Saturday, August 15, 2015

What is True Blessing?

Almost 8 years ago, in its December 2007 issue, Fortune Magazine subtitled its report on the Wall Street financial crisis arising out of mortgage debt as “the subprime mortgage crisis keeps getting worse—and claiming more victims.” The subprime crisis caused billions of dollars in losses then. The share prices of Citigroup and Merrill Lynch, America’s biggest commercial and investment bank respectively, dropped 35%. Many other Wall Street financial giants such as Bank of America, Credit Suisse, etc., posted billions of US$ losses.

Nine months later in 2008, the statement, “the subprime mortgage crisis keeps getting worse—and claiming more victims” seemed prophetic. Mortgage giants FannieMae & FreddieMac needed US government intervention to stop going under. Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, three of Wall Street’s biggest five investment banks, were sold or forced into bankruptcy. When these financial dominoes fell, they sent jitters through the world economy, resulting in shock-waves in various stock markets around the world. The future looked grim then with financial losses and massive unemployment.

Will it happen again? Why not? The signs seems to point to another one, with the Greek crisis in Europe and the fall of the yuan very recently. At least, that is what the harbingers have pointed to for 2015. If so, many of us will be affected. As Christians, what are the lessons that we can take with us?

One immediate thought is learning contentment, amidst trial and tribulation. Paul was in prison yet he was contented. (Phil 4:11, 12) “… I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether living well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” What was Paul’s secret? “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13). Jesus was Paul’s all-in-all. Jesus should be our all-in-all. If he truly is, we will find grace to withstand the losses. We will learn to reduce our living expenses to match our income. We will learn to ask, “How much do I want before I say I have enough?” We may learn that the next car, gadget, appliance is not something we really need. Perhaps we will then teach our children that the next video-game or toy or clothes or sportswear may not really be necessary and that they could do with a cheaper version or even not at all. Then, when the economy looks rosier and our living picks up, we will remember Jesus’ exhortation, “…a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”(Luke 12:15).  This is what caused the downfall of Wall Street’s investment bankers – imprudence arising out of discontentment with what they already possessed.

The other is to avoid ill-gotten gain. One news article then described the crux of the sub-prime crisis was because these banks “bought each other’s debt and erased one another’s risk by dealing with one another in a giant chain letter.” It was paper wealth that was unethical if not downright illegal. Wealth per se is not a sin.  It is our security in adverse times and it has the power to influence things for good. I believe God expects us to work and, at the same time, be a good steward and prudently handle the wealth and resources that we accumulate from our labour. But I also believe our means to attain wealth as well as the ends to which we use our wealth matters to him. Wealth, ill-used or ill-gotten displeases God.

Let us learn to live life by the standards that God expects of us. When we do so, we are blessed and “the blessing of the Lord brings wealth and He adds no trouble to it(Prov 10:22).

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Why Do I Delight In The Law?

Just last Sunday, 9 August 2015, Singapore celebrated 50 years of peace, progress and prosperity as a sovereign and independent nation. I have no doubt that we enjoy these blessings because of our founding fathers’ wisdom in ensuring that Singapore is a nation built on law and order. Each time Parliament meets, it is to pass new laws or amend others to ensure our society does not break down. Some may lament that the law restricts freedom but good laws that order our society and protect us are not burdensome and restrictive. For instance, good traffic laws do not restrict our freedom. Instead, they bring safety and order to potentially dangerous situations and preserve life. In this Jubilee Year, we see the blessings of building our nation on law and order. In fact, the law is a delight for those who see how it benefits in bestowing peace, freedom and sound judgment on its citizens. These are also the same blessings of God's law that the Psalmist declares in Psalm 119 - "your law is my delight..." (v174), "Great peace have they who love your law and nothing can make them stumble" (v165), "I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts" (v45), "teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands" (v66).

Thus, the Psalmist declares the authority of God's laws over his life in this Psalm. Consider the imperatives and the number of times they point to the power and authority of Scripture – law (45), statutes (23), precepts (21), decrees (22), commands (14), word (23), promise (11). Yet the law does not produce a cringing fear. Instead, he delights in God’s law. This is so unlike many churches today where talk of obedience to God’s law and authority seems to produce a visceral aversion. These same churches label, sometimes disparagingly, such responses to God’s commandments as ‘self-effort’, ‘salvation by works’, etc. Not so the Psalmist here. Why? It is because he recognises the beneficial role God’s Word plays in guiding his life – “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free” (v32), “I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path” (v104),  “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord" (v1), etc. How positive the Psalmist sounds.

The value of God’s Word is seen in the many blessings it gives us:

  • It shows us a better way of living in not yielding to temptation -"how can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word" (v9).
  • It frees us from duplicity - "I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame" (v46).
  • It outweighs the value of all material things - "the law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold” (v72).
  • However simple-minded or dull-witted one may seem to be, God's Word is not beyond understanding - "I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts" (v100), "the unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple" (v130).
  • It enhances our quality of life - "how sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth" (v103).
  • It promises wrath for those who hurt God’s people - "you reject all who stray from your decrees, for their deceitfulness is in vain. All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross; therefore I love your statutes" (v118-119).

We can see the blessings in obeying God’s Word. Should we not then be studying God’s Word in a daily, dynamic walk with Jesus so that we may reap the full blessings of growing to be like Christ, pleasing our Heavenly father in this life? May our life echo the Psalmist's prayer, "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law" (v18).