The Freedom and Beauty of Worship Through Self-Control

A notification went off on my phone telling me I slept only 66% of my sleep goal of 6 hours a day. The same alarm pings my Apple Watch, iPad, and MacBook. (Am I really this dense that I need so many reminders?) None of these notifications are needed to inform me that I am tired. Exhausted is probably a better word. I would like nothing more than to be snoring loudly on this warm Sunday morning.

But I am awake and typing this. Why? Am I really some sort of blogging addict? Nope. It’s because I scheduled to post an article today, meaning, I committed to myself that I would sit down, process my thoughts, and share them with others, hoping that they may encourage and empower others. The ability to do things not because it feels good, or feels right, or is popular, fun, or respectable, and despite being opposite all those things,but following through simply because you made an invisible commitment to yourself, is what is known as self-control. Self-Control, the ability to respond to life, not merely react like little babies do, is a key indicator of maturity. What about ourselves should we control? This often-shared quote encapsulates things nicely:

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;

watch your words, they become actions;

watch your actions, they become habits;

watch your habits, they become character;

watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Self-Control means controlling our thoughts, words, actions, habits, character, and ultimately our destiny (our destination, where our lives go).

When we don’t control our thoughts, when we let circumstances, the opinions of others, our worries and fears, our lusts, our anger, our impatience, our unprocessed thoughts, and unrefined ideas dictate what we think, we exhibit a lack of self-control. We are reacting to things outside of us, instead of doing what the Bible says:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things

– Philippians 4:8

This is not so easy during a stressful situation, like trying to make your finances work while calming a wailing baby at 3am. But it is possible and very beneficial. For this specific example, a true example from my own life, I CHOOSE to go beyond the surface suffering and look at the profound privilege of the activity. I am not merely struggling to pay the bills and calm my son. I am participating in the amazing process of raising a godly man. If being up at this time is part of it, it’s worth it. If having to tighten our belts and move funds around is part of it, it’s worth it. If feeling very tired is part of it, it’s worth it. And it’s extra worth it because I know that not only am I part of such a meaningful activity, but that if I set my eyes on Jesus, if I trust Him and obey Him in all circumstances, not only will things work out, but I’ll be transformed to be more like Him. Sometimes, I forget that God’s main goal is not to give me the life I want or a life with no struggles, but to make me more like Christ, which means, that my thoughts words, actions, habits, and character reflect those of Christs because the spiritual virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and, here it comes again, self-control, are so evident in my life. I have born fruit. The pleasure of having a son, and the privilege to be able to become more like my Jesus, makes everything worth it. Of course I find it worth it because I have activated the self-control required to reject society’s values of success and the good life but determined for myself that I want to please God and love my family. My success is based on how well I do the latter two. I think most people simply live by recommendation and convention, not by conviction, so actually live others-controlled and wonder why they don’t feel free. Is it not logical to understand that to be others-controlled means you’re not truly choosing for yourself?

Cultivate self-control. Be free.

Last Friday morning, my son, Elijah, was circumcised. While I won’t go through the reasoning of why we chose to have him circumcised, I want to share a simple story from it. Inside the operating room, after preparing Elijah for the procedure, the doctor warned me that the babies usually cry when they’re injected but that after that they’d be fine. Right before they injected him, the doctor said, “Ok, here we go. 1-2-3…” And proceeded to inject him, only to marvel, “Oh. He didn’t cry.” Elijah had only made a slight grunt and went back to sleep. Throughout the whole procedure, he did not cry at all. He’d whine a bit, but then relax again. The anaesthesia must have taken over at some point. I was so proud to watch how my 3-week old son handled what is a painful situation. He took it, winced, and let it go. “That’s my son.” I thought to myself. The nurses told me that he was very brave. I don’t know how much of that is true or them being nice, but I’ll take it. Haha!

Anyway, the next day, I was still so proud of how tough my son was when I had a thought: Maybe this is how God the Father feels when He sees me win over my anger, surrender my pride, defeat lust, or choose kindness and godliness under pressure. Maybe this is how He felt watching Job take hit after hit yet remain faithful. Maybe this is how He felt when the disciples worshipped until death. Maybe this is how He felt when His Son chose the Father’s will. More than enjoying freedom as we become self-determining when we are self-controlled, the beauty of self-control is that we are able to worship God in our own special way, responding to our own individual circumstances in our own unique acts of worship. For me and Yasmin, one of the songs we sing to God looks more like ass-wiping with a smile at 2am. For me, the melody I send to Heaven, is the sincere gratefulness in my heart at working in Bridge on such an awesome mission, even though I haven’t slept. The chorus I repeat is my recurring repentance of my many sins and constant trusting in His goodness, even as I face consequences.

This, I believe, is true worship as Romans 12:1 explains it:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.“

Just as there is good singing and bad singing, there is beautiful and pointless worship. Pointless worship is lip service. Beautiful worship comes from our self-controlled choosing to please God in all that we do, knowing that He is pleased when we walk in faith, obey His word, and love others as ourselves.

#db

The Lion and the Bear

London, England

I’ve tried to write this post a few times but it always came out too long. I guess there is much to say on the topics of adversity, courage, and victory. But I want to keep this piece as accessible as possible, as practical as possible, as livable as possible, because no insight left unpracticed and un-lived has ever benefited anyone. In many ways this can fool us into thinking that just because we hold a certain ideal or certain opinion we live according to them.

Many times we don’t.

It’s like asking someone, “Do you believe that God is all powerful?”

“Yes.” He answers

“Do you believe that He loves you and does what is best for you?”

“Yes.” He replies again.

“If He has all the power in the world and does what is best for you, how much time do you spend with Him on a daily basis? Does it not make sense to spend as much time as possible with Him?”

The usual answer that I’ve heard these days is, “Um… I don’t really have a set time, but I pray every now and then throughout the day. I just feel Him throughout the day.”

“And what happens when you don’t feel Him?”

This usually leads to, “You can’t judge me!”

I give this example to point out that we many times hold an idea and think we live it when we really don’t. It is possible that we hold the idea that we are Christian when we really don’t live like Christians. We hold the idea that we love God when we don’t even spend time with Him. He is our random invisible friend, on call when we feel Him. We hold the idea that we are obeying Him when we’re really just doing whatever we feel like doing, and rarely stopping to ask the very simple question of, “What would You have me do?” We hold the idea that we are close to God but are easily discouraged, easily offended, easily insecure, selfish, unkind, and entitled, all descriptions of people who are not close to God.

I am very many times guilty of all of the above. I’m glad I’ve had time on this trip to have slower days to rest and pray, to really go back to the simplicity of “Jesus, You are my Lord. What would You have me do?”

There’s an attack in London, “Jesus, You are my Lord. How would You have me respond? How would You have me feel? My impulse is to fear, give me courage.”

There’s an attack in Manila, “Jesus, You are my Lord. How would You have me respond? Who would You have me comfort? How would You have me pray?”

There’s a work issue, “Jesus, You are my Lord. How would You have me respond? Please give me clarity and a sound mind.”

This posture of, “Jesus, You are my Lord.” simplifies our decision making. What is right isn’t what isn’t convenient but what is God-glorifying, what God-obeying, and what is God and man loving. It helps bring clarity to our thoughts, especially during periods of frustration, of high pressure, high stress, of confusion, of sadness, and of fear. When we put things aside and say, “Jesus, You are my Lord. Speak to me.”

I think about how I’ve practiced this simple prayer. Despite a checkered past of both victory and struggle against sin, I’ve learned that many times the only decision we need to make is the one right in front of us, which is, “Will I make Jesus Lord over this next decision?”

Deep in millions of debt? Or have a big financial goal? Make Jesus Lord over your next expense. Then do that again. Maybe the millions are currently out of reach but the next decision is well within your control.

In the different areas of life, with the next decision, make Jesus Lord.

I was reminded of this while sitting with Yasmin in the emergency room of St. Luke’s Medical Center. We had to rush to the hospital Friday midnight because Yasmin’s left foot was very swollen. We were worried it could be a blood clot, and extra concerned because we were scheduled to fly out to London Saturday. After a couple of hours and some tests, we were advised to get an ultrasound to be sure. This would mean missing our flight, rebooking, more spending of money we don’t have, and missing time with family. My normal impulse feelings started swirling, I could feel the frustration, impatience, and grumbling bubbling up. But somehow I managed to catch myself and ask, “What’s the most important thing right now?” The most important thing was Yasmin’s and my son’s health. Let’s make the decision that protects that. What’s even more important than that? That God is glorified even in our inconvenient and scary moment. Let’s have the attitude that honors that. Then we just faced every other decision the same way, not muddying the choice with how we felt or our fears about the future, but looking at things very matter of factly, but surrendering every immediate choice to the Lordship of God. Somehow we managed to complete all the tests, rebook our flights for the next day with minimal financial damage (though it still hurt). More importantly, Yasmin and the baby were shown to be well. Most importantly, I believe, we glorified God.

Where did we learn to process life this way? Was it through a sermon from a charismatic preacher? Was it through the popular Christian book of the day? Was it through an emotional moment at a Christian concert? When I praying and thinking about the events of that weekend, I remembered a very special verse to me:

And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you!” – 1 Samuel 17:33-37

We learn how to trust God for big things by trusting in Him for the smaller things. David, while simply serving his father faithfully, and learning that God’s power was helping him succeed in this task and against the threats he was facing, was being taught how to face something much bigger and with bigger implications.

He didn’t learn how to defeat giants through thinking big or faking it to make it. He learned how to defeat giants by being faithful with something smaller, protecting something smaller.

Too many times we’re waiting for that big break, we’re praying to God for that big dream, that wish, that hope, and we’re missing the preparation of today. Praying for that big business break? How is your workmanship today? Are you excellent today? Or are you already faltering? Are you already tired where you are?

Praying for a spouse? How are your current relationships? Are you good at apologizing? Are you good at forgiving? Are you good at serving? Because if you’re not, you’ll lose your spouse. You can expect that. If you’re not beating the lions and bears of selfishness then you’ll be crushed when it’s the giant.

Praying for a spiritual revelation? How are you with your daily devotions? How are you with obeying your parents or authorities? How are you with obeying your spouse?

We learn how to defeat giants by defeating the lions and the bears, because if we can’t trust in God’s power for smaller things, we won’t trust Him for bigger things. We will have no experience to remember, no answered prayer to hold on to, and no proof of God’s work in our own specific lives.

So let me summarize into one sentence: We need to apply God’s power to defeating the lions and bears of life, that we may learn how to apply His power to   life’s giants.

If we really believe what we say we believe, if we have convictions (not just opinions), if Jesus is really Lord, then we must apply His Lordship (His purpose and power) in our decision-making, and if we do, we will succeed, and with each success, we will grow in confidence that we can trust in Him no matter what we face. This is what it means to grow in faith. It’s not some mystical zap that now makes us more believing or more patient or more loving. It is exercising our faith by obeying God’s word with every decision, finding that not only is this the right thing to do but it is also the beneficial thing to do, the pleasing thing to do.

I love this approach. It removes the burden of my many mistakes and focuses me on one thing: glorifying God with my next decision. From my experience, whether it’s a challenge brought about by my own bad decisions or someone else’s, by relying on God’s power for the immediate and succeeding decisions, I find that even the gigantic problems are now beatable, because The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me.

Teach Me to Love You Right

Kiyomizu-dera Temple – Kyoto, Japan

Yasmin and I were in yet another amazing temple in Kyoto Japan, particularly the Kiyomizu-dera Temple complex, which was founded in 778 AD! (It’s present buildings were constructed 1633 without a single nail.) As I walked inside its great hall, I thought to myself, “Wow. This place is so amazing. We’ve seen so many amazing temples. It would have been awesome if Christians had built amazing monuments as well, then people would be flocking to see God’s greatness and be awed the way we are with this temple.” Then I realized, Christians have built amazing monuments, many of them, if not most, in Europe, such as the cathedrals and religious art, and people do flock to see them, but not necessarily to see God’s greatness, but to admire the architecture or the art, giving more glory to the architect and the artist than the Creator. So that shot down my “we should build great monuments” idea. Then I remembered a verse I have read many many times, “Your body is the temple”. And it kept ringing in my head: “Your body is the temple. Your body is the temple. Your body is the temple.” As I looked at the different features of the the Kiyomizu-dera temple, I would think, “Wow, that’s nice” followed with “Your body is the temple.” I would see an inner room where with a statue in the center and think, “Does God truly reside in my temple, my body, or do I have a shadow?” I saw kids enjoying the act of drawing water from three waterfall channels and would think, “Is my temple a source of great joy to others?” I saw the priests offering incense to their god in highly ritualistic fashion, and I saw religious ceremony in a new light. We like to bash religion, but religious ceremonies are activities that were devised to help man love their deity right. Wanting to love God right is not a bad thing. Loving the wrong god is obviously not right, and it is possible to love God wrongly, mainly by loving Him the way I want to love Him or the way I feel like loving Him NOT according to He has commanded me to love Him. This led me to the most sobering of the questions in my head, “Do I love God rightly? Do I want to love Him rightly? Am I seeking to learn how to love Him in the way He commands to be loved? Or am I loving Him the way I feel like loving Him?”

Throughout the rest of our trip, these thoughts haunted me. I remembered the words in Matthew 7:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

I thought to myself, “The person who claims to love the true God but loves wrongly is no better than the person who loves a false god.”

Loving wrongly means having the feeling of desire or attachment, or having an understanding of the greatness of God, yet not living according to His commands, not loving Him the way He commands us to. To love God, to truly love God, is to want to please Him, and that is called obedience. Is is very proud of me to say, “I’ll love God in my own way” as if I knew better than Him how to love Him, as if my style of loving is superior that I no longer need to learn how to love as He commands.

This led me to a simple prayer, “Father, teach me to love You right.” I understand now King David’s Psalms, when he asked God to teach Him His ways. He was asking God to teach Him what I’m asking God now, “Teach me to love You right. Teach me the things that please You. Teach me what makes You happy. Teach me how I can bless You. Teach me how I can bring You glory.”  King David understood that one cannot separate righteous living and holiness from loving God, for righteous living and holiness is the way to love God. But King David also understood that man is not capable and does not completely comprehend how to live righteously, so he constantly called to God to teach Him how to get things right, because he truly desired get it right for God.

To a lesser degree, I feel this with my wife, Yasmin. I deeply want to become the best possible husband, but I know myself too well. I particularly know how impatient, proud, and selfish I can be, causing me to be irritable and argumentative. Every time she calls me out or after an argument, I feel frustrated that I’m not able to improve myself fast enough, that because of my flaws the person I love gets hurt. Then I realized that was a good sign that I really love her, because there is a pain in me when I hurt her, there is a desire to correct it, and there is a desire to learn how to do things better, to learn how to love her better.

King David felt that way with God. Every time he made a mistake, he was in anguish, and he was running to God praying, “Forgive me! Teach me!” Our self-centered spirituality has caused us to forget this. We want to love God in the way we’re comfortable with. We no longer seek to love Him rightly, the way He commands. Can we say we truly love someone if we do not desire to love them the way they are supposed to be loved? No. How we love says a lot about who we love. If I love God the way I want to, putting my style or my convenience above His will, than can I say I truly make Him priority? No. It shows I love myself more, for my ways are held over His.

You can see why I would wake up really early every morning bothered by this. I realize that in many ways I was loving God wrongly, and what bothered me even more was the fact that I was proud that I thought it was right, that how I loved God, was my prerogative, instead of desiring to learn to love from the One who is love.

In my study, I was led to dig deeper into the idea of “Your Body is the Temple”, and that is the topic of my next post for another time. Jesus’ idea of a monument to the world was not great buildings but great lives. Traditionally, temples were places were gods resided, where man communicated with gods (prayer), and where man worshiped gods. Unlike other religions, in Christianity, God would would not reside in gilded rooms but in humble hearts; communication with God, prayer, would not be limited to a chosen few but be open to a priesthood of believers; and God would be worshipped (loved the way He wants to be loved) in spirit and in truth, in other words, in obedience. In my next post I will share the difference between prayer and worship (and they are different), and why one cannot truly love if one is not disciplined.

This next post will be followed by another post about another “body” the Bible talks about, Christ’s body: The Church, and how we’re not commanded to just go to church but be the church. This one will take a little bit more time as I am not a theologian or a church expert, so will have to consult with people who are experts.

I realized that there’s so much I don’t know. My early mornings and evenings are not complete without studying further. I do know this: I know I love God, not because I’m doing everything right (which I’m definitely not), but because it pains me to disobey, and because I desire to love Him, not just the way I feel, but in the way He commands.
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