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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Purposeful Acts of Sacrifice, Mercy, Compassion And Goodness

It is not knew to assert that I don't believe in New Year Resolutions. I have written elsewhere why. I do believe in goals and principles we ought to practice daily. Lately I've thinking about a motto I want to start using. I initially shared this with my students after we were discussing random acts of kindness. I told them how I don't like the "random" part and wasn't too satisfied with just kindness. So it lead to what I'd like to share. As I often state, what I write is from a Christian's perspective. It is seen through the lens of what I know in Scripture. So here is what I propose to do this coming year.

  With God's help I want to do purposeful acts of sacrifice, mercy, compassion and goodness. All of these are rooted in The Gospel and the end result is to share The Gospel through our lives. As we live our lives as God's letter (2 Corinthian 3:2-3) we demonstrate these qualities. They distinguish us as believers. Let me explain each of the elements.

 They are purposeful acts. They are done with a conscientious intent. They are not random. God's acts are purposeful, not arbitrary (see Ephesians 3:11). They are according to his good intentions and Divine plan. Our salvation was purposeful (2 Timothy 1:9). It didn't come from us. We join him in this plan when we intentionally live our lives for Him (Ephesians 2:10).

 Acts of Sacrifice - The Son's Sacrifice. This is a rare virtue for us who live in a country where we have everything. Little do we sacrifice. And yet, as Christians we understand what this is because the ultimate sacrifice was Christ who died on the cross for us. God became a man, suffered under sinful men, and willingly laid down his life for us (Galatians 4:4-5; 1 Timothy 2:5; Matthew 20:18-19). It is through his (purposeful) sacrifice that we are saved when we trust in Him by faith (1 Peter 1:18). His sacrifice is the ultimate example for us to follow. In fact, Jesus said that laying our lives for others is the ultimate act of love (John 15:13). Just like He did.

  Acts of Mercy - Messiah's Mercy (or God's Mercy). God is a merciful God (Micah 7:18). Jesus showed us what mercy looks like. The Gospels show us Messiah's mercy. He often healed as an act of mercy. Mercy is an act that is rooted in the understanding of the sinful human condition and acting to favor others in a tangible way in spite of this. Many of the religious leaders of His time didn't practice mercy even though it wasn't a foreign concept to them. It was something commanded to them in the Old Testament: "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 2:8)
Jesus not only demonstrated acts of mercy but called his followers to be merciful even with those who are our "enemies" or those who do evil things against us (Luke 6:27-36).
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Matthew 5:7)
"Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:36)

We can start by praying for mercy ourselves. Here is a prayer by St. Jerome:
Oh Lord, show your mercy to me and gladden my heart. I am like the man on the way to Jericho who was overtaken by robbers, wounded, and left for dead: O Good Samaritan, come to my aid. I am like the sheep that went astray: O Good Shepherd, seek me out and bring me home in accord with your will. Let me dwell in your house all the days of my life and praise you forever and ever.

Acts of Compassion - Christ's Compassion (or God's Compassion). Compassion is the understanding and empathy of people's conditions and needs. It is an internal feeling that should motivate us to do acts of mercy. Both mercy and compassion go together but are not necessarily always connected (see mercy above). I can do an act of mercy without really having compassion (e.g. I can show mercy to someone that does evil things against me without having compassion). I can have compassion and not do an act of mercy.

God is a compassionate Father:
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; 14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. 15 The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; 16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. 17 But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children— 18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts. (Psalm 103:13-18 - NIV)

Jesus's shows us the example of both compassion and mercy (Matthew 20:29-34). We should strive to have both. Jesus was often moved with compassion and acted mercifully. Here is a sermon on Christ's compassion by the Prince of Preachers.

Christ compassion is summarized well in these verses:
"Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:35-36)

Acts of Goodness - God's Goodness.
One of God's attributes is his goodness:
"Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever." (Psalm 107:1-NIV)

God defines what is intrinsically good not us. If we define what is good then it becomes subjective and an act viewed evil by one can be viewed good by another. We do good things which God calls good. We are incapable of doing good acts without his help (though I can say that there is relative goodness in everyone, traces left of God's image but even this comes from Him).

God is the only one is Good in the ultimate sense of the word:
"No one is good but One, that is,God." (Matthew 19:17)

Everything we have comes from God:
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning." (James 1:17)
"“There is such an absolute perfection in God’s nature and being that nothing is wanting to it or defective in it, and nothing can be added to it to make it better. ‘He is originally good, good of Himself, which nothing else is; for all creatures are good only by participation and communication from God. He is essentially good; not only good, but goodness itself: the creature’s good is a super-added quality, in God it is His essence. He is infinitely good; the creature’s good is but a drop, but in God there is an infinite ocean or gathering together of good. He is eternally and immutably good, for He cannot be less good than He is; as there can be no addition made to Him, so no subtraction from Him’ (Thos. Manton). God is summum bonum, the highest good.” "(A.W. Pink)

Acts of Goodness summarizes all of the other three. All four of these lead again to The Gospel. The goal is for other to see the embodiment of The Good News, that is, that God has sent us a Savior to rescue us from our sins of which we are witnesses. And Rejecting Christ's mercy will lead to a tragic end.

Let us do purposeful acts of sacrifice, mercy, compassion and goodness!

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Student's Prayer by St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas

Creator of all things,
true source of light and wisdom,
origin of all being,
graciously let a ray of your light penetrate
the darkness of my understanding.

Take from me the double darkness
in which I have been born,
an obscurity of sin and ignorance.

Give me a keen understanding,
a retentive memory, and
the ability to grasp things
correctly and fundamentally.

Grant me the talent
of being exact in my explanations
and the ability to express myself
with thoroughness and charm.

Point out the beginning,
direct the progress,
and help in the completion.

I ask this through Christ our Lord.

Unspoken Prayer of A Confederate Soldier

This prayer was found on the body of a Confederate soldier during the Civil War. A great prayer to keep close in 2012.

Prayer of an Unknown Confederate Soldier, aka The Creed for the Disabled

I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

Monday, December 19, 2011

How To Love Your Wife

My wife and I have been married for over 20 years now. Wow! It hasn't been easy. There have been times when we really thought we wouldn't make it. So you say, maybe we needed to go to more conferences, counseling or read more books.  For the record, we had 24 sessions of premarital counseling at our church (how we got this is a longer story), read many books, attended many conferences on marriage and have heard countless sermons.  Have they helped? I always say "No" when first asked but I will be a bit more reasonable and say "maybe a little."  

So what makes write a post about loving my wife? For some time now I have been thinking that I don't need more books or more conferences to learn how to love my wife. I get dirty looks when I say this out loud.  Looks that say, "You think you know everything already? You are so proud!" None of this new! I get this all the time anyway.  And the stuff that is presented in books or conferences is not new either.  They all repeat the same stuff I have heard for over 20 years.  It's all reshuffled material. 

So you say, "What's the answer Mr. Know It All? How do you love your wife?" The answer is simple. The doing part is the hard part. If you have been a Christian for some time then you should know the answer. It's in the Bible! I hear voices, "Oh, that's a cop out! You are using the Bible."  Think about it. Shouldn't we focus on the what God says about how to love our wives? Yes, we should learn from other couples. And I am not saying that there is no value in marriage counseling, books, conferences, etc. I do believe some people need them. I think it should be mandatory for some. But let me get to the point.

The answer is found in the book of Ephesians. Chapter 5 verses 25-33. I am convinced that if we do this then our marriage will survive everything. It starts with husbands. I'm not going to even dare talk about the S word found in the previous verses (submission). Men should not focus there. Our focus should be on loving our wives. 

Here is what the Bible says about loving our wives: 
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." (verse 28, NIV)

We need to love our wife AS (in the same manner) Christ loved (past tense) the church.  It is a reference to his sacrifice. Christ died for his Church. He gave his life to save her from her sins and make her holy. We need to love our wife the same way. Sacrificial love. As I read this passage and often pray about it God seems to be saying "Love your wife as Christ love his Church which includes you, yes you, Edgar! Period. Don't make excuses" 

Then verse 28 says, "In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church" It is repeated in verse 33: "However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself."

Just this week I was reading this again and it just hit me. These verses speak about the how part.  We need to love our wife AS we love our bodies. I hear some men saying "Yeah, look at my body!" Well, you still feed it, perhaps too much. The fact is, that we do take care of our own bodies or else we wouldn't be alive.  We love ourselves.  Love your wife in the same manner.

So men, might say, "What about if I do all that, and my wife takes advantage of it? What about my wife's role, doesn't she has to her part?" Think about how Christ loved the church, yes that's you! Do you do everything He commands you to do? Do you honor him the way he ought to be honored? 

"Well, does this mean that I never say anything to her even when she is wrong?" No. Look at Christ. Does He not tell us what we do wrong? Yet, He still loves us.

"It's impossible to do this! Christ was God and I am not!" You are right. It's impossible for you in your strength. Yes, you are right! You are not God. Yet the Bible says in Ephesians 3:17 that you can let Christ dwell in your heart through faith.  You can't do anything He commands you without being in Him (John 15:5).

When you are having problems in your marriage ask yourself, "Am I loving my wife as Christ loved the Church? Am I loving my wife as I love my own body?" If you answer is "No," then you know where the problem lies.

I know where mine is. I'm still working on it!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Of Hugo, Clocks and The Purpose of Life

Recently I saw the movie Hugo which is based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  The plot centers around a twelve year old boy named Hugo who is a clock keeper.  His job is to make sure they are maintained and fixed when they are broken. He is also on a mission to find parts to repair an automaton because he is certain that once it is fixed it will write a message from his father who has died in an accident when he was much younger.  In the process he runs into a mysterious man who owns a toy shop.  As the book progresses Hugo discovers this man has something to do with the automaton. In the end Hugo helps George Melies discover the purpose he had lost and at the same time Hugo discovers his purpose in life.

This movie and book made me think about the purpose of life.  For Hugo, the world is like a clock. He says,
""Sometimes I come up here at night, even when I'm not fixing the clocks, just to look at the city. I like to imagine that the world is one big machine. You know, machines never have any extra parts. They have the exact number and type of parts they need.  So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason, too."" p.378

And he also says, "If you lose your purpose...it's like you're broken." p. 374

An analogy helps us understand spiritual truth and I believe the analogy of the clock helps us understand about our purpose. We are like a broken clock.  We are broken because of sin. The Bible is clear that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We can't function the way we were meant to by The Great Clockmaker.  Thus, we have lost our purpose.  We try to find our purpose with so many things, but in the end we find no satisfaction.  We need to be fixed.  The only one that can do it is The Great Clockmaker. He made us and knows exactly how we are meant to work.  He can put all the parts together and make us find the meaning and purpose of our life.

During Christmas we celebrate the advent of the Savior. The Savior, God with Us (Immanuel) born from a virgin, who came as a human to die on our behalf and free us from sin:
"She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  (Matthew 1:21-22-NIV). 

He came to restore what was broken, the broken clock. Unlike Hugo, who wasn't sure why existed, Jesus knew his purpose:  

"He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again." (Mark 8:32-NIV)

He was born as a baby. Died on our behalf. Rose from the dead. He is alive! He wants to fix you, if you let Him. He will put the parts where they belong and give you the meaning for which you were created.  But this is only the beginning.  One day He will perfect you and make you as Himself (1 John 3:2-3).

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

When God Is Not Enough

Yesterday I posted about 1 Samuel 7 where Israel calls on Samuel because they want to follow God. They repent and get rid of their idols and serve the Lord. You would think this would last but the next chapter is a disappointment. In 1 Samuel 8, Israel takes a turn the wrong way.  The leaders of Israel ask Samuel, who is now old and can no longer do all he used to do (and his children did not follow his steps-which often happens with good leaders, but it is a topic all of its own), to appoint a king for them like the other nations. You say, "What's the problem with that?" The problem is that they didn't need a king, they already had one: God!  In their asking they were essentially saying that God wasn't enough. Here is God's answer: 

"And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” (NIV)

Samuel goes on to tell them what they will experience with a king and this in no way changes their minds. So God gives them their desire and get they get Saul who ends being a king who follows his own heart and not the heart of God.  

Every time I read this passage I think how foolish Israel was in this.  But then today I thought how often I think God is not enough for me.  For a while, God was not enough for me because he didn't answer my prayers the way I wanted. I questioned Him and walked away from Him. Slowly, God began to show me that He is enough for me. He is all I need!

Young people many times don't think God is not enough and decide that a girlfriend or boyfriend is better. Or sex. Or drugs. Or having fun. God is just not cool enough!

Adults think God is not enough and think that money, work, a career, children, traveling, having fun, fulfilling your "bucket" list are better pursuits.

Christians think God is not enough and think that their favorite preacher, books, churches and endless activities are a substitute for Him (and this is very subtle).

People in old age think God is not enough and think that doing their favorite activity, charity or just enjoying their retirement is more fulfilling.

In doing this God tells us: "You have rejected me as your king."  

God reminds us that He is enough.  Anything else is an idol (1 John 5:21)

Monday, December 05, 2011

What It Means To Follow The Lord: Three Simple Steps

In a society like ours, it is easy to get confused with the amount of information available to us. We can drown in it.  When it comes to Christianity, the same can be true.  People try to explain what it means to be a Christian depending on their denominational bent, theological bent, and a bunch of other "bents."

Then there's the Bible. You come to passages like 1 Samuel chapter 7.  Read verses 3-4:

"Then all the people of Israel turned back to the LORD. 3 So Samuel said to all the Israelites, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only." (NIV)

The people of Israel want to come back to the Lord.  Samuel who has been silent for 20 years, tells them what to do if they want to "turn back to the Lord."  

First,  he tells them to repent.  Repentance is to turn away from those things that are sinful, to get rid of them. It has to be from the heart.  You can't repent and hold on to what's keeping you from God.  You have to let it go, get rid of it.  God wants all of you. You can never serve two masters because you can only love one (Luke 16:13).

Second, he tells them commit themselves to God. To commit to God means you deliberately make him Lord of your life.  The ESV says, "direct your heart to the Lord."  That's exactly what it means to commit to Him.  It means that your heart is directed at Him all the time. Your focus and energy are directed at Him. It means you align your heart to his heart (a man or woman after God's own heart - see Acts 13:22). A person who does everything God commands.

Third, he tells them to serve Him, only Him.  Everything you do must be for his glory (see 1 Corinthians 10:31). Some Christians misunderstand what it means to serve God.  They think they have to go to church a certain amount of times, be involved in it's activities as proof that they serve God.  Although, those are ways to serve, they are not exclusive.  For a Christian, there isn't a secular vs. sacred dichotomy. In other words, everything belongs to God, every aspect of our life and as such we either give Him glory with it or not.

These three things make up what it is to live for God.  This is the Gospel.  When we hear the Good News that Jesus died for our sins, we repent, commit ourselves to God and serve Him (we become his "doulos," slaves or servants).

We will not be perfect doing these three things but we don't make excuses. When we fail, we repent, commit ourselves to Him and serve Him. That's it! Simple!

The results? He can only bless you, even more!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Mom Chosen By God

I have been meeting with parents this week. This has let me to reflect the blessing they are for their children. I see how much they do for their kids and how much they provide for them. So naturally, I started thinking about my mom.

Today she turned 83. I thought of how God chose her (read Psalm 139:15-18), not someone else, to be my mom. Yes, let's get it clear, she wasn't perfect at all. She was by-product of her times.  She grew up in a rural area in El Salvador, had 3rd grade education, worked hard, never received attention from her parents nor received the material benefits many others had. In fact, she started wearing shoes at around 16 years old.  She had kids at a young age (I am not sure when she married and I am leaving some details out) and old age, ten total. One did not survive (it was a boy). I was child number eight. She was 42 when I was born and she gave birth to my baby sister at 44.   We grew up in rural area and I have faint memories, none of my mother when she was young.  As a mom, she worked tirelessly to provide for all of us. So I didn't see her much as I was growing up.  She also wasn't the affectionate nor the apologetic type. I don't remember her saying "I love you," or "I am sorry." Her parents were like that, she was like that, and I am somewhat like that (ouch!).

But she was the mom God chose for me. I didn't choose her. It's not my job to question it. It is my duty to accept it and be thankful to God for her. It is my duty to honor her as my mom.  He chose her just as He chose to grant me grace I didn't deserve. He saved me, and this is not from myself, it is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). She was God's instrument to bring me to this world, to provide for me, to guide me, to nurture me and yes, to love me.

She also has taught me with her example. She has always been a giver. In fact, she has given so much to others that she has very little materially. She had chances to make money, but decided to give to others. She was never selfish and thought of herself first.  Many times I have thought she went too far, but she never has regretted this. I fall short in being like her. 

She also possesses determination and resilience.  She has faced very difficult situations and has overcome them.  Whether it was walking long distances to provide for her family or working tirelessly, she has never given up. 

She is compassionate and cares for people. I can make a list of the people she has helped or cared for without counting her 9 children, 21+ grand kids and great grand kids.  

As she has aged, my mom can no longer do what she was able to do. But she has left a mark on me forever. I can only be thankful for being my mom. When eternity knocks at her door, I know she will be well received and I will miss her greatly. But not forever. I walk the same path. We'll be together. Forever!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Speak Well of Him

It has become my personal tradition to read Psalm 103 every Thanksgiving. For me, this Psalm  expresses what we truly ought to be thankful for. I know that today we are thankful for many people and for that which is valuable to us. But the question is who are we thankful to? Are we thankful to them? Are we thankful to ourselves? or are we thankful to God? As a Christian, of course I am thankful to all those who are part of my life, but ultimately it is He who I speak well of today. It is to Him that I say,

"Bless the LORD, O my soul,
   and all that is within me,
   bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
   and forget not all his benefits," (ESV)

It is interesting to not that the word "benefits" in verse 2 above, in Hebrew,  is the same used ("gamal") in verse 10 where it says, "He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities." This was intentional.  The writer of this Psalm wanted to make clear that we enjoy God's benefits because he doesn't deal with us according to what we deserve. 

 I stopped to think about this: "God withholding what we really deserve, is a benefit in of itself. Wow! And he doesn't do it just for me but for all of humanity. They enjoy his benefits."

The Psalm has a list of benefits that God has bestowed upon us: forgiveness of ours sins, health, physical strength, daily provision, mercy, everlasting steadfast love, patience and fatherly compassion. He gives us these benefits because of his own steadfast love in spite of our own sinfulness.  He knows us quite well because He made us. He knows that our life is short and what we really are, clay! 

The Psalm ends by urging everyone ought to bless Yahweh (the Lord) even angels.  

Today we should continually say,

"Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
 2Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:" - KJV

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Sinful Woman

I have been thinking about the passage in Luke 7:36-50.  It's a passage where Jesus is at a Pharisee's home eating dinner.  Pharisees where the top religious leaders of that time.  Apparently this man was interested in knowing more about Jesus or had come to believe in him as the Messiah (Savior).  A sinful woman, who we do not know who she is, but was likely a woman of the street, finds out where Jesus is staying. She walks in and starts to weep while kissing, cleaning his feet, and pouring perfume on them (during this time, people would sit on the floor and recline on their right side and thus would leave the feet exposed).  What a weird story you say.  Not so weird.  This sinful woman is washing his feet, something a slave or the host would do for guests.  Not only this but she poured perfume which was very costly.  This caused Simon to think to himself how Jesus could not be a prophet or else he would have known what kind of woman she was and would not have allowed her to do this. But why these thoughts? Simon knew that "good" people like him would not associate themselves with these type of people. But Jesus did not come to seek those who were righteous but those who were sinners (Matthew 9:13).

Jesus direct himself to Simon as soon as he is having those thoughts.  Stop for a moment. Think about that. You just had a bad thought in front of Jesus. He knows it. He answers you! Jesus was omniscient (all-knowing) and knew Simon quite well (and still is and knows us quite well as well. Everything we say, do, or think is before Him NOW!). He tells Simon a story of a man who forgives two people who own him money. One owed more than the other. He forgives them both. He asks Simon who he thinks would be more grateful and he answer correctly.

Now he gives him the application. You are the one who doesn't consider himself THAT sinful thus you are not as thankful for God forgiving you.  The woman knew how sinful she was and she is grateful and showed great love for Jesus. But wait, she hasn't asked anything up to this point. But Jesus knew all already. He knew her heart. This woman came seeking forgiveness from Jesus and considered herself so unworthy of it.  Jesus forgives her sins (Notice he doesn't dismiss her sins. He doesn't try to minimize her sins or to try to make her feel better).  Jesus saves her. Jesus blesses her and gives her peace! And she never really asked verbally, but Jesus knew her heart and knew Simon's heart. He knows your heart.

As I thought about this, there were some things that came to my mind. How many men are like this woman? I tried thinking of men in the New Testament that came to Jesus expressing the same emotion of repentance as this woman and I couldn't think of any. Would I have done what the sinful woman did? Not very likely. I would have been like Simon.

I thought about my own sinfulness.  As I have grown older, my sinfulness has become more apparent. I've realized how much I need Jesus to take a hold of me and not let my sinful inclinations control me. I've realized that I need his grace and forgiveness each day. I've realized that without Him I could not take a step forward without falling.

I also thought how uncomfortable we about admitting our own sinfulness (just like Simon).  And I am not talking about telling everyone our sins.  But do we show to our Savior how much we love him by our thankfulness for his forgiveness for all of our sins? Do we have the brokenness of heart that the sinful woman had?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Grace and Legalism

When Christ saves us, he saves us by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10).  Christians acknowledge and believe this without a doubt. It’s how we live in this world that becomes problematic for many Christians.  On one side there are those who believe they are now free to do anything and thus abuse the grace of God (Romans 6:1). Many have the idea that once saved always saved (which I do believe) and thus if you sin, then you just have to ask forgiveness and move on. It becomes their pattern and continue to use it as an excuse to justify their behavior which they know is wrong (e.g. similar to the statement: “I’m not perfect just forgiven.”). Others do it, not with the intent of doing it, but due to the lack of discernment.  They just continue to follow the cultural trends without much thinking which often leads them to unwise and even sinful choices.

On the other side is legalism. Legalism as it appears in most churches today is not what the New Testament often speaks about (e.g. book of Galatians) and yet it is applicable to us today.  In the New Testament legalism was related to salvation. Many believed that in order to be saved you had to have faith but there were additions to it such circumcision and keeping the Law (Old Testament).  All of these related to commands given to the Jewish people. In essence, they were black and white issues. Once those Jewish and Gentiles (non-Jewish) became believers, they were faced with questions as to how to live (see Acts 15). Some Jewish believers commanded others to live by the Old Testament Laws or else they were considered “not saved.”   They were turning the grace of God into a system of faith+works.  The Apostle Paul wrote letters to clarify these issues (see Galatians, Colossians 2).  This was mostly a Jewish-Christian problem.

Nowadays, the issue of legalism is that many have created rules by which Christians ought to live by (faith+man-made rules).  These are mainly what we call “gray “ areas.  Areas where there is no clear teaching in the Bible. I have a lot of experience here. I have been part of these churches in my early days as a Christian.

Here are a few examples of legalism:
  •          Dancing is wrong
  •        Going to the movies (especially rated R movies) is wrong.
  •        Being friends with non-believers is wrong (you can have contact to evangelize them but they can’t be part of your “friends”)
  •        Celebrating Halloween is wrong (It’s Satan’s day and it started  back to the time of the Druids).
  •        Rock and Roll (and any music except Classic) is of the devil and contains backward messages from him.
  •        Smoking or drinking beer is wrong.
  •       Skipping church on Sunday for any reason is wrong.

Here are some “must do’s” that were also part of the “system”:

  •        You have to come to church every Sunday, Wednesday nights and all special events.
  •        You have to be involved in the church, passive attendance is not allowed.
  •        If you a young person and desire to “court” a young lady you must ask permission to the youth pastor and follow the “Philosophy of Courtship” (a list of do’s and do not’s). If pastor said no, you were out of luck! If you were “approved” then you were asked to seek for the full blessing of the believing parents (non-believer parents were not considered!) if you did not have their “blessing” then you were out of luck.
  •        You must never question what your pastor teaches, says or does. If he asks anything even if it’s money, give it to him. Don’t expect to be paid back.

I can go on an on but you get the point. So what is the point of all of this? As Christians we are called to live by grace. Living by grace does not mean living by a “new” set of rules derived from out of context passages in the Old or New Testament.  The Apostle Paul said it quite clearly: “After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1). Living by grace means living guided by the Holy Spirit. Living by grace is not living for yourself either. Living by grace is living for and in Christ every single moment of your life (Philippians 1:21).

Reading the biography of Jesus in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) has helped me understand what it means to live a life of grace, dependent on the Father. When I have a question about something not clear I ask myself what He said or what He would have done (WWJD?). I want to imitate Him. I want to honor Him. I want to live for Him. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Theological Reflection on The Scarlet Letter

My wife and I just finished listening to The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  I have to admit I knew a very basic plot but never read it until this past weekend.  It is very probable that there is much discussion, information and analysis, especially relating to literary qualities about this novel.  I won't try say much about it in this regard, but just a simple observation.  Hawthorne's description of characters is very thorough and deep. It appears he was very keen in studying human nature and took his time describing it through the characters he created.  Quite the opposite exists in popular novels nowadays.  Current novels are written for mass consumption and entertainment and not for the exploration of human nature. Many find classics like Hawthorne's unappealing and unreadable because they do not fit the modern paradigm of a good novel. How much we are missing!

But the most impressive for me, in this novel, was the rich theological presuppositions layered throughout.  I will try to be brief, though much can be said. First, Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter shows us the sinfulness of man and the effects it has on us.  All of his major characters demonstrate this point.  Hester Prynne the adulteress is the most obvious.  Not only has she committed the sin of adultery but she is the one who pays the most for it.  She spared of the death penalty but her punishment is just as good as being dead.  She would carry the letter "A" engraved on her and forever be ostracised for her sinful act.  The Reverend Dimmesdale is also guilty of immorality and even though he hides it, his sin finds him out. He is tortured by it for seven years.  Roger Chillingworth,  Hester's husband is guilty of the sin of revenge.  It dominates his life completely. Not only are the major characters sinful, but the whole Puritan community is as well.  Their pride, lack of compassion and judgmental spirit makes them just as sinful as the rest.

I find it interesting the Hawthorne never minimizes sin and its consequences. I didn't find the novel a treatise condemning hypocrisy or making sin be less than what it is.  For us readers in these modern times it may a bit "antiquated" because the idea of sin is almost foreign.  Adultery and immorality is commonly accepted in our society.  The threat of being punishable by death, as it was during Colonial Times, not only sounds antiquated but absurd, especially those with no religious background. It could easily be said that we are just as bad. We have thrown out all of our morals for the sake of being tolerant. But Hawthorne does not minimize sin. He writes: "After exhausting life in his efforts for mankind's spiritual good, he had made the manner of his death a parable, in order to impress on his admirers the mighty and mournful lesson, that, in the view of Infinite Purity, we are sinners all alike."

The Scarlet Letter also deals with the concept of mercy, both human mercy and God's mercy.  Hester life is spared as an act of mercy. More evident is God's mercy.  God's mercy is evident by the fact that even as sinful as we are, God does not judge us accordingly.  No one understood this more than the Reverend Dimmesdale who said, "God knows; and He is merciful! He hath proved his mercy, most of all, in my afflictions. By giving me this burning torture to bear upon my breast!"  He saw all of his inner guilt and persecution by Roger Chillingworth as an act of God's mercy.

Another concept is the idea of living our life according to what we believe. For us Christians, it is to live for Christ each day.  In Hawthorne's words, "Be true! Be true! Be true!" Don't pretend to be something you are not. Live what you believe.

Much more can be said about his novel, especially about the dear seven year old child Pearl.  No one shows the hideousness effects of sin that this child who suffers the consequences of everyone's wrong doing.  She pays a hefty price and yet her innocence shows us what we have lost; what we need: Faith, love, virtue, and compassion!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How Running Saved My Life

Running is the means by which God has changed my life. Let me explain. I started running over 2 years ago. It all started by when I wanted to get in shape and started to bike (I was 25 lbs. heavier). One day I decided that running was easier. I could just put shorts, tennis shoes and go! So I did. After that I thought I should do it everyday. That's how the running started. God has used running to change me.

I have been a Christian since I was 13. After serving for over 15 years, in various ways including, a church-planter pastor I came to the decision that it was enough. My life was at a crossroads. The experiences and the suffering my wife and I experienced during this time (it would take a long time to explain, but if you know us you probably know a lot already) led me to a state of questioning everything I had believed. I stopped praying (I know some Christians don't pray but this isn't normal). I stopped reading my Bible (I know some Christians don't read their Bible but this isn't normal). I stopped teaching the Bible (this isn't for everyone!). My life went on the decline. I even wondered whether God existed. I didn't do all this in rebellion but due to disillusionment.  I was disillusioned with God and the Church and yet I did not stop going to church.  I knew that God wasn't surprised on my behavior nor did I expect Him to punish me as some would think.  Yet, deep in my heart I couldn't let go of everything I knew about Him.  I concluded He was real but I struggled and wrestled with many questions. The hardest was praying. How could I pray if I wasn't sure He answered any prayers. Here is where running comes in the picture.

It was during my beginning runs when my son decided to go on a mission trip to Ecuador for a couple of weeks.  For the first few days they were disconnected from us with no means of communication. I started to worry a lot and think the worst of thoughts (i.e. death). In my desperation I started to offer gruntings to God. It was so hard to do this. It was so unnatural but I continued doing it. Slowly I started to say complete sentences. I told him I asked only for a few things: to protect my family, to help me be a blessing to others and to know Him.  All this happened while running. My running became my time of prayer. Slowly God became to change me. He started teaching me, slowly, each time I prayed to Him. Then I began reading the Bible again but this time with "new" eyes.  God's Word became alive and I saw it as if I was reading it for the first time.  God showed me that if I was to live, it would be all for Him or nothing at all. I told Him, "This is the last time I am going to try..." Hard to believe I said this but God had much to teach me.  A year ago, I taught the Bible to the youth where I serve now,  after 9 years of not stepping to a podium.

So that's how running was used by God to change me and continues to do so.  My running time is my prayer and worship time. I can't run without doing this. Never will running be only running for me. It will always be worship time for me. It will keep me in shape (get it?).

Update: 12/8/2016 - Seven years have passed and I still run 6 days a week. I still use this time to commune with God. It is during this time that I also get some of my best instruction from Him. I am often working on a sermon and God brings forth the ideas that I need to put in my sermon. I am thankful for how God has used running to save me from myself.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Characteristics of A True Christian - 1 John

The last study on 1 John which also summarizes all ten characteristics of a true Christian shared at our youth meeting.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

I John - The Christian and the World

Gabriel Colunga shares with the youth at Iglesia El Camino  where I have been serving as youth pastor for the past  9 months.  He speaks on what it means to not love the world. Gabriel has come a long way from being one of my students at Word of Life club long time ago to now.

Click Here or the picture below

1 John

Jeremy one of our youth leaders shares from 1 John at our youth meeting from Iglesia El Camino

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Community of Love

In John 13:34-35 Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (NIV)

This wasn't a new command for it was found in the Torah (Leviticus 19:18). It was new in the sense that Jesus as The Son of God demonstrated how love should be manifested. In John 13 he washes his disciples' feet demonstrating an act of a servant.  He came to serve and not to serve (Mark 10:45).  He gave his life on behalf of his sheep (John 10:15).  His disciples, his Church are now commanded to show that same love. It will be their distinguishing mark. It will not be their Theology, though it is important. It will not be their type or mode of worship though it is important. It will not be the eloquent preaching. It will not be their orthodoxy. It will not be their programs. It will be their love for one another.  

Today I was reading the introduction for a book called Satan And His Kingdom.  The author points out that as the Church we need to have a spiritual warfare mentality.  We cannot live in a mentality of peace. Why? Because our enemy is seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).  What does this have to do with love?  I believe Satan's strategy is to undermine God's purposes for His church.  It is obvious that he does not want a community of love for God's church.  He knows that as such it can have a great impact in people's lives.  

So you say, "This is not a problem in my church! Everyone loves each other?" Really? Look around! I believe that Satan strategy is a much clever one.  He will have us love our little circle of friends and neglect all others. In many churches you can be anonymous for a long time. New visitors go in and out! I've done this! I once attended a large church for over a year and never met a single person. So you say, "It's your fault! You need to get involved in a small group." Really?
So Jesus said, "By this they will know you are my disciples, if you show love in a small group"?

I recently started working in a private religious school and I was blown away by the attention we newbies got. Multiple people approached us seeking to help us and not one time but many times. Everyone we ran by, shook our hands and introduced themselves. They welcomed us! The church in the school has not been any different either. They make the best coffee for teachers every day. I thought to myself, "If The Church was like this, man would we make a difference!"  

Today I heard again the story of Stanley. Stanley was a survivor of one the Twin Towers. He was on the 81st floor and saved by a man named Brian. He was pulled out from the collapsing floor by this man. What impressed me was what Brian said to Stanley after he pulled him over the wall. Stanley recounts the following: "This man looked at my palm, looked me in the eyes and said, “All my life I lived as an only child. I always wanted a brother.” On his left palm he had a gash. And this man took my right hand and looking me in the eyes and rubbed them together and says, “From today, you’re my brother.”

And he meant this. He is part of Stan's family now. That's love! 

We need community love. We need community life. We need to stop the talk and do what Jesus told us to do.  We need to seek those whom God loves.  We need to serve those whom God loves. We need to stop pretending we love people when just walk right by them in church or anywhere we are!

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Friday, August 19, 2011

My Testimony - Age 16

This was a long time ago! I turn 41 today! It's good to hear oneself, especially something so long ago to be reminded of our growth. So here is what I shared with the youth at Iglesia El Buen Pastor when I was 16. You will see at the end of the "live" testimony, I added something a few years later (I think), that sounds quite cheesy but nevertheless, that was then.

In Spanish, sorry English only speakers.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

El Crecimiento Espiritual

Este estudio fué dado a nuestro grupo de jovenes de la Iglesia El Buen Pastor en el año 1999. La grabación se corta un poco al final.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011

Lo Que La Biblia Dice Del Cielo Primera Parte

Lo que enseña la Biblia sobre El Cielo. Un mensaje que predique alrededor del año 1999.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

¿Chistoso verdad?

“Chistoso, ¿verdad?”

Chistoso, ¿verdad? - Lo mucho que es $20 cuando se da en la Iglesia y tan poco cuando estamos en la tienda.

Chistoso, ¿verdad? - Lo mucho que es una hora sirviendo a Dios, y lo poco que es cuando estamos jugando fútbol u otro deporte favorito.

Chistoso, ¿verdad? - Cuan difícil es leer un capítulo de la Biblia pero fácil leer o mirar una novela.

Chistoso, ¿verdad? - Como creemos lo que los periódicos dicen pero dudamos lo que dice la Biblia.

Chistoso, ¿verdad? - Cuando no podemos pensar que decirle a Dios cuando oramos pero no tenemos dificultad en pensar en cosas para hablar con nuestros amigos o novia o novio.

Chistoso, ¿verdad? - Como necesitamos 2-3 semanas para poner en nuestro calendario un evento de la Iglesia pero podemos ajustarlo para un evento social de último momento.
Chistoso, ¿verdad?

Ni tan chistoso pero es la realidad en muchos de nosotros.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, August 01, 2011

How Young People Can Change Their Culture

A Message for our young people during our "Youth Expo"

This short message will focus on how young people can change the culture they live in. The way I am defining culture is the environment young people live, which includes what they see and hear through all sources of media. It also involves the values reflected on popular culture, which includes their actions and beliefs.  I want to share some demographics that focus on the Hispanic culture since most of you here are Hispanics. It is important to know this so we can see the influence we can have where we live now.

In 2010 there were 50.5 million Hispanics in the US, 16.3 of the total population. We grew 9.3% since 2000. We are fastest growing minority in the US.  The average age is 27 years. 16 million of these are under the age of 18. Their dominant language is English.

All of these statistics show us that as young Christians we have a mandate to reach out to these young people for Christ.  YOU here are the key.

But you can't reach them if you don't show them a better way. The Way of the Gospel.  You can't change the culture by exterior forces or even political involvement. Change can only come when you are changed by Christ and share the change through your life. Before I tell you how this is possible, let me compare and contrast what the culture says vs. what God says as to how you ought to live. Listen. If you find yourself agreeing with the culture then you have been captured by its deceitful charm.

Scripture says that the world with its culture is under the influence and management of Satan:
1 John 2:16-17:  For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. ESV

1 John 5:19:  We know that we are of God, and the whole world is under the sway of the evil one. - HCSB

1. The culture says: "In the end, all roads lead to the same path as long as you are sincere."
     - Jesus says: Matthew 7:13-14: "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." ESV
- John 14:5-6:  "Thomas said to him, Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way? 6 Jesus said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." ESV

2.  The culture says: "You can be religious but you don't have to be a fanatic."

     - Jesus said: Matthew 10:37-39:  The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And whoever doesn't take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. 39 Anyone finding his life will lose it, and anyone losing his life because of Me will find it. - HCSB

    - God said (through Paul): Philippians 3:7-8:  "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ" ESV

3. The culture says:  "We are sexual beings, there's nothing wrong about exploring everything as  long as you have love and share the benefits."
     - God says: 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness." ESV

4. The culture says: "Be like us, dress like, act like us, speak like us...lol, fml...there is nothing
    wrong with that."

    - God says:  Romans 12:1-2: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." ESV

We can go on and on. How can you be a culture changing Agent? 2 Corinthians 5:14-21:

1. Believe that Christ died for your sins to save you from the judgment of God and so that you no longer live for yourself. v. 14-15,17
    - Two types of people, those who say to God "Your will be done" and those who one day will  hear from God "Your will be done" and go into everlasting punishment.

    - Jesus can save you from your worst enemy: You!

2. Live for and in Christ each day not just sundays. v. 15 "might no longer live for themselves..." v. 16, 21 Each day ask yourself, "Who am living for today? I am living for Christ not for me."

There are no Jekyls and Hydes in Christ. You live in Him and He lives in you and through you.

3. Be an ambassador for Christ v. 18-20
You represent Christ on Earth wherever you are. You speak His words and Good News. You do it with urgency. People know who you are and who you represent. There are no secret

Three examples of Christ followers who lived faithfully till the end that should motivate you to live each day for Christ. One lived a long life, the other two a short life. All lived and died for Him.

From the past:  
St. Polycarp (69-155), a disciple of John the Apostle, Polycarp was burned at the stake for refusing to burn incense to the Roman Emperor and  refusing to curse Christ. "Eighty and six years I have served him, How then can I blaspheme  my King and Saviour? Bring forth what thou wilt." It is said that because the flames didn't affect him, he was stabbed to death.

From the present: 
Cassie Bernall, 1981-1999 (17 years old) & Rachel Scott, "Rachel's Tears"
The Columbine Massacre happened on April 20, 1999
Read a poem found on Cassie's website and see memorial service here

Reading Suggestions: