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.

Jesus is Better Than…. Part 1

Sorry it has been so long since I updated this. I feel like that is what almost all people who blog say at one time or another. I had some problems with the website but have it back running correctly so I thought it’s about time I share some thoughts with you all.

There has been somewhat of a theme lately in much that I have been studying, hearing and reading about. Whether it was from a book called “Future Grace” by John Piper, listening to sermons by Pastor Matt Chandler, or watching a Christian Conference from the US, it seems like everyone is talking about this common idea.

It’s a good thing too because the Bible talks a lot about it as well! So these guys must be on to something. What is so important that all these different people and groups are saying the same thing? Well, it’s Jesus of course! But not just Jesus, the guy who heals, helps, saves and forgives. It’s more about Jesus than about what He does for us, even though the things He does for us are pretty stinking amazing too.

This week I wanted to share some thoughts based on a lot of stuff I have been studying about how we view Jesus. It has greatly helped me and I hope it will help you too.

The thing we need to realize about Jesus is He is more than just what He did or does for us on a daily basis. Yes, Jesus forgives you of your sins past, present and future. Yes, He allowed you into heaven even when you deserved hell. Yes, He took the punishment on His perfect back for you. Let us never forget these things!

But let us also not forget that our love and our faith in Him is not merely based on what He did but more so on who He is. That is why I titled this message “Jesus is Better Than…” My goal and hope is that you can see that Jesus is better and to be more desired that anything in this universe. In two weeks I will talk about why Jesus should be desired more than anything else, but this week let’s look at what happens when we desire Jesus more than anything else.

First, it helps us battle sin. Psalm 119:9-10 says “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.” You see that if we are to keep our lives pure and free from sin we must live according to God’s Word. But how can we do that? By seeking Him with all our heart.

Sin is a lie. It promises satisfaction and fulfillment but never comes through. So when we sin we are basically claiming that the promise of the sin is greater than the promise of God. It’s the same trick Satan used on Eve in Genesis 3. Satan put temptation and doubt in Eve’s head completely contradictory to what God had said. That’s what sin does. It causes us to either believe that God is enough or that this sin will bring us joy.

That’s why realizing that Jesus is better than anything else will help combat sin. When we truly know and believe that Jesus is better than jealousy, pride, arrogance, selfishness, or any other sin we struggle with, we stop following that sin’s lie and it loses power over us.

Do you have some sinful habit you just can’t seem to shake? What lie are you believing about that sin? Repent and realize that Jesus is greater and more desirable than whatever that sin falsely promises. Realize that your true joy and hope comes from God alone and that by trusting in any counterfeit joy you will only be let down in the end.

Second, it’s brings purpose and passion to your life. Ecclesiastes 12:13 says “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” You see, when you aren’t living with the right meaning and purpose in life it brings emptiness and despair.

But foolishly, we keep trying to find our purpose and joy in life in other things. Watch TV and every advertisement is an ode to how great you are or how great you could be by using that product. The world tells us to pursue what is focused on us but forgets to mention that that path leads straight to emptiness and eventually hell (Matthew 7:13).

This isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, people trying to find their purpose in anything but God has been happening since Creation! However, one of the best examples of this type of living can be found in the life of Solomon. You can read his story of his various pursuits in the book of Ecclesiastes.

Basically Solomon had or pursued anything and everything that our world falsely promises to provide joy. You want power? Solomon had more. You want wisdom? Solomon was the wisest in the world. You want women? Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines. You want money? Solomon had a massive palace with tons of gold. You want friends and approval? Solomon had massive parties with tons of people.

But after Solomon mentions each of these things he makes an interesting statement. He says that each is “vanity and a chasing after the wind.” These are the things you are wrongfully pursuing in hopes of finding joy. Solomon had them and saw that they don’t fulfill. That is why he made that statement in Ecclesiastes 12:13. Only Jesus gives your life true purpose, passion and joy.

Why do so many rich and powerful seem so sad? Because they have what you hope will bring joy but they still don’t have joy. You at least have hope because you don’t have it yet, but these people have it and still feel empty. We see the rich, the famous, the popular all commit suicide or talk about wanting more. Why? Because they have put their purpose in a lie.

Only putting your faith and hope in Jesus can give your life passion, purpose and joy. Everything else will promise much but deliver little. That is why my challenge for each of you is to remember than Jesus is better than (insert anything here). He is better than money. Better than power and fame. Better than friends and popularity. He’s better than life!

Again, in two weeks I will tell you why that is. But this week just stop and contemplate what it would mean for your life if you truly believed and lived as if Jesus was better than anything else. May we see that Jesus is better than anything and everything and may that set us free from sin and give our lives true passion, purpose and joy.

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.

Mind Your Mind

I wanted to share some quick thoughts about an area of our lives we disregard quite foolishly most of the time: our minds. I say that we disregard our mind because we do very little in our daily lives to guard it from the attacks of Satan.

It is like we are at war. Our mind in the headquarters where all the important directives are sent out from. If the enemy knows the location of our stronghold he will stop at nothing to destroy it. So in war, the headquarters is well guarded and protected from the enemy. Satan is our enemy and he knows the location of our headquarters. He knows our weak spots and how to attack and how to exploit them.

So if the enemy knows where to attack, shouldn’t we be prepared and have extra defense at that location? Here is our problem and this is why I say we disregard our minds. We basically allow Satan a free pass to tempt us. Sometimes, we even bring the temptation upon ourselves.

I want to suggest two fairly easy and practical ways in which you can guard your mind. If you are struggling with any particular sin, (and we all are), I believe this is often where that temptation first takes root. So hopefully these suggestions will help, with the guidance and grace of the Holy Spirit, combat sin struggles in your life.

The first is guard what comes into your mind. The White House does not just allow anyone to walk in and talk with the President. They tightly guard and control who enters so that the President remains safe. We can do the exact same thing with our minds. Psalm 101:3 says “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.”

I had a basketball coach in college who always told us to guard our “eargates and eyegates.” I always thought it was a strange thing to say, but as I have grown and matured I now see the incredible advise in these words. What we allow into our eyes and ears directly affects our mind. So if I am listening to music that degrades women and watching movies that show improper relationships then my mind will start to fall for the temptation and sin of lust. If I listen to people always being rude and watch TV shows where rudeness is celebrated then I will most likely treat others poorly.

We are foolish to think that what we watch and listen to on a daily basis does not directly affect our sin struggles. It is most likely that whatever sin you are struggling with can be traced back to what you are allowing into your “eargates and eyegates.”

So my first suggestion is to guard these valuable gates to your mind. Don’t watch movies that put bad thoughts in your head. Don’t listen to music with constant negative overtones. Don’t always hang around people who are rude, condescending or mean. Don’t watch shows which portray selfishness as freedom, (which is pretty much everything shown on American television these days). Figure out what sin you struggle with, (that shouldn’t be too hard, you probably already know what sin you struggle with but if not ask a close friend), and try to figure out what things cause that sin to be more difficult to fight. My guess is it will relate to what you are letting in your ears or eyes. So guard your gates!

Second, allow the right things in. While the White House doesn’t allow everyone in, they do allow the right people in. We cannot just try to block out everything, but rather allow the right things into our minds. Philippians 4:8 says “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Instead of filling your mind with garbage, (TV, movies, negative people and music), why not fill your mind with what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable and excellent? If we put garbage in, garbage will come out. If we put excellent in then excellent will come out. Fill your mind with good things.

What are these good things? Read your Bible. Memorize verses. Listen to Christian music. Hang around uplifting and encouraging people. I can tell the difference in my attitude when I have been listening to secular music and when I have been listening to Christian music. Secular music focuses on self, Christian music focuses on God. So when I only listen to secular music I tend to focus more on myself, (selfishness), but when I listen to Christian music I tend to focus more on God. Psalm 119:9 teaches us “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word.”

You can never put too much Bible or God in your brain. He is inexhaustible. The more you learn and grow the more you want. And as we fill our brains with the things of God our lives are transformed. Romans 12:2 says “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” As we dwell on the things of God, our mind is transformed and we are actually able to discern God’s will. That is amazing!

I hope these two quick, practical steps will help you as you learn to guard a valuable place at the front of our spiritual warfare. May we not be so foolish as to think we need not protect our headquarters. Instead, may we build in practices of keeping the temptations out and allowing the heavenly in. May we stop feeling helpless in our fight against sin, and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, fight the battle of our minds so that what we take in and what comes out may glorify our Father who is in Heaven.

You are Forgiven

I think it is vital that we understand that as a Christian we are forgiven. So many of us get caught up in moralism and trying to be a good person. This is not the Gospel message. Becoming more Christlike through lifelong sanctification is, but moralism and the pursuit of moral perfection is the lie of every other world religion.

As Christians, we do want to become more Christlike in our daily walk, but we also recognize that we fall short time and time again. I am not perfect and often find myself feeling guilt or shame that I am not as good as I think I should be. But the Apostle John’s words in 1 John 1:8-10 shine light into the darkness we often put ourselves in.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10).

So today I want to look how these 3 verses can dramatically shape the life of a Christian and can hopefully bring the non-Christian to a place of repentance and forgiveness.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” ( 1 John 1:8). The first step towards forgiveness is admitting fault. You must realize that you have sin and then admit and confess it to God. Now God already knows what you have done, said or thought, so why the need to confess?

Confession is a humbling act and makes us realize our fragile nature. When we confess that we have done something wrong, (sinned), we are laying down our pride and asking for God’s help. God’s forgiveness can wipe clean any and all evil we have committed. God can forgive our daily moral failures, (the things we shouldn’t do but did and the things we should do but didn’t do).

The problem is most of us “deceive ourselves.” We feel no need to confess wrongdoing to God. We feel that each person is free to make their own moral decisions and that truth is a subjective thing. This attitude only shows that “the truth is not in us.” If you feel you have nothing you need to confess and be forgiven of by God then you sadly do not know the truth. If you are unsure of what you need forgiveness for than pray and ask God that He would show you your sins against Him.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). Second, we see here that when we do confess our sins that God is faithful to forgive. Notice there is no description of the degree of sin. That’s because in God’s eyes all sin is equally evil. God does not say He will forgive a lie but not murder. He doesn’t say He will forgive arrogance but not selfishness. You see that every sin, whether it is something you did, said or thought, will be forgiven.

This massive truth is important to grasp. When I look back at my past I see so much selfishness, arrogance, worldliness and many other sins. I see things I did, said and thought that are wrong and sinful. I see things I didn’t do, say or think that I should have. I see moral mistake after moral mistake. And then this causes guilt and shame because I realize I am not as good as I think I should be.

But, that is what makes the Gospel and this verse in particular so amazing. God has forgiven each of those sins I have committed. I have no need to feel any guilt or shame for my mistakes and moral failings. Now I don’t want this to take away from the seriousness of our sin. The amazing truth is that I am forgiven and cleansed from such a great evil.

“If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10). But again many of us will look back on our lives and not see sin. I often hear people say they don’t regret anything in their past, that each thing that occurred was a new experience and helped their overall growth as a person. What a lie from the devil! I don’t regret hard times or when trial came my way because it did help me grow, but I do regret each and every foolish word or deed I did that dishonored God. How arrogant we must be to try and condone our sin or use it as some platform for moral improvement!

Rather, I hope we can all look back and find things in our lives that we do truly regret. That we know we shouldn’t have done, said or thought. And may we see those things as sin and confess them to God for we know that He will truly forgive us and we can be set free from any guilt or shame we may have.

So Christians, stop acting like you have no sin. Confess your sins to God. And not just the obvious ones. Confess your wrong motives, your selfish ambitions and bad thoughts as well as the more blatant sins you commit. If you don’t know which of the harder to see sins, (jealousy, idolatry, selfishness, pride, doubt, fear), you are struggling with, then ask God to reveal them to you so that you can confess them and be forgiven and cleansed. Daily confess your sins to God and be set free.

Non-Christians, you need to realize that your life is sinful. You are not as good as you pretend to be. Moral truth is not subjective. You have made mistakes and need to be forgiven. Confess your sins to God. Turn to Him who alone can cleanse you and set you free from your sins. Your good deeds will never outweigh your bad. You can never make up for your past wrongs. Rather, you must be forgiven of them and that comes only through the precious blood of Christ. Turn to God, confess and He is faithful to forgive.

May we all realize our need to be forgiven and then go to Jesus, the only place where true forgiveness can be offered. May we stop living with guilt or shame because of our past deeds or because we aren’t as good as we think we should be. May we stop lying to ourselves that we don’t have sin or moral failings. May we stop believing the lie of moral subjectivity and instead believe the truth of Jesus. My hope and prayer is that we would all turn to Jesus and be forgiven.

My Work or Jesus’?

This week I am going to deal with an idea that is mainly discussed in Christian circles. But next week I am going to start a series about some very basic, logic based proofs for Christianity. Hopefully both will be helpful no matter what situation you are in.

I remember my favorite verse in high school was James 1:12. “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” The thing I loved most about the verse was the idea that I would need to overcome some difficulty in order to be rewarded.

This idea taps into my maleness or “hero complex” as some have called it. Most men love to be the hero so any chance they have to overcome some adversity in order to reach a final goal or prize is always loved. Look at movies men love: Rudy, Hoosiers, Batman, James Bond, Mission Impossible, Star Wars, etc… Each movie has a hero, (or team), that is faced with a very difficult situation and by overcoming that difficulty they receive a prize, (saving the universe, getting the girl, winning the championship).

We love when our work earns us a prize. But is the overcoming spoken of in James 1:12 really my work? How can I reconcile a verse like James 1:12 with Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” How can I stand the test and receive a prize if it is not based on my work? Am I the one earning or is it a gift of God? These are tough questions and many great scholars have argued over this for years. What I want to look at is how these verses can be viewed in accord with each other rather than at odds.

To do this, we first must recognize that these are not necessarily two completely opposite arguments. God’s work for us and our work in sanctification are not mutually exclusive events. They are two things that work together to help us produce fruit or to remain steadfast under trial.

We commonly make two errors. First, many of us put too much emphasis on our work and neglect God’s work in us. This leads to a devaluing of Christ’s sacrifice for us as well as a lack of proper respect of God’s sovereignty. Romans 5:8 says “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It is Christ’s work that set us free from our sin.

Second, many of us solely focus on Christ’s work and neglect our own part in our standing steadfastly. This often can lead to stagnation or complacency, (the idea that I don’t need to work at it cause God will change me when He wants), as well as a lack of disgust with sin and our responsibility of sin. James 2:26 says “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” There is a work that is done by us as well in response to faith.

Rather then leaning too far on either side, we must see how the two ideas work together in harmony. Now there is part of this that remains a mystery, (how the sovereignty of God and man’s free will work together completely will only be fully understood in eternity), but I believe a healthy view of the two will allow us to see sanctification in a new light.

First, we must recognize that the actual act of salvation is by grace alone. God saves us. We are completely unable to respond to God until He has opened out eyes to His amazing truth. Romans 8:30 starts like this: “And those whom He predestined he also called.” You see that God’s choosing us happens before His calling us. Thus, we cannot answer God’s call until He has chosen to call us. Then we can act in response.

Second, once we have been saved by grace alone through faith alone we are given The Helper. This again, is God’s work in us, but this allows our work to soon begin. The Holy Spirit is given to those whom God calls and teaches, grows and helps us know God more. Romans 8:26 says “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Paul uses an example from prayer to illustrate that we don’t work without God’s help.

Finally, our part comes in. Now that God has saved us through grace and has given His Spirit to help us grow, we are able to do, act and grow like never before. This is why you hear stories of people who tried to quit smoking but couldn’t until they met Christ. These are people who were alcoholics and couldn’t quit until they met Christ.

Once Christ comes and makes us new (John 3:3), our work begins and coincides with His. God is working in us through the Holy Spirit and now we are able to work alongside God in our sanctification. Now we are able to stand steadfast in the face of trial. Now we are able to have works that reflect our new life in Christ.

But remember that it is God who acts first. Christ sets you free. The Holy Spirit instructs, convicts and grows us, and then you respond in kind. This way, God gets the glory so that none of us may boast before God.

I hope this short treatise on a big idea can be helpful. I know there is much more that can be said about this topic but for today’s discussion I hope the above will suffice. I do feel it is vital we get the order right so that we may give glory to God for what He has done for and in us rather than boasting in ourselves. But I also help that we will realize that as the Holy Spirit convicts and instructs we must act and grow as well. May we understand that our God saves us and that He provides the help needed in order for us to do the work He has called us to do.

Majesty

Looking back over the last few weeks I realized that I have been too “us” focused and not enough “God” focused. I think it is often easier to talk about “us” because it has to do specifically with “us”. It’s easier to see, feels more practical and seems to be a great need because it pertains to each and every one of us.

And while talking about us is important, (people need to realize our part in sanctification as well as our sin problem), the things we usually discuss tend to focus on the temporal rather than the eternal. Any subject pertaining to sin, while very important because God hates sin, only relates to this life because there is no sin in eternity. Any area where we are disappointed, angry, upset or tempted only relates to this life because eternal life has no such things.

So this week I wanted to rectify this mistake, (and hopefully continue to do so ongoing), and get the focus back on God. In order to do that, I wanted to take a quick look at the majesty of God and give three quick reasons that we should daily be in awe of Him. And while there are 10,000 reasons to daily be in awe of God, I felt these big three are often overlooked even though they are so massive and weighty.

The first massive, awe-inspiring fact about God is His eternal existence. Genesis 1:1 starts like this: “In the beginning, God…” That right there should be enough for us to stop, fall on our knees and praise Him. God has existed for all time and will exist for all time. He has no beginning or end. Nothing made Him and nothing can destroy Him. He is not bound by time, but rather, He is the author and perfecter of time.

He also doesn’t change while being eternally present. Malachi 3:6 tells us “For I the Lord do not change.” God doesn’t need to improve, He’s already completely perfect. He doesn’t fade or get worse with time. He doesn’t learn. He doesn’t forget. Any time in the Bible that mentions God “relenting”, “changing” or even “forgetting” only applies to His relational attributes towards us, but not His being or presence. God speaks of forgetting our sins, (Hebrews 8:12) but it is in the context of His great forgiveness that He doesn’t count our sins against us rather than Him actually being unable to recall our sins to His mind. God can’t forget because He cannot change because He is perfection and perfection need not change. We worship a mighty God who eternally exists with no beginning or end and with no need to change.

Secondly, God speaks and it happens. Back to Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Also Genesis 1:3 says “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” God created everything we see before us. And it’s not like He had to exert a great effort to do so. God speaks, stuff happens. Just by His spoken word light entered the universe. Man speaks and he can barely get a dog to sit or stay. God creates everything by a spoken word. We typically create through much toil and difficulty.

Just imagine how immensely powerful and awesome our God is! Be in awe of His eternal existence but also of His unimaginable power. He’s not like Harry Potter who can say some spells or use a magic wand. His power is far beyond anything our minds can even imagine. He speaks or even just thinks it and it happens. Nothing can stop His power and decrees nor should we wish them to be stopped because they are always good and perfect. His power should cause our minds to be put to folly and our hearts to be filled with praise.

Which is what makes the third point even more amazing. God is infinitely powerful. God is eternally present. Yet, for some reason beyond our comprehension, He stoops down to live and die for you and me. Isaiah 40:17-18 tells us “All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with Him?” I would say that God is like a human and we are like ants to Him but that doesn’t even give the comparison justice. All we can say is God is awesomely powerful and great and compared to Him we are nothing. Actually, less than nothing.

Yet, He saves us. He came and died on a cross so that we might know Him. He didn’t just teach us or force us to change our minds, He came down and showed His great love for us. And all the while we treated Him as our enemy. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:10). We were enemies and less than nothing in comparison with Him, but He still came to save. He still desires to be in relationship with us. He loves us even when we love everything but Him. He is faithful when we are faithless.

Wow. That type of majesty should cause each of us to praise and worship Him more. So maybe you have grown cold. Maybe you once sought God with a passion but busyness or the cares of life have choked out your joy. Then remind yourself of who God is and what He did for you. Or maybe you don’t know God. You don’t even think He exists. Then look closer at who He claims to be and see that He truly exists, creates and loves in spite of our weaknesses. May we daily dwell on who God is and what He has done for us. May His amazing greatness and His amazing love fill our hearts with praise. And may we not walk in apathy or feel distant from God any longer, but rather look at his majesty and and worship His Great Name.

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)

Numb

It goes by many names. Jaded, cold, complacent, hollow, empty, calloused and distant. But my favorite term to describe this phenomena is numb. What I mean is that feeling you have when you don’t really have any feelings towards God. You are just kind of existing. Sure you remember that passion you once had for the Lord, but somewhere along the way it slowed and turned into what you are currently feeling.

It happens to us all at some point in our Christian walk. Some of us it may happen only once but for most of us average folk we find ourselves in this numb state over and over again. What does God have to say about us being numb towards him? Nothing good. “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:16). “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1). “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27).

And while each of the verses above cover a different aspect, (being lukewarm, doing acts without love, being a hypocrite, focusing on outward appearances with wrong motivations), each can find their root in a numbness towards God. So I believe that being numb towards God is a very dangerous thing. But it still happens to us all! So what should we do about it? I’d like to discuss four things that help me when I am struggling with numbness towards God.

The first thing I find helpful is to repent. I find that I often feel numb or distant from God not because HE isn’t there but rather because I am living in unconfessed sin. But 1 John 1:9 tells us “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” What an amazing truth! But rather than go to God when we sin we have a tendency to run from God because we have sinned. Satan fools us into thinking we can only come to God when we have it all together, so when we don’t, (which is often because we are all sinful), we find ourselves praying less and not confessing sin. The longer this process goes on of living in sin without confession and repentance, the more numb you will start to feel. So if you find yourself feeling numb or cold towards God today, is their some sin you need to confess? Try going to the Lord rather than running from Him.

Second, we need to be with other believers. Just like we tend to run from God instead of to Him when we sin, we often do the same with our brothers and sisters. Instead of going to our community of faith and asking for prayer and help we instead keep our distance because we somehow don’t feel worthy to be there unless we have our act straight. While this is commonly found amongst Christians today it is completely unbiblical. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

This looks different for each of us. Maybe some of you have a great small group where you can go when you are struggling with sin or feeling distant from God. Maybe it’s even your entire Church you can go before and they will lovingly encourage and restore you. For me, I have a few guys in my life I can email or talk with. Anytime I am feeling stuck in sin or distant from God I can share with them. They in turn pray and encourage me through those times. Oh what a blessing Christian community truly is! If you are feeling numb, go and spend time with other believers that we may mutually encourage one another in those numb seasons.

The third thing I have found helpful when I am feeling numb is worship and praise. Psalm 100:1 says “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!” A very key word there is “joyful.” It doesn’t say make a begrudgingly forced noise to the Lord. When we worship and praise our Creator it forces us to be joyful because we realize how amazing He is! This can often go together with appreciating his creation. Go to a majestic spot and listen/sing worship to God. Praising God with our mouth, viewing His splendor through creation with our eyes and hearing music given to us from His hand often will help jolt you out of that numb feeling.

The final thing I like to do is to read a book by a Christian author. I especially like to read autobiographies. This is the same as reading the Psalms. I am currently reading “Confessions” by St. Augustine. To hear his raw emotion and his struggles laid bare help me to realize I am not alone. To read through the Psalms and see David say things like “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1). To read that these great men of the faith even had struggles and times of numbness helps me realize that I am not alone. Read from other Christians and see how they struggled and how God faithfully brought them through.

So if you are struggling with feeling numb towards God, I hope these four things will help you. Confess your sin and repent. Go and be with other believers. Praise and worship God for He is great and worthy to be praised. And read from others who have shared similar struggles. My prayer is that can all overcome this numb time we may be having through God’s grace and help. May we turn to Him to restore our passion. If you have any other ways that help people regain their passion after God, feel free to post them below. I’d love to hear what others have to say!