Sermon Summary • God is Generous (Psalm 23)
Rev. Dr. Milton Eng (guest speaker)
James Bryan Smith shares in his book The Good and Beautiful God that in order for us to experience true spiritual growth we must (1) replace the false narratives in our minds with Jesus’ narratives, (2) engage in the training of the soul through the spiritual disciplines and (3) practice all this in the context of community. When it comes to the theme of his chapter “God is Generous,” what is the false narrative that needs to be replaced? It is the idea of “earning God’s favor.”
When it comes to the widespread principle that to get along in the world everyone must earn their way, Asian Americans are particularly attuned to this. Although not all Asian parents are “tiger” parents, it is a cultural norm that the only acceptable way of life is to work hard, study hard and earn favor. There is a further Asian American spin on this. For many Asian Americans, the problem is not that “God is Generous” but that “God is Generous to the Wrong People” as are the workers of the vineyard who worked the least but received the same pay (Mt. 20:12).
Regardless, any narrative of works righteousness and earning favor is a false narrative which represents one path of life based on a worldly principle . The Kingdom of God offers a second and alternative pathway, one based on “unmerited favor” and God’s generosity to all who humbly acknowledge their need. They sing with their brethren “nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.” A lifetime of trying to “earn it my way” and then finally giving up and giving in to God’s sovereignty has brought to fruition the truth of Ps. 23 as so very appropriate a soul training exercise. Surely, he has “led me beside quiet waters, he has restored my soul.” He indeed “has anointed my head with oil, my cup overflows.”
Rev. Milton Eng (伍敬華 牧師) is a scholar, pastor, teacher and author. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY he came to Christ in his junior year at Columbia University and has been pursuing the Lord ever since. While undertaking seminary studies at places like Biblical and Westminster he pastored various English Ministries in NY and NJ. Always wanting to get deeper into the Word, Pastor Milton completed his Ph.D. in Hebrew and Old Testament at Drew University. He is currently East Coast Project Director for ISAAC (Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity) and recently published his first book with Zondervan entitled Devotions on the Hebrew Bible. Milton enjoys good food, conversation and tennis. He is also a long-time friend of Pastor Tim Tseng going all the way back to Tim’s days in Brooklyn!
Devotions on the Hebrew Bible is the companion volume to Devotions on the Greek New Testament published by Zondervan in 2012. Designed primarily for students, pastors and professors of biblical Hebrew, the book consists of 54 short devotional reflections based on a careful analysis of the original Hebrew text. These are insights which cannot be seen in any English translations. The purpose of the volume is to encourage students and pastors to keep up with their Hebrew and to observe first-hand how practical, spiritual and devotional their original language study can truly be. Bo Lim, for example, reminds the reader of the biblical precedent for expressing lament. Highlighting the intricate but beautiful Hebrew acrostic in the book of Lamentations, he confirms the principle that both grief and hope provide the rhythm of faith and worship in the life of the believer. Thirty-eight scholars from across the country and around the world contributed to DHB including such senior scholars as Dan Block and Miles Van Pelt to some up and coming writers such as Chloe Sun and Beth Stovell reflecting a diversity of contributors from ethnicity to gender. While a knowledge of Hebrew is assumed for each devotion, a standard English translation is also provided and so even laypeople without Hebrew can appreciate the exposition and application once they get past the Hebrew analysis. There is a devotional reflection on every book of the Old Testament. Hebrew word and grammatical feature indexes are provided.
God is Trustworthy (Mark 14:32-36) • Pastor Tim Tseng
Loving God is difficult. We may feel good about worshiping and praying to him, but to actually love him is difficult. The most typical obstacle to truly loving God is having a false understanding of who he is – a false narrative in our minds.
False Narratives about God’s Trustworthiness
Christians believe that God is trustworthy, that he wishes us to flourish and live with purpose and joy. But too often we teach and reflect in our behavior a God who is untrustworthy. Many Christian parents, for example, will say that God is loving and good, but they model in their behavior a God who is strict and ready to correct, discipline, and punish every infraction. Kids who grow up in this environment start to develop two false narratives
1: God is not trustworthy and is more interested in punishing us than looking out for our good.
2: God the Father is a projection of our earthly fathers. For example, the woman who has difficulty calling God Father because of her own father’s abusiveness towards her. But to not call God Father is not the right answer either.
Adopting the True Narrative: Jesus called God Abba Father
When Jesus describes God as his Father, we have to let him define what fatherhood means. Theologian Karl Barth said, “It is not that there is first of all human fatherhood and then a so-called divine fatherhood, but just the reverse is true and proper fatherhood resides in God and from this fatherhood what we know as fatherhood among us men is derived.” The Trinity (God the Father, Son, and Spirit) existed before creation. Their relationship existed before any human father and son or daughter existed. Therefore fatherhood was defined by God first.
At Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-35), Jesus shows confidence in God’s trustworthiness in at least two ways. First, he was unafraid to confess his weakness and doubt to God. He knew that abba would hear him and not rebuke him. Second, Jesus was willing to trust God’s plan, whatever the consequences. “Not my will, but your will be done.”
Furthermore, the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) shows us a Father God who is Present, Pure, and Powerful, but also Provides, Pardons, and Protects.
What is Your Cup?
The fact that Jesus asked to have his cup removed shows us that all of us will have to bear a cup of suffering and uncertainty in life. The “cup” represents things that are forced on us, things we have a hard time accepting. Aspects of life that make it difficult to trust God.
Soul Training: Counting Your Blessings
Whenever we wrestle with the cup that God calls us to bear, we learn to believe in God’s trustworthiness by exercising our “muscle memory” of God’s widespread mercy. We make praise a habit. Our troubles are real, but they are small compared to God’s blessings. The more we count our blessings and live in gratitude, the easier it is to love God for his trustworthiness.
God is Good (Luke 22:39-46) • Pastor Chris Liu
If you have grown up in the church, you have probably heard of this call and response: “God is good! All the time! All the time! God is good!” While this is a fun saying to get people excited about God, what does it really mean that God is good? And how do we believe it when we go through difficult times in our lives?
There is a broad range of definitions for the word “good”. And God is all of those things. But, the main thing we have to remember is that we cannot separate what is good from God. You cannot have goodness without God, just as you cannot have God without goodness. God alone is good. God is the source of everything good. And we can’t fully understand true goodness without seeing it from His perspective.
This first thing that I want us to remember is that God’s character cannot change (Num 23:19; Jam 1:17; Heb 13:8). Unlike us humans who change our opinions and even our character can change, God does not change who He is. He is good all the time. Not just today or when He feels like it, but all the time. He is faithful all the time. He is loving all the time. He is just all the time. He is forgiving all the time. We can go down the list of the different characteristics of God and say that He is all those things all the time.
The second thing to remember is that God doesn’t always work in the same way we would. We live in a cause and effect society and often times we expect God to work in the same way. If we do something good, we expect God to bless us. If we sin, we expect God to punish us. Sometimes, God does this, but other times He does not. It isn’t that He is changing who He is, but that He works in ways that we don’t always understand.
There are two stories in the Bible (Luke 13:1-5 and John 9), where people were expecting Jesus to blame people’s horrible death and physical suffering due to sin. But, Jesus doesn’t do that. And the point is that just because we go through a tragedy in our lives, it doesn’t mean that God is punishing us. We aren’t always going to understand why God does what He does, so the more important thing for us to do is to trust in who He is.
Who is the God that Jesus knew and how did He experience God’s goodness? On the night before Jesus was going to be crucified, He went to the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed that God would “take away this cup” (Luke 22:39-46). Jesus didn’t want to go through with the crucifixion. He knew it would be painful and hard and lonely. But, He said, “not my will, but Yours be done.” Jesus ultimately trusted in God’s plan. And in the same way, we need to do the same.
This goes back to the first point about God being unchanging. In the middle of the difficult times in our lives, we need to hold on to the fact that God doesn’t change who He is. We can trust in His unchanging characteristic. God is still good. God is still faithful. God is still present in our lives. God is sovereign over all things. And while it is hard to hear it when we are going through difficult times, we need to believe that God can take this hardship and work it out for His glory.
God is good…all the time! All the time… God is good!
What are you seeking? (1 Kings 19:9-18) • Pastor Tim Tseng • September 4, 2016
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah was in a cave, depressed, and ready to give up (v. 4) In 1 Kings 18, when tasked to confront Ahab (the king of Israel) and his wife Jezebel (the chief promotor Baal worship), Elijah found himself alone. Though he successfully defeated the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, Ahab and Jezebel were even more determined to kill him. So Elijah fled, hid, and was distraught.
1. “I am the only one left” – Hitting the Elijah “Wall”
In his mind, there was no hope. The king and people of Israel had abandoned God. All Jesus-followers will hit this Elijah “wall” and feel alone because the truth is that most people – even church-going Christians – are not oriented to Jesus. Most small group leaders, for example, realize that few people make commitments to the small group. Most will show up whenever it is convenient. Other things in life always become a higher priority than fellowship, learning about God’s word, growing in Christ, and serving others in Jesus’ name. Rarely will anyone want to lead (or learn how to lead) a bible study or disciple another person in the small group. All disciples will hit the “Elijah” wall.
2. Looking for God in the wind, earthquake, and fire – Distorting narratives.
Discouraged, we are tempted to de-emphasize following Jesus in order to get more people to come to our small group (or church) consistently. We might try to make small group more fun and emphasize Jesus less. Church leaders may focus on trying to keep people in church by offering more entertaining or educational programs – which are not wrong. But when we look for “big” things to validate our efforts or maintain our numbers, the cost is often permitting our people to de-emphasize following Jesus. We distort our faith narratives and our understanding of God and give today’s Baal worshipers of convenience and self-centeredness the upper hand. This is a recipe for disaster.
3. What we need: to be transformed to love God
So how can we sustain ourselves when we feel alone? How can we encourage others to turn their lives towards Jesus? The key is falling in love with the God that Jesus knows, not the God that we make up in our minds or that our society imagines. Falling in love with God requires a turning of our will towards God. But that doesn’t happen by using will-power. Rather, we have to change our minds, bodies, and social contexts – and be led by the Holy Spirit – in order to turn our wills towards God.
1. Our minds: God changed Elijah’s narrative. “You are not alone, Elijah.” Our minds can change, too. But this requires adopting Jesus’ narrative and his knowledge of God.
2. Our bodies: When bodily activities that help us turn towards Jesus are practiced regularly, we gain the “muscle memory” to be able to love God. E.g., getting enough sleep gives our minds energy to learn and love and allows us to be accountable to each other.
3. Our social contexts (community): Whether it is a one-on-one soul mentor, a small group, or Sunday worship, regular dialogue and interaction with other Jesus-followers around what we learn (mind) and what we do (body) will help us to love God more.
4. The Holy Spirit: Ultimately we need to trust in the Holy Spirit to guide and empower us.
What are we doing here? What are we seeking? Let’s seek & fall in love with God this fall!
Friendships with Non-Christians • Pastor Tim Tseng • August 21, 2016
Jesus, initially welcomed as a hometown hero in Nazareth, was abruptly and angrily rejected (Luke 4:22-30). Why? Because he taught that God’s grace and love extends to Israel’s enemies.
At first, Jesus’ hometown people thought that Jesus believed, as they did, that God’s promise to restore his people was only for Israel (see Luke 4:18-19).
But then Jesus shared two stories of how Israel’s most well-regarded prophets, Elijah and Elisha, ministered and helped Israel’s enemies. See Elijah and the Widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-24) and Elisha and Naaman at Aram [Syria] (2 Kings 5:1-19). By the way, Jesus later reinforces this teaching by commanding his disciples to “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-36; Matthew 5:43-48)
The hometown people were enraged and tried to cast Jesus off a cliff (which he was able to avoid).
So the lesson here is that Jesus challenged the “bounded set” thinking of his own people. Christians are tempted to create boundaries between ourselves and others. Usually, the boundaries are misplaced. Instead of centering on a commitment follow Jesus, we make it easy for people to call themselves Christians (e.g., I accept Christ into my heart) and then set boundaries around behavior, language, race, culture, lifestyle, political ideology, class, etc.
As we develop friendships with non-Christians, we, too must give up our “bounded set” thinking. Instead of helping outsiders become insiders, we should be inviting our non-Christian (and even our church members) to turn their orientation towards Christ (see the “centered set” illustration). This means that we should re-prioritize what we do in church. Small groups, fellowships, Sunday school classes, indeed, any activity, should put more energy into engaging people into orienting their lives towards Christ than in trying to make them feel comfortable at Canaan.
Furthermore, when we share the gospel with non-Christian friends, we must be willing to invest time and energy to engage them on important life issues, too. Use the “four circles” approach to evangelism, not the “bridge” illustration.
Finally, our non-Christian friends ought to see how invested we are in our Christian faith. Let them see that we are committing a minimum of five hours a week outside of Sunday worship to Christian activities (e.g., studying, preparing studies, volunteering, disciple-making).
Family Friendships (Ephesians 1:3-10) • Pastor Chris Liu • August 14, 2016
For most of our relationships, we can choose who we want to be our friends. However, we don’t have a choice about who our parents, children, or siblings are. To an extent, we don’t have a choice about who our relatives and extended families are either. Some of us may have great relationships with our family and some not so great, but God’s desire is for us to build strong friendships with our family members. Here’s how we can do it.
For children, we can build strong friendships with our parents by honoring them (Exodus 20:12). How do we do that? We can start by listening to their instruction and remembering what they have taught us (Proverbs 1:8-9). When our parents teach us, we need to really listen to and obey them. Another way of honoring our parents is to spend quality time with them and opening share with them your joys and hurts. Talk to them and get to know them. Finally, we can honor them by caring for them and providing for them.
Of course, parents need to be worthy of that honor. They need to live Christ-like lives and be teaching truth to their children. This leads me to my second point of how parents can build strong friendships with their children.
Parents can start by teaching their children God’s Word. Spend time together in the Word. Have spiritual conversations about faith and what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Instruct them in the way they should go. Another thing parents can do is to not provoke (or exasperate) their children (Ephesians 6:4). Parents can provoke/exasperate their children by overprotecting them, neglecting them, setting unrealistic goals/expectations of them, and poor discipline (too much or too little). I believe the biggest thing parents can do is to model for their children what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Kids will pick up what we think is important by how we spend our money, where we spend our time, what we emphasize as important.
There are other relationships (siblings, extended family, in-laws) that all need to be build up as well. A quick note on these relationships is that these all take time to build. Focus on the good parts. Extend grace. Forgive one another.
The last thing I want to note is that whether we have great relationships with our family members or poor relationships with them, the joy and hope we can have is that we can be a part of God’s family. in Ephesians 1:3-10, we see that God has chosen us and adopted us into His family. When we become a part of His family, we have an intimacy with Him, we have a new identity in Him, and we have an inheritance in Him. How great that is!
So let’s build up our friendships within our family and thank God for our family of origin and our spiritual family in Christ.
Marriage Friends (Genesis 2:19-24 ) • Pastor Tim Tseng • July 31, 2016
1. The Ideal Christian Marriage: The real problem today is not the rise of same sex marriage, but the decline of commitment to marriage. Not really divorce, but the lack of friendships in marriage. The ideal Christian marriage is a partnership of friends who practice mutual submission.
2. Surprising biblical perspectives about marriage:
3. Christian marriage is about bearing witness to Jesus’ way. It is about putting Jesus on display for the world to see. But the big question is how Christian marriages bear witness to Christ?
4. Conclusion: The ideal Christian marriage is mutual submission and partnership. This aligns more with Jesus and Paul’s practices and teaching. It is also the more practical way to sustain healthy and prevent abusive marriages. RECOMMENDED MARRIAGE MINISTRY: Real Life – http://timplusanne.com/
Last Sunday’s Sermon Summary
Pastor Tim Tseng • July 24, 2016
Friends in the Church (1 John 1:1-7)
1. A variety of responses to having friends in the church:
— Many unchurched Chinese/Taiwanese families want to avoid church people. They are too fanatical and will distract people from studies and success. Or Christian children will abandon parents and family.
— Many of our classmates or colleagues have stereotypes of church people, who are seen as intolerant, judgmental, hypocritical – and always supporting the most conservative politics.
— Most people are neutral – let people be people.
— Others are more favorable. It is healthy to make friends, find a partner or spouse in a church. Church is good for family life – there’s some child care.
2. But having friends in the church (fellowship or koinonia) is the way to authentic, abundant life and soul satisfaction. Koinonia makes church friendships distinct from other kinds of friendships.
3. God sought us out to bring fellowship (koinonia) to us.(1 John 1:1-4)
— Christians come together and become friends because the Word of life (verse 1), also called eternal life (verse 2), came to the apostles in human form (Jesus).
— The apostles, invited to koinonia with God through Jesus, invite all of us to also have konoinia with them and with God through Jesus.
4. Friendships in the church are grounded in koinonia, which has a variety of uses in the New Testament. But the primary meaning is to partake of and share in God’s trinitarian life and purpose together, not just in socializing. Non-Christians usually choose friends based on practical and self-centered reasons. But in the church, our friendships begin with fellowship with God and overflows into everyone else who has responded to the proclamation of the gospel. A Christian brother or sister might have opposing political views, but she or he is still my sister/brother in Christ because we share koinonia that comes from God.
5. We know we have koinonia by the way we walk (1 John 1:5-7)
— John talks about how we know if we are walking in the light and living out the truth: Obeying Jesus’ commands. Loving our brothers and sisters. Not loving what is evil in the world. Friendship in the church insists on accountability to God. Let us not use our Community hour to socialize alone. Rather let us be sure that we are doing koinonia with God and one another, too.
— Walking in the light not only helps us verify our fellowship, but also is our mission in this world. How we walk reveals God’s light (see also Ephesians 5).
— But we must avoid becoming judgmental or legalistic. Truth and justice should rule, but so must love and grace. Therefore friendship in the church is like improvisation between accountability and patience.
6. In sum, koinonia’s divine origin fulfills and completes the limits of ordinary friendships. This is called joy (1 John 1:4).
Overcoming Hindrances to Friendship • Acts 15:36-41
Pastor Tim Tseng • July 17, 2016
1. Our core Christian mission is making disciples who make disciples (Matthew 4:19; 28:19-20). Everything we do should lead to this priority. Small groups are not merely support groups or social hangouts. Bible studies and Sunday schools are not just about acquiring knowledge and debating ideas. The goal is ALWAYS to become better disciples who make disciples.
2. Disciple-making only happens where there is trust and accountability. Trust and accountability only happens where there is authentic, biblically-based friendship (which is built on loving relationships – come to the EM retreat!) But making and keeping friends is so hard and often discouraging. Three hindrances to this type of friendship often happen today:
3. Key to overcoming hindrances to authentic friendship: Reflecting God’s image into our relationships (imago dei). The key quality is hesed, steadfast love. Ruth’s willingness to risk her future to support tragedy-stricken Naomi and follow Yahweh is a supreme model of steadfast love and commitment.
Sermon Summary • Pastor Chris Liu • July 10, 2016
1 John 1:1-4
The foundation of our Christian relationships and friendships starts with fellowship with Christ. What we have in common with one another is that we believe Jesus Christ came to die and save us from our sins. We have eternal life in and through Christ and that is why we meet and gather each week. It is why we do life together. So that we may continue to love God with all our hearts, souls, mind, and strength and that we may love others in that same way.
Here are seven ways we can build and deepen those friendships with one another. These are taken from Jerry and Mary White’s book Friends & Friendships.
1. Help each other grow spiritually. While it is great to catch up with one another and talk about current topics (news, sports, movies, etc…), we should also talk about our faith and share about how God is working in our lives.
2. with one another. One of the unique things we have in our Christian friendships is the opportunity to pray for one another. When both friends believe in God and believe that He is a personal and present God, they have something that is really special. Praying for one another is really cool because it allows us to really be a part of someone else’s life.
3. Keep each other accountable. This goes hand-in-hand with prayer. But something that we don’t always think about is that we have a special responsibility as brothers and sisters in Christ… and that is to keep one another accountable. Again, because we are in this community together and all about doing life together, it means that we are to help one another stay committed to Christ and call each other out when we start to stray.
4. Encourage and affirm each other. We should not only be there to keep each other accountable, but to really be a support for one another. Our lives won’t always be smooth. We will go through stressful situations in our lives. We will face tragedies and hurts. And the friends that are there when we go through those times are the ones that we will build deeper relationships with.
5. Help and serve each other. Another way to maintain our friendships is to help and serve one another. This shows that we really care for one another. Instead of only being focused on our own personal lives, we look to the lives of others and see how we can help others.
6. Have fun together. Christian friendships should be fun. It isn’t just about serious bible studies and praying (although that can be very fun too). But fellowship is important. Hanging out and having a good time together is important. We should be able to laugh with one another and enjoy spending time with one another. It’s great to be able to go on trips together and celebrate big life events together. Birthdays. Graduations. Weddings. Baby Showers.
7. Do spiritual battle together. The Bible makes it clear that we are in a spiritual battle against Satan. And when we fight those spiritual battles together it really build and deepens our relationships with each other. This means we need to be in positions to do spiritual warfare together and that means serving the Church and being a part of what God is doing around the world.