Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Principles in the Spirit

At fellowship, we had a discussion about ethics. As the discussion turned to concrete examples, someone brought up abortion. They were of the opinion that it is impermissible for people to justify abortion by reason of their child carrying a genetic mutation.

His argument was essentially this: Society may find it permissible to terminate a pregnancy where the child is carrying Down Syndrome. However, society does not find it permissible to terminate a pregnancy because the child is a girl. Down Syndrome (trisomy 21) is simply the presence of an extra chromosome. Female gender (XX) is also genetically determined. If it is not permissible to terminate the latter, then our rules should be robust enough so as not to permit the former.

Now let me begin by reiterating that I do not support abortion. I personally am against it and would not participate in it myself. That said, the aforementioned argument is flawed a number of levels. First of all, Down Syndrome and female gender are not comparable. One is a healthy and natural outcome and the other is a disorder with defined pathology. Even intuitively, we can detect there is a flaw in this logic, though we may not be able to define it immediately.

Second of all, in two different circumstances the same reason can be given, and yet the outcome may be different. There are absolute rules, yes. But not all rules are that robust, nor need they be. For instance, a poor person who tithes 10% of their income may be choosing between eating and not eating. A rich person who tithes 10% may not be sacrificing anything, though their 10% is greater in magnitude. Though the "rules" state 10% is the correct amount to tithe, God values the former rather than the latter. Thus, the rule does not apply universally, it is the principle of sacrifice behind the rule that is of value.

The Widow’s Offering

1Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, 2and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3And he said, "Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."


23 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith

Indeed, a huge emphasis in the New Testament is not on the law itself, but rather, on the principles behind the law.

Upon hearing this, another member of the fellowship spoke up, and said something that strongly challenged and convicted me. They began by agreeing that they too felt that principle was the emphasis of the message. However, these principles are way too huge for us to tackle on our own. Indeed, for this reason it is key that we strive to be in constant communion with God.

For me, this was a much needed reminder. It is such a simple and basic principle of living by faith - to live by the guidance of the Spirit, God's counsellor to man. Yet how often had I used my deductive skills to justify actions. More importantly, how often do I ask God what he wants me to do in a particular situation?


Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness," 20and again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile." 21So let no one boast in men.


25"These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."


5Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
6In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

It's easy to forget, but oh so important. We live by principle, but that principle comes from the knowledge of God. In order to live righteously, we must seek God first and remember that not living by the law does not mean living by our own understanding.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The vineyard of Heaven

This Sunday I visited my alma mater, and attended my local church in that city. As it turned out, there was a special speaker - an ex-con who had drifted in and out of trouble and hedonism for much of his life until finding Christ through the loving encouragement of a prison volunteer. It was a powerful story of salvation and transformation.

Drawing from his own story, he then went on to describe the Parable of the Vineyard Workers:


“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.

3 “At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. 4 So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. 5 So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing.

6 “At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’

7 “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’

“The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’

8 “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. 9 When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11 When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, 12 ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

13 “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? 14 Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15 Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’

16 “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”

And the speaker went on to say: "I know that when I die, I will meet my Creator, and he will welcome me. Even though sometimes I made him sad, and even though one time in my life things got so bad that his Son wept for me, he will welcome me and say, 'Come on in, there's some people I think you'd like to meet, and they'd like to meet you too.' I believe that I will receive the full reward, even though I came to faith late in my life."

That made sense. Surely it seemed reasonable that the fullness of salvation belongs to any who accept Christ, regardless of when they find him. The connection had been drawn, and the meaning of the parable suddenly became clear.

Yet, faced with this parable in the past, I had indeed struggled with the unfairness of treating those who had toiled away for the whole day and those who had only worked for a few hours the same. I had to rationalize this by telling myself that it was the farmer's (God's) generosity that paid the last men well rather than unfairness that caused the first men to be paid little. Indeed, this is the case, but it still felt somewhat unfair.

This only goes to expose my own pettiness... but more than that, it shows how we can misinterpret Christ's teachings. The parables were set in familiar terms to make them comprehensible to those with open hearts, but they were also set in these terms to confound those who did not have hearts to listen.


10Then the disciples came and said to him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" 11And he answered them, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

"'You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.

15For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.'

16But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

What I had done was listen to Jesus' parable with the ears of this world. I had applied this world's standards and this world's meanings to it. In doing so, I had missed the point and corrupted the message. Jesus' message was not about wages or vineyards, but about salvation and grace. Viewed with these eyes, the Parable of the Vineyard Workers provides a powerful lesson about the nature of God, one that is indeed fair and loving.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Politics of Love

Every Sunday, my church prays for a particular country of the world. I think this is a great idea because I believe in the power of prayer, and I like that our church has chosen to pay attention to the world beyond our own borders.

After weeks of praying for countries in Africa and the Middle East, this week's prayer was for the United States of America, and in particular for the upcoming election. It was a delicate prayer asking that God would provide the people of America the wisdom to weigh the issues at hand and also to seek God first. However, the prayer also asked that Americans would pay special attention to issues regarding the "sanctity of human life", the "institution of traditional marriage", and "the cause of religious liberty". This concerned me, but let me explain why.

As a Christian, I know where the Bible stands on issues of marriage and abortion, and I understand that these are relevant issues. God is the author of both marriage and life, and we ought not to damage either.


13For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16Your eyes saw my unformed substance;in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.


31"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."

But however relevant these issues are, they are not the key issues. Too often, Christians confuse their Christian values with their cultural values. They believe that because conservative politicians are the only ones who land on their side of issues like marriage and abortion, that these politicians represent them (and are the only ones who can represent them). This is false.

Christian values are not conservative values. Jesus tells us that above all, we must love one another. Conservative values are capitalistic, keep-what-you-earn, every-man-for-himself values. Christian values are gentle, giving values of social fairness.

While the Christian concept of marriage cannot and should not change, we must understand that there there exists marriage as a religious institution and also marriage as a social, legal, and secular institution. It does not promote the Good News to antagonize our neighbours over the use of a word.


23 Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. 24 A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. 25 Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. 26 Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

Furthermore, governments deal with issues on a national or even global scale. Certainly issues of abortion are relevant, and Christians ought not to participate in having one. But even more important are issues of war, disease,and poverty - being diplomatic and generous in our policy. Indeed, I do believe it is more important to elect a government who will work tirelessly to save the lives of those already grown than one who will outlaw abortion but damn innumerable others to conflict and strife or that will leave the poor and starving to suffer their own fate (as conservatives are often keen to do).

It is of my personal opinion that often conservative politicians do not represent the political policy that Christians should endorse. Like the Pharisees, they make mountains over issues of tradition and rules while ignoring the principles of love and responsibility on which those traditions were first established.


23 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. 24 Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!


5 But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us. 6 For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.

Do not make politics a single-issue race or assume that conservative means that a candidate will represent Christian values best. Instead, test each politician and their policies with the character of God - justice, mercy, and faith.