How did you?

You may be wondering why I am posting again so soon, but it is because I have an exciting personal story to share with you! But before I share this story, I want to ask you a simple question… for some of you, this may be many years ago, but for others, it may be recent… how did you come to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  How did God first start to reach out to you in your former life… in the midst of the darkness… how did you come to see the light?  How did the unsearchable riches of Christ become revealed to you?

Paul shared these poignant words in Romans 10:14-15:

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

So that’s my question because my story starts with that question how that led me on an adventure that came to a beautiful conclusion.  You see, a few years ago, I felt led to search up all those brothers and sisters in my life that had been a part of introducing me to Christ.  Those that helped me to come to know Christ through sharing/witnessing/evangelizing/preaching… those that God used to witness to me about His incredible story.  My story began than with quite a few different individuals including my real younger brother, a high school friend, a few brothers from UCSB AACF and a random co-worker.

For this story, I want to focus on that random co-worker because I was able to thank and even meet up with all those others in my past that had a part to play to my knowing Jesus.  Yet my co-worker, I could not find after we parted ways about 10 years ago.  I just remembered that this co-worker, a Westmont grad… started working with me… and started to ask me questions about my faith then (Buddhism), and hung out.  We played baseball on the beach during lunch, ate together, chatted, and he simply asked me about my faith and shared a bit about his faith in Jesus.  Such a small thing, but it was his courage to talk to me, to love me and befriend me… despite my ignorance … that started the ball rolling to my own searching for an answer.  Nobody knows this, but his humble, simple witness was what started that insatiable curiosity for an answer that I could not find anywhere… was finally found at the feet of the cross of my murdered Savior, who died and rose again for my sake.

I won’t share his name via text, but you’ll see it in the picture that follows soon.  A few reasons… first of all, I think it’s best to not just list it, but also because ultimately, it is God who is moving and working these incredible things; not man, but God alone that deserves the true credit.

But as I am writing, my co-worker after a few months moved away from Santa Barbara!  Before he left, I am sure he left me his contact information, and I believe it was for medical school that he left.  You see, his dream was to be a doctor and to serve others and help others.  I remembered that, but like everything then, I lost the information or failed to keep in touch.  As time passed… I came to know Christ, but our friendship/story was lost into the obscurity of history.  Yet it was in the asking of the question of how did I… that I tried seeking out this co-worker. Google and Facebook were utilized, and though he did not have a facebook, Google showed that he was doing his residency in Fresno/Bakersfield!  There was no contact information so I set this aside and continued to pursue other things, and once again it was lost into the fog of history.

Well fast forward to Nov. 2012, and now, I am a Pastor in Santa Barbara serving at CEFCSB.  One of the members of our church family, an elderly sister in Christ was in the hospital with a foot infection, and I went to visit her there. During my hospital visit, I wanted to save up her contact phone number so I took a picture of the white board that is in every patient’s room at the hospital.  This was what I saw:

What I saw: my co-worker’s name!

The physician’s last name matched my random co-worker’s!  I thought … this couldn’t be the same person could it be? But it was such a unique last name, I figured I’d ask the nurse.  She mentioned that he was a doctor that just moved here, and so when I went to the website to look it up, it was him!!!!  I was so ecstatic, and left him a message with my number to call me so we can catch up.  Though he has yet to respond (only been a few days), I heard that he rejoiced to hear about me, and I hope that we’ll get time to sit down and talk and to fellowship once again.

Isn’t that wonderful?  Isn’t that praise worthy? Consider the words of Paul in Romans 10, how are people to call on Jesus for whom they have not believed? How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  How are they to hear without someone preaching? How are they to preach unless they’ve been sent?  How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!

You see, my doctor/co-worker’s friendship and willingness to talk about Jesus with me seemed so unspectacular at first glance. Very little impact and very little power, and yet God used this to save me… to change my heart… and now, I have been called to a place of serving others as well. Paul writing to us in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, wrote these words as a reminder:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

So as I leave you today, I want to give you an encouragement… How did you come to know and hear the good news of Jesus Christ?  Perhaps you are the random co-worker in another’s life!  My prayer is that you may be the random co-worker in many other people’s lives as well!  For truly, how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!

Devotion of the heart

Luke 12:34

Luke writes, “For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also” (Lk. 12:34). May I ask you, where is your heart? If you happen to come across the little book Ezra in the Bible, you will know Ezra’s heart: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statures and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). The Bible declares that David was a man after God’s own heart. I would say that Ezra was also a man after God’s own heart for that is clearly stated in Ezra 7:10. Are you a man/woman after God’s own heart?

When the text says that Ezra “had set his heart” that can be translated as “has devoted himself.” We know in Hebrew culture the heart represents the whole being. Ezra whole person was committed to studying the law of the LORD. In other words, Ezra committed his whole being to carefully search God’s word for his own benefit and for the benefit of Israel. He studied the writes to know God for himself so that he could put it into practice then teach the people of Israel. Do we carefully search God’s word for our own spiritual benefit?

Ezra did not stop at studying God’s word. He goes on to practice God’s word. Simply put, he put into action what he learned through the careful devotion of God’s word. He is a doer of God’s Word. He is the second man in the book of James. What type of man are we? The man who studies God’s word but not a doer or are we the man that studies and put it into action?

Lastly, Ezra taught God’s word to the children of Israel. Not many are called to be teachers, but if you are called, then you need to teach God’s word to your people. You cannot do this last step without the former two. Each step is interdependent upon one another. Faithfully teach God’s word. Do not water it down. Give theology to your people. Feed your sheep instead of giving them ten steps to a better relationship. Give them biblical truths instead of peddling how to date. Teach your people to live holy lives instead of confusing them with social agendas. Preach the Word!

“For where you treasures is, there your heart will be also” (Lk. 12:34). Is our treasure the Lord? If so will we set our hearts to study the Law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statures and ordinances to our people? May God help us.

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.

Daily Bible Reading

Daily Bible Reading

One of the acronyms for the Bible is Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. It instructs us how to act: don’t lie, don’t cheat and so on and so forth. It instructs us how to interact with other people: love your neighbor as yourself and pray for your enemies. It instructs us how to pray: Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Yet, the Bible is more than basic instructions before leaving earth. In reading it, we get to know our God more. It is one of the ways to develop a deeper relationship with God. In reading it, we grow in holiness and we become transformed into the image of the only Begotten Son. We learn what it means to be a Christian.

Yet, the sad reality is daily Bible reading has ceased to exist in our lives. The Bible is forgotten throughout the week. The sad thing is we are okay with that attitude. We are okay with not reading our Bibles daily. We are okay with not communing with God daily. We are okay with not growing spiritually. We are okay, we are fine. That is scary, when our attitude towards not reading the Bible is we are okay with that.

Perhaps we don’t make Bible reading a normal part of our lives is because it is hard to understand. If we find that the Bible is hard to understand then we are in good company. The apostle Peter declared that the apostle Paul’s writings are hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:16b). Just because it is hard to understand, it does not mean that it cannot be understood.

There is no doubt that there are some secret things in Scripture (Deut. 29:29), but the words of Augustine are suitable for the mysteries of Scripture. Augustine writes, “Although many things in the scripture be spoken in obscure mysteries, yet there is nothing spoken under dark mysteries in one place, but the selfsame thing in other places is spoken more familiarly and plainly, to the capacity both of learned and unlearned.  And those things in the scripture that be plain to understand, and necessary for salvation, every man’s duty is to learn them, to print them into memory, and effectually to exercise them.  and as for the dark mysteries, to be contented to be ignorant in them until such time as it shall please God to open those things unto him.  In the mean season, if he lack either aptness or opportunity, God will not impute it to his folly.” Too often, we declare Scripture too hard and mysterious because we don’t read other parts of the Bible. In others words, if one part of the Bible is hard to understand and mysterious then there are other parts of the Bible that might explain the hard and mysterious verses, chapters, or subjects.

Another factor that should encourage us to make Bible reading a part of our daily routine is we have the Holy Spirit. One of the tasks of the Spirit is to teach and instruct believers in the Word. We are not left alone to understand God’s Word when we read. We are not left to resources, human wisdom. We have the Author of the Scripture to help us understand the Word. We need to read prayerful and meditatively if we want to get anything out of God’s Word.

The question at the end of the day is do we want to know God more intimately? If so, make Bible reading a part of your life. It is okay if the Bible is hard to understand and has mysteries because we have the Spirit to guide us through it all.

Things I wish I was told before I left for college

Things I Wish I Was Told Before I Left For College

Around June every year my commute to work gets a little bit sweeter. This is because the high school that I live near goes into summer session and the early morning traffic jam it creates takes a break for a few months. Then September rolls around and the bumper to bumper traffic returns. However, one thing that doesn’t return is an entire class of students. So as the class of 2012 starts to pack their bags, here are a few words of advice…a few things things that I wish I was told before I left for college.

Be responsible

Your college education is important. However you need to make sure that you view your education (or anything else you have for that matter) with a biblical perspective. You have been given an opportunity to attend college. This does not make you better than others who do not have this opportunity. What it does mean is that you have been blessed with something which you now are to be a responsible steward of. The parable in Matthew 25:14-30 describes the relationship between a master and his servants and how each servant was entrusted with something of great value. A few things we can observe are:

  • The amount that each servant was given varied, but as we’ll soon see the responsibility was the same
  • The ownership of these things always belonged to the master, the servants were stewards or managers
  • The purpose behind the possession of these things was not self-serving, the servants were to invest them for the master’s gain
  • The result of being a faithful and responsible steward was rewarded, the 2 servants that invested and earned interest for the master received the exact same praise even though the amount of return was different

Don’t get caught up comparing what you’re doing after high school with someone else. Realize that whatever you’ve been entrusted with is not yours. Resist the temptation to be self-serving. Seek to understand how to invest yourself purposefully for God’s gain, and “…enter into the joy of your master (Matthew 25:23)“.

Stay focused

I was in college when YouTube started gaining momentum. As if there weren’t already enough distractions, suddenly dubbed versions of old GI Joe cartoons were all the craze. There are a lot of things that will distract you from pressing onward in the manner which Paul describes in Philippians 3. The need to stay focused and press on is reinforced when Paul describes the Christian life as a race in two of his other letters in the New Testament. He describes it as requiring self control in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, so that we could win the race. He also describes it as requiring endurance in Hebrews 12:1-2, “…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith”.

You’d never try to run a marathon wearing jeans and carrying a suitcase in your hands. Take the race seriously and as you run, consider what might be slowing you down. Stay focused, and fix your eyes upon Jesus.

Look out for that pop quiz

I found myself cramming a lot during college. That usually did the trick when I knew a test was coming up. However when those pop quizzes reared their ugly head I was usually caught off guard because I had spent my time doing useless things. Boy did I wish I had been studying more regularly.

Likewise, life will take twists and turns when you least expect it. Classes will seem impossible. Your transcript may begin to look more like alphabet soup. Friendships and relationships will seem like more trouble than they’re worth. Unexpected circumstances will come your way. However despite these circumstances, remember that your citizenship is not in this world but in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Remember that Jesus came to die for you and I. Remember that He came to rescue us. And explode into doxology as you put all the pieces together. However the sad reality is these are the last things that come to mind. Make it a point in college to develop a healthy habit of studying the Word of God regularly. Then you’ll be ready for any pop quiz that comes your way because you have learned and remembered these things.

While sharing about his initial reaction to finding out his daughter had cancer, Pastor Britt Merrick recalled the strength and encouragement he found as the scriptures flooded his mind, specifically Psalm 61:2. He was ready for the pop quiz. He described it as “your mind goes to Jesus (skip ahead to  8:15, but the whole thing is worth watching)“. Invest time in setting a solid foundation that is built upon the Word of God. You never know when there will be a pop quiz.

Study hard

There are so many other things that can be said, such as the importance of plugging yourself into a local church, but we’ll end it with this last point (which is extremely similar to the previous point, but still worth repeating). I trust that if we can get this right, the other things will fall into place. Study hard.

It is easy to bury yourself in your books studying for school. As much as we’d like to say we always studied to learn, a lot of time was spent studying to simply pass a test. No, we’re not flip-flopping on our previous bit of advice. Be a responsible steward with the opportunity you have been given to further develop your God-given talents for God’s glory. However, do not de-prioritize studying the Word of God, which has eternal value. May we say with the psalmist, “Your word is a lamp to my feet. And a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)”.