Today, we have an important message from Jesus Christ that we all need to hear, especially at times like this.
I have been watching updates on the war in Ukraine several times a day this week. I am sure all of us have. We all are concerned about our neighbors and the ramifications of the war.
At the same time, we must learn NOT to let the negative situation affect our minds because it will then affect our health and well-being. After all, we already have had two years of the pandemic. Will the stressful situation ever end?
There are two kinds of stress: acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress is good for you. It’s like exercising, playing sports, or accomplishing a challenging project. You get stressed out for the moment, but it goes away afterward, and you feel relief.
That kind of stress boosts your strength and vitality. Stress makes your body release cortisol, a hormone that regulates your metabolism to handle stress. However, too much cortisol is not good for the body.
So, prolonged or chronic stress is destructive. According to the medicine, chronic stress or too much cortisol can cause:
- Chronic disease: high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and other chronic diseases.
- Weight gain: stress can shift metabolism to store fat.
- Lack of energy: it can impact sleep quality and length.
- Difficulty concentrating: chronic stress reduces productivity.
- Impaired immune system: chronic stress can hamper the immune system, making it more difficult to fight infections.
- Inflammation: it causes the body to develop aches and pains.
I used to have all of them, but now I have recovered from almost all of them.
According to recent statistics, about 90% of doctor’s visits have to do with sicknesses stemming from chronic stress. It seems that if Satan cannot make you sin, he will make you stressed.
How do we live in a fallen world and not let it affect our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being? How do we live wisely through trying times? How do we not let our lights grow dim by the force of darkness?
Jesus said you are the light of the world. Then, how do we keep shining in dark times? The negative news will evoke negative thinking, and negative thinking dims our light and weaken our well-being.
If there’s a fast way to switch your mind from negative thinking to positive thinking, would you learn it? We all need it now because we live in an anxious world.
The good news is Jesus has given us a piece of profound wisdom for times like these in today’s scripture lesson. So, let’s begin.
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]
Today is the Third Sunday in Lent. The Scripture lesson is from Luke 13:1-9. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ” (Luke 13:1-9).
[This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!]
The first part of this passage is like watching the news. Someone was reporting two pieces of bad news. A group of Gallians was murdered by Pilate at the altar when they were offering a sacrifice. It was like getting killed during worship, a bloody and tragic scene.
Another tragedy was about eighteen people killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them.
When people hear news like this, they suffer from conscious or unconscious stress and anxiety. One way to relieve that anxiety is to justify the cause. They must be worse sinners or have accumulated a lot of bad karma to suffer such tragedy.
That’s a human way of releasing stress. When you hear a tragedy, your mind would think, “Wow, it could happen to me.” So, you get stressed out and try to find a reason to tell yourself it will never happen to you because you are better than them—you have done many good deeds, attended church, believed in Jesus, and so on. Jesus warned them against such vain justification.
He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. (Luke 13:2-3).
Jesus said never think they were worse than you or you are better than them. In other words, don’t justify someone’s tragedy to make you feel good because that’s a fake comfort. It’s like sweeping the stress under the carpet.
Biologically speaking, your body still releases cortisol, and it will still eat your well-being from the inside, causing all kinds of health problems.
Jesus said you don’t sweep those stress under the carpet. The truth is it could happen to any of us. We all are sinners and live in this fallen world. No one is better than another.
The solution is to repent. The word “repent” came from the Greek word “μετάνοια” meaning “to change your way of life.” “Repent” is not just about saying, “I am sorry.” If you don’t change, it’s not repenting; it’s just regretting.
So, don’t confuse repent from regret. Reget means feeling sorry. You can feel sorry and not change. But repent means feeling sorry and changing immediately. Paul put it concisely,
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Ro 12:2).
He said, “be transformed.” That is repentance. How do you transform? By renewing of your minds. Instead of conforming to the anxiety of this world, we need to renew our minds and change. How do we do that?
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ” (Luke 13:6-9).
In this parable, the owner of the vineyard is God. The gardener is Jesus. The fig tree is us. God asks Jesus to cut the fig tree down because it has been three years and bears no fruit. But, Jesus advocates for the tree, asking God to give it one more year. He would nurture it by losing the soil and fertilizing it.
From this parable, Jesus taught us three lessons that we must learn in trying times.
1. Focus on the Fruit
This parable indicates that life is not about dying young or dying old, dying tragically or dying peacefully. Just because there’s a war somewhere, that doesn’t mean it would not happen here. 9/11 happened right here, and the pandemic came here too.
Life is about being fruitful. Without being fruitful, we are as good as dead. As protestants, we emphasize faith, but faith without fruit is futile.
However, the Owner doesn’t just come to see how faithful the tree is growing. He wants to see how fruitful it is because fruit is proof of faith. Jesus said,
“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” (Jn 15:8).
He says that we must bear fruit to become his disciples. It means, without fruit, we are not his disciples. We all want to glorify God because that’s what we are made for. Then we must bear fruit.
What is the fruit? It’s the fruit of the Spirit. The Bible says,
“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Ga 5:22–23a).
“By contrast” means by contrast to the fruit of the flesh, which causes stress and anxiety, which produces the stress hormone: cortisol.
By contrast, when you focus on the fruit of the spirit, I have discovered that your body releases a happiness hormone called oxytocin, which gives you well-being and heals your wounds.
2. Count Your Days
Moses prayed to God, saying,
“So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” (Ps 90:12).
If we know how to count our days, we will make our days count. Jesus wants us to know that we are living on borrowed time. The gardener said,
“Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” (Luke 13:8-9).
When I asked George, who just celebrated his 90th birthday, “How are you enjoying your ninety?” He says, “I am enjoying every day. Every day is a blessing.” Every day is indeed a blessing.
You live with gratitude when you know that you are living on borrowed time. In the same Psalm, Moses said,
“The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong.” (Ps 90:10).
How many of you have long passed your three scores and ten, or even eighty? I am sure you can feel the borrowed time more than others.
According to the latest science, my generation could live up to 180 if we fast and feast properly. Dr. David Sinclair, Harvard professor of biology, says 120 is the new 80.
Now, I am approaching 60, but I don’t feel that at all. In fact, my biometric data shows that my biological age is 53. That means I am physically much younger than my actual age. Thanks to the practice of fasting.
I remember when my grandparents were 60, it was a big deal. They expect everyone to pamper them. As for me, I see I’ll still be kicking when I am 120.
However, Jesus indicates that’s all vanity because I could be taken away anytime. When we see the tragedy in the news, we must wake up and count our days. Even if you are 30 or 40, you are living on borrowed time.
When you count the days, you will make your days count.
3. Crucify the Ego
Why doesn’t this fig tree bear fruit? As Calvinists, we believe God is sovereign, and if He chooses, he could make us bear fruit. While many passages support Calvinism, this parable seems to be more Arminian—not the Armenian people but the theological branch of Arminius.
For example, Presbyterians are Calvinists, and Methodists are Armenians. I grew up as a Methodist and became a Presbyterian, so I am familiar with both sides. The difference is very subtle.
The Calvinists believe God is absolutely sovereign. Even though God created us with free will, God has the sovereignty to bend it if He wishes with grace.
The Arminians also believe God is sovereign, but God honors human’s free will, so God wouldn’t bend people’s will. He will only compel you with love.
I know it’s a little deep, but let’s go back to the parable.
This tree doesn’t bear fruit. The Presbyterians would pray and ask Jesus to make it bear fruit. Jesus would say, “I’ve done my best. I have shown by grace by nurturing and fertilizing it. It all depends on its free will to bear or not to bear.”
What does this tree need to do to bear fruit? When we look at the entire Bible to interpret what is blocking this tree from bearing fruit, the answer is “ego.” Jesus said,
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. (Mt 16:24–25).
To take up your cross means to crucify your ego. Only by losing your ego will you find your life. Now, the question is, how do you crucify your ego?
After researching the entire Bible and all the supporting literature, I have discovered two ways to crush our ego: by default or by design—reactively or proactively. By default, our ego is crushed when we encounter a personal tragedy. It jolts us to awakening.
Still, some people go the other way. They become resentful and even more arrogant. So, tragedy doesn’t guarantee a fruitful life.
Here’s the proactive way, or by design. Jesus has shown us how to crucify our ego without waiting until we hit bottom by tragedy. His forty-day fasting in the desert reveals how to tame our ego by design. All three temptations he went through were to test his ego.
The psychiatrists who experimented on fasting also have noted that long-term fasting tames one’s ego. They become less irritated and more in a state of equanimity and euphoria.
Anyway, the health benefits of fasting are just the icing on the cake. What Jesus wants us to gain is a fruitful life. For thousands of years, fasting has been a proven discipline that allows us to become one with Christ or abide in Christ. Jesus said,
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5).
Here’s what Jesus taught us how to live through the trying times or any times.
1. Focus on the Fruit
2. Count Your Days (to make your days count)
3. Crucify the Ego
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound happiness.