Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

I Am the Branch

For what feels like most of my life, I have had this struggle with my hair.  My desire is for it to grow long, but in the past several years, every beautician I have seen has recommended that I cut it.  There has been so much damage and mistreatment of my hair, the best option was to chop it off and regrow it.  I resisted because I did not understand how cutting it off would help it grow longer.  I did not want to let go, so I held on to my damaged hair which still refused to grow.

I am worthyOnce I was meditating on John 15 (“The Vine and the branches”), and I realized something:  God, the vine dresser, takes away the branches that do not bear fruit.  He prunes the branches that do, so that they may bear more fruit.  My habit was to use this verse as a plea for God to prune me so that I become a branch that does bear fruit.  But the very fact that He prunes me shows that I already bear fruit and He sees the potential in me for more. What an honor it is, for the vine dresser to prune me!

Our society so easily discards things we consider insufficient.  But Our Father is not like that.  He says, “I delight in you.  I see the fruit you bear.  That’s why I prune you.  Because you were made for so much more.”  Even if He sees one pathetically tiny piece of fruit barely hanging on from that branch that I am, He still delights in me.  He sees not that I have barely produced anything.  He only sees the capacity He has in me. It is not about my faults and failures because He declares that I am already clean because of the word which has spoken to me.  It’s not about me.  The star of the vine is the Vine: Jesus.  It’s about God, the vine dresser.  His desire to grow us, use us, and have us to Himself.  Though that love involves us, it isn’t about us.  Submitting to pruning is simply an act of receiving His great love for us.

vinedresserSo a couple of weeks ago, I sat in the stylist’s chair.  A year and a half ago, I argued with her about how I did NOT want my hair cut (even though she offered to simply trim it).  I said, reluctantly, I’m ready to cut it.  I watched the dry, split ends fall to my shoulders.  A part of me was dying inside.  At the end, my hair was more beautiful than I would’ve imagined it would be short.  And it looked so healthy.  I was grateful for putting trust in her.

How much more trust should I place in my God who knows what is and isn’t good for me?  What are you holding that may need to be let go, even if only for a season?  I challenge you to be open to pruning when the time comes.  Because the result is always worth it.


Run Beside Me

I found this poem tucked away in one of my old notebooks, like any other poem I immediately deemed useless after writing.  Years later, I realize it is so relevant to this season.  At least in my life.  For everyone else going through similar times, or just anyone who cares to read …

Run beside me
Accelerating by no limits
Beyond the measures out of breath
Keep running and keep in mind
Nothing behind us fits

Stop wishing things were like they once were
Because they’ll never be the same
And continually trying to recreate the past
Will leave us with no gain.

These times are not the movies.
With rounded story arcs and dénouement
We’re making our own stories
Unlike that tv show you saw.

Keep running until we can no longer run
And then we’ll run some more
Until our bodies are forced to collapse
Breathless, weary, and sore.

When we make it there alive
We’ll have touched our destiny …

In Hebrews 12, Paul exhorts us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (12:1-2).  Beloved, there is a race marked out for you.  But there are things that hold you back in this life.  Watch out for the little foxes that ruin the vineyards.  It doesn’t have to mean blatant sin; it could be a broken mindset about who you are and your limitations.

This calling is not a light suggestion.  Why is that?  Because the sacrifice of Jesus was not a light event.  Do we fully understand what He achieved for us?  Do we truly know who we are in Christ to God?  “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (12:3).

If you don’t know what to do, set your eyes on Jesus.

And run.


Sacrifice of Worship

It is so easy in a society with such freedom of religion to take worship for granted.

Places that execute severe persecution upon faithful believers cultivate the most passionate worshipers you can find. I remember during my season of missionary training, my class read The Heavenly Man by Brother Yun. Enlightenment overcame the countenances of all these young adults (including myself) who were literally giving their lives to the gospel. Out of their hearts came the genuine question, “Am I really a Christian?”

Worship without sacrifice is simply self-serving. We are idolizing ourselves and our own needs above true relationship with God. Even the act of checking worship off our to-do list invalidates the entire purpose.

All this to say, sometimes we have expectations of how God should work for us. Even when our heart is genuinely seeking Him, we define receiving what we need by the fuzzy feeling while singing a song on Sunday morning at church. This evening, I found myself praying in the spirit for an extended period. Once I hit the bounds of my comfort zone, I began to question what I was doing, but I felt the tug on my heart to keep pressing. Half an hour later, I was questioning myself. Is there not another way to do this?

Naaman had the same question when he desired healing from leprosy.

So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. (2 Kings 5:9-12)

How many times have you responded to God this way? “Wait a minute, can’t I do <;insert excuse here>; instead?”

It is necessary to sacrifice in worship; even if it is as simple as a sacrifice of our own understanding. His ways are higher than our ways. His thoughts higher than our thoughts. If we choose not to give into lukewarm spirituality that Jesus will spit out of His mouth (Rev 3:16) or lost saltness that will be trampled underfoot (Mt 5:13), we must learn to become true worshipers.

Jesus, teach us how to worship as you have called us: in spirit and in truth. I repent for the ways I have resisted you in worship and cry out for an uprising sacrifice of worship in my generation. Amen.


3 Things I Learned From An Atheist

Recently, a talk show I’ve subscribed to interviewed an atheist intellectual.  I was only halfway listening as I was multitasking when a statement from the interviewed captured my attention:

“If you want to be religious and go to church on a Sunday or whatever and go to picnics and stuff, that’s fine, but there’s absolutely no reason to think you have to take it seriously and think there’s really some guy up on a cloud looking down on you.  You don’t have to go that far down the road.  You could be a cultural Jew, a cultural Christian, or a cultural Muslim, you know.  You can just enjoy the social aspects of it without actually sacrificing your reason and your doubt.  There’s like more than a billion people in the world who are just non believers.”

This revolts me.  Not because his downplay of religion offended me, but because it forced me to look at three uncomfortable truths.

We’re not fooling anyone

Even atheists can see that a lot of us are just “playing church.”  And as insulting as that guy saying we can just be “cultural Christians” and enjoy the social aspects, that’s what so many of us are actually doing.

If we’re not fooling other people, then we’re certainly not fooling God.  Seriously, God does not owe us for going to church or doing good works.  Our good deeds are as FILTHY RAGS to Him (Isaiah 64:6).  So we need to cut the act and get real.

Looks like a Christian?

There’s the saying “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, . . .” etc, then it’s probably a duck.  But just because someone calls himself a Christian, attends church, knows the bible, it doesn’t mean he’s a Christian.

We cannot take things at face value.  That will lead us to being easily deceived.  Look around you and ask God to reveal to you what’s really going on beneath the surface.

Stand for nothing, fall for anything

I listen to this show to remind myself how the identity of God is constantly being attacked by human reasoning.  Daily, our generation is exchanging the truth of who God is for lies and this is DANGEROUS TERRITORY (see ROMANS 1:18-32).

To my surprise, the show’s guest concluded with this:

I have to be convinced that one or more of these gods are real if I’m going to worship  them. . . The way I approach religion or any extraordinary claim is I’m willing to be convinced. Show me the mountain of evidence and I’ll be with you.  But I don’t see the same from believers.

We have to stop getting in non believers faces, trying to convince them of anything until we are convinced.  Are you truly convinced?  Do you believe in God because of something your pastor said?  Are you a Christian because of some feel-good experience you had years ago?  Beloved, we need to GET CONVINCED.

There is a real war going on.  Not against flesh and blood but powers and principalities (Eph 6:12).  So the point of this is not to go out starting debates with people who disagree with Christian truth.  It’s about recognizing the battle going on and our own unpreparedness.  We need to have His Word inscribed on the tablet of our heart, so that we cannot be shaken.


Go Deeper

When I was talking to a friend from church, I received two words from God:

GO DEEPER

I began to contemplate what that meant for my life.  Two years ago, the word I got for 2010 was “Everything changes.”  And my life changed drastically.  I believe last year was about a healing work which He did in me personally.  Maybe “Go deeper” isn’t a word for the entire year, but I do know something is truly different about this year.  Of course, that’s said every year as the entire country maps out resolutions, most of which are already broken by today, February 1.  But seriously, I feel an anointing over this year to be released into promises we’ve held for years.

How Deep?

Contemplating this message brought me to the passage in Ezekiel 47 where he is led out to the water.  Then he notices, he is ankle-deep.  As he continues, he finds he is knee-deep.  Later, he is waist-deep.  Suddenly, he finds himself overwhelmed by how far it goes out and how deep it truly is.  He calls it a “river I could not cross.”

I remember taking swimming lessons when I was a kid.  When you begin to walk into the pool, the first step covers your feet up to your ankles.  And with each step you take, the water seems to get progressively higher when the truth is, you are just going progressively deeper.  Learning how to swim in four or five feet was one thing, but at the end of swim class, we were all required to take a jump off the diving board.  I remember being terrified.  By diving in, I was giving the water permission to consume me.  And I didn’t know if I trusted myself or the lifeguard to bring me back to the surface.

God is an Everlasting Father who has so much for you.  And He is worthy of trust.  How deep have you let Him take you?  Are you willing to let Him take you all the way?  What does it mean for you to “Go deeper” with the Lord?

Is He calling you to Go Deeper in Relationship?  The book of Acts describes the early church as giving themselves over to fellowship.  Is that what your relationships in the Body look like?

Maybe He’s calling you to Go Deeper in Intimacy.  In Psalm 27, God says, “Seek my face” and David says, “Your face I will seek.”  He is open and available for you.  Draw near to Him.  Make time for Him.

Some are being called to Go Deeper in Faith.  Romans says those who put their trust in the Lord will not be put to shame.  Do not be afraid to trust God for big things beyond your comprehension.  Don’t settle for “making it by” in this life.

I know that this year, I’ve been called to do all three.  How is God calling you to “Go deeper?”

Recommended Article: Living a Life of Worship


7 Ways to Keep Your New Year’s Vision

So obviously, “New Year’s Resolutions” aren’t in the bible. But the concept of vision for a new way of life is not foreign to God’s ways. In fact, it’s the opposite. God loves to declare “Behold, I will do a new thing!” (Isa 43:29). So rather or not you ascribe to having new year’s resolutions, if you have a vision about where you wish to be, here are some biblical principles to help you maintain it.

7. Make Room for the New!

In Luke 5, Jesus speaks about not pouring new wine into old wineskins. If you want God to pour the new into your life, you have to give Him a new vessel to pour into. Some of the new things we desire for our life are not conducive with our habits. Just like if you want a life without smoking, it’s probably not a good idea to still hang out with other smokers during your usual cigarette breaks. So consider what may need changing to give room for your vision.

6. Declare It!

One of my favorite principles of faith in the bible is in Romans 4:17. It is about calling things that are not as though they are. If you declare it, you are pushing forward in faith. If you can see it, you will believe it. And if you can believe it, it will come. We all know the memorable line from Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come.” So consider, “If you declare it, it will come.”

5. Get help!

Know what you want, but don’t know exactly how to get it? Don’t let that stop you! First of all, God encourages us to seek him for wisdom because he’ll give it generously without looking down on us for it (James 1:5). Look at King Solomon and all his success! The one thing he asked for was wisdom. Some of that wisdom included seeking counsel from other advisers (Prov. 15:22). So I also encourage you, find someone who’s already in the place you want to be and learn from him.

4. Start Over . . . and Over Again!

I guarantee you, the death of most New Year’s resolutions begins with failure. You fail to go to the gym a couple of weeks, and you decide it’s over. Maybe next year. But His mercies are new every day (Lam 3:22-23)! We have to get out of the mentality that we have to wait 365 days to get another beginning. So if you fall short of expectation, forgive yourself and start over. No matter how many times you fall. The righteous man falls 7 times and gets back up again (Prov. 24:16). Every time.

3. Chew on It!

Meditating on your desire motivates you to keep going. When the shepherds spoke of marvelous promises about the baby Jesus, Mary stored those things in her heart and thought about it often (Lk 2:19). What will it take for you to think about it often? Sometimes it takes taping a reminder to your mirror where you’ll see it every day. Others may prefer to journal their vision and revisit it when necessary. Whatever it means for you, find a way to keep it in your mind and chew on it until you see the fruit of your vision.

2. Think High!

If you only look at your circumstances, it’s easy to get discouraged. That’s why you have to think above them. Colossians 3 instructs us to set our mind on things above. You cannot rise above your position until you can think higher than it. The greatest inventions were born out of the capacity to think outside of the current way of life. Some of those inventors were ridiculed for thinking they could come up with such things. We are seated with Christ who is at the right hand of God. Our possibilities are endless. Think in heavenly places, not on earth.

1. FAST

This principle may surprise you. Fasting is not a very popular practice, but it is a way that God’s people have responded to Him when they were desperate to see change. My favorite examples are Daniel and Esther. After Daniel completes a fast in chapter 10, God says, “From the first day you set your heart to understand, you were heard and I have come because of it.” Fasting gives you a single-mindedness and focus. Don’t do it attempt to earn favor from God. Do it to set your heart to understand Him. His character, nature, and will for your life. That is how your vision will become reality.


Return Like the Prodigal Son, Part 2

So let’s pick up where we left off. If you haven’t already, I recommend you read Part 1 of How to Return Like the Prodigal Son. We left off where the son had come to the end of himself in his “prodigal living” and realized that he’d be better off going back to his father than continuing doing life on his own. Which brings us to the next step . . .

Return in Humility

And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (Luke 15:20-21)

Remember, when the son left his father, he left with an offended heart. He had decided that he knew better than his father and decided to do things his own way. But the son realized that if he was going to come back, he would have to reconcile with the opposite attitude.

When we walk away from God thinking our way is better, we must return acknowledging that His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9). This turning of our hearts is called repentance. I don’t know about you, but I used to hate that word. The church has made it seem like such a dreadful thing, but really, it’s a beautiful thing. You have to remember the One you are coming before, despite what you’ve done, is looking upon you with compassion. Just like the son–before even speaking–was greeted with compassion.

Also, repentance is not something we do out of duty or habitually. Godly sorrow produces a serious turning of the heart (2 Cor. 7:8-10). You cannot repent if you are not truly sorry for what you’ve done. Repentance is not an easy ticket to wipe out the sin so you won’t have to be accountable for it later. When you repent with a sincere heart, then you are given the honorable privilege to . . .

Receive His Mercy

But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry. (15:22-24)

The morning after going through some serious repentance with a church elder at home via phone, I spent some time in corporate worship. I didn’t feel like participating. Even though I knew I had turned away from all the stuff I’d done, I still felt dirty and unworthy of God. Then my favorite worship song came on, and I could feel God tugging on my heart. It was a song about how great his love is. Then I got angry.

Seriously, I was screaming at God inside my head. I didn’t realize at that moment it was because I was having difficulty receiving His mercy. Before the song ended, I was in tears. He had won me over with one phrase: “It’s not about you. It’s about me.”

I realized that wasn’t in an arrogant “Because I’m God” kind of way. It’s not about me and how unworthy about I am. It’s about him because He is jealous for me. How much he desires me completely overwhelms any wrong thing I could have done. And that’s the beauty of it, beloved. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). And that’s all that matters. So even if you feel unworthy, receive His mercy. Even at a time . . .

When Other Believers Oppose You

I won’t spend much time on this last point, but I feel I need to say it. At the end of the prodigal son story (15:28-32), the brother of the son complains about the welcome home celebration of the prodigal. , “These many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’

It’s human to feel jealous when someone else gets what you feel you deserve. Jesus even made mention of this in another parable where field workers all received the same pay regardless of how long they worked (Luke 20:9-19). So do not be surprised if a few in the church are not so happy to see you return with grace and favor over your life. They are no more righteous than you, we all fall short of His glory (Rom 3:23). Remember, it is God’s word that matters. And His word says:

“It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.”