We Are Both Saint and Sinner

Sinner-Saint-Ambigram-tattoo-39646Many Hmong parents see their kids as either good or bad, tuab neeg zoo or tuab neeg phem, noog lug or tsi noog lug. I’m guessing you probably know exactly what I’m talking about, because maybe you’re one of the “good” ones and your parents have told you so. Or maybe you’re one of the “bad” ones and your parents have really told you so.

Unfortunately, the same thinking exists in the church and even in youth groups. The “good” kids are the ones who attend church every week, dress conservatively, don’t hang out with non-Christians, and become a leader when they get into college. The “bad” ones might skip church, dress or talk a little more ghetto, have tattoos or piercings, or have non-Christian friends.

(And just in case you think it’s just the OGs who are this judgmental, these labels are alive and well in most youth groups. I’ve seen it first hard, and you probably have too.)

But that is not how it should be in the family of God. We should not be so quick to label people as being only good or bad.

Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer, wrote about this very issue. He asked the question: Are we, as believers in Christ, good or bad? Are we saints or sinners? He answered it with a now-famous Latin phrase: Simul iustus et peccator. In case you missed Latin class in school, this translates as “We are, at the same time, saint and sinner.”

We are both saint and sinner. We are tuab neeg zoo hab phem. We are sinners because we are, at our core, selfish and prideful. But, we are saints because of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. (More on this here and here.)

“Good” church-going kids struggle with anger, lust, pride, and jealousy and are sin on daily basis, but it can be easy to think that going to church makes them “good.” Likewise, “bad” kids may be loving, kind, and God-fearing, but their appearance and mannerisms make people assume that they are ungodly. It is much easier to judge people by their appearances, when God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

For all you “good” youth out there, the ones whom parents, churches, and youth groups see as the “saints”… You are as much of a sinner as you are a saint. Never forget that.

And for all you “bad” youth out there, the ones people see as the “sinners”… In Christ, you are as much of a saint as the guy who leads worship or the girl who teaches Bible study. Never forget that (or let anyone in the church tell you otherwise).

So, next time you’re feeling a little “better” than someone else because of the “bad” stuff they’ve done or a little “worse” because of stuff you’ve done, don’t forget that through Christ we are both saint and sinner. That is something we all need to remember.

My Spirituation Inspiration While Working Out

I wanted a bit of inspiration while I was running on my treadmill, so I collected up some of my favorite Bible verses about health and some quotes from Jimmy Peña of PrayFit. Then I created a series of images out of them and loaded them all into a digital photo frame. Now, as I pound out the miles, I can be reminded of why I’m doing all of this.

Here’s a gallery of the images I created. Below that is a list of all the Bible verses and quotes I used. If you like them, feel free to download a zip with all the pics and used them to help you get fit and honor God with your body.

Bible Verses

“Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Rom. 12:1)

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom. 12:2)

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut. 6:5)

“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (1 Cor. 6:19)

“You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” (1 Cor. 6:20)

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13)

“The Lord is the everlasting God… He will not grow tired or weary… He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. (Is. 40:28-29)

“Do not carouse with drunkards or feast with gluttons, for they are on their way to poverty, and too much sleep clothes them in rags.” (Prov. 23:20-21)

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Is. 40:30-31)

“Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.” (3 John 1:2)

Quotes from Jimmy Peña of PrayFit

Grace removes the burden of trying to perfect a body that won’t last, yet grace is the reason to honor it every day that is does.

Lord, please bless my workout. I’m a temple, here to worship. Amen

Kneel. Wrestle. Fight. Grit. Grunt. Sing. Lift. Run. Walk. Stop. Overcome. Press. Raise. Faith. Accept. Grace.

I hope in everything I say and do I’m running in such a way as to be like Christ, just in case someone wants to run with me.

God, I move because you moved me. My health is my means of praise, expressed with all my heart.

He who dies with the most muscle wins…nothing. Train in Godliness, serve others.

When someone asks why you trying to be fit, tell them it’s for Heaven’s sake. But for Heaven’s sake, tell them.

It takes discipline to have daily devotions with the Lord. But soon discipline becomes dependence.

We humbly do our best to care for the body as we get where we need to go. Why? There’s a soul on board.

Thankfully, God only sees our hearts. But remember, willful neglect of the body is a heart issue.

The body won’t last, but that’s why it’s called stewardship. What’s a steward? Someone put in charge of something – temporarily – that’s not their own.

God loves what’s underneath.

We’ve all been called for one purpose, but not one purpose calls for a neglect of our health. Not one.

Is it okay for Hmong youth with the same last name to date or marry?

People Shadow 2SHORT ANSWER: While I can’t say it is “wrong”, I do not see a happy future for two Hmong youth with the same last name who date or get married. Therefore, I don’t think it’s a good idea and would strongly discourage it in all circumstances.

LONG ANSWER:
This is a pretty hot topic right now among Hmong young adults. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve even had a few conversations about it. Some people say absolutely never, others just get a squeamish look on their face, while others take a “love conquers all” approach. But this is actually a very complex issue with lots of cultural and social elements to it.

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What does it mean in Genesis 6:6 when God “regretted” creating humans?

Man Regretting“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:5-8)

For us, the idea of regretting is usually something like this: we do something, experience some negative consequence, and then regret our original decision. In essence,  we change our mind about what we first did. But God doesn’t really work like that: “God is not human…that he should change his mind.” (Num. 23:19). Instead, for God it’s closer to the idea of grieving or being really sad.. It also carries the sense of “to change to a different course of action”, sometimes translated “relent” (see Bible passages below).

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The Best Advice about Lust…From Hannibal Lecter

Hannibal LecterWe usually think of lust as sexual, but it’s meaning is actually much larger than that. It can refer to any really strong desire. You can lust for popularity, money, power, beauty, and of course, sex.

The Bible regularly speaks of avoiding sinful lusts or desires, describing them as worldly (Titus 2:12), evil (Colossians 3:5), of the flesh (Ephesians 2:3; 1 John 2:16), youthful (2 Timothy 2:22), deceitful (Ephesians 4:22), and contrary to the Spirit (Galatians 5:17).

So, as Christ-followers, we’re supposed to avoid sinful lusting after people or things. But how are we supposed to do that? What does it really look like?

One of the best answers I’ve ever seen comes from one of the best (and most disturbing) movie villains of all time – Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs. This particular dialogue about coveting (to strongly desire something; very similar to lusting) comes from one of the prison discussions between Hannibal and FBI agent Clarice Starling.

Hannibal: How do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet?
Clarice: No. We just…
Hannibal: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day.

“We begin by coveting what we see every day.” To put it another way: “We lust after the things we see every day.”

So, I ask you… What do you see every day? Chances are pretty good that those are things you’re lusting after.

  • What covers the walls of your bedroom?
  • What web sites do you browse often?
  • What’s on your laptop’s or phone’s background?
  • What kind of YouTube videos do you watch?
  • What kind of Pinterest boards do you create and fill with pictures?
  • What movies and TV shows do you watch?
  • What magazines do you read?

Pay attention to the things you see every day. For good or bad, they’ll end up to be the things you lust after.

So, what’s it for you? Guys, girls, clothes, cars, riches, shoes, k-pop stars, your bf/gf, or even ____________. If you want some alternatives, take the Apostle Paul’s advice:

“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)

The 12 C’s of the Old Testament: Understanding the Whole Story from Genesis to Malachi

Jewish PriestIf you grew up going to Sunday School or have been around church long enough, then you’re probably familiar with some Old Testament stories, like David & Goliath or Daniel in the Lion’s Den. But do you have a good picture of the whole OT story  – all  39 books, from Genesis to Malachi?

While studying some Old Testament materials online, I ran across this little mnemonic (learning tool). It’s one of the best summaries I’ve ever seen for understanding the big picture of the story of  God and the Israelites. I love it for it’s simplicity, clarity, and accuracy. It’s not going to win you any Bible quizzes (if that’s what you’re into), but it’ll give you a GREAT understanding of the story that makes up 75% of our Bible.

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God’s Primary Purpose of Marriage

Here is a workshop that my wife, Pang Foua, and I did recently on the topic of God’s Primary Purpose of Marriage. It was with the Couples Ministry of Hmong American Alliance Church in St. Paul, MN.

Download the Handout

OR

Here’s an outline of the main ideas of the lesson. (But they won’t make a whole lot of sense if you don’t watch the video first.)

  1. Why is it important to know the purpose of marriage?
  2. Key New Testament Passages about Marriage
    1. Matthew 19:1-6 – People ask Jesus about divorce
    2. Ephesians 5:22-33 – Paul talks about the roles of husband and wife
  3. What is Oneness?
    1. Leaving – “That is why a man leaves his father and mother…”
    2. Cleaving – “…and is united to his wife…”
    3. Becoming One – “…and they become one flesh.”
    4. The Result: Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”
  4. Why Do We Need Oneness
    1. We need it to reflect God’s image together (Gen. 1:26-27)
    2. We need it to live out a common mission (Gen. 1:28-31)
    3. We need it to be complete (Gen. 2:18,20)

How To Pray For Somebody Else

Man PrayingIf you’re like me, then you’ve probably had your fair share of “I’ll pray for you” that don’t actually materialize into any real prayers. And then, for those times when you do actually remember, the prayers end up short and kinda awkward: “Ummm… I’ve prayed that they pass the test. Now what do I say?”

Well, I recently stumbled across a great verse that has radically changed the way I pray for people. I was reading through 1 Timothy when I hit this verse:

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2 NIV)

This wasn’t particularly new; I had read this verse before. In fact, it’s a fairly common one for encouraging Christians to pray for their political leaders. But this time, I didn’t have Washington D.C. on the mind. Instead I was curious about the phrase “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving”. It’s a great Christian-sounding phrase, but what did it really mean?

So, I looked up the same passage in the New Living Translation (thanks, YouVersion Bible app). Here’s what verse 1 said:

“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.” (1 Timothy 2:1, NLT)

And there it was! An amazingly simple formula for praying for other people:

  • Ask God to help them
  • Intercede (speak) on their behalf
  • Give thanks for them

Thanks to Paul’s letter to a young Timothy, I now have a much better way to pray for someone. So, next time you ask me to pray for you, you also know what I’m going to be saying.

Hopefully, this little formula can help both you and I turn more of those “I’ll pray for you” into “I’ve prayed for you.”

4 Suggestions for a God-Honoring Photo Shoot with Your Boyfriend/Girlfriend

This is a follow-up to a question someone asked me, “Is it okay to do a photo shoot with my boyfriend/girlfriend?

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Earlier in the week, I answered someone’s question about whether it’s okay to do a photo shot with their bf/gf. You can read my answer here.

This got me thinking… What would a healthy photo shot look like? If you love doing photo shots (you know who you are), here are four strategies that I believe would make for a healthy boyfriend/girlfriend photo shoot.

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