Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Searching for Meaning

TITLE: Searching for Meaning
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 28 Dec 2010

To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the reply of the tongue. “ (Prov 16:1)

MAIN POINT: Four Positive Learnings from the Year 2010. Four ways to find meaning through the past year.

For the past 10 years, I have used the last week each year to do an annual reflection of my own life. This year is no different. In fact, when I told my senior pastor about my intention to take a personal reflective retreat, he invited me to preach about it. Last year, I declined so that I can be with my family down at Seattle for the New Year street party bash. This year, I thought I should accept the challenge. My reflection this year is essentially a search for meaning.


I have been writing SabbathWalk for the past 2 years, and it has been very helpful as I take a day a week to simply share my spiritual journey, a process of ‘Sabbathing.’ As part of my doctoral thesis, I want to use this SabbathWalk to encourage my readers to take the Sabbath seriously. God created the world in six days, and he rested on the seventh. Should we as his creation not do the same?

Searching for Meaning
In one Bible Study recently, I shared with my group the need to beware of the 3Ms in modern society. The first is the temptation of Money/Materialism. This age-old threat continues to wreak havoc on the spiritual lives of many, replacing the need for God with the wants of materialism. The second is the threat of ‘Me-ism,’ where individualistic concerns overwhelm community care. The third M is basically the threat of Multiplicity, which I describe as a dizzy array of distractions from technology, busyness, and all manner of care and concerns. In our modern world, it is this third M that is a major threat to our spirituality. We cannot find meaning in any of the 3 Ms. Meaning can only be understood through the Word of God. Meaning cannot be found in Money, or self-fulfilment via Me-ism, or the huge array of multiple distractions in technology, business, or knowledge. While these 3Ms are stuff I want to avoid, there are four things I want to embrace.

1) Wise Up
We need to learn wisdom each year. This year, like many others has their share of ups and downs. accomplishments as well as mistakes, the important thing is that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. When we learn from mistakes, we will benefit from the past. 

My year began with an unwitting foray in a consulting business started by a friend. I was invited to provide some business expertise, even being offered promises of a share in the enterprise. The owner is a believer in Christ, and has tried to offer me a way to use my talents. What began with promise ended quite mysteriously. Without warning, I was dropped. I was left to wonder why.

I learn that I need to wise up, regarding trusting people. In business, even among believers, things do not always work out. There is no need to mourn over a failed business relationship. Indeed, man may plan out, but the meaning behind each plan comes from the LORD.

Though I was hurt by the whole arrangement, I learn that I need to re-focus on my core skills, and not be distracted by failure. Learning from failed business relationships teaches first-hand how messed up the world is. What we plan does not always come out the way we wanted. Christ didn’t say that Christian businesses all become 'successful'  but for believers to be faithful. Wise up but press on.

2) Give Out
My giving has not been regular since I began my theological journey. After all, if I have no income, how can I tithe? While I have given the Church a substantial amount of time and talent, serving in many different ways, and offering hospitality to visitors and friends, there is still something very unique about monetary giving. Recently, I re-started my tithing, and it has re-energized my faith. I learn that giving is an act of faith and worship.

Earlier this month, I decide to forego my purchase of a new electronic gadget upgrade. The money saved goes directly into giving to a needy cause. Instead of building up my collection of technological toys, perhaps, the money can encourage someone who needs the money more. After issuing the payment to this charity, a few weeks later, I received a gift card from someone else. Issued in my name, it is an EXACT amount that I had given away. What is particularly intriguing is not only the amount but the manner in which I feel God is speaking to me.

I learn that we express our faith through giving. When we practice giving, God is pleased, and He will encourage us in very unique ways. Giving is an act of worship, and it should be a mark of every disciple of Christ.

3) Learn Within
Soren Kierkegaard once said:
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."

This insight is so applicable when we reflect upon our lives. For me, the past year has been full of goodbyes. A member of my Church describes it well when he talks about attending 5 funerals over 3 weeks. It reminds me that I am not getting any younger. When I look at my children, my nieces and nephews, I cannot help but feel a sense of getting old. My father passed away few months ago. As the eldest son, I have a heightened awareness of responsibilities. I remember the words of my father that my family is not one that should seek fame and fortune. How precious these words are. In fact, it is very Christian.

I learn to be glad about living a quiet life. There is no need to seek fame or great fortune. More often than not, if it is the Lord’s will, fame and fortune will seek us. For me, seeking Christ must remain first and foremost.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

I should not be discouraged when the things I do are not recognized for fame, or paid back in terms of fortune. Instead, what I do for Christ, I need to learn not to expect earthly returns, but heavenly accumulation of Christlikeness.

4) Gratitude Always
Finally, I thank God for a year. For all its beauty and ugliness, its hello’s and goodbyes, its joys and its sorrows, this is the same world that God loves so much. He comforts me when I am sad. He remains my anchor of hope when all things seem to be at the mercy of the winds going out of control.

I give thanks for the group of men faithfully meeting in my Church. They came out strongly each fortnight to study the book of Job. While not everyone attends, the enthusiasm of those who are present are contagious. I give thanks for the small group of faithful readers to this blog, and for those who regularly encourage me in my writing. I give thanks for my family and friends who are there for me in my darkest moments.

I learn to be grateful for those who are present, and are faithful, and not be distracted or discouraged by those who are absent.

Closing Words
Let me end the year with a prayer.

“Dear heavenly Father,
Thank you for Your faithful guidance through the year. You have taught me to wise up and to learn from mistakes. You showed me that wisdom is often learned in hard and challenging times. You taught me about giving. You showed me what it means to be reflective upon the cause of Christ, and the cost of following Jesus. Despite the ups and downs of the year, you call me to remain faithful and thankful. True meaning can only be found in You alone. Lead me away from temptations, of materialism, of Me-ism and of Multiple distractions in life. Give me what I need. Not too much or too little. Just enough.
Help me to learn that Your will is for me to learn to attain wisdom, to give and share of my gifts, to reflect on your goodness, and to be thankful. Within each of these ways are precious glimpses of You as a Person. May the New Year be filled with more opportunities to learn from You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.“
Sabbathwalk wishes all readers a Meaningful New Year.


Thought: While it is said that "Man proposes, God disposes," perhaps the following is better. "Man may plan , God always has a better plan."


sabbathwalk


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 21, 2010

What Should Christians Do With "Santa Claus?"

Title: What Should Christians Make of Santa Claus?
Author: Conrade Yap
Date: 22 Dec 2010

MAIN POINT: Christians need not blast 'Santa Claus' away with theological cannons. Joining in the celebration with non-Christians does not necessarily mean a Christian 'believes' or worships Santa. They can participate in good Christmas fun without compromising their faith. They can point others toward the more important things in life. They can display the grace of Jesus in giving and forgiving.

"Do you believe in Santa Claus?"

Movies like "Miracle on 34th Street," "Call Me Mrs Claus," and "The Santa Claus Suit" all direct viewers toward a belief in Santa Claus. Every Christmas, the story repeats itself. Christmas time is synonymous with Santa Claus time. Greetings of "Happy Holidays" are fast replacing "Merry Christmas." In secular societies, modern Christmas songs about Santa Claus rival traditional Christmas carols about Jesus. Here is a short list:

- "Santa Claus is coming to town;"
- "I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus."
- "Here comes Santa Claus."
- "Santa Baby."
- "Hey Santa!"

If we include the songs surrounding Christmas trees and symbols surrounding Santa Claus sleigh, animals and all, the list is even longer.
- "Jingle Bells"
- "O Christmas tree"
- "Deck the Halls.."
...

Maybe it is because marketers are trying to create some kind of a Christmas spirit for people to join in the shopping frenzy. Maybe it is to make children happy, and make the child in each of us, happy too. Each December, practically all TV stations will be screening movies with Christmas themes behind them. No doubt, newer and snappier shows about Santa Claus are outstripping older and more traditional themes on Jesus and Christianity. For Christians, what are we to make of Santa Claus? How should Christians respond to the increased secularization of Christmas?

Unfortunately, some Christians take the wrong extreme. On one end, some Christians have gone on the offensive each year, attacking 'Santa Claus' as satanic or myth. On the other end, others have become so clueless about the Christmas story themselves that they know St Nicholas and the reindeer more than the birth of Jesus! Christians can celebrate Christmas amid the flood of red-nosed reindeers or over-sized fellows in red costumes.

Whether we like it or not, the world we live in is not going to give the traditional Christmas message any bigger stage than what they give Santa. If Christians dismiss Santa Claus too quickly, we may miss the hopes and joys secular people attach to them. Worse, they may not even take Christians seriously anymore, seeing them more as killjoys rather than Jesus' disciples. Christians need to adopt a more open approach. They need not be too combative about Santa Claus and the rising consumerism surrounding Christmas. Instead, they can co-exist with these images without allowing themselves to be absorbed into them. How can we do that?

I have three brief responses to suggest to you my readers. In all these responses, we can still join in the festive mood without becoming grouchy about the commercialization of Christmas. We can participate in common goodness without dismissing the heart of giving. We may disagree with the costume and the character, but we can surely agree about the spirit of giving and receiving. While many shows and commercials parade products and things as gifts, perhaps Christians can see Christmas time as an opportunity to showcase and redirect people toward the greater gifts.

1) Join in the Spirit of Giving
Christmas is indeed a time for giving and sharing. The 'Santa Claus' symbol tends to disarm people into a free spirit of giving and receiving. The Ho-Ho-Ho syndrome gives people an opportunity to hang loose and relax. I know of many companies that organize year end parties and Christmas lunches. Rather than avoiding these 'secular' events for more religious types, I think it is important for Christians to remain involved in their marketplace, regardless of the Santa Claus images. Celebrating the occasion without mentioning Jesus literally, does not mean Christians are not witnessing for Christ in the marketplace. In fact, if Christians participate with open hearts, people will welcome Christians more. Do unto others what we want others to do unto us. If others see Christians accepting non-Christians for who they are, non-Christians will accept Christians for who they are. Christians can still join in the giving atmosphere without compromising their faith.

2) Guide Toward Desire the Greater Things
Kids have been conditioned to expect presents. The taller the kid grows, the taller the expectations. We may even dismiss some of the modern expectations as overly materialistic. This attachment to things will not change overnight. There is not going to be an immediate paradigm shift under normal circumstances. However, Christians can still be tactful about directing people's attention toward the greater things.
"But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33) 

What about asking for things as follows; the greater gifts. I want the following:
- "I ask to be a peacemaker on earth and to do goodwill to men."
- "I ask to be a part of the solution instead of part of the problem."
- "I ask to contribute toward reducing poverty, world hunger, and the underprivileged in society."
- "I ask goodness and mercy to flow from me among the communities I interact with."
- "I ask to play a part in fair play and justice in society."
- "I ask for the gift of love, joy and peace that I can share with the world around me."
- "I ask for boldness, courage and faith to be willing to do all of the above, with God enabling me."

As Christians in the marketplace, after gaining the confidence and the friendship with non-Christians, we can become more credible witnesses to win an opportunity to point people toward good works. Hopefully, in the process, they will catch a glimpse of Jesus through us.

3) Forgiving
Relationships remain a key fabric of society. In our emotional roller-coaster ride, the heart is constantly in motion. It is not easy for two persons to be in sync with each other every time they meet. A lot of grace is needed to understand. A lot of space is required for people to be rightly understood. When in doubt, forgive. When misunderstood, give others the benefit of the doubt. Christians can lead the way in doing all of these in their Christian witness. The question: "What does it mean to be human?" applies to all people. While the world remains fixated on things and material gifts that they can grab, Christians can choose to fix their minds on things that matter more to God.

"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32) 

In summary, Christians should not dismiss the notion of Santa Claus. After all, most secular people know that Santa Claus is more myth than anything else. Let me summarize the three key points. Firstly, they may not even place Santa Claus on a higher plane in the first place. Hence, Christians need not be too offended, and are free to join in the decent fun, with or without the plump man in Red suit. Secondly, Christians are in an excellent position to point non-Christians toward the more important things in life. Since people are already in a spirit of giving, why not suggest them to give toward the greater gifts, and perhaps the Giver of all good gifts? Thirdly, the mark of the Christian is demonstrated by an attitude of grace and forgiveness. This single factor is perhaps the most powerful witness any Christian can be.

May this Christmas period, with or without Santa Claus, be another opportunity to demonstrate the spirit of Jesus in all that we do. In our hearts, we know that Santa Claus is no competition to Jesus, for the day will come when all the world's santas will bow their knees to the Son of God.


Sabbathwalk wishes all readers a Blessed Christmas.


sabbathwalk


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.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Dual-Hearted Christmas

Title: A Dual-Hearted Christmas
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 16 Dec 2010

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4)

MAIN POINT: We can still celebrate Christmas, even when we are grieving over the loss of a loved one. The key lies in hope. What about living bold fruitful lives ourselves, and let this be our Christmas gift to them, our loved ones who have passed away?

As we near the end of the year, I cannot help but detect a deep sense of heaviness among many of my Church members. News of people getting sick comes unabated. Some have cancer. Others have a terminal illness. Yet, a number of people are grappling with the loss of loved ones. If there is one word I can use to describe the mood as we approach the festive Christmas season, it is the word ‘heavy.’ Bad news, accidents, sickness, cancer, retrenchment, death and dying are all potent ingredients to produce a heavy heart. One friend I know has to fly back home to be with a beloved who is dying. Her work is known to be especially tough and busy toward the end of December. Asked why she is able to leave all of these, the answer is simple.
Work can always be delegated to others. Work opportunities always have a future possibility. Money can always be earned back. However, there is only one life. Once that life is gone, it cannot be delegated or recovered from the grave.

How true it is. I feel for Church members who are experiencing a particularly tough December. Missing loved ones is already tough in itself. Having to remember their death anniversaries smack in the middle of a fiesty December party atmosphere traps one’s inner being into a state of confusion.

  • Is it ok to party?
  • Is it right to celebrate anything at all?
  • How do I celebrate the birth of Christ, in the light of the remembrance of the deaths of loved ones?

1) Heavy-Heartedness
Simply put, the question to ask is: “Is it possible to see hope in the midst of a discouraged or depressed mood?” The quick answer is “Yes. It is possible.” An unknown writer once said:
Hope is grief’s best music.” (source unknown)
If the death of a loved one marks the beginning, and joy of seeing them eventually being the end of the journey, hope is the fuel that sustains one through the journey of grief. It is possible, even necessary to maintain hope in any situation. Without hope, there is no effective living, only persistent moaning. Without hope, one resembles a baby crying over spilt milk. Without hope, when a person dies, the rest of the family dies with him/her. Without hope, a heavy heart throws endless burdens on a tormented soul.

One couple I know has recently lost their daughter. Each time they see the belongings of their deceased sweetheart, they break down in tears. December is their daughter’s Anniversary month. The only way out seems to be a constant barrage of activities and work so as to drown out the voices of sorrow and the remembrance of pain. During times like these, they need encouragement, not reprimand. They need understanding, not unsolicited advice. Grieving is not a problem to be solved, but an emotion to be recognized and accepted. Yet, it is possible to find some light in a darkened mood of heaviness. Let me suggest a two-pronged approach toward trying to recover hope when we have lost loved ones.

2) STEP ONE: Detachment from False Hopes
Firstly, suffering from loss and the remembrance of it, teaches us in a real way that the things of this world is not as important as we hold them out to be. Marcia Ford writes:
People who have suffered loss often learn to hold on lightly to what they have because they’ve experienced the reality of losing loved ones and possessions and opportunities in a heartbeat.” (Marcia Ford, Finding Hope, Vermont: Skylight Paths, 2007, p31)
I call this first step a ‘detachment’ from false hopes. I remember doing a new coat of paint for a friend’s house. The first thing is to get rid of the old layers of unwanted paint by scraping it out as much as possible. Imagine painting over uneven patches of paint on the wall. It would make the new wall and the new coat of paint even more uneven. By removing the old paint, we essentially prepare the wall for a fresh coat of paint. When we lose loved ones, at least, it should remind us that we too are mortal beings. We need to spend whatever available years we have to invest in activities that matter, that are more important. How tragic will it be for a person on his death bed to spend more time regretting for things he has not done instead of giving thanks for has been done.

3) STEP TWO: Re-attach to True Hope
Detaching ourselves from false hope itself is not enough. When we clear out a room of rubbish, what is there to make sure we do not fill it again with unwanted stuff, or more rubbish? If the first step is to dissociate ourselves from the materialism of this world, the second step is to ATTACH ourselves to the hope that is out of this world. Ford urges us to consider the word: “eventually.” Just think of the following by beginning with this word. EVENTUALLY: _____

  • “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes;”
  • “There will be no more death, or sorrow, nor crying.”
  • “There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
  • “Things will get better.”
  • “Truth will triumph.”
  • “Justice will prevail forever.”

There is much wisdom to learn from the loss of loved ones. Such wisdom can also draw out hope for us. The Anglican priest, Martin Israel, explains:
In this strange life we grow through adversity rather than through success. The greatest lessons we have to learn are those concerned with loss, not gain.” (Martin Israel, The Pain that Heals)
How true it is. Our learning senses are heightened during times of failure and loss instead of success and gain. I think of how fast successful sports teams fall the next year, after winning the championship. It makes winning the prize the easy part, and sustaining the winning extremely hard. I think of how quickly some people who got rich quick, end up in deeper trouble than before. The trouble is in this learning posture that is often diminished when one experiences success. Success breeds pride and complacency. Failure develops character and humility. Hope begins by remembering the word: "Eventually...."

4) Light-Heartedness During Christmas
This Christmastide is a time of celebration of the birth of Jesus. This alone is the reason to celebrate. Celebrating Christmas does not mean we forget the deaths of loved ones. We can celebrate the birth of Christ as well as remembering loved ones together. This is what I call dual-heartedness. Christians do have something to celebrate. They have Someone to celebrate toward. The loss of loved ones does not mean one needs to wear a gloomy face to dampen the lively atmosphere generated by party goers. We can balance a heavy heart with a light heart by cherishing hope in our hearts. A hope that refuses to be dragged down by the world. A hope that distances oneself from the false promises or deceitful riches of this world. A hope that is anchored in the Word of God, in the person of Jesus. A hope that only in God will the word ‘EVENTUALLY” come to fruition.

My fellow readers, especially those who are grappling with the loss of loved ones, it is possible to celebrate Christmas despite the heaviness of heart. Hope brings together both a heavy as well as a light heart. Hope detaches us from the follies of this world, to re-attach us to the promises of God. Hope enables us to celebrate Christmas, without having to numb our souls from feeling heavy. Hope heals eventually.

Those of us who are not experiencing any heaviness, it will be very appropriate to maintain a dual sense of awareness: Celebrating as well as being sensitive to heavy-hearted ones among us. Perhaps, the best gift we can offer our loved ones who have passed away, is to brave this world in remembrance of them. Finish what they have failed to finish. Complete what they are unable to complete. Achieve what they are not able to achieve. Continue in the legacy they have left behind. Perhaps, that can be our Christmas gift for them.

Cast the heavy burdens on Jesus, and Jesus will carry it for us. Have a dual-hearted Christmas with hope in Christ as our center.

Thought: “Saying goodbye to a loved one is not the same as forgetting them or ceasing to think about them. It is simply the way of owning the loss, integrating it, accepting its restrictions and limitations and saying yes to life without the one who has died.” (Joyce Huggett)

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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.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Honest Shopping

TITLE: Honesty is the Best Shopping Policy: Spiritual Thoughts on Shopping
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 10 Dec 2010

Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.” (Lev 19:35b-36)

MAIN POINT: Let Honesty be the Best Shopping Policy. Let our shopping behaviour demonstrate that people are more important than material things.

The mathematics of society is likened to any business nowadays. Get more ‘bang’ with less buck. Do more with less. Maximize profits while minimizing costs. Over the past year, I have seen more ‘dollar’ shops sprouting all over the neighbourhood. For a dollar or two, one can buy nearly any household item. From electrical extensions to canned food; from cheap note pads to colourful Christmas decorations, the dollar shop is the modern version of the poor man’s supermarket. Not to be outdone, department stores are parading their own set of marketing ingenuity. They promote hefty discounts. They offer free stuff to accompany every purchase. Some even stay open for 24hours during this festive season for the convenience of customers. Christmas time resembles the marathon of shopping.

What about the Christian shopper? Do we buy something because it is on offer, or do we buy only what we need? Can we learn to be gracious in our buying? Can we place people more important than material things? In this week’s Sabbath Walk, I want to share some thoughts on shopping from a Christian perspective.

1) The Biblical Injunction
The passage from Leviticus commands us to be honest in all we do. Whether we buy or sell, whatever we measure and treasure, it needs to reflect a heart of honesty. Four times in Lev 19:36, the word ‘honest’ (translated from the Hebrew ‘tsediq’) is mentioned. It can also be translated ‘just’ or ‘true.’ In other words, the people of Israel must live differently from the rest of the people of the land. A chosen people of God must be honest in all their interactions and transactions. The strength of this commandment gives us a hint about the godlessness that exists in the Canaanite society at that time. The Canaanites have many different gods, all with varying standards. Dishonest dealings are a way of life among them. Thus, cheating and unjust measurements can easily spill into the lives of the impressionable children of Israel. How a person behaves largely depends on the kind of god they worship. Israel worships the LORD GOD (Lev 19:2), that because God is holy, Israel must be holy. Honesty is in obedience to a holy God.

2) Honesty in the 21st Century
Human society has advanced in many ways, but the human heart remains largely the same. Sin is the common denominator through all centuries. This is precisely why Lev 19:35-36 is still so relevant for today. We need to be honest in all of our dealings. Think of the following situations:

  • Your restaurant bill is $33. You give $50 in cash. The waitress mistakenly returns you $20. Do you take the money and leave quietly?
  • Patrick buys 5 shirts. When he gets home, he finds an extra shirt in the bag that he did not pay for.
  • Jinny is on a holiday. At a small shop in a poor village, she is attracted to a straw hat on sale for $5. Back home, she knows that it is at least 8 times more expensive. After much intense bargaining, she leaves the shop with three straw hats for $5. Jinny smiles while the shoplady sobs quietly.
  • Will you patronize a store that pays unfair wages to their employees?

What will an honest person do? Will we simply blame it on the waitress for her carelessness in giving the wrong change back? Will Patrick start rationalizing that it is so inconvenient to return the extra shirt back to the store? Will Jinny begin to reason that it is all a business transaction agreed by all parties? After all, isn’t it true that the poor shoplady can choose not to sell in the first place?

Lev 19:36 calls for ‘honest scales and honest weights.’ This applies both ways, from the seller as well as the buyer’s perspectives.

3) Don’t Just Buy Cheap. Buy Fair.
Pricing is a critical part in the retail business. A man enters a shop to inquire about one SLR camera. The shop assistant earnestly answers all of his technical queries. From the detailed technical specifications to the aesthetic look-and-feel, the man takes nearly an hour just asking questions. The shop assistant patiently waits on him, even turning away potential customers as a result. After an hour, the man walks off, claiming that the price is ‘over his budget.’ This man then walks into another shop, and pays for the exact same camera for a few dollars less, and all in a matter of 5 minutes. This may look all legal, but is ethically suspect.

Sometimes I feel for those retailers struggling to make an honest living. In some cases, they seem to be held at ransom by unreasonable customers, who think that their money grant them the power to lord over retailers. I like to suggest that we adopt an attitude of ‘buying fair’ rather than ‘buying cheap.’ If our objective in shopping puts ‘cheap’ as primary, ‘honesty’ can become a distant secondary concern. If honesty guides our life, we will deal fairly with all people, even though it may cost us more.

Our honesty reflects the god we worship. Lev 19:36 ends with a dramatic reminder that ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.’ It reminds Israel that what they have is largely given to them, not earned. Their salvation is freely granted, not transacted. When God tells them to be holy, it is because God wants them to be an example to the nations, and a testimony to all in the foreign land. It is the Old Testament version of witnessing to the ancient world.

In our modern world, we need to maintain our witness for God. In many secular societies, it is getting increasingly difficult to share and speak the gospel literally. Nevertheless, the gospel when it is lived out cannot be muffled. Who will reject a kind deed? Who will not acknowledge honest dealings? Can Christian shoppers be exemplified by honest dealings, in both buying and selling? Yes we can.

4) Three Brief Thoughts on Shopping
Christians should not be too quick to do what the world around us are doing. Think about other ways in which you can celebrate the festive season. Is there a compelling reason to shop and buy for the sake of shopping and buying? In rich consumerist societies, many households buy more than what they need. Let me suggest three shopping tips for Christians.

Firstly, make shopping a priority for giving. What about buying a useful stuff for a needy person? This year, I refrain from indulging myself in a hundred dollar computer accessory. That $100 will go to a needy student’s fund. Be generous and gracious in our buying, knowing that each time customers squeeze the price, the rest of the purchasing chain (storeman, salesperson, cashier, factory worker) gets squeezed eventually. When tipping, do it willingly and graciously with a thankful heart to God. Even if others try to cheat us, we will refrain from 'cheating back' at them.

Secondly, consider a shopping moratorium so that we can be more attentive to people. What about a shopping fast? When others are busy buying and accumulating stuff, resist. Do something else. Use it as a spiritual exercise to be thankful and be content with what we have. For some of us who rely on shopping therapy to de-stress, perhaps this is a good time to learn to lean on God, and to appreciate people for who they are, and not what they can give. Resist the temptation of filling the Christmas with shopping and more shopping. GK Chesterton gives this particularly apt insight.
“When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?”

Angus Reid, chairman of a leading Canadian polling firm issues the following challenge:
Will we start paying more attention to people and less attention to things?
(Angus Reid, Shakedown, ON:Doubleday, 1996, p218)

He suggests that more people learn to consider ‘physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual alternatives.’

Finally, if you really need to shop, shop honestly. Do business with honest retailers. Don't let price be the sole determining factor. Do not buy things merely because it is cheap. Neither should we continue to accumulate things that we do not need. This is one reason why I do not like gift-exchange programs. It seems to me that it is a merry-go-round of people giving one another things they will likely NOT need. Why not just go around sharing food over a potluck meal? If we want to buy gifts, be wise with our buying, to make sure that it meets a particular need. Will your shopping reflect the Christ in you?

May your Christmas season be holy unto the Lord.  May honesty fill all of our Christmas occasion with glad tidings and joy, giving of goodwill and the gifts of hope, joy and peace.

Thought: “The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.” (Burton Hillis)


sabbathwalk


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, November 30, 2010

Contentment

TITLE: CONTENTMENT
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 30 Nov 2010

“But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Tim 6:6)
MAIN POINT: Material things are like drugs. They fill us and lock us in with an insatiable addiction for more things. Materialism makes us think that MORE is BETTER. It tells us what we have is NEVER ENOUGH. Break Free! Let contentment be the lubricant to free us from the jaws of Mammon, into the arms of God.

What are these messages telling us? They tell us this world is not enough.
Last weekend marks the traditional start to the Annual Christmas shopping spree. Almost every day, there is a sales event going on somewhere, especially online. There is a Black Friday Sale on the 26th of November, the traditional big sales event after Thanksgiving Thursday in the US. Through the weekend, the sales continue with dramatic commercials and advertisements. Even Canadians are enticed by these glitzy American deals South of the border. The deals are getting ever more creative, making people buy more of what they already have, and more of the stuff they don’t really need. Even Christian retailers are hopping onto the bandwagon, selling books and all kinds of Christian-themed memorabilia.

Then, there is the Cyber-Monday sales event, which anybody around the world can shop with a credit card and an Internet connection. Unfortunately, in rich societies, great sales events are often temptations to store up more stuff that we do not really need. Think about it.
  • How many times have we given in to impulse buying?
  • How many things are accumulated in our storerooms, and considered misplaced when we fail to find them?
  • Are we buying out of a real need, or simply because there is a sale going on?
What has contentment to do with Christmas shopping? More importantly, how does contentment play out in the lives of Christians? I will be suggesting a three-leveled approach toward contentment in Christian spirituality. Then I will make some recommendations about our buying behaviour, with Christmas shopping temptations in mind.

1) Level One: Be Contented with What We Have
I have been thinking of a terrific deal recently. A 2TB computer hard disk is being offered for sale at a mere $69 bucks. That works out to be 2000 GigaBytes of computer storage at 3.5 cents per Gigbyte! Just a few years ago, we were talking about dollars per Megabyte. Now, we are talking cents per Gigabyte (1GB is about a thousand MB).

Three-Leveled Contentment
I have to pinch myself to resist this deal. After all, I have ample storage inside my computer right now. Yet, the thought refuses to go away. It is hard to develop contentment in this materialistic world we live in. Moreover, the deals keep appearing in our radar. This is the shopping problem, the problem of a disguised discontentment, simply because we have too much opportunity to spend. The problem with materialism and dissatisfaction is also a struggle we all have with Money.

Without money, one cannot shop, except to browse offline, to surf online or simply window ship. If we turn on the TV, the shopping comes to us instead, right at our favourite program channels! A popular quote goes like this:

“Money cannot buy everything, but everything needs money.”
Money is an important part of life. It is highly efficient and fair way to do transaction. Historically, before money was invented, people barter goods, sometimes at weird equivalents. For example, five chickens for a cow. What about size? What about gender of the animal? What about age? There are too many factors that threaten to disrupt the tricky and precarious equivalents. Perhaps, the desperate party is usually the one who tends to give in.

These days, desperate retailers do all kinds of crazy deals to make us part with our money. Commercials scream out saying, “You need this stuff!” Adverts make us believe that “You are important enough to deserve this new toy.” Worldly messages flood our senses to tell us that money can be a happy meal for our kids, an expensive ring for our spouses. In a nutshell, Materialism says to us: “Money can buy you happiness.” How can we be learn contentment in this kind of an environment? The key is in recognizing that we need to worship God, not Mammon. One of the founding fathers of America, Benjamin Franklin once said:

"Content makes poor men rich; discontentment makes rich men poor."

Remarkably, American society nowadays while considered rich materially, is ironically proving Franklin true in many ways. Think of it this way. If one is already contented with what they have, why do people throng shopping malls and jacking up huge debts on their credit cards? The first secret of contentment is to be satisfied with what we already have. This leads us to our next challenge, to be content even when we do NOT have.

2) Level Two: Be contented with What We Do NOT Have
The last commandment tells us,
"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that [is] thy neighbour's." (Exodus 20:17, KJV)
Covetousness is essentially our attention on things that do not belong to us. Eyeing our neighbour’s house incurs jealousy. Lusting after another person leads to adultery. Covetousness in general leads one toward idolatry of Money or Mammon. In fact, if you were to put everything together, this last commandment is a direct affront on the First Commandment to worship God alone. Jesus highlights this in his words:

No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Luke 16:13)
In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, note the huge divide. The Rich Man had everything while on earth, while Lazarus has practically nothing. Yet, even in death, the Rich Man is never satisfied. He continues to ask for things, albeit for his descendents. The difference is stark. Lazarus when he was poor, longed to ‘eat what fell’ from the table. The Rich Man on the other hand starts begging for relief. Lazarus long. The Rich Man lust even after death. The difference lies in their inner hearts.

What is most striking is in the way Jesus calls Lazarus by name, and the Rich Man remains unnamed. Is ‘Rich’ the firstname or lastname of the wealthy man? This is an astonishing finality to a person sold to Money and Riches. His wealth has usurped his very own identity, so much so that he has not only lost his own identity, he allows MONEY and RICHES to become his very precious identity! Like a parasite, money can start controlling our soul.

Those of us coveting after things we do not have, beware. We can become the very things we lust after. Proverbs talk about lusting that reduces humans to a loaf of bread.

for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread,  and the adulteress preys upon your very life.” (Prov 6:26)

Our race after material things, our careers, our precious possessions, our Money could very well shrink us down to these things respectively. We need to fight them. Yet, we cannot remain stuck in this stage. Even if we can deny ourselves adequately to be content with or without certain things, our spiritual journey is not complete. There is one more level: Contentment in Christ alone.

3) Level Three: Be Content in Christ Alone
The Samaritan Woman at the well is an amazing display of grace and sufficiency. In John 4, Jesus invites the woman toward drinking water that gives life.
“Everyone who drinks this water (from the well) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13, italics mine)
By lowering the standards of entry to a triple downgrade (in that culture), that is, a woman, a Samaritan, and a woman living in sin, Jesus is welcoming the least of the least, and enlarging his net of salvation to all. His ‘whoever’ is extended to all who will willingly come and drink of the water Jesus offers. This small gulp of water will quench past, present and future thirst. This mini lapping of water will satisfy the soul. This drinking of the water of hope will reduce our dependence on what the world gives, and enlarge our capacity to let God be enthroned in our lives. When we learn to say Christ is sufficient, we are truly free.

Imagine this. Shall we come to God fully clothed with our worldly tuxedos? Do we come to God via our BMWs of speedy achievements or to show God our fat bank accounts? Should we enter into heaven with our huge storehouses of possessions? Will God be pleased with that?

No.

On Judgment Day, God will only be looking for one thing: “Do we have Jesus in our heart?

4) Resist Materialism, Resist the Doctrine of More-ism

In our culture, we are being indoctrinated with more being better. If we have a car, a bigger car is better. A bigger TV LCD screen is better. A fatter bank account is better. All of these are based on the premise that more is good and better. Even among Christians, we replace the desire for accumulating things in terms of excellence. This is a grave deception. Be careful that our acts to want to improve become acts of collecting material goods, instead of using them for the betterment of our relationships. Is more better? Then why are many rich people unhappy?

A story was told of a poor woman named Ruby who comes to Church each Christmas with a smiling disposition. When asked why she is always so happy, even though she does not have many things, she replied:

I can see. I can hear. I can walk and I can talk. When I am all finished here, I can go straight up to heaven.” With a smile, she leaves singing praises to God.

Wow. Such an attitude is priceless. Godliness with contentment is great gain. It begins with the heart. It leads one to be contented with or without material gains. It pushes us toward becoming contented in Christ alone. It helps us to be thankful for what we have, to be trusting God in what we do not have, and to cleave to God in Christ alone. Perhaps during your moment of temptation, sing the following chorus.

Turn Your eyes upon Jesus; 
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of the earth will grow strangely dim;
In the light of His glory and grace.

On that 2TB computer drive, I think I do not need it. It shall have no ‘byte’ on me. Bye drive, bye!

Thought: Are you contented? Will more things make you contented? Beware the tyranny of more 'things.' They create addiction. Seek Christ, and learn to live in contentment in Christ alone.


sabbathwalk
p/s: Next week, I'll provide some thoughts on shopping. Stay tuned.


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.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Growing as Christians

TITLE: Growing as Christians
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 26 Nov 2010

"All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth." (Col 1:6b)

MAIN IDEA: Christianity is a relationship exemplified by a new beginning, a steady belief, and a life of committed behaviour in Christ.

How many years have you been a Christian?” Easy question.

Have you matured as a Christian?” Not so easy answer.

Do you know how to grow?” This question is simple, but can be quite hard to answer.

I came to the Christian faith back in 1985. As a young eager beaver undergraduate, I struggle with schoolwork. I struggle with relationships. I struggle with family. I struggle with thoughts about the meaning of life. I struggle with perceptions of fairness and unfairness. I wrestle with why some people seem to have it all, while others suffer. Life is grossly unfair. When unfairness hits close to the heart, life sucks.

How many years have I been a Christian? More than 25 years.

1) Beginning as a Christian

It didn’t take long for me to understand that becoming a Christian is not like a path strewn with roses. In fact, thorns, thistles and the troubles of life appear more plentiful. I learn that if God is a salesman trying to sell Christianity, He will have few takers, for becoming a Christian does not guarantee prosperity and success. Instead, becoming a Christian almost always guarantee trials. The same year that I confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour was the year when my academic grades went down the pits. That year becomes a black spot in my otherwise illustrious academic life.

I didn’t begin well, though I must admit I have good friends who help me to start. My first Bible is an easy to read “Good News Bible.” Inside, the contemporary language is easy to understand. The illustrations within make it a pleasure to read. Unfortunately, the words just do not seem to stick in my head. I needed then something more substantial. I opt for a heavier translation, the King James Version. My faith in Christ is largely due to the kind and loving friends who were truly good testimonies for Christ. Humble, unassuming and patient, they walk with me through the ups and downs of undergraduate life. My Christian beginning has a strong does of godly relationships around me. A good beginning in Christian growth always starts now.

2) Christian Belief
By 1987, my faith starts to grow deeper, as I observe a particular group of Christians from a Bible-Presbyterian denomination. They are staunch believers and advocates of the King James Bible. Though the language is hard to read, it certainly comes across to me as stately and elegant. There is a certain mystery in the beautiful prose inside the KJV that captivates my attention. Even though some of the phrases are not so easily understood, it allows me to meditate and memorize them more readily.

Most crucially, I observe how dedicated and fervent the leaders of the Church were. They revere the Word of God. Typically, when they start quoting verses, they will say the words respectfully and attentively. They will speak out strongly against liberal Christianity. Without fear of negative consequences, they are prepared to stick their neck out for the truth, even though the world around them tries to hem them into a mold.

Through their example, I learn to memorize God’s Word in my head and my heart. I will carry with me a small King James Bible, memorizing passages everywhere I go. At the bus stops; waiting in lines; waiting for people; riding on the buses; resting after a meal etc. Those formative years are largely due to the Word of God meticulously remembered in my head. I memorize whole chunks of the Bible from both Old and New Testaments, like some books in Psalms, and the Sermon on the Mount.

Growing as a Christian is exemplified by keeping the Word of God in my heart. Some of my friends from the Navigators have also encouraged me with their Bible memory program as well. Unfortunately, Bible memorization is lost art nowadays. People download Bibles into their iPods or iPhones but fail to ‘upload’ them back to their heads, let alone read them! I know of people who have all the best Bibles on their electronic gadgets. Yet, they hardly read them.

If we want to grow as Christians, we need to read our Bibles. More importantly, we need to read the Bible with a keen focus on the person of Christ. Growing as Christians requires us to grow in our relationship with Jesus. John Stott mentions four aspects of growth. Firstly, we need to grown in faith in Christ. Secondly, we need to grow in love for one another. Thirdly, we need to grow in knowledge of Christ. Fourthly, we need to grow in holiness toward God and fellow people. As I reflect on my personal growth, I didn’t have all four. Mine was particularly focused on strengthening my belief by reading the Bible more fervently. With this insight from Stott, I think I would have benefitted more. On hindsight, my growth as a Christian is simply a means of grace from God. It is this recognition of God’s grace upon my life, that I learn not to take pride of all I have done. I learn not to regret the things I have not done. I learn to live by grace. This demonstration of growth is in terms of living out my Christianity through behaviour. Growing as Christians is putting our beliefs into practice through commitment.

3) Commitment in Christian Behaviour
For John Stott, ‘Basic Christianity’ is not about the right belief or being able to say the right creeds. It is not about having all the right doctrines or saying the right things. It is about commitment. It is about translating our faith from belief to behaviour. Christian growth is about living out our faith. Any Bible study, any Bible reading, or discussion must be about seeing what God sees, hearing what God hears, touching what God touches, tasting what God tastes, and doing what God does.

Our intellectual belief may be beyond criticism; but we have to translate our beliefs into deeds. What must we do, then? We must commit ourselves, heart and mind, soul and will, home and life, personally and unreservedly to Jesus Christ. We must humble ourselves before him. We must trust him as our Saviour and submit to him as our Lord; and then go on to take our place as loyal members of the church and responsible citizens in the community.” (John Stott, Basic Christianity, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971, p9)

Christian growth is about commitment to a relationship. It is a commitment to a new beginning in Christ. It is a commitment to a daily communion with God. It is a commitment to a demonstrable behaviour in Christ.

4) In the Word; In the World; In Christ
Have I grown as a Christian? I will like to say yes. Yet, my state of imperfection tells me that it is more true of I am trying to grow as best as I can. My God tells me that I can only grow, not on my own strength but by the grace of God. Whatever faculties, talents and gifts I now have, is purely a means of grace from God. God has given. God has forgiven. It is now our turn to give and to forgive.

Let us remind ourselves that when we say we live for God, we need to demonstrate it by becoming compassionate in what God is compassionate about. Stott writes against spiritual complacency that hampers growth:

Christians are not a self-regarding coterie of smug and selfish prigs who are interested only in themselves. On the contrary, every Christian should be deeply concerned about all his fellow men. And it is part of his Christian vocation to serve them in whatever way he can.” (John Stott, Basic Christianity, p140)

My friends, do not be discouraged if you do not have a lot of Bible knowledge, or all the grand theologies that some people may have. If you are able to put into practice a small verse or Word from the LORD, you would have done far better than big-headed knowledge filled church goers who are more interested in hearing the Word than doing the Word.

Every one of us can grow, beginning with whatever Word of the LORD we know. The main thing is not to stay discouraged by our lack of knowledge. Be encouraged by knowing God has given us a means of grace to grow in Christ.

Thought: “The balanced Christian who takes Scripture for his guide will seek to live equally and simultaneously ‘in Christ’ and ‘in the world.’ He cannot opt out of either.” (John Stott, p142)

sabbathwalk

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.

Friday, November 19, 2010

When God is Silent

Title: When God is Silent
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 18 November 2010

MAIN IDEA: What should we do when God appears to be silent? Why does He not speak when our heart is troubled? God speaks in the silence. When we talk constantly, how can we then listen intently? It is more important that we listen before we speak. Prayer involves listening to God, especially in silence.

O To Thee, O LORD, I call; My Rock, do not be deaf to me. Lest, if Thou be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit.” (Ps 28:1)

We press the play button on our iPods. When there is no sound, we fiddle with the switches, pull our earphones, and check the player. We get flustered by the non-response.

We place a phone call to a customer service agent. After three rings, when there is no answer, we can get upset with the inadequate customer service.

We try to send an email. If there is no Internet connection, nothing is ever sent. We will then check our computers. We modify our system settings. In some cases, we reboot our computers. If there is still no response, we get irritated.

What about pressing a prayer request to God, placing a desperate call to heaven, or sending an urgent message to the King of kings? What if there is no answer? Amid the frantic calls and pleas, what if the only sound from the celestial end seems to be silence and more silence?

1) Slighted by Silence

Interestingly, during moments of need and despair, we tend to rush God into doing something about it. When life is cruising along, we have a greater capacity to wait as we busy ourselves with our routines, programs and things to do. However, when a crisis hits home, we scramble to press the GOD-button for quick answers. We raise questions like:

  • “Why does God allow evil to happen?”
  • “Why must this man suffer?
  • “Why is such pain happening right now?”
  • “Why me!!!!”
This is a common human reaction in response to trials and tribulations. We have been so conditioned in solving problems, that the moment a problem cannot be fixed, our world rocks with confusion and despair. Pain and suffering is not a problem that can be fixed.

2) Trapped in a Problem-Solution World

We seek answers in a world of problems and issues. When we get sick (the problem), we see the doctor to get some medication (solution). When we get hungry (the problem), we buy food to eat (the solution). When our wallet is empty (the problem), we go to the bank to get some cash or to borrow some money from a friend (the solution). When we get a headache (the problem), we pop in some aspirin to relieve it (the solution). When our plans fail (the problem), we seek alternative methods (the solution). When we suffer, our paradigm of ‘problem-solution’ gets shaken up. We struggle because there is no ‘solution’ that can explain away our pain and suffering.
Does this pill exist?

These ‘problem-solution’ paradigms appear logical and necessary. Until we encounter a problem that has no easy solutions. Until we realize that we are helpless in ourselves. Until we recognize that we are not masters of the universe; we will remain frustrated, discontent and depressed.

Is there a solution to death? Is there an antidote for incurable types of cancer? Is there a way to recover spilt milk or a shattered glass plate? Is there a time machine that can turn back or alter history? No. Nay. Nought. Zero. Only Silence. Briefly put, a pill to answer pain and suffering simply does not exist!

3) Unrequited in Silence

This problem of silence is particularly hard on believers who honestly and earnestly believe. They have the faith to pray and to hope. They have the courage to give and to love. Yet, bad things do happen to them. The tormented man shouts:

I pray faithfully. I tithe regularly, and I perform my duties without complaints. Why then must this setback happen to me!”

I feel for him as he struggles with the unanswered question. Along with unanswered prayer, unrequited or un-reciprocated deeds are hard to explain.

Sometime ago, I remember hearing some people praying intensely for healing of a loved one. I do not doubt their faith. Neither do I suspect their earnestness. My main discomfort is in the way they try to ‘force’ God’s Hand. When anyone prays as if God HAS no other choice but to answer their prayers according to their way, arrogance and worldliness has entered. Unwittingly, such prayers for a specific way for God to answer try to lock God into a single method. It streamlines the God of infinite strategies into a single man-made technique.

4) Invited to Listen in to the Silence

I like to suggest that when we encounter pain or suffering, to first jump out of the problem-solving box. then, ease into the world of silence. When we get rid of the noises generated by the world, we become more conscious of the soothing whispers from heaven. We begin to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit. We remove our proud “I can solve it” stance, and put on a humble “God will handle it” attitude.

There is a story of a man driving a jeep in a jungle terrain. The powerful four-wheeler can overcome all kinds of obstacles. It runs over rocks and tree branches. It drives easily over puddles of water. It even climbs the steepest hills without any huffing or puffing. It meets its match eventually, when it encounters soft muddy soil. As the wheels grind away, the driver prays for more power in the wheels. He floors the accelerator. He spins the wheels to release all its ferocious power. Instead, the powerful jeep digs deeper into the mud. The more the jeep is forced to move horizontally, the more it sinks vertically into the mud trap.

Sometimes, I feel that when we pray arrogantly, to insist that God answer our prayers according to our ways, it is like trying to use God’s power (extra horsepower to the engine) to deliver ourselves from the muddy ground (through sheer brute force). The end result is that we sink deeper and deeper into the trap, thanks to our stubborness.

Suppose for instance, we pray for wisdom from the Lord. We ease the jeep by slightly orientating the wheel. We get out of the vehicle and carefully put rubber mats or planks at each of the four wheels stuck in the mud. Then, we release the jeep to do its work. We will overcome the mud.

When we expect God to answer our prayers in our way, we are not longer praying. We are simply ordering God like a heavenly servant to serve our needs. True prayer involves both surrender and submission. We surrender to God as the Overall in Charge. We submit to God for the fulfilment of God’s will according to God’s time. Sometimes, in the midst of silence, God speaks to trigger us to open ourselves to other ways, especially God’s.

5) Facing Pain

One more thing. In many approaches to pain and suffering, the frustrations at God’s apparent silence stems from a perilous desire to run away from the pain and suffering. When we seek answers to such pain, it is an indirect way of running away rather than facing pain head on. One of my favourite authors says it so well.

There will always be people who run from every kind of pain and suffering, just as there will always be religions that promise to put them to sleep. For those willing to stay awake, pain remains a reliable altar in the world, a place to discover that a life can be as full of meaning as it is of hurt. The two have never cancelled each other out and I doubt they ever will, at least not until each of us – or all of us together – find the way through.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, San Francisco: HarperOne, 2009, p173)

Encountering pain and suffering is part of being human. We can run away from some, but not all of them. A life that frankly acknowledges the presence of pain and suffering, is far more meaningful than a life that constantly runs away from them. Such meaning is best discovered as we sit with God in a world of silence. In that sacred space, Scriptures come alive. In that precious moment, our souls are stirred by the promptings of the Holy Spirit. In the divine company of the Triune God, we will discover that God is never silent. As we sit in silence with God next to us, we may even discover that pain might very well be God’s ‘megaphone to rouse’ our deaf spiritual ears. When pain comes, ask for courage to face it. When suffering falls, ask for God’s presence to be with us, through friends, loved ones, or the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

May our hearts then learn to shout out:
"The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song." (Ps 28:7)
Thought: "But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." (CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain, NY: HarperCollins, 1996, p91)

sabbathwalk


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.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Reactions to Pain

Title: Reactions to Pain
Date: 12 Nov 2010
Written by: Conrade Yap

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9)

MAIN POINT: For people in pain, meaning eludes them. Meaninglessness engulfs them. During such times, sin and temptation is on the prowl to mislead. They are like cracks in the well of faith that leaks away hope. Such hope-killers seek to destroy one’s faith by sowing seeds of doubt. Let our presence re-fill sufferers with hope; the Holy Spirit with Everlasting hope.

Within the past 24 months, I have known at least three fathers who have buried their child. One of them just buried their daughter who died at the age of 41. Another one cries out in anguish:

Sons bury their fathers; not the other way round!

I feel a small part of their pain. As a father, I cannot even dare to imagine going through what these men are going through. It is perfectly understandable, for any father if they can, to do a swap; their own life for the child. This week I cry with one father. It is heart-breaking. It is gut-wrenching. It is pain and suffering at its most intense level. At that moment, life seems meaningless. Physical pain on the outside is nothing, compared to the vexing spirit inside. At some point, one experiences emotional numbness.

I ask one mother how she manages to cope with sleep and rest. She tells me: “With lots of sleeping pills.” I ask the father how he is coping. He says: “Not well.

The Psalmist weeps:

“My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, 'Where is your God?” (Ps 42:3)

SOME RESPONSES
There are varying responses that the world suggests. I shall list four of them, all of which are inadequate in itself.

1) The Atheist Approach

For people who do not believe in the existence of God, they will simply say that pain and suffering is only proof of that there is no God. In fact, people like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, who vigorously speak out against Christianity, will use the first 2 chapters of Job to attack the meaning of God. Hitchens says in his book “God is Not Great,” directs 4 accusations against religion. Firstly, he says religion misrepresents the origins of man and the world we have. Secondly, he accuses God of egotism. Thirdly, he lambasts the Bible of repression such as sexual denial, and finally calls the Bible a book on ‘wishful thinking.’ Seeing how Job suffers, atheists will explain it all away by saying that if there really is a God, God is certainly not that ‘great.’

Unfortunately, even if atheists can convince us that because of evil, God doesn’t exist, what about the good in this world? How do we explain that? Instead of 4 accusations, are there 4 similar affirmations of the virtues of living?

The atheist approach is often a lopsided approach. It is also judgmental and arrogant to claim that its belief is superior to any beliefs in God. It saws away the branch that any hope sits upon and offer in place of hope, an attack on biblical hope. It attacks much but assures little. This approach limps.

2) The Fatalist Approach
There are various ways this has been practiced. Harold Kushner’s bestseller “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” suggests a form of theology that God is powerless against good and suffering. He suggests instead that man forgives God!

. . to forgive the world for not being perfect, to forgive God for not making a better world, to reach out to the people around us, and to go on living despite it all.” (Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, NY: Quill, 2001, p147)

Another fatalist approach is a type of Buddhist approach. In its Four Noble Truth claims, Buddha says that all of life is suffering.

What is the noble truth of suffering? Birth is suffering, aging is suffering and sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are suffering.” (Buddha)

Thus, the end goal of Buddhism is nirvana, a state of nothingness. At this state, suffering is no longer meaningful, life is meaningless. Nothing matters anymore when one is in a state of permanent tranquility.

The fatalist approach certainly digs its own grave. If life is indeed meaningless, their approach is in itself meaningless and hope is clearly missing. The fatalist approach hobbles in hopelessness.

3) The Blamer Approach

This is the approach taken by the wife of Job. Curiously unnamed, she instigates her husband Job, to ‘curse God and die.’ She has already blamed God in her heart for her misery and loss of her children. After seeing how Job himself also suffered, she may be thinking to herself,

Enough is enough! I’ve had it with God. What’s the point of believing and worshiping a God who allows such suffering to fall on my family? I’ll curse God and die. But wait, I’ll get my husband to do the same. Ok, Job. You too. Curse God and die.

Some of us may be thinking that Job’s wife is only human. Norman C Habel understands such a reaction, and writes that such a response is “realistic, honest, unequivocal.”

She is moved, it would seem, by a genuine sympathy for her husband; her honesty stands in sharp contrast to that of the three friends who are later rebuked by God; she is only rebuked by Job.” (Norman C Habel, Job, AT: John Knox Press,1981, p24)

The problem with Job’s wife approach is that it is judgmental. It accuses and blames God for everything. It places herself as the God of God. She rules over God by claiming that God is only ‘God’ when good things happen. God becomes Someone to be cursed upon when bad things happen. In the ‘Blamer Approach,’ the idea of a Sovereign God only partially exists. There is a deeper problem. If God is not Sovereign over ALL, how can we say that God is God?


4) Job’s Approach
Up to the end of chapter 2, Job has the approval of God, that Job is a righteous man and did not sin. Scriptures record Job’s response.

“He replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (Job 2:10)

This is a profound statement. Job understands that unless God is over ALL THINGS, God is not God. His view of God is far more superior than the previous three approaches above. Unfortunately, cracks are beginning to appear in his faith-fortified wall of hope.

After chapter 3, Job caves in to his wife’s influence. Job curses his birth, his own life. He indirectly gives in to the influence of his wife, and blames God, albeit indirectly.

AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH - Not Answers But . . .
How should we approach pain and suffering? If all of the above are not good choices, what responses are most appropriate for people in states of hopelessness and despair? Is God non-existent as claimed by atheists? Is God powerless as claimed by Harold Kushner? Is God a imaginary entity as claimed by fatalists? Or suffering and life’s pain an opportunity to blame God when things go horribly wrong?

Let me suggest three ways.
a) Not Answers but Laments
Many things in life are not problems to be solved but journeys to go through. The Danish philosopher says it very well.

Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” (Soren Kierkegaard)

When a child falls on the ground and gets hurt, do we start analyzing the whole situation? Or do we do the most loving thing: To hug them, and assure them we are there to comfort them in their pain?

b) Not Answers for God but Questions from God
In times of pain and suffering, the last thing one needs is a model answer. Answers may tickle the head, but they seldom comfort hearts. Can a good answer take away pain? Perhaps, trials and troubles are opportunities for God to question us, about our faith, our resilience and where our true hopes lie. During the recent financial turmoil, I read about rich billionaires taking their own lives when their fortunes collapse. A German billionaire, Adolf Merckle throws himself in front of a coming train when his powerful financial interests went into trouble.

When we seek answers, we tend to look for a final chapter or a lasting solution. We behave as if we are the ones demanding to be appeased. Unfortunately, we forget that we are actually not the ones in control. Only God is. When God chooses to withhold certain answers, should we not accept His choice?

Let God’s questions of us, teach us about life, that we are not in control. God is, even though we do not know how.

c) Not answers but accompaniment
This is the single most important approach that we can take to aid people in pain. We need to become less paranoid over explanation of the trouble. We need to be more sensitive to walking with and to accompany those in pain with our presence. Philip Yancey says it very well.

“Today, if I had to answer the question ‘Where is God when it hurts?’ in a single sentence, I would make that sentence another question: ‘Where is the Church when it hurts?’ We form the front line of God’s response to the suffering world.” (Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts?, MI: Zondervan, 1990, p243)

This week, I had the privilege of watching how my Church walked with this dear family as they bury their daughter, sister and friend. When the emergency was triggered, the church was there. When the parents wailed, the church is there. When the doctors delivered the bad news, people from the church were there. When the family called to express their heartaches, the church was there. When the life support systems were shut, the church was there. Toward the last hours of the girl’s final breath, the church was there, praying, singing, giving thanks, and loving. From the memorial to the interment, to the final burial rites, the church was there grieving with them. This week I learned. When in pain, answers may seem important but being able to lament is more important. Answers may be directed of God, but perhaps we need to be open to questions from God. The presence of answers is nothing in comparison with the presence of people and the church. Lest we forget, when we suffer, God is there with us. Whether we realize it or not is besides the point. God knows truly and fully well. May our presence re-fill sufferers with hope. Then we will learn NOT to curse God and die, but our hearts will praise God and live.

Thought: People in pain do not need answers. They need love, understanding and your presence. Learn to suffer with them by being present with them. You may be the greatest gift they can have at that time.

sabbathwalk

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.

Friday, November 5, 2010

No Such Thing as 'Nominal' Christians

TITLE: Nominal Christianity?
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 5 November 2010

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:15-16)

MAIN POINT: There is no such thing as a ‘nominal’ Christian. Christians are committed to Christ. They are committed to a community. They are committed to be Christlike.


When I meet with pastors and talk about our Churches, we sometimes ask one another: “How are your Church members?” Answers vary, but a typical response will be

“Well, some are really passionate, while others are plain and decent Sunday-going folks. You could call them nominal.”

‘Nominal’ is a common way of saying that a person wears a ‘Christian’ label but does not really believe in Christianity. In other words, the person is ‘Christian’ in name only. In Churches I know, there are people from various phases of their Christian life. Like most organizations, about 10% or less of the congregation do about more than 90% of the work in Church. From the Sunday School to the Ushering team; from the weekly running of Church administration to the weekend Sunday services, those who work the hardest remain a tiny minority. What about the rest of the people? Is there such a thing as a 'nominal' Christian in the faith?


A) Portrait of the Nominal Christian

There is another word for ‘nominal’ Christianity. It is the word ‘lukewarm.’ This word is used to describe the Church at Laodicea in the final book of the Bible. A lukewarm person is neither hot nor cold. He stays in the middle thinking it is safe. He sits on the fence thinking that he does not need to commit to either sides of the divide. He basically thinks that the best position to be in is to be in a non-decided position. That way, he can have the best of both worlds. He can enjoy the worldliness available. He can reap the harvest of religious works. In fact, for some businessmen, having a stated religion is the icing on the cake for a successful business. It plays well into the mantra of many businesses:

  • “Money is not everything.”
  • “There are more important things in life than simply making a living.”
  • “There are things that money cannot buy.”

Having a religion can be very attractive. It is a single word answer to an alternative lifestyle. The sayings are popularly captured in this popular set of sayings about money.

With money you can buy a house, but not a home.
With money you can buy a clock, but not time.
With money you can buy a bed, but not sleep.
With money you can buy a book, but not knowledge.
With money you can buy a doctor, but not good health.
With money you can buy a position, but not respect.
With money you can buy blood, but not life.
With money you can buy sex, but not love.

(Source: Anonymous)

These seem to be very common sense indeed. However, there is a problem. While it highlights the limitations of money, it does not offer us a clear alternative. It simply tells us not to focus on the money-making mindset. That unfortunately leaves a vacuum that can potentially be filled with something more inferior or sinister.

The nominal Christian is neither hot nor cold with regards to following Jesus. Likewise, he can be lukewarm about the affairs of this world. John Stott calls it a distinct possibility that one can "be a Christian in name without being a Christian in heart.”

I know of Christians who regularly go to Church. They might even give 10% of their earnings faithfully each month. Yet, their hearts remain unchanged over the years. They fail to grow further than merely saying the sinners’ prayer. They tell people they are ‘Christian’ but that is all. Their actions and behaviour seem to resemble the rest of the people in the world. These people are not committed to the cause of Christ.

Sigh. It is far easier to tell people you are ‘Christian’ than to show people your Christlikeness.

B) Portrait of the Committed Christian

Those, especially the younger believers exhibit an excitement to grow and to learn more about the faith. They ask questions. They seek out older believers to find out what it means to grow in faith. They eagerly sign up for discipleship courses. If none is available, they pester the pastors or elders to start providing one. They come in their Sunday best, and are satisfied about the Sabbath rest. Their zeal is like a little child jumping up with glee at a playground. They lap up whatever knowledge there is available about the Christian walk. They memorize Scripture. They read their Bibles daily. They pray faithfully. They will be constant learners. If they are not getting the spiritual food on Sundays, they will take up Bible lessons during the week to supplement their Sunday diet.

I think the Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) is one of the best Bible learning opportunities available right now. My wife goes there, and finds warmth and good fellowship among like-minded believers. All want to study the Word. In fact, sometimes I am intrigued that people going for BSF is much more fervent than cell-group attendance in Churches. In BSF, there is a rather strict code of attendance. Miss about 2 classes and you have to start over. The call is about commitment. John Stott describes Christianity as follows:

“If the essence of Christianity is neither a creed, nor a code, nor a cult, what is it? It is Christ! It is not primarily a system of any kind; it is a person, and a personal relationship to that person.” (John Stott, Christian Basics – An invitation to discipleship, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003, p15)

We are Christians not because we recite a creed, observe a code, or to participate in a cult-like atmosphere. We are Christians because we follow Jesus. We are Christians because we are committed to a growing relationship with Christ. Apart from this, there is no other way we can be more ‘Christian’ than to be ‘Christlike.’ We are ‘Christlike’ and ‘Christian’ when we commit to Jesus. Christianity is a relationship with Jesus.

C) Commitment is a Mark of a Christian

I think ‘commitment’ is so important in the Christian life. Without commitment, one easily sways to be either cold or lukewarm in their faith. Without commitment, how can anyone grow past the valleys of depression and darkness? Without commitment, it is so easy to fall prey to the deceit and temptations of this world. Without commitment, one is susceptible to weather changes, both physically and emotionally.

The best way to describe our commitment to Christ, is in our commitment to a community of believers. The late Professor of Psychiatry in the University of Illinois says that he remained a non-Christian because he had seen how the church had ‘failed him’ when he was a teenager. He says:

The church has never learned the secret of community.” (quoted in John Stott’s Christian Basics, p40)

That is so tragic. For the Christian disciple, the call is simple: Either you are in or you are out. There is no middle. We do not follow Christ half-way. We obey Jesus all the way. There is no such thing as a nominal Christians, no matter how you put it. You are either hot or otherwise. Cold and lukewarm people are no different. You are either a Christian, or you are not. If you are a Christian, the most Christlike thing is to be involved in a community. It is to be committed to Jesus. It is to follow Jesus. It is to share burdens with one another in a community of believers. It is to be committed to one another in the faith through thick and thin. It is commitment through moments of ups and downs. It is that honesty to speak the truth in love to one another. We are committed to love one another. Christianity is commitment to Christ; commitment to one another; and a commitment to self to grow to be more like Christ each day. There is no such thing as a ‘nominal Christian.’ There are only committed Christians or not at all.

It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action, and discipline that enabled us to follow through.” (Zig Ziglar)

Thought: Better to be a Christian in action, than to be one in name only. May you learn to demonstrate Christlikeness so much that people can see that you are a Christian.


sabbathwalk


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.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dealing with Disappointment

TITLE: DEALING WITH DISAPPOINTMENT
Text: Jer 14: 3-4
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 29 Oct 2010

“The nobles send their servants for water; they go to the cisterns but find no water. They return with their jars unfilled; dismayed and despairing, they cover their heads. The ground is cracked because there is no rain in the land; the farmers are dismayed and cover their heads.” (Jer 14:3-4)

MAIN POINT: If there is one thing definite in life, it is the presence of disappointments. Disappointments can come in many different ways. Disappointment is like rainfall. Sometimes they are heavy. Other times light. Yet it is because God is Sovereign, that after the rains are gone, He brings out the sun and brandishes a dazzling rainbow of hope.

“Go get some water!” says the master. Two servants took two pails each, and walk to the wells a few meters outside the house. They fling down their old trusted pails. They heave. They pull. They hear no sound. There is no familiar splashing sound of water. The wells are dry. Soon, their disappointment will spread from the empty well to the household they live in. Drought is a terrible thing to experience. The servants can only bring back the bad news.

“Master, there is no more water in the wells!”

Disappointment. Despair. Distress. Ashamed.

The word ‘humiliated’ is a strong indictment on how the servants feel when they fail to complete the task set out for them by their master. When something one expects fails to materialize, the natural response will be one of disappointment. How should we respond to disappointments? In a nutshell, we need to first see ‘disappointments’ from God’s perspective.

A) God’s Disappointment in Judah
Israel gets a yucky taste of what it means to live without the LORD. The prophet Jeremiah gives 12 prophecies that are against the nation of Judah. Jeremiah 14 marks the sixth such prophecy, which is regarding the horrors of being judged. In a way, the people of Judah gets to experience what they themselves know will happen, when they choose to walk away from the LORD. One of the effects of this judgment is discouragement. Simply put, some disappointments are due to self-inflicted acts, like the case of Judah disobeying God. They suffer the consequences.

Lest we go away with the feeling that God is that merciless Judge that easily dispenses punishment, it is important to know that God disciplines his children with sorrow in His heart. We cannot read the prophets and then conclude God is a cruel task master. Sometimes, erroneous theology like that can lead us astray. Such disappointment does not mean God rejects his people. It simply means God is meting out certain promised consequences, but still keeping a watchful eye to care for them.

When a person is suffering, it is common to start pointing blame at something or someone. There are occasions where the person in pain starts to bring in sins and wickedness committed in the past, and say that God is punishing him. Be careful not to let this false teaching take root. Otherwise, the end result will be bitterness and despair. No! There is a difference between punishment and discipline. Punishments weigh people down. Discipline lifts them up from their waywardness. Punishments put one down. Discipline holds one up. The LORD disciplines the ones He love.

My son, do not despise the LORD’S discipline and do not resent his rebuke,” (Prov 3:11)

In Jeremiah, the ills that Judah faces are largely self-inflicted. The heart of God is not happy, but sorrowful. Yet, in this disappointment that the people of God encounters, God is preparing for a new hope.

Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” (Jer 31:20)


B) Disappointments from Self-Inflicted Acts
Without a doubt, many of our modern encounters with disappointment and discouragement are self-inflicted. Like Adam and Eve who disobeyed, we too have our share of disobedience. We tell lies. We speak to one another with half-truths or failing to communicate in order to protect ourselves. We glory when credits are suddenly given to us by mistake. We complain when our good actions fail to be recognized or acknowledged. Even within our Church communities, we desire to help others on the basis of OUR convenience rather than their need. Love to many people is not love until we see a tangible benefit.

Jeremiah prophesies:

This is your lot, the portion I have decreed for you, because you have forgotten me and trusted in false gods. I will pull up your skirts over your face that your shame may be seen - …” (Jer 13:25-26)

For all my professed desire to be holy before God, I find myself making inappropriate comments from time to time. I remember a time when I was zealous about preaching the gospel to my colleagues. One colleague I met happens to be a friend from school many years ago. We become good friends almost instantly. When she becomes hesitant about coming back to God, or to return to Church, I become a little overwhelming on her. I said things that do not reflect a Christ-like attitude. I pounce on her weakness by prescribing a form of religion that works for me, but not for her. In a nutshell, I was purely and simply insensitive. She abruptly cuts off all contact with me, and to this day, I live with the uncertainty and regret that I may have unwittingly stumbled a sister in Christ. The ‘god’ I follow then, is perhaps a ‘god’ of religiously conquering weak hearts. I seem to be doing ‘gospel-pushing’ rather than demonstrating Christ-like love. For all its goodness, the gospel needs to be communicated sensitively and thoughtfully. I learn that we can sin against God, by doing selfish things in the name of God. Personally, I am disappointed with myself. Self-inflicted acts can lead to deep disappointment.

C) Disappointments Arising from a Sick Society
Other disappointments are not within our control. I read a news report recently about a father who rapes his daughter so that he can ‘save’ her from the clutches of evil men. That shows how sick society can be. Such hideous acts of violence on helpless innocent victims turns me off. It angers me. I feel sick.

The society that we live can give us some nasty disappointments when we least expect. A sudden tax rise; an unfortunate accident not of our doing; a rude encounter. Several years ago, I was rudely awakened one early morning to see two policemen at my door. They had bad news. That weekend, six vehicles were torched. My car was one of them.

I recall the lump in my throat. I choke. I struggle as disgust; despair, and distress mingle together to wreak a heavy disappointment inside me. That day, everything seems gloomy. My emotions are shrouded in a terrible state that wants the arsonist arrested and jailed. Even the Police prove to be most unhelpful, as far as catching the culprit is concerned. They have other ‘higher’ priority than a match-happy fire-starter. Moreover, I am a ‘nobody’ in their who’s who list of VIPs. My disappointment soon leaps like a flea, from the burnt car to the unhelpful police force; from the constables to the impatient traffic users on the roads; allowing the disappointments outside to grow roots inside my heart. I begin to ask the three questions Philip Yancey poses:

Is God unfair? Is God silent? Is God withdrawn?” (Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998, p48)
It is when we learn to pause, we start to see. Through disappointments, we learn to not to pin our hopes on non-living things, but to anchor our hope in the living God.

D) Dealing with Disappointment
There is hope. Hopeful people pray. In our helplessness over disappointments, we can remind ourselves to focus on the Giver of hope. This is what Oswald Chambers speaks of prayer.

We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties.” (Oswald Chambers)

Indeed, prayer is not staring at the mountain of difficulties but in gazing at the face of God. The former locks us into a prison of helplessness. The latter liberates us to seek God for Who He is. Paul exhorts Timothy even as he grapples with false teachers in the Ephesus Church:

"For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers." (1 Tim 4:10)

Indeed, prayer substitutes our disappointments of life, with hope in God. Prayer is not staring and getting bogged down by the mountain of challenges set before us. It is in gazing at the sight of God, and following the path set by Jesus. Disappointments like rain will come sooner or later. Sometimes they come pouring like cats and dogs. Other times they drizzle and skim off our backs, like water droplets sliding down a turtle’s shell. The key is to be prepared and to pray.

I have been dealing with disappointments in this article, because it is such a common occurrence in our lives. It can come through silly self-inflicted acts or mistakes on our part. It can also come through events that are way beyond our control. Even in Christian ministry, we can be disappointed when expectations (both yours, mine, and others) are not met. Sometimes disappointment comes as a result of sin. Other times, it comes simply because we live in a fallen world. If there is one guarantee I can give, it is this. It is not a matter of why but a question of WHEN we will be disappointed. Let the following encourage you, my readers.

On a sunny day, take a small coin say a quarter. If we compare the coin with the sun, one is only a few millimeters in diameter, while the other is in thousands, perhaps millions of miles. We can choose to bring the coin so close to our eye that it blocks out the sun completely. Or we can put the coin at a distance and recognize that it is utterly insignificant compared to the sun.

This is what faith is all about. Faith is putting our despairs in their proper perspectives by focusing our hope in God. In prayer, we look away from our disappointments that may accumulate over time. Instead, we look to God, to fix our perspectives. Let not the coins of disappointment blot our eyes from seeing the Son of God, who came, who died and who has been raised. Christ has risen and He promises to raise His children up with Him. That is his promise. Disappointments may come, but the day will come when the LORD will erase all disappointments forever.

Yes. Sometimes we may feel like there is no more water in our wells. We may feel like we are punished. However, the God we worship is One who disciplines rather than punishes. The God who will one day fill the wells that will overflow with living waters.

Thought: Let not the disappointments in life blot out our hope in God.

One’s best success comes after their greatest disappointments.” (Henry Ward Beecher)


sabbathwalk



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.
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