13 Someone in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”
14 But He said to him, “Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?”
15 Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”
16 And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive.
17 “And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
19 ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’
21 “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Matthew 16:26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
How is Your Soul?
This is not a common question that you hear very often. Typically we greet each other with, “How are you?” You may be dying on the inside, but the standard answer is, “I’m fine, how about you?” It’s a social and cultural practice, you are not supposed to answer truthfully. Even if you do, no one hears it.
A story is told about President Franklin D. Roosevelt that one evening he decided to have some fun while greeting people. Many of them said, “Good evening, Mr. President, and how are you?” to which he responded with a warm smile, “I’m fine, thank you, I murdered my mother-in-law.” Not one person reacted to his comment. It is possible that no one even heard it.
But today I am talking about putting aside the superficial polite talk. As your pastor, as your brother, as your friend, let me look you in the eye and ask, “How’s your soul? Is everything really okay with you on the inside?”
What would your response be?
Is it well with your soul? Your soul has to do with the real you – not with your achievements or activities, but with who you really are.
Importance of the Inner Life
We each have an outer life and an inner life. My outer life is the public, visible me. My accomplishments, my work, and my reputation lie there. My inner life is where my secret thoughts and hopes and wishes live. Because my inner life is invisible, it is easy to neglect.
We live in a world that teaches us to be more concerned with the condition of our cars, or our careers, or our portfolios than the condition of our souls.
But which is more important? The outer or the inner life?
The outer life will pass away. Your body eventually ages and wears out, but the soul lives forever. Question is, where will it lives on for eternity?
How you live today determines the destination of your soul.
Luke 12 tells of two brothers who fought over the inheritance their parents left for them.
One of the brothers, decided to get some outside help. He approached Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”
Jesus did not agree to play arbitrator, instead He gave a warning a told a parable.
The warning was found in Luke 12:15, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”
A person’s life does not consist in the abundance of their possessions. Not just money, anything that is outward, physical, material. That is not what life is really about. It reminds me of a sarcasm I read recently, “Some people are so poor that all they have is money.”
Then Jesus goes on with a parable about a wealthy farmer who harvested a bumper crop one year. He said to his soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”
In today’s context we can say that his life was doing well, his business expanding, his property investments reaping huge returns. He was on the climb in the social-economic ladder.
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’
What was wrong with the farmer? Was it wrong to expand your business? Was it wrong to upgrade your homes? Was it wrong to enjoy a better life? No, not at all. That wasn’t the issue. The real issue was that he had paid so much attention to the outer life, but totally neglected the inner life.
When Jesus says the man’s soul will be required, He uses language from the business world; it is a term that would describe a loan that had fallen due. Our souls are on loan to us. One day, God will review with us what our souls have become.
When the soul is gone, nothing else matters.
Matthew 16:26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
A lost soul is not referring to its destination, but its condition. We are not lost because we are going to hell, we are going to hell because we are lost.
Salvation is more than a change of destination from hell to heaven. It has to do with the rebirth of the soul.
The soul was sick and sinful, damaged and dead, lost and confused. But now in Christ, the soul is alive and well, health and healthy, been found and returned home to God.
When your soul is well, all is well. When your soul is not well, all it not well.
Unless your soul is healthy, you won’t be happy. If your soul is in a healthy place, you will be okay. You will find the strength and hope you need to weather the storms.
If your soul is healthy, no external circumstance can destroy your life. If your soul is unhealthy, no external circumstance can redeem your life.
3 John 2 Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.
Until your soul is healthy and prospering, nothing else can prosper. Our health and wellness don’t move from the outside in, but from the inside out.
There are two common outcomes to the outside in approach, and both are rather depressing:
In the first outcome, you try so hard to fix the circumstances, only to discover eventually that you can’t. You can’t overcome the cancer. You can’t change your spouse. You can’t bring back to loved one you lost. You can’t get the job you wanted. So you give up. You see life as meaningless and hopeless.
The second outcome might even be worse, because you actually achieve your goals. How can that be worse? Because you get what you always wanted, only to discover that it doesn’t make you feel any better. Your bank account is full, but you are still empty. And not only that, now the only hope that you could achieve satisfaction is gone, because if anyone on earth should be happy, it’s you – and you’re not. So what reason is there to go on living?
There is a better way.
John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
The abundant life is not found in perfect circumstances, but found in a fulfilled and healthy soul.
Life does not consist in the abundance of outward possessions, but in the flourishing and prospering of inner soul.
When God designed life, He had far more in mind for us than simply surviving. He wants us to live an abundant life. Not because circumstances are always perfect, but because our souls have found their homes in God. Fulfilment comes from having a healthy soul.
Life does not consist in the prospering of outer possessions, but in the flourishing of inner soul.
Gaining the outside world doesn’t help if your inside world collapses.
On the other hand, your soul can be all right when everything in your world is all wrong.
Sooner or later, your world will fall apart. What will matter then is the soul you have constructed.
Horatio Spafford invested most of what he had in real estate. He lived in Chicago and lost everything in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It destroyed his home. They had no insurance. He lost most of his money. In 1873 he put his wife and their four daughters on a ship heading to England as he stayed behind to rebuild his business. A few days after the ship departed, he received a telegram from his wife: “Saved alone. What shall I do?” There had been a shipwreck. All four of their daughters perished. Horatio quickly boarded another ship to England, and as it passed over the very same place in the ocean where his daughters had drowned, he wrote these words to a song:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
How to have a healthy soul?
The Bible mentions the word soul hundreds of times. The Old Testament often uses the word heart to express a similar concept.
1 Thess 5:23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The spirit is our consciousness of God.
The soul is our consciousness of self and others. It is made up of will, thoughts and emotions.
The body is our consciousness of the environmental world through the five senses.
The soul needs to submit to the spirit, while the body needs to submit to the soul.
The soul desires integration, harmony and wholeness. An unhealthy soul is one that experiences dis-integration. And sin always causes the disintegration of the soul.
In sin, my appetite for lust or anger or pride dominates my will. My will, which was made to rule my body, becomes enslaved to what my body wants.
How does your soul returns to wholeness?
I. Return Home to God
Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
When did mankind become alive? When – and only when – God breathed into him. At that moment Adam became a living soul.
Anytime we speak of the human soul, we are speaking of God’s breath. If God’s breath created our souls, then we are literally living on borrowed breath. Whenever we breathe, speak, or sing, we do so because God’s life has given life to our souls.
Our souls came from, depend on, and long for God. He gave us life, so His presence is essential to our ongoing health. Our souls long for God because His life-breath created us and sustains us. Your soul is healthiest when it comes back frequently and wholeheartedly to God. That is when you are most alive. That is when you are most human.
You are a soul made by God, made for God, and made to need God, which means you were not made to be self-sufficient. You need God. Your soul needs to return home to God.
Another word for it is salvation. Not a one-time event, but on-going walk with God.
II. Keep Watch Over Your Soul
There was once a town high in the Alps that was built around the banks of a beautiful stream. The stream was fed by springs up in the mountain. The water was clear like crystal. Children laughed and played beside it. Swans and geese swam on it. You could see the rocks and the sand and the fishes that swarmed at the bottom of the stream.
High in the hills, far beyond anyone’s sight, lived an old man who served as Keeper of the Springs. He had been hired so long ago that now no one could remember a time when he wasn’t there. He would travel from one spring to another in the hills, removing branches or fallen leaves or debris that might pollute the water. But his work was unseen.
One year the town council decided they had better things to do with their money. No one supervised the old man anyway. They had roads to repair and taxes to collect and services to offer, and giving money to an unseen stream-cleaner had become a luxury they could no long afford.
So the old man left his post. High in the mountains, the springs went untended; twigs and branches and worse muddied the liquid flow. Mud and silt compacted the creek bed; farm wastes turned parts of the stream into stagnant bogs.
For a time no one in the village noticed. But after a while, the water was not the same. It began to look brackish. The swans flew away to live elsewhere. The water no longer had a crisp scent that drew children to play by it. Some people in the town began to grow ill. All noticed the loss of sparkling beauty that used to flow between the banks of the streams that fed the town. The life of the village depended on the stream, and the life of the stream depended on the keeper.
The city council reconvened, the money was found, the old man was rehired. After yet another time, the springs were cleaned, the stream was pure, children played again on its banks, illness was replaced by health, the swans came home, and the village came back to life.
The life of a village depended on the health of the stream.
The stream is your soul. And you are the keeper.
The stream is your soul. For it to flow freely, the keeper of the stream must clear it of anything that becomes more important than God.
1. Get rid of sins
2. Unclutter your life
3. Feed your soul
Proverbs 4:23 Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.
Take care of the depth of your soul; God will take care of the width and height of your life.
How is your soul? It's time to return to the lover of your soul, Jesus Christ.
12 After this He went down to Capernaum with His mother and brothers and His disciples. There they stayed for a few days.
13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14 In the temple courts He found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.
15 So He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.
16 To those who sold doves He said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn My Father's house into a market!"
17 His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for Your house will consume me."
“Zeal for Your house will consume me.” This is a quote from Psalm 69:9, “For zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.”
In the NLT translation, “Passion for Your house burns within me, so those who insult You are also insulting me.”
What passion is burning within you?
Some people are passionate about football, it consumes them.
Some are passionate about food, such as durian.
Some are passionate about making money.
Some are passionate about spending money, such as shopping.
Some are passionate about rescuing stray dogs off the street, through people like them I adopted my little dog, Abby.
In and of themselves, these passions are not necessary wrong. In fact, they add colors to your life. I’m more worried about people who don’t know what their passion is. They end up sitting in front of the computer or TV all day long just passing time, actually wasting life.
But the challenge of the Word of God is this, above and beyond whatever passions you have, let your greatest love and highest commitment be towards the house of God.
“Zeal for Your house has consumed me!”
The all-consuming zeal and passion of Jesus is for the house of God. It drove Him to do the unthinkable in the temple. Can you picture Jesus using a whip to drive out the merchants from the temple? Chasing the sheep and cattle out, scattering the coins, overturning the tables, shouting, “Get these out of My Father’s house!” It looks more like the picture of a mad man, rather than the loving and gentle Shepherd of our soul!
We are not just talking about a few merchants in the temple. The Passover is one of the three annual festivals that all Jews are required to go to Jerusalem to celebrate. Bible scholars estimated that there were easily a million people during that time. The temple was the center of festivities. At least 200,000 sheep must have been slaughtered and sacrificed. So we are talking about a huge throng of people and sheep. What courage and power!
And He did it twice. First time at the beginning of His ministry, as recorded in John 2 that we read this morning. The second time at the end of His ministry, as recorded in the Synoptic Gospel.
“Zeal for Your house has consumed me!”
What have we done for the house of God?
Today, there is no more temple. But individually as a Christian and corporately as a Church, we are the temple, we are the house of God.
Matthew 16:18 “I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
There is no greater cause in life than to build the church together with our Lord Jesus Christ.
You can love your football, you can play your computer game, you can pursue your career and so forth. Just make sure, the number one thing in your life, has to be about the church of Jesus Christ.
Let me give you three reasons, why building the church is the greatest cause. Actually they are found right in the first page of our weekly bulletin: “Welcome to God’s house of healing & hope!”
Reason #1: The Church is the House of God
We are not talking about the church as a building, but the church as a family, as the household of God.
Ephesians 2:19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.
God is our heavenly Father, He loves His children, He protects His family, He takes care of His church.
When you become a Christian, you belong to the church, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, you are members of the household of God.
What a privilege! What a blessing! And what an awesome responsibility that we take great care of the church, working together with Jesus, let’s build up the church as the house of God.
Reason #2: The Church is the House of Healing
Despite all our human efforts and the advancement of medical science, sickness and disease still play havoc in the lives of people today. Instead of decreasing in numbers and kinds, there are more sicknesses today, many of which are incurable or contagious. Lives and families are devastated by illnesses that cost hundreds and thousands of dollars.
But the healing power of God is not limited to physical illnesses, it includes emotional and inner healing. There is not a single hurt that He can’t heal, there is not a single wound that He can’t restore.
When Jesus was on earth, there were three main features in His ministry.
Matt 4:23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
Matt 9:35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.
1. Teaching in their synagogues
2. Preaching the good news of the kingdom
3. Healing every disease and sickness
As Christ’s earthly ministry was drawing to a close, He told His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem to be crucified – to give His life as a ransom for many. He told them that after His death He would rise again. He instructed them to continue the ministry that He had begun without interruption. Just before He ascended to heaven, He commissioned His disciples to go into all the world to preach the good news with signs following.
Mark 16:15-18 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
This commission was not given to the early disciples only, but to all who believe. Thank God that after Christ ascended to heaven, the early church faithfully carried on His ministry as He had commissioned them to do. Today, the commission remains for the church, we are the house of healing to a broken world.
Reason #3: The Church is the House of Hope
The world is lost and broken. There is no institution on earth that can fix it. Schools can provide useful knowledge. Businesses can provide needed jobs. Government can provide assistance. But can any of it truly transform the human heart?
There is only one power on earth that can. It is the power of the love of Jesus Christ. The good news of that transforming love has been given to the church. That means the answer to the world’s salvation lies in the hand of the church. The church is the hope of the world.
Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.
The church must arise as the house of hope, preaching the gospel of Christ with clarity and conviction, with authority and anointing. The salvation of the world depends on us.
Look at the world today. Never before has the world been in a greater mess. But my heart is full of hope of optimism, because Jesus is still building His church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I can’t help but commit myself with even greater passion to working for Jesus and working with Jesus to build His church. There is no greater cause, no higher call, the church is the hope of the world!
The Lord is calling every one of us here to make a commitment. Let’s commit to building God’s house of healing and hope, here at home and in all the world!
Now perhaps you say, “I want to commit, but I don’t what to do. How do we build the church to become the house of God, the house of healing, and the house of hope?”
God has given His direction. Three areas for this year:
I. Deepen Our Discipleship
Pay attention, dig deeper in our spiritual walk with Christ. Practise the three essential spiritual disciplines:
1. Daily Devotion: read the Bible daily, read it through in one year; pray daily, at least ½ an hour.
2. Weekly Worship: Come to church! Don’t miss Sunday Services, Prayer meeting, Bible Study, Connect group.
3. Generous Giving: Go beyond the basic tithes, which is giving 10% of your income to the Lord. Give cheerfully and generously to missions, facility, Sunshine.
II. Expand Our Evangelism and Widen our Witnessing
1. Pray for the Unsaved
2. Share the love of Jesus with them
3. Invite them to church
4. Follow up on them
III. Spread Our Social Services
Everyone can participate, everyone is needed, together let’s commit to building God’s house of healing and hope in all the world!
Will it be easy? No. The devil will tell you it is impossible. You will feel the pain of sacrifices. But I assure you, the reward is far greater than the sacrifice.
Romans 12:11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
1 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
The Blessed Life
During Chinese New Year we like to speak words of blessing over one another. The Lord our God is the source of all blessings. The Word of God is full of blessings for His people. Not only for Chinese New Year, but throughout the entire year.
On this second day of Chinese New Year, I bless you with Psalm 1:3, “You are like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever you do prospers.”
What is involved in this blessing? Three aspects to this blessing:
I. It’s a Promising Life
“A tree planted by streams of water” is stable and secure, it is at the right place for growth, with ample supply of water. Notice it says “streams” in the plural, if one stream dries up there is another. It has no fear of drought. From such place of nourishment, it is free to grow and bear fruit. Truly, it is a promising life.
May you discover the secret to endless and total supply to all of life’s needs, and the secret is found in the Lord your God!
Gen 22:14 So Abraham called that place “Jehovah Jirah,” or “The LORD Will Provide.” And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”
Phil 4:19 But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
In this New Year you will face difficult and challenging situations. Dry seasons will come. There will be down time. Don’t panic, don’t be afraid, be strong, be steady. You are planted in the rivers of life. All the promises of God are Yes and Amen towards you. You have the most promising future ahead of you!
II. It’s a Productive Life
“which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither”
7 But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him.
8 He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.
Its leaves are always green and it never fails to bear fruit. Don’t you want that? A life that is healthy, vibrant and productive. Notice that leaves provide shade for weary travellers, while fruits provide satisfaction for hungry and thirsty souls.
Your life is blessed to be a blessing to others. You will provide rest and shelter, answer and solution, wisdom and understanding.
III. It’s a Prosperous Life
“Whatever you do prospers.”
Whatever you do – in all things, in all areas.
Today there is a lot of talks about work-life balance. Even the world is recognizing that success at work but failure at home is tragic. It’s not worthwhile to gain the whole world and lose your health, lose your family, and lose your soul.
Look around you, too many broken lives, broken hearts, broken homes. The world needs true prosperity from the Lord our God. Whatever you do, in all things, spirit, soul and body; health, wealth and happiness. This is true prosperity. This is abundant life, true life.
Let me bless you once again with Psalm 1:3, “You are like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever you do prospers.”
I bless you with a promising life, a productive life, and a prosperous life!
The best part of this blessing is that it is not just one of the well-wishes that we say and that’s it. The Word of God gives us the key to unlocking this blessing. If you want to enjoy such a blessed life, just do these two things:
1. Detest the Way of the World
Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
Beware of the downward spiral:
WALK in the counsel of the wicked or
STAND in the way of sinners or
SIT in the seat of mockers.
To walk is to follow, being led.
To stand is to choose side, standing with the wicked, which means opposition to the righteous.
To sit is to settle in, becoming one of the wicked.
Don’t even let it get started! Don’t go the way of the wicked, you must reject it, hate it and flee from it!
10 My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them.
11 If they say, "Come along with us; let's lie in wait for someone's blood, let's waylay some harmless soul;
12 let's swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
13 we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder;
14 throw in your lot with us, and we will share a common purse" –
15 my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths;
Remember who you are and whose you are. You are a child of God, you are a Christian, you belong to Jesus, you belong to His church. You are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. You stand strong with the armour of God, fighting the enemy. You walk in a manner that is worthy of your heavenly calling.
Detest the way of the wicked. Not only that, detest the way of the world. The way of the wicked is quite obvious, we know it is wrong, it breaks civil laws, moral laws, spiritual law. But the way of the world may not be so obvious. It is no less wicked, but more subtle, cunning, and dangerous. It comes as seemingly harmless suggestion, portrayed in the media, as though everyone is doing it, as though it is okay.
How can you detect and filter out the error of worldly values? You need the Word of the Lord!
2. Delight in the Word of the Lord
Psalm 1:2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night.
It is not enough to hate the way of the wicked, you must love the Word of the Lord.
Delight and meditate go hand in hand. What you love, you will think often.
Be honest with yourself. Do you love the Word of God? If you don’t, repent! If you do, read it, study it, meditate it, apply it!
You have to start with discipline, make it a godly habit, make sure you read daily, and read it through this year. Soon, it will become a delight. You will enjoy reading it so much, that you want more of it.
The amazing result is this, you will start living the blessed life that God wants you to live: Promising, productive, and prosperous.
That’s all? Really that simple? Yes, it is that simple! What’s true and what works often are very simple, especially when given by God.
I can understand why some of you find it hard to believe. It sounds like too simplistic a solution to life. After all, we need different expertise for different aspects of life. Can the Bible solve my financial needs? Does the Bible have the answer to my health issues? How can the Bible help me with my career path? And so, Christians run around getting helps, pursuing the latest gurus, when all the long the answer is right here!
Now, there are all sorts of knowledge in the world that are useful to learn: science, maths, computer, health, management, etc. God is not saying that we can’t learn them. But there is one big problem with all these knowledge and learning: they can’t deal with the heart of the problem.
What is the heart of the problem? It is the problem of the heart.
Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.
Only the Word of God can change your heart. Once your heart is changed, your life changes.
Your life is like a tree, the question is where is it planted. Make sure it is planted by the streams of water. In the Bible, water for drinking is a picture of the Spirit of God. Water for washing is a picture of the Word of God. To be planted by streams of water, is to be planted in the Spirit and the Word of God.
Trust me, if you will dig deeper in your spiritual life, practise the spiritual discipline of daily devotion, weekly worship, and generous giving, something miraculous will happen to your heart. You will start bearing the fruit of the spirit, you will start producing good fruits for Jesus Christ. You will really live out the Christian life.
Two ways: the way of the wicked vs the Word of the Lord
Two destinies: the prosperous life of the righteous vs the peril of the wicked.
In Psalm 1:4-6 the wicked is described as chaff, which is useless, cheap, ended up in the burning heap.
Live the blessed life in the Lord!
1 How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!
2 It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down upon the collar of his robes.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows His blessing, even life forevermore.
Few days ago Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of America. In his first speech as president, he referenced Psalm 133:1 and said, “The bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.”
He also pointed to God as the source of protection. “There should be no fear. We are protected and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God.”
Regardless of your opinion about Trump, aren’t you glad that the new President of the most powerful nation on earth referred to the Bible and acknowledged the protection of God?
It’s the beginning of a New Year, and we are celebrating Chinese New Year in a week’s time. Market sentiment has been down or even depressing. Everywhere people are talking about how bad the economy is. In times like this, our faith must be proven genuine, that we are walking by faith in God, and not by sight in what we see happening around us.
Two weeks ago we learnt that God’s will for His people is to Flourish, stay Fresh, and be Fruitful all their life. Good time or bad time, we will flourish in the Lord! Are you believing God for it?
What is the secret to flourishing?
Psalm 92:13 Planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God.
We must be planted, that means take root downward and bear fruit upward.
Firstly, pay attention to your spiritual life!
Secondly, practice spiritual disciplines:
1. Read the Bible daily and read it through this year
2. Pray daily
3. Give as often as we meet for church
Thirdly, protect the unity of the Church:
Psalm 133:1 How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!
We are planted in the house of the Lord, in the courts of our God, which speaks of the church.
You need to be fully committed to a church and be united with the people of God. The anointing oil of God flows along the path of unity, and that’s where the blessings of the Lord takes place.
You need the church, and the church needs you. The traditional African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” is certainly true spiritually. It takes a church to raise a child of God.
We are called by God, not just to believe, but to belong! Belong to God and belong to His family, the church of Jesus Christ.
1 John 4:20-21 If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
How do you love? You don’t love in a vacuum, or in isolation. Love is not a feeling, but a relationship. That’s why God puts you in the church for fellowship so that you can learn to love one another.
There is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian. You are not on your own anymore! When you are born again, you are members of the family of God and the body of Christ.
A Christian without a church home is like an organ without a body, a sheep without a flock, a child without a family. It is a most unnatural and dangerous state. Why? Because you die spiritually without the protection and covering of the church. Your Christian growth is stunted without the fellowship of love with other believers.
Every Christian needs the accountability, identity, and responsibility of being part of a church in order to grow spiritually.
Connected for Relationship
Often we act as if relationships are something to be squeezed into our schedule. We talk about finding time for our family or making time for people in our lives. That gives the impression that relationships are just a part of our lives along with many other tasks. But God says that relationships are what life is all about. Love is not a good part of your life; it is the most important part!
Four of the Ten Commandments deal with our relationship to God while the other six deal with our relationships with people. But all ten are about relationships! Jesus summarized what matters most to God in two statements: Love God and love people.
We become so preoccupied with making a living, doing our work, paying our bills, and accomplishing our goals as if these tasks are the point of life. They are not. The point of life is learning to love, loving God and loving people. Life minus love equals zero.
So a life that flourishes is not just about self, but about Him and His people. We flourish together in the house of the Lord! Team work is not just for corporate work project, it is for Christian life. Together everyone achieves more.
The huge redwood trees of California amaze mankind. They are the largest living things on earth and the tallest trees in the world. Some of them are 350 feet high and over 2,500 years old. One would think that trees so large must have a tremendous root system that reaches down hundreds of feet into the earth. But not so! The redwoods have a very shallow root system. If one was to get down on his knees and examine the redwoods' root system he would find that all the roots intertwine. They are locked to each other. When the storms come, the winds blow, and the lightning flashes, the redwoods still stand. They are not alone for all the trees support and protect each other. Each tree is important to all the other trees in the grove.
None of us can stand alone! As Solomon also said in Eccl 4:11-12, “Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
We need each other! God never intended for us to go through life alone. Get connected to others in the body of Christ! Your church is a great place to make that happen!
Aren’t you glad you are part of the family of God? Aren’t you glad you have brothers and sisters around to encourage you, to support you, and to help you along life’s journey? We are all so different, but one thing we have in common – J E S U S! The church is not perfect; there may be hypocrites, there may be fake believers, but the best people in the world are in the church. Amen!
Unfortunately, many people grow up in families with unhealthy relationships, so they lack the relational skills needed for real fellowship. They must be taught how to get along with and relate to others in God’s family. Fortunately the Bible is filled with instruction on how we can be connected for relationship.
Rom 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
In this church we respect and honor one another. We appreciate the fact that we are all different, and yet we are all equally important in the eyes of the Lord. We seek to understand rather than try to control and change you into someone else. We don’t look down on anyone. We treat each other with respect, in a thoughtful and courteous manner.
Communication is the basis of any relationship. It’s in sharing that we get to know each other better and grow in our relationship.
Eph 4:15 Speak the truth in love.
In this church we are honest and sincere with one another, and we always do so in love. We communicate honestly with grace, tact and wisdom.
Gen 4:9 Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?"
This church is a family, and as a family we defend and protect one another. We refuse to gossip, bad-mouth, complain or tear each other down. Instead, we encourage and lift one another up. In this church, we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. We care for one another, we help one another, we cover one another’s back.
Matt 5:23-24 Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
Even the most loving family quarrels at times. It may be due to misunderstanding, miscommunication, or differences of opinions. When relationship sours and strains, many people choose to dissolve rather than resolve. Jesus teaches us to reconcile and restore relationship. This is what we do in this church, we value relationships and we will always do our best to resolve conflicts and restore relationships.
Relationships are worthy investment, and the most valuable is time investment. We have to spend time with people, a lot of time, to build deep relationships. The first Christians met together every day!
Acts 2:46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.
In this church we invest time for fellowship with one another, because relationship is at the heart of all we do.
The most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16, but do you know 1 John 3:16?
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”
This is the kind of sacrificial love God expects us to show one another. It is a willingness to love them in the same way Jesus loves us.
God wants us to flourish, together as a church connected in relationship!
Hosea 10:12 Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.
Jeremiah 4:3-4 This is what the LORD says to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem: “Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns. 4 Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, circumcise your hearts, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done - burn with no one to quench it.”
Cultivated in Growth
There is a common phrase between these two passages: “Break up your unplowed ground.” In the King James and NASB it says, “Break up your fallow ground.”
What is “unplowed” or “fallow” ground? It refers to land that could have been productive and fruitful, yet was left wasted and harden because the soil wasn’t plowed and prepared.
Obviously the Lord is speaking about our heart and our life.
Israel was an agricultural society, the Jews were a nation of farmers, therefore it is a common thing in the Bible to use farming analogy to speak to the people.
In Isaiah 5:1-4 the Lord compares the nation of Israel to a vineyard,
1 Let me sing now for my well-beloved a song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.
2 He dug it all around, removed its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it and also hewed out a wine vat in it; then He expected it to produce good grapes, but it produced only worthless ones.
3 “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?”
Notice two things that were said: “WHAT MORE could I have done?” and “I EXPECTED good grapes, not worthless ones.”
The Lord had done everything He could for the vineyard, He had every right to expect good fruits.
Again, He is speaking about our heart and our life! He has done everything He could for us, and He has every right to expect good fruits out of us.
In Luke 13:6-7 Jesus told a parable,
6 A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any.
7 And he said to the vineyard-keeper, “Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?”
The Lord is looking for fruit, and He’s been very patient with us. But there comes a point of time when discipline and chastisement must be given.
If the Lord comes to you right now looking for fruits, what would He say of you?
Lest some of you think that it sounded such heavy responsibility and so burdensome, let’s get the truth straight: Fruit-bearing is most natural for a fruit tree!
It’s most natural for Christian life to produce Christian fruits!
Last week we learnt from Psalm 92 that the righteous will flourish like a tree, whereas the wicked will perish like grass. We could have entitled it, Flourish or Perish!
No in-between righteous and wicked
No in-between saved and unsaved
No in-between belief and unbelief
No in-between hot and cold
No in-between flourish and perish
If you want to believe in Jesus, believe all the way. If you want to follow Him, follow all the way.
Live the Christian life all the way, to the full, to the max, and flourish life a tree in the house of the Lord.
As a result, you will stay FRESH and FRUITFUL in your life.
God has done everything He could for us to bear fruit. If we are not bearing fruit, the fault is on us. Therefore the call is for us to break up the unplowed ground and sow the seed of righteousness.
What is the difference between our heart and the soil in the ground?
Whereas the soil responds to the work of the farmer, our heart often resists the work of the Lord.
Stop resisting, start responding to the work of the Lord!
Allow our heart and our life to be cultivated for growth, for change, for His glory!
I. REPENT Your Sins Before God
It’s not just telling God that you are sorry, it involves a change of heart, change of mind, and change of action.
Stop loving and doing all the wrong things, start loving and doing all the right things.
Jeremiah 4:3 This is what the LORD says to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem: “Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns.”
A. Soften the Soil – Disobedience and unbelief hardens the heart. Repent and choose to obey, choose to believe.
B. Destroy the Thorns – Things that crowd and choke your heart.
Mark 4:19 The worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.
Besides the sins that easily entangle, it’d include things that distract, keeping you busy, leaving you no time for God.
What do you do with the thorns? Pull them up, cut them off, get rid of them.
Here is a gardening advice:
Persistence: Thorn bushes are extremely persistent. Therefore the only way to defeat them is to be even more persistent than they are. Once you have started working on eliminating the thorn bushes, keep at it until the bushes are completely gone. Otherwise, you risk losing everything you may have already accomplished. Always keep in mind the main rule: never, ever give up on a thorn bush.
Also, remember to start early on your quest to eliminate thorn bushes. The larger the patch in your garden, the harder it is to eliminate the nasty growth. Think twice if you are too lazy to work on killing the bushes. When it comes to thorn bushes, procrastination is an absolute no-no!
Start today, start now!
C. Remove the Rocks – Thought patterns and attitudes of the heart. E.g. Negative mindset, poverty mentality, judgmental attitude, prideful thinking that I know better, etc.
Filter through the soil of your heart, pick up the rocks and toss them away.
II. RETURN Your Heart to God
Your heart belongs to who? It belongs to the Lord your God.
Jeremiah 4:4 Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, circumcise your hearts.
Circumcision is a sign of separation from the world and set apart unto God.
If your heart has wandered away from God, if your heart has been stolen by the world and the devil, it’s time to return your heart to God.
Hosea 10:12 Sow for yourselves righteousness . . . it is time to seek the LORD!
Repentance is to plow the unplowed heart, returning is to plant the prepared heart.
How do you seek the Lord? Establish habits of Christian growth and maturity:
A. Daily Devotion
Every relationship takes time to develop. You have to spend time with someone to take that relationship deeper. It’s no different with our relationship with the Lord. Spend quiet time with Him daily. There is just no other way. That’s why we encourage every believer to develop the habit of a daily time with God.
A quiet time is time alone with the Lord. If we do not spend time cultivating that one-on-one relationship with Him, we will eventually feel spiritually disconnected from Him, out of touch, restless, dissatisfied and unfulfilled. After a while we will begin drifting away and no longer be influenced by His presence in our lives.
The fact is we all desire a closeness with God but often aren’t experiencing it simply because we aren’t spending time with Him. After a while we say to ourselves, “I’m the same old person I’ve always been.” “I’m not changing.” “My relationship with the Lord is stale and stagnant.” That’s why each day we need to set aside time to spend with the Lord in Bible reading and prayer in order to deepen our knowledge and love for Him that will result in real life change.
What do you do during quiet time? Worship, Bible reading and prayer.
B. Weekly Worship
Our worship of God is not just once a week. We worship the Lord daily as a lifestyle. But the weekly worship here is referring to the corporate gathering of the church, especially on a Sunday Worship Service.
Why is the weekly worship so important? Because God commanded it. It is the principle of Sabbath, giving one day to rest from your own work and giving it to God in worship.
Exo 20:8-10 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.
The literal Sabbath day is on Saturday, but when Christ resurrected on Sunday, the church has been observing the principle of Sabbath rest on Sunday, to commemorate and celebrate the risen Lord. But the crux of the matter is not on which day. The church can have multiple Services, such as Saturday, Friday, etc. whichever day it is, most importantly, as Heb 10:24-25 tell us, “And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
C. Generous Giving
Every time when Christians gather, there is worship through singing and music, there is sharing of the Word of God, there is prayer, there is fellowship with one another, but there is also giving of money.
Money is important, it is the result of our time, talents and labour. Giving of money is an expression of our worship to God. We are telling God that we mean what we say or sing in worship. We offer our finance to acknowledge His Lordship over us, and we recognize that it is Him who bless us with the ability to make wealth.
Giving offering is also God-ordained way of supporting the gospel work of the church. Both locally and overseas, the church needs finance to operate. Who pays for the facility and utility? Through the faithful giving of the people of God.
So giving offerings is part of our weekly worship. Why then do we talk about monthly tithing? What is tithing? Let me explain.
The word “tithes” literally means “tenth.” Tithing is returning 10% of everything that we earn or receive to the Lord.
Mal 3:10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.
Mal 3:10 says that tithes are to be brought to God’s house. In the Old Testament it refers to the Temple, whereas Christians today bring our tithes to the church family that we are a part of.
What is the difference between tithes and offerings? Tithes is a fixed amount that we are commanded by God to give, i.e. 10% of everything we earn or receive. Offering is any amount that we give to the Lord after we have paid our tithes. True giving begins only after we have paid our tithes.
Generally most people are monthly paid wages, hence we say monthly tithing. But obviously you can do it weekly or as often as the church meets.
2 Cor 9:6-7 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Growing into a mature and spiritual believer is a gradual process of change. But every step is worth it, for we are becoming more and more like Jesus Christ.
In the parable of Luke 13,
8 The vineyard-keeper answered and said to him, “Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer;
9 and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.”
The servant of the Lord interceded on behalf of the tree, “Give it one more year, let me work on it. I will plow the ground and put in fertilizer. Give it one more chance.”
Will you be cultivated for growth?
Will you REPENT your sins before the Lord? Soften the soil, destroy the thorns, and remove the rocks.
Will you RETURN your heart to the Lord? Seek Him, sow the seed of righteousness, start practising growth habits of daily devotion, weekly worship and monthly tithing.
12 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
13 planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green,
15 proclaiming, "The LORD is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in Him."
The Righteous will Flourish
The word “righteous” is not a word that is used very commonly to describe a person. Somehow, we shy away from it. We don’t mind descriptions like kind, compassionate, or good person. But to describe someone as a righteous person just doesn’t appear in our daily conversation.
But the Bible uses the word a lot. And God calls His people righteous. So, do you want to be a righteous person? You better be. Because to be righteous is the opposite of being wicked. That’s why the wisdom literatures in the Bible constantly compare and contrast between the two. Even in this Psalm 92, there is a contrast between the two.
6 The senseless man does not know, fools do not understand,
7 that though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will be forever destroyed.
“senseless” and “fools” do not refer to a man’s intellectual and mental capacity, rather they refer to spiritual and moral capacity.
Psalm 14:1 The fool says in his heart, "There is no God."
What is it that the senseless man does not know, fools do not understand?
Psalm 92:7 that though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will be forever destroyed.
The wicked and evildoers flourish too, but they are like GRASS, which is here today and tomorrow it is gone, destroyed.
Whereas the righteous flourish like a TREE, which is strong and steady for a long, long time.
Do you want to be like tree or like grass?
Do you want to be the righteous or the wicked?
The choice is clear, very clear!
But sadly, many have been led astray to follow the way of the wicked.
The thing is this, the wicked flourishes too! In fact, the ungodly seems to be living a good life. And so, even some believers wonder in their heart, what good is it that I keep the faith? Is there really a difference between the godly and the ungodly?
Is there a difference? Definitely so! Although the word flourish can be used of both the righteous and the wicked, it means very differently.
To flourish is to thrive, to increase, to enlarge, to prosper. But there is a Biblical flourishing vs a worldly flourishing.
Worldly flourishing focuses primarily on our material prosperity with its false hope of happiness.
Biblical flourishing is holistic, encompasses all of our being - spirit, soul and body.
Worldly flourishing is like grass, fragile and weak, temporal and unreliable.
Biblical flourishing is like tree, strong and steady, long-lasting and dependable.
Worldly flourishing is prospering on the outside but bankrupt on the inside.
Biblical flourishing is prospering on the inside and overflows in blessings to the outside.
3 John 2 Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.
God desires that you flourish and prosper in all areas, including your physical health, JUST AS your soul prospers.
Biblical flourishing starts from the inside out. Flourish spiritually and inwardly, and it will overflow outwardly to all other areas of your life: physically, emotionally, financially.
When you flourish according to God’s way, the Bible way, Psalm 92:14 says that two things will happen, “They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.”
Even in your old age, you will stay FRESH and evergreen. You are healthy, full of vitality, able to bear FRUIT. Your life will be fruitful firstly in the fruit of the Spirit, which speaks of your Christian character and conduct. Secondly, fruitful in the work of the Lord, which speaks of your Christian ministry and service.
Flourish, fresh, fruitful, is that the description of your life?
What is the secret?
Psalm 92:13 planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God.
Planted – that means take root downward and bear fruit upward.
Where? In the house of the Lord, in the courts of our God, which speaks of the church.
The traditional African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” is certainly true spiritually. It takes a church to raise a child of God. Believing in Christ is an individual, personal decision. Living the Christian life is a community, public dedication.
Principles of Flourishing:
1. Converted in Salvation
2. Cultivated in Growth
3. Connected in Relationship
4. Committed in Ministry & Missions
5. Consecrated in Worship
The wicked will perish like grass, while the righteous will flourish like tree in the house of the Lord!
Let’s personalize this Scriptural passage:
I am the righteous of the Lord.
I will flourish like a palm tree, I will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
I am planted in the house of the LORD, I will flourish in the courts of my God.
I will still bear fruit in old age, I will stay fresh and green,
I am proclaiming, "The LORD is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in Him."
Let’s declare it together as a church:
We are the righteous of the Lord.
We will flourish like a palm tree, we will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
We are planted in the house of the LORD, we will flourish in the courts of our God.
We will still bear fruit in old age, we will stay fresh and green,
We are proclaiming, "The LORD is upright; He is our Rock, and there is no wickedness in Him."
Amen and Amen!
8 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
9 Command Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the law for the burnt offering: the burnt offering itself shall remain on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire on the altar is to be kept burning on it.
10 The priest is to put on his linen robe, and he shall put on undergarments next to his flesh; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire reduces the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar.
11 Then he shall take off his garments and put on other garments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place.
12 The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it. It shall not go out, but the priest shall burn wood on it every morning; and he shall lay out the burnt offering on it, and offer up in smoke the fat portions of the peace offerings on it.
13 Fire shall be kept burning continually on the altar; it is not to go out.’
Remove the Ashes, Rekindle the Fire!
God instructed 3 times in this passage to keep the fire burning on the altar. The repetition emphasizes the importance of the instruction.
How was the fire started? Lev 9 tells us that when the Tabernacle was dedicated, the fire of the Lord came and consumed the sacrifice on the altar. After that the priests faithfully kept the fire going in accordance with God’s instruction.
Jewish scholar tells us that they kept the fire going for 860 years, until the temple was destroyed in 586 BC. The temple was destroyed because the people had turned away from God and worshiped idols.
The Lord is more concerned about the altar of our heart. Is the fire of God burning in your heart? Is the fire burning brightly or is it dying of? Are you on fire for God?
Be careful that your heart doesn’t turn away from the Lord your God, or the fire of God will cease and the presence of God will depart from your life.
We want to be a church that is on fire for God. For the church to be on fire, it has to be made up of Christians who are on fire.
On this first day of the New Year, hear and heed the call of God, keep the fire burning!
WHAT FIRE ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
1. Presence of God
Over and over in the Bible, fire is used as the symbol of God’s presence.
When God revealed Himself to Moses in the desert, He appeared as a fire burning but not consuming the bush.
Later on when Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt, God manifested Himself as a a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
Then we see on top of Mount Sinai the mountain was burning with fire because of the presence of God. God’s voice came and called for Moses. And Moses went up and received the Ten Commandments that were written by the finger of God.
On top of Mount Carmel, Elijah confronted the wicked King Ahab, the backslidden Israelites, and the 450 false prophets of Baal. Elijah cried out, “The God who answers by fire, He is God.” That day the fire of God came and consumed the sacrifice. The people prostrated in awe and said, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God!”
Deuteronomy 4:24 For the LORD your God is a consuming fire.
God wants to fire up your life and He wants you to keep the fire burning.
2. Power of God
John the Baptist said that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Jesus promised in Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
At Pentecost in Acts 2, we see the Holy Spirit coming down with tongues as of fire.
With the fire of the Holy Spirit burning brightly in their lives, the early Christians went out preaching the gospel in the power of God.
Signs and wonders attested their testimony and they turned the world upside down.
Without the fire of God, the church loses its power and authority.
Revivalist, Leonard Ravenhill put it this way, “I believe that tonight the world is going to hell fire because the church has lost Holy Ghost fire, it’s as simple as that.”
3. Passion of God
God is love, and He loves you passionately, like an all-consuming fire. Therefore, you must have passion FOR God!
The fire of God doesn’t come uninvited. He doesn’t force His way into you. He stays because you want Him to. It’s based on a passionate, loving relationship.
Is your heart burning with the presence of God? Power of God? Passion of God and passion for God?
Numbers 3:4 But Nadab and Abihu died before the LORD when they offered strange fire before the LORD in the wilderness of Sinai; and they had no children.
What is strange fire? Fire that originated from man and not from God.
What they did was correct, but how they did it was totally wrong!
We can do good and serve sacrificially, but if we did it with the wrong kind of fire, we will die spiritually and even physically.
God’s fire burn but doesn’t consume, man’s fire consume and burn people out.
Man’s fire is based on SELF: What I want, what I like, what I think. My way, my method, my decision.
Sadly, in many churches today, pastors with strong self-will may have built a big church, but burnt so many people out in the process.
God is concerned with how we treat one another, not just what we accomplished.
Therefore, come back to the true source of fire, come back to the Lord our God.
HOW TO KEEP THE FIRE GOING?
I. Remove the Ashes
Leviticus 6:10-11 The priest shall take up the ashes to which the fire reduces the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. 11 Then he shall carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place.
The fire will die out if the ashes are not removed.
Ashes are the result of burning.
You get ashes when you offer up burnt offering to the Lord.
It is normal, just learn to remove it. Don’t allow it to accumulate.
You get emotional ashes too in your service and ministry.
In life you are bound to face disappointment and discouragement. When working with people there will be conflicts and misunderstanding.
The question is, what are you going to do with the ashes?
Keep the ashes? You fire will be suffocated.
Hebrews 12:15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.
Hurting people hurt others.
You will dump your ashes on others.
How often have you snapped at others because of unresolved issues in your own heart?
Time to let go. Get rid of the ashes. Come to the Lord for cleansing and restoration.
II. Supply the Fuel
Proverbs 26:20 For lack of wood the fire goes out,
1. The Fuel of Prayer
2. The Fuel of the Word
3. The Fuel of Ministry
III. Stay Close to One Another
If the woods or coals are spread too thin, the fire goes out.
Put them together, close to each other, and they will burn brightly.
We need one another. Don’t fight the battle of life alone.
Keep the fire going. If you lose it, you lose you soul!
Keep the fire going. Others need the light and warmth from your fire!
Keep the fire going. We owe it to the next generation. What are we showing them? A life that is cold and bitter with ashes? Or a life that is truly on fire with God and for God?
Remove the ashes, rekindle the fire!
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel, which translated means, "God with us."
The Call of Christmas
700 years before the birth of Christ, God gave a prophecy to Isaiah, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.”
Christmas is a sign from God to man. A sign is something special and symbolic, pointing to a greater truth and reality. Christmas is God calling out to man, “Hello, turn over here, pay attention, listen, this is so important, life and death.” Indeed, the Call of Christmas is not to be missed.
God gave a special sign, so that we will not miss His call - the sign of the extraordinary birth of Christ. He was to be born of a virgin. This is of course not possible in the natural, it took place only by the supernatural power of God. That’s what makes Christmas a sign, because it was the miraculous work of God!
Now, a sign is to point us to something greater. Don’t get caught up with the sign, but the significance of the sign. What is the meaning of the sign? What is the call of Christmas?
I. The Incarnation of God – God with Us
The word “incarnation” means embodied in flesh or taking on flesh.
John 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
God became flesh and blood, born as a human, and dwelt among us. Christmas is the miraculous birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a miraculous birth not just because of the virgin birth, but because Jesus is no ordinary child. He is the only Son of God. The Bible reveals that there is only one true God, who expresses Himself in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, He is God the Son. He is the almighty God, all knowing, all powerful and all present. Yet, on Christmas day He came to earth and was born as a tiny, helpless and weak human baby. God became a man.
Why is it that God have to become a man? It is because man is separated from God. All of us have sinned against God and fallen short of His glory. The holy and perfect God cannot tolerate sin. No sinner can stand before Him. Throughout the ages man has tried all ways and means to get to God, but we fail again and again, because no matter what we do, we cannot erase the sins in our lives, neither can we make up for the wrong things that we do. With the advance in technology, we can travel far and wide, we can even travel to moon. But there is nothing we can do to shorten the distance between God and us. The separation of sin is so wide that we can’t even take a single step towards God. Only God can take the steps towards us. That’s why He gives us the miracle of Christmas, the birth of the Son of God. Jesus came from heaven to earth and was born as a man. One of His names is called Immanuel, which means, “God with us.”
C. S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, wrote this, “The Son of God became a son of man so that the sons of man might become the sons of God.” He came to where we are so that we might go to where He is.
Thank God that He doesn’t stay far, far away and say, “Climb up here.” No, He knows that no matter how hard we try, we can never get to Him on our own, therefore He comes down to bring us up. This is the meaning Christmas, the incarnation of God. God is with us. God is with you.
II. The Intervention of God – God Helps Us
This world is full of problems. Whether 2,000 years ago or today in year 2016, the world is suffering. We are destroying ourselves even before the Final Judgement Day. Some people complain that why aren’t God doing something about it? The answer is, He did! Christmas is the intervention of God, He came personally to help us.
Rom 8:31-32 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
The devil would want you to believe that God is against you, that He is angry with you and mad at you. The truth is, God is not against you, He is for you. God is not mad at you, He is mad about you. Even though you turned away from God, He doesn’t turn away from you. He came to you because He is for you.
Another translation puts it this way, God is on your side. He is here to help you. If God is for you, who can be against you? If God has given you His own Son, what else will He withhold from you? Our God is prosperous – the whole world belongs to Him. Our God is generous – He’s given you His best in the Lord Jesus Christ, and He will freely give you all things. Our God is miraculous – He is able to do, exceedingly, abundantly above and beyond all that you can ask or imagine. Prosperous, generous and miraculous. What a Saviour we have!
Some say, “This sounds too good to be true. Why would He be for me? Nobody likes me. I don’t even like myself!” The answer is simple, it is because God loves you with an unchanging and unconditional love.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
God is for you, He doesn’t want you to perish in sin. Jesus came to save you from your sin and to give you a new life. This is good news; this is the meaning of Christmas. God has intervened our world to help us, and if you will let Him in, He will intervene on your behalf too.
III. The Invitation of God – God Saves Us
Jesus was born to be the Savior of the world.
Matthew 1:21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.
Luke 2:11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
John 1:11-12 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.
When Jesus came, there were many who rejected Him, many who chose to go on their own way. But as many as received Him and believed in Him, they become children of God.
Christmas is a sign from God to you. You’ve been searching for answer, Jesus is your answer. He is the way, the truth and the life. He has come to be with you, to help you, and to save you.
8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;
11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
The Sign of the Saviour
Signs are meant to point you somewhere. The signs of God are meant to point you to God. Throughout the history of mankind, God has given us so many signs.
But there is something unexpected here. We are talking about the sign of the Saviour of the world. The message was announced by an angel of the Lord. What was the sign?
Luke 2:12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
We’d expect the Saviour of the world to arrive with a grand entry. Just suppose you brought an overseas friend to the National Day Parade. Your friend had never seen the President of Singapore. So you’d tell him what signs to look for, to recognize when the President arrived. What would you have told him? Probably things like, the black Mercedes slowly driving into the parade square, escorting with traffic police motorcade, etc. And this is just the president of Singapore! Not the super power nations like America, Russia or China.
But what was the sign of the Saviour? A baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger!
No wonder the world at that time missed the sign. The Jews were waiting for their Messiah, the Saviour. But when He came, they missed Him altogether! They wanted something grand, spectacular, impressive, like a knight wearing shining armour riding on a white horse. They wanted a sign, but not the sign of a baby in a manger!
Why did God choose such a simple sign for the Saviour? God is sovereign and He is in total control. He did not simply “allow” His Son to be born in a stable, He actually planned it and ordained it!
What does the sign tell us?
I. The Sign of Humanity – “You will find a baby”
Jesus Christ the Son of God was born as a baby. This brings us face to face with the truth of the Incarnation - God embodied Himself in human flesh. Although Jesus was fully and truly God from all eternity, He took on humanity when He was born as a baby on Christmas day.
Take note, He did not cease to be God, although He did temporarily laid aside the outward glory of His Godhood. Neither did He become half-God and half-man, for He remained fully God and fully man. We can’t comprehend it, but the Lord Jesus Christ was the God-man, divinity and humanity joining together in His one Person.
Why did God do that?
1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
Hebrews 2:14-15 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil – 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
This is the central truth of Christianity. Jesus became man to die for our sin as a man. What we could not do, he did for us through his Son. If He had not been born, He could not have died for our sins. And He would not have risen from the dead. But thank God, He came, and we are saved when we put our faith in Him.
But this is what Christians believe. And this verse teaches us that the Lord from heaven entered this earth as a tiny, helpless baby.
II. The Sign of Helplessness — “Wrapped in cloths”
It sounds like a contradiction; how could the almighty God be described as helpless? But when Jesus was born as a baby, He was weak and helpless just like any other babies. He had to be wrapped in cloths to be protected from the harsh elements. Why did He do that?
Philippians 2:7-8 Jesus made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross!
Jesus became a helpless baby, pointing us to the day when He had grown up as man, standing before the Jewish authorities, bound and guarded as if He was a criminal. When falsely accused, he made no reply. When reviled, he refused to answer in kind. He stood before his accusers with his hands tied, awaiting the verdict that would end his life. It is no coincidence that he entered the world as he left it - bound and helpless.
He was bound that we might be set free. He died so that we might live.
III. The Sign of Humility – “Lying in a manger”
What is a “manger”? It is something like a stable or perhaps a feeding-trough. In the first century, stables were often nothing more than a circle of stones around a hollowed-out cave in the side of a hill. Mangers were not the beautiful, clean places we see in our Christmas pageants. They are lonely, dirty, smelly places made for animals.
Obviously the Saviour of the world didn’t belong here in the manger. The Son of God from heaven deserved the best the world had to offer. He came from heaven to earth - and ends up in a stable? How can that be? Suppose you had all power and all money and you could choose the time and place and manner of your son’s birth. Would you choose to have him born outside, in a stable? That doesn’t make any sense.
2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.
This is a divine exchange! Jesus became poor so that you might become rich. He became weak so that you might become strong.
Whosoever will can come to Jesus. He was born like this in order that the humble might feel invited to come to Him. The very manner of His birth—turned away from the inn, born in a stable—was an invitation to the rejected, the abused, the mistreated, the forgotten, the overlooked, to come to Him for salvation. “We might tremble to approach a throne, but we cannot fear to approach a manger.” If Jesus had been born in Paris or in Beverly Hills, only the rich and famous would feel at home with Him. But since he was born in a stable, all the outsiders of the world (and there are far more outsiders than insiders) would instinctively feel a kinship with Jesus.
In another story, we would find wise men from the east coming to worship the new born Saviour. They brought with them precious gifts to offer to Him.
Therefore, whether you are rich or poor, young or old, you are welcome by the Saviour.
Luke 2:10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.”
God’s signs can come to anyone and everyone, not just a select few. Whosoever will may receive, whosoever listen will hear. In the first Christmas, God sent the greatest sign of His love through the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ.
God offers His signs to each of us. Nobody needs to be left out. God’s love is for all, and He reaches out to all. Today, whoever you are, whatever you have done in the past, whether you are Christians or non-Christians, God’s love includes you. He speaks to you, He gives you His signs to lead you to Him, so that you may receive healing and hope, blessings and salvation.
16 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.
17 Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:
18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more."
Baby Boys of Bethlehem
This is not the typical story for Christmas sermon.
It’s a story of a tyrant king trying to murder the new born king. In his failure, Herod unleashed his murderous fury on innocent two-year olds. Such demonic cruelty, injustice, and oppression! Most people prefer a more sanitized Christmas, speaking only of the wonderful and fuzzy feelings of a festive holiday season.
But human suffering is real, and our faith would be shallow if we cannot face the reality of human sufferings.
We may not have the answer, and even if we do, we fumble for words. But Christ has the answer, indeed Christ is the answer!
Christmas is the birth of Christ, and Christ was born for a reason. He was born with a mission, to be the Saviour of the world.
Why do we need a Saviour? Because we need to be saved.
I. We Need to be Saved from Sinfulness
Matthew 2:16 Herod became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under.
The Bible says that all have sinned. But sometimes we forget how sinful is sin and how wicked is wickedness.
It is in a story like this that we are reminded of the sinfulness of human heart.
Today Bethlehem is a bustling town of 28,000 people. Back then it was a tiny village six miles south of Jerusalem. Its population in Jesus’ day was no more than a few hundred people.
How many baby boys were under the age of 2 in Bethlehem? Maybe around 20 were killed. But of course, even one is too many!
Hard to imagine, 20 baby boys, rounded up by Herod’s soldiers, slaughtered on the spot, run through with swords and spears. A brutal, vicious, bloodthirsty murder of innocent babies.
Why would a man do this? How could he be so cruel?
As we look at these verses we are struck with an enormous sense of evil. In fact, it’s hard to find the right words to describe the act— barbaric, despicable, hideous, inhuman, unspeakably cruel. It is an act worthy of Hitler, Pol Pot, or ISIS.
Herod the Great was a killer. Human life meant nothing to him. He even killed his family: mother-in-law, wife, two sons.
He killed out of spite and he killed to stay in power. He wouldn’t have thought twice about killing a couple dozen baby boys in a little town like Bethlehem. The great historian Josephus called him “barbaric.” Caesar Augustus said, “It is safer to be Herod’s sow than his son.”
It’s easy to read about a man like Herod and to turn him into some kind of monster. But sin is in all of us - not just the temptation to sin, but sin itself dwells in us.
We don’t like to hear this truth, which is why we don’t like to think about stories like the slaughter of the infants of Bethlehem. They force us to confront the truth about who we really are.
You may think that you would never do what Herod did. Don’t be so sure!
Ordinary men have done horrible acts in the face of survival. Atrocities have been committed when tempted with huge profits. Lowly compromises have been made for self-interest.
Apart from the grace of God, there is no sin we won’t commit.
The slaughter of the infants reminds us again why Christ had to be born.
Jesus came to be a Savior, and we are all sinners desperately in need of a Savior.
II. We Need to be Saved from Suffering
Jesus was born into a world of suffering.
The slaughter of the innocent baby boys epitomized the helplessness and hopelessness of the common folks.
But perhaps the greatest struggle with the problem of suffering is the question, “Where was God? Why didn’t He do something?”
We read of angel warning Joseph and Mary, guiding them to bring baby Jesus out of harm’s way. What about the other baby boys? Does God not love them as well? Why weren’t their parents warned?
In our own lives, we too may question God when bad things took place. Why didn’t God warn us or prevent it from happening?
I don’t pretend to have the perfect answer to the question of suffering, but a few points to note:
1. God speaks, and He’s been speaking, but we refuse to listen.
The Bible says that God has been calling out to the world to repent and return to Him, yet man will not listen. In other words, we refused to listen to God about sin and morality, but we blamed God for not warning us about danger and calamity. Sin brings suffering. We can’t choose between sin and refuse suffering.
2. God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, as the answer to suffering.
Christ suffered so that we can overcome suffering. His body was broken so that ours can be made whole. He died so that we may live.
This doesn’t mean that we are spared of all sufferings, for we are still living in this sinful and fallen world. This world is imperfect, that’s why we look forward to a better world to come.
3. God will put an end to suffering, once for all, at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
God intervenes and saves many from danger, but not all the time and not all people. If it is all the time and for all people, then it’d be the final judgment day. That day is not yet, giving us a chance to share the gospel and save as many as we can.
Today, you may think that your suffering makes no sense. But put your trust in Jesus Christ. Obey Him, follow Him.
One day, you will find yourself walking with Him in heaven, free from the bondages of this world. Free at last, free forever.
III. We Need to be Saved from Sorrow
Matthew 2:18 A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.
There are many types of sorrow, but this is the sorrow of death.
The pain of losing your loved ones is unbearable. But the greatest would be for a mother to lose her young child.
We cannot comfort such sorrow, only God the Father and His Word can.
Psalm 34:18 The LORD is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
God the Father knows the pain of losing your child, in fact, the only child! And He did it because He loves the world, He loves you.
Some may point out that Jesus rose from the dead, so the Father did not actually lose Him. But that is the point, the Father gave the Son so that you shall not perish but have eternal life. When life on earth ends, life in heaven begins. If you love your family so much, all the more so you’d want to make sure they believe in Jesus. That is the only way that your family can be together forever.
Christ the Saviour was born to save you from sinfulness, suffering and sorrow.
Many have personally tasted of His saving grace, lived a transformed life of holiness instead of sinfulness, blessing instead of suffering, joyful instead of sorrowful.
Has the world changed since the first Christmas?
Yes. On one hand, it has changed for the worst, as Satan doubled and tripled his effort to destroy the world. On the other hand, it has changed for the better, because Christ has come, and He is coming again. Moreover, His disciples all over the world, living as salt and light, sharing His love and hope.
The Herod of 2000 years ago failed to destroy Christmas, the Herods today still fail.
Remember, God always wins!
Let's be encouraged, be hopeful, trust in God and commit ourselves to Jesus Christ now and forever.