Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Humility and Obedience: Putting into Practice the Word of God

21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.  22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
James 1:21-25

The immediate context of this passage is to be read in verse 19, which says: “19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.  Before one can be doer, one must be hearer first.  This is the first hoop to jump.  Our tendency is to speak and not hear.  Our tendency is to be angry and not hear.  This instruction by James has something to do with the larger context of suffering and persecution that Christians went through during the first century.  Our sinful nature tendency to cling to comfort prompts us to reject inconvenience.  Quite often the way we express our rejection of inconvenience is by complaining.  And as the inconvenience grows more intense, like in the face of persecution or unfortunate events or severe suffering, we tend to blame God.  We tend to be angry at God.  All our misfortunes are caused by God, so we think.  It is no secret to hear that when Christians suffer, they begin to complain saying: “Why in the world did I become a Christian?  I thought if I become a Christian, God would just bless me and so I might live a happy life.  But look at my life, I am more miserable than before I became a Christian.  Why, O God, are you making me suffer like this?  You are not a good God like You claimed to be.  Forget it!  I will be a Christian no more!”  They do not wish to hear any explanation.  They just shut their ears to any reasonable teachings of Scripture that direct them toward truth.  And instead of hearing, they just speak their heart out, scream it so loud in the hope that the entire world would sympathize with them, and be angry so fiercely for not getting the comfort they so desire.
But there is another level of the failure, that is when someone only hears and not willing to do what he hears.  At some point, they know that being angry at God because of their uncomfortable life is not going to make their life better.  And so they are prompted to find an explanation that might help them make sense.  As they begin to be slow to speak and slow to anger, they begin their journey in the “hear” land.  They start to hear the explanation, the word.  The persecuted Christians started to hear that following Christ did not equal to comfortable life, and in fact following Jesus meant suffering.  The information heard is then stored in the brain.  The mind chews on it and it begins to understand the connection.  Jesus says in John 15:18-20:
18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
And we all know that Jesus is rejected by the world, hated without reason.  And so, following Jesus means that we too will be rejected by the world and hated without reason.  This then means that Christians living uncomfortable and inconvenient situation is just natural.  It is the way it is.  Okay, the mind knows it.  It is new information that was previously not known.  Now they know.  But what should be done with the new knowledge?  Just store it in the brain?  Just knowing it enough?  So when a paper and pencil test is given a proper answer can be given in order to pass the test with a good grade?
            Clearly, there is a huge gap between knowing an instruction and doing what is instructed.  For sure knowing the information on how to swim does not mean that you can swim.  I can read a book on how to swim and memorize all the instructions on how to do a free style swim, but that doesn’t mean I can actually swim the free style.  If I can’t swim the free style, can I claim that I know how to swim free style?  I don’t think so.  If I want to be able to swim free style, then I will have to put the instructions I stored in my memory into practice.  Meaning, I have to actually do what is instructed.  I have to jump into the water and start practicing the free style swim as instructed.  The way the hand is to be moved, the body position and direction, the legs moving up and down in succession, the way breath is taken.  All of the instructions must be practiced in order to be able to do it.  In the same way, the gap between hearing the word, thus knowing it, and doing the word is huge.
            To hear the explanation that being followers of Christ means suffering like Him – thus knowing it – doesn’t mean that one actually accepts and starts to live as Christ lived.  Accepting the status as “persecuted” is a leap of faith.  Our flesh desires comfort.  Our flesh rejects the idea of persecution.  We want to be accepted, not rejected.  And so normally we follow our flesh in seeking comfort.  Consequently, we strive to avoid persecution and rejection.  Even though we know that we will surely suffer as followers of Christ, we betray that knowledge by directing our life toward the pursuit of “happiness,” of comfort, of convenience at all cost.  And so we begin to search for the one thing we must have in order to be “happy,” to be comfortable, and to be convenient.  It is most common to conclude with wealth.  And it is common knowledge that to be rich means happiness, comfort, and convenience.  If we are rich, we do not restrain our desire.  We desire a BMW 745, we have the money, so we buy.  We desire the newest gadget, Samsung galaxy 7 for example, we have the money, so we buy.  Imagine we don’t have the money, yet our desires bug us every day and night, we can’t buy what we desire, isn’t it a torture?  An uncomfortable life?  A massive inconvenience?  If you are to think about this, what is better: to be rich or to be poor?  It is logical to conclude: to be rich is better.  The world favors the rich.  But to be rich is not easy.  To be rich means to follow the way of the world.  Otherwise one can’t be rich.  I have to remind you that I have nothing against people having riches and wealth.  The problem is when you love money.  Paul says that the love money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).  Now, being followers of Christ cannot be combined with loving money, how much more loving the world.  For the world hates Christ.  How can we love the one that hates our Lord whom we follow?  This is why doing the word is not identical with hearing it.
James warns Christians to do the word and not just be hearer of the word.  Doing the word is difficult.  Not to love money or the world, while living in this world, is extremely difficult.  But it’s just what we are to do as followers of Christ.  Will you do it?  This hoop is big.  Because it is tied so closely to our pride.  Living in this world, one can’t avoid being influenced by the values of the world.  Especially growing up in Asia, how much more in a Chinese family.  The aim is to be rich.  Since we are little, we are groomed to be rich.  It is the expectation of most Asian parents, especially Chinese, for their kids to be rich, stinking rich.  Isn’t it true that when we were kids, our parents asked us: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  Then we are taught to answer: “Doctor, Engineer, Architect, Businessman, Lawyer.”  Do you know why those professions?  It is because those professions bring a lot of money in.  How about answering: “I want to be a teacher.” Or “I want to be a pastor.”  What do you think our parents would say to us?  Yeah you know, they would say: “Hush, No!  You want to be a teacher, or a pastor, what are you going to eat?  How are you going to take care of your family?  Teachers or pastors don’t make good money.  They are poor.  Don’t be teacher or pastor!”  The materialistic value is rampant.  It has filled our subconscious mind.  We operate in the way of the world without we realizing it.  To consciously confront this and then to deny this tendency is extremely difficult to do.  It takes humility.  Tons of humility.  The pride of the family is when you become successful.  Your own pride says you have to be successful in the eyes of the world.  Loving money at all cost will take you there, but it means you can no longer be genuinely following Christ.  Humility is the character to acquire if we are to be doers of the word.  There is no shortcut.  All shortcuts lead to hypocritical life.  Humility gets you to surrender to God.  Humility gets you to acknowledge that the love of money and the world is not the way to go as followers of Christ.  But I must remind you that this step is no easy one.
The second step is obedience.  Yet another difficult step.  The pressures of our family and the temptations of the world are not easy to ignore.  They bother us who desire to obey God and do His word.  Our own family might just scorn at us for suffering for Christ.  They would tell how stupid we are suffering for someone who is not even here physically.  They ask: “Why not find a god that will make you rich?  Why follow the God that allows you to suffer like this?”  Then the temptations of the world arrive at your front door exactly at the same time the family pressure keeps you awake many nights.  You see your best friend is just promoted as the CEO of a big company with a seven figure salary.  And your best friend can buy whatever his heart desires, a new beautiful house in a premium real estate, a brand new Rolls Royce Phantom, an Armani suit, a Patek Philip watch, a pair of Versace shoes, and whatever it is you name it.  Our mind begins to wonder: “What if…?”   How are we to obey God?  How are we to be doers of the word? Following Christ?  Being hated by the world?  Why would I do that?
Before you conclude “God no more” or “Christian no more” and the likes, think about this: “Why do you think Jesus did it?”  Why did Jesus come to this filthy world, in an era where the modern toilet bowl was not even invented yet, no vaccines were available, no wi-fi, no cars, no planes, no cell phones, no gadgets, no movies, and so on?  He had all the glory, grandeur of heaven, riches beyond anything in the world, powers above anything humans can imagine, yet He let that all go for a time just to come into our world 2000 years ago, to suffer all kinds of suffering the world may inflict upon for a good thirty years even run Him to His unjust and gruesome death.  Why would He do that?  You may complain and say: “Well, it’s Jesus, he knew before He came that He would only suffer for a time, and then died, and then raised to life, and then lives in heaven in all the glory and grandeur forever.”  Let me ask you this: “Don’t you also know that as you follow Jesus genuinely, you also would receive the crown of life and live in heaven in all the glory and its grandeur?  But why wouldn’t you believe His word and let go of loving money and this world?”  Why cling to the world?  Why cling to the love of money?  You too know what Jesus knew.  He did it, why don’t you?”
Now you know the extent of pride and disobedience.  It is pride that hinders you from doing the word.  Pride leads to disobedience.  Our Lord has shown us the better way, the way of humility and obedience.  He came into the world with humility.  And so must we.  His obedience was exemplary.  He was said to obey the Father even until death on the cross.  No model of humility and obedience is greater than what Jesus has shown.  And in so doing, He did not live a life filled with material wealth.  He did not seek earthly comfort.  And His life was far from convenient.  Yet no one can ever surpass His greatness and glory and honor in the whole wide world.
Let me tell you a story of a great man.  John Sung was his name.  He was born in 1901, September 27, in China.  And he died at the age of 43 in August 18, 1944.  His father was a pastor of the American Wesleyan Methodist Church in Fujian China.  He was largely known by the western people as the Apostle Paul of the East.  John Sung was a genius in the field of Chemistry.  He went to the US to study.  He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with cum laude with a degree in pre-med.  He even received the gold key as the honorary citizen of the city due to his accomplishments.  He finished a Master of Science from Ohio State University in 9 months.  And then he went to a doctoral program in Chemistry and finished it in 21 months from Ohio State University.  John Sung became the first Chinese to ever be awarded with a PhD.  Now at the crossroads, young John Sung, age 26, a genius with the brightest future, was weighing his options.  He had received letters of invitation from Harvard University to teach there, from Tubingen University in Germany to teach there, from Beijing University, and many more elite and prestigious educational institutions.  John Sung held all those letters in his hands, but he did not feel peace whatsoever to grab these golden opportunities to cash in his genius feat and accomplishments.  So one night he prayed fervently to God for guidance.  It would be easy for him to just grab the most prestigious offer and move on.  But he didn’t.  John testified that Jesus appeared to him one night telling him to serve Him, to be an evangelist.  As a young man, with golden opportunities on his hands, being an evangelist would mean tossing away all his bright future into the garbage can.  According to the wisdom of the world, it would be the most stupid thing to do.  But you know what?  That’s exactly what John Sung did, he tossed all those golden opportunities away.  He went on to enroll in Union Theological Seminary in order to become a pastor.  But UTS was so liberal that he protested against his professor.  So he was considered mentally ill and was sent to the mental asylum.  A Chinese representative was sent to fetch him and bring him back to China.  It took the representative 3 months by sea to arrive in New York.  3 months in the mental asylum did not deter John Sung from being an evangelist.  It should have been a good ground to forget about being an evangelist and just went straight to accept any of the prestigious offers.  It wasn’t too late yet had he wanted to do so.  But surprisingly, he did not grab that opportunity either.  Instead, John Sung studied the Bible zealously, and read it 40 times in 3 months.  That’s his theological education.  At the end of the 3 month time, he went with the Chinese representative heading for Shanghai.  On the sea, he threw away everything except his PhD diploma.  He threw away his Bachelors’ diploma, his Masters’, and even the gold key to the city into the Atlantic Ocean.  John Sung was determined to obey His Master and he never looked back.  He only kept his PhD diploma to show it to his dad that he actually achieved something extraordinary while studying in the US.  But his heart was sure that he was meant for the work of evangelism.  So he traded his golden opportunities with the poor life of an evangelist.  All was due to his obedience to the Lord.  He did not presume to be the genius and great person he was with all his achievements and then clinging to his pride.  But instead, in humility he prayed to the Lord to guide him.  Humility and obedience both formed in his heart that led him to walk the path of suffering and difficulties as an evangelist.  John Sung is now known as the greatest Chinese evangelist of all time.  Without John Sung’s ministry, a lot of Chinese churches in Asia – in Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore – would have died a long time ago.
Brothers and sisters, what about you?  With all the opportunities and potentials in your life, what would you want to do?  I do not speak to you today so that you all become evangelists.  I speak to you today so you will make the most of your time to live for God.  Hearing the word is the easier step.  A lot of Christians today think that being Christians mean going to church, hear the sermons, and then done.  But they are mistaken.  They are to put what they hear into practice.  That is the mark of true faith.  Will you humbly come before the Lord to hear Him and believe?  And will you obey the Lord as a necessary consequence of your believing His word?  The world will tempt you to compromise your faith.  The world will seduce you to cheat for success.  Your family will pressure you to use any means possible in order to achieve the world’s promise of wealth, power, and fame.  Even if it means trading your God for riches.  Even if it means exploiting God for your success.  When the temptations and the pressures come, will you stand your ground and be doers of God’s word?  I pray that you will stand your ground and be doers of God’s word.  Jesus did.  Peter did.  Paul did too.  James, the writer of the text we read, did as well.  St. Augustine did.  St. Thomas Aquinas did.  Martin Luther did.  John Calvin did.  Charles Spurgeon did.  John Sung did too.  And by the grace of God He granted me the opportunity to stand my ground and be doer of God’s word as well.  Hope you will too.  Amen.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

For the Sake of Self Gain

23 Then he called two of the centurions and said, “Get ready two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea at the third hour of the night. 24 Also provide mounts for Paul to ride and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” 25 And he wrote a letter to this effect:
26 Claudius Lysias, to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. 27 This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen. 28 And desiring to know the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their council. 29 I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. 30 And when it was disclosed to me that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.”
Acts 23:23-30

Roman soldiers’ discipline is truly amazing.  Their preparedness and readiness to protect and guard is exemplary.  Their method is very orderly.  470 soldiers total on the ready just to escort one Roman citizen, Paul of Tarsus.  It doesn’t matter the time of the day or night, they are always ready to dispatch.  In the end they were successful in their duty.  Paul arrived in Caesarea safely.  Paul was neither hurt nor dead when he arrived in Caesarea.  Such is the proof of the might of the Roman soldiers.  However, what’s more interesting in this passage is the letter from the commander of the Roman soldiers, Claudius Lysias, to the governor, Felix.

Surely we know that Luke reported the actual event when Paul was in trouble in Jerusalem, starting from Acts 21:27 up until 23:22.  According to Luke, Claudius the commander did not rescue Paul from the Jews because he knew that Paul was a Roman citizen.  In fact he found out about Paul’s Roman citizenship as he was about to make the greatest mistake of his life, which was to whip Paul without proper judicial proceedings.  Claudius was simply doing his duty as the commander at that time.  He was tasked with keeping peace.  And so that’s what he did.  However, in his letter to governor Felix, he spiced up his story.  The purpose for the spicing up of his story was to make him look good before the governor.  He could have hoped that the governor would report his stellar rapport to Rome so that he would be able to get ahead in his career.  So he told Felix that he rescued Paul because he was a Roman citizen.

26 Claudius Lysias, to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. 27 This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen.

Claudius obviously changed the order of the event.  A little lie would get him a mile in his career.  He might have thought, no harm is done to anybody, so why not.  Thus he sacrificed the truth for the sake of his self-gain.

            Well, many of us do the same, do we not?  We think of it as a little lie.  We consider it just as a small sin.  We even excuse ourselves saying: “Everybody is doing it.”  It wouldn’t do harm to anyone, so we think.  Ravi Zacharias pointed out in one of his seminars on truth, that when truth does not benefit us, we would hide it.  That’s exactly what Claudius did.  He hid the truth.  He changed the order of the happenings in the event so as to propel himself as the savior of the day, giving him the cause of his heroic action in rescuing Paul, a Roman citizen.  Secondly, Claudius, in one move also shut down any question about his misjudgment.  Randy Richards and Brandon O’Brien in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes observed that Claudius was a racist that thought Paul was a barbarian – non Greek speaking person, uncivilized, of low status, and so on.  So without proper investigation he ordered that Paul be flogged.  Alas, he forgot that flogging was only legal without just trial for non-Roman citizens.  Had Felix found out about this presumptuous act, would he not be in a lot of trouble in the eyes of Rome?  So Claudius chose to hide the truth.

            We are all masters of hiding what we consider little truths.  We think those truths are insignificant.  Because they don’t help our cause.  And rather, if known, those little truths might ruin our life.  So we hid them safely in our little vault.  Then we tinker with the event for our own advantage.  Aaron modified the event of the golden calf in order to save himself.  Exodus 32:21-24 records Aaron’s report to Moses:

21 And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” 22 And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. 23 For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”

Exodus 32:3-4 records the fact:

So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf.

That little detail, Aaron purposefully left out, so he would appear a little bit better in the eyes of Moses.  He purposefully tweaked the event to argue that he had nothing to do with the shaping of the golden calf.  Either “chance” or “pure luck” or “God” himself made the golden calf miraculously out of the fire.  Whatever it was, the appearance of the golden calf was not Aaron’s responsibility.  Such was the goal of Aaron’s report to Moses.  But Moses knew better.  For the sake of self-gain, Aaron tweaked the truth.

            I remember that I was accused as a pastor who had a pattern of storming out of meetings and thus disrespecting the council.  That’s a pretty serious accusation.  Because the weight of that accusation was on my character.  Basically the accusation was meant to point out that I had a bad character.  The Classis that processed the case did not bother to investigate the matter.  They never bothered to check with me either.  They just assumed that the report was true.  And thus the report was accepted as truth.  The funny thing was, I only left council meetings once, and it was by the permission of the chairman of the council.  So, how in the world one permitted leave from one council meeting jumped into becoming my pattern of behavior?  And I had attended every council meetings without leaving abruptly or what they called as storming out of meetings.  It was only once, and by permission, but yet the unverified accusation became truth in the eyes of the people who would not bother verifying it.  Truth was tweaked in order to assassinate my character.  The report was not true.  The report was a lie.  No harm done, huh?  If you believe so, then talk to me on how the false report had affected my life.

            When truth is manipulated, it will cause grief.  The truth manipulator got the benefit.  But others are sacrificed.  Consider the burning of Rome.  Emperor Nero had lied to council that the Christians burned the city of Rome.  So the entire Roman Empire was mad at Christians.  Thus persecution of Christians was legalized.  No harm done?  Tell it to the persecuted.  Tell it to the family who lost their loved ones to the persecution.  Nero got what he wanted, the redesigning of the city of Rome according to his vision.  But at the expense of the life of the innocent people.  There is no denying that truth matters.  A tweaked truth could cause someone his/her life.  An edited truth could do harm to others.

            When our life is affected negatively by the tweaking of truth, we would normally fight back.  At that moment, truth becomes a big deal.  But when we are greatly benefited by its tweaking, we tend to ignore it.  At that moment, truth would not become a big deal to us.  This is why the case of Claudius the commander of Roman soldiers is interesting.  Luke did not leave out this detail.  He copied the letter in his report to Theophilus (Acts 1:1).  Truth must be told.  But those who are disadvantaged by the report of the truth would adamantly strive to prevent it from surfacing.  Just like the recent case of the United Airlines incident.  Three airport cops dragged one paying passenger of the United Airlines using unnecessary force.  The cops’ report did not spill the detail of the incident but instead labeling it as following proper procedure and measure of force.  In addition, the report told lies about the passenger, Dr. David Dao, being erratic and swinging his fists at them.  One simple video from another passenger’s cell phone proved the report false.  One comment on the news online says that had this incident happen in the time when there were no cell phones, the doctor would have been oppressed even further and UA would escape the ordeal unscathed.

            It is even more interesting as we look deeper into the motif of tinkering with the truth.  The self-gain motif can be clearly seen from 100 mile away.  The selfishness of the sinful human is huge.  Human egoistic disposition is bigger than the universe.  The immediate disposition that Adam and Eve developed as soon as they fell into sin was of self-preservation.  They immediately protected their own self.  First they protected themselves from shame.  Genesis 3:7 points out:

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

Then they protected their pride.  They did not want to be guilty of anything.  They wanted to appear innocent.  And so, Adam deflected his guilt to Eve (and God), and then Eve deflected her guilt to the serpent.  The painful conversation between God and the first humans was recorded plainly in Genesis 3:9-13:

But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Both Adam and Eve did not tell the truth properly.  They tweaked it to their own advantage.  Adam was right to say that it was Eve, whom God gave to him, who gave him the forbidden fruit and then he ate it.  But that’s not the complete truth.  Besides, the tone of his answer was accusatory, blaming both Eve and God as the cause of his sin.  Adam omitted the truth that he did not say a word when Eve gave her the fruit.  Not even when the serpent was smooth-talking Eve into breaking God’s command.  Adam was there the whole time.  And he was aware of the entire conversation and Eve’s decision to take the fruit.  I imagine Adam was there nodding when Eve glanced at him seeking his approval as she reached out for the forbidden fruit.  His omission of the details made him look like a victim, in the hope of lifting up some of the weight of responsibility off his shoulder.  In the same way, Eve also did what Adam did.  Automatically their defense system dictated them to protect themselves at all cost.  So Eve also tweaked the truth.  Instead of admitting that she actually considered eating the fruit because of its tempting lure to become like God, she jumped right away to accuse the serpent of tricking her into eating the forbidden fruit.  She made it like she was an innocent little girl who knew nothing about the command or the consequence of eating it and was powerless as the serpent smooth-talked her into eating it.  Like Adam, she also played victim.  The burden of responsibility was being directed to the serpent.  There is no doubt that the serpent was guilty as charge, but that fact did not eliminate Adam’s and Eve’s responsibility.  In other words, Adam and Eve did not become less guilty when they shifted the blame to others.  Instead, they became guiltier as they added more sins by “playing” victim.

            But God knew better.  He is the Omniscient God.  Nothing escapes Him.  He knew what details they omitted.  He knew what truth they hid.  So punishments still come.  Death still comes.  Not just to Adam and Eve, but also to all their descendants.  The core of their being had shifted dramatically because of sin.  Instead of living for their Creator and for the goodness of others, they became absorbed with their own self-preservation.  They no longer saw naturally the value of others.  Suddenly, as soon as sin took control of them, others became dispensable.  Thus, for the sake of self-gain, they both were willing to sacrifice others.  And in the same way we too do the same.  For the sake of self-gain we also sacrifice others, even those closest to us.  Ever since Genesis 3, humans have run to the exact opposite direction of where God originally wanted us to be.

            Admitting guilt becomes an unpopular option.  Because it comes with responsibility.  And part of the responsibility deals with shame.  Shame is not something humans can cope.  It has been many many moons, but we humans always dread shame.  Shame has something to do with dignity.  Dignity speaks directly to our self-esteem or self-worth.  With shame, human self-esteem is at the lowest point.  When that happens, life is suddenly becomes meaningless.  When life’s meaning is nowhere to be found, one has lost the motif to live.  But we instinctively desire to live.  This disposition is naturally greater than any other thing.  Consequently, everything else is dispensable in the eyes of the will to live.  Denying guilt or shifting the blame to others even to the point of sacrificing an innocent person is deemed better than losing the self.  But this defense mechanism brings much grief.  Not only to those being sacrificed, but also to the self, and surely to God who created us.  One may ask, why is self also affected negatively?  We can easily understand the negative effect to others and to God.  But to self?  Why?

            The answer lies deep within our construct.  As we commit sin, our conscience automatically accuses us of guilt.  Conscience is that one faculty of the human construct that God gives as common grace.  Why common grace?  It is given by God to prevent more and greater evil to occur in the fallen world.  Normally, the accusation of the conscience is strong enough to halt the person from committing more and greater evil.  The accusation weighs heavy within one’s heart and mind.  Even though the accusatory voice might be felt softer over time, it actually never goes away.  Not until the acknowledgment of sin before the One True God and His forgiveness being pronounced.  Now, to add to the existing accusatory voice from one’s conscience is undesirable.  But often, in order to preserve one’s own life, more sins are committed.  The human soul is fragile.  The accusation from one’s conscience is extremely painful.  Self-inflicted wound proves how damaged the soul is.  By committing more sins, one is self-inflicting more wounds to own soul.  This debilitating pain disorients one’s soul in a terrible way.  One must find equilibrium, or otherwise the soul would never rest.  Naturally our soul can’t sustain a long period of unrest.  So normally something must be done in order to cope with it.  The only route to true peace and equilibrium is through our genuine repentance and the forgiveness by the One True God.  But many people would settle for anything other than the debilitating pain of the accusation.  If one refuses to call on the name of God, there are other alternatives.  Those alternatives won’t give him the true peace, but for him better than the pain caused by the conscience.

            There are two main alternatives.  The first choice is to confront the conscience head on.  The second choice is to bribe the conscience.  The confrontation head on is done by altering the human core.  By nature human is constructed to have compassion, to care for others, to avoid committing sins, and to honor the Creator.  But the first route is deconstructing all those four.  In order to do this, one must kill one’s own compassion.  As compassion is suppressed, caring for others would not be in the vocabulary anymore.  The conscience is in a way be reshaped in order to function differently.  The conscience becomes numb.  Committing sin, then, won’t be bothered by the conscience anymore.  When God uses other means other than his conscience to bring him back on track, the person who chooses to dismiss God altogether would just confront whatever means God chooses to use the same way he kills his own conscience.  No wonder, in the stories of old, we hear of God’s prophets being persecuted and murdered.

            The second alternative is to bribe the conscience with what seems like something good.  Humans naturally would feel better when they do good things like helping disabled people cross the street, rescuing mistreated animals, feeding the hungry, and so on.  And so, when one commits sin, and he does not wish to come to God to acknowledge his sin and asks for forgiveness, he can get by using this second route.  But this route too won’t give him true peace or equilibrium.  It just silences the conscience a bit in a non-violent way.  As the conscience barks when one commits sin, he resorts to upgrading the quantity of good deeds he could do.  The accumulation of the good feeling is able to get the conscience to soften its accusatory voice.  He would feel that he is not as bad as the accusation within.  However, he knows that he is using good deeds as a means for gaining security for his own.  This is a subtle manipulation.  In a way, this harms others as well, because they are just a means for our own “happiness.”  In other words, he has used others for his own self-gain in a more subtle way.  To everyone who has chosen this route, they all know that this too won’t completely get rid of the accusatory voice from their conscience.  The voice remains and actually is heightened as the subtle manipulation is revealed over time.

            The main problem with these two routes is that it adds more guilt to the soul.  With more guilt accumulated and not dealt with properly, it only wounds the soul further.  One can only sustain the wounded soul for so long.  Eventually the soul demands a full restoration.  The delayed restoration results in another voice within one’s soul.  This voice demands, not accuses.  The two voices, one that accuses and one that demands, cannot simply be ignored.  In the end the soul feels the weight pulling one’s soul down deeper into the bottomless pit.  Thus the quest to save one’s soul ends up in one’s life being lost.  Humans are constructed not to save own soul at the expense of others.  In Matthew 16:25-26 Jesus says:

25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Jesus points out to the exact opposite of what human sinful tendency dictates.  With His ultimate sacrifice, Jesus has shown the world what human being is supposed to be.  We are in fact constructed to sacrifice our own soul for the sake of others.

            The other big problem with these two routes is that both suppressed the truth. The truth that the soul must return in submissive mode to God is being suppressed to the max.  Humility is replaced by pride.  Because of the fear of shame, one protects his own soul with the sole purpose to save it.  The God given alarm of human conscience is tampered with in the process, as they refuse to follow the proper channel.  The first route takes a hammer and destroys the conscience head on.  The second route camouflages the blaring alarm sound by putting other pleasant sounds at the same time with the same intensity, so that one may only hear the alarm sound softly.  But truth never surfaces.  Thus the soul never finds its true rest.

            Look now at where human strive for the sake of self-gain has taken them.  Self-preservation at the expense of others downgrades human dignity and value.  People have been reduced to merely becoming each other’s means for self-gain.  All kinds of abuse are caused by this reduction of human worth.  Slavery for example is one result of the reduction of human dignity.  In this modern day, people are racing to get ahead.  We all strive to avoid being the last in the rat race.  Claudius took advantage of Paul’s situation in order for him to seize an opportunity to get ahead in his career.  Paul was not worthy as a human being in Claudius’ eyes that he saved him from the murder plan.  Claudius only saved Paul because he wanted to use Paul’s situation for his own sake.  This became clear in the letter.  Paul’s citizenship was very useful for Claudius’ report to look good in Felix’s eyes.

            In my case, I too suffered immensely as I was sacrificed by some people in the council.  I became their scapegoat.  It started with me speaking the truth about the historicity of Genesis 1.  I preached that God created the entire world with His words, and not through evolution.  Some people disliked it and started to oppose me.  They even resorted to reporting me to council with the purpose to suspend me from my ministry.  I stood and am still standing with historic orthodox Christian faith and teaching, together with the church fathers from Augustine, to Gregory of Nyssa, to Aquinas, to Anselm, to Martin Luther, to John Calvin, and even to the contemporary of RC Sproul, Tim Keller, John Piper, Ravi Zacharias, and the likes.  Yet these people desired to render Genesis 1-11 as myth, and thus opposed my teaching fiercely.  Thus they strive to get rid of me.  In order to do so they had to attack from a different angle.  Because my teaching was solid.  Nobody could prove that I was unbiblical or that I did not do my pastoral job properly.  In fact I did what I must in full account to the Lord God Himself.  So my character became a target, even though they had no proof whatsoever either.  But in this day and age, character assassination is the easiest to exploit.  Thus the biggest accusation they could bring to the table was that I often stormed out of meetings disrespecting the elders.  This too they did not have any proof.  Because I actually never did what they accused me for.  I left a meeting once when I was attacked so fiercely by a group of people in the council, and it was by the permission of the chair of the council.  That’s the only meeting I did not attend until the end.  Yet such unverified accusation was used as “evidence” of my flawed character that needed to be evaluated.  That’s their main evidence to get rid of me from ministry.  I experienced firsthand what it means to be sacrificed as scapegoat for somebody else’s gain.  The effect is very devastating for me and for my family, and I’m sure for God’s sheep in that church as well.

            There are many stories of those who are being exploited, manipulated, used, persecuted, sacrificed, that someone may get what he wants.  This is a very difficult lesson to learn.  The sinful tendency directs our mind to preserve our life even at the expense of others.  But there is hope on the horizon.  Because Jesus had become our ultimate model.  He was the first person who walked the path that is the exact opposite of the path of the world.  Instead of sacrificing others, as King He sacrificed Himself for the sake of His people.  Commonly a king would stay behind the battle line.  His soldiers would die for him.  But not Jesus.  He protected His people for eternity as He sacrificed Himself.  This is the true nature of man as originally designed and constructed by God.  And so after Jesus, His followers have walked in His footsteps.  This is how Christians live.  This is the trademark of all followers of Christ.  We do not sacrifice others for the sake of self-gain.  But for the sake of others we sacrifice our own self.