31 Dec 2023

Making Good Choices For The New Year [Luke 10:38-42]


Charles Wesley wrote “Faithful to my Lord’s commands, I still would choose the better part; Serve with careful Martha’s hands & loving Mary’s heart. ”The story of Mary and Martha reminds us that serving hands alone is not good enough. We need to have a loving heart. Watch out for diligence without devotion, work without worship, or labour without love. Let us learn to make good choices in the new year. 1. Martha's Distraction. She was pulled away by much serving in many things, from the one that that is necessary, which is to learn from Jesus. In the new year, we need to watch out for distractions that pull us away from Christ, lest we become self-centered and sour! 2. Mary's Devotion. Mary was not lazy, nor blur. Jesus said she made a deliberate choice to sit at his feet to learn. In other words, she had to say no to many other tasks and responsibilities, good as they may be, so that she can devote herself to the best. Whilst people may criticise you for studying the Bible, remember that Jesus defended Mary's choice, and said it was for the good part, which will not be taken from her. 3. My decision. If Mary chose to devote herself to Jesus, the question then is "what about you? "Satan will throw 101 distractions your way in the new year- in your family, your job, your hobbies, your drama serials. . . but will you focus and prioritise the study of His word, so that you may know Him? Maybe today, you are already distracted. Jesus tenderly calls to you today. Love Him. Sit at His feet. Make that a priority for 2024 and the rest of your life. The blessings will not be taken away from you.



Sermon Transcript

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Now, in this New Year, I'd like us to encourage us in the area of making choices or decisions. Because New Year is a time where people make resolutions, decisions and choices. So we're going to learn about the importance of making choices today.

Let me start with a story. It's told of a man who had a visit from an angel. This is obviously totally fictitious. So an angel paid him a visit in his office and said to him, Well, because you have, you have been a good boy for the year, I'm going to give you a wish. You can choose between these three options. You can either be very handsome or very rich or very wise. The man didn't spend at, a second at all. And he said, I want to be very wise. And in a thick cloud of smoke, the angel then disappeared. And he hears a voice, your wish is granted. The office colleagues then turned around to look at the man and see what would happen of him. And they realized a bright halo around his head. And then they said to him, Come quickly, say something wise. And the man said, I should have taken the money.

Choices. We're going to learn about it today from a couple of sisters. We're going to their home and we're going to learn from them what it means to make good choices. The lady in the foreground is named Mary. According to Luke and chapter 10, we read of her sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to His words. The lady at the background is Martha, her sister. And she is busy preparing the place for Jesus.

Now, both of them both loved, both of them loved Jesus. They were believers of Jesus. And it was Martha who first welcomed Jesus into their home. She was the one who is hospitable. But we do not know what happened. She has a lot of things to handle probably. She has to prepare the dishes, lay out the table. And suddenly, like a last straw on the camel's back, something went wrong and she went berserk. Maybe the chicken fell off the table, maybe the soup was boiling over. But she exploded and she probably shouted, Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.

I mean, this is like unbelievable. I can imagine her sister Mary, her jaw drops to the ground. And you can hear a pin drop. Extremely tense moment, don't you think? She welcomed Jesus and she shouted at Jesus. But Jesus turned this very tense moment into a teachable moment when He said to Martha, Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things. But one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion which will not be taken away from her.

So today we're going to learn about making good choices for the new year. This is an opportune time. This is the last day of 2023. And I want to encourage you to do likewise. So let's see a few things from this story.

1. Martha's Distraction

Number one, let's observe Martha's distraction. Luke, the author, made this comment about Martha. This is not my guess, this is a clear statement from Luke. Martha was distracted with much serving. The word distracted in the Greek means to be pulled apart or to be pulled away. She's supposed to do something, but she is distracted. She's pulled away, pulled apart from that which is important.

And the Lord Jesus Christ also commented about Martha's behavior. You are anxious and troubled. The word anxious means to be full of cares, full of distractions. The word troubled means to be disturbed. So Martha, she's pulled away. She's full of cares, she's disturbed. You say, by what? Well, the Scriptures here say by much serving and by many things. She has many things to do, many things to clean, many things to cook, many things to take care of, all that to serve Jesus. But she's been pulled away by these things.

Pulled away by these things from what thing? From that one thing that is necessary, from the good portion, and we learn that that one thing necessary, that good part or good portion, is sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to His words.

So if I may summarize, Martha's distraction is that she was pulled away, distracted by much serving in many things from the one thing necessary, that is to learn from Jesus.

By the way, we must see that the many things she's doing is not, are not necessarily bad things. Cooking a chicken is not a bad thing. Laying the, out the table is not a bad thing. Being hospitable, doing her best to host Jesus is not a bad thing. But the danger is that so many things can crowd out that important thing.

It's a lesson for us, isn't it? In a new year, you can have many things to do. You can choose to embark on some personal project or some work commitments or some hobbies. They are not bad things. Having a child is not a bad thing. Having more responsibilities is not a bad thing. But the danger is that we can allow these many things to take away that one thing, to sit at the feet of Jesus and to learn from His word.

This is the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world. Beautiful place, architecture. It's actually a mausoleum, a place where the tomb is laid. It was built by Shah Jahan for his departed wife. And it was said to take 20,000 people over 22 years to build.

There's a story told of this construction. I cannot verify if this is real or not, but the story does prove a point. That Shah Jahan was so consumed with this building project that one day as he was walking around the site, he stumbled upon a box, a wooden box. And he was very disturbed by it. He says, who put this stupid box in the middle of this whole construction? And ordered this box to be thrown away, only to find out later on that this stupid box, as he would call it, is the coffin of his dear wife.

Well, it goes to show that we can be so concerned about the project that we forget the person. We can be so concerned about what we do and the things that go on, and forget about why and for who we do these things.

The symptom of Martha's distraction is very clearly seen when she blurted out, Lord, do You not care? Do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? She is upset with her sister. She's criticising her sister in this statement. She's casting aspersions about the character of her sister. She is lazy, I suppose that's what she's saying. She's irresponsible, not like me, she's probably saying.

But what's worse is that she is casting aspersions as to, unto Jesus Christ Himself. Do You not care, Lord? Are You so blind? Are You so blur? Are You so uncaring? I mean, she is so wrapped up with herself. My, me, me, it's all about me. Something really went wrong. When we are distracted from that one thing that is necessary.

I've seen over and over again, people, good people, well-intentioned people, they serve hard. But somewhere along the line, because ministry is not exactly what they expect it to be, people are not responding to them, there are disappointments, there are frustrations, and soon enough, because they're so caught up with their ministry, with their work, with their responsibilities, that they become sour, and critical, and accusatory.

Why? Because even though the ministry may be done in the Name of the Lord, soon enough it became for themselves. It's all about me. So when it doesn't turn out the way they expect it to be, they shoot everyone around, including the Lord.

She started off well, I am pretty sure. She welcomed Jesus. She wanted Jesus to be in her home. She wanted to serve Him. But somewhere along the line, it went way off.
I was driving in New Zealand, with that van, as I told you, and in the open plains, in New Zealand, the winds are strong. We don't feel that in Singapore, because everywhere is built up. But over there, the winds are strong, and as I drive, I could feel that I'm driving against the wind, as it were. It's like my van is constantly being swayed to one side. And you have to always auto-correct, because if you don't do it, you will be swept off.

And I think about the winds of distraction that comes into our lives. Not that they are bad, not that responsibilities are bad, not that work is bad, not that ministry is bad, not that taking care of your family is bad, but we must be careful that they do not pull us away from that one thing that is needed.

So, Martha's distraction. What was it? She was pulled away by much serving in many things from the one thing necessary, that is to learn from Jesus.

2. Mary's Devotion

Now, let's go on to, secondly, Mary. And we're going to learn about Mary's devotion. She's a contrast. This is a great story of contrast. One is so busy doing so many things, the other one is absolutely focused and devoted. What did she do? Mary sat at the Lord's feet and listened to His teaching. Sitting at the feet is, in the Bible, descriptive of someone who is learning from a teacher. The Apostle Paul would say that he sat at the feet of Gamaliel. So he was a student of Gamaliel.

So Mary here is taking on the position of a student, a disciple, to learn from her Master, her Teacher, Jesus. It's an interesting thing to note that whenever Mary is mentioned in the Bible three times, she would be at the feet of Jesus, anointing His feet or learning from Him. She takes on that picture of submission, humility, and reverence unto the Lord Jesus Christ.

So she sat at the feet of Christ and devoted herself to learning from Him. And I think this is not something that is absolutely natural. This is not automatic. I don't think Mary is blur, by the way. I, I think she is aware that there are many things to do. I think she can hear her sister's footsteps. I think she can see that her sister, Martha, is busy about many things. I think she can also sense that Martha is becoming bei song. Bei song means not happy.

She could, she could tell from Martha's tsk, tsk, tsk. You hear the tsk, tsk, tsk? She could probably hear all that. And she could tell that dinner was not the only thing boiling in the kitchen that day. She could tell, probably, that things are not going to go alright. But Mary is still stuck to her guns and chose to sat or to sit at the feet of Jesus.

I know this is not natural because the Bible tells us, Luke tells us, or Jesus tells us, Mary has chosen. She's made a choice. It was a decision. It was not a natural thing, because the natural thing is to at least get up and help a bit. But no, she chose to do this. In other words, in order for her to sit at the feet of Jesus, she had to say no.
This is a very important word in the new year. She has to learn to say no, to maybe even good things around her. Necessary to do things around her, but not as necessary as that one thing, that good portion.

You know, I hear people often say, you know I, Pastor, in the new year, I'd like to read the Bible more. I'd like to join this group, be part of that community, so that I may grow as a Christian. I, I want to grow, but I have no time. Heard that before? I love to serve Jesus more, I love to read His Word more, but I have no time. Most common, let me say this, excuse. Because it is not that you have no time. It is not true that other people have more time than you. Everyone has the same time. Tell me anyone here who has 25 hours a day? Everyone has 24 hours a day.

The real, the reality is, it's not that you have no time for Bible study. It's not that you have no time for care groups. It's not that you have no time for worship service. You have no time for reading the Bible on your own. But worship, and Bible study, and discipleship groups, and your own reading of the Bible, these things are not important to you. That's the reality.

Don't deceive yourself by saying, I would love to read the Bible, but I have no time. The reality is, it is not important to you. Now, we are not going to have time for everything in the world. But we will always have time for that which is important to us. And those things that are not important to us, we will not give it time. That's the fact.

So don't say to yourself in the new year, I would love to do this, but I have no time. Check yourself. Is it because I have no time? Or is it because I don't value these things? I have not thought about spiritual things in a right way. I have not taken a right perspective of my life.

It's interesting that when people meet with calamities, trials, sicknesses, cancers, or when they are facing death, they suddenly have time for Bible study. Because, well, God did not give them few more hours a day, but suddenly their priorities are rearranged. A lot of things that seem to be very important are no more important. And the spiritual things come up as really important. And they will make time for it.

Mary learned to say no in order to say yes to Jesus and His Word.

Now, the Lord Jesus Christ defended Mary. The Lord Jesus Christ says, one thing is necessary, Mary, your sister, has chosen the good portion which will not be taken away from her. Martha is insinuating Mary is lousy, is lazy, but Jesus defended Mary, said this is a good thing. What she did is not wrong. She's not neglecting to do the things, but she's choosing to do that which is most important, that's all.

I, I find it really interesting because the other time we read about Mary lavishing her love upon Jesus in John 12, she was also criticized. And Jesus also defends her then. Jesus recognizes the heart of Mary. You know, sometimes people may criticize you, why you study the Bible so much? Why you waste time? Why you don't do anything? No, that's not true. It is really important for us to invest ourselves in knowing God through His Word.

I hope you're not reading the Bible just to act smart or look smart, but that you want to learn of God, learn of Jesus and follow Jesus well. I never think that that is a waste of time. The Bible doesn't say so, Jesus obviously doesn't think so.

I just want you to also be mindful, we are not in any way saying that Mary is all good and Martha is all bad. No, Martha is a lover of Jesus. She's a believer. And it is good to serve Jesus. The only problem is when you serve without the right heart, that's all.

I think Charles Wesley puts it best in this song. "'Faithful to my Lord's commands, "'I still would choose the better part, "'serve with careful Martha's hands "'and loving Mary's heart.'" So we want to have both. We want to have loving Mary's heart and diligent Martha's hands.

So we're not criticising Martha in any way, but the point of this story is really to highlight Mary's devotion. She chose not to be distracted and to prioritise her learning from Jesus.

3. My Decision

So we looked at Martha, we looked at Mary. Finally, I'd like us to look at my own decision. One is distracted, one is devoted. How will you decide today? Mary chose to prioritise her learning from Jesus. How about you? You know, this story written by Luke is interesting because he doesn't tell us what happened to Mary and Martha after what Jesus said. It seems to be like just hang there in suspense. But maybe the point is that not so much what did Mary and Martha do, but what will the reader do?

What will you and I do? How will we respond to a story like this? Will you choose to devote or will you allow yourself to be distracted? Let me say this, Satan in the new year will work very hard to keep you distracted, 100% sure. He will throw many things in front of you to keep you distracted.

I think about NBA when I think about distractions. You know, when you shoot a free throw like Steph Curry is going to do here, because he's such a good shooter, they are not thinking that he will miss much. But in order to try to make him miss, they distract him. They wave those kind of bars or whatever, balloons, they put up all kinds of posters to discourage him. They are doing their best so that Steph Curry would miss the target.

And I think Satan will do his very best to make sure you will miss the target of having a right, healthy, godly relationship with Him, with God.

This reminds me, years ago I was in Italy, in Milan to be specific, and we had just finished, not we, my wife, had just finished shopping. So I was her courier. I was just carrying the bags and we were coming out of the shop. And almost immediately as we were stepping out, a group of ladies came. They were the gypsies. And a few of them held up pieces of paper, I think it's newspapers, in front of my face. Say, see, see, see, see, see, see, or something like that. I can't remember what she said or they said.

I was trying to figure out what was on the newspapers and I quickly realized it's in Italian. I can't understand, didn't matter. I suddenly felt someone tugging on the bags that I was holding. Thankfully, I'm a tight-fisted man. And it's not easy for them to steal from me, but I, I, I just held on and I realized their strategy was to distract you. And when you're focused on what is in front of your face, they take away what is most precious to you.

Satan is not very different from the gypsy girls. He does the same thing. Puts a lot of things in front of you. A new hobby, a new job, a new child, a new K-drama, whatever it is, a new concert, whatever things he can throw at you, he will throw at you. So that you have no time.

You are so filled with the interests of this world. You are so pulled away by your work commitments, your KPIs and your targets, that you have no time to say no to these things and sit at the feet of Jesus. And then you become like a Martha. You become angry, you become sour, you become critical. Frankly, not a very nice person to be around.

Hudson Taylor, one of the great spiritual giants, I think in time past, his son wrote a biography about him. And his son remarked, the hardest part of a missionary career, Mr. Taylor found, is to maintain regularly prayer, regular prayerful Bible study. Think about that. Hudson Taylor was an Englishman in China, being a missionary, and he did not talk about the difficulties of persecution or different cultures or a physical lack of material goods. He says the hardest thing, huh, about a missionary is regular, prayerful reading of God Word.

I don't think you need to be a missionary to face this difficulty. We face this here. With all the Netflix, with all the golf, no, no, not a lot of golf course now, but I think dwindling number, right? With so many entertainment options, so many targets to hit in your job, it's really hard to have a meaningful study of the Bible.

Let me say this. I, I like the word study. Because a lot of people just read. And I think reading is good, but not the same as study, to really understand what the Bible is saying, not just read what the Bible is saying.

He goes on to say, Satan will always find you something to do. Don't worry about it. He's very creative. When you ought to be occupied about that, if it is only arranging a window blind, anything to chuck it in the way of the Christian so that he is taken away from that necessary thing, that good portion, which is to sit at the feet of Jesus and to learn.

J.D. Greear, he says, there are few things as damaging and potentially soul-destroying as busyness. It can be a computer game, you know? So busy. Hey, don't disturb me, Daddy. Must finish this game, I must win. Very, very important, know. Life-changing game. Well, few things as damaging and potentially soul-destroying. Okay, maybe unfair. Tekan of computer games, but it happens to anything.

Blaise Pascal, the famous philosopher, said that busyness sends more people to hell than unbelief. I'm not sure how true that is, but busyness does keep people away from God because they have no time to investigate the Gospel and to think about what God has said in His Word. That is dangerous.

John Maxwell, he said, learn to say no to the good so that you can say yes to the best. Now, even if you're not a Christian, you can understand the value of a simple statement like this. But I think I want to focus it on the spiritual realm. There are many good things to do as a Christian. There are many good things we should do as a Christian, but be careful that they do not become agents that pull you away from that which is best.

So, maybe in the New Year, there are things you need to kill off. There are distractions you need to kill off. There are things you need to learn from Mary to say no to in order to say yes to Jesus. Everybody is working for a promotion in Singapore. I don't know if that is absolutely necessary as a Christian. I'm not sure if rising through the ranks is exactly what God wants every single one of us to do. I'm not sure taking all, taking on more job responsibilities is absolutely Biblical.

Now, it may be, I'm not saying it cannot be, but I think you need to assess and weigh it in the overall scheme of how your life is going to turn out. What are you gunning for? What are you aiming for? And I say this even. Some of you may have so many ministries, you're not spending time in God's Word. And maybe you may have to say no to ministry, to some ministry. There, your pastor has said it. He must be the most stupid pastor to say something like that. But I think it is true.

But first, cut down on other things first before cutting ministry. And if you've cut everything else, your K-drama, your Chinese drama, your computer games, then you cut your ministry. But there are things we need to say no to so that you can be a part of environments and setups and times that you can sit at the feet of Jesus and learn. And I can tell you, you will never regret it. That will never be taken from you. That's what Jesus said of Mary's devotional choice.

I have made terrible decisions in my life, but one decision that I would not be regretful about and I have never regretted is decisions to preserve time and to dedicate time to learn God's Word. Never regretted it. From school days to working days. I, I think, I hope you would also come and enjoy this joy or this experience of drawing near to God in His Word in dedicated times.

Well, Jesus said to Martha, Martha, Martha, you're anxious and troubled about many things. The Bible is written without punctuation marks. So I can't really know if Jesus was really, really angry at all. Because if it was written with Martha exclamation mark, then maybe it would be like Jesus scolding her. Martha! Uh, but I think it's probably unlikely because it is Martha, Martha twice. When you want to scold someone, you don't say, Martha! Martha! Uh wrong lah! Just don't read like that, right? Just one time, gao liao. But when it's written two times, it's most likely a call of tender affection. Martha, Martha.

I can imagine Jesus just tapping Martha on the shoulder. Martha, Martha. It reminds me of a story. 10, 20 years ago, I was going for an appointment, about to be late, so rather anxious. Sitting in a bus, it was pulling into the bus stop when I realized that the train that I need to be on, the MRT train that I need to be on, is also approaching the train station.

Now, that is very close. I, I, I can see the train because it's at Commonwealth. The MRT track is above ground. So I saw the train coming, the bus is about to stop at the bus stop. Most of the time, people would not even try, right? I mean, how do you get all the way there? But I tried. I was that desperate. So once the door of the bus opened, I darted out and ran up the escalator, tapped on the gantry, dashed up the stairs, and I saw the door, and I hear the toot, toot, toot, toot, toot, the alarm for the door closing, and I dashed in. I love suspense, don't you? And I... 你不要小看我啊 And I... squeezed in. 哇,厲害哦!

How many of you have tried being at the bus, seeing the train come, and still managed to get in? Well, I made a record that day. But it was a really crazy run. I mean, it's not a straight run, it's like, twist and turns, avoid people, gan jiong like, don't know what. Squeezed in! I was huffing and puffing really chuan. I can remember it was really chuan. And I wanted to sit down, but there's no seat because it's all taken up. So I just stood there, grabbed the pole, and I was so tired, I decided to close my eyes for a moment.

And the next thing I knew was that I heard people say, Hello, hello, are you okay, are you okay? Someone tapping me on the shoulder, are you okay, are you okay? I opened my eyes, I saw a few faces, and I saw the ceiling of the train. And I realized that I'm on the floor. I had fainted, goodness, what happened? And the next thing I knew is two men in uniform came and brought me out of the train. I felt like I did something wrong, I wasn't going to prison or what? They were kind to lead me to a room, sat me down, gave me a glass of water, and said, Sir, are you okay? I said, Yah, I think I'm okay. They said, Where am I? He said, You're at Red Hill MRT.

And I can't for my life recall where was I supposed to go. I just sat there and a stone, you know? For a moment I had amnesia. I forgot where I'm heading, where I came from, what day this is, what am I supposed to do, where I'm heading towards. Just lost. I was so rushed, I was so hurried, that I couldn't breathe, and I couldn't remember.

Maybe today you're like Martha. Wah, your life really takong, chiong, chiong, chiong. You have to cope with so many things, and now you can't even catch a breath, and frankly, you have forgotten where you are, spiritually speaking. You're lost. So someone has to come alongside you this morning, tap you on the shoulder and say, Hello, hello. Jane, Jane. John, John. Are you okay? I think you are distracted, anxious, full of cares, and disturbed about many things. Take a look at your sister, Mary. Take a look at this lady. She has chosen that one thing that is necessary, and it will not be taken away from her.

In this new year, many things to do, but on this last day of the year, I think it's a great time to search our hearts, to think through and pray through, how will the Lord want you to spend 2024? I hope we will all be found sitting at the feet of Jesus like Mary. Let's bow for a word of prayer together.

The story of Mary and Martha follows closely after the story of the Good Samaritan, which follows closely after how Jesus revealed that there are really two great commandments, to love God and to love our neighbour.

So if the Good Samaritan is a story about loving our neighbour, even our enemies, then perhaps the story of Mary and Martha is one which displays what it means to love the Lord our God. Sometimes we think that loving God means we are busy about many things, including ministry. That can be true. Martha's hands is good. But don't forget loving God is also, if not more so, about Mary's heart. To sit at His feet in humility, in reverence, in submission to learn and to obey God's Word.

This is a call for us to love God this morning. To love Him because He first loved us. To love Him because He gave His Son for us. To love Him enough for us to say no to the many distractions that Satan may throw at our face so that we may dedicate and devote ourselves, prioritize our lives in having a meaningful, vibrant, healthy walk and relationship with Him.

So maybe there are distractions today we need to decide to kill. There are promotions today that we need to say perhaps no to. Good causes that we can't be a part of, hobbies we may have to sacrifice, targets that we would say, I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold. We all have been given 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. How will you choose in 2024?

I'd like to give us all time this morning just to think for ourselves, just to pray before the Lord now and ask Him to guide us and to help us to start the year right, to choose right. And may you enjoy, may you flourish the fruit of spending time with Jesus.

To my friends, guests who are here, I think about Blaise Pascal's statement. Busyness can send people to hell. Now to be fair, it is not business that sends us to hell, it is our sins that send us to hell. But busyness keeps us from hearing God's Word and keeps us from being rescued by Jesus. So if you're here today, I'm grateful and I'd like to encourage you to spend time this year to investigate the Bible for yourself.

We, we don't want to be a church that forces anything upon anyone, that's not what we want to do because we know we can't force anyone into heaven anyway, but we would love to be a church that would support you, point you, help you to know what the Bible, God has to say in His Word. But it begins with you wanting to say, I want to spend time knowing what the Bible has to say.

Maybe in 2024, this can be your goal and I pray perhaps one day God will lead you to know Him through His Son and you will find forgiveness, meaning, purpose and reconciliation with God. That you will know God and be living life with God.

So Father, thank You for this morning. Thank You that in the hustle and bustle of this festive season at the end of the year, this morning we can be still and know that You are God. Forgive us because so many times we can be like the church at Ephesus, full of works and somehow left our first love.

Draw us back, grant us grace to make good choices, allow us to see through the commitments in the new year by saying no to the distractions that may be around and we trust that at the end of 2024 we can look back and say thank You. Those times, those sessions, those weeks, those months, those days that we spend at the feet of Jesus is truly refreshing and satisfying. Bless Your church. Thank You. We pray all this in Jesus' Name, Amen.

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