Friday, April 8, 2011

What is the teenager listening to you writing?

I had the privilege of attending evening service for two consecutive Sundays at a Bible-believing and teaching church, a rare sight today, but the highlight was not necessarily the faithful preaching of and edification by God’s Word, as much as that was indeed a great blessing on both occasions, but the highlight was the fact that both times, I sat next to the same person, a 14 year old teenager.

In both Sundays, he did the same thing, which reminded me more of my early days when I initially got saved. He would open his now half-filled note book and faithfully wrote down as much as he could of what the preacher said, and especially the key points and important facts that were emphasized. In both cases, during most of the sermon his head was often bowed down, writing what he heard from the preacher. And even after he finished writing, he went over what he had written with his pen, slowly rewriting over each letter, this time darkening his initial writing, a practice we can identify with when we were younger. He was careful to capture and ponder over all that the preacher had said.

But the preacher never knew there was such a person in his audience. In the same way in our lives, we have teenage and younger audiences we know nothing about observing our lives. Like this 14 year old teenager listening keenly to the preacher, they watch us very closely, and ponder over all we do and say, whether they are our children living with us or those around our society. Teenagers are almost always surrounded by adults whom they observe consciously and subconsciously, and end up imitating in life. For example, we are quick to blame them for watching too much TV and picking bad habits from the programs, but overlook the fact that when they turn on the TV, it is mostly adults that they see, not fellow teenagers. Even when they go to school, it is adults that teach. Any book, newspaper, or other written material they may pick to read, is always written by an adult. When they surf the internet, chances are that probably all the websites they will visit have been developed by adults.

It is because of this that when the Lord gave the commandment that has been famously labelled the ‘Shema’, He attached certain relevant conditions to it. ‘Shema’ is a Hebrew word meaning ‘to hear’. The commandment is termed the ‘Shema’ because of its opening remark that states, “Hear, O Israel”. The ‘Shema’ is found in Deuteronomy chapter six. Verses 4 to 9 read as follows:

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 
These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 
You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 
You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 
You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The command in its simplicity, admonished Israel to totally love the Lord with all their being, and it is this commandment that Christ repeated in the New Testament and confirmed that it was the Greatest Commandment of all (Matthew 22:37). The relevant conditions then follow, that these words not only be in their hearts, but that they should “teach them diligently” to their sons; they should talk of them when they sit, walk, lie down, and rise up; bind them on various parts of their body, and write them around certain areas of their houses. With these conditions, God not only required His people to teach the ‘Shema’ to their children, but He ensured that even more, their lifestyles would be wholly devoted to living it out; at home or away, sitting or walking, asleep or awake. This is because He knew that beyond verbally teaching their children the command, it would make more impact if they modelled it as well, because by default, children are always surrounded by adults whom they consciously and subconsciously observe and emulate.

The simple question hence arises, what are the children and teenagers around you observing? Are they seeing you live out the ‘Shema’, or are they seeing you ascribe to contrasting beliefs and practices, beliefs and practices that you would condemn if you saw them in their lives? We may accuse the teenagers and children of this generation for taking sin to a whole new level, but in honest truth, they have just been replaying the tape and rereading the books they’ve been recording from hearing and watching us rehearse life.

So, what is the teenager listening to you today writing for use in his future tomorrow?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Are you running a ‘children’s home’ or a ‘feeding lot’?

I recently attended a men's conference by a renowned preacher who focuses on men's ministry. During one of the sessions on love, he made some really convicting statements and gave testimonies on genuine love and motive for serving God. The question kept ringing in my mind, ‘Much as you are a believer, what are your motives for serving God? Is it a quest for personal glory and reward, or a genuine love and heart after God’s glory and the good of His people?’

Common preaching today when it comes to serving God, is centred on stewardship, and the fact that in stewardship, God will judge us for how much we accomplished with what He gave us (this is mostly depicted from the parable in Matthew 25:14-30 on the talents). So the result is that we have Christians running around hastily trying to do as much as they can ‘for God’ so that they may be found to be ‘good and faithful servants’ when our Lord returns. The more works we do in His name the merrier it would seem…

But during the conference, the preacher posed a very interesting thought to us. In one of his testimonies, he mentioned how the Lord had enabled him to take care of about 27 orphans on his farm. He provides them with every basic need and education. So one time a friend and fellow Christian serving God visited him; and on seeing that the preacher was taking care of 27 children, he saw it fit to mention that on his part, he was taking care of a much larger figure of 300 children. So ideally, with his 300, he would have been found to be a more faithful servant than the preacher when the Lord returns.

But interesting to note was his choice of words when he described his 300, he referred to his project as a ‘feeding lot’, to which the preacher was quick to respond that on the other hand, he was running a ‘children’s home’, and not a ‘feeding lot’. While the preacher’s friend measured his ministry in terms of facts and figures, he measured his in terms of love – the children and love for them was more important than their number or feeding program…

His friend was using secular standards of success that are tied to quantity instead of godly standards that are tied to love according to the Greatest Commandment to love God and one another (Mark 12:29-31). So instead of running a children’s home, he was running a feeding lot, where the children indeed knew his hand that provided, but couldn’t put a face that truly cares to the hand.

This poses a challenging question to us, in your service to God, which is more visible, your busy hand, or your loving face? What is your motive for serving God, personal gain or a genuine love for God and His people? What can your service be equated to, a ‘children’s home’, or a ‘feeding lot’?

The Humanity of Christ

The humanity of Christ, the fact that He actually took on the human nature and was fully man (as He was fully God) when He walked the earth has always been a contentious issue since centuries past. So I thought I’d share a brief article I wrote on the subject. I hope it will be helpful in understanding the incarnation of Christ, and be useful in Bible study as well. Interesting also to ponder is the fact that as Christ is now in heaven, He is in a physical human body, but one that if perfect, one that is glorified, a body similar to the one that those who believe in Him will enjoy in eternal life after we resurrect on His Second Coming…

Philippians 2:7 confirms that Christ “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” This verse outlines the incarnation of Christ, in that He took on full humanity and lived a fully human life (John 1:14). He did not lose His divine nature in any way but continued to be fully God (GRENZ, GURETZKI & NORDLING, 1999:65). Best (1975:48) confirms that, “He did not surrender His Divine nature, but He took a human nature. Thus, we have an unfallen (sic) human nature united to the Divine nature in one indivisible Person – the impeccable Christ.” This is referred to as the Hypostatic union.

Matthew begins his Gospel by identifying Jesus as a descendant of Abraham and David (Matthew 1:1), hence He had human ancestors. After giving His genealogy, Matthew confirms that Christ was born of Mary, before she and Joseph, her husband, “came together” (1:18). Hence Christ was born through natural birth. Mary being a virgin, made it possible to unite full deity (God's divine nature) and full humanity in one person, it also showed that salvation ultimately comes from God, and ensured that Christ did not inherit the original sin from Adam (GRUDEM, 1994:530). John 1:14 states that the Word “became” flesh, involving a change in state. This is the basic statement of the incarnation, for Christ entered into a new dimension of existence through human birth (TENNEY, 1981:33).

Christ experienced natural growth as a child. Luke 2:41, 42 highlights a rare record of His childhood as a 12 year old boy visiting Jerusalem with His parents for the Passover Feast. Luke further records that, “Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature” (2:52). Hence He experienced spiritual and mental growth as well. These verses portray Christ “in His perfection, physically and spiritually, as Child and later on as grown-up Man” (GELDENHUYS, 1951:130).

In John 1:14 we read that “the Word became flesh.” Milne (1993:46) commented that, “John deliberately bypasses (the use of the term) ‘man’ or ‘a body’. ‘Flesh’ stands for the whole person; it refers to human existence in its frailty and vulnerability… Jesus made our creaturely weakness His very own form and being.” Indeed our Lord experienced human frailty as severally outlined in Scripture. Such instances include: “being wearied from His journey” (John 4:6) and being thirsty (v7); becoming hungry (Matthew 21:18), and eating (Matthew 11:19); experiencing intense agony (Mark 14:33-36; Matthew 26:37); expressing joy (Luke 10:21), love (John 11:5) and compassion for people (Matthew 9:36); and even anger (Mark 3:5).

Hebrews 4:15 confirms that Christ was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” This underscores the fact that just like us, He was tempted by sin, but unlike us, He overcame sin! Biblical examples of temptation and triumph include an encounter with Satan himself when He was fasting (Matthew 4:1-11), and even one of His close disciples, Peter, when He revealed that He would suffer and be killed (Mark 8:31-33). Such was the intensity of the temptation leading up to His redemptive work on the cross that “an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him” while “His sweat became like drops of blood” as He was “praying very fervently” (Luke 22:43, 44). Commenting on this, Milne (1998:165) wrote, “as truly man He endured the weight and pull of temptation to a degree we shall never experience.”

The physical pain Christ underwent (e.g. Luke 22:63) that led to His death is the prime demonstration of His humanity; that He, like all of us, was subject to natural death. Even when the soldiers came to break His bones that He may die faster, they found that He was already dead (John 19:33). And like other men, He was buried according to Jewish customs (John 19:38-40). But He rose again as promised (Luke 24:6, 7)! And His resurrection body is a model of the glorified body all believers will have after their resurrection. Hence He is rightly called “the firstborn of the dead” (Revelation 1:5). Walvoord (1969:130) wrote, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the crucial events in His life on earth upon which the significance of His entire life and death hangs. It is the first step in a series in the exaltation of Christ.”

The humanity of Christ confirms that He is indeed a High Priest taken from among the people (Hebrews 5:1) and genuinely sympathizes with us in our human weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15) despite being God. This greatly assures believers that they can endure all temptations and trials in life through Christ, because He Himself walked on earth like one of us and was tempted in all things and triumphed.

·         BEST, W.E. 1975. Studies in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Houston: W.E. Best Book Missionary Trust
·         GELDENHUYS, N. 1951. Luke. New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT). Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
·         GRENZ, S.J., GURETZKI, D., & NORDLING, C.F. 1999. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms. Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press
·         GRUDEM, W. 1994. Systematic Theology. Michigan: Zondervan
·         MILNE, B. 1993. John (In_Stott, J.R.W., ed. The Bible Speaks Today. Leicester: Inter Varsity Press)
·         MILNE, B. 1998. Know the Truth: a handbook of Christian belief. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press
·         TENNEY, M.C. 1981. John (In_Gaebelein, F.E., ed. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House)
·         WALVOORD, J.F. 1969.  Jesus Christ Our Lord. Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute