Luke 14:24-25 – Deny Yourself and Follow Christ – A Personal Story

comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

You may be wondering why I haven’t written for a long time.  Mostly, it has been because of my laziness; I simply couldn’t push myself to write.  But recently, I had to make a life-changing decision that I want to share with you all.  From mid-January to the first week of March, I was traveling to many universities throughout the United States and interviewing for graduate school PhD programs in science.  I visited UPENN, UC – San Francisco (UCSF), Harvard (School of Public Health), UC – San Diego (UCSD), NYU, Yale, UC – Los Angeles (UCLA), and two NIH-joint programs with Oxford-Cambridge or John Hopkins.  After finishing my interview cycle, I was presented with a unique opportunity of choosing my graduate school, because I had offers from NYU, UPENN, UCSD, Yale, and UCLA.  I was even put on the wait-list for Harvard!!!  And not just put on the wait-list, I was personally contacted by the director to be moved off the wait-list if I was willing to accept their offer of admittance.  So basically, that was an acceptance too.  Out of the nine graduate school interviews I had attended, I was offered six positions, which can be considered a pretty high success rate, being that three of them were Ivy League schools.

Although this was an amazing opportunity, it was also a challenging situation, because I had to make a decision about where my future would lie.  (Something I have never been used to since God has usually only opened one door at a time.)  I could go to an Ivy League school on the East Coast to perform research for the next six years, or I could stay somewhere near home and enjoy the company of friends and family?  This question perplexed me for weeks.  I constantly went back and forth among schools.  Some I liked for the current graduate students.  Others I liked for their reputation (we all know which ones those are).  Others were given preference for their location.  Each school had their pros and cons.  And even after sitting down and logically trying to eliminate one after another, the week before I had to make a final decision, I was still struggling with which school to attend.  For the most part though, I was debating whether I would go to Yale or stay at UCLA.  Yale had the prestige, the great research environment and mentors, and had even given me an award called the Gruber fellowship, since they considered me an interviewee with promise.  On the other hand, UCLA had originally placed me on a wait-list and had only given me a chance after my current research mentor at UCLA wrote a strong rebuttal letter.  The choice should have been obvious.  Choose Yale.  Go to the school whose name is well-known.  Go to the school which gave you an award and wants you there.  Go to the school that people will admire you for.  But even though it seemed clear, I still struggled, because part of me did not want to leave home, friends, and family.

So instead of just going with what seemed right, I prayed and asked God for direction.  The Sunday before my deadline, Wednesday, April 15th, I asked God for a sign – that two people (directors or faculty) in the program that He wanted me to join would call me.  I didn’t want just one because then I could chalk it up to coincidence, so I asked for two.  Unfortunately, nobody called that whole day, which wasn’t unexpected being that I usually don’t ask God for signs.  On Monday, I asked again, but once again, nothing.  On Tuesday, the day before the deadline, I began to think that my sign wouldn’t come and that I would just have to make the decision on my own.  One hour after another passed, until eventually, I told God that if He could just give me one call – it would be enough.  I didn’t need both anymore, just one.  And by late afternoon, I surprisingly received a call; it was the director of UCLA’s PhD program.  He was calling to let me know that they were also giving me an award.  It was then I wondered if God really wanted me to stay at UCLA.  I had received my sign, but I was still unsure and tried to wait until the deadline to give my decision.

You may ask why I didn’t just outright obey once I received my sign.  The reason is because a huge part of me wanted to go to Yale.  When I asked for the sign, I wasn’t really concerned about getting God’s direction; rather, I was seeking His approval for a decision I was already ready to make based on my own wisdom.  I was simply asking God to give me a sign so that I could confirm that that He wanted me to go to Yale.  I wanted someone to blame if things didn’t work out well.  But when God had UCLA call, I was thrown a curve ball, because what I had expected and wanted was now different.  So I then asked for confirmation.  I wanted an additional call, but I didn’t ask for that specifically.  Instead, I asked God to simply confirm it somehow.  That Wednesday morning, my daily Proverbs reading was in Proverbs 16.  Verse after verse spoke to me:  1) Proverbs 16:1 – “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD”; 2) Proverbs 16:3 – “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established”; 3) Proverbs 16:25 – “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”  I still wasn’t happy and was hoping God would change His mind, so I told Him that if I didn’t receive another call, I would just choose Yale anyways.  So that whole day, I was hoping that maybe Yale would still make a call, and I wouldn’t get an additional one from UCLA.  But all the way up to 10 minutes before the deadline, I didn’t receive any more confirmations.  It was then up to me to decide.  God had given me the sign I asked for.  I had set the fleece out like Gideon did in the book of Judges, and He responded.  I asked for confirmation of any kind, and He gave me verses that told me to trust in Him and not my own wisdom.  He might not have given me the one more extra confirmation, but I think it was obvious what He was telling me to do – choose UCLA and decline Yale.  This was one of the hardest decisions I had to make in my life – to turn down something I had worked so hard for, for a school that didn’t want me in the first place.  But after a heartfelt struggle, I chose to obey God.

Right now, I am still puzzled as to why God would ask me to turn down this amazing offer at Yale, but I have chosen to put my trust in Him.  I won’t deny that the possibilities continue to haunt me, but I know that choosing to follow God is the most important thing in life.  Our passage today from Luke speaks to the cost for following Christ.  A disciple must be willing to give up everything for Christ, whether houses, land, family, or even one’s own desires.  My desire was to be at Yale, looked upon by my peers and family as the smartest person they know, but instead, God wanted me to be at UCLA, where the acclaim I would receive, at least for now, would only be a fraction of what it could be at Yale.  In everyone’s eyes, I was basically making a bad decision and trading the greater for the less (although UCLA is a wonderful, top-tier school), but I know that I chose what God wanted me to do.  I chose to deny myself and what I wanted to follow Christ.  Although I have no clue where the road will lead me, I know that God will work all things together for good for them that love Him (Romans 8:28).  I chose to trust this life-decision to Him and will continue to trust His guidance.

Just to give encouragement to anybody else who is in this type of situation.  By choosing to follow God on this decision, I have already had many opportunities to share my faith with people.  As people ask me why I chose UCLA, I have been able to tell my story about how I felt God was leading me to UCLA.  People get to see faith in action, which I hope will draw them to Him.

Deny yourself and follow Christ.  It is the best decision you can ever make.

Quick Note – Judges 2:10 – Leaving a Legacy

Judges 2:10 – “And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.”

I was watching a TV show called Arrow a few days ago, which tells the story of DC Comics superhero Green Arrow.  In that particular episode, “Suicidal Tendencies,” a Congressman was held “hostage” in another country called the Republic of Kasnia.  Arrow’s friends Andrew Diggle and Lyla were then sent to rescue this Congressman.  What they came to find out though was that the Congressman had actually orchestrated the whole situation.  He paid mercenaries to kidnap him and some other people and to create a hostage situation.  Then, he planned to defuse the situation and to ride the glory to an election win.  But when Lyla and Diggle found out about it, he had to switch to an alternative plan to cover up the ruse by killing all the witnesses.  It was later revealed that the reason behind his doing this was simply because he wanted to leave a legacy.  He didn’t care if he died there, for if he did, he would be portrayed as a hero and remembered forever.  If he lived, he would be portrayed as the person who defused the situation.  It was a win-win.  He would leave a lasting impact in society.  He would leave a legacy.

In our passage today, we find a sad commentary on a failed legacy.  Judges 2:10 tells us that after Joshua and the elders of Israel who first conquered the Promised Land died, there arose another generation that did not know the Lord or His work.  How could this even be?  In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the people of Israel were clearly told by Moses to teach God and His commandments to their children throughout their whole lives:

4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

They were supposed to share His Word when they got up in the morning and before they went to bed, when they were in the house or out on the streets.  They were supposed to put it on the doorposts of their house and bind it on their hands.  It was supposed to be an integral part of their daily lives.  But for some reason, Judges 2:10 tells us that the next generation did not know the Lord.  That meant that the previous generation did not do their job – they did not pass down this legacy of following God.  And because of this failure to do so, the people of Israel would eventually rebel and turn to other gods, following a pattern of sin and idolatry repeated over and over in the book of Judges.

As Christians and disciples of Jesus Christ, one of the most important commands Christ gave us was to “Go out and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19).  As the people of Israel were given the task in Deuteronomy to pass down a legacy of following and obeying God to their children, we are called to do the same with the future generation – that is what making disciples is all about.  It isn’t simply to have people come to Christ for salvation but to grow and become strong followers of His.  The problem we have in our generation of the church today is that we have become too relaxed about discipleship.  We need to get back to living the Christian life and teaching others to do the same.  Not to become legalistic but to become on fire for God.  Let us go out and leave a Christian legacy for the world.

Quick Note – Joshua 4:1-7 – Memorials

Joshua 4:1-7 – “When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 ‘Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, 3 and command them, saying, “Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.”’ 4 Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. 5 And Joshua said to them, ‘Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, 6 that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, “What do those stones mean to you?” 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.’”

Memorials are built to be a reminder of a certain event or person in history.  They are a tool to teach younger generations about what happened at a point in time and to learn from it.  In America, we have memorials everywhere.  Some memorials are placed to commemorate a person’s life, such as the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, or Mount Rushmore.  They are there to remind us of the lives of great Presidents and leaders who shaped our nation.  Other memorials are erected to remember an event in history like the World War II memorial, Korean War memorial, and Vietnam War memorial.  These memorials remind us of the sacrifice that millions of soldiers paid to give us the freedom we experience today.  Memorials are even put up in small towns to commemorate a football state-championship or a famous athlete who was born there.  In Japan, in a certain train station, they even put up a memorial for a loyal dog named Haichi, because even after his master died, he would return to that station and wait there for him to return every day.  Memorials are built to help us remember.

In our passage today, God asked the people of Israel to build a memorial after they crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land.  This memorial was composed of twelve stones, one for each tribe, taken out of the Jordan River from where the priests stood as the waters parted.  It was a reminder of the miracle that God had performed in that exact place by parting the waters of the Jordan River so that the people of Israel could cross on dry land.  Additionally, it was an apparent teaching opportunity, for when future generations would see this memorial, they would ask what it was for, which would give parents a chance to share the story of God’s protection, deliverance, and love for the people of Israel.  This memorial was actually just one of two that was placed that day, for Joshua himself built a similar memorial of twelve stones in the Jordan River itself likely for the same purpose.  They were both reminders of what God had done for them.

God has done so many wonderful things for us – things that we often take for granted and forget.  He constantly provides and protects us, making sure that our daily needs are covered.  He gives us health and the ability to enjoy the beautiful world He has created around us.  And most importantly, He gave His Son to die for our sins so that we could have a renewed relationship with Him.  We have times throughout the year like Thanksgiving and Easter to remember these more encompassing and broad gifts that God has given to everyone; but I feel that we as Christians and disciples of Jesus Christ need to also remember and commemorate the more personal blessings that He has given us by creating “memorials.”  We need to develop “trigger” ideas, words, pictures, sounds, or anything – that will cause us to remember and thank God for something He has done for us on a particular occasion.  For example, for me the verse Romans 10:13 is a “memorial” or “trigger verse” of God personally saving me, for it reminds me of how God gave me security when I doubted my salvation, for He said, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  Harvard is a “memorial” of God’s care, for when I first left home to do an internship there, He equipped and cared for me.  These are all my personal “memorials” that help me to thank God and remember His love for me.  These memorials should all be things that will cause you to automatically reflect on God and to praise Him when they appear, so that your daily life will be filled with the constant reminder of God.  What are your “memorials”?  If you don’t have any, think hard of some things that are associated with your time of salvation or a particular point in time which God worked in your life in a mighty way and build a “memorial” to commemorate what He has done for you.

Note:  Warning!  Be careful not to let your memorial become an idol.  It is easy to get caught up worshipping the memorial or the event linked to that memorial instead of God.  Remember it is a “memorial” to remind you to thank God not glorify yourself.

Quick Note – Numbers 14:11 – Appropriate Trust

Numbers 14:11 – “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will this people despise me?  And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?’”

Thor and Loki are likely the most popular Norse mythological gods known in the world today.  This can likely be attributed to their role in the recent Marvel movies Thor, Thor 2, and The Avengers.  Thor is the Nordic god of thunder who was banished to earth and eventually learned to love and to protect the earth.  Loki, on the other hand, is the Nordic god of mischief, who often played the villain using trickery and deception to win his battles.  Because of his constant deception, in Thor 2, when Thor asked Loki for help to defeat an even worse villain, he never fully trusted his adopted brother, for he knew at any point in time, his brother could betray him.  He never trusted and believed him and rightfully so.

In our culture today, we like Thor have learned to put up our guards and to avoid trusting people, never letting them in close enough to hurt us.  We tend to keep people at a distance and to hold to the principle of “the only person you can ever trust is yourself.”  People usually have to earn our trust and even then, we are still wary of giving our full faith to them.  More often than not, I would agree that this a good principle to follow, because we need to be wary and wise with who we put our trust in; but I also see this attitude being a detriment, for it prevents us from fully trusting in those people who deserve it and trying too hard to do things on our own.  A balance needs to be found in which trust is placed in those who deserve it, but not given to those who do not.

In the book of Numbers, we find the people of Israel struggling with the same issue.  In Numbers 14, the people refused to enter the Promised Land that God had given them, although God promised that He would protect and provide for them throughout their conquest.  In fear of the giants and the strength of the people in the land, the Israelites refused to obey and instead threatened to go back to Egypt, for fear that God could not deliver these people over to them.  They did not trust God to do what He said He would do.  To this God asked Moses, “And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?”  He had delivered them from Egypt, parted the Red Sea, provided manna, water, and quail for their provisions, and protected them from those who sought to attack them before; yet they still defied God and mistrusted Him.  They saw all these signs of deliverance, but they still refused to trust Him.  This was not them being careful who they put their trust in, but them refusing to trust the God who deserved and even earned their trust.  Because of their wrongful doubt of His power and love for them, God then banished these people to wander in the wilderness for the next forty years, never having the opportunity to enter the Promised Land.  Instead their children would enjoy it – the same children that they thought would be enslaved by the people of the land.

God has done amazing and wonderful things for us.  He has provided for us daily, protected us, and most importantly, He has sent His Son to die for our sins.  Yet like the Israelites, we often refuse to trust in Him.  For example, He may ask us to wait for His timing on a certain issue, but we try to go ahead on our own time.  He may want us to follow Him on a mission trip, but we try to escape wondering where we will get the provisions.  In spite of all that He has already done for us, we still doubt Him.  As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must remember all the blessings God has given us and fully place our trust in Him, trusting fully that He knows and does what is best for us (Romans 8:28).  God is the one person who deserves our full trust; let’s give it all to Him.

Quick Note – Leviticus 19:5-8 – The End Does NOT Justify the Means

Leviticus 19:5-8 – “When you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to the LORD, you shall offer it so that you may be accepted.  It shall be eaten the same day you offer it or on the day after, and anything left over until the third day shall be burned up with fire.  If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is tainted; it will not be accepted, and everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned what is holy to the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from his people.”

I really enjoy reading comic books, because I love seeing superheroes overcome the worst odds while still maintaining their integrity.  But lately, comic book writers have started to muddy the black-and-white heroes and villains and making them more gray.  Heroes have begun to compromise their values in order to reach a “peaceable” solution.  For example, in a current storyline, in order to save their own universe, heroes like Iron Man, Mister Fantastic, and the Hulk destroy other universes, sacrificing innocent people’s lives to save some of their own.  Instead of simply refusing to compromise, they settled on what they felt would be the most practical solution in the face of danger.  They chose to do what was wrong by allowing the death of another universe, so that something good could result, the saving of their own universe.  In other words, the end justified the means.

Often times, we do the same thing, in that, we use this quote to justify doing wrong for the sake of reaching a good goal.  We justify stepping over other people in order to get a promotion in our jobs.  We justify lying about our credentials in order to get a job interview.  We justify cutting a few minutes off our work schedule so that we can “get to church on time.”  But doing wrong in order to “do good” is never right.

Our passage today comes from Leviticus which is filled with laws that the Lord had set out for the people of Israel.  These laws ranged from sacrificial laws to dietary laws to farming practices.  Many Christians ignore this book and the lessons it teaches, because they feel like it has no application to us today; but in our passage, we learn an important principle from some specific laws about sacrifices.  Today’s verses describe how to offer peace offerings.  These were often voluntary offerings, which the people gave to praise God for the fellowship that they could have with Him.  To demonstrate this fellowship and peace between God and man, some of the offering would be burnt at the altar, some eaten by the priest, and some eaten by the person offering.  But even though it was voluntary, the sacrifice still had to meet specific criteria to be accepted.  It had to follow certain rules lest what was good would become tainted by disobedience.  One of these rules was that the offering needed to be consumed by the third day.  If anything was eaten on the third day, the offering would be tainted, and the good would then be considered sin.  Doing what is good but not in God’s way was equivalent to sin.  This principle is one that completely debunks the rule of “the end justifies the means.”

As Christians, if we want to do something good and right and pleasing before God, we must never do it in the wrong way.  The choices that we make on the journey to the final goal of glorify God matter and should never be compromised.  Even a little sin can taint our sacrifice and our acts of worship.  Let us be careful to never compromise the principles and values God has set for us as we seek to expand His ministry, share His Word, or worship Him.  Instead, we must be careful to have every thought and every action bring Him glory and not just our “end goal.”

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