Severe Mercies

Matthew 19:16-30 tells the story of a rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life. When the man explains that he has faithfully kept all the commandments, Jesus tells him to sell his possessions, to give to the poor, and to follow him. Jesus sees that the young man’s desires for his riches are preventing him from following God wholeheartedly, and he asks the man to give those things up. After the young man leaves without any apparent change of heart, the disciples are astonished at the difficulty of following God, and they ask, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replies that “[w]ith man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” The disciples are right: no man can save himself, for the very things that prevent a man from following God are his own desires, his own nature, and his own sin.

As I think about this story, I realize that I am like the rich young man. The young man fails not because he is rich, but because he desires riches more than he desires following God. Despite growing up a Christian, I still have desires for things that compete against the supremacy of God in my life. God may not be asking me to sell my possessions and to give everything to the poor, but He may be asking me to give up other things that prevent me from following him wholeheartedly.

What I’ve come to see is that this is impossible for me to do. Given that there are already desires in my heart that match or even exceed my desire for God, I cannot turn myself toward Him, no matter how much I push myself by sheer strength of will. Just as it was impossible for the young man to give up his riches, so it is impossible for me to give up the desires that are closest to my heart.

Thankfully, with God all things are possible. How does God draw us to Himself? I cannot speak for the young man and his riches, but God has often allowed me to lose the things I desire most. Since I was unable to give them up, He has taken, is taking, and will continue to take those things away from me in order that I may desire Him more fully. This may seem harsh, but I’ll take my cue from C. S. Lewis and call it a “severe mercy.” God’s work of salvation is the expression of His love–a love so severe that it would allow me to lose everything, yet so merciful that I am able to gain Christ in return.

I don’t know what encouragement I can offer to my brothers and sisters who may be experiencing God’s severe mercies. What’s clear is that in surrendering ourselves to God, we are gaining much, much more than we are giving up. As Jesus says in Matthew 19:29,

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”

God alone is mighty to save and faithful to provide.

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More Than Enough

Once again, I am amazed by God’s faithful and continual pursuit of His people, this time through the book of Hosea.

Hosea 2 begins with a description of Israel’s infidelity to God. The Lord describes Israel’s actions as “harlotry”; she continues to pursue other “lovers,” not realizing that all blessings she receives are actually from her “first husband” (v. 7). Then God, in righteous jealousy, promises to unleash wrath and vengeance upon Israel (“I will hedge up her way with thorns”, “I will uncover Her lewdness/In the sight of her lovers”, “I will punish her for the days of the Baals”, etc.). Yet even though Israel deserves all these punishments, in the end He seeks to purify and restore her:

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Bring her into the wilderness
And speak kindly to her.
“Then I will give her her vineyards from there,
And the valley of Achor as a door of hope
And she will sing there as in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.”
– Hosea 2: 14-15

Why does God still desire Israel’s restoration after all the sin she has committed against Him? The answer is given in verses 19 and 20:

“I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice,
In lovingkindness and in compassion,
And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness.
Then you will know the LORD.”
– Hosea 2: 19-20

God wants Israel to once again taste the fruit of the greatest love of all; He wants her to “know the LORD.” Israel was engrossed in pursuing all those “lovers” because she thought they would satisfy her and bring her joy. She failed to see all that God had to offer her — most importantly, Himself!

Each day I chase after wind; I chase after vanity — but God, in His pursuit, reminds us of His divine and perfect love for us. He is more than enough.

Prayer Kid I

The other night I went to my old high school’s Cross Country Banquet. I was moved all over again by the dedication, the sweat, the tears, and the burning muscle so deceptively hiding beneath dresses and dress shirts and glowing faces. This much can be held true: those kids don’t run so that they can earn a few awards and get clapped for – that would not be enough to cover the pain, or sufficiently describe the victories made.

The common factor that united all those high school runners was their habit of faithfulness to their running. No matter what time of day, no matter how many times a day, no matter how long or how high that mountain trail drove them, they would take it on with dedication and resolve, and oftentimes joy even in the utmost suffering.

Looking at the Gospels, we see that Jesus dedicated himself to the fullest to his task as a humble servant on earth, redeemer and savior. He too lent himself to a habit of faithfulness – prayer.

In Mark 1:35, we see that,

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

It is only after this discipline that Jesus goes on to do his task of preaching and casting out demons.

At Urbana ’09 in St. Louis, I was inspired and driven by an Indian pastor, his hair silvery white, his tongue not yet rejecting his native accent, and most importantly, his mind and heart devoted to constant prayer and devotion. His staff testify to hearing him pray in his office for hours, and he often takes walks for the sole purpose of prayer and fellowship with God.

This pastor, Pastor Krishna, taught me the Prayer of ACTS, that Jesus instructed his disciples to pray.

I. Adoration: This is not thanking God for what He has given you – this is praising God for who He is. In this world, we enjoy and yet have difficulty grasping the essence of friendship – how I can possibly be loved for who I am, when oftentimes I am the person I wish to be most distant from. And yet, we feel that pleasant jolt of uneasiness and surprise when we find a love that focuses on our heart, and not on our work, or wallet, or study notes. If we find pleasure in affirmation of who we are, how much may we bring joy to God’s heart in rejoicing in His nature?

II. Confession-this is a tough one for some people to grasp, since a common mindset is, “God already knows I did it, and He knows I’m sorry.” If people exercised this mindset with their earthly friends, I would be very surprised to see any friends left. Take a husband and wife for example – Say the husband woke up on the wrong side of the bed (literally) and gets angry at his wife for some petty reason (clothes on the floor), and then stomps out of the bedroom to make coffee. After a few sips of caffeine, he softens up to the sound of his wife coming into the kitchen and silently going to work. Though it is obvious to both of them that he overreacted, their connection will suffer until he comes before her in humility and apology. That story will most likely have a happy ending.

Don’t let your unspoken sins come between you and God. And if I’ve learned anything from crossing (and tripping) between cultures, don’t let mistakes that you don’t realize you’ve committed come between you and God either. If you have nothing to confess (oh for that to be possible with me), then pray for God to show you the ways you might have disappointed Him…just to be safe.

III. Thanksgiving: thanking God for what He has done, is doing, and will continue to do until your dying day and well beyond. This is a spectrum as great as giving thanks for God’s sacrifice on the cross to the run-in with an old friend you had yesterday.
Warning: Many times, our hasty prayers begin with, “Dear God, thank you for “……” and “….” and “………..” and God I pray that you’ll give me/us “…..” and “……” in Jesus’ name, Amen. If you’ve tried, that can often get a bit tedious and repetive both to you and maybe even to God (even with his everabounding patience). Just switching it up with adoration and confession adds a whole new dimension to your prayer life.

IV. Supplication – Needless to say, this is the part of the prayer no one has too much trouble getting to. I don’t attribute that to selfishness, but because there are indeed multitudes of things to yet to be done in our lives and in this world.
Don’t be afraid to “Pray Big” as Pastor Krishna said. In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus instructs his disciples to pray for “God’s Kindom Come” and “our daily bread.”

In closing, I want to address the all-pressing question already brought up previously, “Why bother praying?” Doesn’t God already have his predetermined, predestined agenda regardless of what I say?

Firstly I encourage all seekers to look to the Bible on how God answers and listens to prayer beginning from the Old Testament to Paul’s ministry. Secondly, I want to tell a story I heard of a Kenyan boy (now student) who spoke about his father back in Kenya.

When this boy was a child, his father would go out and mow the lawn every Saturday morning. Each time, however, he would ask his son to go out there with him. So this child, tooting his plastic toy lawnmower, would go out every Saturday morning with his father and truck his plastic toy lawnmower across the lawn. Looking back, he probably didn’t do very much, and maybe even got in the way. But what he learned was that his father desired not necessarily his results, but his fellowship. Mowing the lawn with his father was one of this man’s most consistent and joyful memories of growing up.
God wants us in fellowship with Him, actively participating in His work.

I want to close on my old Cross Country team. As I look at their joy, their dedication, their disappointments, injuries, and also their triumphs on and off the field of glory, I see that whatever effort they put in, they put in obedience. Whether they got to CIF or State or that spot on JV or Frosh Soph or Varsity was often a situation out of their control due to injury or mishap. But they did not place the value of their season on having completed those objectives, but rather in staying obedient to those objectives.

Inconvenient Truth: Prayer is not about getting answers, but about being obedient. For those who have an issue with this, reflect on the fact that when all is said and done, God does not say to us, “well done, my successful servant (implying that those who were not successful…well..),” but rather,” well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Let us pray from now on with renewed diligence and obedience to our Creator, Redeemer, Worker, and Sovereign God (just to give you some tips on the “adoration” part).

God Bless,
Hans Weidman

Tangible Faith

It has been a particularly difficult past few weeks. Many realities about the fragility of life has hit home. The earthquake in Haiti, Marilyn T’s cancer/surgery, Alan’s father w/Pancreatic Cancer, John T’s dad w/cancer, and a younger brother, Justin Chang’s passing. It is in the times spent praying, and thinking of each of these people … that I have felt utterly helpless because I am unable to help them and to alleviate their pain… and it just made me incredibly sad.

As I was praying over Justin’s passing that I felt myself ask the simple question: why does God let bad things happen to good people? Although so many answers raced through my mind, my heart hurt so much, and I was at a loss to find an answer that would stop that ache in my heart. In the same day, I shared with one of my friends the sad news about Justin’s passing, and we mourned and talked about death, and struggled over how we would react when it hit so close to home. My friend shared about his struggle with his unsaved parents, and how one would react and feel towards God if our unsaved parents died. We did not have an answer because though we could reason things out… it was nigh impossible to take away the depth of anguish and pain one would feel in these circumstances. I simply did not have an answer.

The next morning, I woke up with the verse from Habakkuk 2:4 branding itself into my thoughts:

“…but the righteous shall live by his faith.”

All of a sudden, a flood of thoughts and verses started to fall into place in my mind, and I knew that God had provided an answer. This was not an answer I expected because it did not explain anything, but it simply required me to fixate my eyes upon God and have faith in Him. I spent the rest of the morning reading Habakkuk, praying and writing down what came to my mind.

My Professor at Western Seminary, Jeff Louie, taught Habakkuk this past semester during our Old Testament 3 class. Over a lecture, Prof. Louie walked us through Habakkuk and the beautiful background and realities that Habakkuk referenced, and how this pertained to the Gospel. Let me share it briefly because I think it really spoke to me during this time of sadness:

Why Habakkuk? It is because Habakkuk amidst his difficult times (due to injustice and the coming Chaldeans) was very open in his doubt to God. Despite impending doom promised by God, Habakkuk took comfort in God’s promise of preservation in Habakkuk 2:4, “the righteous shall live by his faith.” He eventually committed to God in faith even if he didn’t know what would happen. The book then ends with Habakkuk putting his faith in God with some of the most beautiful words:

17Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

19GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.

What strikes me most in this story is the amazing faith that Habakkuk ends up happening because like Job, his only recourse is to completely trust God. To have faith that God, who is sovereign would do what He said. That was all He could live by. And here, I remembered how Prof. Louie reminded me of Hab. 2:4, and how Paul and the author of Hebrews, referenced it in their writings. Hab. 2:4 is referenced in Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; and Heb. 10:38. Each having their own purpose, but each also reminding us of one important thing! Our faith is in Jesus Christ! This is not merely a promise, but it is a fulfilled and tangible answer by God.

During a bible study this past week and in my readings for a class, I learned some things about faith. In James 1:2-4, James talks about encountering trials and how the testing of one’s faith produces steadfastness; that steadfastness has been allowed to run its course… it produces a certain result of us being perfect/complete…lacking in nothing. What I realized was that our faith is merely a hypothesis/theory until it is tested with trials and suffering. Through trials and suffering, we are forced to seek support and security in that faith like a support/handhold, and as a result, that faith becomes something tangible and real that we can rest or grab onto.

What Habakkuk had was faith, but it was a faith in something that he was not sure of. God before is an infinite God that we could not fully grasp or wrap our minds and lives around; we had to fear, love, and obey, and trust by faith like Habakkuk and Job. Our God, who is impossible to compare with because of his infiniteness (his omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, etc.) and our finiteness… had sent a tangible, physical example that we could emulate/model after through Jesus Christ.

When we read the Bible, we have someone that we can compare with in Jesus Christ, who had come to this world and experienced what we experienced. Though tempted, Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, died a sinner’s death upon the cross, and resurrected after three days! This ultimate expression of God’s love is comforting because we are no longer alone. God has come alongside us, and that is whom we place our faith in now. God answered us by loving and coming alongside us through His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

So bringing it all back together, I shared with my friends 3 points this past Sunday:

1) It is okay to mourn.

Justin died, and he was our brother whom we hung out with, we worshipped with, played basketball with, laughed with, and ate with. It is easy to say we understand the reasons and the theology to explain death and calamities, but it is so close to our hearts, our lives! Reality overwhelms us! We are not robots/automatons, because our hearts are made of flesh and blood. We mourn the passing of our brother, who is young, just graduated out of UCSB, with a new job and a whole life ahead of him! Remember, Jesus wept in John 11… after talking to Mary and seeing the people crying over Lazarus’ death.

2) It is okay to not have an answer.

Habakkuk doubted, but that did not mean that He did not believe in God. He did not understand, and yet, God loved Habakkuk and shared a promise with Him. I don’t understand what happened, and I don’t have an answer, and I’m heartbroken and confused, but I know God does. My finite mind simply can not comprehend what God can understand in His infinite wisdom.

3) Ultimately, it is okay because of Jesus Christ.

Though I hurt and though I doubt, the words in Habakkuk 2:4 lead me to understand that our faith is not simply in something that we can not grasp, but it is in the completed, finished work of Jesus Christ! Our faith, our hope, our salvation, our handhold, our foundation is upon Jesus Christ. It is through Him that we must cling, and we must cling throughout our life. We must trust him even when we can’t understand or see what lies ahead.

Faith then ultimately is in Jesus Christ believing that God is sovereign in all things, and this is how we are to live. As an undeserving people, God has graciously given us His most precious answer in Jesus. His grace abounds and it has planted in us these seeds of faith that are not merely hypothetical, but they are tangible. They are what we can rely on, and what we need to turn to in the midst of great grief and tears.

I acknowledge that we are all at different places in our mourning for Justin and others that have passed. The chords that are struck by a person’s passing may affect us in different ways., and so it is simply my hope that in sharing this, that you would continue to trust in Jesus. I will miss Justin much, I regret not having spent more time with him, but praise God that I know he has gone home to be with our Heavenly Father. I rejoice in that, and yet am still greatly saddened. I mourn those that have died in Haiti that are unsaved, and also those of our family in Christ that have died there as well. I know that grief is there because my body is flesh and my heart feels pain… yet it is in this that I remember God’s promise that “the righteous shall live by faith.”

YOUR GRACE IS SUFFICIENT

by Martin Nystrom

As played by Shane & Shane

Your grace is sufficient for me
Your strength is made perfect
When I am weak
And all that I cling to
I lay at Your feet
Your grace is sufficient for me