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Living Well In A Life Of Vanity

Life is a wonderful gift. Indeed, as it is filled with many wonders. Life affords us the opportunity to witness the wonders of God’s creation and be marveled at His wisdom, power and supremacy.

Regretfully, creation in all of its beauty and wonders, and life in all its goodness and bliss, has been tarnished by sin. The Fall of man has impaired the world – both life and creation, into dysfunction. Life, corrupted by sin, becomes complex, malevolent and treacherous.

Making sense of life is a daunting task. Yet, it is a very needful and necessary thing to do in order for us to know how to make good of life and how to live well. The great Greek philosopher Socrates posits that “an unexamined life is not worth living”.

We all struggle to grasp what life is all about and how we ought to go about living it meaningfully, happily and expediently. Some could not make sense of life and degenerate into despair and eventually, feeling empty and meaningless, chose to end their lives. For the atheists, many got lost and disillusioned as they go through the maze of life trying to sort out life on their own. Others seek to grab a hold on life through various ideologies and belief system but fail to fill the spiritual vacuum within. Many who hold to an agnostic worldview, adopt a more stoic outlook of life and resign to their fate, albeit helplessly, to whatever life brings.

History records for us that once upon a time, King Solomon, the wisest king ever lived, wrestled to understand life. In his quest to know the meaning of life and to understand how he could lie well, he experimented exhaustively in all ways and aspects of life. His findings were later canonized into the Bible in the Book Of Ecclesiastes.

In our modern time, people pay huge amount of money to listen to professionals and gurus on various topics on financial, economics or health interest. Here, in the Word of God, is offered to us free of charge, counsels on life and how to live well. This counsel, mind you, did not come from any phony charlatan who tries to fleece people for profit. But, it came from a man, touted to be the wisest man ever lived, who was endowed with great wisdom from God. How could we refuse such a gracious gift from God ? It would be prudent of us to pay heed to what King Solomon – the Teacher, teaches about life.

When it comes to the Book of Ecclesiastes, even if one does not remember anything about the book, for sure the clarion proverbial exclamation : “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity !” (Ecclesiastes 1:2), rings a bell in our minds. So pronounced is this declaration that resonates throughout the writing, it is almost assumed as the sole message of Ecclesiastes. Thank God it is not. Else, we will all have to despair.

 

Ecc 2:15 Then I thought in my heart,

“The fate of the fool will overtake me also.

What then do I gain by being wise?”

I said in my heart,

“This too is meaningless.”

Ecc 2:16 For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered;

in days to come both will be forgotten.

Like the fool, the wise man too must die!

To be sure, the proverbial declaration underscores a harsh but fundamental reality about life. That is : Life is short. Very short indeed. Swiftly it comes, swiftly it goes. Before we know it, it is over.

At the point of death, everything comes to naught, literally. Along with our death, our glory as well as our shame will pass and be forgotten. At death, we ceased to exist. Thus, from the vantage point of mortality, everything is meaningless and all is vanity.

The brevity of life, as daunting as it is, paradoxically, is a reality that does not quite sink into us. Our human survival instinct and the lack of security set us into a relentless pursuit to accumulate wealth and possessions while we are alive. The truth of the impossibility of bringing along our possessions with us into death somehow does not register till we lay dying on the death bed. Regrettably, by then, much misdoings would have been committed and precious time wasted.  Can I avoid such a pathetic consequence for my own life? I wonder.

So, since life is brief and all is vanity, how then should we go about life? Should we be care-less and frivolous about the way we live since nothing matters ?

Of course not. In his contemplation on the finitude of life, King Solomon gained some insights on how we should then live. He offers 3 counsels on how we ought to live well.

a.         Excel & Enjoy

Though life is brief and everything will come to naught eventually, the Teacher advocates that the wise thing to do to make good of life and live well is to do our best in all that we do and enjoy the toil of our labour.

Ecc 5:18 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink,

and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun

during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot.

Ecc 5:19 Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions,

and enables him to enjoy them,

to accept his lot and be happy in his work—

this is a gift of God.

Ecc 8:15 So I commend the enjoyment of life ,

because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.

Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life

God has given him under the sun.

Ecc 9:10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might,

for in the grave, where you are going,

there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.

This precept is congruent to appreciating life as a gift and celebrating it by enjoying it. It is not a mandate for us to go mindless frolicking and burn our passion in roguish dissipation. For this only brings trouble to our otherwise happy life. Responsible and decent indulgence can be satisfying, fulfilling and enjoyable.

b.         Remember God

Celebrating life does not grant us the warrant to do anything under the sun. The Teacher implores us, while we exhaust ourselves in our labour and delight ourselves in enjoyment, to be mindful of our Creator God who is the Judge of all men.

Ecc 11:9 Be happy, young man, while you are young,

and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.

Follow the ways of your heart

and whatever your eyes see,

but know that for all these things

God will bring you to judgment.

Ecc 12:1 Remember your Creator

in the days of your youth,

before the days of trouble come

and the years approach when you will say,

“I find no pleasure in them”—

However we live, we must remember that God our Creator, the Judge, will hold us accountable in all that we do. In enjoying the fruit of our labour, let us be careful not to let our success and achievement to bloat our pride; and in our arrogance become “self-full” and “god-less”. Being mindful of God means living our lives responsibly, righteously and reverently.

c.         Fear God And Obey His Commandments

At the end of his extensive research about life, King Solomon wraps up his investigation with this conclusion : fear God and keep His commandments.  He deems this as the whole duty of man for the life that he has been granted.

 

Ecc 12:13 Now all has been heard;

here is the conclusion of the matter:

Fear God and keep his commandments,

for this is the whole duty of man.

The fear-of-the-Lord is a deep reverence for God that one espouses and adopts as the precept that guides his moral conscience with a desire to live a life of holiness worthy of the Lord pleasing Him in all that he does. Such is a life that is righteous, blissful and enjoyable. No wonder the Book of Proverbs tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverb 9:10).

The fear-of-the-Lord is not a natural instinct inherent in our nature. It is a submission we freely and intentionally subject ourselves to God in reverence of Him as the Author of life and the Most Holy God. The fear-of-the-Lord has to be inculcated through our daily living as we walk with God. Our freedom, celebration and enjoyment of life, if not harnessed by the fear-of-the-Lord, would degenerate into moral decadence and dissipate in selfish idolatry.

Our good Lord did not leave us on our own to find our way in life. God has given us His commandments to guide us in our lives. The Teacher exhorts us to employ the commandments of God to guide us in our lives.

This is attested by Apostle Peter who teaches that God in His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Christ and through His great and precious promises and commandments. The Psalmist makes the point trenchantly with the rhetorical question : “How can a young man keep his way pure ? By living according to Your word” (Psalm 119:9).

Do not be mistaken. God’s commandments are not a set of legalistic regiment that we are required to adhere to so as to achieve some form of moral merits. They (God’s commandments) are rules to guide us to live a life of holiness and prosperity. As such, obedience ought not be exercised out of fear of not being good enough to qualify us for salvation as salvation is purely by the grace of God.

Rather, obedience ought to be exercised out of love for God with a desire to please Him and out of prudence to live well and righteously. Apostle John highlights to us that there is no fear in love for perfect love casts out fear because fear has to do with punishment (1John 4:8). One must not mistake such fear of punishment that is self-serving with the fear-of-the-Lord which is focused on God which we mentioned in the earlier point.

Conclusion

Having surveyed the findings and propositions of the Teacher on life, one may wonder what is so enlightening or profound about the Teacher’s wisdom ? His propositions seemed nothing more than common sense. Herein lays the paradox. Though the Teacher’s advises are something common to our sense, yet, they are truths that many people fail to grasp or adopt as precepts of life. Contrary to our thinking, common sense is not so common in our fallen human idiosyncrasy. It takes a deep comprehension, a reverent conviction and a discipline commitment to undergird our living with these precepts.

It would seem that the wise King has taken too much trouble and indulged himself in unnecessarily life experiments just to discover the few facts of life. Yet, without experiencing the vanities of life personally, he would not have acquired the wisdom and formed the conviction of his own learning and qualify to be a credible counselor of life. The Teacher did not pluck his understanding of life from the air.

We do not have to waste the time nor experience the exasperation of experimenting life to learn how to make good of life and live well. It pays to heed the wise counsel of the Teacher.

So, let us excel in all that we do and enjoy the fruit of our labor. Yet, without forgetting God our Maker, who will judge the way we live. We would do ourselves a great favor to safe guard our journey of bliss and happiness with the fear-of-the-Lord lovingly abiding in His Word.

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PONDERING OUR RELEVANCE TO THE GOSPEL

Matt 13:1-23 : Luke 15:11-31 

Introduction

            As I embark on my new ministry reaching out to the non-believers and unchurched Christians, it sets me to ponder how as a Christian, can I be an effective witness for the Gospel reaching out to the lost and to fellow brethren who are hurting and disorientated in their faith journey.

This pondering leads me to a more poignant and fundamental question, that is : “To begin with, am I even relevant to the Gospel – the Good News of reconciliation with God and eternal salvation?” For that matter, this is not a personal question of authenticity of faith, but, it concerns all professing Christians.

We live in a fast changing world that is propelled by technological advances and globalization of economies. Being an integral part of modernity, we are swapped into the waves of change and rapid socio-economic transformation.

            The flux of secularization exerts such formidable pressure and influence on us that often times, disorientates us, adulterates our worldview and displaces the foundation of our beliefs and godly traditions.

            As professing believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, the need to relook and reexamine our Christian faith which undergirds our belief and values system seemed ever more urgent and necessary; lest we get sucked into the worldly system and instead of being a change-agent as salt and light for God in this world, we become irrelevant for the Gospel.

If we are not careful in the way we practice our Christian faith, the risk of losing our identity is high and the consequence of being irrelevant is grave. Very grave indeed.

Staying relevant for the Gospel is not as much a matter of compliance to God’s commandment as it is a matter of being true to our belief. It is fundamentally a question about how we remain true to our Christian identity. Walter Hendrichen, former director for the worldwide ministry of The Navigators, in his best-selling book : Disciples Are Make Not Born, wrote that : “Many are Christians but few are Disciples”.  It is a regrettable reality. But, yet, if we understand the concept of being a Christian correctly, the differentiation is a false dichotomy. For, a Christian is only a Christian, if he is a disciple of Christ. 

Our relevance to the Gospel hinges on how the Gospel is being incarnated in our lives. To this end, unless and until we come to grasp with the conviction of our belief in God and in who we are (Christian identity), we would not be able to live out a life worthy of God’s calling and celebrate a life of redemptive purpose, privilege and power.

One of the recurring themes that resonated throughout the Scripture, is to exhort us to take our faith seriously. Any outward sacramental acts of faith professions that we do, as important as they are, are not definitive of our faith and guarantee of our spiritual destiny.  As Apostle asserts in Galatians 5:6, 15 :

           

Gal 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

 

Gal 6:15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything;

what counts is a new creation.

 

            Faith is a matter of the heart. Sacramental rituals and acts of religious service are an outward expression of the inward reality of our hearts. If they do not stem from the conviction of our hearts, they are of no value. 

In shepherding His chosen flock, YHWH who instituted the rite of circumcision, took issue with the genuineness of the people’s allegiance to Him, warned the Israelites that He would punish those who are circumcised only in the flesh.

 

Jer 9:25 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD,

“when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh…”

 

            In reaching out to the multitudes, the Lord Jesus speaks about the genuineness of faith in the Parable Of The Sower. In that parable, the Lord Jesus cited four types of soils representing different types of hearers of the Word of God (the seed). The first category are those who had the opportunity to hear the Word but didn’t understand it. The second category talks about those who hear the Word and believe. But, because they are not strong in their faith and quickly fall away. The third category refers to those who hear the Word and believe, but yet, got themselves entangled in the worries of this life and the deceitful of wealth, and become unfruitful. The fourth category portrays those who hear the Word, understand it and become very fruitful.

            The first category of hearers is considered unbelievers and the second category are Christians who have back-slided. The third category are those who have kept their faith but have been disorientated and become unfruitful; or in another words, “irrelevant” insofar as the Gospel is concerned.

Given the four categories of hearers, which category of hearers do we think we belong ? Looking in perspective, and if we can be candid about the condition of our being as Christians, I suspect many of us would consider ourselves to belong to the third category of hearers in the parable. 

If that is the case, then, we are in serious trouble. No wonder that the church is rapidly losing its members and fewer and fewer people are being converted. With the loss of influence in the world, Christianity is in crisis. In our day and age, it is no suspect that the church has been more secularized than the world being Christianized. Has the good old Gospel become irrelevant to the new modern world ? Of course not. The Good News is timeless. It is us, the ambassadors of the Gospel, who have lost it and become irrelevant.

            What has happened to the clarion call the Lord Jesus issued to all believers to be His witnesses and make disciples of all nation teaching them to obey all His commandments (Matt 28:18-19) ? Sadly, it has been muffled by the clamorous biddings of the world and conveniently ignored by the believers.

            In another epic parable that the Lord told His disciples – The Prodigal Son, we are awed by the amazing grace and unconditional love the father showered upon the returning prodigal son who has willfully gone astray. The parable beautifully depicts the father heart of God. In the parable, we are also told how the older brother became angry over the father’s lavish reception of the returning prodigal brother. The older brother has been loyal and faithful to the father staying by his side all these while.

Many of us would assume the role of the older brother in the parable. The difference is that unlike the older brother in the parable, we are not angry or upset at the returning prodigal brother. The reason is not because we are more forgiving or magnanimous than the older brother. It is because we simply could not be bothered if any of the back-slided Christian brethren returns home.

Of course, we would not deny it is a good thing that someone who has back-slided and has returned back. The point is that we would not take upon ourselves the duty and calling to seek out the lost sheep or those who have gone astray. We are just happy and contented that faithfully on every Sunday, imbibed in deep religious piety, with our hands raised high, we soak in to the tempo of contemporary worship and then sit tightly in the pew enthralled by the charismatic  preaching of the Word.

 

The Consequence Of Becoming Irrelevant :

            Becoming irrelevant for the Gospel has great ramifications. It is a pathetic state of our faith that bespeaks our estranged relationship with God. We have failed to grasp the significance and blessedness of salvation that grant us a new life of victory, freedom from bondages and condemnation and affords us to enjoy all of God’s fatherly goodness and riches.

Like the church of Laodicea mentioned in the Book of Revelation (Rev 3:14-22), many of us have become luke-warm – neither cold nor hot, towards God. We have lost our first love for God. This has seeded an insidious spiritual apathy in us that dulls our conscience and smolders our passion for God that would consequently incapacitates us to living a life worthy of God, immobilizes us to God’s calling and derails us from participating in His redemptive mission for the world.

            Many Christians have indeed, unwittingly, allowed the worries and cares of this earthly life and the attractions of the world to turn our gaze away from the Kingdom of God and had our focus riveted on selfish pursuits of worldliness. The will of God has been relegated to the lowest rung in our list of priorities. This distraction is indisputably idolatry.

Our irrelevance is not only detrimental to our personal spirituality. It has repercussions on the community around us, both the world within and even the Body of Christ within. Not only do we not exert a positive and godly influence on the world, we become stumbling blocks to the Gospel.

The Pharisees have been a decried group of people in Biblical history. They were most disapproved by the Lord because they are a bunch of hypocrites and legalists. The Lord warns the believers to beware of them and not to take on the way of their dubious religious piety. As far as the Lord is concerned, they are irrelevant to promoting God’s righteousness. Though extremely religious, but, the Pharisees were hideous stumbling blocks in the way of God. We ought to heed the Lord’s warning to beware of the “Pharisees” amongst us. But, talking about hypocrisy, in our own state of duplicity, the truth presses the question on us  : Do we see a “Pharisee” within our own self?

Finally, we must realize that the relevancy of our Christian walk to the Gospel has bearing on our eternal destiny. Though salvation is premised on the grace of God; but, it is mediated through our faith in Christ. And this faith is authenticated through an active obedience to God’s bidding and will. Our obedience is not only an authentication of our faith; but, at the same time, it is also an expression of our loving response to God. The Lord affirms this to His disciples that “…if anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching…” (John 14:21;23 ; 1John 5:3).

There is no other way to sustain our relevance to the Gospel other than incarnating the Gospel in our lives that find expression in acts of love. Not forgetting that the Gospel, through which we have come into the embrace of God, is spawn from the love of God. The Apostle John aptly declares this truth in 1John 4:16-17 :          

1Jn 4:16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

1Jn 4:17 In this way, love is made complete among us

so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment,

because in this world we are like him.

 

Conclusion

            Being relevant to the Gospel begins with us being real with our belief. Without a genuine and strong conviction rooting our faith, incarnating the Gospel would be a delusive aspiration.  We must not kid ourselves. The Bible reminds us that God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows (Gal 6:7).

We are the blessed ones. The truth has been made known to us and we have been sanctified by the truth through our faith. We ought to take hold of the privilege and honor bestowed upon us to be the light and salt of the world as Christ’s witnesses exhibiting and demonstrating (incarnating) the life-giving message of the Gospel.

We must not make a mockery of the Gospel which we profess to believe and risk forfeiting ourselves of the salvation it guarantees to those who remain relevant and true to the Truth.

            

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