Preferences determine choices, and choices have
consequences. Often our taste is too expensive for our income, and we have
to scale down. Reason has to prevail over sentiment.
Another conflict Christians
have to handle repeatedly is the struggle between flesh and Spirit – which
is not the same as body and soul. Paul’s view of “flesh,” also called
“carnality” or “old man,” includes sinful inclinations of body, soul, and
sprit (1 Cor. 3, Gal. 5, Eph. 4, Col. 3). The tastes of the new nature have
to be developed to override the old nature. Like Christ’s death and
resurrection, Christians have to crucify their old nature, and nurture the
Satan is quite successful in
reeling us in with the help of others. All people have the need to give and
receive love, to have the feeling of belonging. This makes Christians
vulnerable to social pressure, urging them to go along with a group.
However, the conscience may block the way, so it has to be dulled by alcohol
or other drugs. Then the old nature is set free to do things the new nature
will not allow – doing things to one’s body that is pretty bad for one’s
To avoid negative peer
pressure, we have to replace it with positive groups. Satan will whisper in
your ear that these groups are boring, but what he fails to point out are
the after-effects – on the short and long run. Those who participate in
healthy group activities, can still look and feel fabulous in their fifties,
while those who misused drugs and alcohol through their adult life, will
show the effects in body, soul, and spirit.
The facts of life speak
clearly. It is interesting that the truth, “we reap what we sow,” is
stressed by all major religions. Cultures all over the world learned it the
hard way, and included it in their values.
Group preference often overrides personal taste,
because majority rule is the cornerstone of democracy. Therefore, protecting
minority rights should not impede majority rights.
The Charter protects certain
personal rights against injustice. Generally accepted values, like freedom
of speech, outweigh generally unacceptable behaviour, like oppression – even
when it comes from a majority government. It is a values-contract agreed
upon by the population in a referendum.
In the war against terrorism,
certain personal freedoms have to be sacrificed to improve the safety of the
community. It happens in all wars. Before one makes too much noise about it,
one should remember that even in times of peace, we give up a lot of freedom
for the common good. We obey traffic rules and signs to prevent crashes.
Complete freedom on the road will quickly cause chaos. And that goes for all
terrains of society: peaceful communal living depends on controlled freedom.
Consequently, the rights and freedoms protected by the Charter are not
without limits. Freedom of speech does not give a licence to slander. So,
people may attack the views of their opponents, but they may not attack
their personal integrity.
The Bible shows that one
person can make a huge difference for the better or the worse. Achan gave
himself the freedom to take gold and silver from Jericho – contrary to God’s
command – and Israel lost their next battle (Joshua 7). Elijah stood alone
against the idolaters (king, nation and priests), prayed fire from heaven,
and won the day for Yahweh (1 Kings 18). When it comes to God’s will, the
majority cannot out-vote the Almighty. In the final judgment, he will be the
Judge, and their will be no appeal.
Parents know the experience to
give up personal preferences and agendas for the sake of the family. That
cherished coat, smart-phone, laptop, car or house has to be put on the
back-burner so that necessary clothes and equipment can be provided for the
children. Sometimes church members postpone their personal plans in order to
help disaster victims.
Jesus remains the best example
of someone who gave himself totally for the common good of saving the
undeserving. Looking at the crucifixion with adoration is not enough. The
haunting question remains: If he did that for me, what do I do for him? He
extended the line from him to us when he said, “Love one another, as I have
loved you.” That means that personal preferences must sometimes be reigned
in so that the needs of others may be met.
Personal and communal
preferences should both be met; but often it is a matter of priority.
Individual rights have to be served within the framework of the common good.
Our values and preferences affect our behaviour and
lifestyle. These will determine how 2015 unfolds. Tastes differ: some
prefer certain foods, drinks, clothes, sports, jobs, faith and art; others
dislike the same.
Age and culture shape
interests and activities, for instance: boys and young men in Mongolia
strive for excellence in horse-riding and wrestling while in the West this
age group may be more into social media and skateboarding. Seniors lose
interest in youthful activities, and spend more time reading and watching
Despite the variety of
tastes and preferences, most people strive for excellence in their own
endeavours and in the lives of those they adore. Many athletes and
students push themselves hard to reach the top. When we or our heroes fall
short, we are disappointed and slip into critical mode, ignoring all the
achievements of the past. This overemphasis on mistakes and lack of
recognition for good behaviour can ruin a marriage as well as the
self-esteem of children and adolescents.
The Bible shows us how to
correct without rejection, and to appreciate despite imperfection. Israel
grieved God’s heart many times, and yet he called them the apple of his
eye. Paul had an axe to grind with the Galatians concerning heresies in
their midst, but he still addressed them as brethren, and greeted them
with his usual “Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord
Paul’s letters to the
Corinthians show that this first century church battled with many
problems, but Paul still regarded them as saints – not perfect, but set
aside for God. King David and the apostle Peter made grave mistakes, but
God did not cast them away; he led them to remorse, repentance and
How do our preferences and
dislikes compare to those of God? Does it matter? He allows us to live on
his planet, and will in the end hold us accountable. He alone will decide
whether we fulfilled or missed the purpose of our lives.
He did not leave us ignorant
about his wishes. He gave us the Great Command to love him with our whole
being, and to love others as we love ourselves. Thus the golden rule is to
treat others as you want them to treat you – with courtesy and kindness.
Isn’t this what all cultures and age groups want?
So, despite the wide variety
of tastes and preferences in different cultures, there seems to be a few
basic universal values that all people aspire to, such as good health,
good relationships, and the necessities of life: air, water, food,
clothes, shelter, income and safety. We are not all that different.
Unfortunately, we sometimes do get confused about priorities.
4. Crumbs from the Master's table
Jesus sometimes taught by
paradox, using words that sounded self-contradictory, such as: “Whoever
desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my
sake will save it.”
He also used extreme contrasts
to make a point: “Remove the plank from your own eye, then you will see
clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
This apparent contradiction of
terms is evident in his interaction with the woman in Phoenicia. It was
Jesus’ first trip to a region outside Israel. How did it happen?
After he had ministered for
two years in Galilee, he fed the five thousand. They wanted to make him king
right away, but he moved higher up on the hill to pray.
A few days later, he spoke to
the crowd in the synagogue of Capernaum, explaining that he had to die to
fulfill his task. What they needed was not more bread or manna but the bread
of life, his body and blood. Those who would eat his flesh and drink his
blood would have eternal life.
The crowd took his words
literally, and was offended; the eating of blood was prohibited by the Law
of Moses. Many turned away from him, realizing he was not the leader that
would help them to throw off the Roman yoke.
Rejected by Israel, Jesus went
to the Gentiles. However, he knew that his disciples were not yet ready for
this shift of focus. So, in his contact with the Phoenician woman, he used
phrases that were still part of the disciples’ philosophy: “Israel should be
our first priority; we should not give the children’s bread to the dogs.”
This woman’s problem was not
policy or philosophy. Her little daughter was suffering in the clutches of a
cruel demon. She had heard enough about this healer from Galilee to throw
herself at his feet and plead as only a desperate, loving mother can.
God gave her the words that
would soften the hardest heart: “Yes, Lord, but the puppies under the table
wait for the crumbs falling from the master’s table.” She saw herself as a
little dog waiting for the crumbs. She was not demanding; she was begging.
Jesus’ heart did not need
softening, but those of the disciples. When that happened, Jesus granted her
request and her daughter was healed.
However, the disciples still
had to chew their cud, so to speak. The good news had just flowed to someone
outside Israel’s borders – the gospel had become available to the Gentiles
Long before Philip and Peter
baptized the first Gentiles, Jesus introduced the disciples to this notion
with an object lesson they would never forget.
3. Salvation has come to this house
The greatness of a person is
not determined by body size. The small David slay the gigantic Goliath; the
short guy from Corsica became the feared Napoleon; and the stumpy Winston
Churchill was Britain’s prime minister during World War II.
Although the story of
Zacchaeus starts with his short stature, that was not his real problem. He
accepted his shortness with humour. When he could not get a glimpse of Jesus
because of the crowd, he did not hesitate to make a fool of himself by
climbing in a sycamore tree to get a better view. He knew the crowd would
also get a good view of him, and being a tax-collector, he was not their
Why would a rich man risk his
dignity in such an impulsive way? Maybe he was inspired by the healing of
the blind beggar, who was still jumping with joy alongside Jesus. The rich
man wanted what the poor man enjoyed—a new life.
It must have been quite an
awkward moment when Jesus stopped beneath the branch where Zacchaeus sat.
When the renowned healer-preacher looked up with a smile, all eyes turned to
the rich man in the tree. The hated tax-collector grinned self-consciously
and shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, “Well, Lord, here I am.”
Jesus called him on his name
and invited him into a friendly relationship: “Zacchaeus, come down, I want
to stay at your home today.” Jesus still does that: He stops at the place
where you watch as a curious outsider, calls you by the name, and invites
you to become an involved insider.
Jesus saved Zacchaeus from
gross embarrassment by asking him to come down and serve some refreshments
at his opulent home. This turned the whole situation around. The
tax-collector became joyful and the crowd turned grumpy. How could Jesus
dare to eat with such a sinner?
When Zacchaeus heard the
criticism, he vowed to turn his life around and refund those he cheated.
Jesus knew his change of behaviour was the result of his change of heart. He
affirmed that salvation had come to that house, when the owner invited Jesus
into his home and heart. The reviled tax-collector was restored as son of
The story started with
Zacchaeus’ physical shortness; it ends with his spiritual greatness, thanks
to God’s Mediator. God wants to use his children as ambassadors to reconcile
sinners with God (2 Cor. 5:18).
Jesus summarized his ministry
in a few words, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was
lost.” A week after this incident, Jesus paid in full for the sins of
mankind on the Cross of Calvary.
2. I believe you are the Christ
First impressions of another
person are often one-sided and unfair. At the moment of introduction, we
have only external clues to assess. We may be misled: people usually put up
a façade when introduced; we don’t know the real self and history of the
person; and sub-conscious prejudices, spawned by our past experiences, may
make us either too positive or too negative about a stranger.
I’m sure many of us can recall
instances where we changed our mind about someone when we had the
opportunity to discover the real person. Then we had to conclude: “He/she
did not appear friendly, but actually he/she has a heart of gold.”
Many remember only Luke’s
picture of Martha: the woman who was so focused on housekeeping and cooking
that she missed out on fellowship with Jesus. Not quite. John shows another
side of Martha: her understanding of the person and power of Jesus.
Look at John’s story: Martha’s
brother Lazarus is critically ill. He’s weakening fast. Desperate, Martha
sends a messenger to Jesus in the Jordan Valley. He promises to come but
tarries two days before heading for Bethany. When someone tells Martha that
Jesus has been spotted near Bethany, she leaves her household chores
immediately and runs to her friend.
Out of breath she hugs him and
blurts: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I
know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” She blames Jesus for
coming too late, but affirms her trust in his power – even now nothing is
impossible for him.
When Jesus promises that
Lazarus will live, she takes it as a referral to the resurrection of the
last day. Then Jesus conveys to Martha truth that will comfort many through
the ages: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will
live… Do you believe this?” Martha responds with amazing insight and faith:
“Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to
come into the world.” Martha has been illuminated.
When Martha’s sister joins
them, Jesus weeps with them and with all who mourn. He has the tomb opened,
and calls Lazarus back to live, to his old body. Martha’s faith has been
vindicated: God gives Jesus what he asks (Ps. 2:7-8).
Martha and her family are
overjoyed. When Jesus arrives for the Passover, Martha organizes a welcome
meal for him, and her sister Mary anoints him with expensive aromatic oil.
Lazarus is at the meal too, telling the guests about his death and
Later, Jesus rose from death
with a new body. He is the first-fruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20).
1. I was blind but now I see
Many disabled people have
astonished the world with their incredible adaptation to a handicap. Some
without arms developed dexterous feet and toes. Some amputees broke records
as blade-runners. The deaf can learn to speak and lip-read; the blind can
transverse city streets with guide-dogs, and read with the help of Braille
In the time of Christ, these
options were not available. The man born blind needed a friend every day to
take him to a temple gate. His only hope was charity. He had no hope of
improving his situation.
He had some factors in his
favour, though. With no visual image of his world, this man finds his way by
hearing and touching. Taste and smell enables him to enjoy the morsels
obtained by begging. Lack of vision sharpens his other senses. He identifies
people by the sound of their voices, footsteps, and actions.
One day, sitting at a temple
gate and begging for alms, he hears a clear voice addressing the crowd in
the temple court. Then people start shouting angrily. The hasty foot-steps
of a small group tell him they flee from the angry mob.
Though rejected by the crowd,
the person with the clear voice notices the beggar and says, “I am the light
of the world.” The blind man is puzzled when clay is applied to his eyelids.
“Go, wash in the pool of Siloam,” the voice says.
Two people grab him by his
arms and lead him to this place. As he washes, a strange sensation overcomes
him: he sees light for the first time in his life. More washing, more light
– until the full vision of the surroundings overwhelms him.
Jumping for joy, he shouts, “I
can see! I can see! Praise God! I can see!”
Overjoyed, he hurries to the
area where he lives to share the good news. He is rebuffed by sceptical
friends and hostile Pharisees who refuse to believe the most fantastic
moment in his life. Despite the putdown, he joyfully testifies, “One thing I
know: I was blind but now I see!”
When he reasons with the
Pharisees that a person who can open the eyes of the blind must be sent by
God, they ban him from the synagogue.
Seeing but lonely, he wanders
back to the temple. He has not seen his healer but he knows his voice. He
wants to thank him for the wonderful gift he received.
A friendly person suddenly
asks, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” Aha! Unmistakably, his voice! The
former blind man sinks to his knees and worships, relishing the privilege to
see his Redeemer. “Yes, Lord, I believe,” he confesses from the heart.