Monday, August 24, 2020

Getting Tested

If you're out-and-about, there is this constant concern that you've been exposed to coronavirus. The news lately from college campuses highlights that concerns that setting aside social distancing and mask-wearing advice may lead to outbreaks on campuses. So schools are also instituting testing protocols.

At home, some of us are around elderly parents or grandparents. Some of us work in healthcare and have direct contact with COVID-positive patients. Others work in close proximity to others, and we're praying for our teachers as schools reopen. Testing helps us know what we're dealing with, identifies if we're carrying something that could be detrimental, and drives us to adjust our behavior, all the while praying for healing and health.

God tests us, too. The story of the Rich Ruler (Luke 18:18ff) from yesterday's sermon was such a test. Jesus threw a curveball at the Rich Ruler because Jesus knew that there was a spiritual health issue inside him, one that was deadly. Jesus saw the sickness even though the ruler himself thought he was doing great and felt great about himself. Even all the people around him thought he was doing well - he was rich so God must have blessed him for his good behavior!

We live in comfort and it's easy for us to feel fine. Spiritually, we can also be lulled into thinking we're just fine the way we are. But God is calling us to grow, individually and as a church! Let's unpack the three action steps mentioned in yesterday's sermon:

1. Identify what's holding us back and confess it to God. From the interaction with the Rich Ruler, Jesus exposed that the Ruler not only possessed wealth, but he was also possessed by his wealth - he could not let it go because it actually had a hold of his heart and literally turned him away from Jesus (he walked away from Jesus!). What keeps you from growing, from spending time with God, from obeying His call to worship Him? Laziness, selfishness, bitterness? Hurt, disappointment, fear? Bring it all to Jesus. Give it to Him! He can help you overcome. He loves to help us. He died to help us.

2. Immerse yourself in God's Word and Spirit. Spend more time in God's Word, swimming in the beauty and depth of God's love for us in Jesus Christ. Talk to Him; let the Spirit speak to you, words of grace, forgiveness, encouragement, strength, peace, hope, and love. The more deeply we grasp the Gospel love of Jesus, the less desperately we cling to the other things we have in our lives. 

3. Invest in God's Kingdom work with your gifts, talents, and resources. It is natural for us to give to God. If we've encountered Him in Spirit and truth, come to experience His glory and grace, received His love, it naturally leads us to give. It immediately leads us to give. He is God Almighty, worthy of all of our honor, praise, and service. Our entire lives become our offering to Him. Nothing we could give will exceed His worth, so we give it all!

God blesses us in this process of surrendering our lives to Him. It is realignment with how we were created to live - encountering His glory, experiencing His grace, and extolling His goodness through our service to Him.

Let's pray to live in worship and sacrifice to our God who loves us and has saved us through the giving of His Son!

Monday, August 17, 2020

Divine Disruption

In yesterday's service we had some guests share their story about how God moved them from typical Asian American suburban church-going life to taking their family with four young children to Southeast Asia as missionaries. This divine disruption was several years and stages in the making, but they are engaging in a work that is life-giving to others and life-flourishing in themselves: God is using them to build His Kingdom. This is God's intention for us all to experience. They shared a short video clip from a well-known and popular preacher who talked about how it's not enough to study God's Word - we are called to respond to His Word with our lives.

Raj (not his real name) shared about how God used older brothers to invest in his life. Jay (not her real name) shared about the women God had used to impact her own life. In response to God's provisions for them, they heard 1) God's call to invest in others' spiritual growth, and 2) God's call to move to Asia. While we are not all called to go overseas, we are all called to be involved in making disciples.

How can we be disciple-makers? The hesitancy we may verbalize might be that we do not feel ready to make disciples. But the apostle Paul gives us the simplest explanation of what it means to be involved in this most important work of our lives: "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV). It's simple, but let's break it down even further:

1. Follow Christ.

2. Let others follow you as you follow Christ.

We're human, though, and we struggle with simple things (like flossing every night or keeping our homes clean). I struggle with things every day - I never have a perfect day following Jesus! But Paul struggled, too (see 2 Corinthians 12)! We do not have to be perfect disciples to make disciples! We never will "arrive" at our destination until we get to heaven, so we can toss out that notion that we have to be mature before we can help others.

It's not an issue of position; it's an issue of direction! Are you headed toward Christ? Do you recognize your need for Jesus' grace? If the answer is yes, then God can use you to help others, even though you're not perfect in your performance.

Ultimately, God uses our lives as a testament to His grace and love for everyone. He does that through our brokenness, our flaws, and our neediness.

Ah, but there's another issue - we do not like to admit our needs and faults. In an Instagram culture where everyone has an opinion and things look so crafted and beautiful, or coming from an Asian academic culture where every missed point is critiqued and analyzed, or just coming from having my mom inspect and comment on my physical appearance first-thing every time I visited home during my college and young adult years, it's hard to let our blemishes show. What can help us, what disrupts such a culture of critique and judgment?

Grace. It's not that God doesn't know, see, or acknowledge our faults. He's still a holy God and wants us to grow and mature and become better people, to actually become like Jesus. But He never pushes us away. He draws us in and covers us with grace and loves us even as He sees us as we truly are.

When our false securities are disrupted, when our pride and hesitation are disrupted, when our puffed-up sense of self worth is pricked, when our insecurities are calmed, we find true grace in God's love for us.

And then we cannot help but share it with others!

Monday, August 10, 2020

Motivations for Spiritual Growth

In yesterday's sermon from 2 Peter 1, we noted how the apostle laid out a path to spiritual growth and maturity. But the bigger question is, are we motivated to grow? Do we want to grow? As Elder Joey asked in a sermon in June, "Do  you really want to be transformed?"

In our PS Time discussion group, one thought came out that we need to keep in front of us: our motivations for spiritual growth can be the benefits of growth and the blessings of a relationship with God, but the primary motivation to spiritual growth is God Himself. Enjoying and glorifying God Himself are what make life meaningful and full. Sometimes we approach our Bible reading, prayer time, church participation, and service to others with the goal of getting some feeling or wisdom to help us reach our ultimate goal of personal fulfillment, a sense of purpose, or an inner peace. But if we are using God to reach some other goal, then we are missing out on the fact that enjoying God is our highest goal unto itself.

Last week's blog post relayed the foundation for that thought: The most beautiful thing you can ever see, read about, or think about is...God! So here's the key question for today: how are you enjoying God everyday?

God invites us to know Him. Reading the Bible brings us into a deeper knowledge of God. Knowing God intimately brings us into the presence of our Creator, the God of the Universe, our Holy God, a just God, and a righteous judge. Coming into God's presence highlights our unworthiness to be in a relationship with Him - when was the last time that feeling struck you! We need God. Our sense of unworthiness magnifies His graciousness and His great love for us through Jesus Christ. The beauty of the cross and the power of the open grave come full into our minds and hearts, and nothing else in this world or in this life can compare. Nothing else in this world saves us. Nothing else satisfies us and makes us whole again.

We respond by living out our relationship with Him. We respond by praising God. We respond by serving God, and spending time growing and enjoying our relationship with Him. The means of grace which He provides for us are basic: read your Bible, pray deeply, fellowship with others with whom we can share His love (including worship services, communion, and serving others), and honor the relationship with how we live. They're basic tools, but this is how we grow any relationship: marriage, family, friendships, etc. Walk with God every moment. Find strength in Him. Find rest in Him. Find peace in Him. Find Him!

We must check our hearts. Someone told me that it is my job (as pastor) to motivate him. On one hand that can be true (especially because of my position), but on another hand it can be a misrepresentation. For anyone who is not a Christian or perhaps a young Christian, the joy and character and vision that a person of faith can demonstrate can surely be attractive. But someone who is Christian understands that we are each accountable for our own actions. The parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 gives a great illustration of faithful and unfaithful members of God's household. The servants that are faithful do so to please their master, but the unfaithful one is called a "wicked and slothful servant" by his master. These harsh words are unwelcome in a culture like ours where we have less accountability, relativistic standards, and an ultimate value of personal freedom. We are our own masters and prefer for others, even God, to serve us. We numb ourselves into contentment to binge watch shows and play games rather than seek God. The Bible cautions us to check our hearts and our own motivations and to confess any sins to Him. After all, these were Jesus' words, and they've been delivered to us.

God invites us with love to inspect ourselves while prayerfully asking God to search our hearts (see below), to invite us to come back to Him, to let go of any hindrance or distraction, and to have our hearts renewed in His glorious and gracious presence. His love captures us so let us turn to Him again and go where He is leading us to grow in our relationships with Him.

Let's go to God today and everyday! And let's encourage one another to build a culture that promotes growing deeply and more mature in our relationship with God! This is the goal that God has for us, that we must have for ourselves, and that we must encourage in one another.

Psalm 139:23–24
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Recovering Glory Everyday

Sunday, August 2, 2020

This past Sunday's sermon was about recovering glory. While rebuilding our relationship with God is less a formula and more of an art, as it is with any relationship, there are some things that help us to keep our minds on God's glory as we ask God to revitalize our hearts. Here are some things that have been helpful to me, and they may be helpful to you, as we pray for God to rekindle our passion for Him.

1. See beauty
A few months ago, I felt God telling me I needed to notice more beauty, good, and positive things...and that was before the coronavirus hit. So I started a) looking at more art (I'm not an expert but there are some things that I really like), b) spending more time in nature, and c) enjoying more positive YouTube videos of the good moments in life (this can lead to hours of wasting time, so watch yourself!). Only God is inherently glorious and worthy of praise, so everything else that we see that is beautiful is meant to cause us to give thanks to God (see Romans 1, Psalm 19, Philippians 4). Enjoy the beauty, soak it in, and give thanks to God for it.

2. Read the Bible
The most beautiful thing you can ever see, read about, or think about is...God! If you are struggling to wrap your mind around that statement, just let it sink in. While general revelation (nature, mankind, etc.) can hint at God's existence and nature, the special revelation of God's Word teaches us who God is. The Bible is how we encounter the most beautiful, wonderful, good things we will ever know. The Bible is where we encounter the Gospel of Jesus Christ - the invitation for us to receive God's free provision of grace to cover our sins and reconcile us to Him. From here, all the promises of God are ours to trust. Let's read our Bibles everyday to encounter the most important and glorious truths of our lives.

3. Praise Him
Responding to something glorious is natural and extends the experience. In relation to God, that means giving Him praise. Sing a song, whether you play an instrument, just use your voice, or sing along with an audio or video recording. Belt it out! Don't praise Him according to your identity, but praise Him according to His identity! Let your praise be God-centered! Give Him everything that is due Him!

4. Repent of sin
How is repentance tied to the glory of God? My friend in college wrote a note asking me to pray that she would be in her lowest (most humble) place so she could see God in His highest place. Repenting of sin is natural when we are in the presence of a glorious God. (It's like how I would feel if I stepped on the basketball court with Lebron James or Stephon Curry - I'm not worthy!) Repentance is simply being humbly honest before God in His holiness and glory. When we humble ourselves, we can then appreciate God's glory more.

5. Tell others
When you encounter something great - a new restaurant, a stirring movie, a great sale - you tell people! It multiplies the experience. When we tell others about God, sharing what we're learning and experiencing, it helps others also taste the glory and goodness of God! Telling others about Jesus also reminds us that our lives are all about Him and His glory, not about us and our comfort. Make His name greater! His name is glorious!

Okay, these are a few quick tips to help us to walk with Jesus and enjoy His glorious presence everyday. God bless you and help you to turn your heart to Him! He is a great God!

- PD

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