Monday, February 19, 2007

Time and Wisdom

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 18th February 2007 in GRIIS, on Time and Wisdom, as a special message for Chinese New Year today. It was preached in Indonesian and I personally translated to English.

Psalms 90:12

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

How should we count our days?
How should we utilize our time?
How should we live our life?

Bertrand Russell said that we live in a world that is full of knowledge but lack in wisdom. This is so true, and true of him as well. He is a man with great knowledge but poor morality.

Moses understood it right when he asked for “a heart of wisdom” because wisdom is not knowledge in the head, but it is in the heart. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge. If we have a lot of knowledge but have no wisdom, we are like a big ship without a rudder to control our direction. Hence great knowledge need to be controlled by high morality. Otherwise humans would only become smarter devils who poison themselves and others.

Plato said that our will (impulse) should be controlled by our passion (emotions), and our passion should be controlled by our rationality. He said that our human body has shown such design. Human heart is above the sex organ, while the head is above the heart. This shows that our thinking should direct our love, while our love should direct our impulses. This is a great wisdom but this is also the limit where Greek philosophy stops.

If we further ask, what then controls the rationality, the Greek philosophy has no answers.

Wisdom becomes the foundation of all our knowledge. Wisdom is related to time and morality. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle all agree that wisdom is in true virtues because true virtues lead to true happiness. This is great and correct.

However, the Bible’s concept of wisdom surpasses human philosophy and has another element, that is time. What is time? Augustine is a man in history who has very deep understanding of time. Yet he said that before we ask him what is time, he thought he knew, but once we ask, he suddenly realize that he did not know what time is. Time is a very abstract thing, yet very real and we are all affected by it.

How is counting our days related to wisdom? It is related, because it tells us that our decades of life on earth is linked with the eternal God to whom we must give an account. A person who is not conscious of the existence of time can never be close to God. Time is connected to eternity. People who are not conscious of time will live more like animals.

Someone once says that any moment in history is in contact with God. This is a significant statement. This very present moment we have is the moment we can use to have positive or negative eternal impact. Whether we realize it or not, time is constantly shifting us towards the storeroom of history.

What then is the definition of time? The British came up with the statement that time is money. This is a very shallow statement because we cannot use money to buy time to extend our life if God demands it today. The Chinese came up with a similar statement that an inch of time is worth an ounce of gold, but added that it is hard to buy an inch of time with an ounce of gold. This is to say that time is more valuable than money. But these definitions are not good enough.

There are 4 possible definitions according to Scriptures’ teaching:

1. Time is our asset. Time and space are the foundational coordinates that contain our existence. They are the most fundamental assets we have in life. Without time and space, we cannot define our existence on earth. Our birth certificate and tombstone would record both the time and location of our birth and death.

2. Time is our life. If we insult our life, we will waste our time. If we value our time, we will value our life.

3. Time is our opportunity. It is the container of all our opportunities. No opportunity exists outside of time. We need to learn to catch the moments and opportunities hidden in this container called time. Charles Spurgeon said people who are just waiting for greater opportunity are bound to meet with greater sorrow and regret. A wise man seeks opportunity, an ordinary man waits for opportunity while a foolish man neglects his opportunity.

4. Time is our record. Everything we think, say and do in time is all recorded. So time becomes the record of the narrative of our lives. What then are we recording, what are we signing in our paper of life?

If in time, we contain things that are meaningful in the eyes of God, then what we do on earth would surpass time, and would never become obsolete in the storeroom of history as time shifts us, but would last unto eternity.

Therefore, young men and women, do not waste your time.

Humanity in Sin Part 5 - The First Murder

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on his apologetics series on the Fall of Man on 21st January 2007. After this, the next session would be on 25th February 2007 as Rev.Tong is on his annual ministry trip to USA.

Reading: Genesis 4

The first son born was Cain. But this is not the promised seed mentioned in Gen.3:15 who would crush the head of Satan. The second son was Abel and Cain would later kill him. Out of hatred and jealousy, murder came forth. The hatred of humanity began here.

Why do we kill? When we are confused in our relationship with God, we will also be confused in our interrelationship. Hence hatred that comes from religion is worse than other hatred. Since man-made religion absolutizes the non-absolute, there can be no true peace in humanity through man-made religion.

Both Cain and Able believed in God’s existence and offered sacrifices to God. Cain brought the furit of the soil to God while Abel brought the most valuable of his cattle to God. This shows different attitudes towards God although they receive the same education from the same parents. It is not how much we have heard, but how much we have been transformed that matter. Cain is a farmer so there is nothing wrong to give the fruit of his soil to God. Abel is a shepherd so there is nothing wrong in giving his animals to God. But the Bible specifically stated that Abel gave the firstfruit of his flock to God. Giving the firstborn indicates that he gave the very best to God.

Could it also be because of blood requirement in the sacrifice hence Abel’s offering is accepted while Cain’s was rejected? Not necessarily. We see the answer from God’s response, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires to have you but you must master it.” (Gen.4:6)

There is no mention of sacrifice here. God is pleased with good works. This is not to say that good works save but it only says that it pleases God and it stops there. Old Testament has this principle. New Testament shows this principle as well, like the case of Cornellius. It pleases God that we follow the principle of righteousness, goodness and truth. Micah 6:9 says God requires us to act justly, to love mercy and in humility to walk with God. This is the highest standard of good works. (Personal Note: If good works saves, there is no need for sacrifice. But sacrifices are still offered to God as a symbol of atonement, hence good works cannot save).

When things are not going well, we do not look into ourselves but tend to blame God and others. Why do we demand so highly of others but so loosely of ourselves? We gain the understanding of God’s Almighty power not to submit to His sovereignty but to use it to serve ourselves. Human psychology is evil from the root. We demand life to be the way we want in order to be feel happy. If life is smooth, we think it should be that way. If it is difficult, we think it should not be that way.

Hence Cain is in the state of self-victimization. Instead of asking what God wants him to do, he imposed that God is making life difficult for him. God spoke of the word ‘sin’ for the first time in this passage, and it comes not as an action, but as an external force. The term ‘sin’ here is singular. Romans 1-4 uses sin as a plural term while Romans 5-8 uses sin as a singular term.

As a singular term, sin is a status, a personified power. It desired after Cain but Cain could not conquer it. Many people fail because of this. We must master the things that desire over us.

Arrogance, jealousy and anger are stuffs we commit without self-awareness. It is hard for us to detect them and such state make us forget that we are made in the image of God. Cain was angry and God asked, “Why are you angry?” This shows that God denies the rationale of human’s fallen anger. When we are angry, we presuppose that we ought not go through what we go through and that our dissatisfaction is reasonable. As we feel victimized, we pass judgment on the Judge of the Universe who should judge us. When God still gives warning and His power of judgement has not reached us, we need to be thankful and repent.

But Cain did not listen and allow sin to conquer him. He killed Abel as he thought if Abel did not exist he would have a good life. That is a naïve and silly thought. If national leader thinks that way, the country will never improve. “If competitor does not exist, I will win.” Instead, our question should be how to improve ourselves and surpass our competitor. Know what we need to to do conquer sin, not our brother.

God’s first question when Adam sinned is “Where are you?” And God’s first question to Cain when he sinned by murdering Abel is, “Where is your brother?” The former is related to man’s relationship with God that has gone wrong while the latter is related to man’s relationship with one another that has gone wrong.

In order to escape, Cain just denied that he knew anything about it. But he cannot escape God’s judgment by feigning ignorance. God said to him, “You are cursed.” When Adam sinned, God said, “The ground is cursed because of you.” So the more serious the sin, the harsher the judgment.

When we sin, we are not sensitive to the wrong thing we do but we are sensitive to the punishment. We feel that we are suffering a hard life and we should be given a good life. We have this bad psychology.

Cain did not think much about the evil he did, but he was extremely sensitive to the punishment and sufferings he had to go through due to his sin. He was very insensitive to others’ sufferings, like the unjust treatment he had done to his brother. After killing his brother, he still denied he knew his whereabout.

Cain complained that the punishment was too great. Those who have done wrong are very sensitive to the dangers around them. Will God then have mercy on him? God accepted the fact that people would kill Cain, but who were these people since at that time there were only Adam, Eve and Cain left in the world? They refer to Adam’s descendants. Cain is the first man who saw his mother pregnant and he knew that human beings would be reproduced that way.

Why did God leave a mark on the forehead of this wicked man and not let him die? Why let Abel die? Also, later on Cain’s descendants are blessed with many talents. Sometimes God in His wisdom takes away good men to Himself and leaves the evil men to suffer in sin in the world to judge them or to give them the opportunity to repent. These are the principles of the Bible.