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Mentor and Mentee: The relationship between Barnabas and Paul 1: Prerequisites in spiritual mentoring

2021.11.27/28
From the Pastor’s Desk: Rev. Simon Lee

Dear brothers and sisters of RCAC,

Real mentoring relationship is hard to find

I have had many teachers all my life, most of them good. The earliest teachers that I can remember were in my secondary schools’ years and it is interesting that I have kept in touch with some of them till now. The reason being that they really dedicated their lives to more than teaching to discipleship. Then I can remember some of my professors in my graduate school years in medical school, mainly because we saw each other in the lab daily, not just in a big lecture room. The teachers that influenced me most are (and were) those I became connected to in theological schools and professional circles, either as a student or fellow professors or theological educators and professional colleagues.

But if you ask me who were those who really “mentored” me, the list becomes much shorter, because a mentor-mentee relationship goes beyond a teacher-student relationship. It goes beyond the sharing of information and knowledge; it goes beyond the giving of advice, counseling, and coaching; and it goes beyond a teaching or co-worker relationship, to a caring and mutual supporting / enriching relationship. It may or may not happen in some spiritual director-directee relationships. In some cases, the relationship often changes as it develops in different stages into a mentor-friendship, the roles of mentor and mentee may even at times reverse, with the growth of the mentee.

Two mentors I had that most influenced me were Rev. Dr. Arnold Yeung (楊牧谷博士牧師)and Rev. Dr. James Chueng(張慕皚博士牧師). Both of them saw in me what others did not see and were willing to invest in me (when I was a no-body) in giving me opportunities to serve and grow in my writing ministry and in my pastoring/teaching career respectively. I cannot thank them enough for shaping my life in my most productive years. I cannot pay them back, and can only pay forward, as in the many mentoring relationships and groups (教牧菁英小組)from my days in seminary and university teaching in Hong Kong that I have maintained, some for over 15 years.

A classical Biblical mentoring relationship

In studying the growth of the Early Church in Acts of the Apostles, one fascinating relationship is that of Barnabas and Paul, a classical Biblical mentor and mentee relationship. Paul clearly is most prominently featured in Acts, and we study the 14 important Epistles in the New Testament that he wrote. But all the success of Paul is intimately tied to one person, Barnabas, who became his one and only mentor. Barnabas appeared first in Acts before Paul as a leader in the early Church (Acts 4:36; 11:22, 13:1). His relationship with Paul (then Saul) started when as a devout follower of the Jewish faith, he was vehemently persecuting the followers Jesus Christ (Acts 9). Barnabas guided Paul each step of the way during his development from a new convert to the great apostle to the gentiles. But I believe that such a mentoring relationship often is formed intentionally (and/or by divine providence). From experience I have found it cannot be successful unless it is mutual. It also must have certain prerequisites and may goes through several stages.

Prerequisites in spiritual mentoring

First, true to his name, Barnabas was a “son of encouragement” known for his enduring character of encouragement in the Jerusalem Church (Acts 4:36, 37) as well as to the new believers in Antioch (Acts 11:22). Barnabas was in his own right, a prominent teacher (Acts 13:1), a respected leader (Acts 14:11, 12). The important thing is that he was a person who was submissive to God as seen in his willingness to take risk with Paul (then, Saul) (Acts 9:27). In my experience, this takes courage and is a deliberate choice which may or may not succeed depending on whether a mutuality can be established.

On the other hand, Paul who was a devout follower and staunch defender of the Jewish faith but who was totally misguided in his zeal and became a persecutor of the followers of Christ (first called “Christians” in Antioch). It took a dramatic divine encounter on the road to Damascus, as a result blinded Saul for several days, for him to find his real blind spot in his religious zeal. Once a proud and self-confident man, a scholar par excellence, he had to be converted and became first a blind, humble and helpless person, and “be told what you are to do.”(Acts 9:6) As we see later in the life of Paul, he was able to turn his negative energy to positive energy in taking on the enormous task of taking the gospel to the whole of the gentile world. This we can see in the Lord’s divine plan in His word to Ananias on Paul: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15,16) To being a “chosen instrument” requires both a call to honour to serve Christ and also a call to suffer for Christ. It is ultimately in being willing to suffer for Christ that we truly understand what it means to serve Christ, with honour, humility and integrity.

Next: Mentor and Mentee: The relationship between Barnabas and Paul 2: Sponsorship, nurturing and multiplication

Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Simon

亦師亦友:巴拿巴與保羅的師徒關係1:屬靈師徒關係的先決條件

2021.11.27/28
作者:李耀全牧師

親愛的列宣家弟兄姊妹:

可遇不可求的師徒關係
我一生曾有很多老師,這些老師大多數都很好。我記得最早的老師是在我的中學時代,有趣的是,有一些老師我至今仍保持聯繫,原因是他們真的把自己一生不單單的奉獻給教學,而是作門徒訓練。然後我記得我在醫學研究院就讀的一些教授,主要是因為我們每天在實驗室見面,而不僅僅是在一個大的教室裡。對我影響最大的老師是我在神學院和專業中結識的人,無論是我作為學生或與他們同當教授、神學教育者或專業人士。

但如果你問我誰是我真正的師父,名單會變得更短,因為師徒關係超越了師生關係,超越了信息和知識的傳遞;超越了提供建議、諮詢和輔導的範圍;超越了教學或同事關係,成為關懷和相互支持/充實的關係。在一些屬靈導引的關係中,可能會產生這種師徒關係。師徒關係可隨著不同階段的發展而轉變為師友情誼,隨著徒弟的成長,甚至青出於藍,師徒角色亦可能會逆轉。

對我影響最大的兩位導師是楊牧谷博士牧師和張慕皚博士牧師,他們當我是一個無名小卒時,都因對我的錯愛,在我身上看到了其他人沒有看到的,分別給我機會在我的寫作事工和牧養/教學生涯中服侍和成長。我非常感謝他們在我最豐盛的歲月裡塑造了我的生命,我無法回報(pay back)他們,只能承傳下去(pay forward),就像我在香港的神學院和大學教書期間所建立的眾多師徒關係和教牧菁英小組,有些已經維持至今超過 15 年了。

聖經中一個經典師徒關係

在研究使徒行傳中早期教會的成長時,巴拿巴和保羅的關係是一份引人入勝、聖經中的經典師徒關係。我們研讀保羅在新約中所寫的 14 封教牧書信,他顯然在使徒行傳中最為突出,但保羅的所有成就都與一個人密切相關,這人巴拿巴成為他唯一的導師。巴拿巴比保羅早出現在使徒行傳中,是為早期教會的領袖(使徒行傳 4:36;11:22、13:1)。保羅(當時的掃羅)是猶太信仰的虔誠追隨者,強烈迫害追隨耶穌基督的人(使徒行傳 9)。在保羅從最初回轉歸向基督到後來成為外邦人使徒的成長過程中,巴拿巴每一步都引導他。但我相信這樣的師徒關係通常是刻意(和/或由神的安排)經營的,並且根據我的經驗,我發現除非是雙方面的互信配合,否則不可能成功。它還必須具有某些先決條件,並且可能會經歷幾個階段。

屬靈師徒關係的先決條件

首先,正如他的名字一樣,巴拿巴是一個「安慰之子」,他在耶路撒冷教會(使徒行傳 4:36、37)以及安提阿的新信徒(使徒行傳 11:22)中以持久的鼓勵性格而聞名,巴拿巴本身就是一位傑出的教師(使徒行傳 13:1),一位受人尊敬的領袖(使徒行傳 14:11、12)。重要的是,他是一個順服上帝的人,從他願意冒險提攜保羅(當時的掃羅)就可以看出(使徒行傳 9:27)。根據我的經驗,這需要勇氣和經過深思熟慮,成功與否取決於能否建立相互關係。

另一方面,保羅是一個虔誠的猶太信仰追隨者和堅抉的捍衛者,但他的熱誠完全被誤導了,使他強烈的迫害基督追隨者(最先在安提阿被稱為「基督徒」)。保羅在去大馬士革的路上經歷了一場戲劇性的神人相遇,結果他瞎了幾天,才在他的宗教熱誠中找到了他真正的盲點。他曾經是一個驕傲自信的人、一個卓越的學者,但他必須悔改,首先成為一個瞎眼的、謙卑和無助的人,並「被人告訴應當作的事。」(使徒行傳 9:6)正如我們所見在保羅人生的後期,他能夠將自己的負能量轉化為正能量,承擔將福音傳遍整個外邦世界的艱鉅任務,這一點我們可以從主在保羅對亞拿尼亞的話之預告看到:「你去吧!這人是我揀選的器皿,為要把我的名傳給外族人、君王和以色列人。 我要指示他,為了我的名他必須受許多的苦。」(使徒行傳 9:15,16)要成為「被揀選的器皿」,既需要被召服侍基督,也需要為基督受苦。最終,當我們願意為基督受苦時,我們才能真正理解以尊榮、謙卑和正直侍奉基督的意義。

下一篇:亦師亦友:巴拿巴與保羅的師徒關係2:推薦、培育和延伸。

主僕,
李耀全牧師

In His Time 4: A Time for Justice (Eccl. 3:14-20) (Part 2)

Nov 06-07, 2021
From the Pastor’s Desk: Rev. Simon Lee

Dear brothers and sisters of RCAC,

Part 1 (October 30/31, 2021)
1. Beginning with the sovereignty of God (14-15)
2. Facing the reality of injustice (16)

3. Looking to a time for Justice (God’s judgment) (17)

Christians, like many others, love freedom and justice. Therefore, faithful Christians are willing to be Christian soldiers, more so if we know we will have victory in the end through Christ. In his ongoing reflection, Solomon in Ecclesiastes gives us hope by saying: “I thought to myself, “God will judge both the righteous and the wicked; for there is an appropriate time for every activity, and there is a time of judgment for every deed.” (3:17) It is comforting to note that “God will judge both the righteous and the wicked,” meaning He will bless those who have been faithful and righteous and punish those who have been wicked and unjust. Indeed, “an appropriate time” refers the timeliness in all the things that happens in our daily lives as ordained by God. But it is even more important to know that “there is a time of judgment for every deed.”

We often hear well-intention Christians say we must fight against injustice because it is a matter of justice. Yes, the God who liberated the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt had indeed shown that in action. But unfortunately, we often do so with a spirit of bitterness and vengeance, with our own sense of justice. Paul teaches us what we must do when we face injustice with these words: “19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12: 19-21) This is exactly what Christ did in dying for our sins, and we can do no less. We therefore may have to be more patient when we encounter evil over which we have no control. We must not “play judge” as we know that God is the ultimate judge and He is always just in His judgment, as it is part of His character. God tells us, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)

4. Recognizing the reality of life and death (18-20)

In the past many months, several of my own classmates from university, faithful Christian colleagues and long-time friends have passed away one after another. No longer am I just bidding farewell to much older people who are many years my senior but saying good-bye to my own peers. Death is no longer something far in the future. The thing that strikes me most is that many among them are good people who in my own mind should live longer with rich lives, but God has His own timing. But the reality is each day, all sort of people, good and bad, still dies, as death is no respecter of persons. Solomon even compares human beings to animals, both ends with the same fate in death, with these word “Both go to the same place; both come from the dust, and to dust both return.” (20)

I remember a poem I learnt in High School called “Death the Leveller” by James Shirley. The last part of the poem goes like this:

The garlands wither on your brow:
Then boast no more your mighty deeds;
Upon Death’s purple altar now
See where the victor-victim bleeds.
Your heads must come
To the cold tomb:
Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet, and blossom in their dust.

Whether it is powerful Kings or powerless peasants, death is the final leveller and equalizer. Death brings everyone to the same level before God’s judgment seat where God judges justly and rules sovereignly. For it matters not how long we live, but how we lived while living.

5. What does the future hold? (20, 21)

Solomon ends here with the question of who goes up (into heaven) and who goes down into the earth.
Since humans are all mortal, Solomon recommends that we should enjoy our work and the fruits of our labour, for this is their lot, their reward (cf. 2:24; 3:12). For people who are ignorant of God’s plan and cannot know what the future holds, including what happens after death, Solomon asks the rhetorical question, Who can bring him to see what will happen after him? (Or, what does the future hold) (21) Therefore, for followers of God, in the time that we have, we must focus on enjoying the work that God has given us, yielding to His sovereignty, trusting in God who will judge all injustice on earth.

The man of God, Moses, in his prayer to God has this to say about the years of our life, “For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. 10The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. 11 Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90: 9-12)

It is inevitable that we all must face injustice and must live through them. May each of us all gain a heart of wisdom! God brings justice and makes all things beautiful in His time! (The end)

Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Simon

按衪時候 4:公義有時(傳3:14-20)(2)

Nov 06-07, 2021
李耀全牧師

親愛的列宣家弟兄姊妹:

按衪時候 4:公義有時(傳3:14-20)(1)(上文已於 30/31, 2021刊登)

1. 從上帝的主權說起(14-15 節)
2. 面對不公義的現實(16)

3. 期待公義的時候(神的審判)(17)

基督徒和許多其他人一樣,熱愛自由和公義。因此,忠心的基督徒也願意成為基督的精兵,尤其是當我們知道我們最終會藉著基督獲得勝利。所羅門在傳道書不斷的反思中,也給我們帶來希望:“我自己心裡說:“神必審判義人和惡人,因為各樣事務、各樣工作都有定時。”(3:17)令人感到欣慰的是,“神必會審判義人和惡人”,意思是:祂會賜福那些誠信公義的人,懲罰那些邪惡和不公義的人。確實地,“適當的時間”是指我們日常生活中發生的所有事情,皆有神所命定的適切時間。可是,更重要的是,也要知道:“人所有一切所作的,必有審判/神必審判。”

我們經常聽到滿懷善意的基督徒說我們必須反對不公義,因為這是正義的問題。是的,將以色列人從埃及的奴役中解放出來的神確實在行動中表明了這一點。但不幸的是,我們常常擺脫不掉苦毒和報復的精神,只是帶著自己的正義感這樣做。保羅用以下的話教導我們,當我們面對不公時,我們必須做什麼:在羅馬書12:19-21 這樣教導我們:“親愛的啊,不要為自己伸冤,寧可等候主的忿怒,因為經上記著,主說:“伸冤在我,我必報應。”相反地,“如果你的仇敵餓了,就給他吃;如果渴了,就給他喝。因為你這樣作,就是把炭火堆在他的頭上。”不可被惡所勝,反要以善勝惡。”這正是基督為我們的罪而死所表明的,我們必須遵照著去做。因此,在我們遇到無法遏止的邪惡時,我們可能需要加倍忍耐。我們絕不能“扮演審判官”,因為我們知道唯有神是最終的審判者,祂的審判必然是公正的,因為公義是祂的屬性之一。神囑咐我們:“你們要住(放) 手,要知道我是神。”(詩篇 46:10)

4.認清生死的現實(18-20)

在過去的數月內,我自己的幾位大學同學、忠心的基督徒同工和老朋友相繼離世。我不再只是告別比我年長很多歲的前輩,而是告別自己的同儕。死亡不再是遙遠的未來。最讓我耿耿於懷的是,他們當中可被認為是好人的大有人在,依我看來,他們應該活得更長久,並過著更豐盛的生活,但神有祂自己的時侯。現實卻是每一天,各色各樣的人,不論好壞,仍然會死去,因為死亡並不偏待人。所羅門甚至把人比作動物,死亡的結局都是一樣的,“大家都到一個地方去,都出於塵土,也都歸回塵土。”(20)

記得我在中學時曾讀過一首詩,名叫“Death the Leveller”,作者是 James Shirley。這首詩的最後一部分如下:

華冠於眉額上枯萎 The garlands wither on your brow:
豐功偉業不再誇耀 Then boast no more your mighty deeds;
在死亡紫色祭壇上 Upon Death’s purple altar now
勝者敗者皆曾淌血 See where the victor-victim bleeds.
傲氣頭顱躺臥冷墓 Your heads must come To the cold tomb:
正義善行永存不朽 Only the actions of the just
塵土中芳香仍飄逸 Smell sweet, and blossom in their dust.

無論是強大的君王,還是弱勢的農民,死亡都是最終平衡等差的衡量。死亡將每個人帶往同一等次,站立於神的審判台前,在那裡面對神權能公正嚴明的審判。因生命不在乎是否長命百歲,乃在乎是否活得有意羲。

5. 未來將會是如何? (20, 21)

所羅門在此以誰上(升天)和誰下地的問題作為結束。
既然人人都是會死的,所羅門建議我們應該自得其樂,享受我們的工作和勞碌的成果,因為這是人所得之份,是神給人的獎賞(參2:24;3:12)。
對於那些不去尋求神的計劃,不知道未來,包括不理會死後將會怎樣的人,所羅門提出了一個反問:誰能使他看見他自己死後的事呢? (21) 所以,跟從神的人,要在有生之年,好好享受神所賜給我們的工作,順服神的主權,相信施行審判的神必然會處置世上所有的不公不義。

神人摩西在論到我們一生的歲月/年日時,如此向神禱告,“我們一生的日子都在你的震怒中消逝,我們度盡的年歲好像一聲歎息。我們一生的年日是七十歲,如果強壯,可到八十歲,但其中可誇耀的,不過是勞苦愁煩;我們的年日轉眼即逝,我們也如飛而去了。誰曉得你怒氣的威力,誰按著你該受的敬畏曉得你的忿怒呢?求你教導我們怎樣數算自己的日子,好使我們得著智慧的心。”(詩篇 90:9-12)

我們所有人都必會經歷及面對不公不義,這是無可避免的。但願我們都可以得著從神而來智慧的心去面對一切!神必在祂的時候帶來公平公義,並使萬事成為美好!(全文完)

主僕,
李耀全牧師

In His Time 4: A Time for Justice (Eccl. 3:14-20) (Part 1)

Oct 30-31, 2021
From the Pastor’s Desk: Rev. Simon Lee

Dear brothers and sisters of RCAC,

Do you get frustrated and depressed, even angry, when you hear or see all the injustice around you and around the world? I do, especially because daily I follow closely the news near and far, the systemic and social racism, institutional injustice, political hypocrisy, the plight of the poor, disadvantaged and oppressed, and even “Christian” hypocrisy in the name of God. We long for freedom, peace, and justice.

This is the 4th and last article in the Series: In His time, reflections from Ecclesiastes 3. We have reflected on “Appointed time vs appropriate time,” Life’s certainties and our response,” and “Life’s ultimate purpose.” Now we conclude with a reflection on “A time for justice.”

  1. Beginning with the sovereignty of God (14-15)

We must however start from “the sovereignty of God.” It occurs to me that when we talked about “In His time,” we often mean that while things are not what we want or expect them to be for the time being, that we as Christians who believe in the sovereignty of God, believe that “in his time” things will eventually be fine as “He makes all things beautiful in His time,” that is, “beautiful” for us in the end.

As we have reflected, we know that “He makes all things beautiful in His time” is indeed true, because our God is a God of love. Paul has also taught us, “all things work together for good for them that love God…” (Romans 8:28) However we often take the verse out of context as the rest of the verse reads “to them who are the called according to his purpose.” In other words, those who claim this promise are also those who are called to be under the grand purpose of God, which means the “good” must also be in line with God’s “good” and the overall sovereign will of God.

In our text in Ecclesiastes Solomon states it this way: “Whatever exists now has already been, and whatever will has already been; for God will seek to do again what has occurred in the past.” (3:15) In other words, God is sovereign in the cycle of life.  Before this, he also states that the continuity and finality of life all serve the purpose of ensuring “that man (human beings) may fear (revere) God. (3:14) We have been created by God in His image so we can relate to Him, with reverence as His creation.

Old Testament scholar, Franz Delitzsch, wisely puts it: “The government of God… does not change; His creative as well as His moral ordering of the world produces with the same laws the same phenomena … His government remains always, and brings … up again that whish hath been.” The response God wants people to have to His immutable, inscrutable plan is one of fear, reverence, and humble submission: so men will revere Him.

  1. Facing the reality of injustice (16)

Solomon’s realistic reckoning and assessment of life with all its injustice and oppression is sobering. He says, “I saw something else on earth: In the place of justice, there was wickedness, and in the place of fairness, there was wickedness.” (3:16)

The hardest thing Christians face in submitting to the sovereignty of God is to also accept the evil reality of injustice and oppression. We all ask the question, “if the sovereign God is good and almighty, how come there is still so much injustice and oppression in the world God Himself has created and is ruling over?” We cannot reconcile the problem of pain and suffering in our Christian faith. So, often we try hard to do what we can to right the wrongs, to bring justice to those who suffer injustice, and do our best to liberate those who are oppressed. Indeed, these are honorable and crucial things that all Christians should attempt to do, and indeed we should do much more than what we are doing. For isn’t this exactly what the prophet Micah reminds us to do: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness…? “(6:8a) We do have a just God who hate the sin of injustice and oppression. But again, the rest of the verse is important and should not be left out: “…and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8b) The NET Bible puts it as “…and to live obediently before your God.” While doing justice and showing kindness are required of us from God, we also need to, in fact required to, walk humbly and live obediently. In context this means also that when faced with injustice, we must try our best but leave the rest to God, to submit to the sovereignty of God.

As said, I daily am abhorred at all the socio-political injustice and oppression we see in Canada and all around the world. We naturally get indignant and frustrated because we feel so helpless against the powers and political authorities of this world. We have all wanted to live in a better place, hence this is why we or our parents have chosen to live in Canada, and why there are the ceaseless migrations in human history till now. In the end, the sad reality is there is no “utopia” on earth, and everywhere we go, there is still injustice and oppression.

When facing a world of injustice and persecution, Paul’s words are still so relevant today when he says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:10-12) No wonder we are in constant conflicts and struggles, because we are fighting an ongoing spiritual battle, lest we forget that and try to “play God!” We therefore need to put on the whole armor of God.  Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to War! (To be continued)

Your servant in Christ,

Pastor Simon

 

按衪時候 4:公義有時(傳3:14-20)(1)

Oct 30-31, 2021
李耀全牧師

親愛的列宣家弟兄姊妹:

當您聽到或看到在您周圍和世界各地的所有不公義/不公平現象時,您是否會感到沮喪和洩氣,甚至禁不住氣憤?我肯定會這樣,尤其是因為我每天都在密切地關注遠近的新聞、體系性及社會種族主義、仇視亞裔的現象、制度上的不公義、政治虛偽、窮困者的艱難處境、弱勢群體和受欺壓者的困境,甚至以上帝名義為幌子的“基督教”虛偽。我們都渴望得見自由、和平和公義。

本文是 “按祂時候:傳道書 3章反思系列”之第四篇,也是最後的一篇文章。我們於前曾探討過“定時與適時”,“人生的確定性及我們的回應”,與“人生的終極目的”。現在讓我們來探討“公義有時”作為總結。(因編幅過長分兩期刊登)

1. 從神的主權說起(14-15 節)

不論如何,我們的討論必須從“神的主權”作開始。這令我想起,當我們論到“按祂時候”時,我們一般的意思是,雖然事情暫時不是我們想要或期待的那樣,但在確信神主權的基督徒來看,我們相信“按著祂的時候”,事情最終會成為美好的,因為“祂使一切事情在祂最適當的時候成為美好”,意即,最終對我們而言是“美好的”。

正如我們一直所探討思考的,我們知道“神在祂的時間裡使萬事成為美好”,這是千真萬確的,因為我們的神是愛的神。保羅也教導我們,“萬事都互相效力,叫愛神的人得益處…”(羅8:28)。然而,我們經常斷章取義,因為這節經文的下句是: 萬事都一同效力,是為著“愛神的人,就是按祂旨意蒙召的人的益處”。換句話說,這應許是對蒙召在神偉大旨意之下的人而言的,意思是“所得益處”也必須符合神的“美善”和神整全至高的旨意。

在傳道書的經文中,所羅門如此記載:“現在有的,先前就有;將來有的,早已有了;因為神使已過的事重新出現 (3:15) ,意即,世上無新事。他還指出,神在人生的循環中擁有至高無上的主權。在此之前,生命的連續性和終極性都是為了確保人能敬畏神 –“神這樣作,為要使人在祂面前存敬畏的心。”(3:14)。我們是神按照祂的形象所創造的,所以作為受造物,我們可以與祂聯繫、敬畏祂。

舊約聖經學者弗朗茨·德利奇 (Franz Delitzsch)智慧地指出:“神的掌權…不會改變;祂的創造大能以及他對世界的道德秩序皆以相同的規律產生相同的現象…祂永遠掌權,並…繼續地轉流不息。”神希望人能對祂那永恆不變、高深莫測的計劃的回應就是要人敬畏祂、崇敬祂和謙卑的順服祂:因此,人應當敬畏祂。

 2. 面對不公義的現實(16

所羅門對人生的不公義和欺壓的現實觀察所得的推理和評述實在是發人深省。他說:“我在日光之下又看見:審判的地方有奸惡,維護公義的地方也有奸惡。”(3:16)

基督徒在順服神主權時所面對最困難的事,就是同時要接受邪惡、不公義和受欺壓的現實。我們都在問一個相同問題,“如果至高無上的神是善良全能的,那麼神自己創造並主宰的世界上怎麼還有這麼多的不公義和欺壓存在?” 在我們的基督教信仰中,我們無法同時融合痛苦與苦難的問題。以致,很多時候我們都設法努力去糾正錯誤,為那些遭受不公義的人伸張正義,並儘我們所能去解放那些被壓迫的人。的確,這些是所有基督徒都應該努力去做的正直高尚而重要的事,事實上我們應該做的比我們正在做的還要更多。難道這不正是先知彌迦提醒我們要做的:“世人哪!耶和華已經指示你甚麼是善,他向你所要的又是甚麼;無非是要你行公義…?”(6:8a)我們確實有一位公義的神,祂恨惡不公義和欺壓人的罪。但同樣,這節經文的其餘部分很重要,不應被遺忘:“……謙虛謹慎與你的神同行?”(6:8b) 新英文聖經(NET)譯作:“在神面前活出謙卑順服的生活。” 在神要求我們行公義、好憐憫的同時,實際上祂也要求我們活出謙卑順服的生活。從上下文去看,意即,當面對著不公義時,我們必須盡力而為,作可以做的,其餘的交給神,順服祂的主權。

如上述所言,我每天都在面對著加拿大和世上各處所看到所有社會及政治上的不公義和壓迫而感到不安。我們的自然反應往往就是憤怒和沮喪,因為我們對這個世界的權勢和政權感到那般無助無奈。我們都想居住在更好的地方,這就是我們或我們的父母選擇居住在加拿大之因,也是人類歷史上至今不斷遷徙的原因。可惜最後,令人悲嘆的現實是,“烏托邦”理想國根本不存在於世上,不論何往,我們所到之處,依然存在著不公義和欺壓。

面對一個充斥著不公義和欺壓的世界而我們便是在這屬靈爭戰中,保羅所言仍然言猶在耳:“最後,你們要靠主的大能大力,在他裡面剛強。要穿戴神所賜的全副軍裝,使你們能抵擋魔鬼的詭計。因為我們的爭戰,對抗的不是有血有肉的人,而是執政的、掌權的、管轄這黑暗世界的和天上的邪靈。(弗6:10-12)難怪我們總是處於衝突和掙扎之中,因為我們正在面對著持續不斷的屬靈爭戰,以免我們忘記這一點並試圖“扮演上帝”!因此,我們必須穿上神所賜的全副軍裝。基督精兵們前進,齊步向戰場走吧!(下期待續)

主僕,
李耀全牧師

In His Time (3): The Ultimate Purpose of Life

Oct 16-17, 2021
From the Pastor’s Desk: Rev. Simon Lee

Dear brothers and sisters of RCAC,

This is the third article on Ecclesiastes 3 on “In His Time.” We have looked at “Appointed time vs Appropriate time,” “Life’s Certainties and Our Responses,” and now “The Ultimate Purpose of Life,” drawn mainly from Ecclesiastes 3:9-13.  My hope and prayer is that we will understand more about our timeless God and see how He works in our time and space.

  1. Life without God is profitless toil (9)

We all want to “profit” in the things we do. Solomon was clear to state that life without is endless and profitless toil. There is ultimately no real gain (1:3; 2:11) in man’s own effort and hard labour, if it is done without God. In this light, work is just “burden” that is joyless, just busy-ness.

Work is important to all of us, it is the means by which we meet our needs. But when work is just that, repetitive chores, then we can see why people wants “Freedom 55” to enjoy life. This is not the same as saying work is meaningless, it is saying life without God is profitless toil. Even though we may be able to earn a lot of money, it is ultimately “profitless” as we may lose our health, our relationships, and our life in working ceaselessly without rest and without purpose.

  1. Life with God is beautiful in its time (10-11a)

“The business that God has given” he makes “beautiful in its times.”  God in His providential plans and sovereign control has an appropriate time for everything and every activity. God’s design is inscrutable, timely and wonderful, in God’s special way. As we have seen previously, God has an appointed time and an appropriate time for everything and He also makes everything beautiful in God’s perfect time.

  1. Life in God is linked to unfathomable eternity (11b)

God has put eternity in the hearts of men, and we can see that people all have a longing, desire and yearning to know the purpose of life which is found only in God. As Augustine said, “God has made man with a God-shaped vacuum, and man shall find no rest till he finds it in God.” Human toil is profitless and meaningless when it is outside the eternal plan of God, a plan that will not be fully comprehended by humans until we enter eternity.

It is a joy to see baptismal candidates in their testimony express their joy in recognising that when they are in God’s eternal plan, they find the ultimate purpose in their lives. There is real satisfaction in God and there is peace, security and assurance in eternal life.

  1. Life in God is the gift of real enjoyment of life from God (12-13)

Meanwhile life on earth is a gift from God to human beings as long as we live (5:18; 8:15). We can enjoy life as God enables as we find our ultimate satisfaction in God. If anyone eats and drinks and finds joy in all his work, it is a gift of God as he live his life in God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states “Man’s chief ends is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. The Puritan pastor Thomas Watson said, “Eternity to the godly is a day that has no sunset; eternity to the wicked is a night that has no sunrise.” We shall see how this can be achieved only in “the fear of the Lord” (14)

We are not saying “Don’t worry, just be happy.”  A person who walks with God is blessed with real joy and satisfaction in life, in both the big and small things that God provides. There is real contentment in enjoying the things that God provides for us.

I find this quote from Warren Wiersbe’s commentary very helpful “When the well-known British Methodist preacher William Sangster learned that he had progressive muscular atrophy and could not get well, he made four resolutions and kept them to the end: (1) I will never complain; (2) I will keep the home bright; (3) I will count my blessings; (4) I will try to turn it to gain. This is the approach to life that Solomon wants us to take.  Amen.

(Next: In His time (4): A time for Justice)

 

按祂時候(3):人生的終極目的

Oct 16-17, 2021
李耀全牧師

列宣家親愛的兄弟姊妹:

本文是傳道書第3章“按祂時候”的第三篇文章。我們已探討過“定時與適時”、“人生的確定性和我們的回應”,以及今期圍繞著傳道書 3:9-13所思想的重點 –“人生的終極目的”。我所祈盼的是,我們能更深地瞭解我們永恆的神,並看到祂如何在我們的時間和空間中行事。

  1. 沒有神的人生徒勞無益 (9)

我們都希望從所做的事情中“獲益”/ 獲利。所羅門卻清楚地指出,沒有神的生命是無止境和無益的辛勞。如果沒有神,人靠自己所有的努力和辛勤勞動最終不能有真正的收益/獲益(1:3;2:11)。從這個角度來看,工作只是沒有喜樂的“重擔”,只有勞碌。

工作對於我們所有人都很重要,是我們滿足需求的途徑。但若工作只是乏味的例行工事時,我們就明白為什麼人們想要《自由 55》(“Freedom 55”–具雄厚實力及穩健基础的理財保障計劃) 以享受人生了。這不是說工作本身沒有意義,而是說沒有神的人生是徒然勞碌的。即使我們可以賺得盤滿砵滿,但最終是“無益的”,因為我們可能會在沒有目的和缺乏休息的無休止工作中失去健康及在人際關係破損之間耗盡了生命。

  1. 按祂時候萬事萬務各按其時成為美好(10-11a)

神使“萬事萬務”、“在祂賜予的適合時候成為美好”。神在祂的旨意計劃和主權掌管中為每一件事和每項活動都有其適當的時間,按照神的設計以祂高深莫測的適時及美好的方式而進行。正如我們之前所看到的,神對於一切都有其指定的和適當的時間,並且在祂完美的時間裡,祂使一切成為美好。

  1. 在主裡的生命連繫於高深莫測的永恒(11b)

我們可以看到,神把永恆放在人的心中,人內心中存著一種渴求、渴慕和渴望,要尋找認識而只有在神裡面才可以找到的生命意義與目的。正如奧古斯丁所言:“人是按著神自己的形像所造,人內心的空缺無法得着安息,直到安息於祂裡面!” 人的辛勞在神永恆計劃之外是毫無益處及毫無意義的,除非我們與永恆連繫,否則人類不會完全理解神的計劃。

很高興看到受洗肢體們在他們的見證中流露出內心的喜悅,當他們認識到自己在神永恆的計劃中時,他們找到了人生的終極目的。在神裡面得著真正的滿足,在永生中得到平安、安全和保證。

  1. 在神裡面的生命是從神而來真正享受人生的恩賜(12-13 節)

只要我們還在世上活著,生命就是神的恩賜(5:18; 8:15)。當我們在神那裡找到終極的滿足時,我們就可以享受神所賜予的生命。人若能吃能喝,並能在工作中找到快樂,那是神的恩賜,因為他是活在神裡面。《威斯敏斯特小教理問答》說:“人的終極目的是榮耀神並永遠享受祂。” 清教徒牧師托馬斯沃森說:“對敬虔人來說,永恆是沒有日落的美好時光;永恆對於惡人卻是永遠沒有日出的黑夜。”由此可見,真正能享受人生是唯有“敬畏耶和華”才可得著的。(14)

我們不是說“不要擔心,只要快樂”。與神同行的人無論是在神供應的大小事情上,也會在生活中得到真正的喜樂和滿足,即享受神所賜予我們一切的真正滿足。

我發現沃倫·維爾斯比 (Warren Wiersbe) 引述的這些話很有幫助“當著名的英國衛理公會傳教士威廉·桑斯特 (William Sangster) 得知自己患有慢性肌肉萎縮症並且無法康復時,他立定了以下決心實行並堅持到底的四方面:(1)我要絕不抱怨; (2)我要保持家中燈火明亮; (3) 我要數算我的恩典祝福; (4) 我要努力把虧損變成益處。這就是所羅門希望我們採取的生活態度。阿們。

(下期待續:“按祂時候”(4):公義的時候)

 

 

In His time (2): Life’s certainties and our responses

Oct 02-03, 2021
From the Pastor’s Desk: Rev. Simon Lee

Dear brothers and sisters of RCAC,

Finally, in His time, we are going back to worshipping in the sanctuary of our Church. We have been unable to do so for the last 19 months! All throughout this period, we had been wondering when we can return to in-person worship and little did we know we have to wait so long. When we had to lockdown in mid-March of 2020, it came at such short notice, and we were all scrambling to put our five services online. I personally had thought (from my experience during SARS in Hong Kong years ago) that by the fall of 2020, we should be able to return. When that did not happen, then I had thought maybe by Spring, 2021, believing that with more people getting vaccinated, we would be able to return. When the provincial government announced the 4-step plan, I had thought that by September (Step 4), reopening will be fully in place. Who would be able to predict that at this time the number of people infected by COVID daily in BC would still be as high as 800? Yet, despite of that, in our prayerful discernment process, we have decided to cautiously reopen for in-person worship in October. So here we are!

In my last article, In His time (1): appointed time vs appropriate time, I ended with this conclusion: From the context of Ecclesiastes 3, I believe the thesis of Eccl. 3:1 may be understood as “There is an appointed time (from God) for everything, and “an appropriate time” (for man or woman to act accordingly) for (his or her) every activity. Simply put, in everything, God has His appointed time, and it will be done in an appropriate time (sovereignly through His human agent). Let us now return to the text, dig deeper into it, and consider “In His time (2): Life’s certainties and our responses.”

From verses 1-8 we see God has an appointed time-table for all human activities or actions, and in His providence, these happen through human agents who are accountable to God, in a proper and suitable time (“an appropriate time”). The 7 pairs of realities (of 14 opposites) listed in Koheleth (by Solomon), using a poetical device called merism, suggest the concept of totality. Solomon wants to state that all a person’s event and activities in life, both constructive and destructive, including all his responses to people, objects, and events happen in their times. The 7 pairs of realities form a picture of all of life’s certainties, both positive and negative. These can be summarized as follows:

  1. The natural cycle of life: beginning and end (2-3)

The beginning and end of a person’s life cannot be controlled by human beings (2a), and they happen “in His time.” In like manner, planting and uprooting (2b), killing and healing (3a), and breaking down and building up (3b), all these beginnings and endings are part of the cycle of life, they will surely happen. I believe the emphasis is not on the morality or ethics of these actions, rather on the certainties that both extremes of these realities will happen in life. Just like life and death, they are all life’s inevitable eventualities and therefore need to be recognized and accepted by us. The underlying message is that they are all “appointed” by God Himself, in His sovereignty.

  1. Human’s natural reactions (4-8)

In response to the above-mentioned events in life, the range of human responses include weeping and laughing (4a), mourning and dancing(4b), scattering and gathering (5a), embracing, and not embracing (5b), searching and give up searching (6a), keeping and throwing away (6b), tearing and mending (7a), keeping silent and speaking out(7b), loving and hating (8a), and finally, warring and keeping peace (8b). Again, the emphasis is not the morality (while not denying their morality exist), the right or wrong, of these responses, but on their “appropriateness” or the “timing.”

The best Biblical example to illustrate this that I can think of is in the story of David and the death of his baby with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12: 1-24). When David saw his baby was very sick, he prayed and fasted and could not be consoled. But when he knew his baby was dead, he went to the Lord’s house to worship and resumed his normal life. When questioned by his servants on why he did not continue to weep and mourn, he said: 22 “While the baby was still alive, I fasted, and I cried. I thought, ‘Who knows? Maybe the Lord will feel sorry for me and let the baby live.’ 23 But now that the baby is dead, why should I fast? I can’t bring him back to life. Someday I will go to him, but he cannot come back to me.” David prayed fervently for a miracle for his baby while he was very sick, but when the baby died, he accepted the judgment of God and stopped his mourning. There is an appropriate time for every action and reaction, recognizing the sovereignty of God.

I do not know what will happen in the progression of the COVID pandemic, but I do know God is in control, and I will act by faith on what I believe is appropriate and right at this time, to the glory of God. Yes, He makes all things beautiful in His time. Let us all worship Him.

(Next: In His time 3: the ultimate purpose of life)

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Simon Lee

按祂時候(2):人生的確定性及我們的回應

Oct 02-03, 2021
李耀全牧師

列宣家親愛的弟兄姊妹:

終於,按著神的時間,經過了19個月,我們可親身回到教會裡敬拜了,這正是我們期待已久的!於此期間,我們一直不能確定究竟何時能恢復實體崇拜,但我們絕對想不到需要等待這麼長的時間。在2020年3月中旬由於疫情關係,令實體聚會被迫封鎖時,我們速決速策地將教會的五堂崇拜改為在線上舉行。當時我個人認為(根據我多年前在香港SARS非典期間的經驗)到2020年秋季,我們應可以回堂敬拜,可是卻不符所望。我也以為,或許到2021年春天,於大眾接種疫苗後,我們就可以回堂了,但卻是大失所望。當在年中政府宣布重啟四步驟時,我還以為到9月份第四期時已可以全面開放各就各位了。誰可預料到,現時本省每天感染新冠病毒的人數還會高達800人?然而,儘管如此,經過長期的禱告,在我們的審慎部署中,我們還是決定謹慎地在10月重新開放實體的敬拜。至終我們能得償所求了!

我在前一期的教牧心聲:“按祂時候(1):定時與適時”一文中,得出以下結論:從傳道書3章的上下文而看,我認為傳道書3:1的論點,可以理解為“凡事都有指定的時間(來自上帝),以及祂對每樣事情的適當時間,” 故此人也以應該相應地按照神的時間行事。簡而言之,在任何事情上,神都有祂指定的時間,並會在祂適當的時間成就(透過祂主權的安排調校)。讓我們回到經文,更深入地研究,並思想“按祂時候(2):生活的確定性和我們的回應”。

從第1-8 節我們看到神為每一個人和一切事情,在祂的旨意裡,都按照祂所指定的時間表發生,並且,各人也必須按著神所命定託付的,在合適和適切的時間向神交代(“適當的時間”)。傳道書,希伯來文為Koheleth(所羅門著)中列出的7對(14個對比)實況的描述,使用了一種稱為對句(merism)的文學修辭結構,用詩意的體裁手法,展示出一個完整性的概念。所羅門是要說明每個人在生活中的所有事情和活動,無論是建設性的還是破壞性的,包括對人、對物和事件的所有反應都發生在神所定的時間之中。這7對包括積極的和消極的實況,構成了生活中所有確定性的圖景。可作出以下總結:

1.生命的自然循環開始結束(2-3The natural cycle of life: beginning and end

一個人生命的開始和終結是人所無法控制的(2上),都發生在“祂的時間”中。同樣,栽種和連根拔起(2下),殺戮和醫治(3上),拆毀和建造(3下),所有提及的開始和結束都是生命週期的一部分,必然會發生。我認為重點不是在於這些行動的道德性或倫理性之上,而是這些現實情況的兩個極端會在生活中發生的確定性。就像生與死一樣,都是人生必然會發生的,需要我們去確認和接受。背後的信息是,他們都是神自己,在他的主權下所“任命”(指定)的。

2. 我們的自然回應:雙極的回應 (4-8) Human’s natural reactions

回應上述的生活情節,一般人對不同情景的自然反應,包括:哭泣與歡笑(4上)、哀慟與跳舞(4下)、分散與聚合(5上)、擁抱與拒抱(5下)、尋找與失落(6上),保留與丟棄(6下),撕裂與修補(7上),沉默與發聲(7下),愛護與恨惡(8上),最後,戰爭與和平(8下)。同樣,重點不是在於其道德性的反應(也不是否定其道德性的實質)、或是指對與錯,而在於是否“適當” 或“適時”(“適切時機”)[聖經新譯本] 。

我認為最能說明這一點的聖經例子,是大衛以及他與拔示巴所生的孩子死亡的事跡(撒下12:1-24)。當大衛看到他的孩子病重時,他禱告禁食,痛不欲生、拒絕慰問。但當他知道他孩子死了,他就去到聖殿裡敬拜,恢復了正常的生活。當他的僕人問他為什麼不繼續哭泣和悲痛時,他回答:“孩子還活著的時候,我禁食哭泣,因為我想:也許耶和華憐憫我,讓孩子可以活著。現在他死了,我為甚麼還要禁食呢?我還能使他回來嗎?我要到他那裡去,他卻不能回到我這裡來。” (22-23)。大衛在他孩子病重的時候懇切禱告祈求神蹟,但當孩子死了,他接受神的旨意(審判),停止了哀傷。大衛的表現和反應顯示出他承認及接受神的主權。在一切事上都有其適當的時間。

我不知道新冠病毒大流行的疫情將會如何,但我知道神在掌控一切,我會憑著信心行事,為著神的榮耀而行適時和適當的事。是的,按祂時候,祂使一切成為美好。讓我們敬拜祂!

(下期待續:按祂時候(3):人生的終極目的In His time 3: the ultimate purpose of life)

主僕,
李耀全牧師