Monday, September 12, 2016

Responding to a Tradegy - Learning from Tim Keller

The same tragedy that happened to different people can bring forth two opposite respond. One is an anger against God and people with the harboring of bitterness and hatred through life. The other is an awakening and a greater sensitiveness to God's grace and love. One brings forth greater suffering and the other a restoration and a new hope. It all depends on how we interpret and handle the tragedy. The sermon titled "Truth, Tears, Anger, and Grace" preached by Tim Keller shows us how.  Here is my learning from his sermon.
Shock, Fear, Tears and Anger

A typical reaction to a tragedy is shocked - how could it happen? Is it true? When we know it indeed happened, we are filled we fear --- what should we do? and tears --- there isn't much we can do! How? After some time, we will go into "Why". Why did it happen? Whose fault is this? Could not God prevent it? If God is so loving and powerful, how could He let this happen? We form our own story to try to explain such a tragedy so that we can manage it. How we formulate this story determines the long-term effect on our life. Tim Keller's "Truth, Tears, Anger, and Grace"  will help you. There is nothing wrong with our feeling of anger, but we must know how to channel and manage it. Direct it not at the persons but at the sickness and the destruction. Keller pointed out that John 11:33, the word G5015 translated as troubled is actually has a much stronger meaning of raged and anger. Here are some Bible translations that get it correct:

  • (CEV)  When Jesus saw that Mary and the people with her were crying, he was terribly upset
  • (ERV)  When Jesus saw Mary crying and the people with her crying too, he was very upset and deeply troubled. 
  • (JUB)  When Jesus therefore saw her weeping and the Jews also weeping who came with her, he became enraged in the Spirit and stirred himself up 
  • (Murdock)  And when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews weeping who came with her, he was moved in spirit, and was agitated
  • (John 11:33) 耶穌見其哭、又見偕來之猶太人亦哭、心而傷、
  • 恚 anger, enraged.

The Wrong Formulations:

The following three formulations are wrong.
  1. Blame God and blame people for their lack of help. Don't be trapped in this thinking.
  2. God is punishing me for my sins.
    Keller tells us that we should not judge God's anger by the outcomes we encountered. We should judge that base purely on the Bible teaching. If we do what God says, God will be pleased and if we disobey God, God will angry. In the case of the famous suffering of Jobs, God was not angry with Jobs to send him the suffering. God was in fact rather please with Jobs that He 'boasted' to the devil. Jobs' suffering was his maturing and his testimony for God ---- he truly loves God for who God is and not because of the wealth, health, and good life. So, we must carefully reflect and re-examine our lives. If there by truly any sins of ours, then repent and change with God's enabling grace and forgiveness. If not, and we understand not, put our faith in God no matter what. In John 11, Jesus waited for Lazarus to died first before raising him up again. But His raising of Lazarus, he also sealed his death by the religious authority then.
  3. We are right and they are wrong and evil. If we have this thinking, we will let hatred takes over us and blinds our eyes to see the truth. Looking at the issues from others viewpoints and facing the objective facts may help us see better. We may need others to help us in this process. Keller cited  a quote which I requote the fuller version below:

    “Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion — without transposing the enemy from the sphere of the monstrous… into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness. When one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim, one is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him. And when one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that God’s love is greater than all sin, one is free to see oneself in the light of God’s justice and so rediscover one’s own sinfulness.” ― Miroslav Volf
The Grace and Truth of God:

We must put our faith in God that He will transform any tragedy to a blessing. Even Steve Jobs said that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that happened to him. We can only connect the dots of life backward. Until then, we have a faithful God who we can trust. Seek Him to get His comfort and guidance. Jesus said that the blindness was not whose faults but for the glory of God.

Below are further quotes from the sermon:
  • In the last book of The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee wakes up, thinking everything is lost, and discovering instead that all his friends were around him. He cries out, “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?” The answer is Yes. And the answer of the Bible is Yes. If the resurrection is true, then the answer is yes. Everything sad is going to come untrue.
  • Listen to how Dostoevsky puts it in Brothers Karamazov: “I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, of the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; and it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify what has happened.”
Be not overcome by any tragedy into bitterness and hatred but overcome any tragedy with faith in God and let Him transform it to a blessing for you and your family.

Lim Liat (c) 13 Sep 2016

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Work, Sabbath and Rest - Learning from Tim Keller

Do you know how to rest well in the Sabbath? Have you ever truly enjoyed the Sabbath rather than treating it as a boring routine to be dutifully followed? Discover the purpose and joy of Sabbath Rest.
Over the years, Tim Keller preached a number of sermons on work, rest and sabbath. Some Internet sources are Wisdom and Sabbath RestWork and Rest | Gospel in Life, and a short post on » Sabbath Rest Daily Keller. You can probably find more yourself. The groups met to study his messages. We have summarized our discussion below:

1. Stewardship of Time - Knowing God's Will first
The greatest resource that are all given equally is time. We may differ in our natural gifts and inheritances, but a 24 hour day is given to all fairly. The impact one makes in this world depends not on how long we live but how we manage our time.  However, time management is a misnomer. We cannot manage time directly. We can only manage our activities. Managing our activities begins with knowing our purpose in life, which in turn, is about God's will for us. That is taught to us by Paul in “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” —Ephesians 5:15–17.  How can we know God's will? v18 gives us the answer ... to be filled with the Holy Spirit and not with wine. How can we be filled with the Holy Spirit? v19 tells us to get together in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and worship heartily. Then we can be, as in v20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and v21  submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Being filled with the Spirit is not just an activity done alone but also with a community.

2. Work Well and More Importantly Rest Well - The Sabbath Way
The origin of the Sabbath is given in ‘Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God’ (Exodus 20:9–10)
Firstly, we see the work-rest formula here ... 6 days of work and 1 day of rest.  Most countries have a 5 day work week and 2 day of rest. However, due to globalization and technology that brings the world ever closer together, there is increasing competitions and thereby forcing people to work overtime. In Singapore, our wages are much higher than the surrounding countries, including China and India, and hence we are pressured to produce more valuable work and to work overtime more to justify our higher wages. Also, with the higher costs of living, we have to work longer hours to achieve some standards of living. However, our bodies are not built to work without rest. Working without rest in the long term will reduce our productivity, creativity and damage our health. We can easily see that 'Sabbath' is needed for us and not for God. God does not need rest like us. Yet, it is interesting to note that the commandment cited above says that "the Sabbath is to the Lord your God". In CEV translation, it says the seventh day of each week belongs to me. It is as if God needs a day from us. But the actual fact is that we need a day of rest rather than God. But for our protection, and against our over-working tendency to make a living or to satisfy our greed, God makes it a commandment and also tells us not just to rest but how to rest well.

We can see that Sabbath is for man as seen in Mar 2:27-28  And he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath." 

3. The Meaning of Sabbath and the What to do
  1. Freedom - Freedom from Slavery for the Israelites and Bondage of Making a Living or Other Man made  idols like Money and Self-Glory for our modern men. The Sabbath Law was given after they were freed from slavery. It is the new life-style for the freed people. We need to put our trust in our Heavenly Father who will take care and provide for us and not in our over-exertion of effort. Don't be too quick to jump to other conclusion that we should not work and rest in the providence of God. Please note that the commandment as we pointed out is 6 day of work to 1 day of rest.
  2. Rest - Rest from our typical vocational activities. As we are a tripartite being of body, mind and spirit, our rest will not just be inactivity of the body and mind, but engaging our body, mind and spirit in things beside our normal work. If we rest with our mind still thinking and worrying about our work, we are not really resting but worrying. We are taught in Mat 6:25  "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life..."
  3. Engaging God - The key purpose of Sabbath, that we may rest well and reap its total benefits is to spend time with God.  The commandment is clear, Sabbath is the Lord's day. It is for our utmost benefits to spend time with God in this day. It includes the Sunday Worship in Church with fellow believers but also our own personal reflection and contemplation. 
  4. Enjoying God's Creation, Your fruits of work and Life in General - In Gen 1:31  And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth dayGen 2:2  And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.  God rested on the 7th day not because he was tired but rather because the work has been completed very well. The 7th day is not for creating any more but for enjoying it as in Gen 2:3  So God blessed the seventh day. So, on this day, we should enjoy God's creation, the great wonder of nature, and our fellowship with other men, His greatest creation, the fruits of our work and our family that God has given to us. The most restful way is given in Mat 11:28  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Mat 11:29  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Mat 11:30  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
  5. Recognizing the Seasons of Life. We are aware of the seasons of our life - baby, child, student, career, marriage, family, empty-nest, retirement and death. People that just enter into the workforce, new career may need additional time and effort for the training and adjustment, such such time, may be the Sabbath day rest can be shortened for a short period of 1 to 3 years. It is better if we can keep the Sabbath but Medical Interns and such may have little choice. We can perhaps make it up but bringing Sabbath into our daily short resting period and even into our work itself.
4. Guard Against Making Yourself as Centered of Your life.

Most importantly, we have to ask ourselves whether our overtime work are really due to our lack of trust in God and hence of making our living by ourselves or worse, having money or our status as our idols instead of God and pursuing them madly against the Sabbath rest command. 

Consider Psalm 127v2:
  • (BBE)  It is of no use for you to get up early, and to go late to your rest, with the bread of sorrow for your food; for the Lord gives to his loved ones in sleep. 
  • (CEV)  It is useless to get up early and stay up late in order to earn a living. God takes care of his own, even while they sleep.
  • (CJB)  In vain do you get up early and put off going to bed, working hard to earn a living; for he provides for his beloved, even when they sleep. 
  • (ERV)  It is a waste of time to get up early and stay up late, trying to make a living. The Lord provides for those he loves, even while they are sleeping. 
  • (GNB)  It is useless to work so hard for a living, getting up early and going to bed late. For the LORD provides for those he loves, while they are asleep. 
After we have done our part of working faithfully and wisely for 6 days, let us put our mind off our work and trust that the Lord will work out for us those that we could not. Let us rest in faith without anxiety to have a good sleep. Because we trust that our Heavenly Father will provide, therefore we can sleep well. Rest well and trust that God is working behind you even when you are fully asleep. 

Enjoy your Sabbath and be refreshed in the body, mind and spirit.

Lim Liat (c) 14 Dec 2015