Friday, April 19, 2013

Ecclesiastes 6: Life not Measured by Possessions

Eccl 6:1-9 There is another serious tragedy I have seen under the sun, and it weighs heavily on humanity. God gives some people great wealth and honor and everything they could ever want, but then he doesn't give them the chance to enjoy these things. They die, and someone else, even a stranger, ends up enjoying their wealth! This is meaningless—a sickening tragedy. A man might have a hundred children and live to be very old. But if he finds no satisfaction in life and doesn't even get a decent burial, it would have been better for him to be born dead. His birth would have been meaningless, and he would have ended in darkness. He wouldn't even have had a name, and he would never have seen the sun or known of its existence. Yet he would have had more peace than in growing up to be an unhappy man. He might live a thousand years twice over but still not find contentment. And since he must die like everyone else—well, what's the use? All people spend their lives scratching for food, but they never seem to have enough. So are wise people really better off than fools? Do poor people gain anything by being wise and knowing how to act in front of others? Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don't have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless—like chasing the wind. (NLT)

The Preacher here considers another "vanity" of life, viz., having great wealth, possessions and honor, but unable to enjoy them. Some rich people die prematurely before they get to enjoy their wealth. Others live to a ripe old age--but nevertheless still die: "They die, and someone else, even a stranger, ends up enjoying their wealth!" If our only goal in life is to be rich in this world, than it's a "sickening tragedy" if we cannot enjoy our riches. Death ultimately ends our enjoyment of our possessions. So the advice is: "Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don't have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless—like chasing the wind."

When someone came to Jesus to ask him to arbitrate in his  dispute with his brother over the inheritance, He said: "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." But isn't that the reason why many Singaporeans who are toiling day and night--in order to have more power to buy more things? When Jesus calls us to "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness", He also promises that "all these things" (material things) will be "given to you as well" (Mt 6:33). He is not saying material possessions are unnecessary but that they should not be the reason for our living. Instead, as believers, our primary goal for living is to seek God's Kingdom and His righteousness. 

Unfortunately, even churches are no longer seeking His Kingdom, but instead are competing against each others to increase their "market share" of the Christian population, often measured by the 3B's--body-count, building and budget. We talk about "church" growth (often at the expense of other churches) instead of "kingdom" growth (at the expense of Satan's kingdom). In fact, the 2010 census shows that our Christian (including Catholic) population grew only by about 3.7% over the 10-year period from 2000. Of this 3.7% growth, 2/3 is accounted for by Catholics, which means that Protestant Christianity grew only by 1.2% (which corresponds roughly to the natural birth rate of Protestant families). Since only those who are above 15 years of age and above are counted in the census, we can surmise that "growth" in Protestant Christianity can be accounted for by the additional count of "new" second generation Christians who have reached the "countable" age of 15 years since 2000. From my visits to many churches, I now observe that second generation Christians form the bulk of youth groups. In many cases, as high as 80% of the youth fellowship. What this means is that churches are not growing at the expense of Satan's kingdom. Whatever "church growth" we experience is mostly biological and transfer growth. Even "mega" churches are no difference. I know of many pastors who agonize over their members who left their family churches for one of these "mega" churches.

Whenever I get a chance to preach in churches, I will often do a quick survey by asking the congregation how many of those present have been Christians for 1, 2 or 3 years. I can tell you that in many churches, less than 5 hands go up. But when I ask the next question--did they become Christians as a result of the current church--the number of hands came down fast. On the average it is 1 or 2 hands--sometime none. This simple survey tells me that many churches have not won any non-believer to Christ in the past two to three years. It would be interesting to conduct the same survey in some of these "mega" churches.

Nicky Gumbel shared yesterday morning at a breakfast meeting regarding the importance of inflow and outflow for a healthy church--inflow of new converts and outflow of new kingdom communities. He gave an example of a new church plant founded by his church. The mother church gave away 50 members of his congregation three years ago to take over a church at Brighton (England) which was about to be closed down. In those 3 years, the church has grown from the original 50 to 700 members through Alpha and other outreach programs. What this means is that the church grew mainly by converting the non-Christian community around it. That is real church growth -- at the expense of Satan's kingdom, not other churches.

Lord, give us a higher purpose than just wealth acquisition. May Your church be revived to fulfill Your Kingdom purpose. Amen.

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