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What feng shui gets right – and what it gets wrong


Last year I had the privilege of preaching at CERC’s evangelistic Chinese New Year gathering. A year later I found myself thinking once again of the reasons people are superstitious and how I addressed these in my message. Many church people missed the sermon because they were away in their hometowns, so I thought it might help them if I posted the sermon manuscript online.

I’ve lightly edited it for reading, but the actual sermon was preceded by a skit which you will just have to imagine as you read the sermon that follows.

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Intro

Welcome to CERC’s Chinese New Year gathering. My name is Mark and I’m one of the pastoral apprentices of the church.

I hope you enjoyed the skit and had a good time sharing your stories with the person next to you.

The truth it takes seriously: much of our life is determined by factors outside our control

We might not be as obsessed with aligning our lives for good feng shui as the salesman was, but I think we all understand what made him do what he was doing. What motivated him was something we can all relate to.

The study of feng shui and numerology and horoscopes all come from the same starting point of rightly acknowledging that much of our life is determined by factors outside our control.

Who we are as individuals today is a product of 3 things: our genetics, our environment and our personal choices. Out of these 3 factors, we only have control over 1 of them: our personal decisions. Because for the other 2 – our DNA and our environment – we have to take what we are given: who our parents are, when and where we are born – these factors play a huge part in determining what kind life we have, but they are completely outside our control. We understand this dependence and we want to find ways to influence it in our favour.

What’s more, most of us here are descendants of Chinese and Indian immigrants, which means that this is a need that we know instinctively as well. I’m a fourth generation KL Chinese – my great-grandparents came from China as immigrants to Malaya. When they arrived in here, they began at the bottom of society. They knew what it was to be in want – to not have enough to make ends meet, to be at the mercy of those in authority. That kind of history is true for many of our families. No doubt we feel it less today than they did, but it’s still part of our family history and still affects the way we view life.

In fact, even today, for all who are non-Bumi, we know from experience what it is like to be at the mercy of economic and societal structures that favour the majority race. We are the underdogs, and underdogs know instinctively that the world is full of potential good that we cannot just choose to have and potential danger that we cannot just choose to avoid. A lot in life happens to us without us choosing it one way or the other.

This is what feng shui and numerology and horoscopes take into account and try to help us deal with.

Our attempts to influence the factors outside of our control – which ultimately fail

In the skit just now the Chinese salesman was putting a lot of effort into making sure his life turned out well. Truth be told, it’s not only the Chinese who are superstitious like this.

Did you know that in Indian culture, Monday is a bad day for shaving and Thursday is a bad day for washing your hair?

In Malay culture, you should never sit or step on a book or you will become stupid. And if you shake your legs, you will always be in debt.

Western cultures have their superstitions too: Bad luck for walking under ladders, breaking mirrors, seeing a black cat cross your path, or on Friday the 13th. Touch wood to avoid tempting fate.

I didn’t just mention these superstitions because some of them are humorous. What I want you to see is that trying to do something about the aspects of life that are out of our control, is something that all of us, no matter what colour we are, are concerned about.

These things should concern us. It takes a lot of naivety to think that, “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” is the beginning and end of the wisdom we need in life. Trust me, there are many people who get to bed early, wake up early and are anything but blessed with health, wealth or wisdom.

Most people recognise that there are evil spiritual forces and the potential for misfortune in the world that they cannot control – and they believe that they can do something about it by being superstitious.

I’m not here this morning to compare various superstitious practices to work out which is most true. The question I want to ask is “Why don’t we have a better ‘success rate’ overall in avoiding misfortune and making our lives better? Why do we keep failing despite all our efforts at being superstitious?”

Why is it that even someone who drives a car with the number plate 8888 and lives in unit 3 on the 3rd level of his apartment, who always starts works after Chinese New Year on the most auspicious day – how come he still loses money in business and has his house broken into? Why is it that misfortune still happens to the children of even the most careful of superstitious parents? And most distressingly, why do feng shui masters have family problems and health problems and business problems? Why do even to most superstitious die just like the rest of us?

This is a problem that we all have – whatever the colour of our skin.

Why our efforts at controlling life are a failure: God

So why do our efforts at controlling life ultimately fail? The Bible has an answer to that question and it’s right at the beginning of the Bible, in the book of Genesis, which means “beginnings”. So let me take you through the first few chapters and show you why life is the way it is today.

Creation

The first 2 chapters of Genesis teach us that God is the one who created the entire universe and everything in it. First verse of the Bible, Genesis 1.1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”. He made mankind and he put man on the earth to cultivate, to enjoy and to govern the world, as man in turn was ruled by him. So we have: GOD – MAN – THE EARTH.

At this point at the beginning of the history of the human race, there was nothing in the world that was a threat to life because God took care of everything to ensure that it was a perfect environment, perfectly suited to human habitation. The name of the place that God prepared for the first man and woman was called the Garden of Eden.

In this place, fortune telling and feng shui and any of superstition would have been very out of place. You can imagine if Adam, the first man, had gone to the local Centre for Palmistry, Horoscopes and Tarot Reading to get his palm read, he’d always get the same reading: it’d be something like “a bright and wonderful future awaits you; have no fear and go ahead with what you have planned”.

That would be okay the first time, but after a while it would seem a bit pointless, because it’d always be the same reading – it’d always be good. That was the character of life as God created it to be: there was no “misfortune” or evil in the world at all. There was no death. There was no such thing as “bad feng shui”.

As long as mankind worked under God and in harmony with God, he could enjoy everything and live without fear. As long as he acknowledged God as God and himself as man – which would be seen in him obeying God’s word – then life would continue on in perfection.

Had God told them what to do? He certainly had: God said to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, have dominion over everything on earth. Take from any plant or tree for food.” There was only one thing that they were not to do: they were not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

I’ll read what God said to them from Genesis chapter 2 verse 16-17: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

That’s the Bible’s account of the beginning of the universe, this earth and the human race.

The Fall

The question we’d have after reading the first 2 chapters of the Bible is, “why is the world today so different from the way it’s described in these 2 chapters? If everything was created good, why is there misfortune and evil in the world today?”

Why does Lillian Too have a multi-million ringgit business and why does she sell as many books as she does?

The answer from the Bible is this: It’s because of The Fall. It’s because mankind chose to reject God in rebelling against him and in so doing, mankind brought upon himself God’s righteous judgment – that’s why the world is the way it is today.

If you look at Genesis chapter 3 verse 1-7, you’ll see what happened. Let me just read it through and then I’ll comment on what was happening:

[3:1] Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” [2] And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, [3] but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” [4] But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. [5] For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” [6] So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. [7] Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

What was going on here? Well first of all, it wasn’t about eating apples – sometimes that’s what people think Adam and Eve ate – but the Bible has nothing against apples – it doesn’t even mention them here. It was also wasn’t that they had sex – that’s also sometimes a wrong idea about the forbidden fruit – but sex is good and they did not sin against God by having sex.

What happened was that they were offered a view of reality based on lies about God and they chose to believe those lies. And their actions then followed suite from the lies that they had believed about God. So how did this happen?

The Devil, who took the form of the serpent, very subtly and cleverly distorted what God had said to make it look like God was less good than he really was. It started in the first question he asked Eve, where he portrayed God as somewhat of a killjoy, an over-controlling parent.

Eve didn’t do too well in answering him, because what she did was go beyond what God had said. Can you see that? God had said don’t eat it, but Eve went on to say “don’t even touch it!” This then progressed to the serpent denying outright the truth of what God had said. He said straight up: “No, you won’t die if you eat it. In fact the reason God told you not to eat it is because he wants to withhold something good from you: he wants to stop you from becoming like himself.”

The temptation of Adam and Eve was the temptation to grasp hold of independence from their Maker, to reject his rule over their lives, to seek to be morally autonomous, to be accountable to no one but themselves. In other words, they were offered the chance to be their own gods. This is what sin is.

This of course was not only deceitful as an offer to Adam and Eve because it wasn’t true, but it was also the greatest injustice and offense against the goodness, holiness and majesty of the Creator – the one who is truly God. It portrayed God as a petty killjoy whose word was untrustworthy and whose intentions were selfish and evil. In believing the lies about God and disobeying God’s word in eating the fruit, Adam and Eve set themselves against God in rejecting his rightful rule over their lives. They became sinners.

Judgement

The result of this rebellion was for mankind to come under God’s judgment and holy anger against sin: what the Bible calls his wrath.

Both man and woman came under God’s judgment, which began with the human race being cursed by God. In Genesis chapter 3 verse 16, after the serpent is cursed by God, the woman is cursed by God. God says to her:

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

What should have been the woman’s unique role and privilege would from then on become the arena in which she experienced the punishment for her rebellion. She would from then on suffer in giving birth to and bringing up children. The marriage relationship would no longer be joyful shared service unto God, but would become bittersweet: both a burden as well as a blessing.

Then to the man, God said:

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
[18] thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
[19] By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

Likewise for the man, the earth that should have yielded an abundance of crops for mankind’s nourishment and enjoyment would from then on become a difficult and dangerous place for mankind to struggle to survive in. This is what makes the world the way it is today – one where the aspects of life that are outside our control are to be feared.

The Fall also explains our constant failure in trying to influence the world and shape it to give us a better life: it’s because God has actually caused the world to be like this intentionally because he is judging us for our sin. A cursed world is just as much part of reality now as gravity is.

We are no different from the first human beings:

Knowing this, we might think that the solution for us is to get a new world, since this one is cursed and hostile. Maybe we could move to Mars and start all over again? Technology notwithstanding, that might work if we were righteous and sinless before God, but the reality is that we are no different from the first human beings – we are just as sinful as them – and that is the root of the problem that needs to be dealt with.

Israel’s failure

Let me give you an example of this from the history of the Israelite people. These people were chosen by God to be his special people, whom he would care for in a special way. Right at the founding of Israel as a nation, God gave them the 10 Commandments. The book of Deuteronomy, chapter 5 lists these commandments. Just after the 10 commandments, in verse 33, God gives them a spectacular promise:

[33] You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.

What God is saying is, “all you have to do is obey my word and you will live. Treat me as God and you will have no need to worry about your life at all: I will make you prosper. I, the God who created the universe, will take care of you.”

But, and there had to be a but, the history of Israel from then on was only repeated and catastrophic failure to keep God’s word. Try as they may, they couldn’t and didn’t obey God’s word.

Our failure

The Israelites were no different to Adam and Eve, and in fact neither are we. Just scan through the 10 Commandments in Deuteronomy 5 and you will see yourself how you have lived your whole life in rebellion against God.

God asks us to do ABC and we do XYZ. He says not to lie but we lie. Not to steal but we steal. Not to commit adultery but we are sexually deviant.

At the heart of it, we fail to treat God as God. Instead, we put other things in the place that only God should occupy. We give our worship, allegiance, admiration and love to something other than God.

For many of you, it’s prosperity that takes God’s place in your life. Your life is lived in pursuit of material wellbeing and pleasure. But we must ask: what’s more important – God who is the glorious creator, or the prosperity that is part of his good creation? Is it ever right to worship the gift instead of the one who gives the gift?

When your father gives you an ang pau, do you snatch it from his hand, tear it open, pull out the cash and start kissing the money? “Oh how I love you, my dear 50 ringgit note!” No right? You express your gratitude to the one who gave you the gift.

Sadly some people even think they can approach Christianity while still idolising prosperity. The message that they accept is the promise that if you become a Christian and love God, he will be good to you. And the reason they accept it is because they want the good life that it promises. But this isn’t Christianity! This is idolatry, because it tries to use God for selfish gain rather than worshipping God because he is God, whether or not this brings any personal gain.

Because we are no different from Adam and Eve, no different from Israel, we do not deserve prosperity or protection or the good life. What we deserve is to come under God’s judgment for how we have rebelled against him. And that is what we experience in the hardships of life today, even as we move through life towards death and final judgment.

If this were the end of the story, in which every one of us dies a condemned sinner and spends eternity in hell, this would be a completely just and fair ending.

A different man who doesn’t deserve to die

But let me tell you about a guy who was really quite different from us. His name was Jesus and he was different from us in 2 ways.

Different in power

First, he was different because he wasn’t at the mercy of his surroundings. He was in complete control of his environment.

You only need to read the first 6 chapters of Mark’s Gospel in the New Testament to see that this Jesus is really quite unique:

  • By simply speaking, he could cause evil spirits to come out of people who were being oppressed by them.
  • By his word, he could heal people who were diseased or deformed from birth.
  • He could even command the weather to change: he could calm a storm simply by speaking to it.
  • When there was a crowd of over 5000 people to be fed, he miraculously supplied food for them from only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish – 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish can’t even feed the people in this room, let alone 5000 plus people!

In this you can see just how different he was from us – he’s someone so powerful that even his words alone were enough to do miracles. He didn’t have to spin round and round, or cut himself, or sacrifice a chicken, or shout and scream – all he had to do was speak.

Different in sinlessness

As big a difference as that is, it’s not the biggest difference about him. What made him completely unique as a man was that he did not use any of his abilities for his own personal gain. Nothing he did was ever done for selfish reasons. He was without sin.

Think about what you would be tempted to do if you had his powers as I show you how he was different.

In Matthew’s Gospel, we’re told that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness where he was tempted by the Devil. The significance of this 40 day period is seen when you remember how the first man, Adam, failed when he was tempted and how God’s chosen people, the Israelites, also failed when they were tempted. The question is, “will this Jesus be any different – or will he be a chip off the old block of Adam and Israel?”

In the narrative of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had just had his identity as the Messiah – or promised Saviour – publicly confirmed. This Messiah was the one who had been promised to Israel as their Saviour, the one who would bring about God’s Kingdom on earth.

From what we’ve seen of Jesus’ power already, he would seem to be a good candidate for the job of ushering in a new kingdom. But the problem with this idea is that the Messiah that God promised to his people was spoken of as one who would come as a suffering servant, not a conquering king. He would defeat his enemies, but not by his might or power, but by weakness and suffering.

Just as it was with Adam and Eve, the Devil came to tempt to Jesus. We read of three temptations:

During the 40 days that Jesus had been in the wilderness, he had not been eating and so he was pretty hungry. The Devil came to him and first tempted him to take a shortcut through his testing in the wilderness by using his power to make bread for himself from stones. “If you are the Son of God,” the Devil said, “command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Next, the Devil took Jesus to the top of the temple in Jerusalem and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for God has promised to command his angels to protect you.” That sounded pretty legit, since the Devil was quoting Scripture. But what it really was, was a way for Jesus to take a shortcut to fame and popular appeal by doing a death-defying stunt in a public place, instead of walking the road of suffering and shame that God had called him to.

After that the Devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offered them to him if only he would fall down and worship him. Question: Had Jesus come to take back the kingdoms of the world from the Devil? He certainly had – and yet the way he was to do that was by his death on the cross, not by taking a shortcut and sinning against God.

In all three of the temptations Jesus had to choose between personal gratification and what he knew to be God’s will for him. In all three, unlike Adam, unlike Israel, and unlike us, he chose to follow God’s will in obedience to God’s word over and above his own gratification.

Why was he so different from us? Why didn’t he look out first for “number one”? Why didn’t he just do what would make life better for himself? I can’t give you the full answer now from the Bible, but fundamentally it was because he loved God more than he loved himself. He loved God with all his heart, mind and strength. He truly worshipped God.

And therefore, just as much as we deserve judgment and death from God for how we have treated him, this Jesus deserved life and blessing from God. He had done nothing to deserve death – and yet he died a criminal’s death by public execution on a cross. He didn’t deserve to die, but this Jesus nevertheless died. Our death is expected and completely logical: we deserve to die. But his death doesn’t make sense – why would one who was always in God’s good books die like that?

But he nevertheless dies

First, he doesn’t die because he is unable to prevent his death. He wasn’t an unwilling victim of the circumstances, neither was he unlucky in suffering an accidental death. In fact his unique ability to control the world around him meant that he could have prevented his death if he’d wanted to. If you read the accounts of Jesus’ life in the Bible, you will see that he was actually very intentional about going to his death on the cross. He made sure it would happen.

He did this because he knew that it was God’s will for him to die. That was the extent of his obedience and submission to God: he was obedient even to death! It was God’s plan that through Jesus’ death, God would save sinners from their sin and the judgment that they deserve. Jesus died to deal with the biggest problem we have: not primarily the problems we face in this life, but the problem that we have with God because of our sin. Jesus died in our place, so that we might live, even though we deserve to die.

Let me read a few verses from the Bible that summarise this for us. Romans chapter 5 verse 8-10:

[8] God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [9] Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath [holy anger] of God. [10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

What this tells us is that God, the loving creator and ruler of the world, reconciles his enemies to himself by Christ taking their punishment upon himself. Jesus dies in their place, so that they can be justified – made right – with God.

My friends, our greatest need, because we are sinners, is to be reconciled to God, and it is this need that was being met by God in sending his Son, Jesus to die on the cross.

And rises from the dead

And what did God do for his obedient Son? Was he abandoned to the grave after bearing the punishment for sin? Most definitely not, for on the third day after his death, God raised him to life again, giving him a new resurrection body, and exalting him to the position of greatest authority and honour. That is where Jesus is today: seated at the right hand of God, the reigning Lord over all of heaven and earth.

Conclusion and summary

You and I will always grasp for a better life. We will always seek to control our environment to ensure we have a favourable outcome in life. The problem is that although it is true that we were made to live in a perfect garden and enjoy a good life, we were also primarily made for God, to worship and love him. We were made to worship the creator, not the things he created.

As long as you continue to strive for a prosperous life for your own sake, or even if you become a “Christian” for your own sake, you still continue to put something else other than God in the place that he deserves in your life. You continue to rebel against God in having something else other than God as number one in your life.

This Chinese New Year, my call to you is to see the futility of any effort to make a better life for yourself that fails to take into account the real reason for why the world is the way it is: because of our sin and God’s judgment.

Instead, listen to God’s word that teaches you the truth about yourself as a sinner and what your greatest need is. Listen to God’s word and find true life: True life in turning away from your rebellion against God. True life in being reconciled to God by Jesus’ death for you. True life in acknowledging and submitting to the authority of the exalted Lord, Jesus Christ. Then you will have true life of the kind that Jesus had: a life of knowing God and living for him.

Prayer

I’m going to speak to God in prayer now. If you have been convicted of how you have sinned against God by rejecting him as your ruler and you have come to know of your need for Jesus to die in your place, please join me in praying this prayer:

Lord God, you are the creator who deserves all glory and honour and praise. I have come to see that my whole life has been lived in rebellion against you as I have lived in pursuit of my own desires instead of living to please you. Just like my ancestors Adam and Eve, I too deserve to die.

Thank you so much for sending Jesus to live a perfect life and die in my place to take the punishment for my sin. I now turn away from the life that I have been living in rebellion against you and trust in the reconciliation that you have accomplished by Jesus’ death.

You raised Jesus to life and he is now the Lord of all. Help me to daily grow in my knowledge of you and in my submission to Jesus Christ as Lord.

In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Posted on 19th February 2015