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.

Living as a Citizen

As Christians, we should strive for a union between what we believe and how we live our lives. If we truly consider ourselves citizens of heaven, then that should be reflected in the choices we make, the things we do, and the words we say.

Consider Paul’s argument in Philippians 3:8:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Paul really believes that knowing Christ is the most worthwhile thing in life, and I think we can all happily agree with him. But what does it mean to know Christ? Paul gives us the answer:

“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (3:8-11).

Now do we still really want to know Christ? It’s not as easy as we usually make it out to be, for Paul clearly seems to think that knowing Christ means knowing him in his suffering. Knowing Christ means the loss of all things, and, more than that, participating in his suffering for the sake of the Gospel. Are we prepared to accept that? We say that we believe in Christ and desire to know him, but do we embrace everything that entails? Or are we just like the rest of the world in the way we live? Paul, at least, is consistent with his belief; he is ready and willing to suffer.

Fortunately, suffering and death give way to resurrection in Christ. This is the prize that Paul seeks, the goal for which he is straining (3:14). Paul really believes in the future glory, and that defines the way he lives in the present.

So, my question is, How we live on earth as citizens of Heaven? What does that look like for us? My guess, based on the rest of Philippians, is that it has to do with living for the sake of the Gospel (1:21-22), and that it is expressed as humility (2:1-11).

What do you think?

When life gives me lemons…

i hope and desire that i would choose to give thanks because those very lemons in the hands of a great chef can create so much more than i could ever do on my own. i will not “go make lemonade” as the saying so often goes. it isn’t about what i can do, rather it is about what has been done. and because of that i can…

“consider it all joy…knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-4)

“rejoice always…pray without ceasing…in everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

“not loose heart…for momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

i am no great chef, but i know those lemons can make a lot more than lemonade. why settle for lemonade when there is so much more to be gained from something such as trials in this temporary life? in reality these lemons are a gift, and for that i am thankful, because…

“every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above…” (James 1:17)

as you embark on your black friday adventures and all the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, i encourage you to take a moment and pause to reflect on the many things we have been blessed with. here’s a great idea if you’d like to give someone a different kind of gift this year.

happy thanksgiving,

bryan

God, This Hurts

Philippians 1:29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Retreat: Seek and Worship

Where do I start? God took each and every youth and challenged them with a Word that spoke of undying truth and love. Winter Retreat of 2009 showed me that I was not seeking God, and that I won’t be unless I pursue it.

This Retreat was an oppurtunity to serve God in a way that was 1) not stressful and 2) with power. I prepared music of worship along with a hope of captivating the hearts of all. It was the outcome of the lesson I had learned from Summer Retreat of 2009, where although there was power, it was stressful and lacking worshipful hearts. I prayed to God to give me wisdom in leading the youth into worship, to organize teams, sets and practice with minimal to no stress. I wanted this Retreat to be a retreat.

Our message was “Citizens of Heaven, Aliens in the World”.  Music that depicted the Christian lifestyle? Easy. Done, just like that. But God worked through the planning to measures that I would never have done, many details and things that God blessed me with. In all, I felt ready and set.

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is Gain

This is from Philippians, and it was our theme verse. Throughout the retreat I found myself calling out to God to create in me a heart that sought Him constantly, to worship Him through song and life.  And no matter how cliched it is, and how cheesy it may sound, God gave and took away.

God’s Giving:

Before the retreat, Hannah Weidman, our worship team’s backup singer was extremely sick, and because of this she was unable to sing for she lost her voice. Day 2 of retreat, God gave her the health and strength to praise Him through her voice. Also, Randy Chen, our electric guitarist, was able to help me in terms of technicals things, giving me freedom throughout the sets. I can’t thank him enough for willingly perfecting our set up with the equipment we had. We also had many great worship sets for all sessions which could not have been done without His guidance.

Taking away:

Sound was an issue, and by the end, we found that in the clash of our equipment and the camp’s, it was inefficient. Again, thanks to God, and His working through Randy, we gave it our all and put the best into it. The biggest part that pushed me near to the edge was when, through whatever reason, our bass guitar snapped a string and my acoustic guitar’s battery ran out. When I walked in ready for food in the main hall, I saw the news and heard it as well. I saw it and felt the pain and anger throughout my very soul dying to reach out. I couldn’t believe it, Praise Night was that night and I had planned it to be BIG. A beautiful time of music and worship for all. I was so angered, wanting to just lose it on all those who kept playing those instruments during the freetime, overusing them and destroying them. I was broken in absolute distress, and ran outside.

God’s Blessing through all:

I ran outside in the unreal cold night, looking into the night sky, into that little face of a moon. “God, what do I do now? I should’ve known that I would fail again. Are You are telling me that I am not up to this anymore? That I should just stop?”

I stood out there for about 5 minutes, wondering if I would ever go back in to face that mass of an issue. I could leave, and never show up again, leaving these guys to do something themselves without me. I had the pride of a lifetime that moment. If I left then, then, they would be sorry that they broke those instrument, ruining my plan for worship.

God told me to walk back in.

When I walked in, dinner was being served. I sat with Stephanie Yang, Jane Liu, William Chen and Daniel Ip. They knew the problem, they were there, but they had something to offer, not some apology to me, but a further praising of God even through it all.

God worked through each one of them, and lastly through me. “You want to seek me, then seek me without music on your side, seek me with a heart that wants to worship, and not conduct some extravagant “praise night”.

For our praise night: no bass, no drums, no electric guitar. I led off my acoustic guitar acoustically, with light keyboard by Kelly Mak in the back (whom I also praise God for!). But what God revealed to me was to have everyone else on the praise team sing. We didn’t have enough mics, so I just asked the 3 instrumentless guys to stand by a music stand and just sing like the rest of the Body. God was telling me that this is what He wanted: a Body that worshipped His name and cried out to Him. It was amazing.

The final worship sets for the sessions also were light and strove for a full, untainted worship to God.

What God showed me through this retreat, was that in order to seek Him, was to accept what God was doing in our lives, whether giving or taking away. To live is Christ, and to die is gain. There is nothing else to live and strive for than God. Through God we find the strength and boldness, without shame and fear, but with faith and an everlasting love to our Lord and Savior.