The Pruning

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Rejoice Always!

In James Lee on May 22, 2013 at 4:46 pm

I gave a sermon a couple weeks ago on 1 Thessalonians 5:16, “Rejoice always” and thought about if the Bible gave specific reasons to rejoice.  I mean, if we are to rejoice always, I figure we better have a lot of real, biblical reasons to rejoice!  so then I did a quick search of the word “rejoice” (and all its forms) in the NT to see all the examples and reasons to rejoice.  I noticed that there were at least 30 different reasons/examples for us to rejoice, and I thought it’d be helpful to list them all out in order to encourage everyone to truly REJOICE ALWAYS!  (Some of them are essentially the same reason but just worded differently as expressed in the text)

(1) Jesus was born (Matt 2:10, Luke 1:14)

(2) Reward in Heaven for persecution (Matt 5:12, Luke 6:23)

(3) Names are record in Heaven (Luke 10:20)

(4) When someone is lost but found (Luke 15:32)

(5) When Jesus calls your name (Luke 19:6)

(6) Jesus’ miracles ( Luke 19:37)

(7) Hearing Jesus’ voice (John 3:29)

(8) People’s salvation (John 4:36, Acts 11:23)

(9) The first coming of the Messiah (John 8:56)

(10) If you love Jesus (John 14:28)

(11) Jesus’ Return (John 16:20

(12) Worthy to suffer shame for his name (Acts 5:41)

(13) Personal converstion (Acts 8:39, 13:48)

(14) Hearing encouraging words (Acts 15:31)

(15) In hope (Rom 12:12)

(16) When others rejoice (Rom. 12:15)

(17) Believers are obedient (Rom 16:19, Col 2:5)

(18) With the truth (1 Cor. 13:6)

(19) Helpful brothers (1 Cor. 16:17)

(20) Care of other believers (2 Cor. 7:7, Phil 4:10)

(21) Sorrowful to the point of repentance (2 Cor. 7:9)

(22) When have joy (2 Cor. 7:13)

(23) In our weakness, other Christians are strong (2 Cor. 13:9)

(24) Christ is proclaimed (Phil 1:18)

(25) When expecting suffering (Phil 2:17)

(26) Suffering for the benefit of believers (Col 1:24)

(27) Proportional to degree of suffering (1 Peter 4:13)

(28) Walking in truth (2 John 4, 3 John 3)

(29) Satan is conquered by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony (Rev 12:11-12)

(30) God’s judgment of behalf of believers over the “Great city” (Rev 18:20)

(31) Marriage of the Lamb to the Bride at the end (Rev 19:7)

And if this wasn’t enough, this is only from the New Testament.  To list out all the reasons to rejoice from the OT would be a very long list, but here are a few common reasons:

(1) Rejoice when giving offerings to the Lord

(2) Rejoice because of the goodness of the Lord

(3) Rejoice because of the vengeance of the Lord

(4) Rejoice because of battle victories.

When God calls us to rejoice always, he really means it.  The Bible is filled with specific reasons and examples of rejoicing giving us no excuse to rejoice always!

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Holiness Is What I Long For

In James Lee on May 14, 2013 at 5:37 pm

by James Lee

There’s a praise song, “Take My Life (Holiness)” by Scott Underwood from Vineyard written back in the 90s. I remember first hearing this song when I was in high school and thought it was such a good song.  It has always been a meaningful song for its musical simplicity (just three chords over and over again), it’s lyrical simplicity (see below) and it’s pretty melody.

Recently, I’ve just been re-singing this song over and over again by myself in my home with different chords, and I even recorded a cover of it for fun!

I say all this because as much as I’ve liked this song, I don’t think I really thought about what the lyrics suggest…until now.  Just focusing on the first line: “Holiness, holiness is what I long for”……Do I really want holiness? I mean, do I really want to separate myself completely from sin and evil and be conformed to God’s will?  The reason why I ask this is because when I look at a book like Leviticus, which reflects the awesome holiness requirement of the Lord, it sounds very daunting and scary to truly be set apart.  The Israelites were called to be so set apart from defilement and evil that people had to be kicked out of the camp for a time being while they were “unclean” and some people could never get back into the community because of a permanent defilement.  And then there were others who had to die for committing certain sins.  They were constantly washing their bodies down and abstaining from certain foods and making sure they were squeaky clean.  It almost seemed like God was the biggest germaphobe because of all the cleansing laws put in place in order to remain in the community.  Even more, they had to constantly give up offerings of many kinds to stay in favor with God and to atone for their sins, which made for lots of animal blood splattered around and on the ground. And all this in order to stay holy before the Lord.  So I ask again, “Do I really long for holiness?  Do I really want to be so distinct from the world that I look kind of like a spiritual germaphobe?”

The second line of the song says “Holiness, holiness is what I need.”  I think this clarifies a little bit more what’s going on with holiness.  Holiness is not only something we’re supposed to long for, but it’s something that we truly need.  We need holiness. Why?  The third line of the song expresses the real truth, “Holiness, holiness, is what you want from me.”  We need holiness because God wants holiness from us.  Leviticus 11:45 summarizes the whole reason for the book of Leviticus, “You shall therefore be holy for I am holy.” Peter then restates this calling in 1 Peter and basically says that it still stands today for every Christian.

To be holy is a pretty scary thing when you think about it.  It means separation from the world, from evil, from sin, from those things that seem so “natural” and common to us. To be holy is to put away earthly things or even to put to death sins.  To sing, then, “holiness is what I long for” is scary that I would actually long and delight to be separated from everything that I’ve been so used to and let God take all of my life and form it, transform it, conform it to his will.

I pray that this song would become a joy for every Christian’s life as it reflects God’s holy heart for us as expressed in Lev. 11:45 to “be holy for I am holy.”  I pray that there would actually be a longing and a DELIGHT in all of our hearts to be holy because we need it and it’s what God wants from us.  It’s not to make us miserable but for us to experience the abundant life in Jesus Christ, a life that has nothing to do with sin or evil but everything to do with goodness and holiness.

Take My Life

by Scott Underwood

Holiness, holiness is what I long for 
Holiness is what I need 
Holiness, holiness is what You want from me 

Faithfulness, faithfulness is what I long for
Faithfulness is what I need 
Faithfulness, faithfulness is what You want from me 

(So) Take my heart and form it
Take my mind, transform it 
Take my will, conform it 
To Yours, to Yours, Oh Lord 

Righteousness, righteousness is what I long for
Righteousness is what I need 
Righteousness, righteousness is what you want from me

The Great Contrast of Heaven and Hell

In James Lee on May 1, 2013 at 11:46 pm
by James Lee
Comparing and Contrasting is not necessarily a bad thing, it really depends on what or whom you’re contrasting against.  The Bible is in fact full of comparisons and contrast in order to highlight someone or something.  The frequent contrast is God against humans.  God’s attributes, character, tendencies are all contrasted against us humans, and when the contrast is made, it is a powerful reflection of who God really is and who man really is.  Compared to ourselves we may not look so bad, but contrasted against God’s holiness, we are super horrible.
One specific contrast that has hit my heart lately is the one between Heaven and Hell.  These are not places that are slightly different, but completely and utterly different from each other according to their descriptions in the Bible.  Just to point out a few, Matthew 25:46 makes a sharp contrast between the general characteristic of each place. Hell is seen as the place of “eternal punishment” while Heaven the place of “eternal life.”  Both are real, eternal places but one is about punishment/destruction while the other is about life.  In Luke 16, a rich man describes Hades as a “place of torment,” while Jesus further describes Hell as that place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  In contrast, Heaven is described as a place of “endings” in Rev 21:4: no more tears, no more death, no more mourning, no more crying, no more pain.  Furthermore, throughout the book of Revelation, heaven is a place of rejoicing and worship and peace.
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But the biggest contrast between Heaven and Hell is the presence of Jesus Christ.  2 Thess 1:9 describes Hell as being “away from the presence of the Lord…” whereas in Luke 23, Jesus says to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  Jesus also says in John 14  “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”  When we put these two places against each other, the contrast is highlighted even more.  Hell looks even more frightening when compared to Heaven.  Heaven looks so much more wonderful when compared to Hell.
And this has been on my heart lately.  The power of contrast has highlighted so much more the severity of hell especially.  Imagining someone that I know personally being in hell makes me very uncomfortable and distraught.  That’s when my emotions flare up and try to deceive me that it can’t be a real place.  How could such a place exist? Even more, how could such a degree of torment and emptiness be experienced for eternity?  But then I must remember that Hell is not the “reward” for doing bad things. Heaven is the reward for believing in Christ.  Hell is the default place because of the sinfulness of our sins, and we must be rescued from eternal destruction by Jesus Christ.  That is why it’s called Salvation.
I once read of an illustration where a person was dying of cancer but was refusing to take the medicine that would cure him of his cancer.  The question was then posed, “What killed this man?  The cancer or not taking the medicine?”  The answer is: the cancer.  It was the fact that he was already dying and chose not to do anything about it.  Our default destination is hell not heaven.  If we die without ever knowing Christ, we face a destruction that we were already headed towards.  But if God pours his grace upon us to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ, then our destination miraculously changes and we are rewarded life with Christ forever in a place called Heaven.
But if we don’t accept the one who can heal our hearts, then we remain on the road to eternal destruction where there is torment and weeping and gnashing of teeth and, most importantly, absence of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hell is supposed to sober us and warn us.  Heaven is supposed warm us and satisfy us because that is where Jesus Christ dwells.
Consider the great contrast between Heaven and Hell and decide in your heart to choose Jesus Christ who is in Heaven.

A Better Reporter

In James Lee on April 23, 2013 at 11:29 am
by James Lee
 
 
“And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”  -Acts 5:32

 
Peter and the apostles were saying this to the high priest council because they were arrested for preaching the name of Jesus Christ.  It makes sense that Peter would say that he was a witness because he was physically there to see Jesus die and resurrected and lifted up to heaven. This fueled Peter and the other apostles to boldly proclaim the name of Jesus Christ even if they had to suffer for it.  In fact, they even rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus.  I wonder, then, what if I had physically seen the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ with my own eyes.  And not just with my eyes but to also feel and experience those events and moments.  What if I were there to let my emotions hit me while I saw Jesus die, when I saw him alive afterwards, and while I saw him rise up in the clouds!  How impactful must that have been for Peter and the apostles as true witnesses of those real events.  
 
The amazing thing is that, according to this verse, the Holy Spirit is also a witness of all those things.  The Holy Spirit witnessed all these great events, and he also witnessed so much more than the life of Christ on earth.  The Holy Spirit witnessed the creation of earth; the Holy Spirit witnessed the community of Israel as God loved them and rebuked them. The Holy Spirit witnessed the birth of Jesus Christ; the Holy Spirit witnessed the birth of the church; and the really amazing thing is that the Holy Spirit has been given to us. Those who have called upon the name of the Lord have received the greatest witness to Jesus Christ.
Peter’s personal witness of Jesus Christ impacted his life tremendously. How much more impactful will our lives be as we have received a better witness, an everlasting witness who is the Holy Spirit.  
 
We don’t need to have been there as a physical witness to be assured in our faith.  We have the Holy Spirit in us who affirms what is true and what really happened because he was actually there as a witness of Jesus, and he powerfully “reports” to our hearts the truth of Jesus Christ.
 
We can be sure of our faith, and we can be sure of Jesus Christ, and we can even be sure of the whole truth of the Bible because the Holy Spirit is the ultimate witness of everything recorded. He is the ultimate reporter of truth, and this Holy Spirit has been given to those who obey God.

Living Just to Bring Bad News

In James Lee on September 27, 2011 at 10:45 am

by James Lee

In Jeremiah 20:7-18, the “weeping” prophet makes a complaint against God expressing that he wished he was never born.  He curses the day when his parents found out that they were going to have a baby boy and wishes that he had never been born.  And why does Jeremiah curse his birth?  It’s because he was called to be the bearer of bad news to his own people.  He says in verse 8, “For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’ For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long” (ESV).  Jeremiah’s life was about telling his people, even his close friends, that they were going to be punished and that bad things were going to happen.  And he wishes that he didn’t have to live for the purpose of being the bearer of bad news.  But what was more difficult for Jeremiah was that people hated him and mocked him and wanted him to fail as a prophet.  Even his close friends outcasted him. Imagine you being called by the Lord to do his will but any time you opened your mouth it was only bad news for the hearers, and it made people shame you and hope that you would fail as a person and even make your close friends turn on you.  It’s not an ideal or pleasant life to live.  No person wants to be hated by people. No person wants to be shamed and mocked every time he/she opens his/her mouth. No person simply wants to be disliked by people.  I think our natural inclination is to be liked by people in general.  We could handle a few people not liking us but I can’t imagine a whole nation hating on me and wishing that I would fail.  Jeremiah was a great prophet, but he was human as well, and so he naturally wouldn’t want people mocking him and disliking him and wanting to see him fail.  Even more, he didn’t want to be the one bringing bad news every time he spoke for the Lord.  And on top of that, he had to experience the bad news for himself as well because he was part of the nation that God was going to punish.  His life was not pleasant at all.  His message was not well-received at all.  His heart was constantly overwhelmed with sorrow and trouble.

But yet, in spite of so much opposition against him and sorrow, Jeremiah knew exactly what God was saying to him and that he was called to speak God’s Word for that very time period and situation.  He could have been a prophet when Israel was prosperous during King David’s reign or King Solomon’s reign.  But he was born and called to be a prophet at a time when the kingdom was divided and when Judah (Southern Kingdom) was about to be exiled to Babylon, thus, losing its identity as a nation with its own government and king.  Jeremiah understood that even though there was big trouble coming for the nation, he had no choice but to speak the Word of God and tell the truth.  He couldn’t hold it in.  In verse 9, Jeremiah speaks,

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.

Jeremiah understood that to speak the Word of the Lord, no matter how troubling and harsh it may sound, was the calling that God gave him for his life, and he couldn’t deny that calling nor deny the Word that God placed in his heart.  He had to speak it and just face the backlash.

No person really wants to be hated by people.  People generally want to be liked and accepted.  Christians don’t want to be hated by people.  We want to be liked by people.  We want to be liked by non-Christians.  Jeremiah didn’t want to be mocked all day and be rejected by his close friends.  But God does call us to uphold his truth; truth that can sound offensive to people.  And God also calls us to uphold his truth at a time when many people, even “Christians” don’t want to hear it.  But the words that may harden someone’s heart as like the sun hardens clay are the same words that can melt someone’s heart as like the sun melts butter. God desires that we stay committed to speaking his Word even if there is backlash that comes with it.  But as there will be backlash, there will also be changed hearts through hearing the Word of God.  May we always hope that people’s hearts will be melted by the Word of God and not hardened.  And may our own hearts continually be melted over and over again by the Word of God.

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