Friday, July 30, 2010

Jesus the Bread of Life (Jn. 6:30-40)

John 6:30-40

The people asked Jesus what miraculous sign would He show so that they could believe. They talked about the manna Moses gave their forefathers to eat in the desert as the sign. Actually this is not the most important thing. What is more important is the meaning symbolised by that even, that is that the Word of God that has been sent to them. The material will decay but God’s Word will stand forever.

The Father has sent Christ as the Bread of Life. He is the Bread that was sent from heaven. The Jews could not understand because they were not interested in the truth but only in food. They used their religious faith to seek temporal things of the world. This is what frequently happen in religious temples.

Religiosity is something unique in human beings which is not found in animals. Animals do not pray. They do not have the concept of eternal life. They cannot seek the truth. They are stuck in material world. But human beings can connect to spiritual things. So man has dual needs, material and spiritual. The fervency of faith and religiousity are great but ironically humans tend to use such great functions to pursue temporal things. Do you need to use religious spirit and energy to seek after temporal things?

The crowd went after Jesus for material food. Jesus exposed their motive immediately. God used manna as an illustration. What God truly wants to give is the eternal word, not the material food.

The manna was material and temporal. Their ancestors ate manna and died. But what God wanted to give ultimately is the true bread from heaven, Christ, the Word become flesh. So the Word of God is not subjective imagination. It is Jesus Christ who came from heaven, sent by God that the world might have life. He is the Son of God. He is the true bread of life. Jesus declared that He is the Bread of life, that if you eat him, you will never go hungry and thirsty. So believers partake of the Word. This is hard to accept because it is against our fallen reason.

After hearing this, they could not accept it and wanted to leave Him. Here Jesus made it clear that nobody could come to the Him unless the Father enabled him. In another passage, Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice and follow Me. The reason you cannot hear Me is because you do not belong to Me.” He is the bread that comes from heaven and yet they do not receive, not because it is not true, but because they do not belong to Him.

Jesus said if not for His Father, nobody would come to Him, and of all that the Father give He shall lose none. This is the reformed doctrine of predestination. People came to Christ because of the will of the Father. For those who come, none shall be lost.

This is difficult to accept because men like to hear that the freedom of choice lies with them. They like to hear that it is in their power to choose to become believers. But the truth is, if not for the sovereign will of God, man cannot believe. It is the will of God that of those God cause to believe in Christ, none will be lost.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Consumerism, Pragmatism, and a Christian's Status

This is my (not Mejlina's) personal notes of Elder Yong Teck Meng's sermon in True Way Presbyterian Church on 23 May 2010, when Rev Tong was unable to preach. It was preached in Chinese with English translation. The above-mentioned disclaimer applies to this post similarly.

We are the people that experience the era with a speed of changes that is the fastest ever. Especially those at my age. For example, you and I are those who see the birth of the television. From an era without TV to an era with TV. That's a big change. What is the underlying power behind these changes?

One of the main things that causes them is technology. Have you ever observed how it changes our lives, including our philosophies? There was once an article (published in China) that said 'We should not underestimate Americans' creativity. They are a people with very creative culture. Take for example the iPhone.' The writer of this article went on to assert that one's life is not worth living if he has not had an iPhone. Socrates stated that an unexamined life is not worth living, but this writer dared say one's life without an iPhone is not worth living!

Technology and its hardware truly have influenced our lives.

As a testimony to that, let me tell you something. Some time ago one of my relative related a story to me of how amazed he was when he saw an iPad in an Apple store in the US. He said, 'This is something you must have. Otherwise, I don't know how you can live. It is like, "Magic."'

I fully understand how he felt, as I used to work in a technology company like Apple. This kind of amazement comes about because people have come to the stage where it is possible to transform a piece of hardware into an experience that could be enjoyed, something that is 'metaphysical'. When you use that piece of hardware, it is able to shape the way you think and live.

We really have underestimated the influence from science and technology on our faith and our perspective on enjoyment. It has directed us towards certain philosophies in life that we could not detect. The most important of these indistinguishable philosophies is consumerism (消费者本主义). Through the selling and buying of these technology devices, the whole world is walking down the way of consumerism.

Even those deepest beliefs that we held on dearly while we were young are now no longer found. Even including communism, how many people today are willing to sacrifice their lives for their belief? We can find none today.

In Taiwan, one prominent person once mentioned that what people want today is gao qing (高清 - High Definition Television / HDTV), not qing gao (清高 - lofty ideals). This TV is so highly defined that it can show a picture so sharply as if it is real or three-dimensional. It makes people want to touch the object that it shows. Here we can see that technologically advanced devices are able to arouse people to desire an enjoyment rather than pursue high lofty ideals.

So today, people are no longer concerned about high or noble ideas or faith, they say that these things are no longer relevant in life. The worst is, not only have these devices brought us along the way of consumerism, they have also led us into pragmatism. We can see this from sayings like 'It doesn't matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it can catch a mouse, it is a cat.'

Take for example gambling. Those of us the older generation used to be punished if our fathers knew we played a game of tikam (a sort of lottery game played in provision shops). My father would tell me, 'All sins start from gambling'. But now people are saying that gambling is sinful, but it is good - and this is because it creates jobs ?!

I had even seen an essay written by a primary 4 student at a famous school on why the casinos were good for the country, with one of the reasons was that they created jobs for his parents. After I wrote an email to the Minister of Education, the essay was pulled down. So you see my point, pragmatism has also influenced our education system.

Not only our education system has been influenced, our Christian faith too has been influenced. Christian leaders often exhort their church members to be reformed, to preach the gospel, etc but many people would respond, 'See whether I like it or not' or 'Hmmm, it doesn't seem to be beneficial to me.' Is this how a church is supposed to go about doing things? Based on the principles of consumerism?

Take another example - you and I know that we have never 'welcomed' newcomers to our (expository preaching) sessions [Note: 'to welcome' here means to ask newcomers to stand and get everybody present to clap hands]. But many churches do so. Some even present gifts to the guests. There are also guests who would not be embarrassed even if they were to come to the gathering asking for door gifts! Ought we not to come to church without the expectation to be greeted by hand clappings and presented with goodies? After all, we are sinners who are supposed to come to church!

I'm not saying that it is absolutely wrong to present door gifts to newcomers. But here we see how the way we think, the way we do things, and our view towards faith have been deeply influenced by consumerism. This is definitely not a biblical teaching.

Once when God's servant (Rev Tong) taught us Reformed Evangelical (归正福音) theology, one of the points were so that we would go from darkness to light. It is not something that can be said simply. In the reformed understanding, in Ephesians 1 the Bible says that before the creation of this world, God had already chosen all of us. This is unlike consumerist practices where people often think, 'I am the one who chooses you.'

Some people often accept invitations to church because there are so and so goodies during traditional Chinese celebrations in church (i.e. they choose to go after analysing the benefits that they would receive). Or they believe because they say I have been pestering them, and after so doing ask me not to pester them anymore. This is how we often think.

This is one reason that when it comes our Reformed Evangelical movement's teachings like 'we have to be reformed' or 'we have to preach', we often think that it is one of many choices-it is something for me to choose. In the society, people often said, 'So long you like it, it's good for you.' Many people also like to think that values in life is relative. 'If you believe, they are good for you. No need to talk about lofty ideals.' Just last week, there were many people who attended the Pink Dot Event (a homosexuals' gathering), implicitly declaring that their way of life is their choice (not to be subjected to others' point of view) and that they do not recognise absolute moral standard.

Therefore unless we truly understand the true essence of our faith, we would be easily swayed by the patterns of this world. We would be looking passively from the side, with a consumeristic point of view at God's servant (Rev Tong) preaching all over the world: 'You go, go and preach, we will always support you. We will pray for you from the side, but you must also remember to pray for us before we pray for you.' Right from the time we believed in God we thought it was our choice to believe. This is not a biblical teaching.

Things are surely not that simple. In the reformed understanding, Jesus Christ preached not only about salvation but also the kingdom. For those of us who belong to him, our identity has been totally transformed. We now belong to God's kingdom. So when we consider our responsibilities, we should do so not based on the choices that we have but based on our identity as citizens of God's kingdom. We do not belong to the world, we only live temporarily in the world. There are many teachings in the Bible that are consistent with this, for instance, the teaching that says we only temporarily live in this world.

If life is smooth sailing for you so far, then something is very wrong. Sundar Singh once mentioned that once when he went to a village to preach, all the dogs there went to bark at him upon seeing his arrival. Why did the dogs bark? Because he did not belong there. The dogs are protecting their territory in this way. It's the same with us today. Dear brothers and sisters, are you feeling comfortable in your place today, because no worldly dogs are barking at you, although you supposedly belong to the kingdom of God? Consider our identity carefully.

In this area, our understanding towards our faith is really far from our Creator's Word. Rev Tong often remarked that the more he preached, the more he felt he had not understood the Bible. Many times we look at the teachings of the Bible, we look at them from the consumeristic point of view. We can see this from our questions such as 'Do I want to believe this?'

Yesterday I went to preach at a church and heard this song. I really wonder, why today many people are so pessimistic, that they compose a song like this:

I am not a perfect person.
I am not special at all, make me more special.
Oh God, make me better to be able to go to the world.

The fact is, among billions of people in the world, God has elected you and you are saying that you are not special at all?

In China I like to stand in the busy streets. Many of them look like me and can easily be my brothers. I will then wonder why out of so many of these people, God called me? John 10 clearly said 'The shepherd calls his own sheep by name.' Among the billions of people, God called, 'Yong Teck Meng, come out.' I just listened to His voice and came out. How can this be? I do not know. I can only accept this by faith.

Only when we understand our faith in this way then we can understand why Rev Tong is so fervent. Because this is not a choice, it is about the transformation of our life/awakening of your mission in life, from darkness to light. This is what being reformed truly is. It involves repentance, it involves returning back to God.

When we are involved in a ministry like this, it cannot be something hypocritical. Because it is not based on consumerism. We can see that Rev Tong is not too concerned about organisation structure because he will move according to the direction determined by the Holy Spirit.

If we serve God recognising that our status has been transformed in Christ, you will realise that many things will fall into place based on the biblical teaching, just as many things cannot be faked. That's why in Mat 9:36, we see Lord Jesus, upon seeing many people, he had compassion on them-it is a sense of grief that cannot be faked. The Lord also said that we are to enter the kingdom of God like little children-such innocence cannot be faked either.

In USA, John Piper wrote a book, 'Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.' In many things we cannot claim to be professional. E.g true love, in our fervency in serving God. It is something that comes from the inside of our heart. Just like what we see in Mat 9:36, that kind of compassion naturally flows out from Jesus' heart.

Dear brothers and sisters, this is what it means to be salt and light of the world. Our Lord did not say that we need to be changed into salt and light, he said, 'You are the salt of the earth. ... You are the light of the world.' Your status has been truly transformed. You are no longer sons of darkness, you are now sons of light. We cannot look at the world from the consumeristic point of view.

I am not saying that our thinking would be transformed overnight. We may take a long time to grow as Christians, but we must never see things from the perspective of consumerism.

Bearing this in mind, let's now examine Matthew 9:35-38. Faced with the overwhelming amount of work to be done, it tells us 'Ask the Lord of harvest to send workers', not to find co-workers or new methods. This stands in great contrast to how we see prayers today. We tend to see it a formula. Is this how the Bible looks at this matter? No, absolutely not.

Nowadays as I pastor the English congregation in RECS, I am often asked 2 main questions by Rev Tong:

1. 'Do you pray fervently for your congregation?' (not 'Do you use this or that method?')

Prayer is very important. Everywhere in the Bible we are told to pray. A person that prays much will be lead by the Holy Spirit to do much spiritual work. But often we treat prayer like a shopping list.

My daughter has a friend who would pray before her meals, 'Same as yesterday. Thank you. Amen.' This is definitely not how we should pray. The Bible tells us in many places that were told pray fervently, not just repeating 'Same as yesterday.'

There are many things that we have to do. We are told to pray. From the pragmatic and consumeristic point of view, prayer does not seem to be efficient use of time. But the Bible tells us to do so, because this is the work of the Holy Spirit.

We also need to pray because it leads us to go out and do something for our society. Jesus at his preaching in a synagogue (in Nazareth) said, '... the opposed will be liberated ...' This tells us that as Christians, there is a need to do something with social influence! It's important to do relief work to the poor. It's one of the marks of a real Christian.

By praying, we will also be led to be sensitive towards godlessness and evil. For example the casino. We should be concerned that the casino is now standing on our country's soil.

There is a Christian farmer in Henan that I once met. He loves the poor so much, that he will take any poor man that he can find and put them in his house. His wife and him will care for them by selling their possessions and using the money buy daily provisions for those they take in. This they do, without external support! I think seeing this man's work was a rebuke sent by God to me, that in comparison to this man I was really, arrogant.

Dear brothers and sisters, if we just keep listening to sermons passively, study the Bible but we ourselves are not transformed, do not act upon our faith, and do not pray and grow, we are really far from the truth. Because this world is indeed full of darkness and a great number of people need the gospel of Jesus Christ and our care. We should kneel down and pray that God will send us, as true prayer will compel us to act upon our faith.

2. "Do you have joy?"

Many people have the perceptions that as reformed Christians, we must look sombre with long faces. This picture probably comes from pictures of John Calvin looking sombre or the word 'elders'. But this is not what the Bible teaches.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 says, 'Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,...' Joy in the spirit is very important. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, and peace. This is the mark of the Holy Spirit.

If we are truly God's children, joy will overflow our hearts. This kind of joy is different from the consumerist's joy. Like in 1 Peter 3:15, people will be amazed and ask, 'How can you be so joyful?' All kinds of joy in the world cannot be compared to the joy that comes from the Lord. This joy will be very apparent as a result of walking in the path of the Lord.

Realising that our status has been changed, that we have been called by God, now the question we need to ask is, 'O Lord, what do you want me to do?' We need to kneel down and ask this in prayer. Just like when I met that Christian farmer in Henan, I just couldn't ignore what I had seen, I had to kneel down and ask God what He wanted me to do.

Struggle with this question in your 'wrestle' with God. That at the end of our lives we would not return to God empty-handed. The Bible is very strict on this. The letter to the church in Laodicea in the Book of Revelation tells us that our Lord Jesus would 'spit out' this church because it was neither hot nor cold. It would be with such disgust that our Lord would look at those who did not fervently work and bring glory to God. May we not be one of those that our Lord would spit out.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Food that Endures to Eternal Life (Jn. 6:16-27)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 18 July 2010 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 6:16-27

Often times people do not learn what they need to learn from an experience. After witnessing Jesus feeding 5000 people, instead of seeing His power as Creator, the people learnt that He should be made king because they imagined that under His leadership they would prosper. They missed the power of God and was only concered about the food that made them full.

When the evening came, Jesus’ disciples were in the boat at the lake. There was a strong wind and they were helpless. Jesus came and once again demonstrated to the disciples that He was Lord over nature. The disciples were afraid when they saw Him. They had followed Jesus for quite some time but they were still afraid of ghost. Jesus had to remind them, “It is I, don’t be afraid.” (Jn. 6:20). When Christ is present, we should not be afraid. The Scripture teaches us not to forsake the heart of boldness, not to lose our courage. But many people’s faith are not stable.

The next day the crowd looked for Jesus, not for His word but for material food. People usually have all kinds of excuses for not having time to hear God’s Word but always seem to have time to respond to material things. They looked for him and called him Rabbi with respect. Jesus immediately responded to them, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” (Jn. 6:26) These people’s courtesy and respect towards Jesus was not sincere, but was based on the benefit they could get from Him. Jesus did not like this and did not hesitate to frankly tell them their motives. Courtesy and niceness does not equal goodness. But most people judge goodness based on how other people treat them. In contrast, Jesus knew the hearts of all men and would not be deceived by their hypocrisy.

Jesus said, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” (Jn. 6:27) John 6 not only tells us God is Creator, but also that God is Saviour. After Christ fed thousands, He taught them about the food that endures to eternal life. Jesus said their ancestors died after eating manna that came from heaven so they need to eat the flesh of Jesus, the Word of God. In John 4 He told the Samaritan woman that their forefather still thirst after drinking from the well. If we drink of the living water, we will never thirst. If we eat the flesh of the Son of Man, you will never die. Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes out from the mouth of God.

All the four gospels recorded this miracle of feeding the five thousands, but only the gospel of John explained the significance of the incident. That is Christ’s teaching that we should not look for food that spoils. The Jews asked Jesus how they could do the works of God. Jesus’ reply was that the work of God is to believe in the One He has sent. It seems that the sentences do not quite link. But faith is essential, as Christ rejected people who did not come to Him by faith for eternal life. He teaches us not to work for food that spoils but to seek to understand eternal things.

So we should deal with absolute things with an absolute spirit, and deal with relative things relatively. Those who seek after God earnestly will be blessed indeed.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Feeding the Five Thousand Part 2 (Jn. 6:10-15)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 11 July 2010 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 6:10-15

Phillip represents people like us who are without faith. Often our prayers are expression of our anxiety and it shows our lack of faith. Phillip failed. Andrew failed in that he did not think that the child’s offerings would make a difference.

When Jesus acted, God’s providence came. The food get distributed and is more than enough to feed everyone. After everyone had their fill, Jesus asked to pick all the leftovers. He taught an important principle that even in abundance, nothing should be wasted (Jn. 6:12).

In this miracle, once again we see God’s creative power. Jesus demonstrated His power as the Creator who turned energy into matter. God create the world perfectly but as fallen sinners we destroy the world with our scientific advancement. God brings life but sinners kill and destroy.

After being fed, the crowd wanted to crown Jesus as king. Here religion turned into politics. They forgot the important lesson of the miracle, i.e. Jesus is God the Creator. They only cared about one thing, that is, if Jesus became king, all poverty would be solved. They wanted Him to be king not because they love Him, but because their stomach is full.

Jesus’ response was to leave them and and He went up to the mountain by Himself to pray. He came not become king by people’s desire but to die on the cross for our sin. Many leaders would falter under such temptation to gain power. But Jesus withdrew while He could be king. Instead He went to the cross. He is our example.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Feeding the Five Thousand (Jn. 6:1-10)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 4 July 2010 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

John 6:1-10

Jesus returned to Galilee his hometown. Jesus said the prophet is not welcome in his hometown but in this chapter, Jesus was welcome. But did they really love Jesus? Did they really follow Him? They actually had other motives. There was great crowd because they saw and heard the miraculous signs performed by Jesus in Jerusalem.

As Jesus went up the mountain, the crowd followed Him. There were at least 5,000 men, so with women and children there would be around 12,000 people. Jesus looked at them and thought for their needs after walking with him for a day. The Bible mentions many times that Jesus had compassion on the crowd. This time He saw that they had no food and as the leader He knew what to do. Leadership is not focused on own needs but others. Jesus Christ teaches that if you want to be the greatest you have to be the servant of all.

The Old Testament writes about David’s strong leadership. When he was thirsty, he said he wished to quench his tongue from the water in the enemy’s land. His soldiers risked their lives to bring the water to him. They loved David so much that they were willing to die for him. David was moved by their loyalty and instead of drinking the water, he poured it to the ground as he felt that he could not drink the water which the men had risked their lives to get for him. He was not willing that the soldiers should die for him. This is the heard of a leader. As for Jesus, when He was crucified, except John all his disciples ran away.

In this instance, how did His disciples understand His thoughts and how would they solve the problem of the food? He summoned Phillip, “Where do we buy food for these people?” He knew what to do but he wanted to test his disciples and train them to be leaders. Phillip’s replied, “Eight months wages would not be enough to buy bread for each to have a bite.” (Jn. 6:7)

This is the sort of response that most churches have. The first question is to ask if the church has money. Financial difficulty is an excuse not to do anything. Some churches have money and still do not do anything. They find security in money. However Christ taught differently. He asked the disciples to feed the 5000 people without giving them a single dollar. He commanded the disciples to preach the gospel to the whole world but never gave any financial resources.

Jesus asked Phillip not because He did not know. But when Phillip had no answer on how to feed these people, it reveals the condition of his heart. It reveals his method. Phillip’s method is bounded by financial constraint. There is no way to feed this people unless there is money. Phillip’s answer was secular and logical.

The second method was from Andrew. He brought a child who had five loaves of small bread and two small fish and commented that it is not enough to share among so many (Jn. 6:8-9). Jesus honoured this method. A miracle was done because of the heart of this child. The first method was based on human reasoning and resources. The second was based on the faith of a child who wanted to sacrifice what he has for others as he believed in the power of God.

Jesus asked to have the people sit down (Jn. 6:10). They must have faith in God that after they sat down, providence will arrive. The Word of God is the faithful testimony. Jesus is the Great Shepherd. But the disciples have no faith.

The governance and businesses of the world is sustained by money, but the house of God is sustained by the heart of a child and in the Old Testament, on one instance, by the faith of the widow.

God asked Moses to take two million Israelites out of Egypt. How would Moses feed them in the desert? God rained manna from heaven. There are three principles we need to remember: First, do the work of God with your heart. Secondly, give God what you have. Thirdly, do not look to the rich and do not despise the lowly and humble.

“For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” (2 Cor. 8:12). Jesus does not want what you do not have, He only wants what you have. If Christians understand this principle, the church can accomplish great tasks.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Scripture Testifies of Christ (Jn.5:39-47)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 27 June 2010 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 5:39-47

Jesus said, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me to have life.” (Jn. 5:39)

One of the greatest blessings on earth is to be able to hear the truth. It does not come all the time and to everyone. Jesus, the Word become flesh, is a significant moment in history and the Jews had the opportunity to listen to Him directly. Christ said that of those born of women there is none greater than John the Baptist because all the prophets did not have the chance to witness Christ in the flesh. John the Baptist saw Jesus Christ and prepared the way for Him. All the Old Testament prophets did not have the opportunity although they longed for it.

The Jews who saw Jesus directly also missed the opportunity because of their unbelief. They see and hear but never understand and perceive. Christ cannot be separated from the Bible. The Jews heard the prophecies but rejected the Messiah. Christ came in the name of the Father and the Jews rejected Him but if someone else came in his own name, they would accept him because they sought to glorify one another. But if they truly want to know the truth, they will find that Jesus is true.

Jesus said, “Do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set.” (Jn. 5:45). Moses wrote about Christ. But they have treated the shadow as more important than reality. They want the word of Moses but they rejected the Messiah, whom Moses testified. They thought Moses would stand with them but instead one day they would find that Moses would accuse them.

Jesus taught that the Old and New Testament could not be separated. The Old Testament contains New Testament. The New Testament fulfils the Old Testament. We need to understand the integrativeness of the entire Bible. There is an organic relationship between books of the Bible. We will tend to build partial understanding when systems are studied in isolation.