Dear Canaan EM’ers and friends,
Have you ever wondered why certain people seem to be able to serve Christ sacrificially without complaint? I’m sure you know who they are. Personal struggles and life difficulties cannot deter these people from leading worship and bible studies. Family responsibilities present no obstacle, for these people are always eager to disciple and mentor others, invite people to their homes, serve on church committees, and participate in social justice causes or missionary activities.These folks are realists. They know that sin, evil, and suffering are real. They are aware of the dangers of burn out. But these do not extinguish their desire to build up the community of believers, serve God, and maintain positive attitudes. What is their secret? Are they part of some conspiracy of joy?
Well, it’s not really a conspiracy. Christians who display such joy and dedication have captured the true meaning of the cross. They know that the cross is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (I Cor 1:23), so most people don’t quite get it. They know that behind the suffering and death of Jesus Christ is the door to true contentment and fulfillment. They know that by sharing in Christ’s suffering and death, they will share in his resurrection and abundant life. But why do so few Christians display this effervescent joy?
Jesus’ Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:16-24) explains why few participate in the conspiracy of joy. All the special guests invited to a great banquet made excuses for not coming. “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it,” said one. “I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out,” said another. “I just got married, so I can’t come,” said a third guest.
Did these guests simply not understand that they were invited to an incredibly joyous event? Why were the ordinary affairs of life more important to them?
Though this parable is usually interpreted to describe salvation, it applies to those of us who have been long-time church goers, too. Especially to those of us who have lost our passion. The parable asks us whether the ordinary affairs of our life have become more important than the banquet of God’s kingdom. If so, how did this happen? How did we lose our desire to taste Christ’s joy?
There is an answer in the parable of the sower. Jesus said of the seed that was tossed among the thorns that “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word” and make the seed unfruitful (Mark 4:19). Simply put, when the worries and affairs of this life become our priority, they choke God’s word in our lives. So, naturally, we lose joy. We lose the excitement of being invited to a great feast.
There are times when we should learn how to build strong marriages, how to raise our children, how to advance our careers, how to improve our lives. But none of these “how to” studies are substitutes for meditating, reflecting on, and studying God’s word. After all, healthy marriages, families, careers, and lifestyles are built on the foundation of Christ-like character. And we cannot become like Christ unless we submit to his word (i.e., become his disciples). Submitting to his word means taking the bible seriously. To take the bible seriously means NOT making the bible more palatable, relevant, or entertaining to us. It is about aligning ourselves to Jesus’ vision in the scriptures even if it doesn’t always seem to make sense; even if it stands in judgment against us.
But the bible’s good news is that we have received God’s grace and are invited to follow Jesus even though we did not deserve it. I dare say that no one can participate in the conspiracy of joy without thankfully recognizing this truth each day.
This Palm Sunday, let us not be mere by-standers who watch Jesus ride by. Let us accept his invitation to follow him, to join his great banquet, and to be transformed into his likeness!
See you Sunday!
Tim Tseng , Ph.D. 曾 祥 雨
Pastor of English Ministries