True Freedom

As we look forward to the long weekend, hopefully we are reminded of the great freedoms that we have here in America as we celebrate our nation’s independence. Christians in America should doubly rejoice, not just because of our religious freedoms, but also because of our spiritual liberation from death in Christ. Jesus says in John 8:32 “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But yet, the sad reality is that many see Christianity not as freedom, but slavery because of all the rules that we have to obey.

The great deception is the belief that we are free when we can live however we want. You think about the abortion movement, the killing of a baby is advanced under the banner of “pro-choice.” Many are rejoicing because of the recent court ruling allowing same-sex marriage to be legal because people are now free to marry whoever they love. The world says true freedom is being able to live however we want to.

Now that might sound good, tolerant, even loving, but this worldview falls apart when our desires come in conflict with our wellbeing, and the wellbeing of others. Just as an example, no one likes traffic laws, and our initial reaction when we see a cop is, unfortuantely, usually negative. But would we really want to live in a society without any traffic rules? Without policemen? Enforceable laws? No, ideally, laws are made to protect our true freedoms by giving us fullness of life.

I’ve seen so many patients working with the homeless who in the name of choice and freedom are very much slaves to their own passions and desires. I have those who don’t have enough money even for food because they use every penny to get drugs. And of course their decisions don’t just impact themselves, but have consequences on the people in their lives. It is such a sad situation, particularly if there are children involved.

But the thing is, you and I really are not much better. The “drugs” we seek after and give ourselves over to just look different: money, fame, pleasure, or maybe security. Ultimately, our pursuit of anything apart from God enslaves every one of us because living apart from God results in death. Freedom is not getting to do what we desire to do, because the truth is that we have sinful desires sometimes. True freedom is knowing how God intended us to live and having the power to live that out. The great news of the gospel is that in Christ, because of His work on the cross and the empowering of the Holy Spirit, that becomes a reality.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:32

Happy 4th of July week everyone. No post this coming Thursday because of our church retreat!

 

 

To all the Graduates!

It’s graduation season! Tonight is my alma mater’s (high school) graduation. Every time this day rolls around, I always think thoughts like: Wow, has 13 years really gone by? I wonder what people are up to? Why wasn’t I invited to my 10 year reunion? Shouldn’t it be easy to find me online nowadays?? Am I still not cool enough??!

Ahem…my thoughts digress; certainly no unresolved issues here. Well, to all the graduates, here’s a little pep talk I gave to our high schoolers at our church’s grad night last week. I thought I would share it again since it applies not just to high schoolers and I also saw some of you sleeping.

Grad night is always a bittersweet time. It is of course a time of celebration as you look forward to your next chapter of life and we are excited to see how God is going to use you. But it is also sad for both your parents and the church to see you leave. Maybe some of the parents are happy about this, I don’t know.

But we are sad to see you go, and our prayer is that as you go, you will find success in your academic pursuits. But much more than that, our more fervent prayer is that you will continue to grow in your walk with Christ and hold strong to your faith despite the attacks of the evil one. And so as you prepare yourselves for college, I want to leave you with this encouragement from the Word. Turn to John 15.

Here is the secret of having a vibrant, healthy, and growing spiritual life, and it’s really not that big of a secret: remain in Christ. Jesus says in verse 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

You want to have success in your spiritual life? Remain in Christ. Notice it is a choice you have to intentionally make. It’s not an automatic thing. Now what does it mean to remain in Christ? We can talk about a lot of different things, and from this chapter we can talk about making sure we are taking in Scripture, or making sure we are spending time in prayer. I hope from your time at SBECC you have learned the importance of reading the Word and praying.

Here Jesus says He is the vine and you are a branch on that vine. Tonight, I want to remind you that there’s not just one branch on the vine. All believers are branches connected to the vine, and we are connected to one another through Christ. Jesus here paints a picture of the family of God, and this image illustrates the importance of remaining in this community of believers.

And in fact, our knowledge of the Bible is to be lived out in our relationships with one another. Jesus goes on in verse 9-12: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love…12my command is this: love each other as I have loved you.”

In the last decade of youth ministry we as the church leaders have had the joy of hearing from people who have gone off to college who are now graduated and doing well in their spiritual walk, being used by God in great ways like. But we have also experienced the sadness of hearing about people who have gone through our youth group who aren’t walking with God anymore.

Thinking over these experiences, we have noticed that those who are doing well spiritually over time are those who make fellowship with other believers a priority. Our spiritual life is not just a private matter. When we were saved, we are saved into this new family of God where we can grow, be encouraged, held accountable, and protected from the attacks of the evil one.

Most of you who are graduating have grown up in the church. You have come to church week in and week out and heard countless sermons. There will be a temptation to “take a break” from church when you enter college. No one will be there forcing to go to church anymore and there will be many more fun activities you can do Friday nights or on Sundays.

Wherever you end up for college, whether just a couple of hours away, or thousands of miles away, our prayer is that you will make finding a new church home a priority. This Christian life isn’t meant to be lived alone. Those who have a vibrant individual spiritual life have a vibrant spiritual community life. There will be plenty of new things to figure out when you get to college. Please figure out your spiritual home first.

Remain in Christ by remaining in the body of Christ. Surround yourselves with godly brothers and sisters who will continue to encourage you and keep you on the right path. Please know that wherever you end up, you will always have a home here at SBECC so please visit often. We will miss all of you very much.

To all the graduates, congratulations. Soon you’ll be wondering how 13 years have passed by and why you didn’t get invited to your high school reunion.

 

Finish Your Rice or Else Your Spouse Will Have Pimples!!@#

I think all our Asian brothers and sisters have been threatened by our parents in this way to finish all our food at meal times. Turns out this is bad advice according to this recent CNN article!

An interesting article looking at the cause of poor eating habits and possible contributions to obesity in the future. You don’t have to read the whole thing, the gist is that poor eating habits develop when food is restricted by parents, as well as when parents pressure their kids to finish their plate even after their kids say they are full. Here’s the reasoning:

Parental pressure to eat can be detrimental to children because it takes away from a child’s ability to respond naturally to their own hunger,” said Loth. “Instead, (it) encourages them to respond to cues in their environment which can lead to unhealthy weight gain over time.

Sounds reasonable enough. It probably does has an effect on molding attitudes towards food, and us future Asian parents will have to find a new way to teach not to be wasteful. What I did wholeheartedly agree with was how the article concluded:

And most importantly, “parents should also work hard to model healthy eating and a healthy relationship with food to their child” by eating a well-balanced diet

The obesity epidemic is actually pretty frightening. More and more kids are developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and liver disease from cholesterol issues. It’s going to be a sad day indeed when we start seeing kids on dialysis or the transplant list because of obesity-related complications. Our battle has to be in the homes, and until everyone is on board, then any medication, exercise regimen, or diet plan we prescribe will have very little lasting effect.

It’s interesting how much of who we are today has been influenced by the lives we saw modeled, especially in our parents, from as benign as using our dish washers as dry racks to very destructive and hurtful patterns of living. While the Bible is clear that each person will be held accountable to his or her sins, sin’s effects are far-reaching, often times propagating through an endless, terrible cycle across generational lines.

Being in church ministry I have heard often people share how they vowed they would never do what their parents did, yet when similar situations presented themselves, they did the same thing.  The good news of the Gospel is that in Christ there is new life, and in Christ there is power to cast off the old and embrace life as God intended.

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; The old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

How have you seen yourself repeat things your parents did?

 

 

Does God Grade on a Curve?

If you don’t know, I am currently in my second semester at Talbot seminary. It’s been really interesting being back in school again. I finished medical school about four years ago so it has been awhile since I’ve had to do classroom-type work.

It has been an adjustment getting back into school mode again. And seminary definitely is a different kind of training. There’s a lot more reading, writing papers and my least favorite, class participation (Actually my least least favorite is role playing. Thankfully we haven’t had much of that yet). But I really, really dislike class participation. I rather memorize tons of obscure facts.

And the grading is different too. Throughout medical school we actually didn’t have grades. Some traditional med schools still give out letter grades, but most have adopted a pass/fail system where if you get above a certain percentage, then you pass. If you don’t, you fail and you have to retake the test, or sometimes retake the class.

Some schools have a grading-on-a-curve type system and award the top 10-15% an honors grade. But basically, once you get into medical school, almost everyone eventually finishes. There’s a joke, “What do you call a medical student who graduates at the bottom of their class? A doctor.” That’s comforting, right?

It’s interesting that in Talbot, they not only have letter grades, but the grading scale is much higher than I’ve seen anywhere else. In one of my classes, an A is a 94, and that’s an A minus. I’m glad that I’m doing this more for my own growth and for the benefit of the church, or else the Asian part of me would be giving me stomach ulcers.

We are going through Romans at my church, and the passage I just preached on yesterday (Romans 2:1-16) reminded me that God has an even more demanding grading system. It is pass or fail, except it’s more like you pass only if you get everything right. There will be a day of judgment where God judges our works,and I think many hold on to the hope that if I do more good than bad, then I’ll make it to heaven.

But Paul reminds us that God’s standard is not “good enough,” or “better than most.” God doesn’t grade on a curve. On the day of judgment, everyone will fall short of God’s perfect standard, no matter how much good we have done. Before a perfect and holy God, even one sin is enough to condemn us to eternal punishment in hell.

But the good news of the Gospel, and why Paul is eager to preach this message to all, is that while there is nothing we can do to earn salvation, God has revealed a righteousness, a way to be made right with God in Christ that is through faith. In God’s love, mercy, and grace, He sent His son Jesus to live a perfect life in our place, satisfying the requirements of God’s law, and died on the cross in our place, taking on the punishment for our sins.

Through faith in Christ, we have perfect obedience and forgiveness of sins, restoring our relationship with God. Judgment will be by our works, and all will be condemned. But salvation is by faith, praise be to God!

How good is good enough to get into heaven if we can be saved by our works?

“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:22-24

If you missed the sermon this past Sunday, feel free to download the podcast here! If you have any questions or thoughts regarding the sermon, please leave a comment or send me an email.

Sermon Feedback/Discussion – Easter Service

Hi church!

Here’s a quick recap of my Easter sermon:

Jesus’ resurrection makes the Gospel good news. It gives credibility to all that He taught, and all that He promised. It shows that He is the Son of God and has authority to forgive sins and offer eternal life.

But why is the Gospel good news?

The Problem

We were all created to be in union with God, and living in union with God, He directs and aligns all our human capacities so we are the people we are supposed to be as God’s image bearers.

But because of sin, we are separated from the relational presence of God in our lives. As a result:

  • All our God-given capacities become corrupted (total depravity).
  • We become enslaved to idols (entertainment, job, relationships, drugs, etc) to fulfill needs only God can fill.
  • We bear God’s wrath, destined for eternal punishment in hell.

The Human Solution – Luke 15:11-32

We have tried to deal with the problem of sin apart from God in two main ways:

  1. Embracing our sinfulness by going the way of the younger son, indulging in all our sins.
  2. Living in obedience and doing good like the older brother to alleviate temporarily our guilt and shame, trying to earn our way into heaven.

Neither deals with the fundamental problem of our sins that separates us from God. We have sinned against a holy God, and the consequence is death (Romans 6:23).

The God Solution

God provided a way through His Son Jesus, who died to take the punishment of sin in our place. In Christ all my sins are put onto Him and all of Jesus’ perfect obedience is given to me so it’s as if I have obeyed perfectly all of God’s commands.

The Prodigal God*

This parable is known as the parable of the Prodigal Son. Prodigal means lavish, extravagant. The parable can also be called the Prodigal God. God is lavish in His love for us. Instead of His wrath, in Christ we are invited into God’s kingdom as His children instead. That’s the good news of the Gospel!

How have you dealt with the problem of sin apart from Jesus? If you are a Christian, have you trusted completely in the finished work of Christ on the cross, or are you still trying to earn salvation with good works?

I hope you were encouraged by the sermon. As always, please feel free to leave any feedback or how you interacted with the sermon. If you missed it, you can download the podcast in a few days.

SBECC Kairo English Ministry Podcast

*A lot of insights are from a sermon I heard by Tim Keller which later turned into a book

Why God Doesn’t Just Heal Everyone

One of the most difficult things for me is seeing all the sick people in the hospital and wondering why God doesn’t cure people anymore. It’s tough.

This is a recent comment I got from a medical student. Thanks for your honesty, it certainly is tough. For me, it was especially tough seeing kids with terrible diseases. I remember being present at the still-born deliveries of twins and thinking, “God, how can you let stuff like this happen?” The question I was really asking was, “God, if you are good, why do you allow suffering to happen?” The follow-up to that question is, “God, if you are good and all-powerful, why don’t you do something about it?”

This is a hard one. I think the best answer I’ve heard was from a sermon by John Piper who said that suffering and tragedies ought to remind us of our initial rebellion against God.  It is a reminder that the world as it is was not the way it was created, but what we see now are consequences of our sin against God. I mentioned this in a previous post that because of Adam and Eve’s sin, not only was our relationship with God broken, but the whole natural order was corrupted (Romans 8:19-21).  That means diseases (as well as natural disasters) are as much a result of sin as all the terrible things that people do to one another.

But knowing that suffering is ultimately the result of our separation from God, while true, isn’t very helpful when we come face-to-face with the ugly realities of this world.  We can kill ourselves asking the why’s but, often times, God doesn’t give us the answers.  Instead He says, “Look to my Son.”

I don’t think we’ll ever figure that out why God created the world knowing all the suffering that was going to result. But, somehow because of His love, it was worth it to create despite knowing that we would fall into sin.  But God didn’t just create and run away.  No, God was here. God entered into this world of suffering and sin in the person of Jesus, the incarnate Son.

When Jesus came into this world, yes He did heal the sick and make the lame walk.  He even raised the dead.  But there were multitudes that were not healed and even more who remained dead.  God was here at one time, but He was not here to end all suffering.  God was here, shared in our brokenness and suffering, and died on the cross to meet our ultimate need: to be reconciled with our creator God. Jesus’ healings and other miracles merely backed up His divinity and His ability to forgive our sins.

The story doesn’t end there. Not only was God here, but God is also near: Jesus is going to return.  While He didn’t come the first time to end all sickness, poverty and natural disasters, when He returns, that’s exactly what He will do.

I don’t want to minimize the sufferings we encounter because the pain we experience is real. We should care. God cares. While we may be angry with God, without God there is no good answer for the problem of suffering. Without God, tragedies ultimately have no meaning; they just happen. But we have a God who took on the ultimate suffering, bearing the burden of our sins on the cross.

So back to the question, why doesn’t God just cure everyone?  He actually still does heal (worthwhile read), but miraculous healings are the exception rather than the rule because there’s a spiritual reality that our sufferings point us to. More often, God uses ordinary people to be his hands and feet in order to love someone in their time of suffering to help them see their ultimate need for God, pointing them to Christ.

For future healers, this is not an easy calling to battle against the consequences of sin. In my next post I’ll write about some ways to process through these difficult experiences. For starters, let us remember the words of Revelation 21:4-5 that one day God “will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.  He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’  Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” 

For those of you in the medical field (or any field for that matter), how do you deal with the suffering that you see? Please feel free to comment.

Adapted from a previous post in response to the Sandy Hook shooting

3/30/13 Found this video that has some good insights

 

 

Open Door Policy

As a family physician doing primary care, some days are a real joy. Patients are those that I have seen before, they have taken their medications like they are supposed to, and what I did actually helped. Throw in a couple of baby visits and I go home with a smile on my face.

Then there are those days where all the stars align, in a bad way. The patients come in with their list of complaints and nothing that I have tried has had any effect at all. Some are demanding, others are just as frustrated because we can’t figure out what is going on. By the end of those clinic days I can’t even blog about what I’m thinking in my head.

I read this passage recently: ‘That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases.” Mark 1:32-34

It never ceases to amaze me to read about how Jesus received those who came to him for help. And those going to him weren’t well-to-do nice people, but the prostitutes, demon-possessed, lepers, and tax collectors. It should serve as a warning that those who recognized the truth about Jesus were not the religious elite whose lives appeared put together. No, it was the outcasts and those shunned by society who saw the hope of Christ, and subsequently experienced His compassion and love.

Sometimes it is hard to love, especially if you are expected to meet needs over and over again. And over and over again, I find myself falling short of God’s command to love as Christ loved us. But, I forget that Jesus also needed to spent time alone with His Father. After that night of healing the entire town, the very next verse in Mark says, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

I keep asking God to help me grow in my love for others, to love like Jesus loves. Maybe God’s been telling me, “Come, experience my love first, again and again.”

How have you experienced God’s love recently?

(thanks Rich for the post idea!)

Trading Places

I heard this sermon by Alistair Begg some time ago that really challenged me to consider the love of Christ. In the sermon Alistair told the story of Ian Hay, a missionary to Nigeria who , while biking somewhere one day, came across a leper laying on the road. The leper was in bad shape, with sores and wounds covering his body, giving off an unbearable stench. This leper reminded the missionary that this was our spiritual state without Christ with our sins just as repulsivie to God. Through that encounter, the missionary was struck by the love of Christ, who came to this earth, not just to heal sickness and disease, but to take upon himself the sins of this world.

In my training, I have come across patients with devastating complications of preventative conditions because of a lack of access to care. I have to admit there were days I patted myself on the back because I chose to work with the underserved and help those without adequate medical care, thinking myself so loving and sacrificial. But if God were to ask me to trade places with my patients, taking on their infirmities so that they could leave the office, completely healed, there would be no way, even if that was somehow possible. That’s the extend of my love, so limited and conditional.

But because of Christ’s love for us, He came and took our place. He didn’t just make our sins disappear and then go happily on His way. No, Christ took our sins upon Himself and endured the wrath of the Father on our behalf so that we could be made right before God. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” What an amazing love. God help me to love like you do.

Broken Cisterns

I have met some of the most compassionate and “good” people I know in medical school and residency, and most of them were not believers. Their dedication to serving those in need often shamed any such desire in my heart. It has been such an inspiration and honor meeting these physicians and physicians-in-training. But what do generally good people say when confronted with their need for a savior? “Why? I’m a good person.”

We have to be careful, even as believers, because as people who have hearts to do good, we can mistake doing good for being good. It is easy to profess a trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, but really believe that there’s not all that much that needs forgiving. Sure I’m not perfect, but I’m not that bad, right? I’m certainly better than those “real” sinners like murderers and child molesters, and no worse than those sitting around me at church. We can be so busy comparing ourselves to ourselves that we forget the ultimate standard: God’s perfect holiness.

God is so holy even one sin is enough to condemn us to hell. But none of us have committed just one sin, have we? Isaiah 64:6 reminds us that even our best behavior is like filthy rags to God. At our core we have all fallen short of God’s perfect standards, and no amount of good deeds or nice intentions can deal with our sin that separates us from God.

We need to remember our need for the blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of my sins. Otherwise, our faith is no faith at all, because we are simply trusting in our goodness to get us into heaven. Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites continually turned away from God and trusted in man-made idols. Jeremiah 2:13 God brings his accusations against the nation: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

God’s people rejected the source of life and turned to worthless idols instead. While most of us are not bowing down to little statues, many have made an idol of ourselves, trusting in our own abilities to save. Even Christians, in a way, hold the living water of the Spirit in broken cisterns when we try to live life apart from God, on our own strength. The cross alone rescues us from our sins. The cross alone opens the way to the Spirit. Let’s trade in our broken cisterns for the cross, depending on Christ not just for salvation, but to live day-to-day until God calls us home, or Christ returns.