Category Archives: Single’s Ministry

Good Grace to a Bad Sinner

by Roger Alcaraz

I’ve only been a pastor a few years, but one of the highlights of it is that I get to be at the membership interviews and hear people’s testimonies of how they are saved. And even in just a few years, I’ve heard a wide variety of them, ranging from 30 seconds long to two hours long, from people who were born into a Christian home to people who never even heard of Jesus until later in life, from people who lived an outwardly moral life to people who lived in open rebellion. But even with all of the details that make each testimony unique, all of them, if genuine, center around one theme and one person–the grace found in Jesus Christ. Our testimonies are amazing and I hope it’s not just something you reserve for interviews, but that you can’t help but to recount it every time the gospel message is thought of.

The apostle Paul was a man who deeply saw how the gospel changed his own life. In 1 Timothy 1:11 Paul speaks of “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” and even just the mere mention of the gospel is enough to take over his thoughts, and he can’t shake how it affects him. This is supposed to be a letter to help Timothy know how to conduct himself in the household of God, and yet the gospel is so personal to Paul that he can’t even say the word without going into his own testimony.

And throughout the next six verses, Paul recounts his former life and how God extended great mercy to him. But in the middle of it all, he says something worth taking a closer look at. He says: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” If I had only a few words to share the core gospel message, it might say exactly this. Yet for Paul, it was more than a message to spread to others; it was a message for himself.

We always ask in our membership interviews, “What is the gospel?” Maybe that’s even a question you’ve been asked by friends. And we can easily just state the facts, but for Paul, the gospel was personal. That’s why Paul goes on to say, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

He preaches the gospel message to himself because he can’t escape the idea that the gospel is, first and foremost, for him. And what this shows is that in the midst of Paul going to the ends of the earth with the gospel and sharing it with thousands of people, he’s thinking, “This gospel that I’m preaching–nobody needs it more than I do.”

I don’t think Paul was giving an objective statement that he was, indeed, the worse sinner ever, but that from his perspective, nobody needed grace more than himself. Some think that Paul is referring to his past life of sin and persecution, but that’s not the case. He doesn’t say, “of whom I was the foremost.” He says, “whom I am the foremost.” I am the foremost of sinners and I am still undeserving of salvation.

And he can have that perspective, even as an apostle writing the Word of God, because he knows the depths of his own sin and the heights of Christ’s holiness. Paul understood that Jesus had absolutely no obligation to do anything good for him. Thus, Paul could see salvation as magnificent grace, and in response his life then became all about the gospel.

There’s a good lesson for us to apply here. Paul was entrusted with the gospel message, just as we are, but as we seek to proclaim the gospel to others, the question we need to ask is, “Do we view ourselves the way Paul viewed himself?” Is the gospel more than how Christ saved sinners but how he even saved you? And do you let that impact your own life before taking it to others? I think if we’re going to make a greater impact for God’s kingdom while honoring him each step of the way, it begins with how personal we view God’s grace and how overwhelmed we are to be recipients of it. Let us learn from Paul’s example and marvel at the grace in our own lives before we seek it in others. And even as we share the gospel with others, may the world see just how astounded we are that God would save sinners like you and me.

Personal Training

by Roger Alcaraz

In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. That’s 40 hours a week for almost five years of practicing. And if you’ve ever listened to a pianist who has practiced for that long, you can instantly see (or hear) the fruit of all that practice.

Whether or not Malcolm’s statement is accurate, I think most people would agree that if we want to master something, it’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of discipline. And what’s great about the internet is that you can see the wide variety of skills people have mastered to the point where it seems like just about everything has been mastered by someone. Whether it’s the piano or juggling or cup stacking or rubix cube, they have all been mastered.

But I have yet to see any man or woman achieve mastery over one area in particular: the flesh. No one has mastered the flesh. And we can’t say it’s because nobody has tried. Religious people all over the world have spent their whole lives trying to be perfect and trying to subdue every sinful thought and desire of the flesh, but to no avail.

This is true even when it comes to just the tongue, one of the smallest parts of the body,
James 3:8 tells us that “no human being can tame the tongue.” You can try for 10,000 hours. You can try for 10,000,000 hours. You will never master the tongue, let alone the rest of your flesh. Your tongue lies, gossips, and slanders. Your eyes lust. Your heart envies. Your hands steal and murder. And all of it is beyond your ability to master.

Even so, as Christians, we understand that there is no more important pursuit than controlling the flesh and pursuing holiness. God is holy and man was created to worship him in holiness. Only then will man be satisfied. Thus, holiness is the most important and rewarding pursuit, yet it is also the most difficult pursuit.

Paul sometimes refers to athletics or uses athletic imagery like running, or disciplining his body. And he uses these imagery to teach about the Christian life. And it seems Paul saw a lot of similarities between athletics and Christianity in terms of the discipline and training needed.

Every athlete who wants to be great has two things worth mentioning. The first is sort of training ground where they are equipped to be able to perform their best. And the second is a coach, someone who will correct their mistakes and spur them on to greatness. If the Christian life can be compared to athletics, our training ground is the church–the place where we are equipped and ready to run the race of faith. But who is the coach? Is it Pastor Patrick? Is it me? Pastor Josh? We might be part of the coaching squad, but if you look at the really great athletes playing for the best teams, they have a head coach who guides the overall direction of the team, but then there are coaches underneath them that are more specialized, and then the best of the best athletes even have a personal trainer.

Usain Bolt is among the fastest men in history. So you might think, “There’s no way the fastest man alive needs a coach.” But if you thought that, you’d be wrong because even the fastest man alive has a coach. His name is Glen Mills and without him, Usain would still be fast, but not record-breaking fast.

Usain needs a coach in order to run excellently, but who is there to train up men and women in the church to live excellently? Where are the coaches and trainers of the faith? They should be you all.

You can read in Titus 2:2-6 that God’s design for the church is that the the older men and women live excellently themselves and then teach and train the younger men and women.

And you might be thinking that you’re too young, or too immature, or don’t know enough to disciple anyone. But no matter how young you are in the faith, you will always be able to find someone to disciple. So no matter who you are, you can help others to persevere in this life and run the race of faith excellently, and as you do, I believe you will be rewarded in this life and in the life to come.

A Gospel of Repentance

by Roger Alcaraz

Back in high school, I would always sign my close friends’ yearbooks with a message, and somewhere in that message would be the words, “Don’t ever change.” That was because, in my mind, that was the greatest compliment or sign of love that I could give. It’s like saying “You’re perfect just the way you are.” It was only after I became a Christian, I realized how wrong I was.

Nobody is perfect, and the gospel we proclaim is not only about the forgiveness of sins, but about repentance. “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:46-47).

Repentance is a complete change of heart that grieves over sin and, in response, seeks to live a changed life. It’s turning your feelings, thoughts, and actions away from sin and toward Christ. This has always been the heart of the gospel call. We often think of evangelism as preaching the forgiveness of sins, but Christ has told us to also preach repentance. Why? Because without repentance, there is no forgiveness of sins. Yet repentance is perhaps the single most neglected aspect of contemporary evangelism, especially in an age when it’s all about accepting people as they are and just letting them be. This nation teaches that if you want to show love to someone, you must accept them as they are, without changing them.

Now, I’m not arguing that acceptance is bad. But there is definitely a good way and a bad way to practice it. If a doctor had a patient with diabetes, and the doctor accepted his patient without wanting him to change, that’s bad. But consider Scripture and how the heart of mankind is desperately sick and how mankind is heading to Hell. Would accepting people without any desire for change be what’s best for them?

Coaches tell their athletes to change all of the time. Parents tell their children to change all the time. If you saw a child practically inhaling sugar, and the parent casually said, “Let him be,” you would say, “You’re a bad parent.” And so if calling for change is the mark of a good parent, and it’s the mark of a good coach, isn’t it also the mark of good friend?

The world has believed that calling someone to change is unloving, but as I consider my life, it’s quite the opposite. The people who have loved me the most were the people who called me to change. And the greater test of love isn’t whether a person accepts you as you are; love is demonstrated when, as a person seeks change and growth another, that they bear with them with gentleness and patience. So we’re not beating people over the head with the command to repent and believe. We’re urgent yet patient, firm yet gentle, always seeking what’s best for them based on the truth of Scripture.

And so while the world might look at our gospel of repentance and say, “Why can’t I just keep living how I’ve always lived?” you can say, “Because I love you too much.” If your friend were planning to rob a bank and you knew that this bank was an impenetrable fortress guarded by hundreds of police officers, you would probably tell your friend to stop or else he’ll be thrown in prison. And he might object and say, “I thought you supported me. Can’t you just let me be me?” And if you were a good friend, you would say, “No.”

But would you be quicker to warn people of prison than you would of Hell? We have to remember that as each person dies, they will stand before the God who created them and have to give an account for their entire life. Everything will be exposed before God as he determines their fate. How sad would it be for people to stand before God and think, “I had Christian friends. Why didn’t they tell me I would be here one day?” Therefore, let us warn the world of their fate if they do not turn away from their sins and turn to Christ. It is a loving thing to turn them away from fire.

The Elder Son

by Roger Alcaraz

When we think about the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32, not much attention gets placed on the older son. Granted, he doesn’t occupy as much space as the younger, nor is his story as happy. But I do think his story related the most to Jesus’ audience.

Jesus spoke this parable in the context of both the religious heroes and zeros of the day: the scribes and Pharisees versus the tax collectors and sinners. And one would expect the religious leaders to be the ones gravitating to Jesus, but it was more often the wretched sinners that drew near to him. And the parable of the prodigal son was about how lost sinners were being found, and the joy that consumes Christ whenever one of his children is back with him.

Christ is represented by the father in the parable who saw his son, felt compassion, ran to him, embraced him, kissed him, gave him a robe, gave him a ring, gave him shoes, killed the fattened calf, and celebrated. That’s quite the welcoming, especially when you consider that this is a man who had wished his father to be dead, abandoned him, and squandered away his inheritance. You would think that even if the father received him back, there might be conditions to pay back at least some of what he lost, but there are no conditions to pay back the father at all.

This man’s list of good deeds is empty and still the father receives him, and that must have driven the scribes and Pharisees crazy. Jesus was offering salvation to these deplorable sinners just for coming to him. He would disregard their whole past and call the people with the worst lives and say, “I don’t care what sins you’ve committed, only that you follow me now.”

What an offer! But I can imagine how infuriating it would be for the scribes and Pharisees. These are people who devoted themselves to obeying God’s word and who felt they alone were entitled to God’s kingdom because of their deeds. But Jesus knows that what they’re feeling is wrong, and so he concludes his parable by introducing the older son who represents the scribes and Pharisees.

It’s not a complicated story by any means. The older brother is tending the field, being a diligent and hardworking son, and as he comes in, he hears music and dancing and finds out his younger brother has returned. And upon hearing the news, the older brother is outraged. But notice this: nowhere does he take issue with his brother. He’s not angry about the son’s return; he’s angry at the father’s celebration. The father has thrown this huge celebration and even killed the fattened calf which would have been reserved for a wedding. All this for a son who spent his inheritance on prostitutes, when the older son has always obeyed and served the father, and he never even got a young goat.

He contrasts his relationship to his father against his brother’s relationship with his father. He essentially says, “I’ve done so much and have received so little, whereas my brother has done so little and received so much, and it’s not fair.” And in the older son’s heart, he has concluded that his father is not fair or good. And so the father reminds him of his love for the older son. The father loved his older son and this celebration didn’t diminish that. But the father reminds him of why they’re celebrating.

They’re not celebrating because the younger son did something to earn the fattened calf. They’re celebrating because the father is overwhelmed by the son’s return. And so it is a time of celebration. But the older son can’t celebrate. All he’s thinking about is, “Well then, what was this all for? What have I been spending my life doing if my father is receiving this sinner who laid with prostitutes back into his household?” How infuriating.

And this was what made Jesus’ teaching so difficult for the scribes and Pharisee. They spent their whole lives believing that if they lived a certain way, they would be accepted by God. And for Jesus to come and say, “You’re doing it all wrong” was unacceptable. “What was all this for? How can you tell me after all I’ve done that none of it mattered?”

Often times, we consider the cost of following Jesus to be one involving sacrificing our worldly pursuits. But for many, the biggest cost of following Jesus is going to be sacrificing your pride. Sacrificing the list of reasons you think you’re so wonderful and deserving of Heaven and calling everything you’ve ever done as useless. The cost of following Jesus requires that you lay down your pride and confess that everything you’ve done in life, if Jesus wasn’t in it, is useless for salvation. That’s a greater cost than you might realize.

Imagine you spent 30 years building a house and you’re still building on it to perfection. And it’s a beautiful looking house. But then someone says, “Your house is built on sand, and eventually, it will fall.” Would it be an easy for you to say, “I better stop building it and start building on a more solid foundation.” That might be a logical and safer thing to do. But if you’ve spent 30 years building a house, at a certain point, it’s a hard thing accept that the last 30 years was a waste. I get that. Most people would probably come up with an excuse to keep building on it and say, “It’s held up so far. I’ll just continue living in it and building it up.” And the tragedy is that as they build the house, they’re only adding to the rubble that will one day be their grave.

Let us not be like the scribes and Pharisees who refused to admit their need for a savior. But no matter how far we’ve come in this life, as difficult as it may be to admit that our works are useless for salvation, there is great reward for laying down our pride and submitting to Jesus.

A Little More Time

by Roger Alcaraz

Not many of us have gone through a life threatening situation. My closest encounter with death was back in college when I was skateboarding down a hill. I had wanted to get on the left sidewalk but I was going too fast to get on it so I ended up rolling down the outer edge of the street against traffic when, suddenly, a bus was heading my way. I still remember the feeling of that bus passing me at a relative speed of 70mph. I remember the wind from the bus physically slowing me down as it passed just two feet in front of me. It was a vivid realization for me that skateboarding might not be worth the risk, and so I traded in my cool skateboard for an even cooler Razor scooter.

That was a close call, but no matter how many times we can cheat death, eventually it will catch up to us. Death is a reality that we will all face eventually, but it’s a reality we should all consider now. It can take us at any moment. For example, an earthquake can hit and bury you in rubble. Everyone in the world might see it as tragic, but the angels in heaven who see God would simply call it fair.

The Bible says “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). Since we all sin, the question we should all ask is, “Why does God allow me to live?” And for that question, Jesus gives the following parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down’ ” (Luke 13:6-9).

The story is simple. If you planted a tree for the purpose of bearing fruit, and it failed year after year, you would probably say “Chop it down!” And that is what would have happened to this tree except that the vinedresser asked for one more year. If one more year has passed, and if it still doesn’t produce fruit, then cut it down. The fruit in view here is the fruit of repentance. It’s a picture of God’s great patience toward mankind in giving us more time.

In all this, what I find baffling is that God would even endure so long for people he knows will never repent. I would tell God, “If they’re never going to believe, why are you still forbearing? It’s only bringing you more sorrow.” But what this parable communicates is that it’s worth it to God to give you more time, even if it amounts to nothing, because his greatest desire for you is that you would repent and believe. So the answer to why is anyone still alive is because God is merciful and compassionate and patient toward sinners. What is the greatest gift of God’s common grace to humanity? It’s time–time to repent, time to believe.

As I think about the time I barely scraped by the bus and how I could have easily been killed, I think about how it was my freshman year and how I did not know Jesus. At the time, whenever something bad would happen, I would mock the goodness of God, curse directly at him, and feel no remorse or any fear since I thought of it like speaking to wind. God could have said, “This tree hasn’t produced fruit in 18 years. And the bus could have been God’s way of saying, “It’s time to cut it down.” But I praise God that he said, “I’ll give him more time.” And it was later that year that I surrendered my life to Christ and now God is even still gracious to give me more time.

Sadly, patience is often taken for granted. But his patience is there for a reason. It isn’t so you would grow tired of it or forget about it, but that you would be led to repentance, as Romans 2:4 says, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” The point is, there’s a reason you’re still alive–and that is because God is patient. And there is a purpose for his patience–and that is so you might repent from your ways and turn to him in faith. Tomorrow’s not a guarantee. So far, you’ve lived your whole life experiencing God’s patience. But there is a time when his waiting will end.

The parable tells us how God is giving us yet another chance to repent, but there is a definite warning that your opportunity to repent is limited. You don’t know when your end will come and when the wrath of God will fall upon you. And so while you have time, you need to call on Christ and be saved. If you trust in Jesus for salvation and follow him with your life, then the wrath of God that he endured on the cross would be done in your place. But if you don’t have Christ, then the last words of the parable are for you to hear, “Cut it down.” It’s an abrupt and sad ending for the parable, but it will be the ending for many. God’s patience is not something that should be taken for granted. And so while you have opportunity, repent.

Compassion of the Christ

by Roger Alcaraz

Not too long ago, I attended a biblical counseling conference hosted by Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). I probably wouldn’t have gone except that this year it was on the topic of emotions, and was it a blessing! I thought I might give you a taste of the conference. So this article is a reflection of some of what I learned there.

When it comes to your emotions, maybe you feel you have good control over them. Even so, I’m willing to bet you sometimes feel emotions you don’t want to. Sure, we can fake being happy, put on a smile, spend time with people, laugh at the right times, but then go home and bury our face in our pillow with tears. We can fake being at peace, speak calmly to people, show hospitality to those who have wronged us, and say we forgive them, but then pound our fists on the walls the moment no one is looking.

Even as you consider today, you can probably think of a time when you faked an emotion. When you were angry, you pretended to be peaceful. When you were anxious, you pretended to be patient. When you were sad, you pretended to be happy. Emotions are certainly hard to control, and I think if we were able to control our emotions, most of us would want to produce more joy in our lives. While joy is something we’re commanded to seek, what about purposefully engaging in a painful emotion for the sake of serving someone else?

In John 11, we have the account of Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the grave. We read that Jesus is near Bethany when a man named Lazarus becomes ill. His sisters were two of Jesus’ friends, Martha and Mary. And in verse three, we read “So the sisters sent to him, saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’” Thus, this story is ultimately about the glory of God. It then makes sense that Jesus would allow Lazarus to die: in order to show that he has power over death and, thus, bring glory to God.

But verses 5-6 have always confused me. They say, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” I was confused by one word at the start of verse 6, “So.” It could also be translated as “therefore,” connecting two idea in such a way is “this” results in “that.” What’s shocking is the two ideas being connected: Jesus’ love and Lazarus’ death. The verses could be summarized to say, “Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, therefore he let Lazarus die.” You can see why it makes no sense. Because we would expect to read, “Jesus loved them, but he let Lazarus die.” Or, “Jesus loved them, so he healed Lazarus.”

But this is the disciple, John, writing, and he’s providing a type of divine commentary to what’s happening. We might not see the connection, but God has revealed it to John and he understands it looking back on the event as he writes. I doubt he would have understood at the time, that Jesus, in waiting for Lazarus to die, was motivated by love. But as he records these events for all Christians to read forever, he lets us in on a divine mystery. So here’s the question: How could love motivate Christ to let Lazarus die and to let his sisters agonize over his death? Unless you’re able to answer this question, you’re going to have a skewed understanding of Jesus’ love in your own suffering.

Jesus’ love for them is undeniable. Even in this short account, we’re told multiple times that he loves them. But more than that, we see a demonstration of his love that, without the death, these sisters would have never been able to experience.

In verse 35, John tells us that Jesus wept, and it’s in the very next verse that the crowds proclaim, “See how much he loved him.” Soon after this, Jesus resurrects Lazarus but the crowds give no such response, not even a remark about his love. And so we see, just as the Jews did, that Christ demonstrated his love through weeping and not by resurrecting Lazarus. Isn’t it amazing to think that more love is shown through weeping than through coming in and just fixing the problem?

As soon as Jesus heard that Lazarus was nearing death, Jesus could have snapped his fingers and say, “No he isn’t!” And they all would have said, “Praise Jesus!” But they would have never known how much Jesus loved them had he not come and wept. Also, had Jesus simply healed Lazarus from the start, he would have saved himself this agony as well. But we see that Jesus’ desire to show people love is greater than his desire to save himself from pain. He’s willing to endure the more painful route, not necessarily to fix the problem, but simply to demonstrate love.

And so, as it relates to your own struggles, realize that your suffering allows Christ to demonstrate his love for you as he cares for you. You may feel distant from him because of trials. Perhaps you’re thinking, “How can God love me if I’m suffering?” But understand that it’s actually during trials that Christ is able to draw nearer than ever.

Just before Jesus ascended to heaven, Jesus commanded the disciples to spread the gospel, and he gave them this promise: “And behold I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Jesus made that promise while commissioning the disciples for a task that would end up killing them. They needed that promise. They needed the confidence to say, “No matter where I am and no matter who’s threatening to kill me, Christ is with me.”

We have a great high priest who sympathizes with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15). It’s more than just him saying, “Oh, I know how that feels.” If you’re lonely, not only does he know how that feels, but his heart weeps for you. If you suffer a severe loss, sure he knows a thing or two about loss, but he also grieves over your suffering.

There are a lot of passages that talk about how God grieves, there are even some that talk about the Holy Spirit grieving, a lot of times they’re seen grieving over sin and I believe that remains true today. God, the Holy Spirit, even Christ grieve over your sin. But when we look at Jesus’ earthly ministry, what else does he grieve over? Many times, it’s people’s pain. Jesus hates tragedy. He mourns at your loss. He grieves in your suffering. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked; how much less does he take pleasure in the suffering of his children?

The heart of Christ we see in the gospels is the same heart he has for his people today. Why else give the promise to always be with us except to comfort us in our suffering? Christ wants to comfort you in your pain. When you cry out to him in all of your distress, do you really think he shakes his head and says, “Why is this person still struggling?” Or do you think he bears your pain and takes it as his own, just like he did every time he showed compassion on earth?

It’s no wonder that Christ said “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” It’s also no wonder that the law of Christ is summarized into one command, “Bear one another’s burdens”– because that is what Christ did and continues to do. And you’ll notice the verse doesn’t say, “Fix one another’s problems, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” We’re called to bear each other’s burden.

So if this is how Jesus is, why is it that when we hear of someone’s distress and tragedy, our first thought is to try to fix the problem? I know it’s done out of a heart of love, but if you want to show love, you’re going to have to weep with them. It has to bother you as though you were the one suffering.

This isn’t to say that we don’t eventually try to speak truth into someone’s life. Romans 8:28 is a glorious verse that assures us of God’s good plan, but there’s a proper time for that. At the conference, a letter was read from a man describing how his friends tried to help during his time of suffering but often fell short. The man was heartbroken, and as he was pouring out his experience on paper, he wrote, “The next person to quote Romans 8:28, I’m gonna punch them in the stomach. And then, while the pain is still fresh, I’m going to remind them of Romans 8:28.”

It’s not about applying the most expedient solution. In fact, you shouldn’t even think about a solution until you’ve meditated on their pain, until you feel weighed down by their troubles, until they know you love them because you’re willing to suffer with them. We can learn a lot from Jesus on how we ought to love one another. But I pray if there’s one thing you remember from this article, it’s that Jesus always demonstrated his love by taking our pain upon himself, and we need to do the same.

DTR Article

by Sharon Kim

DTR. A random concoction of alphabet letters? What does it stand for? Well you’re in luck, because it was defined and described on October 9, 2016 by Pastor Patrick (sermon audio found here). DTR, which can be a noun or a verb, stands for “Defining the Relationship.” It is often used as a synonym for “asking out” or the act of clarifying the relationship between a guy and a girl when one or both parties suspect that they have become more than friends. This sermon in particular defined what a God-honoring vs. flesh satisfying-relationship would look like.

Relationships are not perfect, which can be due to preconceived unrealistic expectations. It is important – actually, ESSENTIAL – to be imbued by the Holy Spirit and to pursue/maintain a relationship that would glorify God. Because God’s way is less painful, more fulfilling, and as Pastor Patrick challenged the listeners, more romantic. More often than not, we have seen the pains of broken relationships, which is the result of sin. God has graciously and mercifully taken away our sin, and thus, He has given us the freedom to have a relationship that could be bearing the fruits of the Spirit.

So let us look to the all-sufficient Word of God, the sword of the Spirit, to battle the shortcomings of relationships. Galatians 5:19 gives us key words that describe acts and states that we should avoid because they are not God-honoring. This sermon dissects and describes each word which is meant to ask questions that can identify if someone is engaged in what is immoral, consistent strife with God… SIN.

  1. Sexual immorality, which can come in many different forms. A prevelant form that was highlighted was fornication (pre-marital sex). Are you in deed, action or thought performing an act such as this?
  2. Sensuality, which can be defined as debauchery (seduction from duty, allegiance, or virtue). Do you indulge in this?
  3. Idolatry, which can take the form of anything that takes precedence in your life over God. Is your dating relationship or even your desire to date consuming areas in your heart and mind that should be reserved for God?
  4. Sorcery is a broad term that involves steering one towards a reliance void of God. For example, the use of illicit drugs. Do you drink, smoke or use any substances that disrupt your or your dating partner’s consciousness for pleasure or escape?
  5. Enmity, which is a synonym of hatred. Can you not stand your relationship or the person you are dating?
  6. Strife, which describes quarrels, bickering and arguing. Though relationships may go through arguments, can you say that it is a consistent pattern in your dating relationship?
  7. Jealousy, a sinful reaction when sharing your partner’s time with others. Do you have a hard time sharing your partner with others and allowing them to be a blessing?
  8. Outbursts of anger includes having no control over your anger which can translate into rash speech. Do you constantly have apologize for what you have said to your dating partner?
  9. Disputes, the root cause of which is selfish ambitions, i.e., a self seeking attitude. Are there disputes in your dating relationship?
  10. Dissensions, which means to stand apart or give someone a cold shoulder. An example of this can be shown when a dating couple has broken up and have a hard time being in the same room because of the pain. Can you see this being the direction of where your dating relationship can end?
  11. Factions, which is when a dating couple separates themselves from the church and can even refuse wise counsel. Are you in this kind of position?
  12. Envy, which is another self-centered attitude where one does not rejoice of the success of others. Are you like this in your dating relationship?
  13. Drunkenness, which is defined by excessive drinking. Do you get drunk from alcohol or are you filled with the Holy Spirit?
  14. Carousing, which is similar to partying/clubbing. Is this a characteristic of your dating relationship?

Remember that there are still many more that can reveal if your dating relationship can be of the flesh rather than of the Lord.

As we continue to verse 22 to describe a relationship that is honoring to God, let us start with the foundation. Galatians 5:14b says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This means that relationships are not about you. It is not about self-fulfillment and what you want from the relationship. It should start with the thought of “How can I serve my brother or sister in Christ in love?”

Now to fruits of the Spirit:

  1. Love: This act can be shown through the choice of loving others despite their actions, speech or even looks. This is unmerited love which Christ has shown to us when He came to die for us, sinners. Do you show your dating partner this Christ-like love?
  2. Joy: Are you joyful when you are together with your dating partner?
  3. Peace: This word is something deep that can be defined as “soul satisfaction,” or a completeness. Do you both find your peace in God and see Christ as all sufficient?
  4. Patience: Do you and your dating partner not lose heart in the face of trials/hardship and continue with kindness?
  5. Kindness: Do you desire to be a blessing to others? Could you say that you two are pleasant to be around?
  6. Goodness: Can you ask yourself truthfully if you care more for your partner’s good than your own? To be good is to treat others better than yourself. This should translate in treasuring other people’s time just as much as your own.
  7. Faithfulness: Are you reliable and can be counted on? Can you say that you conduct yourself in a way that will not be considered questionable?
  8. Gentleness: Are you gentle, not condescending and taking to account the feelings of others? A good example that was presented was when Jesus was ministering to the woman at the well (John 4:7-42). The woman was in sin, but Jesus patiently and lovingly served her, which caused her to joyfully spread the news of His existence & message.
  9. Self-Control: Are you driven by your emotions? Are you rash in your decision-making?

These questions which have been formed from these few verses (and do not limit yourself to just these) are great to understand where you might stand in your dating relationship.

A Little Known Man Worth Following

by Roger Alcaraz

Not a lot is known about Epaphroditus. Even as you read his name, you might have thought, “Who?” I’m talking about the man who was sent to Paul’s imprisonment and then later was sent back to the Philippians. We read a little bit about him in Philippians 3:25 where Paul writes, “I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need.”

While we don’t know many details about him, we do know some things. We know that while Paul was in prison, the Philippian church heard of his situation and sought to help by sending money to support his ministry. The man who delivered the money was Epaphroditus (c.f. Phil 4:18) But the Philippian church instructed him not only to deliver the money but to stay and serve Paul however he needed. So he was a messenger and minister representing the church. And you can be sure that the church would have chosen a man of good character and faith to represent them.

And over time, Paul saw him not just as a messenger, but as his “brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier” (Phil 2:25). He partook the the same work as Paul, labored by his side, and endured trials together. Thus, he carried a good reputation in the church for his godliness. He had a servant mindset, and he was brave, even risking his life.

But he was also desperate–desperate to go back and see his church family. Paul writes, “for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill” (Phil 2:26). Because of his illness, Paul actually decides for him to go back. If it were up to Epaphroditus, he probably would have stayed with Paul as long as he could, because that was the nature of his commitment and servitude.

But Paul could clearly see how his being separated from his church family was affecting him and so he decides to send him back, but look closely at the wording for the reason he wants to go back so badly. It reads, “for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death.”

It’s not because he was sick that he wants to go back, but because the church heard that he was sick. That is quite a selfless love–that in his pain, he would be focused on how his pain is affecting others rather than himself.

I think most of us are the opposite. The more natural thing to do when we’re suffering is to focus on how our suffering is affecting us and how others ought to be serving us. Now granted, our suffering will primarily affect ourselves, but that doesn’t mean it has to be our primary concern.

For Epaphroditus, he missed his church very much. But what he missed more than the blessings he would receive from them were the blessing he could offer to them.

That was why he wanted to go back. He couldn’t bear the fact that he had been the cause of pain and worry in the church, and he so desperately wanted to go back to comfort and encourage them with the news that he’s okay.

How about you? When you’re sick for a while, are you more upset by the fact that you’re unable to minister the way you would if you were healthy, or are you upset by the thought that people should be ministering to you?

Now you might be wondering, “Wait, shouldn’t others be caring for me when I get sick?” And yes, they should. But that’s their priority; it shouldn’t be yours. And we see a perfect picture of what it looks like from both sides.

Epaphroditus fell ill, almost to the point of death, even. And yet his desire was to not cause pain by the news to his church. That was his desire. But the church said “Too bad! We’re gonna hurt along with you, and so long as you’re suffering, we’re suffering.” Each side is more concerned about the other. And this is God’s design for how we ache and suffer for one another.

Epaphroditus sets for us, a true display of love in that no matter how much he suffered, he always thought of others. And the church also displays true love in that no matter how little the person wanted them to carry his burden, they carried it. You might talk to someone who tells you of a trial in their life and they tell you not to worry about it. That is no licence for you to say, “Okay, I won’t worry about it.” Fortunately for everyone involved, God had mercy on him and on Paul who would also have experienced great sorrow if he died.

My point in all this is simple. Epaphroditus as a great man of faith and love. So much so that the church decided to send him to Paul as part of their gift to him. But his love for the church was so great that it brought anguish upon him and eventually, he had to go back to see and comfort them. He didn’t write Scripture. He didn’t perform outstanding miracles. But he serves as an example of great faith and love found in an ordinary man. And while he has mostly been forgotten throughout history, he undoubtedly received great honor from the one who matters the most. Let us follow in his footsteps and receive the same honor from Christ.

Reflection on the 2016 Singles’ Retreat

by Dawn Hwang

The 2016 Lighthouse Bible Church’s Singles Retreat was … crazy. It was busy, hectic, and tiring. My voice was gone by the first night, which I didn’t get back until the following Thursday, and I felt so physically pushed and exhausted. But at the same time, it was also incredibly fun, encouraging, and humbling. If you were to ask me would I go to retreat again, I would not hesitate to jump up and down and ecstatically scream “Yes!”


This year Pastor Kurt Gebhards, visiting us all the way from Chicago, spoke on the topic of the Lord’s prayer under the theme “The Disciple’s Prayer.” He broke down Matthew 6:9-13 verse by verse and delivered four messages titled (1) Communion with the Father, (2) Commission with the Father, (3) Provision of the Father, and (4) Protection of the Father.

We are disciples of Christ and as a disciple, prayer is an intrinsic part of our lives. The disciple’s prayer, the Lord’s prayer is so familiar to us that we often tend to skip over the beauty and glory of it. Pastor Kurt focused on the implications of the Lord’s prayer and the importance of it for us as disciples.

The first session was on Communion with the Father (Matthew 6:9). During this session, Pastor Kurt challenged us on how we view and value our time in the word. We throw out the terms “quiet times,” “devos”, “devotions” and “DTs” left and right, but what is at the heart of these words? Communion. He explained the importance of relishing our time with the Father and the detrimental repercussions of not doing so, likening it to cutting off our own limbs when we relinquish this time. God has done all that He could to procure our communion with Him and we just want to microwave it instead of slow cooking our time with Him.

The second session seamlessly continued from the first session with the topic, Commission with the Father (Matthew 6:10). Jesus gives us the consequences of communion. When we are able to slow cook our communion with the Father, we find our identity and with any identity comes an activity. Our identity is grounded in Christ and this should and will lead to activity. When Jesus was here on Earth, He took care of everything and He was the Light. But now that He’s in heaven, we are the light of the world. He uses us to do His mission and what an honor that is! Communion and commission work together beautifully and we have to ask ourselves, what are our current commitments to the Great Commission?

The third session was on the Provision of the Father (Matthew 6:11). For someone living in the 1st century, this part of the prayer could have applied quite literally but how does this apply to us, 21st century Americans? The fundamental message that Jesus is telling us to ask for God to provide for us. We all know that our God is a good God and He is a gloriously good provider, but do we really understand and view Him in this way? Pastor Kurt’s challenge allowed us to reflect on whether or not we could genuinely trust that even through all that we’ve gone through, we’re going through, and will go through that God is good.

Pastor Kurt concluded the series of messages with the Protection of the Father (Matthew 6:12-13). We are called to live a perfect life and Jesus is the standard, but we fail thousands of times a day. Every single sin is a debt and when we sin against God, we take something away from Him. Our debt is massive but hallelujah! It is forgiven. The answer to all of these prayers is God, Himself. It’s not about what can God do for me, but that God Himself is what we need. In order to understand the protection of the Father, it’s exceedingly important that we understand justification.


It doesn’t end there! Not only were the sessions awesome, but everything in between was also really great. This year, I had the opportunity to serve as a team captain (woot woot Team Baseball!) and I learned so much through this experience. When I first got my list of teammates, I was somewhat overwhelmed with not personally knowing a good portion of my team as we had Lighthouse Bible Church San Jose and Orange County joining us for retreat. But God is gracious and He showed me so much love through all the people around. It was great getting know to people from the various Lighthouse churches and fellowship was so sweet. The feeling of being overwhelmed quickly dissipated and throughout the retreat, my love for everyone, not just those from San Diego, grew. It was encouraging to see people mingling, learning from each other, being vulnerable with each other, and challenging each other. We were able to witness people who didn’t know anything about each other form a relationship on the sole foundation of Christ.

This retreat was such a good reminder of God’s goodness and as I mentioned earlier, if I could attend retreat again, I would jump at the opportunity.

What Kept Jesus on the Cross?

by Roger Alcaraz

Last year, our college ministry tabled at UCSD during Triton Day. It’s an event where all of the school clubs get to advertise to the incoming students. Coincidentally, our church was right next to the Atheist Club. And I was curious what the club does since it centers around a non-belief, but I found out they like to watch debates, specifically those against Christianity. And after talking with them, I came to the conclusion that this club wouldn’t have been started apart from Christianity because their main focus wasn’t to attack God in general but to attack Christ. The atheist club should have more accurately been named, the Anti-Christian Club.

But this is nothing new. People have always hated Jesus since the time of his ministry. While he was on Earth, the Jewish leaders saw Jesus as a threat to their power and tried to get rid of him. They tried various tactics, but eventually realized that the only way to get rid of Jesus was to kill Him. So they devised a plan and this eventually led to his death on the cross.

While on the cross, spectators had the opportunity to hurl insults and even taunt Jesus. Luke 23:35 gives the following account: “And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’”

The claim was, “He saved others; let him save himself.” So the question then is, why didn’t Jesus save himself? In other words, what kept Jesus from coming down from the cross?

Was It the Nails?

Some would argue that the reason he couldn’t save himself was because Jesus was just a man, like any other. So of course he couldn’t save himself, he didn’t have the power to. But Scripture tells us the opposite. Jesus did the impossible and he did it with plenty of witnesses.

He once told the storm to be still and the winds immediately obeyed his words. Later, 5,000 of his followers got hungry, so Jesus took a small amount of bread and fish and multiplied them to be able to feed them all. On multiple occasions, Jesus visited crowded funerals and raised the dead. Other times he gave sight to the blind, healed the leper, and commanded paralytics to walk and they would instantly obey. Jesus was so popular that people came from all over Israel to be healed. Even Romans were coming to him, believing he had amazing power. And his power extended over spirits as even demons obeyed his every word and even trembled at his mere presence.

Clearly, Jesus proved himself to be a powerful man, capable of controlling spirits, nature, even life itself. The clearest explanation for this is that he is God incarnate. All this is to say that we’re dealing with someone who, if he wanted to, could have easily pulled himself off the cross. So again I ask, what kept him there?

Was It Our Sin?

Maybe you’ve heard before that it was our sin that nailed him to the cross and kept him there. And I think there is an element of truth behind that statement. What is true is that Jesus’ death on the cross was necessary for salvation. We have all sinned and deserve death. But God has allowed for someone to stand in our place. And Jesus Christ is the only acceptable sacrifice that can remove God’s wrath from coming to us because he alone is perfect.

And so it’s true–if we had not sinned, then there would be no need for Christ to die, so it is really our sin that nailed him to the cross. But here is where the answer falls short of answering the question, “What kept Jesus on the cross?” God was never obligated to save anyone. He could have looked at sinful humanity and decided to simply condemn us. This would have been the easier option for him. And he would have been perfectly just to do so.

In fact, 2 Peter 2:4 tell us that this is what God did with the angels. It says, “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell.” That could have been us. So then, Jesus certainly was powerful enough to remove himself from the cross, and God was under no obligation to save mankind. Then why didn’t he save himself? Why did he instead say, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing?” as he continued to bear the wrath of sin?

It Was Love

Before Jesus was handed over to be crucified, knowing he only had a few hours left, he fervently prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39). It’s here where we begin to see why Jesus went and stayed on the cross. It’s because God the Son, loved God the Father. Jesus submitted to not his own will, but to the will of the Father and obeyed him to the point of death, even death on a cross.

In John 10:18, Jesus talks about his impending death, saying, “This charge I have received from my Father.” Thus Jesus was commanded by the Father to die on behalf of humanity. And the reason for Christ’s obedience was his love. Later, while Jesus is speaking again on his imminent death, he says, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (John 14:31).

Perhaps it’s expected that the Son loves the Father, but amazingly, mankind is also the recipient of Christ’s great love. Romans 5:8 is one of my favorite passages of the whole Bible because it speaks of the superior nature of God’s love. It reads, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Incredible! God loves sinners! Which tells you that God’s love is not something we earn or could ever deserve. We might think that God should love us because we’re used to thinking of ourselves as lovable, good people. But in God’s eyes, we are sinners. Even so, the good news of it all is that he still loves us. The good news is that his love has nothing to do with anything we have done, but it has everything to do with who God is. God is love. He is the very definition of love.

This is ultimately what kept Jesus from saving himself: his love for the Father, and his love for sinners. And so he provided a way of salvation by paying the ultimate sacrifice. Praise Jesus Christ for his love!