Making Disciples (2) – giving up all

I wrote about ‘giving up all’, but only mentioned examples in Acts and the epistles.  There is another account – in the Gospels – The Widow’s Mite.

 

The Widow’s Mite

As I said, one way to understand difficult passages or practices in the OT would be to see how Jesus or the early church referenced and flesh it out. And when it comes to the topic of giving (tithing), Jesus actually did not say much; but He mentioned much about the hazardous preoccupation with wealth, and about the poor.

In the account of “The Widow’s Mite”, many use the account from Luke, where the warning against the scribes and the sacrificial giving of the poor widow was separated by the artificial chapter division.  There is another account in Mark, which brings out the context more.

 

Mark 12  38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

 

 

James Matheny wrote about this. It makes more sense when I read the text in context.

Was the account about sacrificial giving or was Jesus illustrating on his warning about religious folks asking people to give, and give?  = by pointing out a widow who in obedience about temple ‘tithes’ probably had sold what she had, and then gave everything she had.

One of my favorite films is “The Book of Eli”.  I first watched it aboard a plane, and had to get the DVD.  That was the impact of the movie on me.  It’s about how the scriptures can be abused to control others   Here’s the review from Christianity Today –

(http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/januaryweb-only/bookofeli.html)

Denzel Washington stars as Eli, a lone traveler wandering America’s wastelands presumably devastated by nuclear war 30 years prior.

Carnegie a crime boss is looking to expand his territory and knows that knowledge is power in a world where most people don’t know how to read. His gang searches the area (and hapless travelers) for books to help him gain control. There’s one in particular he’s desperate to find, a book with the power to rally people under his leadership—and Eli just happens to have the world’s last remaining copy of The Bible.

Eli and Carnegie want the Scriptures for very different reasons. Carnegie recognizes that the Bible can influence people’s hearts and minds—a “weapon” to bend people’s wills to his own. But Eli believes he is on a mission from God, following the instructions of the “still small voice” within to protect the holy book at all costs and save his devastated world with the divine wisdom it contains. 

 

Using, or abusing Scriptures?

I remember how my previous church spent months in each year raising money for her worthy projects – yes, they were all worthy projects, missions, church planting, sending out workers.  One Sunday, the appeal to give was transmitted from one of our satellite venues, and we watched the sermon on the screen.  Then I prayed, ‘Lord, close our ears, our eyes to what the speaker is saying, as the scriptures are being quoted out of context’.  (I had been reading up on ‘twisting the scriptures’).  Then the sound system became muffled, and the projection screen began to sway.  Not too sure whether it was an answer to prayer, but anyway, I thought so.

 

So, have I been exposed to much incomplete and distorted interpretations of the scriptures?  How did term “Great Commission” came about?  Or the “Great Commandment”.  What about the “Great Compassion” (John 3:16).  I realized now that these two ‘greats’ draw attention to what we must do, and not what Jesus has done.  Has the church been subjected to a narrow definition of the word ‘disciple’ and various groups of people, in faithfulness, sincerity and personal obedience went forth to make disciples – in their own image!  To ‘hothouse’ converts for the task of world evangelism, a type of special forces, marine corps, rather than just a mere soldier, a son, a sower, a steward, a student, a sprinter, a sibling (to the community) [from the letters to Timothy]?

Or have we been subjected to a rigid nuance of the term ‘discipleship’ and disciple – see https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B130207/what-does-it-mean-to-make-disciples

The text for the Great Commission is taken from Matthew.  Mark stated that it was to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation”.  I suppose Luke’s account of this commission would be in Acts 1:8 – to witness to Him.  John corroborated the command in Acts 1:8 when he wrote John 20: “ 24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”

 

I have perused the multiplication charts of the disciple-making movements. But I wonder why the fastest growing churches in the world are the Pentecostals and the Charismatics. Maybe there is something I have missed – The Great Commitment of Jesus.  Its not about my discipleship.  Its about God’s purpose in Jesus, God’s plan in Jesus, God’s program in Jesus.  And when someone told me how they fasted, how they prayed – I chipped in – yes, wow, but it is going to be a OMO – One Man Operation, and it is finished. We just follow along, and learn how He did it, how He is doing it – to be a learner follower as John MacArthur explained.

THE GREAT COMMITMENT

Yes, I repeat for emphasis   THE GREAT COMMITMENT

 Acts 1: … 5you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses …”

Matthew 28 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore ……  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

May the Companion (paraclete) Whom the Lord Jesus sent, our Comforter, our Captain, our Covering also be our Counsellor, so that we can know Jesus 

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Making Disciples – teaching them to obey

Matthew 28″  16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

Dee Xai Per, a believer in his forties has been attending a local fellowship.  One Sunday, the pastor gave an altar call, and asked the church to deny oneself, and give up all. The pastor had Luke 9:23 in mind.  This passage is one of the seven commandments Jesus gave from the Gospels.  And any faithful disciple maker would be ‘teaching them to observe all that Jesus have commanded”

 

Luke 9:23  23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

Many groups and churches exhort their members to discipleship and use “discipleship” passages as above, in carrying out the Great Commission.

 Dee Xai Per wanted to be faithful and obedient, but at the same time he was unsettled, and shared his feelings with another church member.  This other church member asked me what does it really mean, to deny ourselves?

It is clear that v27 was specifically about how Peter, John, and James would witness Jesus’ transfiguration with their own eyes.  But was Jesus also tenderly exhorting and hinting to  Peter ahead of time (at Jesus’ trial) to deny himself rather than to deny Jesus (Luke 22:34).

And what about 2 Tim 2:12 – if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;”?   

Did Jesus rejected Peter who denied him, or was Jesus inconsistent.  We know Jesus reinstated and restored Peter!

And when we go into all the world to make disciples, like the pastor, we are to ask people to deny themselves.  Where else in the NT do the apostles demanded that believers deny themselves and give up all?

I found the following passages of denial –

2 Tim 2:12   if we deny him

2 Tim 2:3    He cannot deny himself

Titus 1:16   but they deny him by their works

2 Pet 2:1   denying the Master who bought them,

Jude 1:4   deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

Oh, the apostles didn’t do a very good job!  They failed to ask believers to deny themselves! They proclaimed that we cannot deny the Master!  I wonder what it means not to deny my Master? (Why then do the pulpit command and charge believers to deny oneself; rather than point to Jesus [like the greatest man borne of women – Behold the Lamb])

I always remind myself to return to the scriptures when I come across any difficult passages.  If they are from the OT, and if they are important, Jesus and the Apostles would have explained, illumined, applied and fleshed out the application of the teaching or truth in the NT.  And if the words of Jesus are knotty, a good approach would be to find allusions and examples  from the Apostles.

As mentioned above, why can’t we find any incidence of the Apostles teaching the believers to deny themselves?  When I grappled with this, I was brought to the example of Paul, of how, implicitly, in a single-minded and resolute manner, denied himself, putting no confidence in the flesh – and its about solely relying on Jesus, relishing Him in all ways, always!

 

Phil 3: For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of ChristIndeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

 

Paul is saying, it is all about HIM Do not deny His sufficiency and supremacy! He cannot be replaced, misplaced or diplaced!

Jared Bumbers wrote in   http://ftc.co/resource-library/blog-entries/indicatives-and-imperatives, (and the underlined words reflect the conundrum faced by Dee Xai Per.)

Read most of the books on Redemptive Historical/Christocentric preaching, and you will find warnings against moralistic preaching. Moralistic preaching is preaching that focuses on the biblical commands without connecting them to the gospel. It is preaching that is heavy on the imperatives and lacking in gospel content. Moralistic preaching leads to one of two things: a false sense of self-righteousness, or despair.

 

But I must not forget about the “give up all …”  Is there any example of the Apostles teaching the early church to give up all?  And sacrificing wealth would be archetypal of giving up all. Well, I can think of two accounts –

1)  Acts 2: 44″And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need…”

2)  2 Cor 8  We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, …

I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich…” 

 

Well, we get the drift.  The early church, upon knowing Jesus, willingly and wholeheartedly, gave.

I used to get worked up by churches’ plea to give. And I just had to voice my conviction on this.  If any pastor or church advocate and cojole giving a specific definite amount (it happened to me – give the year-end bonus, give ten percent, give the entire GST cash voucher from the government etc), they would be going against the scriptural teaching.  Scriptures say I am to decide in my own heart, (Paul probably understood the pattern by Abraham and Jacob who both unilaterally decided the amount, as against distorted teaching of a certain amount of the tithe demanded in the abolished levitical system. Melchizedek and the Lord would accept whatever Abraham and Jacob offered – it happened to be 10%.  It could be 2%, or 20% – it is acceptable. But it was willing, and wholehearted.  We need to define the 10% freely offered, or the 10% tithe demanded in the levitical system.  So I want to determine what the church means.  If it is defined as the former willing and wholehearted offering, then the teaching is “12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.”)  being willing and wholehearted  (2 Cor 9: “Each one must give as he has decided in his hear t not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”)

No body should dictate to me.  It would be joyful, spontaneous, invigorating and life-giving when my faithfulness is willing and wholehearted. The entire book of Hebrews is an excellent pattern and application in teaching, persuasion, and exhortation. The author could have just used Heb 13:17 – “Hey guys, just listen to me, obey me …..”.  No the author presented Jesus, portrayed Him as Great, Good, Gracious, Glorious and worthy of faith, solely on Him.

 

I believe the same principle and practice applies to discipleship and obedience. Just lift Jesus up. Point to Jesus.  And see how believers will respond to HIM! (as in Acts 2, and 2 Cor 8).  Upon knowing His awesome love and amazing grace, those who are forgiven much will love much!

The Red Apple Syndrome

Andrew Goh is more than wise, and witty.  He is also a wordsmith!  His editorial is always my first read whenever the Impact Magazine comes in the mail. In the latest edition, (https://www.impact.com.sg/single-post/2017/01/23/Words-And-Even-More-Words)  he quoted M. Slozberg, and added on with his usual uncanny insights –

 Miriam Slozberg cautions: “We know that the benefits of using Social Media are profound. Through social networking, many businesses have grown, and individual users have blossomed many great friendships and found support when needed. Social Media can be a huge blessing. However, at the same time, if you are not careful with how you use it, Social Media can be a huge curse.”

Apparently what we post on Social Media is never lost (shades of “once saved, always saved”?) She adds: “What you put out in your social networks is out there forever. Just imagine a potential employer or collaborator reading a Facebook post of you ranting about how you hate life or using every curse word in the book – you can kiss your opportunity goodbye.”

The “Delete” button is misleading once “Send” has been pressed.

Truly, here’s the gift that keeps on giving … even when we don’t want any more of it, thank you. But as the British say so well, “in for a penny, in for a pound”. And what a pounding it has been.

Matthew 12:36 (KJV): “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”

Idle words? Hmmm. Hitting the nail, right on the head. No exaggeration. Enough said.

 

Indeed, “what we post on Social Media is never lost” and how it reminds me of timeless words of James Chapter 3

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

 

Social norms and civility has probably curbed gossips uttered or passed on to the few we come in contact.  But words, through social media as comments, critiques, criticisms, opinions, observations – has a life of its own, far beyond the reaches of our tongues – reaching to people and groups we hardly envisage or imagine!

So what do people blog or babble about?  Anything and everything!

And it is becoming a syndrome (google – a characteristic combination of opinions, emotions, or behaviour)

 

THE RED APPLE

There was a group a boys, wandering, – and wondering, at an apple tree, with one red apple and ninety nine green apples. One of them challenged – yes you guessed it – ‘who can bring down the red apple with a stone’.

Why the red apple? Why did the world’s press and news columns pick on LKY or Singapore?  You get the idea.  There’s more glory and glee than hitting a green apple

Many years ago, I hosted two Swiss scientists at the China Town Hawker Center.  One of them said, “Oh, where are the policemen?”  He had read that Singapore was a police state.  I teased in return “Not so loud, they are all around us, in plain clothes”.  Or the occasion when my UBC professors who came here twenty years ago realised that what they read in Canada about Singapore were not factual, but fabricated!  (e.g. http://honestreporting.com/)

Comments are free.  But they must be factual and fair.

Why do so many blog about my pastor Joseph Prince? Because he’s like the red apple – too prominent and prodigious.  The film star / celebrity portrait on his bestselling books. The outstanding (architecturally I mean or is it outlandish?) church he pastors. The thousands (millions via TV) who eagerly and enthusiastically watch and listen to him. The testimonies that extol the impact and influence of his Grace sermons.

 

No it can’t be.  How can a tiny nation Singapore pull off so many achievements that elude even Western (better?) countries? How can an Asian LKY be respected and consulted even by world (western) statesman?  No, it can’t be – and so those who hold the pen would bring forth their searchlights and scour all that comes forth from LKY, and even resort to tarnish our beloved founder statesman and our nation. There’s glory and glee in blogging about a red apple.

 

W Safire definitely wasn’t a fan, and writing about Singapore and LKY probably garnered more mileage than writing about a green apple.

I found a transcript of a 1999 interview – LKY faced off with Safire, – speechwriter for US president, NYT renowned columnist. His views and writings were as free as the US could be, and LKY was more than a match when giving him an audience. And in his usual style, LKY was sharper, faster. Factual, fair-handed. In comparison, WS was out of his depth.

 

LKY to William Safire : [Laughs] I am not saying that. You are reducing it. You are caricaturing what I am saying.

WS: Here comes a prickly question. You mentioned corruption and nepotism earlier today. What about Singapore? Would your son be Deputy Prime Minister if he were not your son?

LKY: If he were not my son, he would be the Prime Minister. I’ll tell you honestly, I stopped him, because he can run faster than any of the others. But I told him it would do him no good. Just stay out of this race. And his generation, his peers, know that I am not boasting when I tell you this.

WS: So you don’t foresee a dynasty?

LKY: I am not that bereft of satisfaction with my life that I need to live vicariously through him. In fact, if he doesn’t measure up, it is better that he does not show up, because he’ll just besmirch the family reputation.

WS: About your book. You just wrote a book; I bought the book.

LKY: Where did you buy the book?

WS: In Washington, D.C. It wasn’t easy, but I found it. Have there been any negative reviews of your book in Singapore?

LKY: A few. Not written by Singaporeans.

WS: But published in Singapore?

A: Oh, yes. By xxxxxxx. Condemning it day by day. It’s dutifully published. It gives me publicity. [Laughs] Look. I can stand that. Not to worry.

 

“It gives me publicity”!  Yes that’s something.  I found out one local blogger having 19 postings on Joseph Prince. (I’ve yet to find out how many postings he made on those in his fellowships. OK, I understand, they have to be red apples).

Indeed comments on social media are free.  But are they factual and fair-handed?  I do my due diligence – for myself. Its life and death!  Have I been listening to a false teacher? Well, I always tell myself, my mind and senses must be like a parachute – it only works when it is open.  And I don’t think I am superficial.  I too scour words and precepts that are preached and proclaimed, “in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain” (Galatians 2)  But my conclusions are definitely not final and conclusive.  As Paul wrote “I know whom I believe” (2 Tim 1) and “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3).  So I rather spend my time truly knowing Him, and making Him known, rather than spend my time focusing on things, ideas, concepts, opinions, people   –  writing about what and where I ate for breakfast, or my observation and opinion on this and that, and who and who. Oops sorry, I am now guilty of being free with my opinions.  I better watch out, or I end up having policemen, psychiatrists and social workers (from Andrew Goh’s editorial mentioned earlier) ticking to follow me in my blogs  .  If anyone, I rather that I’m being followed by the Companion, the Comforter, the Covering, the Captain, the Counsellor Whom my Lord Jesus sent to guide my in my pilgrimage.

If you came this far reading, thank you for reading. My opinions, observations, conclusions are far from final.  Only Jesus is real and true.  May you know HIM, for this is eternal life, that you know HIM.

Law IN GRACE

The following is one of the entry from the web when googling on the subject of Grace, from https://www.gotquestions.org/law-vs-grace.html

Question: “Law vs. grace—why is there so much conflict among Christians on the issue?” Answer: One side says, “Salvation is by grace and grace alone.” The other side counters, “That idea leads to lawlessness. God’s righteous standard in the Law must be upheld.” And someone else chimes in with, “Salvation is by grace, but grace only comes to those who obey God’s Law.” At the root of the debate are differing views on the basis of salvation. The importance of the issue helps fuel the intensity of the discussion.

Somehow, probably unintentionally, the law is pitted against Grace, while others would approach this perennial issue as “Law and Grace”.  The image that comes to my mind is that of a see-saw, with Law and Grace placed on either ends, with each teaching / principle as having valid and justifiable claim in our faith, and the weightage accorded to teaching dependent on our denominational and traditional persuasion and preference.

Two nights ago, I attended a session titled “Law and Grace” conducted by a clergyman who also wrote a book of the same title. The introduction to his book stated

“Super or hyper grace teaching is gaining both adherents and detractors across continents and denominations. Those in support of this teaching find new liberty from guilt and condemnation in its emphasis on the grace of God; while others question the denigration of the law of God and the manner in which Scripture is interpreted. Without a doubt, the message has mass appeal; with the messengers who deliver the teaching being both charming and eloquent greatly aiding the cause. Is this a fresh revelation from God, or a deception of the devil? Why is Grace teaching so compelling, yet divisive? Are law and grace—both of God—truly opposed to each other? What is the root issue over which we are all concerned?”

The author was fair and factual to state that the debate on Law and Grace is not new, but has been on raging for centuries, delineating the drifts and swings as in a pendulum.  The guess is it might swing from the current popularity of Grace teaching to the demands of the Law in the future.

So this subject of Law and Grace has been observed as the opposite appeals of God’s truth, with each teaching having equal legitimacy and validity.  So now, we not only have the image of a see-saw, but that of a pendulum – “Law and Grace”.

The author upheld the biblical narrative that God dwelt with man in Grace before the Law was given – reaching out to man’s fall with Grace by providing the garments made out of the bloodied skins. He was sound in clarifying the scriptural intention of the law, and submitted that each has to form his own conclusion, from his own study of scriptures. He was very neutral, and accurately reported on the current developments in Singapore, the persuasions and preferences of believers drawn from the diverse institutional and denominational spectrum.

I just had to interject.  I noted that it has been inadequately (or even incorrectly termed) as  “Law and Grace”, “Law vs Grace”.  But from the dawn of world redemption, God has always been reaching out to us in Grace.  And the best way to understand the law in the OT would be to see what Jesus Christ and His apostles (ie the NT) has to say about the law.  I brought up how John understood in John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  And how Hebrews 3:1-6 tells us that Moses was a servant, while Jesus IS THE SON!

So I advocated that this subject of Law and Grace should be definitively be titled as Law in Grace