Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Pure Religion in God's Eyes

This is my personal summary sermon of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong's Sermon on James 1:26-27 on 28 August 2005

How do we know if a person is godly?
From passive angle, speech control is a very clear judgment of spirituality.

Sometimes within 10 minutes of talk you can tell a person's principles and spiritual level. James 1:26 tells us that we can judge a person's spirituality by the things he speaks. Often times the more a person reasons, the more he excuses himself, justifies himself and conceals himself. Often times the more you talk the less you influence.

When we measure ourselves by ourselves, we are trapped in ourselves. If we use others to measure ourselves, we are trapped in man-centeredness. Our judgment is often influenced by those around us. The knowledge of self in Christianity is seen from how God looks at us. Before God, we can recognize how shallow we are and what a long way we have to go. Only in this state, our spirituality can grow.

A godly man is full of self-control. When you are guarded by the Word of God, you can keep speaking and the words are still helpful because all the words are controlled.

In speech, we should also think of when to speak and when not to speak. We damage relationships by speaking too early certain things that should be reserved for later time. It is silly to monopolize a conversation, to outtalk another person or to block a person's conversation. If you realize that others have things to contribute, you should let them speak and you take the opportunity to learn.

From active angle, spirituality is manifested in our care for others. A godly person is not selfish but self-sacrificial. It is not possible to live abundant life if we cannot break through from our own lives.

How do we help others? We need to obtain abundant life before trying to help others. Helping others is not just a question of motivation, degree or skill. It is a question of whether you have abundant life or not.

Abundant life is built upon the foundation of self-sacrifice. Only when a person can leave himself, can abundant life be possible. Jesus says to deny ourselves else we cannot follow Him. In this freedom from ourselves, we become the disciples of Christ.

Religions see sin only from external actions. Only Christianity sees sin from self-centeredness as the foundation of sin. Pure and faultless religiosity start from motivation.

Ethics of Christianity is not actions. Christianity is the ethics of motives. Men look at the external but God looks at the heart.

Life is not dependent on our possessions, our length of life, or people's opinions of us, whether praise or despise. All these cannot represent the value of our life. It is before God that we measure the value of our life.

Deep in our heart, are we truly honest before God? In all we do, do we have other motives? Motivation combined with teaching of pure Truth is very precious, regardless of methods, experience or education. If a person wants glory from others, he is not true. Only a person who wants the glory of God is true. Are we true?

The pulpit is full of useless messages and gossips spread faster than the gospel. A lot of churches now take away the glory from God and serve themselves in their fervency. The more people like that fill the church, the more hypocrisy there is. The saddest thing in the world is to have given up everything for the Lord, and to be given up by Him because He refuses to use us due to our deceit.

We need to solemnly ask ourselves why we do what we do. When we are pure, our words and our ministry are very powerful.

Next to pure motivation, another important thing in ministry is willingness to condescend and sacrifice ourselves. Many pastors continue to move up and are in the worst spiritual state when they are at their highest posts. There is nothing wrong with promotion itself, but our heart has to go down to those poorer than us. We need to develop and maintain a strong sense of direction in our ministry.

Ministry is love. Love is not to take, but to share. Love is not for self, but to deny self. Love is not to gain but to give up. A lot of times, our seeking, our pursuit, our admiration, are really for ourselves and not others. Whether we can love the unlovable tells where we are spiritually. We ought to ask ourselves what contributions we have done to those lower than us and why do we choose to serve those of equal status or higher status than us.

Even when sympathizing the poor, we need to understand the fundamental love. Else our sympathy is filled with pride and the emotion is one of superiority. This kind of sympathy blocks self-sacrificial love. When we understand that we are made in the image of God, and are able to see our fellow human beings in this way, we can love without retaining a superior status.

Verse 27 also ends by saying that we need to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world. So in our lifestyle of helping others, we need to beware that we do not fall into traps of temptation and sin. This is true religion in God's eyes.
Personal Note: Basically purity is defined as the heart that does begins and ends in God. It cannot be defined without relation with our heart towards God Himself. With this kind of heart, our good works are rooted in pure foundation of Truth.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Speech and Spirituality

This is part of the sermon by Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 21 August 2005 on James 1:26

According to James 1:26, a person who has no tight rein on his tongue is ungodly. He considers himself religious but he does not constrain his tongue, therefore he deceives himself.

A person who has self-control can control the world. And self-control begins from the control of the tongue. If we cannot control our tongue, we cannot control other parts of our life.

Why do people make so many errors in their speech? The reason is because most people do not really understand the meaning of the words they say. We don't take seriously the process between understanding and expression.
Meaning is the foundation of language. Logos is the foundation of meaning. And it is the Spirit that expresses the Logos to us. So there is a relationship between spirituality and speech. Our speech is the expression of our relationship with the Truth. Tongue then, is a tool for spirituality.

There are 4 beings that can express meaning (speak): God, humans, angels and devil. Here we see that these are beings with spirit, therefore are able to express meaning.

The things we say reflect our spiritual state. So how do we speak cautiously to express the Truth and to have a right relationship with the Truth? There is a relationship between God's Word and the words we speak and this determines whether we are truly godly.

From passive side, there are things we never should utter with our mouth.

1. Filthy words. Shameful words and words of lust. We should not even speak of them but our mouth should be sanctified.
2. Words that destroy others' hope and faith.

3. Irresponsible words (rumors) that cannot be accounted for.
Often we simply pass on messages which are wrong and when asked to prove our case we have nothing to say. We are doing Satan's work without pay!

4. Words that destroy other's reputation. A true gentleman will be able to constrain things for himself. It is very evil to destroy people's reputation while they have worked their whole life to build it up.

5. Words that create greater misunderstanding. It is hard to make peace once people enter into conflicts so we should try to stop propagating misunderstanding.

From active side, we need to speak the Truth in love and build up others for their sake. We need both the right motivation and wisdom to reach better expression. We should speak words that are worthy to be recorded, worthy to be repeated. These words have great value.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

What Young People Lack Today : Trials unto A Glorified Life

This is taken from part of Rev.Stephen Tong's expository of James on 13th February and 6th March 2005 regarding the necessity of trials in our lives, especially for the youngsters.

Often we think that we are great when we succeed and do well in life. When do we think that we have no wisdom? At time of poverty and persecution. At difficult times when we try our best and realize that we still cannot make it, we find that we need more wisdom.

Many young people are very confident of themselves, of their plan, their determination, their direction, their work, etc. They cast aside the words of the wise and the ancient and in their over-confidence they look at sufferings lightly, beautify things in their own imagination, and therefore devise all the wrong strategies for their life. Here are the weaknesses of the young generation:

- Over-confident
- Despise sufferings
- Disregard other people's experiences
- Miscalculate, misconduct, misjudge because of their idealization

Because of this, they will definitely fail and then begin to realize that they are human beings and not God. A lot of people pay high price for not worthwhile things. They waste time and energy and life. The greatest stupidity is in not knowing our own stupidity. The greatest waste is in not knowing how much we have wasted. The greatest crisis is the ignorance of crisis. Many people have to do so many things only to come back to square one and restart all over again.

Trials are related to Life. It is a glorified Life. A person without trials can have a very smooth and comfortable life and even appear very successful. But this is not a life that is glorified. It is a life that is shallow and immature. An old person who has not gone through much suffering has a very immature thinking but a young man who has gone through sufferings will have a mature character. Suffering is related to glory. The glory after trials is of great value.

What will happen if we lack trials in our life?

1. We will take God's grace for granted.
We take it as a normal thing that should be given to us so we no longer know how to give thanks. We don't know what it is like to have the grace withdrawn from us. A person who has not suffered will not treasure grace. We have Bible and we take it as a normal thing and often read our Bible without a heart of thanksgiving. It is a common phenomena that a place where the Bible is banned is the place where it is most read and treasured. Why would God remove opportunities and sometimes take away the freedom and the grace He gives us? Because He wants us to learn to respect His grace.

2. We will become self-righteous. We see all success as our own and we think that we receive because we deserve it. This is a very dangerous concept where people recognize their own works far more than they recognize God's grace.

3. We will not seek after God. We will live in the grace of God, but not in God. We know how to enjoy the grace of God, but not God Himself. But when sufferings come, we cannot grasp His grace that we commonly have and we learn to leave them and to enjoy God Himself. People who do not go through trials not only trample God’s grace, but often times even steal God’s glory.

4. We are ignorant of sufferings of others. We take it as their fate and destiny that has nothing to do with us. We have no empathy. All our actions come from our doctrine of God. Human hearts are too hard. Many Christians’ heart are very hard too. By very great trials, we will finally begin to open our heart a little bit to God. A person who has suffered will know how to empathize with others and comfort others and be of great help to others.

Two possible results of sufferings: We fail and bow to sufferings, or we ride over sufferings and triumph over them.

In Revelations 2:10 Jesus said to the church in Smyrna that they need to be faithful to the end, even unto death and they would receive the crown of life. Here we see again that trials are related to a glorified life.

Socrates said that an unexamined life is not worth living. It means that we are not worth living on this earth. In this, he affirms the value of sufferings.

If our lives are only enjoyable we will become harder in heart. We will not be moved by the sufferings of others. We don't even want to know. We cannot be of any help at all. What is the point of living on this earth then? Many people just want to live robotically and wait till they see God face to face.

We should rather treat trials as great joy. A mere life is different from a life with a crown of life.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Positioning the Importance of Reformed Theology - The Centermost of the Center

A Brief Introduction of the Position of Reformed Movement
By Dr.Stephen Tong on 24 July 2005

God's creation is not all of equal importance but has a central focus. The central focus of God's creation is human being as only human being is made in the image of God. Mankind is the center of the universe, the center of God's creation.

There are now 6 billion people in the world. There are a lot more if we look at the entire history. These are all made in the image of God, so we are all the climax of creation. But within this, there is a central focus of mankind, that is, the Church. So the Church is the central focus of mankind. It is not any visible church but the holy and catholic Church, the Invisible and Eternal Church. It is the Church that inherits the history of salvation and receives God's guidance through His revelation.

In this Church, there is also a central focus. It is those people who are faithful to the Word of God and live in the center of His Revelation. It is those who live by relying on faith in God through His revelation and to glorify Him. Therefore the reformed movement is the central focus of the Church. Whether we are giving seminar or building a church, the reformed movement is not another movement or another church to have competition with other spiritual organizations, but it is revealing the inner thoughts of God's heart. It is the center of creation, it is the center of redemptive history, and even above that, it is in union with the center of God's eternal will.

Knowing this position, we do our ministry with fullness of confidence. We build our faith upon pure foundation and inherit the cultural mandate that is pleasing to God. We participate in the gospel movement that is according to Jesus Christ. With the understanding of the value and the qualitative difference, we treasure all the demands of reformed movement and partake in it with a solemn, firm and sincere spirit.

With this, we will bear fruits that last and we receive right knowledge that we ought to have in correct thought system. We need both right doctrinal knowledge and fervent evangelical spirit.