Be a Part of the Solution rather than the Problem


“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – Mother Teresa

With the controversy of Chik-Fil-A and the boycotting, and many other circumstances that have come about as a result, I was most saddened and hurt by the outright harshness and bitterness that has come from within the Christian community regarding this whole situation.  Some of these statements are directed at the Church, and in many places de-value the Word of God to a place under the cultural perspectives that are prevalent and popular today.  Just in case you don’t realize, the Church is being persecuted and oppressed for the values it extols and loses out often because those that profess to be Christian have not adequately defended or lived out the Gospel truths in their own lives.  The simple truth is this, the people within this Church will never be able to live up to this high calling due to inherent fallen-ness of man and our sin.  So I mourn, because in one way Christians are called hypocrites for our poor living of God’s truth, and the other way is we are unable to speak our views because we are then considered ignorant/old-fashioned/hateful when we simply stand for the truths that we believe in.  The reality is we are in a dark time and if one side is unable to speak its views without an immediate angry reaction, then is this true healthy dialogue that is happening?  In many ways, I feel like folks are seeing the Church as this:

Church is like a toilet

Unfortunately, this is often how many view the Church today.

I want to make a point to state this: if you want to discuss my personal beliefs and views on this, then  please feel free to meet with me in person to talk more about the subject.  I am here to make this statement instead: Be a Part of the Solution rather than the Problem.

Recently, a sibling came to me complaining that our faith community does not pray enough.  She shared how she didn’t see us praying enough and was frustrated and disappointed at our community.  In the moment, I asked her this simple question: did you go to prayer meeting?  What essentially she was saying was that she had not seen our faithfulness to pray as a body.  Granted, she was right in some sense… our church struggles in praying together, but I knew that it was a bit unfair for her to make this assessment because I had never seen her at our meetings.  Her response that followed my question was one of acknowledging that she had not attended.  I replied then that perhaps her role then is to start praying for others and to start attending.  In doing so, one speaks with more credibility and sets an example for others, and you start to be a part of the solution rather than the problem.

Be a part of the solution rather than the problem, beloved brothers and sisters.  Just like you, I hate that there are many in the Church that make those in the LGBT community feel unloved, unwanted, and less-than.  But let me clarify one thing… not every Christian is like this.  There are a large group of Christians that are daily trying to take up their cross and to honor Christ in all that they do and how they live.  They are loving others and praying for others.  They are actively serving the LGBT community and dialoging with others and serving the less fortunate and preaching the truth about God… the amazing Gospel of Jesus Christ to others.  In attacking the “Church”, you are also unintentionally attacking your very beloved brothers and sisters that have been a part of your Christian life and all those Saints that have come before you.  By attacking the “Church”, I think we also reveal a poor understanding of what the Church is here for too.

So let me define Church in a very short brief explanation (off the top of my head)… the Church is a supernatural entity and gathering of God’s people for His purpose and plan from our time into eternity that will come to fruition and are linked by the life, death, resurrection, and promise of Jesus Christ.  God’s people whether local or universal (“Catholic”), is the Church, and are given gifts to be used to bring about His glory and purpose.  My Professor in Seminary, Dr. Tuck said that the church is: “the people of God, people of the light, the heavenly community and congregation.”  We are the body that serves to bring about God’s plan and purpose, we are the body of CHRIST!  Realize that the body of Christ needs grace just as much as the world does.

The funny thing is this, the Church, the people of God are NOT saved and being used because they are the Dream Team of good people; if anything it is because we really suck!  It is exactly because of their inherent brokenness and flawed-ness that the Church is called to be Jesus’ hands and feet and voice to this world that is lost.  It is taking the weak and the foolish and shaming the strong and the wise.  God does not need us to do His work, but by His grace allows Christians to participate despite our inherent and apparent imperfection and hypocrisy.  The irony is God can use the worst situations to bring about His greatest achievements; it is in doing so that humanity gets no credit and He gets all the glory.  If the Church consisted of holy perfect people, then we would not be about Christ but ourselves.  It is in this constant dependency and need that we constantly are seeking after God and crying out to Him for help.

Be a part of the solution rather than the problem, beloved brothers and sisters.  Jesus did hang out with society’s rejects and losers.  He also hung out with the popular and even super-religious folks.  Do you have a Jesus’ words in red letter Bible?  If so, then what you notice is this: Jesus in the words He spoke was filled with truth that was so beautiful and perfect and incredibly impossible to live up to apart from God; it had such holiness, power, and was without error.  Yet if you look at Jesus’ life in the black letters (normal print), what you see is a Savior that was incredibly gracious and loving.  He was patient with those that needed patience, and strong and firm to those that were self-righteous.  The truth is: “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17b).  Jesus was a perfection of both grace and truth lived out; He exemplified that paradox of being able to accomplish both.

The unfortunate reality is: we all desire to be both grace and truth and like all humanity we tend to swing like a pendulum overcompensating or undercompensating in our lives.  We can be incredibly gracious and yet truth-less, and we can also be incredibility truthful and yet be grace-less.  Either way is NOT Jesus because they are inherently flawed and may actually hinder others.  Being gracious and loving without truth brings about nothing that Jesus did; He extolled the Scriptures… He did not come to abolish the Law that was given, but to fulfill them.  Our righteousness needs to exceed even those of the religious people!  Being truthful and Word-centered without grace brings about nothing that Jesus did either.  Jesus perfectly loved His enemies and prayed for them as He died there on the cross at Calvary… He was perfect in His love as well.

You can’t have one without the other. Grace and Truth… and yet we each desire to find that balance. This is the Christian life inspired, guided, strengthened, reinforced and lived out daily until we are called home.  If you profess to know Jesus Christ and show very little grace; you have missed the point.  God is love, and in Jesus’ very act of submission and sacrifice… His life/death/resurrection exemplifies God’s love!  If you profess to know Jesus Christ and show very little concern for God’s Word, His truth; you have missed the point.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He is truth and He has brought about the Word to teach and show His Story!

If you disregard what the Word is teaching and saying, and sacrifice it all for “love” then you are NOT proclaiming the truth.  You cannot have grace without the truth; and you cannot have truth without grace.  When it is one or the other in extreme what you have is anti-nomianism, or legalism; it is an unhealthy imbalance.  Either way is not what Jesus teaches and NOT how he lived!  If you are not concerned with the inherent sin found in our world today that has been shown and addressed by God, then you are not seeing this world as God sees this world.  It is the very case that God loves this world so much that He has sent Jesus to address this sin of this world.  If one disregards this sin, then what was the point of Jesus’ life/death/resurrection?

Be a part of the solution rather than the problem, beloved brothers and sisters.  The world does not need any more people hating on those that follow Jesus.  The Bible already pointed out that there are folks that will do that and even kill Jesus’ followers, there is no need for more because if anything it reveals one’s own bitterness and hatred rather than truly helping the circumstances.  Be a part of the solution… have you ever thought that perhaps your insight into God’s truth and how to love the LGBT community is an opportunity to educate rather than to accuse?  Rather than pointing one’s finger, which is the problem, let’s be a part the solution by educating and setting an example for others.  Prayerfully and by teaching and gaining the trust of those we love and desire to encourage, we patiently point out how to love and to dialogue with those that may be ignorant within our Churches.

Here’s the thing too… for those outside the Church, we have an opportunity to be part of the solution as well. We don’t walk into conversations and start fights with the truth, but as God is the Creator, let us be creative in how we display, share and interact with grace and truth to those in this world.  In the same way, it is building relationships and trust and sharing with love and grace and showing them how a Christian is to be holy as He is holy; it is also sharing and telling others of the truths found in Scripture and sharing the Gospel (remember all Scripture is profitable for teaching/reproof/correction/training in righteousness).  It is showing our less-than perfectness and showing that only Christ has brought about perfection and it is not our actions and works that result in this, but His grace alone.  Let us not fight the world by the world’s ways, but through God’s way which is through love that is shown by both grace and truth.  Let us always remember this.

Lastly, you will be persecuted for your position.  You will demand truth and grace, but the world and even the church will perhaps only see one or the other.  Be persecuted, but keep running the good race.  Your life needs to continue to reflect His truth and grace, and your focus must be on Christ only.  Your first and only allegiance needs to be the Lord.  For others, you are called to love them and see God’s heart for them. It is through this then you are to manifest truth and grace.  Remember, the Church consists of sinners, and yet, this is the community which Jesus Christ sacrificed His life for!  God is somehow using this rag-tag bunch of folks to do His good work, and He loves them as well.  Let us be a part of the solution rather than the problem; let us not condemn those in the body, but let us teach and encourage them to love and pray for others, and to value the word of God.  Let us practice a balance of grace and truth.   Grace and peace to you.

Reading Scripture, Remythologizing Love

God is Love

I recently picked up a copy of Kevin Vanhoozer’s Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship. As an amateur reader, I’m not qualified to comment at length about his argument (I’m also barely 1/3 of the way through). Vanhoozer’s remythologizing is actually a response against certain strands of liberal theology, which “demythologize” God, debunking the idea that God is some supernatural being “out there.” To quote Rudolf Bultmann: “The question of God and the question of myself are identical.” Thus, liberal theology collapses the God/world distinction. In contrast to the demythologizers, Vanhoozer starts with the fact that God speaks. God is a God who communicates to us and says things about Himself. But Vanhoozer is not only serious about what God says, but also about how God says what He says.

At least, that’s what I’ve gathered so far (my apologies if you stumbled onto this blog expecting a review/critique of Vanhoozer’s work).

Well, all that heavy theologizing got me thinking about the relationship between God’s Word and my main area of service (youth group). In particular, I wonder whether the conscience of our upcoming youth takes its cues from culture or from the sound doctrine of Scripture. There is evidence, I think, that we’ve been lulled into thinking about God on our terms, rather than thinking about ourselves on His terms.

Take, for example, the way we talk about God’s love. As a volunteer in my church’s youth group (myself being a graduate of evangelical youth culture), I have seen how middle-school, high-school, even college age students latch onto the idea of love as the preferred way of thinking about, talking about, and relating to God. God loves us, we say, and we ought to love God back. Love is the catch-all term. No doubt, “God is Love,” as 1 John 4:16 says. Unfortunately, I fear that our concept of love is derived not from Scripture, but from our favorite worship song/band, Christian book, or (even worse) pop culture. Instead of seeking to understand the covenant-keeping love proclaimed in the Word, we content ourselves with speaking of God’s love in romantically-driven, politically-correct, or moralistic terms.

  • Romantically-driven: For example, how many of our favorite worship songs might as well be love songs? It’s a problem when replacing every occurrence of “God” or “Jesus” with your girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s name doesn’t really make a difference in the song.
  • Politically-correct: When we, in the name of love, condone lifestyles (not just homosexuality, mind you, but also, say, premarital sex) that are clearly prohibited in Scripture, we can be sure that our concept of love comes more from culture rather than from Christ.
  • Moralistic: Too often, our practice of Christianity amounts to being “nice” to each other so that we can all be “happy.”

This will not do. To quote Vanhoozer (quoting another author), “Projecting even our best thoughts about love falls short of the divine reality: ‘When we equate God simply with anything that is true, good, or beautiful, then it is those things which define God, rather than God who defines them’ ” (176). We must not make God in our own image, constructing a bigger version – an idol – of ourselves. Romantic love blown up to superhuman proportions is not the love of God. This is to commit the mistake of the Greeks, whose gods were merely humans, super-sized. It is to demythologize God, collapsing the distinction between Creator and creature.

Humans are prone to idolatry. To counteract this tendency, our patterns of thought must always be renewed by Scripture. Vanhoozer puts it well (161-2):

The solution is to focus on the form of Jesus Christ. While human individuals and societies image God inconsistently, the person of Jesus – and this includes his way of relating to others – is the “image of the invisible God” (Cor 1:15). The New Testament fills out with specific content what would otherwise remain abstract, identifying the image that Jesus makes visible with “true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24; cf. Col 3:10-15). Even these notions need to be “earthed,” and we do this by identifying them with the concrete pattern of action, reaction, and interaction that characterizes the life of Jesus. That means attending to the Biblical mythos that renders his identity.

To understand God’s love rightly, we must look at Jesus Christ, and this means paying attention to what God has said in the Bible. Again, this is not the Jesus of pop culture, the buddy Jesus, or anyone other than the Jesus attested to and revealed in Scripture. Vanhoozer takes God’s speaking seriously, and so should we. To speak truly of God, we must allow His way of speaking of Himself to shape our way of speaking of Him.

This is not to say that worship songs or other secondary sources are unhelpful. These should serve a ministerial (pointing us towards God) rather than a magisterial (defining God for us) function. Songs extolling God’s love will lead us into the heart of worship only if our knowledge of His love is constantly being informed and renewed by Scripture. There is no true worship without an understanding of His Word.

So I’ll end this post where Vanhoozer begins his book – with God speaking in the Scriptures. Working through Vanhoozer’s Remythologizing has reminded me of the importance of reading the Bible and reading it well. “All Scripture is God-breathed” and has the power to change the way we live, think, and act. That’s something we all need to hear. May God have mercy on us, for unless He first speaks to us, our best thoughts will still fall short of His glory.

Something for us all to consider

Psalm 119:105

After graduating from college and moving to Thousand Oaks for work, I spent a few years serving in the youth ministry at Chinese Christian Church of Thousand Oaks. If you have served in youth ministry, you know that the high school life is full of many things that make for wonderful illustrations that can be used for teaching. What we have to be careful of however is the tendency to take the truth that falls from these or any other illustrations and simply see it as a lesson for “those who are younger”.

Those who are younger can be those physically younger in terms of age, or those who we view as weaker or younger in their faith (regardless of age). With that said, something that has been on my mind recently is how we approach learning.

Something that I know is a struggle for students is preparing for college. Everything is built upon two things: the goal (“success”) and the steps required (grades, tests, etc.) to get there. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, sooner or later we all learn how to “game the system”. With the right grades and the right test scores, we can improve our chances of achieving the goal that we have set. But are we simply cramming to pass a test in order to get to our goal, or are we studying to learn? While there is definitely some overlap, the motivation behind our studying may indicate how important thing the things that we have learned are to us. I can say that half the things I “learned” in school simply got me through the tests. If I were to have to recall all of it today, the outcome would not be the same. The things I learned served their purpose, and now it’s on to other things.

This isn’t meant to be a critique of our education system, however I believe a similar concept can be applied to our spiritual lives. How important is the Word to us as we study it? Are we reading or taking notes on sermons so that we can pass them on to that friend “who needs to get their life together”? Maybe the motivation for reading the Word is to be able to fit in with others that are always talking about the Bible or to be able to engage in theological debates with others. Perhaps we like being the person who is always able to share something really deep during Bible study. But once we’ve “used” it in whatever setting we had planned for it, then it’s on to other things. The Bible simply becomes another thing we only use in front of or on others.

To be absolutely clear, I am not arguing that a person who desires to share God’s Word with others has it all wrong. After all, we are commanded to, “…always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). However, if we back up to the beginning of verse 15, we see that it begins with: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.”

So instead of “using” the Word on others, let’s start by studying it with the desire and motivation to be reminded of the fact that Christ Jesus came to die for sinners such as ourselves. Remember that He came to rescue us and explode into doxology in response and revere Christ as Lord because of what has been done for us.

This is something for all of us to consider, whether we’re an attendee of a Bible study and especially if we have the responsibility of teaching and leading others. Sometimes the tendency is to immediately apply what we learn on others, however the Psalmist in Psalm 119:105 reminds us that, “Your word is a lamp to my feet. And a light to my path.” Allow it to light the steps immediately before you, and the path ahead of you.

For those in the Ventura County area feel free to join me and a few others at Element Coffee in Camarillo on Saturday mornings as we try and put this into practice. This isn’t a Bible study of any sort, simply a few folks studying on their own. I know how easily distracted I get at home. Having fellow brothers and sisters nearby to keep on me on track helps me get that running start I need sometimes.

Got a favorite spot that you spend time studying the Word at? Feel free to leave it in the comments (ahem…other contributors). Let’s start this 2nd half of the year off by resolving to commit ourselves to being honest with ourselves in how we approach the Word of God.

Jeremiah 29: Not Your Average Hallmark Greeting

Jeremiah 29:11

As I was reading Jeremiah today, I came across one of the most famous passages of the book, chapter 29 verse 11:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

I can imagine this verse being set to a Hallmark card accompanied by an inspirational photo in the background. And in fact, a quick Google Image search of “Jeremiah 29” yields just that: dozens of cute/inspirational/tranquil etc. images, each with the text of Jer 29:11.

Well, I don’t want to spend my time bashing these images for being tacky or misleading (in the sense that they lead us to interpret the passage out-of-context). Jeremiah 29:11 certainly is a beautiful and comforting passage. But I’d like to suggest that when we read this verse in context, we aren’t just left with the fuzzy feeling of a Hallmark greeting. Instead, we gain a lasting impression of God’s redemptive grace.

First, consider the historical context. The passage is part of a letter that Jeremiah sent to the Israelite exiles in Babylon. Jeremiah 29:2 tells us that “[t]his was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem.” You can read the full narrative of these events in 2 Kings 24. In short, the best and the brightest of Judah have already been exiled. The Zedekiah described in Jer. 29:3 is basically a puppet governor of King Nebuchadnezzar (Zedekiah will later rebel, and the rest of Judah will be exiled to Babylon). All of this is happening to Judah because of their sin and idolatry.

So what should we make of all this history? Well, the actual contents of the letter that Jeremiah sends to the exiles is surprising, given the historical context. Consider Jer 29:4-7:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters…But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

In other words, Jeremiah is telling the exiles that they are going to spend a long time in Babylon. This likely isn’t something they wanted to hear. Remember, Babylon is the enemy of Judah. Indeed, Jer. 27-28 is about how false prophets in Judah are promising that Babylon will fall and the exiles will return. As much as Jeremiah himself wishes that this were true (see Jer. 28:6), he is clear about God’s word: Judah will go into exile and live among the Babylonians.

To summarize, Judah is going into exile for her idolatry, and this exile is going to be longer than expected. Judah is experiencing the consequences of her sin; God is judging her. Jeremiah 29:11 isn’t just about God promising to do good and to bless people in general; Jeremiah 29:11 is about God promising to do good for Israel despite her radical unfaithfulness towards him. Thus, it is a testament to God’s continuing grace for His people despite their failure to keep the covenant.

Far from killing the good feelings we have towards Jer. 29:11, reading it in context humbles us before the majesty of God’s grace. The focus, as it turns out, isn’t on us, or even on Judah. The main speaker, the initiator, and the star actor in the passage is God. Jeremiah 29 offers a glimpse into the character of God. Here are several things we learn about Him:

First, we learn that God is sovereign and that his sovereignty is characterized by grace. In 29:14, God says that He is the one who has sent Judah into exile. Despite how it may look from a human perspective, Judah is not at the mercy of her enemies. Her exile is not just the story of the Babylonian war machine gobbling up another smaller nation as it tightens its grip on the ancient near-east. Instead, it is the story of God chastising his people and judging them for their unfaithfulness. Throughout all this, God-not King Nebuchadnezzar-is the one who is in control.

Since God is in control, exile does not spell the end of the Israelite nation. Carry on while you are in exile says God, because His plan for Israel is a plan for wholeness, for hope, and for a future. Even mighty Babylon will one day fall to the Persians (who will fall to the Greeks, who will fall to the Romans…), but there will always be a remnant of Israel. From this remnant, Israel will receive her Messiah, who will not only save Israel, but all of humanity from sin and death. God shows grace to Israel by preserving her in exile.

Surprisingly, God’s grace is also extended to the Babylonians, Judah’s enemies, through the Israelite exiles. Seek the welfare of Babylon, says God; pray to the LORD on behalf of its inhabitants. Yes, exile is a bad thing for Judah, but through all this, the Babylonians come into contact with the people who worship the living God–the people whose destiny is to become a blessing to all nations. Despite their failure to live up to their high calling, God’s people, by His grace, continue to be a priestly nation even while they are being judged in exile.

All that to say: Jeremiah 29 reminds us that God is sovereign, that He is gracious, and that His grace extends even to the enemies of Judah. God continues to be faithful, even when the Israelites have been radically unfaithful. Judah’s exile isn’t the end of the story for God’s people, but a chapter in the narrative of redemption that will culminate in the coming of Jesus Messiah. In this sense, Jeremiah 29:11 is not an ancient Hallmark greeting. It is God’s promise to remain faithful to his plans for redemption, a testament to His sovereignty and grace.

God’s will

TemporaryVisitors - Guest Post

Whenever there’s a 5th Sunday in a month, we take a break from the regular rotation between myselfHeliconTim, and Dien to feature a guest writer. Since there were 5 Sundays in April, this week’s post comes to you from my good friend and younger* brother, Nathan Yee.

* He does not allow me to call him “little” for obvious reasons if you’ve ever seen us standing next to each other. 

Lately I have been contemplating what it means to ‘be in God’s Will’.  We always speak about and pray that we want the ‘Will of God’ to be expressed in our life and that we would co-labor in it.  The question I posed to myself in studying this was:

Am I not seeing an opportunity that is right in front of me which God has placed in my life, that I ought to be pouring into? 

I am reminded of Paul’s missionary work and how he had a genuine desire to go and share the Gospel to the Romans. Obviously Paul didn’t just wait and not do anything and wait for God to open a door for him to get to Rome so he could fulfill his desire.  If so, the book of Acts would have looked much differently, but on the contrary what we do see is Paul actively contending for the faith everywhere God sent him.  Even though Paul didn’t immediately get to Rome in the beginning of his missionary journey, he poured everything he had into what was before him. Acts 14:20 tells of Paul being stoned in Lystra and dragged out of the city presumed dead by the locals, but immediately re-enters the city which tried to kill him.  We do not experience that type of persecution today, but how often do we bow out of opportunities to share the love of God when confronted with the slightest opposition? Paul could of said at that point, ‘I’ve had it with Lystra, my desire is to be in Rome and that is where I’m going.’ But Paul didn’t allow life’s circumstances and his own genuine desires to get in the way of doing what God had for him and followed faithfully.

We can have our desires for our life but the Lord will take us ultimately where He sees fit. Even when our desires are praiseworthy and for the God’s glory, it may not be what God has in store for us at the moment.  We ought not to let circumstances dictate where we believe God is leading us.  God has not promised us comfort and ease in following Him but the contrary ‘Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,’ 2 Timothy 3:12.  Easily we fall into a trap today where the most comfortable and logical choice is sought after as God’s plan for us.  We pour everything we have into obtaining this dream to where we have lost sight of what it says in Matthew 22:37 ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’.  Lets be reminded that we are to love God for who He is rather than the blessings He gives.

I am reminded of the lyrics to ‘Give Us Clean Hands’ by Chris Tomlin, “Oh God let us be a generation that seeks, who seeks Your face, oh God of Jacob”.  We have an opportunity to have intimate fellowship with the one and true living God for all the days of our lives, let us not consume ourselves with the periphery.

For the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.