Friday, December 31, 2010

The Love Letter

If you've ever been in love, you've no doubt exchanged mushy love letters with your beloved.  I remember the giddiness I felt opening those from my bride-to-be, or the joy that welled up inside me as I wrote her my replies.  Love letters are an outward expression of powerful emotions, heartfelt promises, and undashable hopes. While they may serve as weapons of harassment by curious parents or annoying little siblings, they really only carry a meaning for the two of you.  No one but you can find the little nuances of meanings between each hand-written line, or laugh at the cute inside jokes you two share.  Farrah and I recently rummaged through some of our old letters and cards, and I found myself reliving that same familiar giddiness.  How powerful is the written word, when you know it was penned by your beloved!

We were in a restaurant recently, when I overheard someone at another table recommend to another that they read the Book of John.  The young woman's reply was something like, "Yeah, I got a kids' Bible for my son and read it."  I don't usually eavesdrop, but this conversation got my attention for a couple reasons.  First of all, my soon-to-be-father-in-law, a pastor, asked me to read the Book of John, after I told his daughter that I wanted to know more about Jesus.  He told me that it's the most appropriate of the four Gospels for new converts to read.  Our own pastor recently echoed the same statement.  Second, I recognized my (old) self in the woman's attitude toward the Bible: that a (paraphrased) kids' version is equivalent to God's Word.  I was intently listening to see if I could pick up more, but to my disappointment, the conversation soon turned a corner and moved on.

As I thought about their short exchange, I started to realize something I hadn't thought of before: God's Word, embodied in the pages of the Bible, is His love letter to His Bride, which is the true church, the collection of all the born-again Christians who are saved by the blood that He shed on the cross for us.  And like other love letters, it holds no meaning or significance for those who have no relationship with Him, nor are seeking one.  "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18).

I was an atheist for the first two decades of my life.  When I was in high school, I unwittingly became involved with a Christian youth group (Young Life).  Though I made some fond memories while I was a part of it, I disliked all the Bible studies, Sunday schools, and homework I had to do.  I tried reading the Bible, but it was dry and pointless to me.  It did not speak to me, the words did not jump out at me, God did not reveal Himself to me at that time, because I was not yet ready.  Just as I would not expect my young son to receive love letters from the little girl who will one day become his wife (I trust and pray that she's out there, being raised by Godly parents, in the nurture of the Lord), God did not yet address His love letter to me.

So what's my point?  Here's the crux of the matter.  Telling someone just to go read the Bible (as I have often done myself) could fall on deaf ears, if we do not also stress that the goal is a personal relationship with its Author.  His words are meaningless, unless He draws us to Him and we seek to know Him and become His bride-to-be, His dearly beloved.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Cul-de-Sac of Power

Merry Christmas, everyone!  As has been my Christmas blogging tradition, I'd like to share something from my life.  A few blocks from our house is a lane with about 12 houses, which ends in a cul-de-sac.  Every December, all the houses but one go out of their way to decorate for Christmas.  There is even a Jewish family that gets into the spirit.  The picture above is a full-on view of what we like to call, "The Cul-de-Sac of Power!"  I'm sure the local power company just LOVES these guys!  ;)

It's become a family tradition for us to drive down their street at least once a year and take in the sight of this free light display.  Yeah, so it's the commercialization of Christmas, taken to a high degree, but it's also a testament to the closeness that these neighbors probably share.  Our cul-de-sac decorates, too, but not to this degree.

I wish you all the very best of Christmases and a New Year filled with the joy and peace that only our Savior can give!  Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why Are We Here? (Part II)

And now, without further ado, here is the conclusion to my recent Sunday message.

1 Tim. 3:1-5 (qualifications for a bishop’s office)

A church leader must first be a good family man, successful head of his own home. That doesn’t mean bossing everybody else around, but being the spiritual leader of the family. It’s important for all of us to raise our children well, because they are the next generation. As parents, God has put us in charge of raising our kids to follow Him. There is no greater responsibility, and no greater failure, in our society today.

Gen. 3:17-19 (God’s curse on Adam)

I think of this verse whenever I’m out doing some hard task in our back yard, with the hot sun beating down on me. But the fact is that the man’s primary task is to provide for his family. We need to put food on the table, but the nature of how we work is very different today than it was in the days when Christ was on Earth. Instead of working our own field or applying our trade in our own little shop, most jobs today involve working alongside dozens or hundreds of others. Now, more than ever, we have a daily opportunity to live out our faith at our workplace and witness to our co-workers. Unfortunately, the flip-side is that many employers have strict rules that ban proselytizing, in the name of political correctness, of course. Likewise, the wife’s traditional duty is to be keeper of the home and be the children’s primary instructor. Our society today, led by the feminists of the latter half of the 20 century, has pressurred women to leave the home and enter the workforce, leaving the most important duty on the planet to daycare and television. Combined with the ever-increasing costs of living and the recent recession, today’s man has to work all that much harder, if he wants to be the sole breadwinner in his home.

Matt. 28:18-20 (The Great Commission)

Some say that the Great Commission has already beel fulfilled, because you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t heard about Jesus. But did Jesus say, “Make sure everyone heard of Me”? No, He said “teach” and “baptize”. The teaching requires perseverence and commitment. Baptism implies conversion, not by threats and intimidation, but a genuine conversion that comes through patience, love, and a faithful presentation of the Gospel. I think it’s harder to do this here, in a country where an overwhelming majority already claim to be Christians, but have a skewed vision of Jesus and God’s plan of Salvation. It is harder to undo the brainwashing of our own society than it is to present the Gospel to a pagan people, whose minds have not been already corrupted with wrong ideas.

Luke 22:24-27 (Serve!)

This might seem simple, but when you boil it all down, each one of us is here to serve others. What better way to follow Jesus Christ’s own example? We lead our families by serving. We instruct our children by serving. We put bread on the table by serving (literally and figuratively!). We submit to our spouses by serving. We witness to the unsaved by serving. But if we sin, we only serve ourselves. If we willfully neglect our duty as a servant, it is to serve ourselves, which benefits no one.

So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10).

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Why Are We Here? (Part I)

I'm not an ordained minister, neither do I possess any degrees in theology, but I am a child of God, and I like to preach at our church, on occasion.  Recently, the Lord led me to address a question that many ask of God or the universe: "Why am I here?"  I've been having issues with making videos recently, so instead, I will share my notes with you.  Because my notes are usually quite lengthy, I'm splitting this post into two parts.  Enjoy!

This is a classic worldview question, and one of the most important. A worldview is a system of beliefs, assumptions, or doctrines that we use to interpret the world around us. Everyone has a worldview, whether they know it or not. The man-on-street’s answer to this question will quickly reveal what he thinks about God. One might talk about the Creator. Another about karma. Still another about primordial soup and random mutations.

But the man of God should probably rephrase the question to a more personal level: God, what is Your purpose for me? What do You want me to do with this life You have given me? Doing so, we not only acknowledge God, our Creator, as a personal being with Whom we can converse, but also recognize that He has a Grand Plan for His creation, and each one of us fits into it a little differently, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.

1 Cor. 3:10-15 (wood, hay, and stubble are burned up)

I have a giant to-do list. I was reading these verses last week and started to think about the items on that list. Which are gold, silver, and precious stones? Which are wood, hay, and stubble? As big as that list is (over 70 items!), and as little time as I always seem to have, I can’t afford to work on things that will be burned up at the last day. Ironically, some tasks that seem like gold are actually stubble, and vice-versa. Let’s get some examples and guidelines from God’s Holy Word.

Matt. 25:14-30 (parable of the talents)

God blesses each one of us with abilities and possessions of various kinds, but it is our responsibility to use these blessings responsibly and in a way that will bring glory to God and further His Kingdom. Squandering what He has given us, including the very breath that fills our lungs, makes us like the slothful servant who hid his lord’s money in the ground. Ask God how He wants you to use what He’s given you.

Ex. 3:1-10, 4:10-12 (God calls Moses)

Moses was about 80 years old when God finally called on him to bring the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. What does that teach us about patiently waiting on the Lord? Moses must have felt that he was special. Out of all the Hebrews, he alone was called the Pharaoh’s grandson. He even tried to be a judge for his people, but the plan backfired, and he had to flee. He spent much of his adult life as a shepherd. Ever wonder what he thought of his life and if he thought God had given up on him? I wonder how many nightmares he had about his Jewish brethren, who were suffering under the yoke of the Pharaoh. And yet, God used this time to prepare Moses for the task that lay ahead.

John 21:1-22 (Peter, the fisher of men)

After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter and six other disciples went back to being fishermen. This might have been fine, except it wasn’t what Jesus wanted for them, particularly Peter. You might’ve noticed, but Peter seemed to have a hard time even finding the fish, without Jesus’ help! Jesus asked Peter not once, but three times if he loved Him more than fishing, and asked him to feed His sheep. Putting God first means not letting our own interests keep us from doing His work.

To be continued...