Monday, March 24, 2014

The Parable of the Rich Fool

Luke 12:13-21
Watch out and guard yourself from all types of greed, because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
Here is a parable of a man with an abundant harvest that ran out of space to store his crop. He then thought to tear down his barn and build bigger ones. He would then say to himself that he is set for many years and he can now relax, eat, drink, and celebrate. Then that night the Lord demanded his life from him.

The seduction of success is very difficult to ignore. There are so many reasons to pursue it, and on the surface, the pursuit to fill our barn may seem like a very good choice. But there is a difference between what the worldly man does and what the godly man does. The worldly man stores up riches for himself, while the godly man is rich toward God (12:21).

The Seduction of Success.

We are spirit, soul, and body. Our body needs food and shelter, and it wants these so it may survive. There is no greed in these basic needs of our body. However, the seduction of success is not directed towards our body. Our body does not know lust, gluttony, or greed. When we need food, our body tells us through hunger. This is by no means the same as craving, for it is not our body that tells us we must eat a cake or a cheeseburger. The body, with regards to food, only has the signals of intensity of hunger— whether we are full, satisfied, hungry or starving. Our body also signals us when we are sick, so when we are tired, we sleep, and when we are exposed to the elements, we seek shelter. The body does not demand a king sized bed in four rooms of our house, nor a chandelier in our living room. To provide for our body is to work to fill the small barn.

Seeing that the body only asks for as much as it needs and not to excess. It is in the realm of the soul that greed, gluttony, and lust are present. It is of the body to be hungry and need food, but it is of the soul to demand that it should be this or that, or bought from this specific place.

I use the word “demand,” because that is what a selfish soul does. Food from fancy restaurants and a nice sweet chocolate cake are not sinful in itself, but when our soul demands that we must have it and we cannot do otherwise but bend our will to the demands of our soul, then we ought to be careful. It is when our soul demands and our will breaks and we give in, that we start to fill the bigger barn. This is because our soul, when fed with what it wants would naturally want more. If our soul says that it will be satisfied with a nice pair of shoes, and we feed its demands, it will soon ask for a bicycle, then after that a car. Our soulish desires would escalate and would soon rise to the level of sin when we end up being a slave to it. There will be no end to our greed. This is the seduction of success.

On the surface, hard work and material success seem like something good to strive for. Through it, we show that we are responsible enough to provide for ourselves and we are not a burden to other people. Through wealth we can save more and thereby give more. After all, hundreds of well meaning poor people can give a small amount, and the total of the funds they give would not even match one donation from a wealthy man. Quantity, however, is not how the Lord recognises our work. Remember the widow’s offering (Mark 12:41-44) and see how the rich man gave out of his abundance while the widow gave everything she has. The rich man, though the quantity of what he gave was larger, was still laying up treasure for himself. It was the widow’s offering that Jesus recognised to be of higher value.

Underneath the surface of every man’s wealth and industry lies the reason behind his work. Is it covetousness that makes him work? Is it the seduction of success? Is it a demanding soul that makes him labor day after day? If it is, then he must learn to guard himself from such greed.

What then does Jesus ask of us? Is it to labor to fill the small barn but not the bigger barn? Should we work to satisfy our body but starve the demanding soul? Jesus says no such thing.

We are spirit, soul, and body. To work to satisfy the body would make us equal to animals. We would be nothing more than soulless beasts. To work to satisfy the demanding soul would make us human— a sinful greedy human. To work to satisfy the spirit, however, is what Jesus calls us to do. He tells us to be rich toward God.

Rich toward God.

Jesus ends the parable of the rich fool with the words, “rich toward God.” He then elaborates on this by telling his disciples to not be anxious about the needs of the body, but instead to, “seek his kingdom.” Jesus says, “Seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” (12:31) Seek his kingdom and the needs of your body will be provided for. This is our work: to seek his kingdom.

How then will our body be provided for if we do not work to feed and shelter it? God will provide. We do not need to strive; yet we shall be fed and clothed. We are to seek the Kingdom of God, and it is from this that God would fulfil His promise to provide for the body.

Let me illustrate: a dog without a master roams the streets looking for food. His work is to strive to find the next meal. A dog with a master, however, seeks the presence of his master because of loyalty and love. Yet the dog with a master is well fed.

The parable of the rich fool is there to show us what covetousness looks like. Our response is certainly not to imitate the rich fool, and neither is it to be the fool with the small barn. Having seen what covetousness looks like, our response is to do away with the barns altogether, for these barns represent the riches for ourselves. Instead we work to be rich toward God, seeking His kingdom first, and trusting Him to provide us with the food (12:24) and clothing (12:28).

Note as well that the Lord has promised to provide for the needs of the body but there is no mention of Him providing for the demands of the selfish soul. God will not feed your sinfulness. Instead he sent His son Jesus to die on the cross so that your sinfulness may be crucified with him. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead and now He lives so that your spirit may live in Him as well.

God will provide for the body but He crucified the soul. Because of this, we are no longer under the power of the demands of our soul and we are more than able, through Jesus Christ, to be free from the grasp of sin. Not by our own effort can we overcome sin, because then that would be our own soul trying to please God, but through Jesus Christ can we reckon our soul dead in Christ and our spirit alive in Him.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

All Your Heart, All Your Soul, All Your Mind, and All Your Strength

Mark 11:28-34

Love God

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God. Love. This is why many people say that Christianity is a relationship. Love God, Abide in Christ, Seek First the Kingdom, Come to me; these are all commands that either establish or nurture a relationship.

It is true that there are commands in the Bible that seem not to be in the same line as having a relationship with God. All you have to do is see how these commands came about and you will understand that even these commands are based on having a relationship with God.

The Ten Commandments comes from a relationship.

The Ten Commandments may seem like a list of things to do and not to do, but let us look at it closer. It begins like this: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…” This is the grace God has shown the Israelites. He rescued them from slavery. Then the Lord says: “…you shall have no other gods before me.” The emphasis of this commandment is not that idolatry is bad (though it really is) but that Israel’s rescuer is asking them to love Him. Isn’t that what is right?

Let me illustrate. Suppose a fireman were to rescue me from a burning building. As I recover, I seek out the fireman that saved me, and in plain view, instead go to a random stranger and thank him, giving him gifts of gratitude. Wouldn’t my show of thanks be better directed to my rescuer? It is the same thing.

The same principle of showing our love and gratitude to God is seen in the next commandment: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image…” And the commandments thereafter spring from a relationship that has been established.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” Would we dare misuse the name of our father? With any intimate relationship comes respect and honour.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Again an acknowledgment that the Lord is God. Just like celebrating your birthday with your dad, you acknowledge the day he became a father. The bible explains this commandment like this: “For in six days the Lord made Heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.” He is effectively saying, “Stop working, have a break today, and come celebrate with me. Use this day to remember that I created everything, including you.”

The next six commandments are not directed Godward, but man-ward— that is, to fellow men. The summary of the next six commandments is what Jesus later said in our verse: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” We shall not go into detail, but let us just touch on how this is still a product of a relationship with God.

With God as our Father, our fellowmen are our siblings. Even if we do not like our brother or sister, we live with them and try our best to get along with them for the simple reason that they are our brother or sister. Why are they our brother or sister? Because they came from the same parents as we did. Therefore, our relationship with our siblings is a product of our relationship with our parents. It is the same in God’s family. Treat fellow believers as siblings for we share the same Father. Treat the unbelievers as potential adoptive siblings (since that is what we are as well— adopted children). Treat the unbelievers with love and kindness, telling them and showing them what it is like being in God’s family.
What other command is there in the Bible that seems like a legalistic order to do or not do? I did not do a comprehensive search, but from the top of my head I can think of another: “Repent ye therefore and be converted.” And elsewhere in the same book: “Repent and be baptised.”

Repent and be baptised.

Earlier I mentioned that we treat those that do not believe in Christ as potential adoptive siblings, for this is what we were before we came to know His saving grace. Since we are up for adoption then we are not yet children of God, but rather children of the government or of the streets. Once a child is adopted he takes on the surname of his new family. He becomes one of them and identified with them. He is no longer a child of the streets, but now is a child of his new father.

Similarly, when we repent, it is the same as saying, “I am no longer a child of the streets or of the government.” For us Christians though, we say, “I am no longer a child of unrighteousness or of the corrupt system of this world.” And as the child announces that he has a new family so we announce, “I have joined the family of God. He is my Father, and Christ is the firstborn among us.”

Do you see? To repent is to say no to the old dealings of sin, and to be converted is to join into God’s family. To be baptised is merely to announce to the world your new family— the equivalent of registering your adoption papers and making it a public record.

All of you.

There may be other commands in the Bible that I could not remember right now, but they all stem out from our relationship with God. For this reason the greatest commandment is to Love the Lord your God— to establish your relationship with Him— and to do so with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

This brings us to the next segment which revolves around the word “all.” We are to love God with all our faculties: emotional, behavioural, mental, and physical. In Romans 6:13 it says, “…but present yourself… and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” The word members refers to the parts of our body and our being.

This is not a reflection on how much we are told to surrender as though it is a calculated decision as to what portion of our being we give to whom. This is rather a reflection on how utterly deep our love for God is that we love Him with all of ourselves. I bring up Romans 6:13 because of its use of the phrase “your members.” It is true that they both mean the same thing as “all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” but I find it is easier to see our flaws when our thoughts and deeds are broken down to its members.

Mouth. Has this member of your body been showing your love for God? What was your last conversation about? Was it something flippant, idle, or even something that tears other people down? Was it gossip or ridiculing a person?

Eyes. What have you been watching or reading lately? Did any of it serve beneficial to your relationship with the Lord?

Energy. Did we use up our energy yesterday in games and other useless activities, coming home too tired for prayer and the study of God’s word?

The pattern is evident and we can continue to look at ourselves and see how short we come to what God wants for us. However let us not dwell on our failures— for there will always be many— but let us look to the cross instead! “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

For all have sinned, and all have been justified by His grace.

Though we may fail to love God with the whole of ourselves, we are not judged by that command. We are given grace! That means that though we do not deserve it, though we do not love God as much as we should, we are given our righteousness as a gift. Our unrighteousness has been nailed to the cross with Christ. Therefore, as we go about our work day to day, we present our members to God as instruments for righteousness. However if we do fail, we consider Christ’s finished work on the cross and say, “Forgive me Lord for my sins, but now I thank you for your forgiving grace.” No longer would our mistakes lead us to despair and depression, instead the grace of God would bring us to glory with Him.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Be Loyal to the Truth

Mark 11:27-33

The Authority of Jesus Questioned
They discussed with one another, saying “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From people—’” (they feared the crowd, for they all considered John to be truly a prophet). So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” 
Not all questions are from a seeking mind. Here the chief priests asks Jesus by what authority does he operate in; and this is a question not of a seeking mind, but of one who wants to tear Jesus down. They want to trap him. So when Jesus bounced back the question at them, asking them about John the Baptist’s ministry, the chief priests couldn’t give a straight answer. Instead they discussed among themselves what the safe answer would be; and having found none, they answered: “We don’t know.”

See here the double-tongued nature of the chief priests. On the outside they seem to be asking a perfectly legitimate question, but their motives aren’t pure. Many of us are so good in telling lies that we coach them in such deceiving words that it seems to be something from God. This way we hide the deceitfulness of our hearts.

Consider the words: “I’ll pray about it.” On the outside it may seem like the words of a man of faith. However, this may very well be a phrase to hide the fact you do not want to do a task. And if we say outright that we do not want to do something, we would seem less of a “Man of God” than we would like others to think.

Similarly the words: “God has spoken to me.” On the outside it seems that a word of the Lord has come to you and you must obey. However, is it not possible that we say these words so we will have our way without other people asking questions to the practicality, feasibility, or necessity of a task? If God has spoken, then there is no more room for discussion and counsel from fellow Christians.

The effectiveness of this deceit lies in the fact that they mask themselves in truth. There are people who say that they’ll pray about something, and there are people who have had received a word of instruction from the Lord. When we look at people who claim these things we can hardly discern the one that speaks the truth from the one that is telling a lie.

When I was growing up I believed a lie was as simple as saying a pen is blue when in fact it is red. Or that I didn’t take something when in fact I did. But deceitfulness could be a subtle repositioning of true things to hide your motive. One can tell the truth but leave out a detail so the whole story will still be in their favour. Or one can manipulate the circumstances to their advantage, like demanding an answer now and not giving them enough time to think. Or one can use big words or sentences that can have multiple interpretations to do something without it being technically a lie.

It all boils down to motive. This is difficult to see in other people, but this is in plain view when we commit the deceit ourselves. God be merciful to us if we have done this before or if we continue to do this.

The trait we need to develop to guard ourselves from committing this deceit is loyalty to the truth. We should raise up the truth to be more important than our selves. We should regard the truth to be of more worth than how other people perceive us, our social standing, or the thickness of our wallets.

To hold anything more important than ourselves is very difficult. As people we almost always regard ourselves as priority. We save money to make sure we are comfortable before we give to others. We secure ourselves first before we think of helping others. This is only natural, however as Christians we need to be supernatural. Jesus is the greatest example of thinking of others before thinking of the self— He gave up His life so that we may live.

May we be more like Christ. May we develop in us more of His character as we spend time with Him in prayer and in His word.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Servant of All

Mark 10:35-45

Servant of All
"For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45
A ransom is a payment made to buy back something that has been taken away from you. Jesus calls his death a ransom. He gave up His life to buy back ours, and that is His act of service. Here Jesus asks us to be a servant like Him and He sets his life as an example for us to follow.

Looking at Jesus' act of service we see Him talking about the cup that He must drink from. This is the same cup He would later ask His Father to take away. However, Jesus knows The will of His Father and submitted himself to it. This is the cup that contains Jesus' flogging, his torture, his mocking, his humiliation. This is the cup that contains Jesus' crucifixion and his death. This is the cup of suffering; and now He is telling James and John to drink out if it as well.

Christianity is not about being comfortable, wealthy, healthy, and independent. Christianity is about our sin, God's grace and forgiveness, and the Glory He gets. Whether you live in a mansion or are trapped in a dungeon, God would use you to show His glory. This may be by letting you stay where you are, or moving you up and down the social ladder. Ultimately, we are not to pin our hopes in this world. God is sovereign and He will feel free to put us where we need to be-- regardless if we want it or not. I doubt the human side of Jesus wanted to be beaten and killed, and yet that was His calling. Are we to expect better treatment than our Lord? Certainly not! But whether in plenty or in times of need, whether in strength or in sickness, we shall be servants to others and to our Lord, just as Jesus was a servant to us.

May we check our pride that we do not make a show of our power and strength. But having the same mind as our God, have enough humility to be a servant of all.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Great Refusal

Mark 10:17-31

A rich young man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honour your father and mother.” The young man said that he did keep these commandments from his youth. Jesus looked at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” In verse 22, it says:
"Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions."
Jesus’ words made this young man’s sin clear. By telling him to let go of his possessions he made clear the state of his heart: That he valued his wealth more than God. This goes against the 1st commandment: “You shall not have any other gods before me.” The rich young man broke this commandment.

We are just like this rich young man. How often do we hold back from fully trusting in Christ because we still have some treasures in this world? How much time with Christ and His work do we miss out of because we are “enjoying” our treasures? And how difficult it is to give up these treasures! Spend a week with no worldly entertainment and see how difficult it is. All of a sudden a new episode of your favourite show comes on, or a movie you “just have to watch” is showing in the cinema. Facebook posts from your friends are suddenly very interesting, and there are invitations to parties from your friends.

There is a difference between controlling your worldly treasure and being controlled by it. We can enjoy the fruits of our labor, but we must not labor for these fruits. Our lives should not be controlled by the things of the world, even by the good things of the world. Tell yourself what Jesus told the rich young ruler: “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor.” Now be honest and gauge your reaction. Is this something you can really do? Or is this something too difficult for you to do?

I personally could not do it myself. If I were the rich young man, I would most likely have turned away just as he did. This is because trusting in Jesus is not something we can do by our own effort. Jesus himself said that it was impossible, he said, “With man it is impossible,” then he continued that statement with the key to unlocking our faith: “but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

We are the rich young man. We are as guilty as he is: loving this world more than God. But it is because of our missing the mark, falling short of perfection, and living in sin that God had to send His only son, Jesus Christ. He took on our sin upon himself and took on the punishment for our sin as well. So he died on the cross so that we can be set free. And now because of this freedom we are growing more and more mature in Christ; and someday we may be able to say “Amen!” when we read this verse:
Hebrews 10:34: You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 
By the grace of God, we will be able to live with eternity in mind, and to follow Christ to the fullest.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Leave and Cleave

Mark 10:1-12

Leave and Cleave
Jesus spoke to the Pharisees about divorce. He then explained why it was wrong (although allowed by law). He said that God made male and female to be together, and because of this, a man leaves father and mother, and in marriage he becomes one flesh with a woman.

The first part is to leave the parents. The family unit is composed of parents and children, but when one of the children marries, then the family unit has changed. It does not become an extended family, it actually reduces into a smaller family unit. The married child must leave his or her family unit and start their own.

This does mean a geographical leaving— that is, they should no longer live under the same roof. More importantly, this also means a psychological leaving— where the couple depend on themselves rather than depending on the parents. This means there shouldn’t be daily telephone calls to parents to talk about family matters. This means decisions that affect the family should be made by couple themselves and not dictated by their parents. This is difficult to do because the children have been used to growing up with their parents and the parents have been used to providing for their children for many years.

In the same way, when Jesus calls us to leave everything and follow him, there exists a similar hardship. Jesus would later talk about leaving their home, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farm (work/business) for Christ and for the Gospel. This is Jesus’ call to those that want to follow Him. It is not an easy call to follow and it requires so much faith.

Leaving, however, is not all one must do. The next thing they do is cleave. This means the husband will be joined to his wife, no longer two individuals, but forming a new unity. Many married couples are really two individuals sharing a home and a bed; each one living as if they are single and doing whatever it is they want. What must be done, however, is to unite with your spouse, to have one mind, to know each others wants, needs, and preferences.

As marriage is a depiction of our life with Christ, then this is also a picture of how we should relate to Christ. This is how we are to abide in Him: like a wife abiding in her husband. We spend time listening to His word, spend time praying, spend time thinking about Christ. We learn what He likes— the spreading of the Gospel, giving to those in need, spending time in worship. We learn what He doesn’t like— disobedience, breaking the law (both moral and the country’s laws), being ashamed of him in front of other people.

Both in marriage and in our relationship with Jesus, we may use our own willpower to do things the other person likes. This won’t last long. Soon we grow tired of working for the other person and would want, instead, to work to please ourselves. However, being united (abiding) means we don’t work for the other person, rather we become one with the other person. This way, doing the things they want is exactly the same as doing the things you want for yourself. That is, your happiness is in their happiness.

May God grant us the faith we need to leave the world and all that it offers. May he give us the grace to be able to be one with Himself, knowing all His wishes and desires.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

From the Mountain of Glory to the Valley of the Demon

Mark 9:2-29

Life, as they say, is a roller-coaster. Some days you're happy and some days you're sad. The Christian walk is not immune to this. Jesus, coming from communing with the Father, with Elijah, and with Moses, comes down to the valley to find a demon-possessed boy. To make matters worse, his disciples were unable to cast out that demon. From the mountain of joy straight to the valley of despair.

There will be days when our Joy in the Lord is so great that we sometimes think it will last forever, only to find ourselves stumbling along after a week or two. That is why we are told to seek first the Kingdom of God, to abide in Jesus Christ, to come all of us who are weary and heavy-burdened. Seek, abide, and come-- words of action.

If we do not act then we are dependent on the circumstances around us. We may have a good day at work with no problems in the household, or a preacher spoke of God and we are encouraged. The expenses are within the budget and everything is just going well. So we, with exceeding joy, may find it easy to abide in Jesus. With joy we talk to others about God's grace. With joy we go about our day with the grace of our Lord.

However, when the stress of work comes, and the cares of this world choke us. When there is a problem in the household-- maybe a member is sick. The bills we have to pay are huge and the money we have left in the bank is not enough. When things are going badly, do we then sink to despair? Our soul starts to dry up and now seeking God doesn't seem so easy, abiding in Jesus seems like a chore, coming to Christ seems like an uphill climb.

Do not give up, stand firm in the faith. They call it "the good fight" for a reason. If joy does not let you glide through abiding in Christ, then let duty force you through it for a time (but only for a time). C.S. Lewis said:
“A perfect man would never act from a sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people) like a crutch which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it is idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits etc.) can do the journey on their own.”
So seek the Lord, abide in Christ, even if done for the sake of duty. For when joy seems far away and our soul is dry and weary we can call out to the Lord:
"O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water." (Psalm 63:1) 
When we seek Him, He will be found, and when He is found, we shall have exceeding joy:
"Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy." (Psalm 43:4).

When we are filled with joy, seeking the Kingdom of God, abiding in Jesus, and coming to Him are very easy to do. Joy makes these things easy and that is how we should go about our day. But when we don't feel like seeking, abiding, and coming to Him, still continue and fight for joy (and I need to emphasize fight, because it will be hard and laborious for a time). Call out to God. When you do, you will have exceeding joy once more.