Reflecting on 2012

2 Corinthians 9:15

It’s hard to believe that just about a year ago the 4 of us committed to writing on a weekly basis again. We may have missed one or two here and there, but we’ll call it a good running start. We originally had not intended on including graphics with each post, however while Bryan and Kelly were visiting their parents for Christmas a “one-time favor” became a regular part of this blog.

Over the past 12 months quite a bit has changed as well! In 2012:

  • Dien graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary and married his lovely wife, Loan
  • Helicon graduated from Western Seminary and accepted a full-time pastoral position at Chinese Evangelical Free Church of Santa Barbara
  • Tim began his last year at Biola University
  • Bryan shaved his head

As we spend time with family and friends this Christmas we invite you to take a stroll down memory lane with us as we recap a few of your favorite posts from 2012:

As we look forward to 2013, let’s focus on Jesus, “the author and perfecter of faith“ and “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”

Thanks be to God for His undescribable gift.

From all of us at TemporaryVisitors, Merry Christmas and happy new year!

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12/14/12

By now, I am sure you have heard about what happened in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut with the murder of the 20 children and 6 adults.  You may also have heard of the 22 children that were stabbed to death from YuanChuan Elementary School in the village of Chengpin in Henan, China that happened the day before.  If anything, what happened so saddened even President Obama that he cried as he shared his condolences and support to those that died.

After hearing the news on Friday morning, I was so heart broken that I felt led to go and make some major changes to my Christmas service sermon that I was sharing because I felt that it was so important not to forget what had transpired.  What I share next is not meant to take away from the pain, heart break, loss, suffering or aching that the families and their loved ones may be feeling, but I feel it is important to explore an important topic together… that is this concept of sin.

The truth of the matter is this: This is not the first time nor will it be the last time we will hear of such horrific things happening.  Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, such terrible things will have happened and will continue to happen.  We must take a moment then and ask ourselves, what drives such activity?! What I write to you after this is related to this because I believe what motivates such an action is this concept of sin which leads to such evils.  A quote I saw on my friend’s Facebook said this:

“The presence of evil does not imply the absence of God, rather the presence of evil demands a God who must be present — present to judge, heal, restore, and to save.”

I think that this is so true… that what sin reveals to us… what this evil shows what the world needs and has is a God that is able to judge, to heal, to restore and to save.  You see, sin is this corruption… this separation from God and what He originally planned for humanity.  It is a break from this vertical relationship with Him.  Originally, God intended for humanity to glorify Him, love Him, worship Him, love others, and to care for His world.  From the beginning with Adam & Eve till now, humanity has willfully disobeyed God.  We have done so by going against God’s original plan and desire for us … and have placed our own lives and priorities before what God has planned. By doing so, we have disconnected the vertical relationship with God and we have placed our own desires before God’s  By doing so, our sin has separated us from God and because of the inability to be perfect, our sin always now disrupts this relationship with God.

The truth is this… sin is nasty… it is what leads us to place these other plans and purposes (what we want) before God… and by doing so… we have started to worship creation and created things rather than the Creator!  God is no longer first.  As a result, our sins manifest themselves in two ways. One is outward and are actions that place one’s own desires above the care and consideration of others.  This often leads to acts of violence, exploitation, murder and taking advantage of others; it is about putting oneself before others.  This is what happened in China and Connecticut; it is this outward display of sin by selfish, sin-corrupted, evil people.

But you must be wondering, I am no nowhere near as messed up or evil as such folks, but the truth is sin is not just an outward display of selfish action, but it is also an inward disposition of our heart.  It is the corrupted selfish thoughts, feelings that we may have… the intentions, the desires, the bitterness, the jealousy, the greed, the rage and the pride that may lead us thinking about hurting others and putting ourselves first.  Trust me, the only reason sometimes we don’t act on these thoughts is simply our fear of self-preservation; we are afraid of the consequences of our sin and going to jail and being victimized as well.  The reality is we have the potential of great sin as well.  Humanity is unable to escape from this slavery of sin, and this is what brings us to where we are today.  As imperfection due to our sin, we cannot attach ourselves to a God that is so perfect because our sin now makes us imperfect.  Perfection and imperfection cannot mix!  You see, what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary and at YuanChuan Elementary is not alien to humanity, but common; it is the unchanging reality of our lives apart from God… the date, title and story of the News event may change, but these things will continue to happen because of sin; sin is the lowest common denominator of human reality!

In light of the Christmas season and preparing a sermon, I realized that ultimately the failure of Christmas for many Christians is not that we don’t remember it is about Jesus, but that we fail to remember the entirety of the story and just the birth of Jesus.  For some, we may only see Christmas as an occasion to deal with food, relationships and gift exchange; it becomes only about the horizontal relationships.  I think Matthew had a different idea when he wrote these words coming from an angel as it spoke to Joseph about Mary:

“She (Mary) will bear a son, and you shall his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

What Matthew shares is that what Christmas needs to be about is remembering this story of restoration of the vertical relationship between God and humanity through the physical reality of Jesus’ coming.

All our questions, our doubts, our pain, our heartbreak… we need to see that God about 2000 years ago answered our cries about sin and the brokenness of humanity.  It can be found by Matthew’s hinting using the name of Jesus at his birth.  Consider Jesus in verse 21, which means “God saves”.  Consider Immanuel in verse 23, which means “with us God”, or “God with us”.  What Matthew is pointing out is that in Jesus, God has answered our questions by sending Jesus to finally resolve this break in the vertical relationship between God and His people. God is here to save and He has not left us alone… but has entered into the historical timeline as a physical reality both as God and as man… the 2nd person of the Trinity, God’s Son, Jesus Christ has come so that He will know our pain as a reality.  Despite being tempted, with opportunities to outwardly sin, and inwardly sin, Jesus resisted and lived a life without sin.  Yet despite his sinless life, he was persecuted unjustly and put to death in the most humiliating way … through the cross!  Yet despite this, after three days, He resurrected, overcoming sin and the consequence that is death and separation from God, and now sits at the right hand of God, the Father advocating on our behalf.  By such actions through Jesus, God has taken all of humanity’s sin: past, present and future sin, and has washed those that call on the name of Jesus Christ as their Lord & Savior… a restored vertical relationship that gives humanity hope despite this world’s hopelessness.

In Christ, I don’t have an answer, but every time we see acts of incredible evil and sin, we realize the Author has written Himself into His story (History) and is here to save us.  It does not take away the pain and the inexplicable acts of violence and evil and suffering of this world, but these things should drive us to see that this is not the way God intended things to be; God had such a better plan that would lead to no heart break, and so now, God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ reminds us that He is bringing about a restoration and hope.  He comes alongside the brokenhearted and He lovingly embraces us and says, He understands… He knows because about two thousand years ago, He, a Father as well… lost His only Son to sin too.  He lost His beloved child and knows exactly how it feels.  

During this Christmas season, do NOT forget this true Christmas story about Jesus.  God has come to restore the vertical relationship that was broken due to sin, and Jesus is God saves, God with us.  May you continue to pray for the children and the adults that have died in such senseless tragedies and consider your own need for the love and redemption of God.  Remember,

“The Lord is near to the  brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Life in the midst of death: miscarriage, hope, and eternal life

TemporaryVisitors - Guest Post

Now that we’ve been back for a month you’ve probably gotten a sense for how we plan take turns writing on a week to week basis. I’ll take the first Sunday, followed by Helicon the second week, then Tim, and finally Dien.

What do we do with those months with a fifth Sunday? We’ve invited some of our to friends contribute in what we’re going to call our “Guest Post”. So to kick things off, we’d like to introduce you to Tony Cruz. You can follow his blog, Remnant Legacy, or get in contact with him on Twitter: @_tonycruz.


Baby SoleilEarlier this month, a letter I wrote to Soleil on her first birthday was posted on a great website called Daddy Letters.  If you have a chance, you should check the website out.  The letter resurfacing, especially as I finish reading through Genesis 4-5,  reminds me of an experience Alison and I had two years ago during Christmas time in 2009 and the faithfulness God has shown to us consistently in our marriage, in life.  It reminds of me the hope that exists for us as believers in Jesus Christ.

Miscarriage, Christmas, and Alone

Two years ago, Alison and I flew to Phoenix, AZ to visit my family during Christmas week.  We really had one objective:  surprise my mother with news of our first pregnancy.  Alison was excited about it, but I was anxious.  I confess freely now (though I did not then) that when I found out we were pregnant, I was not excited.  Alison’s news revealed to me how inadequate of a husband I had been up to then and that in turn would eventually create much resentment towards our unborn child. This new child would interfere with my efforts to correct my first three years of marriage.  I was not ready to be a dad.  I did not want to be a dad.  I wanted time to fix my mistakes.  I was frustrated with myself, with God, with my wife, and my unborn baby.

Our plan was to tell my mom on Christmas Day, a Friday, that we were 9-10 weeks pregnant.  On Wednesday morning, Alison started experiencing severe pains.  By the end of the day, she had miscarried and we had lost our first child.  My mom was at work all day, our friends were in San Jose, and we felt incredibly alone.  Instead of giving my mom the good news of her being a grandmother, I had to explain why Alison couldn’t even get off the couch.  It was painful.  I was distraught.  Alison was in emotional, spiritual, and physical pain.  Our baby passed and it was just the two of us again.

Hope and New Beginnings

New born SoleilAfter working through the miscarriage with God and my wife, I realized how selfish I had been.  I forgot that life was not about me, but about God.   My real spirit and the real condition of my soul had been revealed with Alison’s news to me of her pregnancy and then humbled with the miscarriage.  I was a broken man, with a hurting wife, and the only one I could turn to was God.  As usual, He is faithful.  He gave me hope.  He healed my heart, my feelings, my marriage, and renewed my lazy focus which had made me into what I knew was an adequate husband.  I learned tremendously from that experience and became ready to serve Him in whatever circumstance of life that He was going to place me in.  Much to my joy, three months after we miscarried, Alison was pregnant again.  After 12 weeks, we heard the baby’s heartbeat.  Medically, that meant that the chance of miscarriage falls to less than 3%.  While Alison got to experience this new life in her body, my heart was cold and distant, not ready to commit to the feelings I had towards this new baby for fear of loss.  But when my daughter was born, all bets were off.  I was ready.  We were ready.  God had blessed us with a beautiful daughter and new beginnings.

Enoch Lives  (Gen. 5:21-24Heb. 11:5)

After the creation of humanity, marriage, the fall of humanity into sin, and punishment, Scripture paints a pretty meek picture for the next few chapters of Genesis.  Death reigned.  Not just death at the hands of others, but death in general.  Instead of the life that God had offered in the garden, you read these sections of Scripture where God seems to make it a point that death was the result of the fall.  A common phrase in Genesis 4-5 is “and then he died.”  This man lived this many years, “and then he died.”  That guy diedthis guy diedeveryone was dying.  When you are reading about life and things being good (Gen. 1-2) and then moving into this literary valley of death, it is so clear that God wants to make a point:  there is life in the midst of death.

The author of Genesis makes this incredibly clear when you read about a guy named Enoch.  You see, the Bible said that everyone was living their life, having their children, and then dying.  Except for Enoch.  The original Hebrew text paints this beautiful picture of Enoch and his relationship with God:  Enoch walked with God and then he was not.  The reason:  God took him.  Enoch never experienced death.  God took him away so he did not have to deal with that.  The point is that there is life in the midst of death.  It was God’s way of pointing to Jesus Christ, even in the Old Testament!  If there is life in the midst of death with Enoch, how much greater life would there be in Jesus?

Jesus Offers Life in the Midst of Death

We will always be surrounded by death. The nanosecond we enter in this world, our bodies experience the process of moving toward decay. That is reality. Death is inevitable.  Relationships die. Careers get shot. The natural world experiences death all the time.  People are killing each other.  People are dying.  It is a unarguable fact and reality for us.  Of course, our natural instinct is to hide from it, shelter ourselves from it, pretend it does not exist, or act like there is nothing we can do about it.  In some sense, we can’t do anything.  If we feed the starving, they will die eventually.  If we give water to those who thirst, they will die eventually.  If we give homes to the homeless, they will die eventually.  Please hear me when I say:  WE SHOULD BE DOING THOSE THINGS.  But we primarily need to offer them life in the midst of death.  As Christians, we know that the only life that can be offered in the midst of death is that of Jesus.

Jesus Christ offers life in the midst of death, through His own death. He does not just offer us eternal life, though that is His mission’s goal. But Jesus offers people hope, joy, and peace that no trouble in the world can take away from that.  As a Christian, I hear people arguing all the time that this reality of giving our life up to Christ is simply not enough. People need tangible help, too.  If you want to argue about how that’s not enough, I would challenge you to reconsider whether or not you believe in the full and complete gospel that Jesus Christ offers.  It is hard to share something, if you find no value in it.  Take some time and think about whether or not that’s your struggle.

Jesus offers you eternal life. The consequence for all of us is death. Not so with Jesus. In the midst of death, Jesus offers us life. He is the only one who can offer such an amazing gift, through the work He did on the cross. He offers it to everyone who believes.  Believe. Repent of your sins and believe in Jesus.  Share the good news of the arrival, death, resurrection, and second coming of King Jesus with everyone you know.  Believe.  Have hope.  Believe in life in the midst of death.  The gospel of Jesus Christ offers you eternal salvation and so much more in the present life.  He is waiting.

Believe.

If you want to talk about Jesus, about the Bible, about life or death, about hope, please contact me.  Just send me a message on here or on Twitter:  www.twitter.com/_tonycruz.  I will be praying for you.

Jesus came to die

Merry Christmas from all of us at TemporaryVisitors

None of us chose to be born. It just kind of happened. Similarly none of us chooses to die. In fact, many of us would choose to live forever if given the choice.

This Christmas be reminded of Jesus, the only person who chose both to be born and to die. And not only that, but He rose from dead in victory over sin. And He did it for you and I.

But who is He and why did He choose these things? Whether this is a first time introduction or if this sounds like something you have already heard, I encourage you to read on.

Who is Jesus?
The Son of God who saves us from the penalty of our sins and restores our relationship with God the Father.

What did He do?
God chose to send his Son Jesus to live a sinless life among man and to die for us. In Matthew 18:11 Jesus says that, “the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.” God’s love for His people is further elaborated on in the verses that follow immediately after that statement: “What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.” The apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy says that “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.”

Why did He die?
So that our sins may be forgiven. If we pause to think about it, we are all sinful. And our sin demands payment, one we could not pay on our own. But God sent Jesus to die for us so that our sins may be forgiven, what we know as grace. Romans 5:6-8 reminds us that, “while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” He chose to be born and to die so that you and I would know Him, be made whole in Him, and make Him known. He is, according to Hebrews 12:2, “the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.”

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” If you have placed your faith in Christ, Romans 5:1-5 says that we have been “justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

While we may have spent the past week worrying about what to get others or felt a bit down thinking about what others have that we do not have, let’s not forget that the greatest gift to man came to earth to live and to die for you and I.

Joy to world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive Her King.

As you look forward to 2012, focus on Jesus, “the author and perfecter of faith” and “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”

Merry Christmas and happy new year,

Bryan

The Christmas Message

The below is a special guest post by my friend, coworker, and brother in Christ, Andrew Lin.

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” 1 Timothy 1:15

Paul begins this verse or statement with the following: “the statement is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance”. This should immediately grab your attention. Paul prefaces his upcoming statement by saying that it is not only trustworthy but also deserving of full acceptance. In the Greek, it literally reads “trustworthy is the statement”, placing the emphasis on trustworthy; this statement is worthy of banking your whole life on. In addition, Paul adds that it is deserving of full acceptance. Here I want to draw your attention to the word full, it speaks to two possibilities here in which I think Paul is emphasizing both. Full implying the attention of all peoples that would hear this, and also full implying the entirety of one’s being. On the one hand, Paul is saying that this deserves the attention of everyone, all humans. But also, for each and every one of us, it deserves our entire, full, undivided attention. What an introduction to the following statement!

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” I want to draw your attention to the subject of this statement: Christ Jesus. Paul is talking about the person of the Trinity who took on human flesh. Literally Christ meaning the “anointed one.” It was his title. And Jesus transliterated from the Hebrew, “Yahweh-saves”, God saves. It is the person of Christ that the gospel centers upon, and it is the person of Christ that Christmas centers on.

“Christ Jesus came into the world.” This coming into the world indicates not a coming into being, but rather coming from another place. This speaks to Jesus coming into this world, taking on human flesh, coming from another world. Jesus came from Heaven where He existed from eternity past in perfect fellowship with the God and the Holy Spirit. John writes in his gospel “1In the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God and the Word was God… 14And the Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us.” And lets not diminish the action of coming into the world. Jesus left his place in Heaven where he experienced full joy and satisfaction to come into decaying world, a world filled with sin, a world that hated him. This condescension demonstrates the humility of Christ. It demonstrates the ultimate sacrificial love in which Jesus would leave his place in Heaven to come into the world among sinners.

For what purpose did he come? Paul continues to write that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. That was His primary purpose in coming. This is what the whole Christmas story is centered upon; not only did Christ come into the world, but he came into the world to save sinners! Christmas is not about gift giving, holly, Christmas trees, fat Santa, and apple cider, but rather is about God who comes to save His people, to save sinners.

Paul is specific here, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He did not come into the world to save the righteous or the holy or the unblemished, but that he came into the world to save wretched sinners. The distinction here is not that there are those in the world that are sinners and those that are not, those that need Christ and those who do not. But rather this is the mentality that is echoed in Paul’s following statement: “of whom I am the foremost.” It is the reality, made known through the word of God that we are all sinners. “None is righteous, no not one”–Romans 3:10. It is the realization of sin in the face of a righteous God in which Paul recognizes the greatness, the infinite nature of his sin. And in this humility he cries out “of whom I am the foremost.” It is this humble attitude and recognition of undeserved mercy and grace, that demonstrates true and authentic faith in Christ.

I think that if we are all honest, Christian and non-Christian, we would concede that we are somewhat sinful. However how many of you would tell your friends that you are the worst sinner, the worst person you know? Probably not many, but this is what Paul is saying here, that in contrast to God and his infinite holiness and a proper understanding of our sinfulness, this an appropriate response. And in this humble statement, Paul is direction our attention not to himself necessarily, but to what he finds his value in. He continues in the next verse saying that he receives mercy for the reason that Christ Jesus would be the foremost. His value, his joy, his assurance is not found internally, but externally. It is found in the person of Jesus Christ.

This simple statement is the gospel message, the Christmas message. You are wretchedly sinful against a holy and infinite God. This has separated us from true fellowship with Him and your sin demands payment. The Bible informs us of our utter need for a Savior and the insufficiency of imperfect substitutes. Just look at the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. But God in his grace and mercy provides for us the perfect sacrifice, the perfect substitute as payment for our sins. And He is Jesus Christ. The Christmas message more than anything is a message about the Savior of the world who has come to save sinners, to save us.

I encourage you this holiday season to consider Christ. Consider the depths in which God condescended from Heaven to come into this world. To be born into a filthy, ordinary manger in human flesh. That he lived a perfect life so that he could be the all-sufficient solution to our dire need. He has come into the world to save sinners. Understand that Christmas is not so much about a cute baby in a manger, but a God-man who came into this world; it is not so much about giving gifts to one another, but the ultimate gift God has given in his Son; and it is not so much about warm fuzzy feelings of joy in a festive season, but a humble recognition of our sin and Christ as the perfect atonement for us.

And be encouraged as well. The verb here that Paul uses is “came”. It is past tense, it means that it has happened. The gospels each testify to Jesus coming into the world and testify to Jesus living a perfect life, and finally testifying to his death on the cross. And it doesn’t end there, but that Jesus was raised from the dead in victory over sin, and sits at the right hand of God. This has been accomplished for the purpose of saving sinners. Believe in him, trust in the Savior.  Take joy in the fact that your salvation, that your assurance of faith, that your sanctification lies not in your own self, but rather in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

That is the Christmas message.