When I have something to say, it usually takes me a while to get it out, but this one… took… a little longer. My message today started about three years ago with one verse.
It was a verse I first came across in my first semester here in probably my least academic of classes… it came and it went and I did not give it a second thought. And then, it resurfaced again at the beginning of this, my final semester here at NHCC and now it pervades my thoughts. It’s Isaiah 43, verses 18 and 19:
Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
– Isaiah 43:18-19, ESV
You see, I had no idea what it meant back then. I never read Isaiah – I hadn’t read much of the Bible at all at that point. So how was I supposed to know how to perceive when He was doing something new – or anything important at all? I couldn’t even understand what He was doing back then in what I was reading! Or what He was doing in me!?
But I didn’t have time to think about that or what God was saying through Isaiah. I wasn’t going to be tested on it; there wasn’t going to be any paper or project on it; there was no podium pound. And so I turned to what I thought needed my attention: the weekly assignments and quizzes, the Thursday night practices for the worship team for my church, Saturday church setups, Sunday’s service, and family, of course. And yet, now I realize as God brought back to remembrance that passage in Isaiah, how much I truly missed along the way when I failed to perceive what God was doing during my time here. How many quality relationships were broken or never started, how much depth and growth of character I missed out on, how much more blessed or wiser I would have been if I wasn’t so oblivious or reluctant… or fearful to see how God was moving and acting on it.
Understanding God in Isaiah could have also helped as I struggled for the longest time with why I was here – why I came to study at a Christian college of all places. Was there a “rational” way I could explain it to my family? Or was I being irrational? You see, I already had a degree. I could have been working or getting my Master’s or studying for my professional license, and yet I came to get another Bachelor’s degree… in a field of study I really didn’t think would earn me many lucrative job prospects… or any…
And so seemingly contrary to the whole “remember not the former things” thing, I pondered about the past. When look I back at the chain of events in my life, I can kinda see why they don’t believe in me – it doesn’t seem to make any sense. I went to the University of Hawaii to get a degree to work for a company and find a lifestyle that would soon… cause me to sink into depression and become cynical and disillusioned with this world. I would stay there at that job out of love and loyalty… and some fear, enduring this for six years, only to sink further into loneliness and depression, which would… ultimately lead me to attending and serving in church and coming here to New Hope Christian College to get a degree in theology, only to discover a passion in writing and making movies…?
But when I started attending, all I knew was I came to the realization that Jesus was the only one who truly ever made sense of this twisted world and I needed so desperately to understand the heart and mind of Christ. Without a doubt in my mind, Jesus Christ was the answer to all of my ‘whys.’ He could fix my dismal view of the world. He knew how to live and die. He knew what was important. And so Jesus is the main reason I’m here.
I think the problem we have, and God knew this, is that when we look back at the former things in our lives, we tend to start living in it. We become enamored with our glory days or relive past hurts or mistakes and we digress, we fail to move on. We become so fixated on the way we did things, good or bad, that we lose sight of what God was/is doing. Why else would God bring up Israel’s exodus out of Egypt right before he tells us to forget the past? It’s in the way he phrases it that makes the difference:
Who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters,
Who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior;
They lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick.
Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
– Isaiah 43:16-19, ESV
It’s because we focus so much on the how of things, that we forget who allows the things to happen the way they happen.
Without understanding the story behind things and even further, the God behind the story, understanding the how only works up to a certain extent. At UH I was pretty good at the how for all intents and purposes at the college. I even made it into Chi Epsilon, a national civil engineering honor society, which is only eligible to the top third of the class. But I went through the engineering program without really knowing what engineers do in real life. I could do most of the math and science in my classes; I took four levels of Calculus; I knew the formulas, but I couldn’t see the correlation between the theory and the real-life application.
That’s why I think it’s so amazing the emphasis on application we have here. I love how Professor Clive stresses affective and effective application – because that’s what our ministry should be. And yet, I must ask, are we affectively and effectively applying what we learn about God here? I cannot help but see a disconnect between the two sometimes. I look at the way we serve and praise Him, on our knees in worship, and then I look at the way we learn and do classes, on our knees, praying that it would all just go away. We cannot separate the two. We cannot say that we worship Him and not complete our studies to which He has called us to. Getting to know Him is part of our worship and our walk with Him.
What I see when it comes to academics are attitudes and study habits becoming of a normal college student, but is that attitude becoming of a Christian? I realize the Christian college student usually has so much more on their plate than the average college student. A lot of us stretch ourselves very thin because of work, internships, other ministries, families, spending time (fellowshipping) with friends and developing relationships, then we begin our studies, usually the night or morning… or hour before it’s due. Then we rush to get it done, relying heavily on what we already know or some other shortcuts or quick routes to “knowledge.” And when we do these things, regardless the grade we get, I wonder if we’re doing things, in this way and with this attitude, are we being sensitive to the reason God has called us here? What is God doing with us here in this college? Are we here to serve or learn how to serve better? Or learn better the One we serve?
I got an email (last week) that one of my old professors from UH, Bob Grace, is retiring… and then I heard it… the collective praise and worship of an entire class, present and prospective, of civil engineering students from over 20 miles away. I think I heard the angels rejoicing as well because now those engineering students all believe that there is a God in Heaven! In all seriousness, though, it was ironic that the last word that any one of Bob Grace’s students would associate him with was grace. 64 was not just a score on an exam but a percentage – but not just a percentage but the high grade of his class. 29 was the average, and 5% was the low – that was pretty common in one of his classes. Students would think of any way possible to avoid taking his class. One of my semesters, there was a mass exodus from Manoa to Leeward Community College just so we could avoid his Applied Mechanics-Dynamics class. I look back at that and I am bit sad because I saw his passion for teaching – he wanted his students to really think for themselves, and in turn, grow. I didn’t learn anything from that class at LCC. In fact, I failed that final exam. It didn’t matter grade-wise because I did well in everything before that, but I now realize how important having Grace was. If there were more professors like him, the quality of engineers coming out of UH would be significantly greater… and then… maybe our roads and utilities might be in better shape. But then again, maybe I wouldn’t be here at NHCC if that happened and that would have been a lot more tragic… for me, I guess.
Thinking of Bob Grace got me to thinking about our own Bob Grace here at NHCC. The infamy of taking a Mike Ward class had me putting off the one Wardian class that was required of me. But the more I thought about it, I began to understand that there is a benefit to taking Mike Ward early and often. Above the content of the course, is the added benefit of learning to discipline yourself in your studies, learning to write at a more academic level, stewarding your time better, and having an academic partner to encourage and support and keep us accountable. But it broke my heart in class the other week when Pastor Mike shared with us that after ten years of teaching and leaving detailed comments on each student’s papers, for the most part, he hasn’t seen much correction. Despite his passion and dedication and time spent on continual comments of even the most minor corrections, we keep making the same errors time and time again.
We can declare Jesus as our King, the Son of God, our Savior. With arms raised and hearts abandoned, we can lavish Him with praise and worship – proper and fitting for the Messiah. But how much do we show God that we believe we’re supposed to be here if we’re not allowing it to be a learning and transformative experience? How much do we show God our love for Him when we cannot take simple correction and adopt it into our practices? If we cannot do something as simple as that, how can we become affective and effective ministers?
It’s taken me two trips to college, but I think I’m finally starting to understand… it’s not about doing enough just to get by, yet it’s not about acing all of our courses either; it’s not even about the special people we’d meet and the good times we’d have together; and it’s not even about getting a degree either – all these are good, but if you do not allow college to shape you, to discipline you, to improve the way you think and learn, and to make you into the contributing member of society that God has envisioned you to be, then it’s a waste of your time, your money, and your efforts.
I feel that there are so many going to other universities that do not really know what they are getting themselves into and that’s why I think people today question whether or not it’s worth going to college – because graduates are coming out of them sideswiped by the realities of this world. They’re not able to find any jobs within their field of study or when they find them, they easily become dissatisfied with what they do and seek to do something else. It’s funny that they think they know life better because they received a piece of paper and some arbitrary knowledge about a field most of them have never even stepped into – that somehow this “college experience” has wholly prepared them for marriage, for life, and for this fallen world. I think it can; they just went to the wrong college with the wrong mindset.
I believe this school does so much more than hand out degrees and train people for ministry – you can receive these things, of course, but there’s something priceless inherent in an academic education rooted in Jesus Christ that helps us to see the world more clearly, to better understand the issues and problems we’ll face, and that helps us to stay poised through the adversity and finish the race on top for the greater glory of our God in Heaven. I pray that you seek out that priceless something with all of your heart, your mind, your strength, and your soul. I pray that you and the others that come through here come to know Jesus intimately and not just claim to know Him, saying the words people want to hear, singing “This is Our God,” while sticking Him in a box, looking for Him to work in a certain way.
I know some of us worry about the knowledge from our studies making us pharisaic, but I think that oftentimes the limited knowledge and inferior practices we may currently possess can make us bigger Pharisees than if we remain in constant question, wonder, and pursuit of who He is and what He is doing. It’s when we rely on the knowledge we already know, visit the same people and sources we know we’ll get the answers we want, listen to the pastors we like to listen to, and take the classes from the professors we think will teach us how and what we want, we find ourselves too convinced and self-assured by the Jesus we think we already know. We must be willing to struggle and challenge ourselves with who Jesus really is.
Who is Jesus, really? Have we truly encountered Him face to face or are we just in awe of Him because we touched the hem of His garment when He passed by us?
We like to kid sometimes that the answer to any question, in Sunday school or here or wherever, is Jesus. I would contend that He, seriously, is the answer to everything. With that said, I don’t always see Jesus in our answers and in our theology. We see the major role women play in the Gospel of Luke, yet a lot of us turn to what God says in Genesis 3 to help support the relational roles we hold, unaware that we’re reading about the consequences of the Fall in that section. I think we should even examine Jesus’ interactions in the matter before we consult the seemingly more straight-forward “solutions” in the writings of Peter and Paul.
And I find it very disconcerting how we try to play the game of politics with select issues, yet Jesus didn’t want political power. I don’t think we would see Him lobbying against gay rights or trying to ban abortion. I didn’t see Him challenging the slavery issue or the unfair practices of the tax collectors. I’m not saying that Jesus was for these practices, but He didn’t try to push reform through the system of government; He didn’t come to change the institutions in place. He came, instead, to bring reform to the religious system, to point out their misconceptions about God. And more so, by ministering to the people, He came to touch lives, and through His touch, authority was earned and transformation could take place.
We can fight all we want, trying to push our Christian agendas and ideals, but not until people see Jesus in the church, see His sacrifice and His love through us rather than our own hypocrisy, will there ever be a great change in society and in the lives of the people. Only when we do what Jesus did without any other motives than to just do what Jesus did, will those of deaf ears hear and only then will we gain the authority to speak into their lives. Thinking about all these misguided mighty works we try to do in the name of our Lord, I just hear it echoing in my soul, “Depart from me; I never knew you.” It frightens me how easily we can see in Jesus the things we want to see, rather than see Him for who He really is, and when we do that, advertently or inadvertently, we totally miss the mark.
In Matthew 21, we find ourselves on Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Upon His arrival crowds at the entrance celebrate Him.
Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road,
and others cut branches from the trees
and spread them on the road.
And the crowds that went before him
and that followed him were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest!”
And when he entered Jerusalem,
the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?”
And the crowds said,
“This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”
– Matthew 21:8-11, ESV
They declare Jesus as king, the Son of God, their Savior. With hopes high and hearts of adoration, they lavish Him with praise and worship – proper and fitting for the Messiah. Their actions and declarations are right and true, but… for all the wrong reasons. Because once they find out Jesus came there to die, all their hopes of who He was and what He was going to do, all they celebrated Him for, they would soon find disappointment in. So were those misguided in celebration better off than those in the city who asked, “Who is this?” Maybe they should have been asking, maybe they should have gotten to know Him better.
As His story has already been written, we know that Jesus came to Jerusalem with the purpose of dying. And with our minds illuminated of this already, it’s easy for us to say, they should have known. Yet I don’t think we realize that there exists still major gaps in our thinking and in our theology. Although we have a hope and faith in the things above and unseen and yet unknown, the road we traverse is a weary one, and if we set our hope on someone we don’t know or have a dynamic and loving relationship with, I think we can become just as disillusioned as those who were worshipping Jesus for all the wrong reasons.
Our history shows us this, as disillusionment with the Church grows rampant. Faith is such an arbitrary concept that it’s so easy to put our faith in something and attribute it to God. But when our faith in something fails, is it God who fails or is it our definition that fails? We have to know our God, who He is and what He does. And the knowledge of Him is not going to come when the Bible smacks us aside the head, we have open it and study it; we have to gain His perspective; we have to know the correct context – the heart and mind and circumstance – with which the author wrote it; and we have to have healthy interaction with believers and nonbelievers. That’s what’s going to sustain us for a lifelong ministry, not some formula, not some religious practice, not a special prayer.
As I delve into the history of the church, I see the strugglings (of the councils) in Nicaea, in Constantinople, in Chalcedon, and although it sometimes caused more division and questions, I see it as necessary if we are to earnestly seek our God and provide people with the Gospel Truth. We need to struggle with what it means to be Christian and to vigilantly seek the true face of God. For if we remain complacent about our unanswered questions or simply accept the answers of others (other than those revealed by God), if we allow ourselves to be defined by our divisions as we resign ourselves to being right in our own eyes, decadence and disillusionment will continue in the Church. We would have tragically lost touch with our Creator, blindly following anything resembling our Savior, but rather, committing idolatry by serving and worshiping a dead and false image rather than the one, true God we intended to seek.
I find it amazing, though, the grace of God. Our first encounters with Him. How He meets with us where we are. We have all been lost, whether we were seeking out meaning or seeking out girls, disillusioned by a shattered marriage or a broken trust, the loss of a job or the loss of a loved one, we all come into the loving embrace of our Lord and Savior with misguided motives. And so though the reason we start to worship God may move us into His presence, it probably is not the real reason why we should be worshipping Him. He sees all of our wrong motivations and, still, does not turn away from us. He lets us come. And yet, like Jesus’ final week on earth, we must proceed from this awe and celebration of who we think He is, through to Good Friday and a new life in who He truly is.
Father God, I thank You for Your revelation in our lives. I thank You for allowing us to come to You for the wrong reason, but helping us along the way to find the right one. Lord God, I thank You for this school, NHCC. If it was not for Bible College, I would not have pondered so deeply on Your Son, Christ Jesus, and who He is – in character, in nature, in action, or of will. I feel so much richer for this exploration into our Lord and Savior. I thank You tremendously and unabashedly for graciously providing all of us this opportunity! And I pray for all of those who grace these halls that You stir them up each and every day so that they come earnestly and eagerly asking, “who is this Jesus?”
I thank You, I praise You, and I love You! In Your Son’s precious name – in Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
If it was not for Bible College, I would not have pondered so deeply on Jesus and who He was – in character, in nature, in action, or of will. I feel so much richer for this exploration into our Lord and Savior. And I thank Him tremendously and unabashedly for graciously providing me this opportunity!
Lord and Savior – so many times we say it, or at the very least, accept it blindly when our Pastor says it, but we lack the depth and maturity to grasp it and digest it for all it is worth. We, instead, look to Jesus as a puzzle piece in our own story and we fail to realize that there is so much more to Him than that. Then when bad things happen to us, we wonder where we went wrong – or even worse, we attribute it to God or there not being one at all.
How much time and thought do people today sincerely put into understanding this stupendously miraculous, wondrously magnificent, magnanimously amazing, God-breathed thing we call life? It seems like we’re so focused on trying to get ahead of everyone else that we fail to even understand why we even do such things in the first place. What is the reasoning of the guy who just cut me (and half a dozen others) off, while weaving dangerously through traffic? Was he…. pregnant and had to get to the hospital? Was he auditioning for the part of ‘driver 2’ in the next Fast and Furious movie? (Really!! That’s the only two logical explanations I can currently thing of!) We were designed to think and rationalize like no other creature here on earth, yet why do we lack the reasoning that would otherwise tell us that getting to the stoplight first doesn’t necessarily merit us a gold star in life? The world, especially Western civilization, seems so focused on the self, but do we really even know what ‘self’ is? Who are we? What is man, really, and why do we constantly try to manipulate things to get our way?
We see in Genesis 1:26-27, God says, “‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over… all the earth…’ God created man in His own image…”
We have been created in the image of an Almighty God, yet we live an existence where man is ruled by paper money and coddled by the opinions of others. If we were created in His image and His creation was “very good,” why are we such a flawed and fragile people? Why did we Fall in the first place?
When “God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,” He created something unlike anything He had created prior to that. The human being in Genesis was “the culmination, the climax, the crown of God’s creative activity.” Rather than using the same formal decree from His other creative activities, “Let there be,” God calls man into existence with the personal command, “Let us make.” This gives a sense of a special, more intimate endeavor by God – the conception of “man in [His] image, according to [His] likeness.” And in the same breath, in the same sentence, He says, “let them rule,” to entrust man with dominion over the world. The concept of the image of God ties “into ancient Near Eastern thought. In the ancient world an image was believed in some ways to carry the essence of that which it represented… This does not suggest that the image could do what the deity did or that it looked the same as the deity, [but] rather, the deity’s work was thought to be accomplished through the idol… to establish their authority.”
Genesis 5 provides further insight when Adam “became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image.” The author of Genesis uses parallel language that was used in Genesis 1:26. What it cultivates is the illustration and relationship of a father and child. “The child mirrors the attitudes, expressions, and character traits of his or her father. The Biblical text, by offering us this explanation gives us the key that… we were created with the potential to mirror divine attributes.”
Adam, in a sense, may have been righteous and holy – as an image of God, he may have possessed similar attributes to God, but he was not God, as witnessed from his ill choices. He chose his own will over the Father’s, he chose to be self-righteous rather than truly righteous, and he chose to be god rather than be with God, severing his relational bond with the Father and marring the image of God in himself and in those who would follow him.
As the author of Ecclesiastes confirms God’s creation of man was good, but it is man himself who strays from God. “Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices.” Mankind is to be blamed for human failings, for searching for human schemes “rooted in false and self-destructive ‘accountings’ of life and conduct.” We seek our own way, our own truth, and our own life.
From when I was child, I had considered myself a “good Christian”, even though I did not truly understand what that meant. I did not argue with my parents when they told me we celebrated Christmas because Jesus was born, and I did not question them when they told me that Jesus died for us and was reborn at Easter time. I had no reason to not believe them; they loved me and wanted only the best for me. I didn’t really care too much to know why the skinny man with the beard wanted me to behave and who he was exactly – for as long as my parents loved me, the jolly, fat man gave me presents at Christmastime, and the bunny rabbit hid me colorful eggs to find during Easter, I was a happy, well-behaved little boy.
However, as I grew older, the frail veil of innocence began to wear thin. I started to see how others bended and broke the rules and mistreated and misused their fellow man to get what they wanted. And yet, I saw how these ‘others’ seemingly remained happy, whilst my family struggled and was constantly being stepped on. I was no longer that happy little boy who didn’t whine or complain. I became frustrated and depressed, and I started asking “why?”
It only when I started to recognize the rationale and compassion of that skinny man with the beard that my “why’s” began to be resolved. He had the heart and understanding that could fix my dismal view of the world. He knew how to live. For He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and is the perfect image of God – and thus the perfect model for man. Man is illuminated in God’s image by Jesus Christ as John states, “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” He is as Adam was before the Fall – the unblemished image of God. However, where Adam failed, Jesus Christ did not. He may have had His own will here on earth, but His will was aligned with the Father’s.
Being made in the image of God, but not being God, means man needs God in order to prosper, let alone, function properly. “If the human being is defined fundamentally as one ‘in the image of God,’ then his identity must be sought in relation to God. For it [is] only reasonable that the identity of an ‘image’ is found by knowing the original.” If mankind is to ever understand who we are, we need to stop chasing the American Dream, reset our definitions of this world, and seek our identity in Christ Jesus.
What we also see is the value and significance of each and every human life. “Every single human being, no matter how much the image of God is marred by sin, or illness, or weakness, or age, or any other disability, still has the status of being in God’s image and therefore must be treated with the dignity and respect that is due to God’s image-bearer.” “It is that we remember not to consider men’s evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.”
As we look at others with love and at Christ for our identity, it is important for us to remember that we our God’s beloved as well and that value is inside of us as well. “It would be good for us to reflect on our likeness to God more often. It will probably amaze us to realize that when the Creator of the universe wanted to create something ‘in his image,’ something more like himself than all the rest of creation, he made us! This realization will give us a profound sense of dignity and significance as we reflect on the excellence of all the rest of God’s creation… We are the culmination of God’s infinitely wise and skillful work of creation. Even though sin has greatly marred that likeness, we nonetheless now reflect much of it, and shall even more as we grow in likeness to Christ.”
 Genesis 2:7, NASB.
 Ronald Youngblood, The Book of Genesis (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1991), 30.
 Paul Wright, Genesis (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1997), 14.
 Genesis 1:26, NASB.
 Genesis 1:26, NASB.
 John H. Walton, The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 130.
 Genesis 5:3, NASB.
 Walton, 131.
 Ecclesiastes 7:29, NASB.
 William P. Brown, Interpretation: Ecclesiastes (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2000), 84.
 John 14:6, NASB.
 John 1:9, NASB.
 Moreland, 30.
 Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 192.
 John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 3.7.6.
 Grudem, 192.
Like sand trapped in an hourglass, sometimes it seems as though with time I only continue to fall, no matter how many times you flip me upside down. But somehow at the end, when all the sand has fallen, I am caught into the arms of many. Those who have too fallen, into the hands of a sea of sand that catches me. Only then do I realize that I am not alone.
– Daroll Sakamoto
FREEDOM from this world comes from the cross… FREEDOM in this world comes from you understanding the full weight of the cross.
It is not an easy thing to do, not at all an easy thing to fully comprehend, but there is nothing more freeing than when you come to a certain realization in this world – that no matter how badly you screw up, no matter how horrible a day you are having, no matter how alone or unloved or mistreated you have felt, feel presently, or will ever feel again – there is someOne that always loves you, someOne that has unequivocally had a worse day than you, and someOne that stands by you regardless of all the transgressions in your past, present, and future. That someOne is the One that died for you on the cross – Jesus Christ.
Even before I became a “serious” Christian, I knew Christ was the key to… something about our salvation – not that I really understood what that meant at the time. But what I did understand then was this: if I ever wanted to escape the endless cycles of the hurts, the pains, the woe-is-mes, the loneliness, the anger and frustrations of this world, I had to seek a heart like Jesus’. If it were any one of us but Jesus that was wrongly accused, mistreated, tortured, and nailed to that cross, we would be cussing each and every one of our accusers out. The ‘f-word’ we’d be using wouldn’t be, “forgive them.” FREEDOM comes at just this cost: breaking yourself free from all of the bad teachings you’ve had in the past, from all of your doubts, fears, and unbeliefs, and from your own enormous ego. Then and only then will you experience the freedom God has intended for your life and beyond.
Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty; I’m free at last!