At the feet of Jesus, am I Cain or Abel?
|Tan Sri Francis Yeoh and David Pawson
YTLcommunity News, April 9, 2009
Kuala Lumpur: For the past four years, on the Thursday evening before Good Friday, Tan Sri Francis Yeoh has been inviting the leaders of twelve Malaysian churches to a Pre-Easter Dinner.
This year, Tan Sri Francis invited Mr. David Pawson, as guest speaker at yesterday’s event held at the Ritz Carlton KL. Over 300 guest were present, of whom over 120 of them are pastors and elders.
Mr David Pawson is a prominent contemporary Bible teacher based in Great Britain. He is known for his firm belief in the infallibility and inerrancy of the text of the Bible as the authoritative word of God, while explaining its meaning and context. He has a reputation for following the teaching of Scripture even when it clashes with church tradition, and he also often deals with 'hot topics' about which Christians have a wide range of views.
Since his ancestor John Pawson preached with John Wesley in the 18th century, the Pawsons have been farmers, (Methodist) preachers or both; his father, Professor Cecil Pawson, was involved with both. From his childhood in the north of England David Pawson had wanted to be a farmer, but by the time he had completed his studies for a BSc in Agriculture at Durham University, he was sure that God was calling him into fulltime Christian ministry. He obtained a degree in theology at Cambridge University.
He is the author of a number of books including Truth To Tell, Leadership is Male and The Normal Christian Birth and a good friend and mentor of Tan Sri Dr Francis Yeoh.
At the feet of Jesus, am I Cain or Abel?
What is the Church’s image of God today?
On 5 November 2008, shortly after Barack Obama was declared US president-elect, I posted a personal statement on YTL Community. I celebrated his victory as an end to the sinful legacy of hatred, bigotry, racism and slavery in America. Rejoicing that a new chapter of national reconciliation could begin in the US.
On 20 January 2009, the day of Obama’s Inauguration, I posted a longer statement. This time, I addressed concerns raised by critics of my views on Obama’s victory.
Sadly, I also had to express how shocked and disturbed I was by the nasty insults and abuse hurled at Obama by Christians, including well known church leaders. We may never agree with Obama’s pro-choice and pro-gay views, but calling him the anti-Christ, great deceiver and closet terrorist is not of God.
Even Rick Warren and Jim Wallis, both who do not share Obama’s moral views but are associated with him, face terrible condemnation.
You could appreciate why I asked, “Does the Church Stand for Christ’s Love, anymore?”
Where did all this hatred and anger come from? How could Christians justify such ungracious and un-Christlike behaviour?
All this brings me to this evening’s meditation.
We are created in God’s image
We find this in Genesis (ref. 1 vs. 27), “So God created man in his image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
We have been taught well that if God is the Father of truth, then the Devil is the father of lies. If our God is all love, we know the Devil is all hate. Therefore, if God created us in His image, the Devil will make man create God in man’s image. And so it was, right from the very beginning. Both Cain and Abel had very different images of our God.
Our churches of the past too have suffered this trick of the Devil by having differing images of our God. It is amazing and miraculous that all the different leaders and members of the 12 churches can rejoice and worship our Lord Jesus, the way we did tonight, in unity both in spirit and in love.
Because the singing of hymns was accompanied by much controversy in the church’s past. It was no less than Martin Luther who saw no difficulty using hymns for public worship of the church. He wrote, “Next to the word of God, music deserves the highest praise. I do not believe that all the arts should be removed or forbidden on account of the Gospel, as some fanatics suggest.”
Himself a good musician, Luther urged others to write hymns based upon the Psalms in order that the whole of Christendom might be enlightened and inspired. He set his hymns in German to music similar to popular German secular songs of the period. Conservative clergy believed that music instruments were appropriate only for secular music, not public worship.
Then came Isaac Watts, an English Congregationalist divine who produced hymns paraphrasing the psalms with poetic possibilities of the English language and broke tradition by composing hymns on great theological themes – including the death of Christ. Yet his greatest achievement was arguably to lay the groundwork for the most significant development in English hymnody – the work of John and Charles Wesley. Charles Wesley produced a collection of ‘Hymns on the Lord’s Supper’ that serve us well till today.
Pietists of past were opposed to the cantata as they were regarded as “modelled on opera”, the most secular of all secular models. If the Pietists had their way, David Pawson would not have been allowed to be our guest of honour at our Three Tenors Concert in Bath. We would all have been deprived of hearing all three tenors sing a well loved hymn by the American Horatio Spafford, ‘It is well with my soul’.
What is the world’s image of our Lord Jesus today?
Today when you search for Jesus at Amazon.com and you’ll find more than 176,000 books. Google his name and you’ll get 165 million references.
So, who was Jesus?
Was He a wandering Hasid, or holy man, as Géza Vermes and A.N. Wilson propose? Was He a “peasant Jewish cynic” as John Dominic Crossan alleges? Was He a magician who sought to lead Israel astray, as the Talmud holds? Was He a self-proclaimed prophet who died in disillusionment, as Albert Schweitzer maintained? Was He some first-century personage whose purported miracles and divinity were mere myths or fabrications by the early church, as David F. Strauss, Rudolf Bultmann, and John Hick suggest?
Or was He, as the Gospels assert, “The Christ, the Son of the living God”?
This leads me to the question right at the beginning, what were Cain and Abel’s images of God.
Cain & Abel
Let us revisit the issue of why did God accept Abel’s offering and not Cain’s?
I humbly think that God was not showing favouritism to Abel as some would suggest.
It was also not a question on the quality of the offerings i.e. Abel’s meat vs. Cain’s farm produce.
I am fully convinced the attitude of the heart was the reason for God’s acceptance and non-acceptance of the offerings.
Abel’s parents, Adam and Eve had sinned against God. Thus, he was born sinful. Abel’s offering of ‘fat portions’ was made from the sacrifice of animals, where blood was shed. Indicating he knew his own sinful condition, that God was his judge and jury, and that his sins must be atoned for.
The writer of the book of Hebrews confirms this. We read that “By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did, and by faith (Abel) was declared to be righteous, since God Himself accepted his offerings” (ref. 11 vs. 4).
It is plain and simple. Abel knew he was a sinner, Cain did not!
Cain sulked badly when his offering was not accepted. May be, he felt he was treated unfairly. Perhaps, he was jealous of the brother.
I really appreciate what God did. We read that God took time to speak to Cain, in fact, warning him of his potential sin, that “Sin (was) crouching at (Cain’s) door…but (he) must master it" (ref. Genesis 4 vs. 7).
Sadly, instead of listening to God, Cain killed his brother. Even when questioned regarding Abel’s whereabouts, without remorse and without knowing he has sinned horribly, Cain replied with defiance, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
| Elders and Pastors
The spirit of Cain – self-righteousness
Only God is righteous! Our Lord Jesus referred to our Father in Heaven as the Righteous Father (ref. John 17 vs. 25). Therefore it is expected that the Devil will plant self-righteousness as the core of our spirit and our character. And so it was. Cain became self righteous. And the Devil routinely tricks us into believing that “We can do things our way!” And we do, do we not?
Have we, the human race not refashioned the world in ‘our’ own image? Is it a wonder that the world is a theatre of evil and depravity? Granted, there are those actively trying to change the world for the better. But how many are they?
"What's wrong with this world?" a newspaper editor asked some years ago. There were many write-ins giving different answers, but one reply I particularly liked was, "I am", signed GK Chesterton.
What’s wrong with the church?
Too often, Christians are quick to point the finger solely at the world. Please tell me tonight which church taught them to do so? Chesterton reminds us that self-righteousness lurks at our doors, just as it did Cain’s. Self-righteousness may even be more widespread in our lives than we think.
Church history is not too kind to us – even in areas of worship as I mentioned earlier. Worse, it is littered with stories of Christians grieving the Holy Spirit. They shaped churches, doctrines and experiences according to their own fancies. Christian leaders brainwashed mindsets, restricted common access to the Word of God, and systematically defined what people could and could not do. Claiming to have the Light of Christ, they were in darkness.
Are we so different today? Have we looked at some of the churches around? Have we looked at ourselves?
I put it to you that the spirit of Cain is so deceptive it could easily permeate and settle in our lives. Sadly, it could happily co-exist with church doctrines, programmes, activities and religious experiences.
After all, did Cain not make a religious offering to God?
Jesus said, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (ref. Mark 12 vs. 30).
Is this true of us? Or, is there still self-righteousness hidden somewhere?
When we look at our churches, are we able to say it is all for God’s glory and none for our own?
When I look at how God has richly blessed YTL, I quickly credit to our Lord Jesus all the honour and glory, to flee without haste the temptations of thinking “I had a part, even only a ‘little’ part in it”. It is the Holy Spirit who reminds me that I am a mere steward of God’s wealth. I am not the Master! I must only master sin!
Loving our neighbours yet?
Did Jesus not say that the second commandment is to “Love our neighbours as ourselves?” (ref. Mark 12 vs. 31).
Self-righteousness distorts our perception of people. Cain discovered this to great cost.
We think we are better than others. “We are right and others – misguided, blind, confused or ignorant!”
Christians often claim to hold the truth. We preach sermons upon sermons on truth, yet we fail to love. In fact, we develop a sense of our own importance and justify in us, the spirit of hate and even murder. Like Cain did.
Truth was used for centuries to justify so-called ‘righteous killings’, committed by Christians during the Crusades, Inquisition and Protestant Reformation. Great saints of the church were not spared this terrible stain on their reputation. Sadly, they include Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order, and John Calvin, the Protestant Reformer.
And today, truth is twisted to excuse discrimination and condemnation of others. Hatred is routinely rained down by Christians on those who disagree with them, whether over religion or even Christian doctrine.
Put bluntly, have we wished for Obama dead and perhaps killed by terrorists? Do we wish for gays and lesbians, abortionists, people of other religions and races struck dead by lightning?
Please don’t get me wrong! I believe God’s truths cannot be compromised. Christians must stand for truths, debate them and in God’s truth defend them.
But let me put this to you – it is no different with the profound truth that God is Love and that failure to love our neighbours as ourselves is sin. There are no two-ways about this.
John writes, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love one another. The person who does not love remains spiritually dead. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life present in him” (ref. 1 John 3 vs. 14-15).
GOD wounds us for our own sake.
We mess up all the time and our world is always in crisis. God knows that and He has His Own ways of pointing this out.
In fact, God does discipline us as a good father would. In His wisdom, He permits suffering, including suffering from the consequences of our own mistakes, so that we may look to Him for refuge, forgiveness and direction.
Most of our world’s economic and financial institutions are founded on Judeo-Christian principles. At present, many have collapsed and others are struggling. They perpetrated a global web of greed and deceit and are facing the consequences. This includes global and national regulatory bodies and watchdogs – the gatekeepers that have failed to protect us from such corruption. They have lost serious credibility.
Yes, these Judeo-Christian based institutions are being rubbished and ridiculed. It is very sad. But I believe God allowed this to happen. In His mercy, He is permitting systematic corruption to be rooted out. A painful corrective process is needed, for these bastions of Judeo-Christian values to regain some integrity back. For too long, they have relied on mammon as god.
But let me say this. Certainly, great men of the Bible like Job, Jacob and Joseph were wounded and endured hardship and suffering to their eternal benefit.
Because, in spite of His prerogative to correct and discipline, Our God is also a Loving Father who seeks out those who have fallen – that they may return to Him. I am not just referring to the 10,000 or so financiers who systematically messed up the global economy. I am referring to everyone all over.
It must always be our prayer that people will look to God for refuge, forgiveness and new direction.
We must also facilitate this process by reflecting God’s love.
Do we, the church, embody the outstretched arm of a Loving Father towards the wanderer, pleading “Come back to me soon, my son, my daughter. I miss you so much.” And when they do return, give them the mightiest welcome, just as the father to the prodigal son in scriptures did.
Only a self-righteous spirit makes us think we have the right to judge other people’s mess. Invariably, we end up becoming the unforgiving elder brother of the prodigal son.
| Elders and Pastors
God overcomes the spirit of Cain in us by anointing us with His Spirit. His Spirit sets us free from ourselves. Praise the Lord! Through our Lord Jesus, His death and resurrection has made this possible.
Given today is Holy Thursday of the Christian Calendar, it would be appropriate to meditate on something that happened on a Thursday some 2000 years ago – Jesus washing His disciples’ feet.
By any stretch of imagination, this is one of the most profound acts of humility. Not only did God present Himself in human form, born into obscurity, grew up in anonymity, and soon to suffer the humiliation of torture and crucifixion, God saw it fit to wash our feet.
Why did Jesus go for the feet?
Firstly, because it was a demeaning act in the culture of the time.
Lee Strobel writes, “The all-powerful, all-knowing Jesus was choosing to perform a distasteful task that was so demeaning that none of the disciples had been willing to stoop to do it themselves. What an incredible, humble display of pure servanthood – from the One who could have rightfully demanded to be served Himself!”
Secondly, because of the significance of the feet of clay as recorded in the book of Daniel. I would say that Jesus was highlighting the need for us to recognise and deal with our sins. In fact, we now associate the feet of clay as a weakness or hidden flaw in the character of a greatly admired or respected person.
It is most necessary for us to make the devil our footstool, not the other way around. “Sin crouches at our doors and desires to have us, but we must master it.”
Thirdly, because beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News. In Jesus’ times, foot protection was not particular advanced. As such, feet are always the most affected by dust, dirt and infection. Strangely enough, often the more neglected part of the body, although heavily utilised.
With the washing of those dirty, grimy, smelly and perhaps even callous, infected feet, Christ demonstrates He more than wants us. In Him, there is hope for all of us, the down and out, the lowly and the struggling. We all have and can play a part in His Kingdom if we surrender our self righteousness to His Lordship.
Fourthly, because beyond the pure servanthood that Jesus displays, the washing of the feet is an immensely meaningful act of intimacy.
Philip Yancey and Paul Brand wrote of just how powerful is ‘touch’ as a sensory. It conveys love, acceptance, care and even trustworthiness. Dr. Brand observes how patients with leprosy suffer intense loneliness because people fear to touch them. The sense of separation is profound.
Through washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus was pouring out of His love and affection to His closest friends and companions. I believe He broke any sense of alienation the disciples may have felt from Him with that act of intimacy. It was also the loudest “I love you!” ever said, particularly given that he would be betrayed into the hands of His accusers and eventually, murderers shortly after.
And should we forget, Jesus washed Judas’ feet too. Perhaps an action echoing the kind words and warning God said to Cain, before Cain took sin’s bait and murdered His brother. And we know what Judas did!
“To be a Christian is to be like Christ!”
I have shared from the story of Cain and Abel, a word from God that I felt was apt for all of us here this evening. As Christians, self-righteousness drags us into a web of religious hypocrisy, self-sufficiency, assumed superiority over others and of course, hatred.
I have also shared just how different is the way of our Lord Jesus. Christ taught us how to overcome our self-righteousness by loving God above all and to love our neighbours as ourselves. The constant grip of self-righteousness, hatred and anger, will also be loosen when we, like Abel, recognise our own spiritual depravity and accept the constant need for our Saviour. There is no greater truth than this.
And if that was not clear enough, Christ also demonstrated the power over self-righteousness – servanthood.
“Christ did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (ref. Mark 10 vs. 45).
I started off my meditation referring to the end of the sinful racist legacy in the US. Let me finish this evening with these final thoughts.
The racist legacy in the US ended because good and Godly people opposed slavery and racial discrimination. Many of these folks were Christians and they suffered terribly for their conviction. Some were martyred. Why? Because of their simple belief that God created every human being equally and loves them passionately. As such, perpetrating or even condoning any form of racism is an insult to God and ultimately a sin against Him.
However, I am also grateful that these great men and women of God have shown us that servanthood is inseparable from radical discipleship. They served mankind and paid dearly for it. Yet, they could say, they learned how to wash feet, as Jesus demonstrated on that Thursday, 2000 years ago.
I thank the Lord that the Blood of these Martyrs was not shed in vain, especially in relation to US history. There is a new chapter being written in that nation. Most of all, I pray to our Lord Jesus that His Precious Blood was not shed in vain. I pray that there will be a new chapter in our churches being written and in all nations.
The church today must continue to be a beacon of love. The church must continue to shine before men in such a way that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father who is in heaven. Yes, indeed there is much we can learn from the church that started in the upper room in Jerusalem many years ago. Yes, indeed there is much we can learn that the church of the book of Acts was a church that took the gospel to the ends of the world.
Mercy, grace and love imitate God and disappoint the Devil. I therefore pray that God will bless us all in the fullness of His mercy, in the fullness of His grace and in the fullness of His love. Yes, indeed there is much we can learn that to be a Christian is to be like Christ!
Thank you very much.
Speech by Tan Sri Francis Yeoh at the Pre-Easter dinner to the elders and pastors of twelve Malaysian churches, at The Ritz Carlton Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Thursday, 9 April 2009.