Preaching the Gospel to Yourself

Dear Beloved Reader,

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted.  Recently I got to journey back to my beloved old home of Santa Barbara to share with the graduating International Students.   Without spending too much time going over other things, I just wanted to flesh to paper my sharing from that graduation retreat because I feel as though it is very pertinent to many different people in different places of their lives.

Before I proceed, I want to give some kudos/credit to a few people for teaching/helping me to flesh out these thoughts over the past 6 months in random books, talks, blogs and conversations: Jeff Louie, CJ Mahaney, David Platt, Kevin DeYoung, Jonathan Acuff, … and those in my life that have continued to participate in my life experience “marinade”.

I was asked to share some parting advice to the graduating international students that I have had the privilege of sharing the Gospel with and getting to see them go from strangers, to friends, and now for many, to family as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.  I hope you as a reader would set aside time to reflect on my words and that it may be a blessing to you for the rest of your life.  This has helped me through some of the most difficult times in my life recently whether it is heartbreak, discouragement, loneliness, or doubts about one’s life.  My one word of advice that has come over the past few years of reflection and marinade of life is the absolute importance to daily and as often as necessary: preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to yourself.

It is important to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to oneself because it helps to have a healthy reset/reorientation/correction of one’s personal perspective of life, and also because it has an amazing ability to free you (the reader) from the world’s bindings of sin, guilt, and shame as you live unfettered to flesh out God’s redemptive purpose in your life and in the lives of others.

This mainly arises from many conversations that I have had over the past few months with people in relationships, trying to figure out which school/universities to attend, to decisions about career, and even about marriage.  The common fear or issue that arises during these conversations is the fear of making the wrong choice.  What if I make the wrong choice… what is the right choice?  This stems from a concern about the irreversibility of life… and that because you only get one chance or shot at life… we want to make it right. We don’t want to make the wrong choices.  This leads us to a LOT of worry, fear and guilt.

We feel these things because of a few competing factors: we do not want to let God down, we do not want to let our parents down, we don’t want to let ourselves down.  What this does s this leads us to a guilt and fear in our decision making process.  Note, now some guilt is healthy… because if it’s due to sin… then there is a need to repent and to come to God in those times to reconcile and reflect on the Good News of Jesus Christ.  But more often than not, guilt is the steady drumbeat of feeling as though our actions and decisions are NOT good enough… and this slowly accumulates and drags us down.

But life is not meant to be lived in this binding chain, or weight of guilt, because it is meant to be lived in the freedom that comes through Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished.  This is why the Gospel of Jesus Christ is so essential!  This is why we need to daily and as often as we can reflect on the Gospel that serves as a lighthouse shining a beacon of truth/light in the midst of our dark, stormy sea’d lives.

Three things to reflect upon when sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with yourself:

1) Sovereignty of God.

The first thing we acknowledge in our acceptance of the Gospel is that God is always in control.  God transcends circumstance.  We need to have a better understanding of the will of God… to remember that nothing we do is going to be a surprise to Him.  Nothing is above His knowledge, because He knows all.  Now I’m not discounting the fact that God may reveal an answer through prayer, confirmations, or even the Word, but sometimes we find that God does not give us a discernable answer… so what do we do?  Maybe this lack of response scares or possibly creates even more doubt/guilt in our lives.

The point is that maybe you are going to make mistakes… you may make decisions that may lead to hardships, and perhaps you may even choose the less “popular” or “wise” choice because of whatever reasons.

2) Freedom in Christ

This is why you need to reflect on the Gospel daily… its to consider the freedom that comes by the blood of Jesus Christ.  You are NEVER to feel that you have made a decision that can not be redeemed.  He is always able to redeem.  Whether you pick the right/wrong school/job, bf/gf, or husband/wife, everything is redeemable in Jesus Christ.  It is amazing that whether good or bad, God’s grace through Jesus Christ will be manifested.  If bad, maybe you’ll get he privilege to see more of God’s work at hand.  You are free to make the wrong choice (NOTE: I’m not talking about drug dealer vs. teacher decisions that can be easily clarified in reflection to the Word of God and the laws of our gov’t).

You are free to make the wrong choice because Christ is so much bigger than that!  You grow in faith, and you apply your faith in the grace of God to the most difficult circumstances and situations.  In my own life as I have moved up to the Bay… there have been times of great duress in my heart as I struggle with the choice of walking away from everything I was happy with and comfortable with to pursue God… it has been a lonely journey in some parts, but now I am starting to notice how God has led and helped me through this whole process.  Marriage, work, ministry, relationships, school, and life… everything is redeemable in Jesus Christ!  We are free to make choices.

3) Radical Living through the Holy Spirit

The Gospel is NOT SIMPLY about salvation… and it does not just stop there, but it is the controlling theme and should encompass every aspect of our lives!  Victory has been won, Christ will continue to intercede for you and I… even beyond the circumstances or the wrong choices.  If you are free, you can live radically in Christ.

Life is not lived in guilt, or burden of not doing enough, or being good enough.  As David Platt writes: “True change can NOT be built on guilt, but true radical life change is through trust in Jesus Christ and the Gospel.” Now I’m not talking about going to live a life of legalism, but one of love and grace.  Freedom from low level of guilt… driven by grace!  It is in that freedom to make a choice, whether to do more or you do less… it is a privilege and a blessing to participate in God’s redemptive plan!  If you do NOT, you are still deeply loved by God!   It is in this freedom that you can live radically by the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit to do amazing things.

You are liberated to live a life of freedom to truly do His Work, not burdened by guilt… and to do so great or not great.  There is no guilt or doubt about being loved… in whatever context!  So let me write again, that it is important to reflect on the Gospel because what you realize is that you have great power that is not simply reliant upon you, but upon and through the work of God through the Holy Spirit.

It is in ending that I again return to what I shared in the beginning that it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ… and that it does not simply stop at your point of accepting Christ into your life.  It is very important that you reflect on it daily and throughout your life.  Today’s sharing I hope does not simply leave you feeling sad but liberated and free to be joyful/passionate/excited in the Lord!  My hope is that you will embrace the grace and freedom in Christ and live life unburdened by guilt… and having to try so hard to be good enough in all your decisions… in whatever you do.

May you live with the absolute unbendable truth, and the flexible grace that comes only through Jesus Christ in whatever context you may find yourself in. May you constantly reflect upon God’s Word, seeking intimacy in prayer with Him, and seeing His constant physical example through the company and fellowship of the community family of His saints.  May you continue to live a life always in reflection of the person and work of Jesus Christ… sharing the Gospel to yourself…  and to others.

With His love,

Helicon

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Living a Life of Integrity

This is my first time posting here, even though I’ve officially been a “contributor” for months and months now. The main reason is just that I’m just really busy these days with my teaching program. But just this weekend, I took the time to write an extremely long entry on my own blog, that I thought would be encouraging for others, so I’m just re-posting it here for you all. Enjoy! :)

From Friday, May 14:

God is so good. At the end of such a crazy day, when I was tired and confused and only dragged my body to Bible study out of habit than anything else, He hits me with one of those knife-in-heart-cutting-out-the-sin-exactly-where-it-is sermons, you know, the ones where you are sitting in your seat, cringing at how ridiculously precisely God’s word applies to your life.
A few weeks ago, I received a new student in one of my classes. I noticed that in his notebook, he was doodling the name of a notoriously violent gang. Since then, I’ve been thinking and praying about how to address this.
Today, I went into my classroom to pick up some teaching material, and I saw him there, even though that wasn’t his class during that period. Instead of insisting that he go back to his class, I decided to just let it slide, figuring that this was a good opportunity to talk to him. Our conversation confirmed a lot of my suspicions, but there wasn’t very much I could do or say to help him at that point. All I could do was ask him to think about what he wants for his future, and which actions now would help him get there… blah blah blah. Still, I felt like he was being pretty transparent with me and well, trusted me, probably to the best that a kid in his situation could trust a random teacher.
After we talked, I went to the Dean to ask if the school had any information about why he transferred or anything else on his official record. When the Dean saw my student’s attendance record, though, he was like, “Ok, we need to talk to him right now and do an intervention.” He proceeded to check his schedule and he said, “He should be in Biology now so let’s go get him.” As you can imagine, I was just standing there in a state of semi-panic. I felt dishonest letting the Dean try to track him down when I knew exactly where he was, but I also felt like I would be betraying my student’s trust by telling the Dean that I knew exactly where he was because we just talked. Also, selfishly, I didn’t want to get myself in trouble by admitting that I had just essentially condoned a student in breaking school rules.
Sigh, that was just the beginning of the mess. I told the Dean that I would go get the student myself, thinking that this way, I could bring him down without getting him in more trouble than necessary. But when I went back to get the student, he refused to come with me!!! He was like, “No, miss, I don’t want to go. Let them come and get me.” I was flabbergasted. He kept saying things like, “They’re going to kick me out,” “I’m not going to go, I don’t care,” and “just tell them that I’m not here.” The worst part for me was hearing the anger and accusation in his voice when he said, “Miss, you went and talked to the Dean about me??”

Since he would not come with me, I had to go down to the Dean’s office again. The Dean wasn’t there, but when his secretary heard that the student was in another class, she was like, “What?? We have to radio security to go get him!!” My mind was screaming, “WHAT? Are you crazy? This is the least of our worries now!” But it was too late. She was already marching down the hall to get security. Inside I was like, “NOOOOOO it’s over. This kid will never ever talk to me or any teacher ever again.”
I was completely flustered and kicking myself for getting in this mess. I walked up and down the hallways, checking the room and then the Dean’s office, just waiting to see the situation blow up in my face. But (praise God!) the security for whatever reason did not go get him. Even though the worst was over, I was still bummed about losing my student’s trust so quickly after gaining it.
All day, I kept playing over the events of the morning in my mind, thinking about how I could have worded things differently here or not done something there to avert the drama. But tonight, while listening to the sermon, it hit me. The problem wasn’t with the circumstances, but with me. As much as I might want to appeal to my “good intentions”, I can pinpoint this whole mess back to one small breakdown in my integrity. This might sound silly, but really, what I should have done was enforced school policy and asked the student to go back to his class. I know, not very revolutionary, right? But think about it. That was really the cause of my dilemma when I stood before the Dean. I knew where the student was, and it wasn’t where he should have been. That’s when I realized that no matter what I did, I would have to break faith with someone, either the administration or the student. I tried my best to walk the line, but in the end, I was not completely honest with either. My student had every right to be mad with me. By talking to him then, I implicitly conveyed that I was okay with the fact that he was out of class. Then when I came back and said, “oh, the Dean wants to talk to you about ditching class”, how could it not seem like I set him up to get in trouble?
I am so ashamed just thinking about how I could say to my student, “No, I won’t lie to the administration for you”, when my actions had already conveyed such hypocrisy and inconsistency of character. There I was, condemning law-breaking, while breaking rules myself. I am even more disgusted thinking about how I had told the student I was a Christian, only moments later to completely disgrace the name of Christ.
Later that afternoon, I read Psalm 51, and I was struck by verse 13, “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will return to You.” I thought, “Yes, Lord! That is exactly what I desire, for those who have rejected You, who are rebellious towards You, to repent and return!” But what precedes this verse? What are the conditions for this to happen? Is it not David’s plea to “create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”? Is that not the only way one wretched transgressor can bring hope to another?
The sermon tonight drove this conviction home. The speaker’s 3 points of application, drawn from Daniel 6 (the story of Daniel and the lion’s den) were these:
In the midst of trying circumstances…
1) living a life of integrity gives confidence.
2) living a life of integrity gives comfort.
3) living a life of integrity gives clarity.
All day, I was unsure, troubled, and confused about all the circumstances around me. But the cause was really a lack of integrity within me. Having realized that now, and repented and enjoyed His grace, I feel so much more grounded and at peace. I am still praying for my student. I have no idea what will happen next week. I don’t know if he will trust me again, but that’s okay. My main goal is no longer for him to trust me, but for myself to simply be trustworthy.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Love God, Love Others

I have a thesis that the command to love God and the command to love your neighbor as yourself are fundamentally the same thing. As Christians, we struggle with the fact that God demands 100% of our love, and yet He commands us to love others. As humans, we struggle with the fact that we find things closer to us—people, hobbies, stuff—far easier to love than God, Who seems so distant at times. I believe that truly loving your neighbor (or anything for that matter) means that you first love God, and that loving God inevitably means that you will love your neighbor. You cannot claim to love anything unless you first love God.

My thesis begins with the assumption of creation ex nihilo. God, we believe, created everything out of nothing and, as Genesis says, He created everything good, because God Himself is Good. Things exist and are good only because God has caused them to be. In terms of existence, apart from God, there is nothing, non-existence, nada. Outside of God, nothing exists on its own.

What of evil then? Evil exists; are we to say that it exists in God, that God is evil? Of course not. Existence is itself a good; therefore, evil cannot be said to exist apart from good, because evil is the deprivation of good, the lack of goodness. When a good thing becomes evil, it suffers loss of what it once was. Evil is the nothingness which once was good; it is the subtraction of goodness. But what remains is still good, if only because what remains still exists. Evil, then, does not exist in and of itself.

Thus, even though evil is nothing, God did not create from evil by creating from nothing. Before creation, only God exists. God cannot suffer evil, because He is incorruptible, undergoing no change in His Being; He is the Supreme Good. But created things like humans, although they are good, can suffer evil by becoming less good. By choosing to turn away from God, the source of existence, we are turning towards nothingness, and we suffer the loss of our goodness and existence, which comes from God. That is what it means to be evil.

And so we come to the problem of loving God and others, and we see that if we are to love one another, then we must love God. Any good that exists in a human being comes from God. If we do not love God in them, then it turns out that we do not love at all, for apart from God, a human being is nothing. Hatred, which is the refusal to love a human being who exists, is also the refusal to love God, who is the source of existence. It is the love of nothing. By the same token, idolatry is loving something in a human other than God, but outside of God, there is nothing to love! Idolatry, then, is also the love of nothing, and the love of nothing is more properly called the lack of love.

I hope it is clear by now that the only way to truly love a human, to truly love anything, is to wholly and completely love God. Let us recognize that when we love another person, we actually love God in them. Some may say that this is abusive, treating humans as a means to God, rather than ends in themselves. But isn’t obvious that the only way to love humans as ends, is to love God, the end? In fact, if we do not love God, we always end up abusing other people, either hating them or making them into idols. It is only when we are fully loving God that we are properly loving everything else.

This is why the mystery of the Gospel is so, so important. As evil, sinful people, we are broken lovers, lovers of nothing, lacking true love. The incarnate Christ, however, by His life, death, and resurrection, has redeemed us from the depths. His mission is to give us Himself, to restore our relationship with Him, true God from true God. In Christ, we become complete lovers of God, and it is because of this that we become right lovers of everything else.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? – Matthew 18:24-26.

God, This Hurts

Philippians 1:29

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him”

I added the “daily bible verse” tab to my facebook page, and for the most part, the verses have been pretty popular, famously quoted verses.  Today’s verse in Philippians, however, struck me in its transparency and straightforward truth.  The nature of a Spirit-filled body in Christ is such that we are “not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (verse 29).

In my personal life, it has become a habit to talk to God whenever suffering enters my life.  This is one of the fantastic qualities of our God – He is a Father who desires us to come to Him with everything, our triumphs and sorrows.

I will try not to go into the issue of pain and suffering too much – C.S. Lewis does a far better job in “The Problem of Pain.”  I merely want to state that in today’s society, I often find myself subconsciously adopting a secular mindset in my faith.  In the drive to find a major, a career to pursue, I often receive the advice,  “If you don’t enjoy it, it isn’t for you.”  This advice is almost always followed by this enticing, all-familiar phrase: Do something that makes you happy.

Yes, of course God gives us natural gifts and desires in a certain field, and it would be foolish to ignore those talents.  Proverbs 22:29 says, “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.”  Needless to say,  a significant amount of suffering is involved to achieve that level of skill.  The struggle to become like Christ is no less demanding.

My issue is perhaps best illustrated through the book of Psalms.  The book of Psalms is a heartfelt chronicle of man’s struggle to live a God-pleasing life; Pastor Krishna spoke on the Psalms, saying that as God-breathed scripture, the psalms are God’s way of telling his children how to pray to Him.  And yet, as I read through the book of Psalms, I find that I often miss out on a key message God has for me, which He reiterates through Paul in Philippians – suffering for God.

Take a look at this unashamed cry to God in Psalm 69:

1 Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. 2 I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. 3 I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.”

Let me make something clear – the writer of this psalm is an upright, God-fearing man.  Later on in the psalm, he writes,”7 It is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face. 8 I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s children. 9 It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

This is the suffering that I believe is expected of us as followers of Christ – why should we expect any different treatment than what He received if we are being truly Christ-like?

But to return to the first part of the psalm, I felt a doubt rising in me as I read, “the waters have come up to my neck. 2 I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. 3 I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.”

Because quite honestly – and I hope I’m not alone in this – those moments can happen whether or not I’m in tune with God.  And when I find myself floundering, I ask myself, deeply, whether I am doing God’s will – after all, could it really be this horrible for me?

At Sunday School we recently watched a documentary on a missionary who brought the word of God to a very remote part of Asia; his openness about his doubt in doing God’s really resonated with me.

Regardless, the last few weeks, I have made the mistake of embracing the “do what makes you happy” mentality in my spiritual life, completely ignoring the call to suffer as well.  I pray for wisdom in my decisions from this  point on, that I may find joy in pursuing God in all aspects of my life.

I’ll Say Yes

As [Jesus] said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you were nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

I don’t know about you, but Jesus is talking to me right there. So often do I look at other Christians and tell myself I could never do that. Did you know that more than 2.5 million people have accepted through Billy Graham’s crusades? The number is so massive, it does not even hit me. I am just numb to it. Oh, he’s just Billy Graham, I could never be like him. Right? Oh, he’s has a gift of speaking and a talent that God did not give to me. So often I look at others and and automatically cap a limit to what God can do through me. Oh, him, he’s really holy, I mean look at him. He prays so loud and fervently,  he lifts his hands while worshiping. He’s so musically talented. Oh man, he’s so blessed. I hear that phrase a lot. People say it about those who can sing well, dance well, speak well, study well, implying that that person is somehow more blessed than they are. Sure everyone has different gifts, but when I see people like C.S. Lewis, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Francis Chan, Jim Cymbala, or any of those Christian giants, my first response is wow, God has really blessed their ministries. We, or at least I, often times miss out on the fact that it was not because of any inherent gift that God has bestowed on them that makes then any better than us. It’s that they heard the word of God and kept it.

I want to challenge you today, like I was just challenged by God (through the reading of his word), we can live a life that is just as great–if not, greater than that of Billy Graham or that oh Henry Appenzeller, the missionary who went to Korea and started a revival in 1884. (I encourage you to read about him. His testimony is breath-taking.)

Going back to the passage, the woman in the crowd spoke out. The bible said she “raised her voice” [ESV]–in NIV, it says she “called out.” Basically it was loud. She says calls Jesus’ mother blessed, implying that God has not blessed her in the same manner. Perhaps she had a bad experience with her son or daughter. Perhaps he or she was very rebellious or very trendy. I don’t know; the bible does not tell us. It does tell us, however, Jesus’ response to the woman.

Jesus says,

Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it

Wow. What does this mean? I believe Jesus is rebuking the woman and saying to her, you can be just as blessed so long as you hear my words and do them! It does not matter that Mary’s womb bore Jesus. That does not make her great! What makes her great is when the archangel Gabriel comes down, tells her that she will be with child, and Mary treasures these things deep in her heart. And Joseph! He finds out Mary is pregnant, baby ain’t his, he has in mind to divorce her quietly, but when the messenger from God tells him not to, he obeys! That is what makes people great: obedience. Loving God is obedience, not sacrifice. Once again, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.