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.

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.

Kids Wearing Daddies Clothes

I think at some point every kid does it. They sneak into Mom and Dad’s room and try on all of their clothes. Then they run out to show their parents how amazing they look. Mom and Dad take some pictures, post it on Facebook and everyone comments how cute they look. And when a 4-year-old does it it is cute.

Not so cute when someone much older does it. In fact it’s not cute at all, it’s just sad. The truth is, there are many old people playing this game right now. They are wearing “grown-up” clothes but the truth is they are still children. You see, it is not age, marital status, a good job, money or having children that makes you an adult. It’s maturity. I know people younger than I who are definitely grown-up and I know people older than I that are still just big children.

The problem is our culture dictates what we consider to be grown up. So you are 18 or 21 and now, according to the law, you are an adult. Yet, most 18-21-year-old’s don’t really act mature like an adult. Sadly, many of these same kids continue to be kids in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s because they have decided that lifestyle is somehow mature. Beer commercials do a great job of trying to get us to buy into the drink their beer and act like an idiot and you will be a mature, accepted and cool adult.

Again, this is not what maturity is. Maturity is rather a heart condition. It has to do with your relationship to God, not to the world or it’s possessions. And that is why I want to look at three verses today that describe maturity to us so that we can leave behind foolish worldly maturity and seek after true maturity.

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Now this doesn’t mean you can’t be an adult and still have fun. That is what some cultures do and it is wreaking havoc, (many Asian cultures try to convince people that adults must be serious all the time and the result is very extreme and dangerous ways of expressing themselves through various sinful activities). You can be mature and still fun. Rather, it means giving up immature and foolish sins because you have grown-up.

For example, many high school student’s think it is cool to curse. Saying bad words is the cool thing to do at that age. But that is childish. It is sad when you hear a 40-year-old drop five F-bombs in a sentence and try to sound like he is 15 again. Many high school student’s just want to hook up and find as many girls or boys as they can. Again, this is childish immaturity, but we sadly see many so-called adults who do the same. These people still speak, think and reason like children even though their age has grown.

Rather, we must repent of these follies and leave them behind. We need to grow to desire our Lord more than childish, fleeting pleasures. We must reject what the world tells us to do for acceptance and instead seek after Him who accepts us as we are. So my first challenge is that we would all repent of any childish behavior we are currently doing and instead seek to live a mature life that represents our true growth in Christ.

“I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not ready” (1 Corinthians 3:2). Many kids pretending to be mature have this issue. They don’t take time to study, learn and grow. People graduate from college and are glad they never have to study again. The problem with this attitude is that it stunt’s your growth and you remain a big, immature kid rather than moving on to maturity.

Rather, if we are to mature as Christians but even just as people, we need to feed ourselves with solid food rather than milk. Instead of wasting our times watching TV why don’t we dive into the Bible? Instead of always talking with our friends about money, work and football why don’t we try to speak and discuss about the more weighty, heavenly things?

My challenge is that we could humble ourselves and to become students as we become teachers. That we would redeem our free time with solid food and more life-giving subjects rather than the milk of movies and TV that our culture uses to keep us numb and immature. That we would grow instead of what happened to these people: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.” (Hebrews 5:12-13).

“So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” (Ephesians 4:14-15). We need to be more solidly grounded in God. Grounded in God, not yourself! The lie culture tells us about maturity is that we need to become self-sufficient, completely able to take care of and deal with all of our problems ourselves.

The problem is we cannot possibly do what culture demands of us. We can’t take care of ourselves, we can’t be the lone ranger and we most certainly cannot save ourselves from our sin. If we could overcome our sin problems ourselves we wouldn’t need Jesus. But you and I can’t. I guarantee there is at least one sin that no matter how hard you try, it keeps coming back (If you claim there isn’t then I already know which sin it is that you struggle with). You can’t deal with this yourself. You can’t overcome. Not something the media would ever try to make a movie out of. But it is true. Only God can do it.

When we are not standing firm on Jesus or building our life upon Him, (Matthew 7:24-27), we tend to be thrown into confusion, doubt and anxiety a lot easier. We are tricked into believing whatever new doctrine comes out as long as the speaker is able to present it charismatically. Remember there will be many wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15), and thus we need to be mature in our faith so we will not be “tossed to and fro.”

My final challenge to us is that we would put our trust in God, not ourselves. That we would stand firm on Jesus as our Lord and that we would not be so easily deceived by new doctrine that is only lies of culture, (“The Secret” is a great example of lies that can sway those not growing with Christ).

So I hope that we can all grow up. We can stop pretending that we are mature and humble ourselves before God, repent and allow Him to truly help us mature. May we stop living in childish habits but instead grow into a mature life. May we stop living off of the food of infants and grow into mature people who need solid food. And may we not be tricked into the deceptions our culture proclaims to us daily, but instead be solidly founded in our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Divine Act of Self-Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shocked no, Disgusted yes

This week I had a situation happen to me that showed just how far off our view of sin is. Maybe some of you share the same skewed perception. My friends and I were traveling and we paid someone to get us some food. To make a long story short, the lady lied to us repeatedly, was extremely rude and ended up cheating us out of some money.

Now when this occurred many of the friends I was with were shocked at this person’s behavior. They thought, “how could someone treat another human being like this just for money?” I, however, was not so shocked because, based on my understanding of scripture, this is not really a shocking thing.

We are told throughout scripture that all people are fallen, sinful and completely evil, (Romans 3:10 and 23). Also, we are told that people will naturally hate us because we are different. “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” (1 John 3:13). And while I don’t think these particular people were treating us badly because we were Christians, (I think they were just greedy), the point still stands that sinful people with treat others badly.

And that is what I want us to see first this week. We should not be so shocked when we see evil. When someone treats us poorly or unfairly we should not be surprised. In fact, we should be more surprised when people actually treat us nicely. The truth is, there are many people who are not living for Jesus. “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:19). And while there is some common decency based on culture, when you get right down to it most people are mainly concerned with their own benefit. Thus, you should not be surprised when someone tries to take advantage of you for their own gain.

Sin shouldn’t shock us but it definitely should disgust us. And this leads to our second issue with sin. We all are not disgusted enough by sin. Yes those really gross sins you are, (genocide, abortion, rape, etc…), but not your own sins. We seem to condone or excuse our own sins but are never really disgusted by them. And this is exactly why we continue in our same sinful pattern for years.

Instead, we need to view sin like God does. “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” (Psalm 5:4-6). God is absolutely disgusted by all sin. He hates it and abhors it completely. We, on the other hand, seem to be off put by others sins and often apathetic about our own. We most definitely do not see sin the way God does.

And so my hope this week is to reverse that idea. Instead of being so shocked when others sin against us and then condoning our own sin I want us to be disgusted with our own sin and not be so surprised when others sin against us. So there are two things I think that can help us start to see sin the way God does.

First is prayer and study. I think for us to have eyes like Jesus we need to ask. Jesus tells us “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7). Instead of praying for health or a more comfortable life, why don’t you pray for something that can have a greater impact. Pray for conviction and to see sin as God does. With that you also need to study. The Bible is full of stories about sin and what God thinks about it, (read the story of the Israelites in the Old Testament to see what I mean). The combination of study and prayer opens our eyes to see sin more clearly.

Secondly, you need to stop comparing yourself with others and start comparing yourself with Jesus. It is so easy to be shocked by others sins yet lack a disgust for your own when you always compare yourself to other evil, sinful people. I can always compare my sins with someone worse than me or someone who struggles with a sin I don’t. And every time I do it makes me seem like some great person, (which leads to a lack of disgust about my own sin) and them seem like some evil, God-hating person, (which leads to my shock).

Rather, compare your life and sin to the life of Jesus. In every possible way, Jesus is a better person than each of us. His worsts are still better than our bests. When you start comparing yourself to Jesus you realize you are more disgusting and evil than you originally thought. Also, you start to see the sin done against him and the pain he endured and you are less shocked when sinful people treat sinful you in a sinful way.

So may we stop being so shocked when people sin against us. May we understand that we all are evil, fall short and need Jesus’ forgiveness and grace to help us. May we stop being ok with our sins and instead be as disgusted with them as God is. And may we stop comparing ourselves to others in order to condone our sinful behavior but instead compare ourselves to the only perfect One to ever walk this planet. Lord give us new eyes!

Forgive or Else…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Surface are you?

Please note two new links I have added to the side of the page. Both are named Secret Church. One is in Chinese and one in English. Both have great teaching on many different aspects of the Christian faith.

So today while I was doing my daily devotion time, I read a well known Christian story. If you haven’t been around Church that long I will give you a little background of the story first. When Jesus came to earth he often spoke in parables. These are story’s that use earthly terminology to describe something heavenly. Commonly, Jesus would use terms from farming or fishing, common jobs at the time, to allow people to understand an important heavenly truth. But Jesus also spoke this way so that only the elect could truly understand their meaning, (Matthew 13:10-17). So it was very common for Jesus to speak this way, and it was also common that many people wouldn’t understand, (again, Jesus did this knowing that they would not grasp the heavenly implications).

So the parable I read today is called the parable of the sower and goes like this:

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” Matthew 13:1-9

Now after reading this parable some of you know exactly what each of the four surfaces mean. Again, if you aren’t really sure what each means go to Matthew 13:18-23 and read Jesus’ explanation of the four different soils. My purpose today is not to try and explain the parable. Jesus has already done that and I can not do better at explaining something that God has already explained. Rather, my goal today is for us to take a deeper look at ourselves and try to see which path we may find ourselves on.

I say this because I believe every person, (Christian and non-Christian alike), who reads the above parable assumes they are the good soil. We all assume we are on the right track. While most people will say they aren’t perfect, few will admit they aren’t even good. So my challenge to each of us today is to really examine ourselves. For non-Christians this means looking deeply at whether or not you truly believe you are “good” enough on your own, or if you are in need of a savior. And for Christians, this means examining whether or not you truly know Christ. Paul says “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?-unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (1 Corinthians 13:5).

So let’s examine the 3 other types of surfaces and see whether or not you pass the test. The first type Jesus describes is those who have heard, but don’t really understand and so they just don’t try to understand. To me, these people sound arrogant and prideful. It seems as though, because something is difficult for them, they excuse it as rubbish rather than admitting they might not have all the answers. Instead of seeking after truth, they leave it alone and go on with their everyday, self-indulgent life.

Is that you? Are you someone who has never even really given Jesus a chance? Maybe someone told you about Jesus and you scoffed at them because you feel like Christianity, the Bible and Jesus don’t match up with modern science and your own intellect. Or maybe you were interested but couldn’t understand, so instead you went back to something easy to grasp. Or maybe the idea that ultimate truth does exist and can be known scares you, so you have avoided seeking the meaning of life in exchange for self-exaltation.

Or possibly you relate to those on the second surface. These people receive the Gospel message with joy. They look “born-again” and people all around start to see amazing evidence of it. But inside they know they were never born again. This second group sounds like selfishness is their sin. They like Jesus for His forgiveness, but choose not to read any part where He says we will suffer. They chose Jesus because He makes them happy and provides hope and joy for them now. But as soon as their life is anything but comfortable and easy they curse God or ask why He has abandoned them.

Is that you? Did you choose Jesus just as a “get out of hell free card?” Did you choose Him because you think He will make your life comfortable and smooth? Are you hoping that He will bless you with all you want and need? Are you willing to listen and suffer with Jesus or only choose Him as long as it benefits yourself?

The third group of people are those who have heard of Jesus, but have decided that the pleasures of this world are far greater than what Jesus can offer. These people tend to struggle with materialism and covetousness. They find their worth in their possessions, their pleasures and most likely, their money. They can’t understand verses like Matthew 13:44-46. Jesus promises heaven, but He says we have to give, suffer and sacrifice on earth. These people would much rather get, party and seek pleasure than anything else.

Is that you? Are you so focused on seeking pleasure, (money, possessions, sex, comfort, etc…), that you care little for anything else? Have you decided the pleasures of here and now are better than those offered after death? Does the idea of giving all you own to the poor terrify you?

In all honesty, we really probably relate to all three types of soil. Sometimes I struggle with my pride, other times my selfishness and still other times with materialism. How could I be the good soil? Well thanks be to God that I am not meant to be good soil on my own. Only through the cross can I possibly overcome these temptations to sin and instead produce “hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Christ has made me into the good soil.

Non-Christians, my prayer is that you will realize that no matter how hard you work or how much you try you can never be the good soil. It is like a patch of dirt becoming a garden. The dirt can’t cause this to happen on its own, but rather needs a farmer to come and work the ground, plant the seeds and care for it. May you see that Jesus has come and has offered to do this with your life.

Christians, may we test ourselves. May we not grow comfortable thinking we are the good soil when pride, temptation and future suffering are waiting for us. May we realize that each soil represents our life and that for us, we must cry out to Jesus. May we humbly run to Him who made us good and continue to cling to Him forever.

Opening Our Eyes

So after another two week hiatus I’m back. Vacation is nice, but it also kind of gets me off schedule and undisciplined. Hopefully being back at work and on a regular schedule will help me be more disciplined about this blog and about my own spiritual walk as well. Which leads me to a verse I read today as I was doing my devotions this morning. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18).

The verse struck me for a few reasons today and hopefully it will strike you as well. The first thing I noticed was the first part of the verse which says “Open my eyes.” Now if you think about it, this is a strange thing to say. The act of opening eyes is a personal one. When I wake up in the morning, my wife does not need to force my eyes open in order for me to see for the day. But rather I manage to it by myself. So I found it interesting that the Psalmist would make a request that his eyes be opened.

And in these three simple words I think we find a profound Biblical truth. The opening of our eyes, (or in this sense, the ability to see and feel as God does, or to understand God and His ways more), is something we cannot hope to do ourselves. This is not something modern ears likes to hear. We have been taught that we can do anything through hard word, dedication, education, teamwork or whatever other value your culture or society has emphasized.

However, the truth of this verse and of the entire Bible is that we are unable to save or help ourselves. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). The opening of our eyes is a passive act. Jesus does the work. This amazing truth, when truly understood, cannot only help you understand Christianity as it is meant to be, but can also help you better understand and overcome sin in your life.

The problem most of us have with our sin, (arrogance, lust, covetousness, jealousy, pride, anger, selfishness, greed, you name it), is that we feel like if we work hard at it and just persevere, we can overcome it on our own. This is not Biblical and not from Jesus. This is modern American culture creeping into the Church yet again. The truth about your sin is that you cannot overcome. You are not good enough or strong enough to be able to. Rather, you need to call out for help to the One who is wholly able to save, cleanse and overcome. Rather that put your chin up or grit your teeth and bare it, why not try to humbly fall down and cry out for help?

Which leads to the second part of the verse mentioned above. The Psalmist describes the Law of God as “wondrous.” Now when many look at the statues and laws God has set forth, “wondrous” is the last thing to come to mind. Harsh, cruel, strict, impossible, unfair, ancient, useless, and boring may be some that more readily come up, but rarely do people describe God’s Law as “wondrous.”

And again, this is because we have stained lenses through which we view God’s perfect law. It is not God’s law that is off, it’s us. God’s law is not out of date or repressive, rather we are rebellious and will look for any claim we can against perfection. However, there can be no claims made against perfection, so we start to manifest them based on our own failings rather than scriptural, perfect truth.

For example, maybe I read Matthew 5:44 which says “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and think to myself, “Self, there is no way you can or should follow this verse. I mean, just think of how badly your enemies have treated you. They are in the wrong, not you. To love and pray for them would be to overlook their offense.”

Now you may not have this exact train of thought, but I can imagine many of you have had something like it. We feel like our circumstance somehow makes us void from the Law of God. We think that if God really knew my situation He would understand my anger. He would be ok with it. Once we have this thought, we have decided we would rather keep our eyes closed with scales and view God’s Law through our lenses rather than try to view our life and situation through the perfect lens of God’s Law.

So my advise to all of us this week is to cry out for help. Stop trying to open your own eyes, but instead humbly throw yourself at the feet of Jesus and ask Him to help. Cry out that He would save you. Cry out that He would heal your wounds. Cry out that He would help you defeat some sin in your life. Then be amazed at how wondrous He truly is and at how wondrous His Law is. Open our eyes Lord Jesus.

Explainable Sins

This week I wanted to cover a plague that has been sweeping Christianity for the last few years. Jerry Bridges calls it “Respectable Sins” in his book with the same title, but here I will call it explainable sins. These are those sins that are hidden underneath the surface so they are not so easy to identify. They are sins that each of us knowingly have but also sins we seem to try and explain away.

Here’s the problem though, while we will admit we are a sinner and maybe have some of these sins, we do very little to make a change about it. If we struggle with something that is visible, like cussing for example, other people see it and so we do our best to make a change right away so the group will once again think we are good people. However, when pride is secretly swelling in our lives because we have stopped cussing no one says anything because this isn’t as visible, so we leave the pride untouched. I think it is important to note that pride got Satan kicked out of heaven, not cussing, (Isaiah 14:13-14).

The visible sins of adultery, theft, cussing, drinking alcohol, (even though it’s not a sin to drink but only to get drunk), doing drugs, lying and cheating are all under attack. We continue to chip away at these sins in our lives, and rightly so! If you are a stealing, lying, drunk you need Christ to transform your life! But the problem is most Christians stop here. We change some bad habits we had established before we were Christians and now think we have somehow arrived at mature Christianhood.

Sadly, this attitude was also shared by another group in Jesus’ time. The Pharisees: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” (Matthew 23:25-26). Christians, many of us have become the Pharisees of our day!

If you just read that and become a little mad or indignant, then this verse rings truer to you than maybe you want to believe. Christians, we read the Gospels and see how hard Jesus spoke to the Pharisees. Later, we pat on ourselves on the back and thank God we are not like them. Again, doesn’t that sound a lot like something a Pharisee would do? “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” (Luke 18:11). We have become the people Jesus spoke out against.

So after reading that I am basically calling you, me and most of modern day Christians Pharisees, you have two choices to how you will respond. First, you can act like the Pharisees in Jesus day and make some excuse to why I am wrong. “He’s only a kid and doesn’t know anything yet, he doesn’t know my life or circumstances, he’s only saying that about himself but not about me.” If those are your thoughts then close this website and go be the modern day Pharisee you were made to be.

However, there is also another response possible. “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). If this is your response then you are already breaking down the Pharisaic hold on your life. And it starts with humility. Peter commands in verse 38 that these men “repent.” True repentance can only occur once you have reached a state of humility that fully understands how worthless you are apart from Christ and his grace.

Once you have repented, you need to stop just pulling out bad habits, but actually get to the root of these sins. Maybe you steal because you covet and are jealous. Maybe you cuss and get drunk because Jesus is not enough pleasure for you or because you love attention. Maybe you cheat or lie because you are so prideful you think you have the right to do what you want. Whatever you struggle with, (and I know that you know), start to attack that root sin head on.

You do this through three primary ways. First, pray and ask God to forgive you for whatever sin you have been trying to respect or explain your whole life. Then ask for his help in changing you. A word of caution. Usually sin that is deeply rooted does not come out without some pain. Only pray this prayer if you are ready for God to “refine you with fire.” (Zechariah 13:9). And while it may cause difficulty and pain, the result will be more freedom to worship and glorify Jesus.

Secondly, you need to stay in the Word. You need to open your Bible and read what God says we should do. The Bible has some great practical advise on how to overcome many different sins. One such method is mentioned in Colossians 3 where Paul tells us to put off sin and put on Christ. So put off selfishness and put on generosity. Put off pride and put on humility. Doing the opposite of the sin you struggle with will help you move towards Christ.

Last, you need community. If you try to do this process alone you will get frustrated and saddened because sometimes you will fail. Drug addicts have relapses and sinners are no different. Satan will try to convince you that you can never overcome this sin. But if you have Godly people around you that you can be open and honest about through this process, you will start to see fruit. The biggest thing is that you must be open with each other. Pretending you have no sin or that you have easily already overcome some sin only will lead to relapse or new sin. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18).

So let us stop being the Pharisees of the 21st century and rather be the Christians this world so desperately needs. May we stop judging each others visible sins and rather love and encourage each other to overcome the explainable sins in our lives. And most of all, may we stay humble and realize that none of this can be done on our own, but only through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

Slow Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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