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).

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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

Living by Faith is Hard

Living by faith is hard. Faithfulness means accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior. Hence, it means obeying Him. We cannot say “No” to someone we acknowledge as “Lord.” But saying “Yes” to Jesus is never easy, because it means we must first say “No” to ourselves. We are making ourselves vulnerable to God’s will.

Perhaps we experience this struggle to varying degrees in life, but in Matthew 26, in the place called Gethsemane, Jesus faces a test of faithfulness beyond anything we can ever imagine, because in this moment, everything is at stake. Jesus knows that he is about to be “delivered up to be crucified” (Matt 26:2). He understands that his blood is “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). Not only that, he knows that he is going to be resurrected (Matt 16:21). Nevertheless, Jesus’ soul is “very sorrowful, even to death” (Matt 26:38). Jesus understands his mission, but he also feels the gravity of the suffering he is about to endure.

Many of us know we can trust God. It is easy for us to say that we will submit ourselves to his will. But knowing that God is faithful does not prevent us from fearing that He will fail if we put our trust in Him. No matter how many times God has proven Himself in the past, we can’t help but wonder, “What if God doesn’t pull through this time”? That’s the scary thought. Jesus knows why he is going to be crucified, and he knows that the result will be, but with the reality of death staring him in the face, he falls on his face and prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matt 26:39a).

Praise be to God, we know that this is not the end of the story. “Nevertheless,” continues Jesus, “not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39b). He submits to God. We shouldn’t dismiss this, thinking that it is easy for Jesus to obey since, after all, he is God. “The spirit indeed is willing,” says Jesus, “but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41). This is a hard thing for Jesus to do. It doesn’t seem that Jesus is speaking here of weakness due to sin; rather, he is simply referring to human weakness, the fact that even when we want to follow God, we just don’t know if we can handle it. We want to trust him, but what if it costs us our lives?

The truth is, the flesh is weak. Jesus went to the cross. He was bruised, crushed, and pierced. He was shamed in public, in front of his disciples, in front of his mother. He bled. He suffered. He died. This is real weakness.

But he was also resurrected on the third day, and not in spirit only. For we believe in a bodily resurrection; Jesus is alive in the flesh. Therein lies our hope. For those of us who are in Christ, we believe that if we die with him, we will also be raised up with him. And we will die, because the glory of following God is a burden too great for mortal flesh to bear. Being faithful as Christ is faithful means that we also take up our crosses and follow him–to death, yes, but even more so to the resurrection, to the new life.

Therefore, we can trust, follow, and obey God despite our fears and uncertainties. And even when it seems that God has forsaken us, as Jesus felt forsaken on the cross, we know that this is not the end of the story. True, it is hard to live by faith. It is hard to say “No” to ourselves and “Yes” to God. But our faith will not be disappointed. For by raising Jesus (and us with Him), God has proven Himself to be faithful and righteous and true, once for all.

How to magnify Christ, whether by life or by death

If any of you have extra time on your hand, I highly recommend reading just any part of this blog: http://graceandrew.blogspot.com/

Every time I read it, I am humbled and amazed by how much a life–and a death–can glorify Christ. I started following this blog a couple of years ago, when older staff from my fellowship at UCLA asked us to pray for these two alumni. They were in their 20s, married for only a few years, yet the husband was diagnosed with cancer. At the time, reading about their faith in the midst of cancer was encouraging. Now, over two years later, I am convinced that one day, someone is going to collect and publish the writings of Grace and Andrew Mark, and it is going to become a Christian classic. Read any part of this blog, and you will walk away with a clearer vision of your Savior!

Finding that Much Needed Peace in Your Life – How to Be Content

I have been wanting to type out my thoughts and notes from this message that deeply impacted me when I heard it at Redeemer one Sunday. I did not bring a pencil so my notes were roughly from memory as well as some personal commentary. But I would love to share this with anyone willing to read it, because I really find it quite necessary to remind ourselves of these three things.

*Based on Tim Keller’s Sermon on Peace and how to achieve contentment in our lives.

1.) Thinking

2.) Thanking

3.) Loving

Philippians 4:4-12

4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Thanks for Their Gifts

10I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Thinking:

Often in this world and society, if you want to achieve a feeling of peace and contentment, people advise you to just try to ignore whatever is bothering you and not think about the things that are causing you to worry or stress. They tell you to relax and distract your brain until you feel better. However, Paul tells us to think about what is troubling us. The type of peace the world advertises to us is a shallow kind of peace that uses ignorance as opposed to seeking deeper into the situation and understanding why you should feel content even through suffering. When writing this, Paul was in prison and facing possible torture and death. Yet, he still could find contentment in the wretched circumstance he was in. Having gone through so many tribulations and hardships in life already, Paul must have finally understood God’s way of giving us peace. Paul talks about a “peace that transcends all understanding”. Even through immeasurable pain and suffering in life, God and only God alone can give you a peace that is not understandable to this world.

Thanking:

We always seem to thank God after He answers our many prayers. However, we should be thanking God already during our prayers, before the results appear. For whatever God chooses to have happen in our lives will forevermore always be better than whatever we want to have happen. He knows so much better than us. If only we knew as much as God knew about our lives, then would we fully comprehend and agree with His ultimate plans for us. We only know what is the present, but God knows beyond the present in every aspect of our lives. God is a good Father and He alone knows what is best for us. And therefore, we should trust Him and learn to accept what is to come. The key here is to honor God’s Sovereignty in our lives with the act of trusting in Him, to the point where before anything even happens, we are already thanking Him regardless of the future outcomes. With this mindset, peace will come into our lives.

Loving God:

Instead of loving success or wealth or family, we need to love God with all of our hearts. When you put your life on the shaky foundation of success or even family, there is always going to be that insecure feeling of losing it even when you gain it. Therefore, putting your life hand in hand with these worldly goals will bring instability and constant dissatisfaction in your life. Those things will come and go, but God is constant and will always love you faithfully. It is us who turn away from His loving embrace and we fall in life solely because of ourselves. When you see a big wave crash into some pillars of rock on the side of a beach and completely immerse the rocks underwater, it seems that the rocks have been demolished by the waves. However as the waves subside, the rock is still firmly standing there unscathed. God is like that rock, strong and firm in our lives. We just have to realize our own weaknesses and fragility and LOVE God and turn to Him as the sole refiner of our lives. God loves us so much that He sent His only son, Jesus, down to this earth to painfully die on the cross for us! Who are we to deserve such love and care from one so great and almighty! Think of how Jesus must have felt. He, of no sin and of perfect peace from God in His life dying on the cross for us and so suddenly feeling all the woes of the world and all our insecurities and lack of peace. It must have been pure torture, yet Jesus beared it all just so we could gain that peace and contentment from God. What a sacrifice that is! We are truly so blessed to be God’s children.

And to end…

The Hymn: “It is Well with My Soul”

Horatio G. Spafford wrote this song in 1876. He had a wife and four little daughters. One day his wife and children were on a ship sailing to England. That ship suddenly hit something and began to sink. His wife and children were separated in the waters. His four little daughters did not make it, but his wife fortunately survived and was taken to England. She sent him a message with two words: “Saved Alone”. As he was sailing to England to pick up his wife, he began writing this particular hymn. In the world’s view, the lyrics have no correlation whatsoever to how he must have been feeling. But as Paul stated in Philippians 4, God can give us a “peace that transcends all understanding”. And that is exactly what he gave to this faithful man of God who lost all four of his precious daughters.

So when any of you are feeling discontent in life, think of these things and realize that there is no need to be discontent, for God has filled our lives with already so much of His love and His grace.