Monday, June 25, 2007

Humanity in Sin Part 16 – Abram rescued Lot

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 17th June 2007 in GRIIS. It was preached in Indonesian and I personally translated to English. Newton Life has it preached in Mandarin with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 14

Genesis 13 gave an example of a young man’s selfishness and ingratitude. If we build the habit of always only thinking of ourselves since our youth, it will be impossible for us to get true friends in life. Many people walk in front when there is profit and hide at the back when there is danger. This is a very low moral character. But Christ becomes to us a perfect example of self-sacrifice.

Sodom and Gomorrah were a very advanced and prosperous cities at that time. When a civilization reaches its golden age, it will face a lot of danger because many people will be eyeing on the wealth and might go against it. In this passage, the city of Sodom was captured and Lot was captured too because he lived there. What is success when others can take over whatever we gain over the years within a day? If we are successful apart from God, what we gain will perish. So do not think that our victory gained by our own intellect is great. It can be gone anytime. Whatever we boast of are just arrogance that has no guarantee.

Abram had a big heart. He had many servants who lived and raised their family in his house. And he trained personally the children of his servants who were raised in his house. When he heard that his nephew was captured, he still helped Lot despite Lot’s infilial attitude towards him. He immediately led 318 men he had trained in his house to war and he won the battle over 5 kings. Abram could make a very good general. He was a man of many talents and potential who could have succeeded doing something else, but God called him to be a sojourner and he obeyed.

If one day, pastors are no longer allowed to preach, can they still earn their daily bread? I have a question mark for this, even for my own students. But for me (Rev.Tong), if I am not longer allowed to preach, I dare say that not only I can earn my daily bread, but I can earn enough to feed many others who cannot feed themselves.

1 Corinthians 1 states that God will use the weak to shame the strong, the things that are not to nullify the things they are, such that we can proclaim, “Where is the scholar? Where is the wise man? Where is the philosopher of this age?” (1 Cor.1:20). Can today’s Christians and fulltimers say this?

Melchizedek was the king of Salem, or Shalom, or peace. He was also called the priest of the Most High God. He did not go to the war and appeared only after Abram won the war. Jewish tradition believed that Melchizedek was Shem, the son of Noah. If that be true, Melchizedek was the oldest man living on earth at that time. So Abram respected him as though he was a young man before an old man. In wars, the victor get the spoil from the war. Abram offered a tenth to Melchizedek.

Abram knew when to take and when to give. He gave to Melchizedek but he would not take anything from the king of Sodom. His spirituality is very good. He is very sensitive not to receive from people who had wrong motivation. When we give we need to think of our motivation, of whether we are worthy to give, and how we get our money.

Humanity in Sin Part 15 – Abram and Lot

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 10th June 2007 in GRIIS. It was preached in Indonesian and I personally translated to English. Newton Life has it preached in Mandarin with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 13

Many people attend the same meetings, hear the same preaching but there are different results. Some hear once and their lives are changed forever. Others hear every week and never change at all. Many have the same opportunities and same baptism but end up very differently. Why is that so? Peter brought many people to Christ while Judas hanged himself.

What is the priority and the main thing looked for by people who attend church service? On the outside, all look similar but within ourselves, only God knows.

After Abram returned from Egypt, he went to Negeb. Lot followed him along. But Lot had a different way of thinking. He looked more at the profit of the world so later on he was left out from the blessings later on.

As for Abram, he prioritized God wherever he went. He always lived his life before God. As Kierkegaard said, “To exist is to be oneself alone before God.” Lot followed Abram but his main motivation was not to understand the spirituality of Abram, rather it was more because of material blessings.

If as Christians we do not put God first, we are setting trap for ourselves. Whether a person’s spirituality is good or not is not seen in how active his involvement in church is or how good he does his work, but in how he reahts when conflicts of interests arise, particularly pertaining to material interests. God sees not how much we give, but how much we keep for ourselves. Our faith in God cannot rest in material security.

In this passage, conflict of interest happened between an uncle and a nephew. If servants dare to fight against another’s servants, it means they no longer fear the master of the other servants. How else could they not fear unless they have the back-up from their own master? Parents know very well when their children become disrespectful of them. They are very sensitive about it so do not think we can fool them. If elders do not speak, it does not mean they know nothing. Abram is very wise. He did not approach Lot’s servants but went directly to their master Lot and told him, “You and I should not quarrel. Your shepherds and my shepherds should not quarrel too. Because we are relatives.”

Abram proposed separation to resolve the conflict of interest. Abram gave in because his spirituality is higher. He showed that he did not want to fight for material wealth. He believed that riches also came from God, not from fighting. This is the way a wise elderly handled a rude youth. But Lot still did not understand. Instead of feeling guilty, he took the chance to take the fertile land since he was given the choice to choose first.

Separation is all right if God allows it. But if it is done for personal interest, we have to be careful. Many young people try to get all their fathers’ wealth and start to insult them when their parents are old. We always have to remember what our parents have sacrificed for us. Lot is an example of an unfilial person. Many Christians, unfortunately, are not even as filial as non-Christians.

What Lot saw was a beautiful place but it did not have eternal value. After his separation from Abram, he no longer had the chance to hear God’s word. It is only by God’s grace that we can hear His Word. Lot had no more part in God’s eternal blessings because he had got what he wanted. If a person gets what he wants but never gets what God wants him to get, his victory is his defeat. Lot went closer and closer to Sodom and Gomorrah and did not see God’s plan of destruction. When we get something, we lose another thing. If we get material wealth in exchange of the spiritual, we are very stupid. The decision to build a casino in Singapore is one such example. People do not realize what they are losing in exchange of what they want to gain.

God spoke to Abram again when Lot left. The blessings from God is forever and whatever that is of men is temporary. Abram saw as God wanted him to see. We need to learn to see what God sees. If we see wrongly, our descendents will be problematic. But if we see right, our descendants will be blessed. Seeing and entering or inheriting come together. The Scripture says that we are not born of the Spirit, we will not see and inherit the kingdom of God. Our faith becomes our sight and our entering becomes our enjoyment. Faith is like our eyes. It wants to understand the truth and the essence of grace.

God asked Abram to walk the land of promise from north to south and from east to west. This symbolizes the cross. If we carry the cross of Christ we will gain everything, as promised in Matt.6:33. God promised to make the descendants of Abram as the sands of the earth. And we know today that the true descendants of Abraham are not the children by birth, but they are the children of the faith. And after that encounter with God, once more Abram built an altar for Him.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Humanity in Sin Part 14 – The Weakness of A Godly Man

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 3rd June 2007 in GRIIS. It was preached in Indonesian and I personally translated to English. Newton Life has it preached in Mandarin with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 12:7-20

Scriptures record not only the beauty or glory of men, but the weaknesses of men as a mirror for us to know ourselves. No great man is perfect. When facing difficulties and threat of life especially, men are vulnerable and normally expose their weaknesses.

We need to build in our mind the consciousness that the world will pass away so that we will not be trapped here. The wife of Francis Schaeffer, the great reformed apologist in 20th century, wrote that all the beauty in this world is only leftover beauty of heaven.

After God’s calling, sometimes things become unclear. We might become confused where to go, as though we are left alone after we are called. But the journey of faith involves facing such uncertainties in life. No matter how weak and how much Abram fail, he always kept two things intact in his life, that is the fear of God and the supremacy of God in his life. Hence God always preserved his life. Wherever he went, whenever he stopped, the first thing he did was to build an altar to worship God. He put God first.

Abram saw eternity. The book of Hebrews says that these giants of faith did not see what they were promised come to pass until they die because God’s promise is eternal while their life on earth is temporal (Heb.11:8,13). So they continued to hope in God’s eternal promise and made light of temporary things.

But a lot of people prioritize money instead wherever they go. If we prioritieze money everywhere, we will perish together with our money. Sometimes we give excuses for not serving or worshipping because there are no good churches or fellowships in the place we stay. If there is no fellowship, start one. If there is no church, build one. If there is no pastor, be one. If not now, when? If not here, where? If not me, who? This is the reformed spirit. If we understand this principle, we will become very daring.

Abram only stayed in a place temporarily so the altar he built was also only used for a while. His life on earth is not permanent but God’s work is eternal. We will know how to operate and judge the value of our works if we see this principle clearly. Sometimes we question the rationale of taking the trouble to work on something which we personally could not use or enjoy for long term. So our mindset is that if we cannot enjoy the fruit later, we do not want to do it. We only want to do what we can enjoy later. This is a wrong spirit. The right spirit is in recognising that our life on earth is not permanent, we will die soon, but what we do will outlast our life. We need to change our mindset and learn to judge values. A philosopher once said that once a great thought is proclaimed, it will never be abolished from history. So it is a very small issue if we cannot get to enjoy what we have built and others enjoy the fruit of our labor.

Abram went to Egypt due to famine in Canaan. Sometimes, after we have been called by God and loved God, we go through a period of time where God’s guidance becomes unclear and seems like a history already. We feel that we are walking around on our own. This is our human weakness. And when we are pressured in such a situation, we begin to compromise and go where God never asks us to go.

Did God ask Abram to go to Egypt? The Scripture left this blank. But we know that God never promised Egypt to Abram, but Canaan, which was a difficult place. Due to economic difficulty, the man of God compromised and went to Egypt. Egypt was a place of lust where men wanted to possess beautiful women. Abram already knew what the place was like before he went there. In trying to save his life, he taught Sarah to tell half-truth about their relationship, that they were brother and sister, and hid the fact that they were also husband and wife.

Later on Pharaoh rebuked Abram for not telling the truth that they were married. Do we have to wait for the unbelievers to rebuke us before we know that we are wrong? Even unbelievers have their value system due to common grace. Christ says we are the light of the world, the city on a hill that cannot be hidden. So do not think that unbelievers have no idea what kind of mess is happening inside the church. When Christians sin, the whole world take notice.

Why is it that we dare to sin but we do not dare to admit it? So daring in doing wrong, but we do not dare to receive rebuke or have our acts publicized? We are not consistent and this is our sinful psychology. It shows that we still have conscience.

But we thank God that many times when we almost fall, God intervenes. We need to appreciate especially warning and rebukes from servants of God. In this case, God did not allow Sarah to be defiled by Pharaoh and sent punishment to Egypt to awaken Pharaoh’s conscience.

We see that the man who trusted and obeyed God to leave his homeland faltered when his life was in trouble. He came into the situation where Pharaoh had to rebuke him and sent him away. Why must Christians be chased away by non Christians? We need to learn not to compromise in difficulties.