Monday, December 28, 2009

Reflections 2009 ( Two Words)

Reflections on the Year 2009 (Two Words)
I summarize this year with 2 words: Prepared and Stranger
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” (Matthew 24:6-8, NIV)
It has become a cliché every year: “It has been an eventful year.” People in business often say to each other, “We’ve been really busy.” Many others continue their non-stop engagement with bread and butter matters, from work expectations to family situations. For this last devotional of the year, let me take some time to briefly reflect over the major events and also to summarize some personal thoughts .

Some of the major news events of 2009 includes:
  • January 20th – Barack Obama becomes the 1st black President of the USA
  • February 7th – Bushfires hit Australia in one of the worst droughts there (Brisbane Times)
  • March – Financial markets hit a new low; Remember AIG?
  • April – North Korea continues to show aggressiveness as they test launch missiles
  • May – Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers surrender to government forces;
  • June – H1N1 fears start to rise on a global scale; Michael Jackson dies;
  • July – Rioting in XinJiang China
  • August – Two American journalists freed from China after former President Bill Clinton intervenes; Corazon Aquino and Edward Kennedy dies;
  • September – Typhoon in Philippines;
  • October 22nd – Launch of Microsoft Windows 7 operating system
  • November - Economic Turmoil in Dubai
  • December – Failed bombing attempt on a NorthWest Airlines flight
Reflections on a World of Unpreparedness
I ponder upon the question: Are these events really that new? Should we really be surprised when sensational events that appear unexpectedly should become a drama by itself? Perhaps, it is not the event itself, but our 'perception' of the timing of the event. In other words, the more *unprepared* we are, the more likely we will be spooked by bad news and be caught off-guard in surprise and bewilderment. Jesus said to us that we 'see to it that you are not alarmed.' Let us take heed.  My first point is, how deeply shocked we are, sometimes reflects not the events per se, but the state of UNPREPAREDNESS in our hearts.

For instance, before Michael Jackson's death, tabloids were splashing all kinds of scandals and drug problems encountered by the star. Once his death was announced, people throng music stores and sales of his records skyrocket. Even a lavish memorial service is held in his name. Why are people so shocked? People will die anyway. It is only a matter of time. Indeed, it is because we do not expect the king of pop to die so young, that causes us to be 'shocked.'

Sometimes, the shock becomes more acute the closer it is to us. While many of these events hit the news headlines, many hardly go beyond the mental level, until it hits home. When that happens, we will complain that the world do not really care, forgetting that we were once the 'world' that we are now pointing a finger at. Just think of the H1N1 scare. It is one thing to read about it on the papers. When one of our children gets it, our perception of it changes dramatically. I experienced it as well, as one of my neighbours' children got H1N1 one after the other.

In North America, it would seem like the year began with much promise and anticipation of change, with the election of a new American President. Yet, it ends with a tragic terrorist attempt to explode an American airplane out of the sky. The faces of leaders may be new, but the issues they have to tackle are old. Headlines wow the eyes, but seldom move the hearts and hands to do more beyond watching the TV, unless it hits closer to home. Let me suggest that in prayer, we learn to care for matters beyond our homes. In prayer, we will learn to do more besides watching and reading about them. In prayer, God reveals the actions that we can take. Prayer is a necessary step toward a prepared heart. Pray for the world. Pray for loved ones.
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7)
Reflections Closer to the Heart
I have close friends who have experienced loss of loved ones this year. One lost a child. Another lost a spouse. Others continue to struggle with health issues. Through the years, I have seen friends struggling with remembrance of loved ones on their death anniversaries. As I watch these people, frequently, the best I can do is to sit next to them to offer a loving hug and empathetic look. Sometimes, I offer to pray for them. I would meditate on God’s Word to ask for peace to be with them.

Personally, my life this year has been largely quiet. I like it that way. It is something I cherish, even though sometimes I wish that I was a little more famous, so that people will not ignore me. At the end of it all, I am simply a small petal in an ordinary flower, or an insignificant drop of water in the world wide ocean. I am not as compelling as I would like to think. I have learned lots this year, updating myself with technological developments, constantly adjusting my attitudes toward the social networking phenomena spearheaded by Facebook and Twitter, and blessed by the people in my ministry. My book reviews have received both bouquets of compliments as well as brickbats that includes abuses. I am learning what it means to depend more on God and to see his grace flowing through both my lack as well as my plenty. I continue to marvel at how my children have grown, in physical size as well as mental prowess. The greatest joy of a parent is to see one’s children learning to make sensible and responsible decisions without prompting. Gratefully, I can see my children learn to cope with any financial insecurity, by learning to trust that we, their parents trust God to provide for all their needs. Building emotional confidence is best done within an environment of faith, hope and love.

Reflections Summarized by Two Words
Preparation is the first key word for me this year 2009. News events around the world may be tumultuous. Local news such as tax increases, reduction in social benefits and changes to laws may affect our pockets, but we must not allow these things to decrease our hope. Jesus has already told us not to be surprised. In October this year, I have written about being prepared, so I will not elaborate much on this word, ‘prepared.’ My second word for the year is *STRANGER*.

I cannot help but suspect that one reason why many of us do not grow in our spiritual walk with God, is because He is a ‘stranger’ to us. The less time we spend with God, the more ‘strange’ he becomes to us. Perhaps, for the new year, as far as your relationship with God is concerned, move from ‘stranger’ to ‘friend’ and watch how God becomes more real in your life. My second point is: We pay less attention to people we call strangers. We tend to focus more on people we love, like family and friends. Thus, if we learn to see people as ‘neighbours’ rather than ‘strangers,’ this world will be much better off.

My Prayer for You
Many of my readers know me personally, either through personal emails or contact over the years. It is usually through this method of matching the face to the name, and the name to the essay that causes one to read a little more graciously, and a little more carefully. Those who do not know me as well, may not pay as much attention to me or my writings. That is simply being human. Put it another way, we tend to pay less attention to ‘strangers.’ Just like Christmas cards. The first thing we usually read is not the card but WHO sent the card.

For some of you on my subscription list, even though I have not personally met you, I would like you to know that you are no ‘stranger’ to me, for I pray for you. I may not know you personally, but I count it a privilege to remember you in my prayer. Out of this attitude flows a desire to treasure you in my heart, wherever you are. Even though I may not change the world dramatically, I can still do my share in my own small way. Sabbath Walk is one tiny way. Thank you for walking with me, and do let me pray for you.
“Our God in Heaven, we come before you helpless in many ways. From politics to economics, from weather calamities to human follies, you are constantly watching over all. Every word we speak. Every letter we type. Every thought we think. Every memory we cherish. You know them all. I pray for each name on my subscription list that you will help them maintain a state of preparedness to await your Second Coming of your glorious Son, Jesus. Keep them watchful. Keep them hopeful. Above all, allow them to love You like never before, for the coming year 2010 and beyond. Enable them to channel their heartfelt desires into fruitful works. Keep them aware that their love for You be translated into love for one another. I pray for all of us, especially my readers, that we learn to see people all over us, not as strangers to shun, but neighbours to embrace. In our own strength, it will be an impossible task. Thus we ask that YOU, empower us to do the seemingly impossible: Love God and neighbour. Begin with all their loved ones, that their love for spouse, children, siblings, parents, colleagues, and all. May the New Year be one that is filled with hope and strength to overcome. Help us all to remember, that with each pain & suffering we encounter, there are also triumphs over them. We long to see your ultimate triumph soon.  
Help us to be PREPARED at all times. Help us to learn to see people not as strangers but neighbours. May we all make a step away from the road of strangers, toward the path of friends. All these we ask in Jesus’ Name. Amen.”
May your New Year 2010 be filled with hope in your hearts, and a constant state of preparedness to spring into action a love for God and neighbour. If our world each day can be one stranger less, and one neighbour more, this world will indeed be changed.

Written by conrade yap

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Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org/ . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How to Unwrap Our Gift

TITLE: HOW TO UNWRAP OUR GIFT
Written by: Conrade Yap (22 Dec 2009) 
"Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms." (1 Peter 4:10)
This is Christmas week. Retailers cash in on the last minute shopping rush. Consumers dash to finish their last hour of buying. Parents queue up for the coolest toys. Children wait up in anticipation of wonderful gifts. It is season's greetings, with shouts of jingle bells to the ears, Christmas lightups to the eyes and with merriment all around. Carols fill the airwaves. Flashy ecards flood Internet screens. Merry making starts the day with continuous feasting and drinking through the night.

I like this time of the year, where people stinge a little less, to give a little more. Partly because it is time for humanity to come together. Partly because it is a time to slow down and reflect over the past year. The mood is pleasant. I am not alone to wish that everyday is like Christmas Day. As I look at Christmas trees and their decorations, I admire the nicely wrapped presents of different shapes and sizes. North Americans are really creative. Everything seems to revolve around family and get together with friends. It seems like the whole world is wrapping and giving away presents to all. It seems like many people wants to express their love and appreciation through giving and sharing. It is entirely appropriate that I do the same, using the gift of God to serve the children of God, that they too can serve others in the world, young and old, rich or poor, sad or glad, regardless of language, ethnicity and worldviews.


Unwrapping God's Gift to Us
How do we unwrap God's gift to us? We read in many parts of the Bible about gifts. Today's passage above is from Peter. It is an exhortation to Christians to continue to bring love, joy and peace to the world, especially among the communities around them. One question that continues to draw attention is about the 'Will of God' in our lives. It remains one of the most sought after topics at workshops and seminars in churches, Christian gatherings and teaching seminars. I remember how Christians I meet will raise this question over and over again. Many of them want to do good but are unsure how. Most of them desire to obey God but are not sure how. Many of them know they have a gift, but are not sure what it is. this article is written to help us get an idea of how to unwrap our gift.

I believe that God has given each of us a gift. We may have many talents, but most of the time, these talents stem from something more intrinsic, even hidden from us. In fact, the different skills, and talents that we have do not define who we are. The reverse instead is true. We all typically have one gift, many manifestations. Let me suggest my paradigm for discovering and for unwrapping the gift God has given us. I call it the G.I.F.T. When we can unwrap our GIFT, we will learn to cherish it, to use it for the glory of God.

The GIFT Paradigm
Through the years, I have been reading about the will of God. I am still learning and this represents a small part of what I have experienced and learned. A common argument made by many Christian authors is that we need not look very far to find the will of God. They all agree, that we find God's will with God's Word as a guide. Let me supply my simple guide to unwrap our gift, based on 1 Peter 4:10.

1) G = Generosity
In uncovering our gift, there is a sense of a desire to share, not simply for monetary sake, but for BOTH monetary and non-monetary means and ends. This means that it is not only when we are paid to do something, then we exercise our gifts. No! God's gift is freely given. Thus it should also be freely given away through a proper use of it. Frequently, the exercise of this gift is demonstrated by a desire to share it, and to joyfully use it for the benefit of others. Peter exhorts his disciples and hearers to use their gifts 'in serving one another.'

I remember when I start Sabbath Walk devotionals, one of the concerns is how do I compensate for the time spent for it. How do I justify the initial small outlay to create the website, buy the domain and maintain it weekly? There is no business plan. There are no financial means to justify the hours I put in to pray and to write our my thoughts. In fact, many times, a devotional sent out hardly gets any feedback at all. Not that I crave recognition or positive affirmation. Rather, if anyone were to measure the *success* of Sabbath Walk, if it was a company based on positive feedback or monetary returns, Sabbath Walk would have been a bankrupt company within the first 3 months. I want Sabbath Walk to be a channel to use my gift, to encourage the body of Christ, and to be a gift for the people of God.

In a nutshell, I believe God has been very generous with me. I acknowledge God's generosity with me, and want to be generous with God's gift. Sabbath Walk is essentially a gift that I joyfully and generously want to share with my family, my friends and all who know me or are getting to know me. I discover to my delight, that 'generosity' is the one aspect of unwrapping God's gift to us. We need not be coerced from the outside to be generous. True giving is always something that grows from the inside.

2) I = Innovative spirit
Secondly, we can recognize the gift we have by seeing how we desire to innovate and to be creative around it. People who recognize a gift never stays contented in just one version of it. They desire to use this gift to create different versions of it. Those with a desire to sing learns as wide as possible a repertoire of songs. They want to reach the potential of their voices. They want to communicate powerfully the emotions tied to any song. They want to share more of themselves through the music they belts out. In other words, they have a strong desire to innovate and to continue to do so all of their lives. They 'faithfully administer God's gifts in their various forms.'

I have been reading leadership materials and how some companies succeed and others not. One of the key factors between great companies and merely good companies is how they innovate. Companies that move from good to great are those that do not simply sit on the successes of yesterday. They innovate. Hewlett-Packard is one of them. When they were already successful in their measurements unit (now Agilent), engineers in HP Labs, (top class research division) created the world's first inkjet device. Unknown to them, this small invention were to spawn a multi-billion dollar printer industry, and launch a whole new era in printing. The dot-matrix ribbon printer leader at that time, Epson, was left wondering what happened to their business, even as HP skyrockets to become one of the computer industry's biggest innovation stories. We can all unwrap our gifts by recognizing the particular gift in us that makes us want to innovate.

3) F = Fervour
Thirdly, it is the heart that drives the hands to do the most wonderful things. In business, one of the core traits of entrepreneurs is passion. Without it, one cannot run the marathon of hard business dealings. Without passion, one can easily give up when the funds are low. Without passion, one easily complains and whines about life and how unfair the world is. Fervour is one of my favourite words, besides zeal. It is a way to unwrap our gift. In other words, the gift that we have within us, is most visible when we employ our resources to use them with fervour. We dream it when we are sleeping. We think of it when we are waking. We pray about it in our working. We ponder over it frequently in our leisure. Sometimes, we are so excited about it, that we unconsciously exercise it.

I believe I have the gift of teaching through writing, sometimes speaking. Even though my writing is imperfect, with grammatical errors and long-winded prose at times, I continue to press on despite negative comments even nasty words. Some of the feedback I get are crude and painful. Others border on the non-committal word called "interesting." Yet, these negative things not only do not discourage me, they spur me on to improve. They make me want to do better, and to do more. Failures are seen as learning opportunities. Like the famous inventor Edison, a failed attempt is not a bad thing. It shows us what *NOT* to do next time. With fervour, we can unwrap God's gift to us even more, each time we do it with passion, with love and with joy.

4) T = Thankfulness
Paul's words to the Thessalonians is to give thanks in everything (1 Thess 5:18). I think there is a deep spiritual benefit here. It is also theology powerfully put into practice each time we give thanks. When we give thanks, we acknowledge that what we have, is nothing but grace. In fact, the world runs on grace that we often take things for granted. The bus transit system runs on time. The TV news channel broadcasts at the set hour. The electricity and water flows according to our demands. I believe that each time we give thanks, we make this world a better place, beginning with our hearts. When we turn on the power switch, and give thanks, we show our appreciation for the power engineers, the people who make the electricity possible to us. When we go for a nice warm shower, and give thanks, we recognize how much we have been blessed by an efficient water distribution system. When we go to the restaurant, and pause to give thanks, we start to realize that the chefs, the decorations, the meticulous menu and the people working in the restaurant did not appear overnight, but has been painstakingly planned and prepared for our benefit.

This is the fourth aspect of GIFT that unwraps the gift in us. In fact, I will say that giving thanks enable us to unwrap our gifts over and over again, each time able to see a newer perspective of our gift. Some of my best writing moments flow out of a thankful heart. My words become seasoned with grace and gratitude. My sentences are bubbly. My thoughts are lively. Give thanks to the Lord, for he indeed is good.


Summary
In this electronic day and age, distance has been overcome by the Internet. Sharing takes on a whole new level, and the world is now much bigger than simply our small neighbourhood. Distance is no longer a big constraint. We can use our gifts to benefit more people more than ever before. Let me summarize the four aspects of unwrapping our gifts.


We unwrap our gift through eyes of generosity. For some of us it is volunteering our services free of charge, like serving as an usher in church, hospitality, or even simply greeting one another. It is generously done. We never stop giving.
Ask:What are the things we are generous with? What are we most willing to invest, regardless of benefits or cost?
We unwrap our gift through innovative hands. We look at it from different angles all the time. We have that strong desire to improve and do things differently. We never stop becoming creative.
Ask: What are the things that we constantly try to improve, even without others prompting us?
We unwrap our gift through fervour.
Ask: What is our passion in life? What makes us persevere on in both good and bad times?

We unwrap our gift through continual thanksgiving. May I humbly suggest, that we have already been given much, so let give thanks frequently. In doing so, our efforts at generous giving of ourselves, time and efforts, our innovative ways to exercise the gift, our fervour to use them, will take on a new dimension each day. In giving thanks, the unique gift in each of us becomes more evident in us, and through us. In giving thanks, we unwrap our G.I.F.T over and over again. Each time we do that, do not be surprised that love, joy and peace comes alongside this unwrapping.
Ask: How much do we appreciate God's grace to us? Much is given, much is required.

One more thing. Each of our unique gifts grows out of a common gift of faith through grace. Let us celebrate the greatest Gift of all to us: Christ. In fact, as I think of church and the community, I dream of the day where Christian believers unwrap each other's gifts in such a way and still able to say the following"
“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree is the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.” (quote attributed to Burton Hills)
Let me add. Let's wrap our gifts around each other, and together become a united gift for God. May his kingdom come, and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

From Sabbathwalk, have a blessed Christmas 2009!


sabbathwalk



Copyright by SabbathWalk 2009. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Preaching the Word in Word and Indeed

TITLE: Preach the Word in Word and Indeed
“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Tim 4:2, NIV)
I love to preach. Whenever the text is opened, there is an inexplicable joy and enthusiasm to dive in, to dig in, and to swim in the Scriptures. While I do not preach every week, I am constantly in a preparation mode. I read widely. I write. I reflect. I blog. For I believe in Paul’s exhortation to young Timothy above, to be ready in season and out of season. That is why when I am asked to preach, my preparation frequently leads me to 3 or more versions of a sermon. It can look like a 3-in-1 gift to the church. I like to see it as offering 3 different versions to God and pray that the Holy Spirit will lead and guide me to select the most appropriate version. Such a version needs to be the one that answers three needs; truthfulness of my heart, appropriate to the congregation, and glorifying to God.

This is no easy task. In fact, the key to preaching is not in a good pulpit performance but a humble heart. The pulpit ministry can become a great temptation to show off one’s oratory skills and public speaking capabilities. Sometimes, we can confuse the pulpit with motivational talks. No! The pulpit is far too sacred to be secularized. It is far too precious to be diluted into worldly stories and motivational speeches. Some preachers think that telling stories and getting people’s attention is far more important. Yet, preachers of the Word of God are not called to be Sunday entertainers, but worshipers. If one does not worship well, how can one preach well?

Bored on Sundays in a Culture of Entertainment
The word ‘worship’ has become so widely used that its meaning has been diluted. We use it for singing songs. We use it in our printed bulletins. We use it to symbolize a Sunday gathering. A lack of understanding of true worship, easily tempts us to equate worship with another program to satisfy self. We need to remind ourselves that in worship, it’s not about us. It’s all about God. It is about giving God the credit, and to learn to give thanks and praise to a worthy God. Like Matt Redman’s popular song,
It’s all about You, Jesus.” which brings us to a heart of worship.
Unfortunately for many, our listening ability has been sharply curtailed due to unhealthy expectations we carry over unwittingly from the TV/movies to the pulpit. Watching TV, Youtube on the Internet and movies, 7 days a week can inadvertently create in us an entertainment mentality. We then carry this with us even as we sit on the pews each Sunday. If the preacher tells a nice story, we sit up and listen. When the preacher goes to the hard task of deciphering the biblical languages, we yawn and doze off in boredom. Toward the end of the service, we wonder what happened. One of the common complaints I have heard is that preachers speak above one's head. My question, is it solely the preacher's fault?
A joke was told about a man who slept through a boring sermon. The preacher, feeling a little indignant decided to embarrass the man. So he asks all who wants to go to heaven to stand up. Everyone did except for the snoring man. As members of the congregation begins to sit, the preacher asks another question, “Those of you who thinks he will go to hell, please stand up.” The dazed man suddenly wakes up and said: “Pastor, I am not sure about what we are voting here, but it seems like only the two of us are in agreement.”
Anybody can tell stories and jokes, but not everyone can preach in a manner that leads all toward worship. The pulpit ministry is essentially a ministry to worship God by letting God’s word shine forth into the hearts of all, including the preacher. I will even venture to argue that in any preaching situation, the one most blessed is often the preacher himself or herself. From experience, the biggest challenge in preaching is not the sermon material but the heart. It is the preparation of the heart that is most difficult. It is the preparation of the heart that is most treacherous. It is the preparation of the heart that most accurately determines who we are worshiping on Sunday. It is the preparation of the heart that tells us whether we are working for God’s glory or the preacher’s own reputation.

I remember one sermon which I was particularly proud of. Having put in many hours to prepare, I printed them out and practiced many times including the hours leading up to the Sunday sermon time. At the end of the sermon, I felt empty. I felt like I have merely performed an act. I felt while I have delivered professionally, I have worshiped miserably. The feeling is terrible, that I dare attempt to grab what is rightfully God’s and to chase after positive affirmations and feedback from others, to call it mine.

At other times, I will faithfully prepare my sermon. Despite a weak delivery, I will feel glad and peaceful within, knowing that the Lord’s power is made perfect in my weakness. I love this situation, where I know for sure, that if the parishioners were blessed, it is definitely not my work, but the power of the Holy Spirit. This is a strange journey of a preacher. God has blessed me with a desire to preach, and to do so as faithfully as possible. Knowing my passion, He has even provided me a preaching mentor, Dr Haddon Robinson, previously named one of America’s Top Preachers. He is also my current doctoral dissertation advisor. I have benefited greatly simply by listening to his wise experience.

Preaching is not a Ministry but an Attitude
Some say that entering seminary is essentially learning to minister full-time in an official ministerial capacity. While true in some ways, I think it is far too narrow a perspective. Going into seminary or Bible schools is not simply preparing one to minister. It is simply a phase of one’s walk with God. One of my Regent professors, Dr Paul Stevens recently gave a talk in Singapore entitled “Why Theological Education Is Too Good To Be Reserved For Pastors,” Stevens argues that theological education is for everybody. He proposes the radical idea that ministry is never to be divided into laity and clergy. In the light of the people of God, doing ministry is essentially the people of God, ministering together to the people of God.

I share this same ethos. After all, I have spent 4 years at Regent College, still one of the best and rewarding years of all of my life. I have never learned so much, from so many people before. This leads me to believe that preaching is not so much a ministry, but an attitude. This interpretation is consistent with Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to preach the word in season and out of season. Some of us may not be called to pulpit preaching. Neither is everyone called to teach from the Word like a Bible school teacher. However, all are called to let their own Christian testimonies preach God’s Word in truth and in love. Let God’s Word shine through our thoughts, our words and our deeds.

What About the Lay?
As much as the preacher needs to come with a humble heart, the parishioners and church goer needs to play their part too. Below are some of my suggestions. I call it P.E.A.C.E of heart.
  • Be PURPOSEFUL in preparing our heart for worship. Know the limits of our bodies. Maybe, we need to begin on Saturday evening. How about sleeping early, and waking up early to pray?
  • Be EARLY in Church. Sometimes, our impatience and restless minds come from a harried morning rush, and a hurried soul. This makes worship of God hard, as one is still trying to calm down.
  • Be ATTENTIVE to the needs of family members or friends. As a father, I struggle with this, and at times have allowed my unhappiness over punctuality affect the worshiping mood of my family. The key is communicate one’s plans to family members early.
  • Be CAREFREE. In preparing a heart of worship, we need to let go of distractions. One way is to practice the Sabbath. For example, every Saturday night from 6pm to 6 pm the next day, I will go on a computer fast.
  • Be ENCOURAGING. When we get to Church, say thanks to the ushers, the musicians, the pastor or even the one preparing coffee. A word of encouragement not only makes these servants feel acknowledged, it makes them feel loved.
In summary, the ministry of preaching is an attitude that covers both the preacher and the listeners. Together, we can worship God in Spirit and in truth. Preach the word in season and out of season, to correct, to rebuke and to encourage one another in the Lord. If we do this, this will be the best worship we can give to God on any given Sunday.
"Worship changes the worshiper into the image of the One worshiped." (Jack Hayford)

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Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org/ . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Four Stages of Modern Pride

The Four Stages of Modern Pride (9 Dec 2009)

COMPETITION BUSYNESS FEAR INSECURITY SELF-ABSORPTION

"Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." (Prov 16:18)



One is not enough. Two does not quite cut it. Three is closer. Since my neighbour has four, I will shoot for five. These are ramblings of a competitive environment where people boldly go, desiring to be first, avoiding being last. Competition is good. It raises economic activities and lowers consumer prices. It spurs something in all of us. Do more; Earn more; Spend more; Get more, seem to be the four traits of the modern life. The economy thrives when businesses grow. This unwittingly breeds a kind of busyness that can become self-absorbing and narcissistic. What are we to do with busyness, fear, insecurity and self-absorption? Perhaps one way is to first do a spiritual diagnostic. Let me suggest the following 4-stage model, which I call the stages of modern pride.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Speaking Truth in Love

"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." (Ephesians 4:13)

Those of you who know me will see that I enjoy writing. Specifically, I enjoy writing to glorify God, and to let my writings be an edification for all who read them. I must admit. One of the purposes of my writing is for my own benefit, to let the words be a mirror to reflect myself. This may seem rather selfish. This seems rather egoistic. Yet, it is because I am aware of my own faults, that I write to see how God's grace has shaped me over the years. Am I learning to write more accurately and clearly? Am I true to what I have learnt? Am I faithful to the calling God has given me? Am I easily understood?

I have received my fair share of criticisms. Some have accused me of being too big-headed. Others think I am trying to show off. None of them are close to the truth. Rather, I believe that all of us must continue to learn. For a student, any unknown word is not a chance to throw potshots at the one using it, but an opportunity to improve one's vocabulary. For a teacher, there is a duty to use simple words, but also a calling to help readers grow in their learning and understanding. There are some concepts that only 'big words' can faithfully capture. For instance, if I simply stick to the English word 'love,' I will fail to appreciate that Greek has many words on love that the English language does not capture. Should I who knows the Greek, selfishly keep to myself, for the sake of keeping things simple? To do so, is not only bad stewardship on my part, but also a sad deprivation of the opportunity for others to learn. I will continue to do this, even at the risk of others calling me names like 'show-off,' 'boastful' etc. It is more important to obey God, than to be concerned about being offended. We need to meet in the middle, both teacher and student. Often, roles change too, with teacher learning from student and vice versa. Both cannot brush each other aside and walk off without truly understanding each other.

Writing is a tough vocation. Not only can it be lonely, it does not bring in much income, let alone any in the first place. During my visit to Baker Books publishing house in Grand Rapids, I remember hearing the General Editor, himself a Regent-College graduate share about the publishing industry. Publishers typically reject more than 90% of all manuscripts submitted. Many of them were returned to the prospecting authors unopened! The takeaway is this. Unless you are a famous speaker, popular pastor or has rich connections with the establishment, forget it. Your writings may be superb, even highly credible. However, if you are a nobody, forget it.

Why then do I still write? Why then do I persevere on to try to encourage readers, even when I feel discouraged by negative comments and feedback? Just this week, one of my blog pieces got criticized severely despite my most fair-minded review. I begin to wonder. Am I really that bad? Is freedom of speech limited only to giving nice cosy words about things around me? Probably not. The process of working to uphold truth in love does not necessarily mean others will do the same. At least, not in the same manner I expect.

Christlike Freedom
Peter Marshall, husband of the famous authoress, Catherine Marshall once preached a sermon about liberty. He says:
"For freedom is not the right to do as one pleases, but the opportunity to please to do what is right."
Speaking about the Founding Fathers of America, he continues:
"The Founding Fathers sought freedom. . .
not from law but freedom in law;
not freedom from government - but freedom in government;
not freedom from speech - but freedom in speech;
not freedom from the press - but freedom in the press;
not freedom from religion - but freedom in religion.
" (Peter Marshall)
I may not be American, but I certainly appreciate the way set forth by the vision of the American founders. May I add that Christian liberty is not the freedom to speak whatever we like but the freedom to restrain ourselves, to restore others, to reconcile with people, and to refresh one another in the Lord. This is what it means to have freedom. For the Christian, free speech is not saying anything that pleases yours or my ears. It is the willingness to speak the truth lovingly, in a manner that is Christlike. This calls for fairness. Jesus may be angry, but he shows tenderness. Jesus may have overturned the tables at the temple, but he shows us that he is willing to turn himself in to the authorities seeking to condemn him. For Jesus, speaking the truth in love comes with a heavy cost. As disciples of Christ, we should not be too surprised if our best intentions fall on deaf ears, or others persecuting us for what we stand for.

As for me, I do not know how long I can sustain my writings. It has cost my family and I much time and resources. While I will continue to offer my writings free of charge, pray for us that God will show us how he has provided and will continue to provide, as I exercise my vocation to write, to teach, to preach and to speak the truth in love. Whatever little we have, we offer it to the Lord. Whatever much we have, we offer it to his people. We are a servant to all, as part of our devotion to God. The great Reformer, Martin Luther once declared a paradoxical truth:
"A Christian is a free lord, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all.
" (Martin Luther)
I agree without reservation. That we may all grow up in Christ, in truth, in love and in giving glory to God. God alone. In God I write.

sabbathwalk
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