Pastor Ay Nee Ng
Happy Chinese New Year! How many of us have seen advertisements on TV from ancestry.com? There was one about a young girl who traced back her roots and found she had some Canadian, Irish, Jewish, and Red Indian heritage.
What about the recent one on Adam Liaw (DOB: 8 Sep, 1978), an Australian lawyer and Television chef, winner of the second series of Masterchef Australia in 2010, defeating student Callum Hann in the final, who went back to his roots–Singaporean—and then further back tracing his ancestors way back to Scotland?
Have you ever wondered why would someone so successful want to trace back his roots? What can our roots do for us today? Last time, I talked about roots in a different light, as to what type of roots we have: strong or weak. Today, I’m talking about heritage. Could it be that when we know who we are, no matter what our past holds, we can be a better person and move on with confidence, knowing that our past has somehow shaped us?
We are all intrigued by the origins of life, behaviour patterns, genealogies, and languages in theological and scientific studies. But why do we want to trace back our roots? Why do we want to know about our ancestors? Our goal is that when we know who we are then can we win people for God. But you got to know yourself before you can understand someone else.
Acceptance of self is important and the utmost importance is to know who we are in Christ Jesus; then we have security and feel we belong because we are identified with Christ Jesus. We are enlightened to know that where we come from will bring certain behavioural patterns, but in the end, knowing who we are in Christ, that our faith stamps from being rooted in God’s Word, will bring stability and contentment in our lives and help us win souls for Jesus. Our aim is to be confident in sharing Christ and to be on the winning side for our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our background plays a part on how we share Christ, but when we take on Jesus Christ in our lives, the world becomes flat. Our social wellbeing is based on the God’s Word and our behavioural patterns begin to change, not conforming to the world’s standards but being transformed into the image of Christ.
Today we are celebrating the second day of Chinese New Year. Having a Chinese Malaysian background, my roots come from what I learned from my parents, grandparents, the society, and the school I attended.
Every year before Chinese New Year, every Chinese household will do a good spring clean of their homes. Everything needs to be cleaned, food for the festivities is cooked before the New Year starts (no cooking again until the third day of Chinese New Year), and even debts have to be settled before the New Year. The Chinese New Year festivities last for 15 days representing the different dialects; for example, Chinese New Year Eve and next day is a “MUST”—non-negotiable—for every Chinese household and celebrated by all. The second day of Chinese New Year is for the Cantonese to “open” the New Year, and so on for the other dialect groups. For us Hokkien, the ninth day of Chinese New Year is when we “open” the New Year.
“Opening” the New Year means that the time you go back to your clan to have that big celebration, practically for the whole day, and receive visitors. Anyone can drop by anytime without appointment and are to be welcomed; they are usually members of the extended family. Nice culture to have! The best part of Chinese New Year is that we all get a set of new clothes, shoes and other things. Everything is new, red or in bright colours and clean. No cleaning, sweeping, and washing of clothes is done on the first day of Chinese New Year. Isn’t that good for some of us?
Because our children were away since they were around 14 years old, this part of the culture was lost in them. It was only us as parents celebrating Chinese New Year with our parents, siblings, relatives, and friends.
Chinese New Year Eve is the most important time for all families liken to Thanksgiving Day. You stay with your family till the clock strikes midnight; then, each household would release firecrackers to welcome the New Year. Once lit, the firecrackers leave behind a big mess of red papers everywhere; but not for the Chinese because the redder the streets in front of your homes, offices, and buildings, the better it is. They say it brings prosperity, good luck, and good fortune. The firecrackers are meant to chase away bad luck and evil.
When I became a Christian, having learned about Christianity from the missionaries at our missionary school in Kuala Lumpur, I was taught that this is pagan practice until I went into a Baptist Church. There, a Chinese Christian scholar in Chinese philosophy gave a talk on some of the Chinese practices that are first mentioned in the Bible. My antennas just shot up as I eagerly heard for the first time that Chinese words pictorially tell a story. For example, the word “migration” is about people from the west migrating east to China, and the old pictorial Chinese writing relates to Bible stories. In general, culture is not bad as long as it doesn’t compromise our beliefs in Jesus Christ like when blood sacrifices or idol worship is involved.
We Do What We Do Because of Our Background and Upbringing.
Every Chinese New Year Eve, I will help mom put money into red packets and put a red banner over our front door. When I asked her why, she said it was to avoid evil and that red is a symbol of prosperity. Christians, hopefully we know the reason.
To us Christians, the colour red represents the blood of the Lamb. Somehow, the meaning got watered down over generations, and the word “prosperity” came along. But the actual word “prosperity” pictorially means God in our lives prospering us and blessing us. Over time, prosperity has come to mean wealth, riches, and money.
Let’s go to the first mention of the Passover in Exodus 12 and read why the blood was smeared on the doorposts and the top of the door.
Exodus 12:1-13; 21-23 (NIV) – The Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread
1-2 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.
3-4 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat.
5-8 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast.
9-11 Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.
12 -13 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
21-23 Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and take for yourselves lambs according to your families, and slay the Passover lamb. “You shall take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and the two doorposts; and none of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning. “For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you.
Church, does this explain clearly why red colour is used in the Chinese culture? Over the years, as we study history, we found that an emperor was seeking after God, but it was never translated down to his people. With some knowledge of what happened to their forefathers, this practice got watered down, and red became a symbol of prosperity and wealth—mammon! Church, we have such a responsibility to share Christ, not a watered down Gospel and the true Gospel of Jesus Christ to every tongue and tribe.
Plants are a recurring motif of significant metaphors about spiritual growth and our relationship with Jesus throughout the Bible. The use of plants and roots in these instances are symbolic of our connection to Christ, its necessity, the advantages of being rooted in Him, and the dangers of not being rooted in Him but in something else.
Benefits of Being Rooted in Jesus Christ
1. Spiritual growth. In a relationship with Jesus, we will flourish and bear much fruit. “And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall yet again take root downward, and bear fruit upward” (2 Kgs. 19:30).
2. Christ-like qualities. If we draw our nourishment from Him and his teachings, we will become like Him. Do not fear and worry but bear fruit in and out of season. “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jer. 17:7-8).
3. Power through His Word and His abiding presence in our lives. “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Eph. 3:16-19).
4. A strong faith, firm conviction of His great love, and overflowing thankfulness. “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:6-7).
Consequences of Not Being Rooted
1. No life to the full. “But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root” (Mark 4:6, Matt. 13:6). “The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt. 3:10).
2. Susceptibility to negativity without an anchor to provide stability during turbulent times. “But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away” (Mark 4:17, Matt. 13:21).
3. Bitterness that defiles many. “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Heb. 12:15).
Do you want to know the key to succeed in our Christian life? “And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall yet again take root downward, and bear fruit upward” (2 Kings 19:30).
The most important part of our family tree remains underground, hidden. This is the root system that holds our tree in place. Without roots, there would be no tree. So for every Christian, we are the tree and our root system should be God and His ways. While God cannot be seen in us, the evidence of Jesus Christ living in us and we being rooted in Him should be obvious to those around us.
Stop fighting; you can’t change your heritage. Instead, embrace Jesus and be rooted in Him to give you strength and understanding. We are to be like Daniel who, while in captivity, respected the people who forcefully captured him but never compromised his faith in God.
The Bible talks about the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law”. When Christ comes into your life and you surrender to God and allow the Holy Spirit to work on, you then change.
- Where there was once hatred now there will be love.
- Sorrow will be replaced by joy.
- Mourning turned into laughter
- Once there were turmoil and chaos, now there will be peace.
- Our quick temper and a short fuse will be replaced by longsuffering and patience.
- Hardness and resentment will give way to gentleness and forgiveness.
- Selfishness will no longer be dominant, but goodness will shine forth.
- Faith and love for Jesus will replace doubt and fear.
- Pride will disappear and meekness will be evident as you humble yourself before God.
- Temperance will emerge as we conquer the flesh and walk in the Spirit.
Just like we cannot see the roots of a tree but know that they have to be there in order for the tree to exist, the evidence of Jesus Christ in a person’s life will be manifested in a changed heart, life and attitude.
Our roots are the backbone of who we are now, and God is the foundation on which we and our family must be built. Our genealogy may have some negative sides, but we are not bound to the past. We were purchased by the blood of the Lamb; there are blessings for our present and future, but God must be present in every part of our tree for it to grow and produce much fruit.
Let us embrace our roots and be rooted in Christ Jesus to receive freedom and power, to be identified in Christ and to be His witnesses, sharing the Gospel with clarity, love, and power in His name and winning people for God.