in the world. If we just had a little more passion for these people and their sufferings, we could see some amazing change in the world.

So again I will ask, do you have passion for a worthy cause? Are you passionate for God because you have seen HE is more than worthy of it? If not, I suggest you take some time to pray and ask Him to give you passion. Also, I suggest you go outside and take a look at creation. If that doesn’t stir up some passion for the Creator, few other things will. Secondly, do you really care about the things God cares about? Do you have passion to see lives changed and desire to help those suffering? If not, I again challenge you to pray and ask God to change your heart. Also, I suggest looking at some of those websites to see faces of those in need.

May we all have passion for worthy causes. May we enjoy family, friends, sports and all the amazing gifts God has given us, but may we never lose our passion for the One who has given us those gifts. May we see the suffering and hardships of this world, and desire to help be the change we wish to see. May we all be passionate people this school year!

Simple Service

As Christians, we understand the importance of service. If you look at some of the greatest charities all over the world throughout history, many were started and are still run by Christians. During the plague that wiped out one third of Europe, Christians were generally the ones who stayed and tended to the sick, even at risk to their own lives. Paul talks about taking a collection for the poor to help and serve them as well, (Romans 15:26).

Now while many of us may be patting ourselves on the back for all the good these Christian charities have done, I wonder if we have lost sight of what service really is. I am not trying to take anything away from Christian charity and service projects, but I think the example Jesus leaves us is a very simple one, yet not one many of us practice.

Let me give you an example. I feel like most Churches have some kind of homeless ministry. Maybe we will organize an event where we will collect food donations to give to the homeless, or maybe even go volunteer at a soup kitchen with others from our congregation. While many of us jump at those opportunities, we often walk by or pass up homeless people in the midst of our daily lives. It is like if we have not organized some event we are unable to help homeless people.

Or maybe its a short term Mission Trip. You travel to a foreign country to help their poor or sick and you do it with such passion for the Lord. Then you return home and get busy with work and school. The same poor and sick are right there, but now you walk right by them because you are on your way to class or a meeting.

Doesn’t this seem strange to you? Doesn’t it seem like the people we should be more eager to help are those we see on a daily basis and can actually try to develop a relationship with? Shouldn’t we try to alleviate suffering for those down the block as well as for those in a third world country? And that is why I want to challenge us this week to think if our service is really simple enough. While organizing service projects, mission trips and charities are nice, I believe service happens on a daily basis.

Again, we need to look at what Jesus did. Jesus did not organize large events and hold special projects. Jesus just walked around town and served when he saw needs. He saw a blind man, so he healed him, (John 9). He saw hungry people so he fed them, (John 6). He saw sinners, so he forgave them, (John 8). As you read the Gospels you see Jesus serving people in the dailiness of life over and over. Jesus was not just the Christ when there was a big group or when there was some cool short term Mission Trip to go on. He was the Christ day in and day out.

As Christians, I think this is a challenge to us to live our faith daily. To serve those in need around us even when it is not part of some event or Mission Trip. Yes you are busy and are often in a hurry from one thing to the next, but all of us can stop and serve more than we do. For all the bad excuses you could think of not to help someone, there are a million more good reasons why you should, (I won’t share those million reasons but if you really need them post a comment and I will try to at least name 100 or so).

While I do encourage you all to go on short term Mission Trips, be a part of Church service projects, and give to worthy charities, (www.heifer.org, www.ijm.org, www.asiaharvest.org, www.compassion.com, www.bloodwatermission.com just to name a few), I also hope you all can realize that service was meant to be simple. Go out and live it. Stop and give someone some food on your way to work. Buy someone lunch or a snack on your way to class. Give a blanket or some warm clothing when you see someone who looks cold. Share the Good News with someone who looks like they need it. You don’t have to go across the world to do it. You don’t have to wait for a group to do it.

Thank God that He did not wait to form a group or organize a project to save us. Rather, He came down and did it Himself. May we follow our Lord’s example and serve those around us. May we simplify our service and live it daily. May we constantly be looking for needs around us and use the amazing blessings and gifts God has given us to serve those needs. May we serve as Jesus served: simply.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

For some reason, we seem to think that Jesus isn’t enough for us in our modern world. We seem to think that in order to find joy we need Jesus and something else. This week, I heard a pastor speak and it bothered me. He spent around two hours explaining how God wants to financially bless us. He talked about how if we give a monthly 10% tithe to the Church, God would rain down blessings from heaven for us. He talked about how if we tithe, God would give us promotion after promotion. He said if we gave back to God, God would want to give us abundant financial blessings.

At first glance, this sounds to me like a sly way to get people to give money to the Church. If I tell people that they need only give 10% of their monthly income and God will bless them abundantly, then I promise you that giving will increase. But giving is not our focus, God is. We do not give money to the Church because of what God will bless us with.

Rather, we give money back because it isn’t ours to begin with! Psalm 24:1 says “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” It’s all God’s anyways, so we give back to share in God’s work. Secondly, we do it out of gratitude. We should not be giving money so that God will bless us, instead we should be giving money because of how much God has ALREADY blessed us. Finally, we give money back because we want to see the Gospel spread. Just as we support a charitable organization and want to see them help others, we give money back to the Church so that it can be used to help and equip the Body of Christ.

So while I do advocate giving money to your Church and to charities, I want us to to think a bit about our motives. If you have believed the lie that you give to get, then there are some questions I want you to think about.

1. What is a blessing? The problem I had with this pastor and many other Christians today is that they talk as if material blessings are the most important. However, I believe some of the greatest blessings from Jesus are the lessons he allows us to go through on a daily basis. Read Matthew 5:3-12. Jesus promises blessings for those who trust and follow him, yet none of these blessings are material. The kinds of blessings Jesus offers us in these verses are for the life yet to come. A great new song by Laura Story called “Blessings” ends like this:

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst
This world can’t satisfy?

And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise?

2. Can we praise God when he gives AND we He takes away? The problem with believing that God will always financially bless you if you give back to Him meets a big problem in the book of Job. Sometimes, people give back to God, and God does not financially bless. And so, if you equate financial blessings with God’s love, then when you suffer harm, you start to question if God really loves you. Rather, we must look at each and every situation as Job did. “And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21. Also, read what happened to Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:24-29 to see that giving does not always get us material rewards.

3. What happens when I give but God doesn’t bless me financially or give me that promotion? The problem here is that we try to make God into a magic genie. All we need to do is put some money in and wait for our reward. If that’s the case, then God is no longer God. If God’s blessings are dependent on our tithes, then we have made ourselves to be God. We are here for God, God is not here for us.

4. Are we content? Read what Paul says in Philippians 4:11-13. The point here is that as a Christian we are to be content and praise God at all times. When God blesses me with a promotion or a new job then I am to praise God. When God blesses me by taking my job away, (which from our view may not look like a blessing) I am to praise God. If you are giving to get, then are you really content and praising God when you abound and when you are brought low?

5. Do we love Jesus or do we only love the gifts or blessings he can give us? The problem is that most of us love the gifts offered, but scarcely love or truly know who is offering them. This would be like if I love my mom because she buys me things, but not because she is my mom. “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Matthew 10:38. We take up a cross not to gain material blessings or even eternal life, but rather because it means we get to follow Jesus who alone is worthy of our love and praise.

What if Jesus died for you, but never promised you eternal life? Would you still love, serve and praise Him for who He is and what He has done? Thanks be to God that we do have eternal life, but that is only the secondary blessing. The primary blessing is that we get to personally know God as our Father and have a relationship with Him.

I want to end with the story of Horatio Spafford. Most of us don’t know him, but he is the person who wrote the beautiful hymn “It is well with my soul.” But do you know the story behind this hymn? In 1871, his only son died at the age of 4. Soon after, the Great Chicago fire ruined him financially. Then in 1873, his wife and four daughters were crossing the Atlantic when their ship sank and all four of his daughters drowned.

As Spafford was later crossing the Atlantic near where his daughters had drowned he wrote these words:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

May we all realize that Jesus has already done so much for us. May we learn to be content with the amazing blessings God has given. May we tithe in gratitude and service, not to gain more for ourselves. And most importantly, may we see and savor the fact that Jesus is more than enough for us. May the fact that we have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ make us say “It is well with my soul.”

The Beauty of being Wanted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me no more: Part 3

This is the third and final week in this little dating series. I also feel that this is the most important of the three because if you don’t get what I say here, the previous two posts will be worthless. While we need to understand men’s and women’s shortcomings and roles in dating, the most important thing to understand is why. What is the purpose behind dating and marriage? Anyone who is married or has ever dated knows all the difficulties involved, so why do we put ourselves through it?

Culture tells us to go through with dating and marriage because it will make us happy. Terms like “soul mate” “better half” and “what I have been missing all these years” make it sound like finding our spouse will finally make us feel complete or happy. So, many people want to date or marry to find joy. They feel like finding a mate will fill that void in their life and make them happy. But is that all dating and marriage is about? Happiness?

Actually, this is what has gone so drastically wrong in our world. Almost every movie, TV series or song now has something about affairs, one night stands, or sleeping around. In fact, many movies and shows even show cheating and sleeping around in a positive light! Our culture tells us that dating and relationships are only about what you can gain from it. And this is what we have become. Every time I turn on the news or get on Facebook I see another affair, unmarried pregnancy or some guy bragging cause he hooked up with another hot chick last night. Sadly, the movies and the TV shows have become our world’s sinful reality.

People no longer view a relationship as it was meant to be but rather as a means to satisfy their own desire for happiness. The cultural thought is “If she makes me happy I love her, but if someone else can make me more happy then I will run off with her.” This is extreme selfishness. We may care and even consider the other person, but ultimately it comes down to what makes ourselves happy. Culture has taught us to pursue happiness and pleasure above all else, even if it hurts others. Affairs and one night stands are at all time highs because people no longer care for others but only for their own pleasure or happiness.

So if culture is so wrong, where can we find the right answer? The Bible of course! The first thing we have to learn about dating and marriage is that it is not about you and your happiness! The most important reason we date and marry is to represent Jesus and the Church. Ephesians 5:22-33 is probably the best section in the Bible about marriage. Throughout these verses Paul shows how the way a husband and wife relate to each other is a representation of how Jesus Christ and His Church relate. Men are to love and sacrifice everything for their wives just as Jesus did for the Church, (Verses 25-28), and women are to follow the leadership of the husband just as the Church follows the leadership of Christ, (Verses 22-24).

This is a much different call than that of culture. While culture tells us to live for pleasure and for self, the Bible tells us to sacrifice for others and represent Christ. Think about it guys. Our job is to represent Christ! People get all excited if they get to represent their company at a meeting or their country in the Olympics. Men, we get to represent Jesus Christ in how we relate to women! And women, you get to be his pure and perfect bride. Instead of being that hot girl with a new guy every week, you get to represent sinless perfection and submission in your relationship.

Secondly, we need to know where joy and happiness comes from. If you are looking for a boyfriend of girlfriend because you are lonely or because you think it will make you happy, STOP! It may bring you momentary happiness, but at what cost? You cannot possibly find pure joy in another person. While non-Christian marriages may seem happy and joyful, they will not and cannot ever possibly be as fulfilling and joyful as a Christian marriage. This is not because Christians are better people, but because Christians will seek their joy in Christ first, and their spouse second. Matthew 6:33 says “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Lastly, the reason we date and get married needs to be mutually beneficial. When I say mutually beneficial I do not mean that I make her happy and she makes me happy, but rather that I help her to see and serve Christ more and she helps me to see and serve Christ more. I believe happiness is a fairly natural result of this. This is why Paul warns about being “yoked with unbelievers” in 2 Corinthians 6:14. When looking to date and marry we need to find someone we can work together with that will cause each of us to grow closer to Christ.

They have found that two oxen yoked together can actually do double the work of two oxen individually. So who we decide to yoke or join ourselves with in dating and marriage will be very important as to the service we can do for Christ. We will all have tough times and struggles. In those down times we need our spouse to be able to pick us up and push us towards Jesus, (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). If our main concern is pleasure or happiness it may cause us to marry someone who is there in the good times, but gone when we are really in need or hurting.

I hope you all understand that while dating and marriage are important and can bring you a lot of happiness, that is not the ultimate purpose for love. So what is love? 1 John 4:16 tells us that “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” May we all come to see that dating, marriage and love are all about God. Stop following the lie of culture that tells you pleasure or happiness is the goal of love. Realize the goal of finding a spouse is not self-satisfying but rather God honoring. May we all live for and represent Jesus and the Church in our relationships, and may we find our joy and pleasure in Jesus above all else. And finally, may we all find someone who will help us know, honor, love and serve Jesus Christ more.