Tuesday, December 30, 2014

"New Year Resolutions" & Christianity


Most people already know what their New Year Resolutions will be in December.
Some, earlier in the year.
Some, not until January 1st.
And some don't even bother with resolutions.

Because the most popular resolution revolves around some kind of fitness goal (exercise, weight loss, physical appearance, etc), I will be focusing on this example to get my point across. But you will be able to replace this category with just about any resolution and get the same outcome -- "How a New Year Resolution relates to your faith as a Christian."

So, how does being a Christian relate to a New Year Resolution?


Of course I could ask if your resolution is "growing closer to God" (or some other churchy answer). But for many of us, we don't think about God as a resolution.... and that's okay. The reality is that God should never be a resolution.

The average time that people stick to their New Year Resolutions is one month, but allowing God to be the center of our hearts and the Lord of our lives should be a daily habit... a lifestyle....a lifelong journey. The good news is that you don't have to wait until a certain time, or day, or year to draw near to God. He meets you where you are.

First, let's take a look at the "fitness" resolution:

  1. What does a "fitness" resolution entail?
    • Usually, it's a combination of goals for weight loss, toned muscles, gained strength, good health, and better physical appearance. All good things.
  2. What do you have to do to achieve this resolution? 
    • Daily exercise, weight lifting, cardio workouts, dieting, healthy eating, more protein / less carbs, personal training, jogging, etc. The ways of reaching these goals are almost limitless.

The problem with this popular resolution is that it is short-lived. Again, the average time one sticks to their resolution is a month... and you may have personally experienced this short-lived duration for a similar goal (if not the same one).

But how can we possibly view God the same way we view our New Year Resolutions?

When you start the new year, the process of achieving your resolution is similar with your relationship with God. Both take:
  1. Time
  2. Effort
  3. Discipline
  4. Endurance
  5. Motivation
  6. Habit
  7. Progress

First, let's look at these factors with a fitness resolution: 


Time and Effort: 

  • Getting fit, toned, healthy, and losing weight takes both time and effort. You have to take the time to exercise and try your hardest to have a healthy diet in order to reach your goals.


Discipline:

  • The hardest factor to overcome is discipline, yet it is the main factor in the life-span of your resolution. Discipline is hard. Discipline isn't fun. Discipline isn't comfortable. But discipline pays off. It's the big hump or obstacle in the game that you need to push through in order to have a chance at overcoming the other factors in reaching your end goal. 


Endurance:

  • Endurance is pushing through and continuing to pursue your goal, regardless of pain, hardship, excuses, busy schedules, soreness, weather conditions, etc. 


Motivation:

  • Find ways to keep that goal on your mind and to stay encouraged in the process. This can be motivational fitness quotes/posters, having a workout buddy or group, having an accountability partner, having a gym near your work or home, have a picture of what you want to accomplish on your bathroom mirror, etc. With enough endurance and motivation, you will "keep on keeping on" and get closer to your goal. 


Habit:

  • If you become disciplined in your fitness routine and continue to pursue endurance and motivation, you will be able to develop this goal as a habit. Once it becomes a habit, you will "just do it," naturally and you will more easily see tangible progress in reaching your end goal. 


Progress:

  • The great thing about progress is that you don't have to stop once you reach your initial goal. Progress can be a lifelong journey of many goals, and you will grow more and more each time. 



Now, let's look at these factors with your relationship with God:


Time and Effort:

  • This one's a bit tricky. Your works alone cannot get you closer to God, and only God can allow Himself to be revealed to you or get closer to you. But if you have the Holy Spirit moving in you to draw near to God, that IS God drawing near to you. And when God draws you near to Him, He is calling you to take the time and effort to get to know Him more. So now that we've looped around that circle, getting closer to God takes both time and effort. Just like any relationship does.


Discipline:

  • Again, the hardest factor to overcome is discipline, yet it is the main factor in making your life God-centered. Discipline is hard. Discipline isn't fun. Discipline isn't comfortable. But discipline pays off. It's the big hump or obstacle that you need to push through in order to have a chance at overcoming the other factors in reaching closeness with God. 


Endurance:

  • Endurance is pushing through and continuing to draw nearer to God, regardless of pain, hardships, busy schedules, distractions, etc. 


Motivation:

  • Motivation is finding ways to continue to draw near to him and keep Him at the center of your life. That can be involvement in church or Christian community, bible study groups, an accountability partner, serving those in need, journaling prayers throughout the day, listing to sermons or Christian podcasts on your commute to work, reading a daily bible verse on your smartphone app, etc. 


Habit:

  • If you become disciplined in a routine to spending time with God, and continue to pursue endurance and motivation during the process, this goal will eventually become a habit. Once it becomes a habit, it will become more natural to you and there will be a noticeable difference in your life with the closeness you have with God. You will see difference in many areas of your life: relationships, perspectives (hardships, blessings, people, etc), decision making, goals, etc. 


Progress:

  • Even though you will see a noticeable difference (or progress) in your walk with God, you will never reach ultimate closeness with Him until we live with Him forever in Heaven. Maybe that's encouraging to you... maybe it's not. But here's why it's a good thing: this means that God will never stop REVEALING Himself to you... a.k.a you will never stop learning about God, getting closer to Him, seeing Him work in all areas of your life, seeing His unfailing faithfulness in answering prayers, etc. 

So let's really pursue God this year. It's not a resolution, it's a decision to change and make God the center of your life. Happy New Year!


Monday, December 1, 2014

7 Realities of Experiencing God


If you are a believer (new or old), I would encourage you to dig into the devotional called "Experiencing God" by Henry & Richard Blackaby and Claude King.

This study guides you to experience God by teaching you how to:
  • Hear when God is speaking to you
  • Clearly identify His activity in your life
  • Believe Him to be and do everything He has promised
  • Adjust your beliefs, character, and behavior to Him and His ways
  • Recognize a direction He is taking in your life and identify what He wants to do through your life
  • Clearly know what you need to do in response to His activity in your life
  • Experience God doing through you what only He can do


You will need to go through the entire study to really grasp how to experience God fully. But as given in the study, these are the 7 realities to experiencing God:
  1. God is always at work around you.
  2. God pursuers a continuing love relationship with you that is real and personal.
  3. God invites you to become involved with Him in His work.
  4. God speaks by Holy Spirit via Bible/prayer/circumstances/church to reveal Himself, His purposes, and His ways.
  5. God's invitation for you to work with Him always leads you to a crisis of belief that requires faith and action.
  6. You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.
  7. You come to know God by experience as you obey Him, and He accomplishes His work through you.

Friday, May 9, 2014

America Is The Hardest Place To Be A Christian





You may think that statement is impossible. Of course, it would be extremely hard and even dangerous living in other parts of the world as a Christian... but you'll be presented reasons why being a true Christian in America is the hardest.

Mother Teresa once said that the spiritual poverty of the West (America) was far worse than any tangible poverty she ever saw. And I think we can all agree with her....

Here's why:


"I'm a Christian."

          In America, many throw around the word "Christianity" like it's just a label. Heck, "everyone" is a Christian it seems! Especially if you live in the South, it comes to a surprise if someone says they're not a Christian. Many think they're Christians because their parents believed, because they attended a church camp one summer, because they went to church growing up, because they were baptized at the age of 7, because they said a few prayers, or even because they told people they were a Christian.... but they don't understand that being a Christian is a whole lot more than that. In fact, those things don't mean you are a true follower of Jesus at all.

          It's not just a way of living or telling people you're a part of the "club"; it's a complete transformation of the heart, having a relationship with God, and putting your complete trust in Jesus. Jesus said throughout the New Testament that external deeds, knowledge of Him, and even following God's Law never saved anyone.... only a transformation of the heart and faith in Jesus Christ did.

          ....And trust me, you don't have a transformation of the heart or a relationship with God if you don't have the desire to live out your life according to His will, desire to live as Jesus did, consistently repent and try to turn from sin (even knowing we will always fail), put your faith and trust in Jesus, or attempt to abide in Him daily.

          Disclaimer: Even the most devout followers of Jesus fail, fall away from God, turn to their sinful desires, struggle to put their trust in Jesus, and even struggle with the desire to build in their relationship with the Lord. You can see this throughout the New Testament too, even with Peter (Jesus' most devout disciple). What I am saying is that if we live our life merely to gain worldly things and put our hope/desires in those things, we truly don't have a transformation of the heart. As Jesus says, "What do you benefit if you gain the whole world, but lose your soul?" - Matthew 16:26.


Pitiful Persecution = Weakened Hearts 

          I think we can all say that we're very thankful that we live in a country where we have religious freedom and don't have to live in fear of imprisonment (or even death) because of our faith. But because of this, we have taken it for granted and don't see the daily need to rely and trust in Jesus. But persecution has strengthened faith over history, as well as for our Christian brothers and sisters all over the world facing real persecution.

          In fact, one missionary in China actually asked our church to stop praying about that topic for Asia because they WANTED persecution. They didn't want it to be like America; they didn't want to get too comfortable or to be easily accepted... because persecution, having to truly rely on God for the gospel to affect nonbeliever's hearts, and learning to put their full trust and faith in Jesus actually strengthened their ministry and walk with God.

          The only thing we seem to worry about (faith wise) in America is getting made fun of or not fitting in. We're so wrapped up in our privileged freedom that we take it for granted and live as if we don't need God (or live like we're our own gods). Our culture thrives on the idea that it's "all about you" and getting what we want... so in America, it's easy to get sucked into the diluted flow of our culture by putting all of our heart's desires on things of this temporary life.

          Just like you can't become strong and physically fit at the gym without some struggle, stressing your muscles, and being persistent at reaching your goal... you can't truly grow in your relationship with God without struggle, persistence, and learning to put your faith and trust in Him (in all circumstances).



Moments of Realization

The American Dream / The American Way





Thursday, April 3, 2014

3 Important Reminders for Christians

No matter how devout of a Christian you may be, it can become easy to "go through the motions" and retreat into our selfish, daily routines. The world just sucks us into its' current and, sometimes, it's difficult to get back out.

That's why we need reminders -- but not just any reminder. We need those type of reminders that bop us against the head (in a loving way) saying, "Hey! Snap out of it!"

But although these 3 reminders are SO IMPORTANT, they are also easy to forget. Pray that the Lord will help remind you often of these things and keep them near to your heart.

---------------------------

Please share with your fellow Christian friends and family. 

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3 Important Reminders for Christians:

1) Don't get too comfortable here because we're just camping. This is our temporary home, and our time here is precious. Even if we live to be 100, that's just a grain of sand compared to eternity in Heaven. And although our time here is very short, it's also the most important

  • This one earthly life we have been given is the one chance we have to secure our true home in Heaven through trust in Jesus Christ... or to waste it by worshiping creation (rather than the Creator). We should be devoting our life to the One who gave it to us. 
  • We don't know when God will take us home, or when Jesus will return. If that were tomorrow, would you be ready? Don't waste your life chasing temporary, worldly things that will vanish and not matter the moment we die. Scriptures say we won't even remember the things of this world in Heaven, so why devote so much of our time into gaining such worldly things?

2) Throughout the NT, Jesus talks about the importance of the heart vs. actions. It's not how many scriptures we can quote, if we go to church every Sunday, how many good deeds we perform, or even if we merely believe in Jesus (for even demons believed). Jesus cares about the transformation of the heart, and that comes through a relationship with God. 


  • God's greatest commandment is to love Him with all of our heart, mind and soul.. and that is only possible if we build and strengthen our relationship with Him (the most fulfilling and incomparable relationship you can ever experience).

3) Our duties as Christians are to first love God.... and because we love God, we should love others. This is God's second greatest commandment. We love others by showing them the way, the truth, the life through Jesus. We're all sinners, even the most devout Christians. And we cannot love others if we judge or look down upon anyone as unworthy, because we are unworthy of the love and grace that God has given to us. 


  • It is imbecile to judge others because we are not "better than" any other who has yet to receive the sweet freedom that God has graciously given us, and He is the only one with the authority to judge. We are truly blessed and should view others with great love, caring more for their soul than whether or not they think we're "cool," whether or not they like us, whether or not we like them. Jesus came to save the sinners, not the righteous. "It's not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick."

Suggested Reads:
Matthew 7: 21-23
Mark 2:17
James 4:11-16
2 Corinthians 4:17 - 5:1
Not a fan by Kyle Idleman

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Way Americans Live (Not According To Christianity)



Live. Laugh. Love.

YOLO

Just do it. 

Eat, drink, and be merry.

Live life to the fullest.


It's the American way.

Individualism, sex, alcohol, winning/succeeding, getting rich, being beautiful, having fun, and getting what we want -- that's the true story of where our culture thrives. The American Dream is the essence of the American culture. 

Yet, even as Christians, many of us get sucked in to the diluted flow of our culture that tells us what to wear, what to look like, what to drink, what to do, what to think, what to believe... 

Many of us wake up each morning and live life as if it'll be forever (as if we are invulnerable to death), and as if Jesus will not be returning in our lifetime. 

But the scary reality is this: we haven't the slightest clue of when that day will be. For all we know, it could be tomorrow...

Think about it:

If we knew when our time would come (the day we die): 
  • How would we choose to spend our time? 
  • What would we start doing? 
  • What would we do differently or quit doing? 
If we knew when Jesus would be returning:
  • How would we live our lives differently? 
  • What would our time with getting to know the Lord look like? 
  • Would we start being serious about growing in our relationship with God? 
  • Would we start trying to live a life that glorifies God? 
  • Would we start professing our faith to lost friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors?
  • Would we continue to pursue temporary, worldly things?

All of these are important questions to ask. These aren't theoretical... they're a reality. Because the reality is that we don't know what our future holds. We don't know when we will die. We don't know when Jesus will return. 

And that's scary. 

Why? Because as temporary as our time here on earth is (even if we live to be 100), it is also the most important: it DETERMINES where we will spend the rest of eternity. And that's a lot of pressure. 

But that pressure should spark a lightbulb for many of us, or snap us back into reality -- the reality of the unknown future, the reality of an unpredictable Judgement Day, and the reality that our time here on earth is meant for one purpose: not to "live life to the fullest" in our own selfish/worldly ways, but to "life life to the fullest" according to God's purpose and plan. Because life can only be experienced to the fullest through an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

John 10:10 "The thief comes only to steal, destroy and kill. [Jesus] came that they may have life and have it abundantly."

Don't waste your life. 

If you gotta start somewhere, why not here
If you gotta start sometime, why not now?




Friday, January 31, 2014

Professional Photography Is A Lot Like Christianity


I work at a professional architectural photography company, and on my commute to work one morning, I realized something: professional photography is a lot like Christianity.

Sounds weird.
Sounds like it doesn't make sense.
Sounds like an impossible correlation.

........But I'm about to show you how it relates.

Since I manage the social media for this company, one of the posts I created was a "comparison" shot of a smartphone image vs. our professional image of the same room.

This was what it looked like:


I blurred out my company's logo because I am not trying to promote our company and it is irrelevant in this blog.

It's obvious which one looks better. 

At first glance, it looks like the professional image at the bottom was shot further back to make the room look larger. But in reality, the smartphone image was taken right on top of where the camera tripod was standing. We also do not edit the photos in a way that alters the space. The room looks brighter and airy because the professional camera takes multiple exposures of the room, and our processing team goes into Lightroom to enhance the colors.

Our professional cameras have wide focal lenses that capture the WHOLE space, unlike smartphones and digital cameras -- which have very limited focal capabilities. Our professional cameras also bring out the details of the space. 

If you own a smartphone, even you know (or have experienced) that when you take a picture of something, the picture never does it any justice. You can never get a picture that shows exactly what you were seeing (even the newest and most updated versions). 

Okay, so how does this tie into Christianity again?

God is the professional camera, and we are the smartphone.

Like a professional camera, God sees the WHOLE picture. His perspective is deeper, wider, and more detailed than we could ever imagine. We're like the smartphone. We think we're "smarter" than God and think our picture/life/plan is best... but we don't see what God sees. We don't even know what "best" really is because all we know is what WE see.... a limited view and perspective on the quality of life. 
  • Proverbs 16:9 -- The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.
  • Isaiah 55: 8-9 -- For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
  • James 4:13-15 -- Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that," but you do not even know what your life will be like tomorrow. Your life is like the morning fog - it's here a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."

We tend to view God so small, and ourselves as larger than life. But just as obvious as it is that a professional camera is almost always much larger than a smartphone or digital camera, God is much larger than we are. 
  • Isaiah 40:2 -- He who has measured the earth's water in the palm of his hand.
  • Psalms 33:8-9 -- Let all the earth fear the Lord; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. 


God pays attention to the details. He is the source in which our life becomes "enhanced." And He helps us to view life as He sees it. 
  • Proverbs 3:5-6 -- Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path straight. 
  • Psalms 32:8 -- God will instruct me and teach me the way I should go. He will guide me with His eye. 
  • Psalms 119:105 -- Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. 


His "exposure" to us comes in many different lights/ways. He can take the negatives to develop positives. He knows what is BEST for us.
    • Romans 8:28 -- And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.
    • 2 Timothy 2:12 -- If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him; if we deny Him, he also will deny us.
    • 1 Peter 5:10 -- And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
    • James 1:12 -- Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
    • 1 Corinthians 10:13 -- No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
    • John 16:33 -- I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
    • Romans 5:3-5 -- Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character produces hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.


    He may appear to be far away (as it looks in the comparison image above), but He's been right there with you all along.
    • Joshua 1:9 -- Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

    Concluding words:

    Put your hope, trust, and life in God's hands. He knows what He's doing and even when you think you know what's best for your life, God works in mysterious ways. You may write all of your plans out on paper, but God has the eraser. He can transform any heart to experience the fullness of life in the way that God designed for us (i.e. read about Paul in the Bible - an early Christian hater and killer, who became saved by grace and transformed, and one of the greatest apostles of Jesus in the New Testament). Devote your life to the one who gave it to you. 





















    Tuesday, January 28, 2014

    100+ Prayer List - Things To Pray About


    Do you sometimes have a difficult time trying to think of things to pray about?

    Especially when we're not in a crisis or going through a difficult time, coming up with things to pray about can seem harder to do than it actually is. 



    For example (true story): One of my friends went on a mission trip to Europe and every Saturday, each member of the group had to be alone for 5 hours...praying the WHOLE time. They also had to write down the topics they prayed about. At first, everyone was thinking "5 hours?! I'm going to run out of things to pray about! There's no way..." But they came to realize that not only were they ABLE to think of enough things to pray about within the 5 hour time frame, but also there was SO much more to pray about after that 5 hours. My friend said it was an amazing experience to be "forced" to pray for that long. She said you could probably even pray for 24 hours non-stop if you really tried.

          




    REMEMBER: 
    Prayer isn't just when you, or someone you know, needs something. Prayer consists of repentance, asking for guidance, asking for help, praying for others, PRAISING God for who He is, and even THANKING Him for all He has done/given to you and others. Never forget to thank God for all His blessings (big or small) throughout your life.

    1 Thessalonians  5:16-18 
    Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; 
    for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.


    Philippians 4:6-7
     Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


    When praying, you can either:
    1. Look at the list of things I provided below, or
    2. Do this exercise to help you come up with ideas on your own:
      • Carry a mini journal with you in your pocket or purse. 
      • Every time you hear about an issue or concern that someone has, jot it down.
      • Every time you think about an issue, concern, stress, question, or difficult decision, jot it down.
      • Every time you have a praise or hear something good that is happening, jot it down.
      • Every time you see something good or bad on the news, on a Facebook status, or other source, jot it down and pray for that person and that situation.
      • Every time someone you don't like does something to irritate or stress you out, jot it down and pray for that person. You never know what personal things they are going through that are making them that way towards you and others. 
      • Every time someone wrongs you or betrays you, pray for that person and forgive them. God can not forgive those who are not forgiving to others.
      • Every time you think of something to pray about for you, your coworkers, family, friends, classmates, or other loved ones, jot it down. 

    100+ Things To Pray About:

    Politics
    • Our president: safety, health, wise decisions, leadership, loyalty and faithfulness to our country, succeeding in doing the things he said he would do, fulfilling God's purpose for him and our country
    • Our government: morality, funds, leadership, wise decisions, protection, bill and law decisions

    World

    • Third world countries: unlcean water, poverty, shelter, AIDS, illness and disease, death rates, crime, Christian influence
    • War: between countries, states, civil groups, race, religion, economic status, government/authorities, corruption, money, etc.

    Religion

    • Missionaries around the world: safety, health, fulfilling God's Will, martyrs 
    • Sharing the gospel in our communities to the lost: sharing our faith with coworkers, friends, classmates, family, neighbors, homeless, needy, etc.
    • Living out faith in our communities: involvement and contribution to charity or organization that helps people, using gifts to share faith and make a difference
    • Involvement with our church: close relationships with other members, accountability partners, counsel, commitment, serving in needed area, using gifts to serve in an area
    • Other religions around the world: missionaries that reach out to these groups
    • Other religions in our community: build relationships and be a good example of Christ's love/make a difference in their lives in some way, their mind and heart to be opened or effected in a positive way that may lead them to Christ, not trying to convert them directly which may push them further away
    • Personal life: sins, be a good example of Christ, live your life in a way that pleases and glorifies God, watch what you say and do as those who are unbelievers will be watching you with an eagle eye and your actions/words can effect the way they see Christ or being a Christian, profess the gospel of Jesus Christ to coworkers/friends/family/etc.

    Education

    • Teachers/staff: guidance to teach students effectively, patience with difficult children, fairness, respect to students, respect from students, genuine care for students, ability to teach in different methods according to student's learning capabilities
    • Students: learning efforts, to see the value and privilege of education, effective studies, work ethic, friends, bullying, drama, fears, influences, discrimination, prejudice, low-income school environments, expectations, goals 

    Financial

    • America: debt, economy, inflation, recession, gas prices, poverty, low-income households, job economy, jobless parents, homelessness, government spending, stock market
    • Personal: debt, wise spending habits, saving, retirement, tithing, generous giving, value of money, ethical decisions, frugal/simple living, idolatry over money, investments, children's future, education, bills, needs vs. wants
    • Church: sending programs, tithing, missionaries, plant churches, mission work/trips, ministries, outreach events, donations, volunteer work, helping those in need, members would be generous in giving time and monetary efforts

    Crime

    • America: cities with high crime rates, crime in your hometown, safety of home, safety of family and friends, Safety of self, safety while commuting on roads, safety at work

    Personal

    • Safety, health and wellness: self, while commuting on roads, home, family and friends
    • Work: job security, co-workers, boss, performance, impact, struggles, stress, fears
    • Relationships and friendships
    • Sins, insecurities, sins, weaknesses, struggles, fears, anger or bitterness towards a person or thing, 
    • Past events, upcoming events, future plans