Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Humanity in Sin Part 40 : Jacob Met Esau

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 20th January 2007 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 33

Jacob was a great fighter. It is important to have fighting spirit but the motivation is also important. If we fight for the Kingdom of God, we are like Jesus Christ. If we fight for our own gain, we are like Satan. Jesus sought God’s glory and humbled Himself during His life on earth, and as a result God lifted Him up. His humility was active and His exaltation was passive. But Satan elevated himself, and was cast down by God. So his pride was active and his humiliation was passive.

In his life, Jacob grabbed hold of many opportunities for his own gain. But after he was touched by God, his life changed.

Now Jacob put himself right in front to meet Esau. Behind him were his wives and children. As a responsible husband and father, he met the danger first. He had prevailed when he wrestled with the Angel of God the night before and had been limped. Now he no longer relied on himself or saw himself that great. He was willing to sacrifice himself and take care of others first. When new life comes, we will have new boldness, new love, new strength. A great character is one who is the first to face difficulty and the last to rush into gain.

When Esau arrived, there were no weapons. They embraced each other and wept. The people we hate might not be as evil as we think than they are. We often think others are worse than we are. Such tendency itself reveals that we are bad people. We tend to be very pessimistic but a lot of what we worry about would not happen. If we take away 80% of those thoughts of worry and replace them with thoughts on how to advance in the kingdom of God, the church will have revival.

Jacob knelt 7 times before he met his brother. He was begging for mercy. It was difficult for a crippled person to get up after bowing down. All his wives and children also did the same thing. The whole family submitted to Jacob. Esau must have felt very weird that as brothers Jacob would pay such obeisance to him. But the strange thing was also that Esau did not bring his own family, but instead he brought 400 men. That aggravated Jacob’s fear that Esau might be coming to harm him.

However, Esau talked to Jacob as though nothing ever happened in the past. Esau wanted Jacob to follow him to Seir. But Jacob refused by giving the reason that the children and the livestocks could not follow their fast pace. He said he would follow behind and eventually reach Seir. However, Jacob did not go to Seir. He went to another place and built his own house. Since Jacob left home and went to Laban’s, he never had a house of his own. This was the first time he built his own house and settled. The hatred, mischief and deceptions of the past had ended here.

Jacob’s life was full of dramatic events. He was the first person in the lineage of the patriachs that had many wives. But that was not his own initiative. Later on, he would continue to face a lot of strife in his family. Through the life of Jacob, the Scripture teaches us many important principles in life and human relationships.

Humanity in Sin Part 39: Jacob Prepared to Meet Esau

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 13th January 2007 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 32

We might have made some mistakes in the past which have present consequences and as we grow older these things still follow us. So we have difficulties facing the people we have offended. Jacob was afraid to meet Esau and had carried this burden for decades. Finally it was time to go home and he had no peace to meet his brother. He had a big family and had acquired a lot of property now but they could be all gone in a day if his brother wanted to take revenge. It is diffcult to make good friends and it is even more difficult to get rid of our enemies. We should try our best to live at peace with all people and not make enemies through our self-centeredness.

Jacob sent messengers to Esau and was told that Esau was bringing 400 people to come and meet him. Jacob was very frightened. Why would Esau need 400 people to welcome him? Jacob deceived Esau before, so could not believe that Esau meant well. If we always use craftiness to deal with others, we will keep thinking that others are also crafty like us. Our inability to trust anyone is itself it is a punishment for us. Was Esau as bad as Jacob thought? We tend to think of others badly but always try to justify ourselves. Actually it was not the case. Later on Esau embraced Jacob. They were brothers after all.

That night a person came and wrestled with Jacob. Jacob used all his strength to fight. He could not overcome Jacob so he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip. Since then Jacob limped. The person was a Messenger of God. But why couldn’t he defeat Jacob? It was not that he could not overcome Jacob, but he limited his physical strength to that which was comparable to a man’s.

Jacob feared God and had always longed after God’s blessings in his life. But he was also a deceiver. So there was irony in his life. God was pleased with some aspects of his life, and was displeased with other aspects of his life. Jacob knew it was important to have God’s blessings but in he often relied on himself in worldly matters.

Many Christians are willing to listen to the Word of God and receive heaven’s blessings, and this is good. But practically, we might use many self-centered methods to achieve our ends. Would God allow a spiritual person to continue in decadent life? Many unbelievers live better ethical lives than Christians who love to read God’s Word and are active in church ministry. Jacob is a special character than reflects many of us.

God might allow believers to sin for a time and might seemingly close His eyes. But when His time comes, His judgement would come first upon His household. The principle of justice will go to those He loves first. Do not think we can fool around with God and use our own methods to achieve personal gain. Do not think we can sin all we want and God still takes care of us. Like the Israelites, we might think that for the sake of His own name, He will never forsake His people. But God will not consider these as obstacles when He wants to carry our His principle of justice and chastise His children.

Like Jacob, He just need to touch our lives once and we will be limped forever. But it is better to fall into the hands of God and in the hands of our enemy. When God touches us, it is the end of all our self-deception. We are to come down from our throne of pride and correct wrong concept of God.

Jacob was already limping, but with his hand he still grabbed hold of the Messenger. He would not let go. He asked for His blessings. The Messenger asked for Jacob’s name, and changed it to Israel. It means the Crown Prince of God. But he was now crippled for life. His strength had been taken away. From that day onwards, Jacob no longer walked like he did in the past. He could no longer boast. He can no longer rely on himself.

Before the hand of God touches a person, his glory is false and his success is temporal. But when God chastise us, rebuild us and work on us, our spiritual life will have a true awakening. Now that he was limped, he could not escape from Esau anymore. He could no longer on his own experience and strength. He could only rely on God.

Often we cannot be blessings to others because we ourselves do not think we need God and are using our own wisdom to walk our lives, therefore we do not have God’s blessings to overflow to others. Only when we lose the reasons to boast of ourselves, the sun will arise in our lives. After this event, Jacob went his way across the river, limping, to meet Esau his brother.

Monday, January 14, 2008

New Year 2008 Message: Why We Must Preach the Gospel

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 6th January 2008 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

The Apostles and Prophets represent the Revelation of God in the Old and New Testament. The churches of all generations are built upon the teaching of the apostles and the prophets. They are the foundation of the church, with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone. The teaching of the apostles and the prophets all point to Jesus Christ. Christianity is Christ.

And upon these foundation of the church, God has given the Church 3 main ministries: evangelism, pastoral ministry and teaching. Preaching the gospel is the first requirement. It is the call to be witnesses to the world so that sinners might be brought before the presence of God. After these people come to the church, we need to pastor their spirituality and teach them the right doctrines. Preaching is like giving birth to a child. A church that does not preach the gospel is suicidal. After the child is born, he needs to be nurtured and educated so that he might grow up, mature and become healthy. But it is no good just to be healthy but remain ignorant. If you do not take care of the child, he will be sick. If he is not taught, he will be ignorant.

People come to the church through the gospel and grow through pastoral ministry. But these are not enough. They must learn to differentiate between good and evil. So they need to learn doctrines. The Apostle Paul said he knew whom he believed in. Christians need to understand the foundation of their faith.

Focusing on the first ministry in this session, the following are the reasons why we need to preach the gospel.

1. It is God’s will

Every Christian is required to obey God’s will. Preachers can preach the gospel and every believer can preach the gospel too. We need to have a solemn attitude towards God’s will. How important is God’s will? John Calvin said there is nothing greater than the will of God than God Himself. God is the Lord of all universe. His will is greater than all wills.

If we honor God, we will be obedient to His will. His will is serious and profound. If He has not willed, there is no heaven and earth. All things exists because of His will in creation. If He has not willed, there is no salvation. Salvation came about because of God’s will in redemption. Because of God’s will in creation, all things exist. Because of God’s will in redemption, we are saved. Because of God’s will in revelation, we can understand God’s truth. God’s will is very great and profound. Therefore we are not to take the name of God in vain and say “the will of God” haphazardly.

God’s will is different from God’s guidance. God’s will is that we are to be holy. But in the guidance of God, some will get married and some will not. But whether married or not, we are to live a holy life. Similarly, it is God’s will that we preach the gospel. Some are guided to be preachers, some are not. But whether we are preachers or not, we are to preach the gospel. A preacher preaches the gospel as his profession, but a normal Christian preaches in his lifestyle. Preaching the gospel is not God’s guidance, it is God’s will. Whether preacher or layperson, we must preach the gospel.

2. It is the command of Jesus Christ

Jesus said if we love Him we will follow His command. Christians have to love God and obey His command. Jesus Christ gave two great commands to us. The first one is internal and the second one is external.

Before Jesus was betrayed, He gave a new command to His disciples to love one another. Why is this a new command? Because in the Old Testament, we are commanded to love God. This encompasses the first 4 of the 10 commandments, that is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. The second one is to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is is the Old Testament. But the Old Testament does not say to love one another. Love here becomes mutual responsibility. If we love each other, people will know we are Christ’s disciples. That is the mark of a true disciple of Christ. As Jesus said, the world will know we are His disciples if we love one another. We prove we are Christ’s disciples through our love.

Reaching out externally, Christ commanded us to go to all the world and preach the gospel to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and He will be with us until the end of age. Therefore, based on this command, we must preach the gospel.

3. The love of Christ compels us

We know Jesus has died for us. Those of us who live should live for Him because He died for us. The Apostle Paul continued to preach the gospel despite all the sufferings and dangers he constantly faced because he was compelled by the love of Christ. He was internally motivated to preach the gospel. Whether a preacher is good or bad can be ascertained by how he is motivated in preaching the gospel. If he does it for any personal reason it is of no value. But if it is because of the love of Christ, it is of a great value.

We love because Christ first loved us. His Holy Spirit works in our hearts. The extent to which we understand His love is based on how much we understand His sufferings. The more we understand His sufferings, the more we know how to love Him. We will do things people will not do, suffer what people will not suffer, because we are inspired by God’s love. He receives a supernatural power that surpasses his own ability and experiences. When we love someone, we are willing to die and challenge all our limitations. Nothing can stop us. No danger can frighten us.

Do we want to preach the gospel? It is not just a matter of studying and doing well in exams. We need to be inspired by the love of Christ, and then relentlessly we will continue to preach the gospel so that others can share in the blessings.

When we are compelled internally, it is no longer our choice. We no longer have the freewill to go against it. All of a sudden, we move from being active to becoming passive. The great wave moves us. There is no way for us to do differently. The Apostle Paul said the love of Christ compels us. His power to subdue us is greater than our power to refuse. This is what it means by the power of Christ overcoming us. We will become willing to work harder than usual. Do we have such experience? When we look at the unsaved, the lost sinners, how do we feel?

4. This is the need of men

Only Christ can see the true need of men. When we are richer, we think we need better things. We sell off our old car and buy a new car. We change our furnitures and lifestyle. We have more high class enjoyment. The concept of better living is different for different people. But the more meaningful better living is to enjoy deeper culture, art, morality, truth, greater form of music, purer form of love, closeness to God. This is better living which surpasses material changes. If we do not increase in knowledge and become better in character, and we clothe ourselves with all kinds of jewelleries, it is just like a pig with a lot of expensive clothes and jewelleries on it.

What we truly need is God’s love, the light of God’s truth and the touch of the Holy Spirit. And in our lives we should desire a part in contribution to mankind. The greatest of all need is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is very paradoxical, because while this is men’s greatest need it is also the need that men are most insensitive about. That is why it is so hard to preach the gospel. People really need it but they do not know they need it. Church has a problem where they only preach to those who come, rather than going out to preach the gospel. For people to come, we need to go and get them to come. On one hand, we know they need the gospel. On the other hand, they do not think they need the gospel. Few people are willing to become preachers. When we truly want to consider it, we become calculative. Our experience tells us that people do not feel their need so we continue to get rejected.

This is the paradox of the gospel. It is God’s will and it is also the hardest to obey. We see this in many things. Can we live without eating and drinking? We cannot. Can we live without breathing? We cannot. Breathing is more important than drink, and drink is more important than food. Air is more important than water and water is more important than food. We can live without food for 3 days, but we will die without water for 3 days. And we will die without air for 3 minutes. But the more important thing is cheaper. We never pay a single cent for oxygen. We pay for our drink and pay even more for food. The most important thing cannot be bought with money. And the most expensive things in monetary terms are the things we do not really need.

We must preach the gospel. The Apostle Paul said woe to him if he does not preach the gospel. Whatever he does is for the gospel. His hardwork, his debates, his sufferings, his death, all he does, are all for the sake of the gospel. How many Christians are able to declare this? Apostle Paul said he wants others to share the gospel blessings. Preaching the gospel is the true act that gets us out of our selfishness. God had fulfilled his need so he wanted to meet others’ need of the gospel.

5. We are indebted redeemed sinners

The more we have a sense of debt, the better we can live our lives. Do we know it when we owe people something? The attitude of a perfect person is one who is aware of his debt. Why are we rude to others? Because we do not think we owe them any manners. Why do we not honor people? Because we do not think we owe anyone honor. We will enter into perfection when we see what we owe. A truly humble person does not think he is humble. A person moving towards perfection knows that he is imperfect.

If we do not feel that we are indebted to God to preach the gospel, we will not preach it. The Apostle Paul sensed it very deeply.

What sort of attitude do we have in preaching the gospel? D.L. Moody said he could not sleep if he had not preached the gospel for one day. He was not evangelist only to the masses, but he was very diligent in his personal evangelism.

May we make a covenant with God in this new year that we will be fruitful for Him, to be obedient to His will, to be constrained by His Spirit, to be inspired and have a sense of debt to God so that we are willing to share the gospel with others.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Humanity in Sin Part 38 - Jacob and Laban Parted

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 9th December 2007 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.
Passage: Genesis 31

Within this incident, everyone considered themselves as victim. This is a difficult problem in society. Since the Fall, we all become self-centered. We want to make use of other people and are very sensitive to our own losses. Employers are afraid that employees will take advantage of them. Employees are afraid of being exploited by employers. When everyone thinks he is a victim, problems cannot be solved.

Laban did not think that he had cheated Jacob but simply felt that Jacob had good deal since he had given his daughters to Jacob. Capitalists feel they are great because they create employment for many workers. But workers feel that it is to their credit that their employers become rich.

When the time comes, God might allow separation and we will see clearly who truly has the blessings from God. God instructed Jacob to leave, but could he leave with his wives and children? Jacob had married Laban’s daughters, and his children are Laban’s grandchildren, so whose were they? Laban’s or Jacob’s? According to biblical teaching, after marriage a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife and has a new family.

God once spoke to Abraham to leave his hometown to go to the promised land. Now God spoke to Abraham’s grandson to leave. Leah and Rachel were willing to leave with Jacob as they saw their father had sold them and exploited Jacob. Much of the wealth Laban obtained deceitfully were things God had reserved for Jacob. This passage tells us that God had seen what Laban did to Jacob.

Some people work a lot, do not care about credit. Some work a little and want recognition. Still some never do anything but want all the credit. All these tell us a person’s spirituality.

If the things meant for you are taken away by others, God will take them all and give it back to you. So we do not need to overreact when badly treated. Conversely, if it is not God’s blessings for us, no matter how hard we fight, we will lose them in the end. When we think we have gained something, we might not have gained it. When we think we have lost something, we might not have lost it. The important thing is God’s blessing.

In this case, Laban seemed to get richer and richer. But he never thought that his wealth increased because of Jacob. Jacob came up with an idea to separate his sheep and Laban’s sheep. And God kept prospering Jacob no matter how the deal was changed. It became clear that God’s blessings are with Jacob.

At the time when Laban’s sons started complaining about Jacob, God commanded Jacob to leave. So Jacob left because of God’s instruction. We should learn not to base our decisions merely on profit and loss and self-centered attitude. But we should let the principles of His truth and His guidance to direct our path.

When Jacob fled, Laban chased after him. Here Laban had to acknowledge he prospered because of Jacob. It ended with a covenant between Laban and Jacob, and they went their own way after that. This departure was permanent. Jacob never came back after that. From the passage, we see the nature and complexity of humanity displayed. The Scripture illuminates us on the errors and mystery of humanity.

Humanity in Sin Part 37 - God's Chosen People

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 2nd December 2007 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 30

This chapter talks about how the 12 tribes of Israel came about.

Through Abraham, God created a nation. 14 years before Isaac was born, Ishmael was born but he was not the chosen one. We need to learn to wait for the promises of God. But we often want to do things our own way and not follow God’s timetable, producing a lot of consequences outside of God’s will. When God asked Abraham to offer Isaac to Him, he obeyed. Not only do we need to learn patience, we must also learn to give everything back to God when He demanded it. Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in his obedience.

Isaac also waited a long time before he was married and became a father. The phrase “God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” still appears in the New Testament. These three people are the most important ancestors of the Israelites. God made His covenant with them and their descendants. This is the difference between Christianity and other religions. Other religions do not have the principle of revelation and God’s covenant and promises for His people.

God’s promises are one-sided and are based on 3 foundations. The first is the eternal faithfulness of God. He will not lie to us and will not betray Himself. The second one is God’s eternal will. His eternal will becomes the guarantee of His promises. To God, nothing is sudden as everything is set in His eternal will. The third one is His immutability, which becomes the basis of His will. He is unchanging, therefore His words can be trusted.

God is willing to share His eternal will so He made covenant with His chosen ones. God is the God who made covenant with men. Not only do we receive His promises, but we need to be responsible before Him. In this manner, covenant becomes two-sided. God has blessed us and given His grace to us, but He requires us to obey Him and honor His covenant. God will continue to bless our descendants if we are faithful to His covenant. In Christian faith, the relationship between God and human beings is not from human towards Him. That is what other religions are. They think they are looking for God so they do not have the concept of revelation, and God’s promises and covenants.

From the call of Abraham, we see the manifestation of God’s will towards mankind. God said that Abraham’s seed will become a blessing to all nations and the seed is singular, referring to only One person. This Person is Jesus Christ, God-Incarnate. When Jesus appeared in history, it is the greatest manifestation of God manifesting and His promises. Paul proclaimed this to be a great mystery. When God became man, the Creator entered the created world. The Infinite has come to a finite world. All nations shall be blessed through Him.

When we read this passage, it seemed to be just jealousy between two women. Jacob was deceived by his uncle and as a result married his two daughters. From these two women, and their maidservants, he had 12 sons and one daughter. In the end Jacob loved the son of Rachel, Joseph, the most. The last portion of Genesis is all about Joseph. However the Bible only said God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Abraham is the father of monotheism. He was different from all other people in the world because he believed in one True God. Mesopotamia was worshiping all kinds of gods, but Abraham was the only person who worshiped the one True God. He became the leader of monotheistic faith.

What is the value of monotheistic faith? There are two kinds of religions in the world, i.e. revelatory and non-revelatory religions.

The teaching and principles of all eastern philosophies and religions are based on their own authority. We cannot question how we know but they are just the conclusion of faith coming from human thoughts. Religions declare first that they have authority that cannot be questioned. There are Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism that produce great philosophies. But they never claim to receive words from God.

Once we compare with other religions in the world, we will see big differences. The middle-eastern religion, i.e. Judaism, Christianity and Islam (570 years after Christ) are all monotheistic. Abraham is not only the ancestor of the Israelites, but the ancestor of all these 3 great beliefs. No other faith by themselves have monotheistic concept. All other faiths are polytheistic.

Abraham’s monotheistic system is passed down to Judaism, Christianity and Islam tradition. Only monotheistic system claim to have revelation from God. It means what they receive is not the product of their imagination or of their logical thinking. If asked why they believe so, they will say it is because God reveal to them.

In the day of Moses, we see how God reveal Himself to the people of Israel. Moses was a shepherd, an occupation despised by Egyptians, and he ran away because he killed an Egyption. He felt that he had no authority to go back and face Pharaoh and ask him to let the Israelites go.

Moses asked how he should answer if the Israelites asked who had sent him. Here God reveal Himself to Moses. He said, “I AM that I AM.” Other than the Old and New Testament, no other religious Scripture has this statement. It refers to the One who is eternal and everlasting. We have our past, present and future as we are in a process. So anyone in process is not the absolute one. Only God is. Nobody in all history declare himself this way, except Jesus Christ. Jesus told the Jews that their ancestor Abraham saw Him from afar. He said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” He declared His eternal presence before Abraham existed.

The God that Abraham believed is the God of promises, the God who brings the grace of salvation. Abraham also believed that God is Creator, Savior and the One who guides. These are the important contents of the faith of Abraham.

The concept of creation by God is only found in the Scripture, which is the second great contribution of the Hebrew culture to the world. The God that Abraham believe is One who made something out of nothing. Romans 4 also mentioned that Abraham believed in God who resurrected people from the dead. He is not only Creator, but also Redeemer. He created something out of nothing (creation), and brought life from death (salvation).

But how do we know these two things in the life of Abraham? He believed in God and His promises. God promised him that Sarah would bear a child at her old age. Physically it was impossiblr but Isaac was really born at the appointed time. Because Abraham believed in God, God counted it as righteousness. At the time, the Law was not passed yet. Abraham was not yet circumcised. So Romans gave two important principles. Abraham was made righteous before circumcision, and 400 years before the Law was given. This become the essence of the gospel. It means we are not made righteous by the law or circumcision.

God is also the God of Isaac. Isaac had a very normal lifestyle. He made a lot of mistakes, and like his father he lied about his relationship with his wife. He represent many Christians who live common life.

God is also called the God of Jacob. Jacob was a very unusual person. He was talented, articulate and deceiving. But God called Himself the God of Jacob. That was comforting for all of us.

Jacob wanted to leave Laban. Laban wanted him to continue working. He knew that he was successful because of Jacob. It was because God blessed Jacob. We might be one of these three kinds of believers.

Jacob had 12 sons that became 12 tribes of Israel. And God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which means the Crown Prince of God.