Because of joy 2

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Matthew 13:44-46

To develop a different understanding of this passage and more coherent view of the parables, we would first need to understand the context. This is how Jesus decoded the Parable of the Weeds just before He told these other parables:

Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
Matthew 13:37-39

If we applied this to the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, it flips the whole meaning of the parable on its head. Christ is the active finder – not us. The field is the world – not an undetermined environment or object. The joy belongs to Christ – not us. The price of attaining this treasure is made by Christ. Two verses come to mind that ties this together:

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:2b

You were bought at a price;
1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23a

The price of purchase was Jesus Himself, “enduring the cross, scorning its shame”, but He did so for joy! The picture this parable paints of salvation stands Christ, not in ourselves or what we have to give (since we have nothing to give). The question still remains as to who is the treasure and why was it hidden when it was found. The bible gives us clues.

There are four ways treasure is viewed in the bible: as earthly riches such as gold and silver (Daniel 11:43; Matthew 2:11), as intangible things that are precious such as wisdom or the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:7; Colossians 2:3), as heavenly riches (Matthew 6:19-21; 19:20; 1 Timothy 6:19) or Israel (Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 7:6; Psalm 135:4). The only one that would have any meaning here is that God’s treasure is Israel. God’s hiding of Israel would literally have to be a hiding – something that covers Israel to ensure that it is not found. Something like Israel’s captivity!

Israel ceased to exist as a state under Babylonian rule, Hellenistic rule and Romans rule. In fact, their reputation as a nation was far from being a treasure. They were indeed hidden. Thus, the “un-hiding” or purchase of Israel wasn’t in a political move to establish the Jewish state again, but in a spiritual reclamation and reconciliation back to God through Christ (and not just for the Jews, but for the whole world).

This parable is turned on its head and we see not just how precious God is to us, but how precious we are to God! This is our God, who joyfully pays the price for redemption and reconciliation. Even for a nation as unfaithful as Israel, He paid the full price by sending His own Son to death on the cross. There truly is no limit to God’s mercy and grace!

How then do we view the Parable of the Pearl and the Parable of the Net? Stay tuned, there’s more to come!

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Believe and see

Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, replied, “Lord, by the time the body will have a bad smell, because he has been buried four days.” Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you would see the glory of God?”
John 11:39-40

Martha was a woman just like any of us, fickle in our belief. In one moment, she stands in agreement with Jesus’ powerful declaration of Himself and announces her belief in Him (John 11:25-27), but when she is placed before the tomb, her unbelief is revealed so clearly (John 11:39). Jesus couldn’t have been fooled that Martha is concerned about the smell or hygiene issues. To translate what Martha is truly saying, “Lazarus has been dead for four days and is most surely and truly dead. Opening the tomb will do nothing more than release the stink of decomposition.” Jesus can’t possibly resurrect a decomposing body… can he?

Jesus then makes a powerful statement, “if you believe, you would see the glory of God”. Believe and see the glory. What did Jesus mean see the glory? Was it just seeing the miracle?

For this reason they could not believe, because again Isaiah said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and understand with their heart, and turn to me, and I would heal them.
Isaiah said these things because he saw Christ’s glory, and spoke about him.
John 12:39-41

Jesus later spoke about those who did not believe in Him and contrasted them against Isaiah who “saw Christ’ glory”. Here, seeing the glory of Christ was the same as believing in Jesus as Christ cymbalta generic. Think about how Jesus helped the unbelieving father to believe – he healed his daughter. Think about how Jesus helps unbelieving Martha to believe – he resurrected her brother. Seeing God’s glory isn’t just seeing the miracles, it is believing in the person and mission of Jesus Christ.

But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.
John 10:38

Jesus is the glory of God (John 1:14). To see God’s glory is to see Jesus as Christ. But not just as Christ the saviour of the world, but Christ who is capable of resurrection and life – the one that death has no hold over. When Jesus prays “Father, glorify me at your side…” (John 17:4), He speaks of being raised from death and being in God’s presence – not by removing His humanity, but glorifying His humanity. Jesus speaks of His bodily resurrection as His glorification. It is the confirmation that Jesus is Christ – that death has no hold over Him (1 Corinthians 15). Lazarus resurrection was a demonstration of Jesus’ power over death and foreshadows His own resurrection/glorification… and ours (Romans 8:18).

This is big news. When we believe, we see His glory and we possess His glory. We possess His resurrection. The confirmation of life eternal is founded in the glory and glorification of Jesus Christ.

He called you to this salvation through our gospel, so that you may possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Thessalonians 2:14

A fact

I have long taken the view that salvation is not a single point in time, it is a fact. Yes, the point in time when we come to Christ marks a move from the death to life, but God’s work of salvation in our life certainly did not start there, nor does His work of salvation end there. He doesn’t just forgive our sins from then on; salvation reaches back in time to forgive all our previous sin. Salvation is not a stage in our Christian life or merely the beginning; it is the continual work of Christ and the whole of our Christian life. It is not continual in a circular sense that Jesus dies again every minute, but continual in a factual sense – it is, has been and will be.

John Piper puts it this way:

Salvation is a big biblical term that describes all God’s saving work for us past, present and future. We “have been saved” (Ephesians 2:8), “are being saved” (1 Corinthians 1:18) and “will be saved” (Romans 5:9; 1 Peter 1:9). Salvation is not one stage in the Christian life. It is the Christian life. And sanctification is one essential part of it.

This is important for our Christian life, what we believe will determine how we live. Let me suggest three ways this affects our Christian life:

  • Because we “have been saved”, we can be sure of our salvation. We don’t need to continually earn our salvation. We have full assurance of faith that we are already saved. It is a fact, not dependent on time or process but on God.
  • Because we “are being saved” (Acts 2:47), we can be sure of our sanctification and discipleship. We don’t need to strive to make ourselves righteous. We have full assurance in the outworking of the fact of salvation that we have stepped into – that we are increasingly made righteous (even though we already are). If salvation is the work of God, then our sanctification is the work of God as well!
  • Because we “will be saved”, we can hope for glorification. When things look gloomy, we can always look toward His promises. We have full assurance that the future is bright and wonderful; that Christ will be our very great reward!

Leave and don’t turn back

But Lots wife looked back longingly and was turned into a pillar of salt.
Genesis 19:26

Isn’t Lot’s rescue from the wickedly sinful city of Sodom and Gomorrah a picture of salvation?

  • In His grace and mercy (Genesis 19:16), God allowed Lot to be rescued from the impending judgement (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)
  • He warned that His judgement would be coming very soon (2 Peter 3:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; Revelation 22:12), so they had to escape quickly (Genesis 19:12-13, 15)
  • God made it easy for them to escape His judgement (Matthew 11:28-30) by allowing them to retreat to a small nearby town (Genesis 19:20-22)
  • Lot was told to bring others and tries to persuade his sons-in-law (Genesis 19:12, 14)
  • The magnitude of God’s grace and mercy (Ephesians 2:7) was shown when they hesitated – they were carried out into safety (Genesis 19:16-17)
  • They were also warned not to look back (Genesis 15:17; Luke 9:62; Philippians 3:13; Hebrews 10:39; Galatians 4:9)

If this episode is a reflection of salvation, what about Lot’s wife? This gesture reveals her heart: even after God’s grace and mercy had been extended to her, she still longs for her past life – the life lived in the boundaries of sin, surrounded by sinfulness. This was even after the old life had been left behind and it had been destroyed (Genesis 19:23-25), her heart had not left. In the same way that the Israelites left Egypt but Egypt had not left them, Lot’s wife had left Sodom and Gomorrah, but it had not left her.

Salvation is not a single decision made in one point in time. It is continuous choice to accept God’s grace and not to look back. That is why we are told to consider the cost of being a disciple of Christ (Luke 9:62; Luke 14:33), because looking back is disastrous. It might be a daily or weekly episode, but whenever our old life and it’s sin comes around to haunt us, we need to decide to leave it and not turn back.

So help me God

“God helps those who help themselves.”

That is probably one of the most quoted non-existent verses from the bible. You could say that it sounds the closest to James 4:8, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” But yet, not entirely.  It has been coined the phantom verse” by another blogger – Hezekiah 6:1. But before we disregard the quote entirely as an unbiblical quote, I think it ought to be examined more closely.

Salvation

When it comes to salvation, it is clear that God helps those who cannot help themselves. And in fact, He is displeased with those who claim that they can help themselves. No one is excluded from this helplessness.

As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; 
there is no one who understands; 
there is no one who seeks God. 
All have turned away, 
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good, 
not even one.”
Romans 3:10-12

We are born into sin (Psalm 51:5) and live being slaves to sin (Romans 6:20). Being in sin is described as being dead (Ephesians 2:1-5), the dead cannot resuscitate themselves. Sometimes we are falsely led to think that we are somehow capable of saving ourselves, the bible tells us that:

We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Isaiah 64:6 (ESV)

Even our best efforts at being righteous are polluted. The translation in the NIV is “filthy rags”. Our best efforts to bring about our own salvation is like washing dirty clothes in dirty water. See also Titus 3:5.

This quote is busted for salvation.

Discipleship

Discipleship is the natural progress of salvation. Our salvation does not lead us back to the same life we have lived, it leads us to a drastically different life. You could say it is the process of growing into Christ. The process of discipleship is by no means simple. It is to practicing our faith in thought, word and deed (James 1:22) – abiding in Christ (John 15:5-8) to produce fruit (Galatians 5:22-23), taming our tongues (James 1:26, 3:9-12), committing to a church (Philippians 2:3-4), loving other disciples (John 13:35), evangelising (Matthew 28:19). A sort of summary of discipleship is: to be like Christ.

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.
Luke 9:23-24

I have often wondered if this verse is only applicable to Jesus’ first disciples, since He was speaking of his suffering and their journey as His disciples. But the minute anyone decides to become a Christian, it is clear that it applies to all disciples. Anyone who decides to submit their life to Jesus and apply this faith in all areas of life will soon find how difficult, tedious, painful and almost impossible this task is.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Philippians 2:12-13

Does that mean that without applying our faith to our life we are not saved? Absolutely not, no amount of our works can achieve salvation. But the evidence of our salvation (faith and election) is in our works (Ephesians 2:8-9; James 2:18). To be diligent at our own discipleship is to be sure of our salvation.

So we go back to the original premise: does God help you when you help yourself? Phrased in the current context, does God help disciple you when you help disciple yourself? Well, to be absolutely correct, God helps you even before you help yourself. That is exactly the role of the Holy Spirit, who has also been called our Helper (John 14:16).

The Holy Spirit was at work in us before we even receive Christ (John 16:8-9), dwells in us the moment we believe in Christ (Galatians 3:2) and won’t ever leave (John 14:16-17). When we practice our faith in our thoughts and actions, it is to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16). It goes even further: our willingness to follow Christ and be like Him and embark on discipleship is not even of our own choosing!

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
Ezekiel 36:26-27

The Holy Spirit living in us actually makes us follow Christ. It causes us to desire discipleship.

The quote is (once again) busted for discipleship.

Life

Maybe the quote is applicable in everyday Christian life. When we lift one end of a sofa to move it, God lifts the other end and helps us. Doesn’t life work that way? Well, not quite. A better explanation of how life work is in the biblical principle of reaping and sowing.

A man reaps what he sows.
Galatians 6:7

It works. Plan and simple. If you are lazy, you don’t get to eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). If you are friendly to others, you will have friends (Proverbs 18:24). If you cut yourself, you feel pain. You reap, you sow. Sure, God helps in supernatural ways in normal daily life. But is there a pre-requisite that you need to be helping yourself first? Sometimes not.

I think we can safely say that while the quote means well, it is far from true.

Triple threat

The question to ask when entering any evangalical meeting is: What is on sale?

We had an interested discussion in cell the other day about what the salvation call is or how it should be. Most of the salvation calls that I have heard consist only of the nice toppings on top. Jesus gives you EVERYTHING. All good, no bad. I guess it is only normal that when selling a product, you mask any negative features and magnify the positive ones.

In the words of totally crazy-as Westboro Baptist Church leader, Margie Phelps:
“Every institution in this country not only teaches sin in word and deed but is proud of it and teaches you to be proud of it and sticks your face up into God’s face demanding that He bless you in spite of it. Now that is the condition of this nation.”
(http://www.rutherford.org/oldspeak/articles/interviews/oldspeak-phelps.html)

Margie isn’t entirely right, but sometimes our altar calls really sound like that. Are we misrepresenting the gospel in our salvation calls? Maybe we need to add a disclaimer: true salvation and accepting grace leads to intentional transformation by loving Him and loving the things that He loves. Much like selling any drug/medication, should we not give a list of known side effects.

Jesus – Contains effective sin-killing and salvation-giving agent.
Use on blind, lost, broken and hungry people to effectively restore to abundant and whole life.
Directions: Apply generously over all areas of life (and beyond) everyday all day.
Known Side effects: Loss of self, loss of sinful habits, intentional discipleship leading to life transformation.
If symptoms persist, continue using and apply God’s grace.
For external and internal use.

No no, grace isn’t cheap. It is just as expensive for the giver as it is the receiver.

Love and life

I’ve been reflecting on my years of dating. It’s strangely familiar yet so far away. Growing old really has a strange effect on you. Here’s what I thought of those years and how I made sense of myself:

Looking back at the years I spent chasing skirts, I cannot say that any of those years were wasted. I’ve laughed and cried and made a huge mess of things, but I value every minute of it. Every single time I put myself out, I have loved. Taking a broader view of love as more than an expression, emotion or character. It is an experience (1 John 4:16). If you haven’t loved, you haven’t lived. It’s an old saying but it sounds a bit like a bible verse we are familiar with isn’t it? (“If I have not love, I am nothing.” 1 Cor 13:2)

Keeping away

Honestly, I could not keep away from girls. I get lonely when I don’t have the companionship I desire. Is that a bad thing? No. It means I am not gifted with the gift of singlehood. It means I was built for community and relationships. But I am aware of the effects of this desire. I would not allow myself to be overwhelmed with it. I would not let my life be ruled by it. I cannot say that I’ve done very well there.

The times that I really began to devote myself to seeking God’s word was when I was at my loneliest – in NS. When I had to stay in camp, with nothing else to do. No girlfriend, no computer, no television. I started studying my bible and reading authors like C.S. Lewis and Philip Yancey. Was I still lonely? Hell yeah. It sure didn’t take me long to find another skirt to chase. Life is about relationships and I just cannot keep away from them! I only thank God that He redeems even my dumbest decisions.

Slippery slope

I remember the first time I held a girl’s hand (I’m not talking about group prayer), it was a huge rush of sensations. The first kiss was strangely pleasurable. Physical intimacy is like a slippery slope. There is no way of climbing back up, all I can do is slide slower. Much like eating a packet of M&Ms during a lecture – how long can you keep away from the open packet before finishing it all up? The chocolate needs to hold up until I get out of the lecture. The longer the lecture, the longer between each M&M. More time to get to the end of the packet, more effort needed to hold off. A man only has that much strength before he gives way. That being said, I believe in short dating and early marriages. Maybe because I am a person that speaks in intimacy.

“The right girl at the wrong time is still the wrong girl.” – Doc John

Few statements make more sense to me when it comes to dating and marriage. If I meet a nice woman after I’m married, it’s the wrong woman – turn away. If I meet a woman 5 years before I’m ready to be married, it’s the wrong woman – turn away. That being said, no one defines the right time other than me. I don’t want to slide on the slippery slope for 5 years! Might be ok for some, but not for me.

My decisions have not always been about what makes sense or what I believe. Wisdom is not knowing what to do, it is having the experience and ability to carry out what you know. I’ve made some pretty bad decisions with and without knowledge. I am only thankful that Christ redeems and restores.

Love will keep us alive

Call me idealistic or whatever you want to call me. There are a million things about the future which are unknown at any one point in time. But I believe that future is what I make of it. If I believe that love will keep us alive, it darn well will. I didn’t care if I didn’t have a job yet or if I won’t be earning much. If the person I was dating was willing to walk with me, we’ll walk and we’ll be happy. Of course, I’m not irresponsible and I don’t intend to be a bum. There are a million unknowns in life, but if we’re willing to work it out, it’ll work out. Some call it stupidity, I call it adaptability and commitment.

If it means, going through multiple phrases in life through dating and marriage, then that’ll do. If things change, things change, but we stay together. Many people talk about preempting problems and differences. I think that is wise. I also think it is wise to understand that not everything can be foreseen, that commitment and flexibility is needed.

Now that my dating years are over, I am thankful that my lovely wife-to-be accepts me for who I am, where I have been and who I will become. I am blessed to have Sara walking beside me. Come rain or come sunshine, we will walk on.

I have been feeling excited and nervous about getting married (although I already legally am, I’m just feeling it more). It marks a big change. It means no more choosing which girl is the best one. It means I am responsible for providing. It means one day, I will have little creatures running around my house calling me “Dad”. It means a whole lot of things, and all of which have so far been unfamiliar to me.

I realised that I need to make (new) sense of my past, present and future in a totally different way and I need to do so very quickly. God grant me perspective.