Welcome to Spiritual Advantage with Sam Stone. Do you know your success depends on three elements—Spiritual Advantage, Local Advantage, and Social Advantage?
You can learn to build Social Advantage and get a 33% chance to succeed. If you live in an advantageous location, you get another 33% (66% total). If you obtain Spiritual Advantage, you will accumulate a 99% chance of success.
Furthermore, evidence shows Spiritual Advantage can overwrite other disadvantages you may have. Therefore, seeking Spiritual Advantage must be your first priority.
Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Mat 6:33).
I am Rev. Dr. Samuel Stone. If you want to maximize your life and leadership and minimize your stress and anxiety, contact me for a free consultation.
You can reach me by tweeting me @SamuelStone, Instagram @rev.stone, or simply text me at 551-333-1133. Looking forward to talking with you!
Love is Not Authenticity
Here’s one of my favorite childhood folk tales:
A farmer went to the town to sell his produce and returned with a large pot of treasures. His family gathered around him to hear the story of his windfall of fortune. He said, “As I walked through the forest on my way back, I heard someone groaning in a cave. I entered the cave and saw a dying tiger with a massive infected wound on his arm.
“I had pity on him, so I used my first aid kit to bind his wound and gave him water to drink. Since it was getting dark, I stayed with him overnight. The next day, he got better and gave me this pot of treasures to express his gratitude.”
Feeling envious, his brother’s wife inquired about the cave’s location and asked her husband to find the place and try his luck. The next day, he went and found the cave. Surprisingly, he heard the tiger groaning inside, so he went in and saw the dying tiger just like his brother had told them.
He thought, “Yuck! My brother didn’t tell me that the wound was so stinky.” He reluctantly bound the wound, hoping to get the reward like his brother. He slept in the cave dreaming about returning home with a treasure pot. The next day, the tiger got better and ate him for breakfast.
This story is based on Taoist philosophy calling for multilayers of interpretations. On the surface, it teaches people that you cannot copy someone’s success by superficially duplicating what they do. At a deeper level, the elder brother’s action stems from his sincere love for the wounded and suffering. Motive matters!
Then if we reach even deeper, it teaches us that nature reads your motive and rewards your heart over your action.
Chinese adults tell fables like these to teach children to cultivate morality. However, for those who love to think deeper, these stories serve as tools for spiritual development, much like Jesus’ parables.
We can look at the story as a lesson on how love can transform nature. It’s natural for people to fear a tiger, and it’s natural for the tiger to eat a human. If we are authentic, we cannot naturally love our enemies. When Jesus asked us to love our enemies, he asked us to rise above authenticity.
The culture today glorifies authenticity. In the name of expressing themselves, they gratify their authentic feelings. They can be rude and say, “I am just being authentic.” Paul said, we are to tell the truth in love. Telling the truth sounds authentic, but without love, the truth becomes a weapon to hurt rather than to heal.
The Bible says that our authentic nature is a fallen nature. If I am authentic, I rather eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If we are authentic, we cannot love the way Jesus wants us to love. The way Jesus wants us to love is not transactional but transformational. It requires us to sacrifice our authenticity.
In the story, the younger brother is authentic. His love for the tiger is a pretense—a transactional deed. The tiger was also authentic when he ate the low-hanging fruit. His elder brother was not authentic. He went beyond his instinct to love the tiger. The tiger was not authentic when he rewarded his prey. Touched by love, he has risen above his authenticity.
In this week’s scripture lesson, Jesus gave us a new commandment to love one another. If you read the Old Testament, you would find that to love one another is not something new. So, why did Jesus call it a new commandment? He said this the night before he went to the cross, and he prayed that night:
“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Mat 26:39).
This prayer shows that if Jesus were authentic, he wouldn’t go to the cross—he would rather not drink this bitter cup. Yet, he went to the cross to fulfill God’s will—not his own will. Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done,” because God’s will is not just a high road but a higher road that requires us to rise above authenticity.
Preach to the Choir
I’ve discovered that preaching to the choir is one of the best ways to free yourself from stress. I know preaching to the choir has a negative connotation because it means you are trying to convince someone who is already convinced, thus wasting your time and energy.
However, contrary to the conventional wisdom, Jesus wants us to preach only to the choir when he says, “feed my sheep.” That means he has already chosen an audience for you to serve. He wants you to focus on the sheep, not the goats or pigs.
The opposite of preaching to the choir is “throwing pearls to the pigs.” Jesus said if you throw pearls to the pigs, they do not only unappreciative of your pearls but also attack you for giving them. That would be a formula for stress. How many of us try to feed the pigs and not the sheep?
In his book “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us,” Seth Godin presents the idea that each of us has a tribe waiting for us to lead. A tribe is like a flock connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. Our life is best used and meaningful when we find our tribe and serve them.
Godin asserts that your tribe is waiting for you to lead them. The problem is, how do you identify and find your tribe so that you don’t waste your lives on unfruitful enterprises? Don’t waste your life whistling in the wind. God has a target market for you to distribute your pearls.
I know, out of kindness, we don’t want to leave anyone out. We want to feed every animal, not just the sheep. We want to force-feed the pigs with pearls and complain about fruitlessness. Elbert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Let’s be wise.
The good news is that Jesus has taught us how to find the flock so that we can be fruitful by preaching to the choir and not wasting our lives throwing pearls to the pigs. So, let’s explore from today’s scripture lesson how to identify the flock we are called to serve. Let’s begin!
Your Life Purpose according to the Risen Lord
When I was living in San Francisco, my pastor took me on a fishing trip in Monterey Bay. We rented a boat, drove to the deep sea early in the morning, and dropped our lines. The sunrise was breathtakingly beautiful, seeing from the boat rocking in the glittering ocean as we waited for the fish to bite.
Soon I caught something weighty, but after reeling in, it turned out to be a giant Pacific octopus. It looked pretty scary and gooey as I had never seen a live one so up close, and I knew nothing about octopuses except in a thriller movie. We unhooked it immediately and dropped it back into the ocean.
Later I learned that they are pretty friendly to humans. Their eyes can see you and even remember you. They have nine brains. Can you believe that? Unfortunately, soon I became seasick and threw up nonstop. I felt sorry that the trip was cut short because of me. That was my first and only ocean fishing experience. Some fishermen told me fishing was an active meditation.
After Jesus’ resurrection and a week-long festival of Passover, the disciples returned to Galilee from Jerusalem. They had received the Holy Spirit through Jesus’ breath (which we discussed in my last week’s message). Not knowing what to do next, Peter was restless as usual. So, he decided to go fishing. Six other disciples that were with him followed him.
Many interpreters treated it as if they had returned to their old profession, but it doesn’t make sense since they just saw the risen Christ. Their spirit was high. I believe Peter went fishing not to return to his old fishing business but for the opportunity to talk with Jesus about his future, his calling, and his life purpose.
Fishing was their active prayer, meditation, and contemplation. You could do the same using any art form—painting, music, gardening, photography, or arts and crafts—as a form of prayer, meditation, or contemplation. For me, it’s photography.
The good news is Jesus showed up after the daybreak, and Peter received his higher calling. In fact, we can all learn a lot about our life purpose from this epilogue of John’s Gospel. Let’s begin!
Breathe the Holy Spirit and Do Greater Things
I learned something fascinating this week about crocodiles. Do you know that crocodiles are conscious breathers? Unlike human beings, they cannot breathe when they are unconscious. That means you cannot sedate them. The moment they lose consciousness, they stop breathing and soon die.
Since crocodiles can’t breathe when they are unconscious, they can’t sleep because if they fall asleep, they die. Then, how do they sleep? Crocodiles are also known as unihemispheric sleepers. That means only half of their brain goes to sleep taking turns. So, they are only half asleep when they do sleep so that they can keep breathing. It’s fascinating, isn’t it?
Along the line, I learned that human beings are unconscious breathers. That means we breathe without awareness—we can be asleep and still breathe, or sedated and still breathe. That makes me think about a lot of things we do unconsciously, such as our digestive system working without our consciousness. Our digestives system involves thousands of parts and procedures. That alone is already mind-boggling.
In fact, human consciousness is only the tip of the iceberg. We think our brain is only inside our heads, but our digestive system has its own brain. Our heart also has its own brain, and that’s why it can continue to function even after the brain is dead. If our entire body relies on our head-brain to function, it will be overheated and fried.
Like the iceberg underneath the surface, our subconscious mind is much larger and more powerful than our conscious mind. What’s even more fascinating is that we can tap into our subconscious minds. It’s both fascinating and frustrating because how do we tap into the subconscious mind if it is subconscious?
Before Jesus went to the cross, he told the disciples that he was going to the Father, and they will continue his mission on earth, and that they would do greater things than he did. Have you ever thought about doing greater things than Jesus did? Jesus expects you to be superhuman, but how? He said that he would send us the Holy Spirit to empower us to accomplish it.
Of course, Jesus was not talking about that we would be more powerful than him, but he meant that since we have more time on earth and more numerous, we have more opportunities to accomplish more than he did.
Now, after the resurrection, Jesus gave his disciples what he promised—the power of the Holy Spirit to do the greater things. The question is, how do we harness the power? The good news is that Jesus gave us a clue as to how we can interface with the Head Office. That’s through our breath.
This message is vital because, without the power of the Holy Spirit, we are helplessly struggling and swimming in this sea of suffering like other humans. Since we have the Great Commission to fulfill to make this world a better place, we cannot ignore the power of the Holy Spirit. So, let’s begin!
EASTER: What We Don’t Know
Do you know how smart you are? Recently, I came across a research study called “Dunning-Kruger Effect,” which is about the cognitive bias whereby people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. It means those who are less intelligent tend to believe they are smarter than others. It humbles me because it makes me realize that I am not that smart at all. What a discovery!
It began with a bank robbery case in Pittsburgh in 1995, where this man robbed two banks in a row in broad daylight without even covering his face. He learned from somewhere that if you wear lemon juice on your face, the security camera could not capture his face. So, when the police showed him the video from the surveillance cameras, he couldn’t believe it was real. He thought it was a setup, saying, “It’s impossible. I wore the juice.”
You might have heard about that case. The stupidity of that bank robber triggered the curiosity of social psychologists to study how people evaluate their own intelligence. Professors David Dunning and Justin Kruger published their discovery in 1999, and that’s why it’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect.
The research found that most people overestimate their abilities and think they are above average, but their test scores prove far lower than they assumed. The researchers say that way to overcome stupidity is to gain more knowledge because the more you learn, the more you discover that you know so little.
The key concept is “We know what we know, but we don’t know what we don’t know.” It’s more profound than it sounds. For example, if I have read 100 books. I know my knowledge is within these 100 books. So, I know what I know. But I don’t know how many books are still there to learn. It could be thousands or even millions. So, I don’t know what I don’t know.
The difference is that smart people have discovered that their ability is like a drop of water in a vast ocean. Stupid people think their ability is like 80% of water in a small teacup. They think they just need to learn a little bit more to know everything.
When you reach the point of humility to be able to say, “I don’t know what I don’t know,” you are getting pretty smart.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the theologian who plotted to assassinate Hitler, wrote a famous stupidity theory. He said that stupidity is more dangerous than evil. We can expose evil and find a way to confront it, but we are defenseless when dealing with a stupid person. We cannot reason with them or convince them, and they can be senseless and dangerous.
When Jesus was on the cross, he prayed to God, saying,
“Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34c).
This prayer indicates that their problem is not innocent but ignorant. Ignorance is so dangerous that it could put innocent people on the cross. All the research studies show arrogance is the root of ignorance. The foundation of wisdom is humility.
In that case, Easter humbles us significantly because it opens a can of worms by broadening our sphere of “we don’t know what we don’t know.” It reveals that what we don’t know is not just here and now but also an eternity to discover. Someone said, “I feel my brain expand as I think about Easter.” It’s a great metaphor.
We read about how Easter changed the lives of a group of simple-minded disciples and turned them from zeros to heroes. If we look at history, the message of Easter expanded the intelligence and imagination of the believers for two thousand years and advanced human civilization beyond limits.
So, today, let’s explore how Easter makes us feel like a drop of water in a vast ocean and how such humility expands our IQ, EQ, and SQ—our Intelligent Quotient, Emotional Quotient, and Spiritual Quotient. Let’s begin!
The Prodigal Disciples
This week is the first Holy Week in three years that we are able to gather for worship in person. After more than two turbulent years of the prolonged pandemic, I am sure we all have a new appreciation of life, health, well-being, relationship, and worship.
Jesus said that he came so that we may have life and have it to the fullest. How do we live life to the fullest in this fallen and broken world? King Solomon said there’s nothing new under the sun, and he urged us to obtain the wisdom from the past to face the present and prepare for the future.
When we look at the entire Bible and the whole teaching of Jesus Christ, we discover that God expects us to become prodigal sons and daughters expressing extravagant love, grace, and joy because that’s the only way to live your life to the fullest. Paul wrote from his prison cell to the Christians:
“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4).
These are the words of wisdom from a man persecuted, chained, and imprisoned, waiting for execution. He used to belong to the elites and intellectuals who persecuted Christians until the extravagant grace of Jesus Christ touched him and enlightened him with a more profound meaning of life.
Two weeks ago, we talked about God as the Prodigal Father who expressed his extravagant grace to humanity, not even sparing his only Son to come on earth and die for us. Last week, we talked about the Prodigal Daughter, exemplified by Mary’s extravagant devotion to Jesus Christ.
In today’s scripture lesson, we discover Jesus expects us to become Prodigal Disciples, extravagantly glorifying Jesus Christ despite the threats of persecution by the authority. The fact that Jesus approved their jubilant behavior means that’s the life Jesus wants them to live—shining bright in the darkness.
Today is known by three different names: Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday, and the Sixth Sunday in Lent. It’s a day of complex emotions—high, low, and suspense. The Holy Week is the culmination of what Jesus prepared himself in the wilderness with his forty days of fasting and passing the tests of his IQ, EQ, and SQ—Intelligent Quotient, Emotional Quotient, and Spiritual Quotient to handle the challenge of this holy week.
Can you imagine the scene of Jesus entering Jerusalem jubilantly, knowing he was about to die? Having been warned many times, the disciples also knew Jesus was in danger. Yet, they didn’t let their fear overcome their opportunity to celebrate like prodigal disciples.
Jesus teaches us to live by the non-anxious presence in this anxious world. The jubilance of Palm Sunday should be our way of life despite the imminent dangers. Jesus has told us in other parts of his teachings that the worse is yet to come, but we must be jubilant no matter how dark the world turns. How?
From today’s scripture lesson, let’s learn how to become Prodigal Disciples exuding extravagant love, grace, and jubilance in this anxious and broken world? So, let’s begin!