Monday, March 17, 2014


 张国昇牧师  3/9/ 2014

Today we observe the change in Daylight Saving Time. We have move the hand of the clock forward one hour in anticipation for the lengthening of daylight. Since last spring the earth has traveled one full turn around the sun. Last week we still had a bout of cold Arctic air that sent our temperature plummeting to below freezing; but today we enjoy the first day of Spring Break. Spring is a time of renewal and we cannot but adore the wisdom of our Creator God. In the beginning everything was in perfect order. But man in his sin had ruined God’s perfect creation. When God saw the great wickedness of the world he sent a great flood to destroy all the creatures on land. However God instructed Noah, a righteous man, to build an Ark and preached repentance as he was building the vessel of salvation. No one listened to his  preaching and at the end only Noah and his family of eight entered the Ark and were saved from the devastating flood. The flood had destroyed every living thing on land. After the water had subsided, Noah emerged with his family from the Ark and built an altar to offer sacrifice to the Lord. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Genesis 8:21-22) The flood story is not a myth as some may be led to believe; scientists had found evidence of the flood and all ancient civilizations in the world, including China, have oral tradition of the flood stores before written languages were developed.  After the flood man again sinned and walked away from God. God knew that too; and out of his mercy God had given his word that as long as the earth endures the cycle of renewal will never cease.  In every cycle of renewal we are reminded that even in the deepest depression of a long cold winter, the hope of the coming of spring is always assured.
In many ways life is like a never ending cycle. We go through good and bad times in life but we never seem to be able to break out from life’s cycle. As we are enjoying a good life something bad may happen that would throw us into the deep valley of pain and misery. You would think a king like Solomon with all the wealth and wisdom of the world be above life’s misery; but he wrote, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. What does man gain from all his labor at which he toiled under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises…What has been will be again, what had been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-5, 9)
The Preacher pursued the meaning of life through many avenues, but he found no satisfaction in any of those pursuits. The things that the preacher found meaningless are still the dreams of many young people today. They call those dreams American dreams; but those dreams should be called the worldly dreams because they are not monopolized by Americans. Prominent among those dreams are wealth and fame; that is nothing new under the sun!  The world defines success with these two criteria and young people are often brought up with that belief. My parents put me in a very good high school with the expectation that one day I would become a doctor. The desire for success is very legitimate because I want to honor my parents and not to disappoint them. The desire for worldly success may be shaped by parental and societal pressure, but it can rapidly grow into a spiral of ever expanding pursuit of greater fame and wealth. The Preacher said, "All man's efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied." (Eccl. 6:7)Most of us would readily agree that all our efforts started with our basic needs, but then our appetite grows bigger and bigger until nothing can satisfy it. The pursuit of any worldly dream is like riding on a tiger, the dilemma being there is no easy way of getting off. Eventually the individual will be so tired of riding he will just let go and be consumed by it. Wealth and fame are like dreams. When we don’t have them we pursue after them relentlessly; when we have them they are not worth the life that we have invested in them. I read of the story of Rev. Billy Graham once pay a visit to President Ronald Reagan in his California home. He was living in seclusion with Alzheimer disease at that time. Mrs. Nancy Reagan received him and President Reagan was oblivious of the whole visit. At the end of the visit Dr. Graham asked Nancy whether the president would recognize him. Nancy said, “No, he doesn’t. He would if you pray with him.” The great communicator who was once the most powerful man in the world was oblivious of his life-long achievement and all his past glories! He had got everything that many people would wish to have; but those things were meaningless to him at the end. Solomon too, he had all the wealth, honor and glories of his time but at his old age, he found those things but emptiness.
One may spent his whole life in pursuit of dreams; but one day he may wake up and find himself has suddenly become old. An elderly couple went to a restaurant and sat at the back against the wall. The husband saw a couple at the other end, feeble and out of shape. He said to his wife, “When I get old I hope I would not be in that shape.” His wife gripped his hand and said, “Honey, you are looking at the wall mirror!” I think I would be afraid to look at the mirror also after my cataract surgery. I would be afraid to find out that I am not just old, but very old. I am going to tell you another story. An elderly couple sitting at the kitchen table arguing what faculty would go first when a person became old. The husband was very sure that memory would go first; but the wife insisted that hearing would go first. The wife made a few more comments and he became a little irritated and yelled, “Speak up lady! What did you just say?” She replied, “I don’t remember.” These are the scenario described in the last chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes albeit in a very poetic way. How are we going to break away from this endless pursuit of vanity? How are we going to face the eventuality of growing old feeling meaningless? The Preacher had a timeless advice, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you say, ‘I find no pleasure in them’” (Eccl. 12:1) The Preacher also drew a conclusion, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Eccl. 12:13)
The Preacher gave his advice; but how can a young man break away from the long tradition of societal concept of ‘success’ and turn to seek God’s will to pursue the success prescribed by God? There is a practical way prescribed by Paul, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good , pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2) The word ‘Conform’ means fit into a mould just like making moon cakes. You want the cake look like a moon and not a square. The Greek word ‘συσχηματιζω’—suschēmatizo, means fashion alike. The young people today like ‘star watching’ but they are not astronomers. Hollywood set the trend in fashion and life style for a lot of our young people to conform; but let us be reminded that it is only a Hollywood culture and not the real world. If you ever have to pack a suite case for a long travel you would know that you have to apply pressure to squeeze everything into a small space. Everyone is under a lot of pressure to conform to the shape of the society. However, you don’t have to conform; but the only way to escape the pressure of conformation is transformation. Paul said, “but be transformed…” The Greek word used here is ‘μεταμορφουσθε’—metamorphousthe. This is the same word use in Mark 9:2 when Jesus “transfigured” before Peter, James and John in the mountain. It is not just changing of clothes or the change of style of living it is a drastic complete change in character. As a matter of fact the root verb of this word is ‘μεταμορφόω’—mĕtamŏrphŏō  from which our English word Metamorphose derived. Metamorphosis in the life cycle of a butterfly is a process of complete break-down of the cellular structure of a caterpillar in order to allow the reorganization of the cellular components into a butterfly. A transformation of an earth-bound worm into a heaven-bound new life—an insect called butterfly! The way for a hell-bound sinner to be transformed into a heaven-bound saint is by faith in Jesus Christ. The way for a ‘worldly saint’ to be transformed into an ‘spiritual saint’ is by the ‘renewing of the mind’. Paul recognized that a complete change of one’s mind set is necessary to avoid being conformed to the world. Paul had warned us about the things of this world, “The acts of sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissension, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:19-21) Are these thing obvious to you; do not set your mind on them! Set your mind on the Kingdom of God! Paul said if you set your mind on God you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. When our mind set is changed we will view the world differently; and we can know more clearly the will of God.
This advice is not for young people only it is also good advice for senior folks. In order words, we old folks should not sit back and feel sorry for ourselves. We should not feel helpless for getting old! Our mind set should be transformed too.  The prophet Isaiah said, “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grew weary, and they will walk and not be faint.” (Isa. 40:31) The old saints who set their mind in the Lord and hope in the Lord will renew their strength. Dear old saints of the church, you are the spiritual leaders. Do not think of yourselves as chickens with the head down pecking on sands; think of yourselves as eagles soar high in heaven. As the Psalmist pointed out, we old folks have received many blessings in the past; that should serve to remind us to set our minds on the Lord for our days to come: “So that your youth is renewed like the eagles. (Psalm 103:5)  Old saints are the treasure of the church; do not sit back and rot away feeling useless. The church needs you; when you are renewed by the Spirit with vigor the church too will be revitalized by your vision and spiritual leadership. The Prophet Isaiah encourages us with the vigor of an eagle we are to run and not weary; to walk and not be faint. Paul said, “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God had called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14) Our earthly race is not over yet; we are to run with goal of winning that prize!

The Lord’s Supper:
Ephesians 4:1-5
Philippians 2:1-5