Contentment is Great Gain

I was driving home one day when I saw a group of people walking home. In the group were 2 female adults with 2 children walking in front of them. They had the biggest smile on their faces. Apparently, they were walking home too. I noticed that their home was just a very simple place and yet, they were filled with joy.  

The ladies reminded me the simple joys in life do not cost a lot: spending time with loved ones, a leisure stroll and a simple meal. There were times when I sulked because I do not have what I wanted (not what I needed). Apostle Paul reminded his mentee Timothy that, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6, NIV).

Godliness is a life with God in the centre. Contentment is finding joy and satisfaction in what God has given to you. The opposite of contentment is greed and greed is like a bottomless pit, we will never be satisfied when greed is lurking in our hearts.

Contentment is something that we will learn as we walk with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is not in our human nature, it does not come naturally to us. Apostle Paul also said, “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11, NIV). Paul learnt contentment through his own life experiences when God put him in situations where he would be in need, starved and also in situations when he had plenty and was well-fed (Philippians 4:12).

We can not keep what we have forever. Verse 7 and 8 tell us, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

Greed will lead us to do things that will bring terrible consequences. Apostle Paul continues, “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction”(verse 9). People fell into destructions because of greed. Think about the news you have read this morning. Crimes were committed: robbing, stealing, cheating, murder, all because of wanting to get money quick. We grieve with the victims on the loss of their money, although some may also, out of greed, fell into these traps.

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (verse 10). We can never have enough. We see something, and we want it. If we set money as our main objective in life, we will lose all that matter. “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (verse 10b). When the love of money is untamed, it brings us sorrow and griefs—not just status and power in the society.

Money does not bring joy as the social media claims. The celebrities may be living the lifestyles of the “rich and famous” but true joy does not come from money or fame.

May God help us, to live a life of joy and contentment. The next time when I catch myself grumbling because of what I do not have, I shall count the bountiful blessings which I have received from my God who loves me. The simple pleasures and joy in life do not come from money, but they come from God who “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17).  

Christian Lifestyle

To me, Hebrews is just like a military book: you have to get going, there is no time to waste. Hebrews 13 is the last chapter of Hebrews. In it are the instructions on how we should live: as brothers and sisters in Christ — the fellowship we have should be bound by love. How our marriage should look like as Christians, the use of money and to persevere in our spiritual walk.   

Love and Fellowship (vv1-6)

The Hebrews to whom this letter was written for had no doubt been rejected by their families and friends for being followers of Jesus Christ. But the love that Christians shared was different because it was from God and empowered by God. The love of God had enabled them to love one another.

“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters” (verse 1). That is what makes us different from social clubs and other hobby groups. We are a family in Christ. There should be no distinctions or discriminations.   

  • “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10)
  • “Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.” (1 Thess 4:9)
  • “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Peter 1:22)

Love and Hospitality (v 2)

Where there is Christian love, there is hospitality. Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest, theologian and writer, wrote:

“Hospitality means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. . . . The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adore the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.”

In short, hospitality is the free and safe space for strangers to enter and discover the meaning of life and purposes.

Hospitality is an important ministry in the early church. Because of persecution, many believers were kicked out of their homes by their families. Not only that, there were traveling ministers who needed places to stay (3 John 5-8). If you remember, the story of prophet Elisha in the Old Testament. He often traveled from place to place. A Shunammite woman would prepare a room for him to rest when he was passing by. Because of their hospitality, her husband and her were blessed with a son. 

How should we show hospitality to strangers in our church and strangers in our lives? In this pandemic, all the more we need to extend our warmth to people who need it. It has been a rough year. All the more we need to show that we care. May you be God’s agents of love and hope this Christmas season. 

It is interesting because if we show hospitality, we are entertaining angels. Verse 2 says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it”.

In Genesis 18, Abraham welcomed strangers and gave them food to eat. He was actually entertaining Jesus and His two angels. It was only later that he realised it was Jesus and his angels. You and I may not be entertaining angels in disguise but each guest that we welcome are agents of blessings to us. May we too, be refreshed when we show hospitality to others.  

When we show hospitality, let us not forget those Christians who are persecuted.

Verse 3 reminds us, “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

Let us not get so comfortable with our lives that we forget our brothers and sisters in Christ who are persecuted for the Gospel. I have seminary classmates who were ministering in places where they were beaten and put to jail because they were Christians and were proclaiming the Good News. Remembering and praying for Christians who are persecuted is one way to show that we care as the Body of Christ. It is also pleasing to the Lord.  

Love in the Christian Home (v4)

The home is the ground where we practice love (Hebrews 13:4).  A Christian home is made up of a Christian marriage. There is no place for the marriage bed for a third person. As Christians, the marriage bed is only for the married couple. God is the judge and any misconducts will be judged by Him.

King David committed adultery. When he repented, God forgave him but he still had the bear the consequences of his adultery.

The media, the movies that we watch, the songs that we listen to, have catchy tunes but most of them promote pre-marital sex. It seems everyone is doing it. It seems right but it is not right in God’s eyes. Not that God is old fashioned but God was the one who designed sex. And He meant for it as a wonderful gift for the husband and the wife. If we remember we are children of God, we will not want to do it. It is not for entertainment or for experiment as the media is portraying it. Let us ask for God’s strength and wisdom to stay away from these activities that are not beneficial for us and will do damage to our souls.

Love the Lord (verse 5)

Most of the pastors entered into the ministry not because of money or its benefits but because we are curtained that God has called us into serving Him full time. And none of us are in lack or in want. God’s blessings are beyond our imaginations.

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (v5)

The love of God helps us to use our money wisely. Jesus also reminds us not to love money so much that we forsake our own souls.

There is a quote that John Wesley said but it had been under debate because he might not have said it. It is “Earn all you can, save all you can and give all you can”. It has been at the back of my mind all these years. Nonetheless, we can learn from it.

“Earn all you can.” We work diligently through participating in God’s healing and creative work in the world. We don’t exploit other people or get income from the sufferings of others but earn all that we can in a righteous way. 

“Save all you can.” Wesley supposedly was talking about a simplified lifestyle, a warning against extravagance, and self-gratification. May be in this pandemic, we realise what we really need in life. We are just grateful to be alive and what we need is actually the basic things in life. It is a good time to really think about what we really need and what makes our life meaningful.

“Give all you can.” For Wesley, giving is rooted in the very nature and activity of God, whose nature is love, which is the emptying of oneself on behalf of others, the giving of life, abundant and full life. When we love God, we will give to others, especially those in need.

Love your leaders (v 7)

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (v 7).

The leaders are to give an account before God someday. Therefore, we are to respect and honour them. Leaders are humans after all. They make mistakes too. It is important to cover them with our prayers so that they will make wise and godly decisions in their daily lives.  

The heart of Hebrews is to pursue holiness. May you continue to love one another, be faithful in your marriage, love God and find contentment in Him and honour your leaders.   

Are Christians Superstitious?

Today is the Mid-Autumn Festival. It is celebrated by the Chinese and it is the second most important tradition celebrated after Chinese New Year. On this day, the moon is round and bright. The Chinese believe that the full moon is the symbol of a family reunion. Families gather together for a reunion meal as well as to observe the moon. Many ancient poets wrote about the moon as it reminded them about their family back home and thus they expressed their homesickness in the poems.

Today, most Chinese families will be playing with lanterns, enjoying gazing at the full moon and having a meal with their family and friends.  The Chinese will also be enjoying mooncakes— a traditional Chinese pastry which is made from wheat flour and sweet fillings, such as lotus seed paste. The mooncake is a symbol of family reunion. It is usually only eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival.  

However, in the ancient Chinese world, not everyone was able to enjoy looking at the moon. There were superstitions that forbid those who were feeling tired to be out of their house during Mooncake festival. For the ladies who had just given birth, they too, were not allowed to enjoy the full moon, even though they might be standing at the balcony of the house. There were many other superstitions as well which people had to observe to avoid bad luck.

Superstitions are not things of the past. Regardless of how the world is changing, it seems human beings are always looking for some objects, behaviour and belief that make us feel in control of our lives. We know that in life, many things are beyond our control: accidents, bad bosses, terrible job interviews, a sickness in the body, a crisis and so on. We can not control what will happen to our health, wealth and future but if there is something we can do to increase the chances of our having a good life, we will take it.   

I have friends who are Christians but they believe in lucky numbers and lucky objects which will give them good luck and prosperity. They still hold on to the Chinese superstition by looking at the Zodiac signs and finding life partners by looking at the time of birth to see if the pair is compatible.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, superstition is, “a widely held but irrational belief in supernatural influences, especially as leading to good or bad luck, or a practice based on such a belief.”

A superstition is a belief that if you do a certain ritual, it will lead to either good luck or bad luck. If you do this, you will have a good day. But if you do that, you will have an unlucky day. We may have our lucky objects that seem to bring us good luck if we carry it with us. This is the more obvious kind of superstition.

There is also subtle superstition too, one that we may not be aware of. We can be superstitious but it is a fake mask of being spiritual. For example, a Christian may say or use a specific special prayer so that God must surely listen. Or, some Christians may even take ministry as superstition: I am serving in church ministry and because of this, God will bless me. I read the Bible and pray in the morning, so that God will bless me with a good day. If we are not careful, we will turn our ministry into rituals that will bring us blessings in life. If I miss reading the Bible in the morning, something bad will happen, which I irrationally believe is God’s punishment for me. We may unknowingly turn our relationship with God into superstition.

One afternoon, a church member came into my office. She showed me crosses which she had brought from a Christian bookstore and requested for prayers of blessings for these crosses. She thought by blessing these crosses, they would protect her family and household. Crosses are symbols to remind us of the sacrificial love of Jesus on the Cross for us and His triumph over sin and death. The cross pendant on our necklace or the cross we put in our living rooms will not protect us from harm and evil—only Jesus Himself can save us and protect us.  

How do we know if we are faithful followers of Jesus or we are being superstitious? A sign that we may be subtly superstitions is that we depend on other things apart from God Himself for success, good things, security and protection.    

Superstition may seem to give us comfort and a sense of security but it is not the real peace that we can have. Real peace comes in knowing Jesus alone and that His grace is sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9), regardless of the external circumstances. Let us not be bound to superstition. We have been set free from fear in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has come so that we can have life to the full (John 10:10), and not a life that worries and stresses over not being faithful in following a certain ritual or behaviour.  

Jesus Christ died on the Cross to save us from God’s wrath against our sins so that we will not die eternally. We are saved not because of good works but we are saved because of God’s love and grace for us. We love God and others and do good work in response to His great love for us, not because we want to get more blessings and have more successes.

Superstitions may seemingly give us a sense of control and security but the greatest security that we can have is in Christ Jesus Himself. Do you trust in Him enough that we do not need to have lucky things as crutches for a smooth sailing life? May knowing Jesus be the greatest joy and treasure in your life.