Friday, February 17, 2012

A Call To Sacrifice

Lev 23:22: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God."

Notice the text tells us that the reaper is to leave the edges of the field and what he has dropped for the poor. In the secular world, the reaper is within his rights to reap his whole field and collect whatever was there. After all, it is his own field and he is entitled to everything there. Anyone else entering his fields would be considered a trespasser. Yet God commands the Israelite owner to give up what was rightfully his so that others less fortunate may also be provided for. That is exactly what Jesus did for us. When we were lost and poor, alienated from God, Jesus did not hold on tight to his rights as God. He did not cut us loose saying that we deserve it. He did not argue and say ‘why should I go?’ when our Heavenly Father laid the plan for our salvation. Instead, the Bible tells us that he “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped…” And so he came to sacrifice his life for us so that we may be redeemed and reconciled to God.

That is the example he has set for us. The lesson we can learn here is that true Christian faith is one that involves sacrifice on our part. And sacrifice means there is a cost involved. If we give up something that does not cost us anything, we cannot say we are making a sacrifice. Now I am not here to talk about tithing obligations. That is obligatory on the part of every Christian of course. However, that should not be the only sacrifice that Christians make. If that were so, it makes us merely paymasters while the church leaders do all the work.

True Christian faith is about considering the needs of those least able to look after themselves. We all love to sing and hear the songs of Fanny Crosby. At the age of six months, she became blind due to a doctor’s carelessness. In her biography, three people outside her family are mentioned as being of profound influence on her life. One was Mrs. Hawley, her neighbour. When Fanny was a little girl, Mrs. Hawley would spend time reading and telling her stories from the Bible. When Fanny began schooling in New York City, one of her school teachers, Murray Hamilton, had a great influence on her Christian life. Then she was about forty, she met William Bradbury, a music publisher who influenced her to write Christian songs. Prior to this, Fanny had been writing secular music sung in the traveling minstrel shows much like our pop music today. Thus she began writing her beautiful hymns like ‘Pass me Not O Gentle Savior’, ‘Trust and Obey’, ‘Blessed Assurance’, etc. Three people considered it worthwhile investing time in a girl blind from childhood. They did not think that since she is blind, it would be more useful to invest in someone less handicapped. This was mid-19th Century where the blind really did not have much hope of a quality life, unlike the blind people of today. Yet their influence on Fanny Crosby’s life continues to have effect on us even today, through the hymns and songs that she wrote.

John Wesley once said “Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.” That is a good maxim that Christians ought to follow. Every Christian should strive to be a great ambassador for Christ to a watching world. We should examine ourselves to see if what we are doing makes a positive impact on the people around us. We should realize that our Christian community is the only witness to the world about what God is like - to show that God cares for each individual regardless of the person’s gifts and abilities. That God’s compassion extends to those who are dispossessed, disenfranchised and marginalized. He expects those who have more to give to those who have little. We must decide to do all we can to pour God's love out into our surrounding community in tangible ways. A church that claims to be under the Lordship of Christ has to consider the little or much of its various outreach programmes to non-Christians, its acts of charity and love to those in need. This was Timothy Keller’s thesis in his book, ‘Ministry of Mercy’. Partnerships should be formed with other community organizations (such as charities, schools, homes for the poor, etc) to work together on issues facing the larger community outside the church gates.

All of us should examine ourselves to see if we can support these events and activities with our time and abilities. When we do these things, we are continuing a tradition of embodying God’s character to the world. Remember it is the Christian Church that brought hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions of compassion to the world. I am a product of the Helping Hand, a ministry to drug addicts. In Singapore, the first ministry to drug addicts came out of the Christian community. That was in 1976. Today, many people like me have a chance to live a meaningful and abundant life because of this ministry. What is even more significant is that other racial and religious groups have followed by setting up halfway houses for their own affiliation. Our traditions of outreach and being a blessing wherever we are can only continue to work when each of us willingly answers the call to sacrifice what we have for the sake of others who do not have. The practice of true Christian faith is to sacrifice for those who cannot or can least pay us back.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Peacekeeper or Peacemaker

A peacekeeper is one who will keep quiet when he sees a brother going astray because he fears a scene if he were to speak to the brother of his straying from the Lord. A peacemaker is one who goes, with love in his heart, to a brother going astray to restore him back to the Lord even if a scene is created. Why do I say this?

Conflict makers attack and destroy people and relationships. At the other extreme, there are people who dislike and avoid conflict. They even deny the presence of any conflict. They prefer appeasement because they believe it will make the conflict go away. In 1938, Neville Chamberlain (see above picture) was the British Prime Minister. At that time, Nazi Germany had become very powerful under Hitler. He moved to annex parts of German-speaking Czechoslovakia. Although Britain was allied to the Czech Republic, Chamberlain met with Hitler and agreed to the demand that the German-speaking areas of Czechoslovakia be yielded to Nazi Germany. Britain and France practically arm-twisted Czechoslovakia into surrendering their sovereignty to Nazi Germany so that war would be avoided. So after the signing the agreement, Chamberlain returned to Britain and proudly declared, “There will be peace in our time.” Peace? Ironically, just a year later, Nazi Germany attacked Poland and Hungary. This drew Britain and France into a war they had wanted to avoid. This led to World War 2 which ended with millions of people dead. You cannot appease a bully; you have to stand up to him. But there are people who are appeasers but imagine themselves to be peace-keepers. Peace-keepers avoid the problem and deny there is one. They will probably apply Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” ti its most extreme situation to avoid any kind of conflict. Now I agree there are times we have to keep our mouth shut for the sake of peace. But I disagree with having to keep our mouths shut in ALL situations. Wisdom is definitely needed. Peace-keepers want to avoid unpleasant situations arising. They may quote Matt 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” So they don’t judge out of the fear of having to deal with unpleasant situations. But they forget later down in Matt 7:6, Jesus says, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” The application of this verse shows that we need to apply judgment and discernment in certain situations?

We should never resort to appeasement and denial out of fear of conflict. We should remember that sometimes we should go and make peace, even if an unpleasant situation arises, so that we will bring glory to God. If a married church deacon comes to church regularly with another woman and not his wife, can we say it’s Ok, that’s a private matter? If one’s teenage daughter dresses inappropriately and keeps very late nights, is it OK for the parent to say “she knows what she’s doing so I will leave her alone.”

If we see someone’s actions threatening to ruin their own lives or the good witness of Christ, can we claim its ok to keep quiet because we are keeping the peace? Definitely not! If a young child has the habit of using his fists on his mother, should not the parent need to discipline that child? Many people handling young children are typical peace keepers. The child throws a tantrum and they immediately rush to appease the child. They will carry him if he wants to so that he does not scream and refuses to move. They will avoid a scene so if the child refuses to eat his food, they will eat the leftovers. Even ordering food becomes a contentious issue. The child soon learns to be a bully. Just throw a tantrum and you will get what you want. I once say a mother handle a child’s tantrum. Coming out of the train, the child refused to move. The mother tried to pull him along but he began screaming and just laid there deadweight, beating the floor and kicking the air. The mother just moved ahead and the boy started screaming louder even “mommy, mommy.” The mother stopped and told him to come. He refused and kept throwing his tantrums. It was quite a fascinating battle of wills. Then the mother turned around and said, “Fine! You stay there”. And she walked further on near where I was sitting. And then she stopped and turned around again and just stared at her child. Immediately, the child got up and ran towards his mother, crying “mommy, mommy.” The mother’s first words were “what you did was bad and I will punish you when we get home.” Was she a peace-keeper? No, her actions did not keep the peace. It created tension and conflict. Actually, I was quite tempted to applaud her actions and affirm what she did. She was not a peace-keeper but I believe she was a peace-maker. Her action served to restore a rightful relationship between her child and herself. She knew that giving in to her child and avoiding a scene will not build the child’s character. That’s what a peace-maker looks like.

For us, peacemaking simply means doing whatever good we can in the contexts God has placed us. God may use us to restore broken relationships in our office or schools. A single mother may be struggling to raise her children. Are we too busy to encourage her or even to help her in some practical ways? Someone is struggling with his or her studies. Are we too busy chasing A’s that you cannot give someone a helping hand? That’s what a peacemaker does. Sees a problem, names it and goes about to resolve it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Life Worthy of the Gospel

“He has saved us and called us to a holy life” (2 Tim 1:9a). Here, Paul exhorts us to live lives befitting that of God’s children. We may not be an apostle like Paul but we can emulate the examples of Lois and Eunice (2 Tim 1:5) who not only taught but lived the Christian life in a way that Timothy caught it from them. This is what we should do. Practically, it means being faithful witnesses of Christ in every area of influence where we find ourselves with people who do not know Christ. Faithfulness is not just talking about Christ but walking to show that he is in our lives. Our works must measure up to our words.

How do we do that? One way is to be good examples of Christian witness to one another. Just as Paul was a good testimony and a role model to Timothy, so Timothy must have been a good example to those who came after him. All of us are Christians because of someone else’s effort. Therefore, we too should make the effort to ensure that the people around us know what a Christian looks like. All of us are examples and the only difference is whether we are good examples or bad examples. Therefore, why not chose to be good examples especially so when we have a loving Heavenly father who loves us and imparts his grace to empower us to live for him?

We should live that life now because we never know how our influence can impact the Kingdom of God. Faithfulness is living the Christian life now, not looking to do it in the future. William Carey was born into a Christian home but he never really knew Christ. However, while working as a cobbler, he had a genuine conversion experience through the faithfully witness of a fellow cobbler. From then on, he was on fire for God and, fifteen years later in 1793, he sailed to India as a missionary. Today we call him the father of modern missions and study his life as an example of missions. But William Carey laboured very hard in India. Only after seven years did he have his first Indian convert. Imagine plodding on for seven years before bearing fruit. Today, if we experience the same thing, we will say this is not God’s calling because God is not blessing the work. However, because Carey and others like him persevered, there are many Christians in India today. Carey wrote these words in a letter to his nephew “I can plod and persevere. That is my only genius. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.” Carey calls himself a plodder, one who moves slowly but surely. It was the same with Hudson Taylor who persevered and grew the church in China. When we purpose to live our lives as a blessing to the people around us, we will have eternal implication for the Kingdom of God. Is that not worth doing? Never think you are one person and you won’t make a difference.

We may not be like Paul the apostle or Carey but we can be like Lois or Eunice - Christians who lived the Christian life so that it was caught by those around them. Christians who witness whenever they can to whoever they wherever they can. That is what many Christians have done before us. May God help us to be faithful so that those after us may find us faithful examples.