Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Becoming Good News People First

TITLE: BECOMING GOOD NEWS PEOPLE FIRST
AUTHOR: Conrade Yap
DATE: 26 Jan 2010

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

A) Which Comes First? Speak the Good News or Live the Good News?

Nanette Sawyer was raised in rural New York. He attends a traditional church which to him, teaches a form of theology that is ‘shame-based.’ Like many churches, the minister there insists that he ‘had to believe’ in order to be a Christian. Despite not understanding what some of the doctrines mean, he decides to consciously make a decision for Christ, in order to be accepted into the Church. While this is a normal thing to do for most people, Sawyer feels that such an approach addresses more of the ‘letter’ rather than the ‘spirit’ of the Christian belief. He never truly understands the meaning of what a Christian means, until he encounters Wicker Park Grace church.

I started showing up at that church on Sundays. This church was so different from the church of my childhood, because they welcomed me without asking for my Christian ID card, so to speak. They just welcomed me, pure and simple. They preached and lived a message of grace, emphasizing that we are all beloved children of God. Eventually, I was baptized in that church and felt my call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament in that church.” – Nanette Sawyer, Chicago. 

(Eddie Gibbs & Ryan Bolger, Emerging Churches, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006, 302)

Sawyer’s story is increasingly common among people who have left traditional churches to discover the grace of God in non-traditional places. From a nominal Christian environment that insists on a ‘Christian ID’ before anything else, he feels a special acceptance by a community of believers who sees the ‘person’ before the ‘profession.’ Such a treatment is liberating for people who feels overly controlled by structure and tradition.

B) First Things First
Lest I be misunderstood, I am not saying that structure and tradition are unimportant or irrelevant for our contemporary age. It is simply that they must not come before the need to care and love people. In fact, traditions and structures are extremely important and are crucial for the church identity, to bear the testimony of Christ for the long haul. The difference is in terms of recognizing the spirit behind the letter. If we are not careful, we can become bearers of the message of Christ, without truly being converted by the Spirit of God. John writes,
We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
Taking this perspective from John, we cannot truly love another, until we have been loved. With Christ having first loved us, we can then share this love with people around us with grace and humility. If our jug is empty, how can we pour water for the thirsty? If our fridge is bare, how can we prepare food for the hungry? Likewise, if we are not filled with the good news first, empowered by the Holy Spirit, how can we proceed to share the good news with others? In other words, my main point for this week is that we are to be ‘Good News People’ inside before we can learn to share the Good News to people outside. Our external works that demonstrate Christ's love can be more powerful than our human words. It is easy to preach the gospel in words, but it takes a real authentic disciple of Christ to preach the gospel in real life.

C) The Problem of External Facade

Our society places too much premium on the external to the detriment of the internal. Look at the fashion industry. People need to look good on the outside so as to make a good first impression. From interviews to social outings, adding make-up turns an ordinary pauper into an extraordinary prince. Very subtly, it creates in people a kind of thinking that external looks can lead to internal satisfaction. Yet, there are beautiful women who end up in terrible marriages. They are handsome men who attract all the wrong attention. There are successful career people, achieving a lot in the office, but fails miserably at home. External fa├žade may dress up weaknesses for a little while. Like the famous fairy tale, at the stroke of midnight, beautifully dressed Cinderella turns back into a poor girl in ugly clothes. Looking good on the outside does not mean we are automatically good on the inside. Just ask the executives of Enron prior to their financial collapse.

D) Becoming a Good News Person: Journey of Inside-Out Growth

What does it take to be a Good News Christian first before we can share the good news? In other words, how do we live an ‘inside-out’ life as opposed to an ‘outside-in’ culture? Let me propose a three-step grace process. It is easy to embrace Stage #1, not so easy to practice stage #2, even more difficult to live out Stage #3. Look at the graph below. Let me make 3 observations.







Firstly,all of us can receive the grace of God freely without reservation and without conditions. Grace is free of charge, and not tied to any rules and regulations. Grace has no conditions. We need to acknowledge that we are sinners, and no matter what we do, we cannot save ourselves. We need God. We need to be forgiven in Christ. It is because all of us have sinned and fall short of God's glory, we all need the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Stage #1: Many receive grace; It is easy to receive grace.

Secondly, we demonstrate our state of being saved by grace, by learning to be gracious to others. There is a strange unbalanced equation going on. The richer a society gets, the less gracious it tends to be. I remember in my mission trip to the rural mountains. People there have very little but they share all they have. On my return home to the city, people have a lot, but are miserly in many ways. I cannot help but think of the New Testament Church whose members share freely and readily with one another in spite of the little they have. We do not need a lot of things in order to be gracious to one another. What we need is a lot of heart. 

There is someone who appears constantly to be in a state of need. All year round, this person will be claiming that the world around her is unfair, and she is constantly helpless. It is easy to accuse her of being overly self-centered. Yet, when I think of God, I remember that all of us are under grace. God alone has such a big heart, that he meets the needs of every single person. God too chooses to show grace to this person, despite the constant complaining and self-centered behaviour. Yet, God has a big heart. Who are we to judge this person?

All of us are needy people. All of us need grace. What we need to be reminded is that having a big heart is more important than having big gifts. Sometimes, rich people can have extremely small hearts. A big heart covers a multitude of suspicions and sins. A big-hearted Christian is what I call a ‘Good-News Person.’ A big-heart Christian understands what grace is all about. A gracious society is only possible if the people have big hearts.

Stage #2: Some people grow. Their growth is evident through gracious living.

My third observation has to do with the most advanced stage of the journey: #3 Sacrificial Love. This final step is perhaps the most difficult step. It is the epitome of what grace means. Living a life of true grace involves humility and at times the call to suffer. 

God led by example. When God gives grace to us, he does not simply command others to do it. He could have ordered angels and celestial beings to do his work. Yet, He chooses to send his Son, Jesus Christ down, at a personal cost and painful loss. Grace according to God is free for us, but very costly for him. Thus, as a Good-News person, while we receive grace freely, and to show graciousness in big-hearted ways, let us remember that true grace may require some element of suffering. A brother in Christ once said about true giving, at a fund-raising seminar, filled with rich and successful people. “Give until it hurts.” Ouch.

It reminds me of the rich young man who asks Jesus what is necessary for eternal life.

Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Matthew 19:21-22)

Stage #3: Very few people suffer (or willing to suffer). Sacrificial giving and living is a mark of a true disciple

It is necessary to become a Good News person before we start sharing the Good News. Perhaps, one of the reasons why we find it difficult to speak the gospel, is because we are still unchanged on the inside? The word ‘gospel’ also means good news. This is the essence of what a Christian life means. It must mean something to the person inside before he can share with people outside.


E) Final words
We need to become ‘good-news people’ before we share the good news with others. For all, including young believers, receive the grace of God freely without reservation (Stage #1). As we grow in age and maturity, let our lives be turned into gracious living, to freely share the love of God through our giving, our caring and our loving of one another, even strangers. Grow into God's likeness by being big-hearted with our possessions, putting people before things (Stage #2). Finally, remember that the grace we receive is not free. It costs us nothing but God everything, through his Son Jesus Christ. Thus, in wanting to be good-news people, are we ready to suffer for Christ, when the calling comes (Stage #3)? The choice is up to you. Like the rich young man who turns away from Jesus because he has many possessions, will we follow Christ to give up worldly entanglements, or to follow the world in pursuit of more entitlements? The choice is really yours.

sabbathwalk

You have to love them first. You can’t serve people whom you can’t love. I’m so emotionally involved with them. I’m in love with them, and it has been only eight months. I pray for them because I love them, That for me is huge! It is something I saw in Mother Teresa. I love them and then serve them, not because it is one of the five purposes of our church either.” – Joe Boyd.

(Gibbs & Bolger, Emerging Churches, 146)

Thought: It is easy to SAY we are Christians, even preach to others to become Christians. It is not so easy to let our lives speak Christianly, that when they see us, they too 'want' to become like Christ.




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

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Better Way

Title: The Better Way
Author: Conrade Yap (20 Jan 2010)

“"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:42)

One of the hardest things to experience is to be an unknown. I remember a time when I was doing cold-calls to new customers in my sales portfolio. At one famous firm, the gatekeeper to the CEO, a secretary curtly says to me: “I don’t even know you.”  Earnest pleas simply fall on uninterested ears. No matter what I say or show, nothing can convince the secretary to let my team meet the big boss. Being an unknown in any industry is tough. Nobody knows you. Nobody wants your products. Small unknowns begin with a serious disadvantage compared with giant corporations with offices worldwide. Big doors remain shut to unknown midgets like me. Many things of this world belong to the rich and the famous, or the well connected.

Facing Rejection
In contrast, when we start throwing big names we are associated with, people pay attention. In the public arena, this is the common practice. An unknown author co-writes a book with a famous name and the book sells by the thousands. An unknown actor become famous when associated with an Oscar winner. An unknown product gets the publicity when endorsed by a rich celebrity.

Another way to avoid rejection is to work in a famous company. I remember among my MBA friends, that one of the most sought after jobs are in the investment banking industry and management consulting companies.  Just becoming an intern in a blue chip firm like Accenture (formerly Anderson Consulting) or any of the Big 4  (used to be at least 8) accounting firms is a ticket to professional stardom. I remember trying for one but fail to get beyond the first interview. Facing rejections is one of the hardest pills to swallow. On hindsight, I think I may have given myself too much big-headed pride to even expect to get a shot at the rich-and-famous. It is simply not for me.

In times like these, I take refuge in knowing that someone will always accept me. Of course my family will stick with me regardless. I know friends who are willing to put aside their fame and big celebrity status, to shake hands with a small unknown like me. For a reject like me, simply being accepted is a big achievement already. People who work with children with disabilities share that there is a public misconception that disability is a disease. In fact, people with disabilities are not exactly asking for a cure. The majority simply asks for something simple: Acceptance. Acceptance is a path toward the better way. We begin to address rejection by first accepting ourselves, and to know that the LORD accepts us as we are.

Martha and Mary
I have preached on this famous Martha-Mary story before. After my sermon, a lady in the congregation actually came up to thank me for giving her a new insight to this old familiar passage. I was talking about NOT comparing busy Martha with contemplative Mary.  It is in desiring Jesus, regardless of our Marthalike-state or Marylike-behavior. Like what many adults will say: “There is no right or wrong answer.” My point then was Jesus accepts us as we are. It is not what we ‘do’ that interests him. It is who we are that attracts him. Jesus looks at the heart. In other words, the story is not about choosing a contemplative lifestyle over a busy lifestyle. It is about choosing Christ, regardless of our busy or contemplative moods. In other words, the key at the foot of Christ is to begin WHERE WE ARE. It is in feeling accepted. The better way is the way of acceptance. Mary chose the better way, to be accepted as she is in Christ.

Martha seeks to find acceptance through the many household chores she do. When she realizes that she is the only one doing them, instead of speaking to Mary directly, she talks past her sister to ask Jesus to ‘tell’ her sister to help her. There is a tinge of unhappiness that Mary is doing nothing, while she is doing everything. For many of us, we understand where Martha is coming from. If everyone sits down like Mary, who is then going to prepare food for the important guests? However, what we miss is the attitude of the heart behind the request. Martha is already allowing her unhappiness to fester on, toward a dislike for her dear sister. This attitude is demanding and in some ways, self-centered. For Martha, the ‘right’ way is her way. It is her stubborn refusal to consider other ways that Jesus has to intervene by saying; Mary has chosen the better way, in Christ.

Being Accepted in a World of Strangers
In life, we are measured by what we do, almost all the time. Externally, it is very tough being a nobody especially in careers that require high visibility and salesmanship.  Internally, it is worse to envy others more successful than us. Sometimes, I too wish that I am better known. When this happens, I remind myself with these questions:
  • Can you handle success?"
  • "Are you able to handle fame and fortune and still remain humble?
  • "Will you be spoilt by success?"
  • "Will God's Name be better glorified through your strengths? Or your weakness?"

When we switch our infatuation with the world, and to start moving toward contentment in God, we are on the right track to the better way. I am encouraged by the Canadian evangelical writer, and current pastor of Moody Church, Dr Erwin Lutzer who writes:

Better to love God and die unknown than to love the world and be a hero; better to be content with poverty than to die a slave to wealth; better to have taken some risks and lost than to have done nothing and succeeded at it; better to have lost some battles than to have retreated from the war; better to have failed when serving God than to have succeeded when serving the devil. What a tragedy to climb the ladder of success only to discover that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.’ (Erwin Lutzer, Failure: The Backdoor to Success, Moody, 1998, p136)

Lutzer's description of the better way blows me away! What a reminder that it is better to be an unknown in the world, and to be accepted in God. What a reminder that contentment is better than great riches. What a revelation to check our ladders, whether they are leaning on the right wall in the first place. The key to the better way begins by not being distracted by the world. Neither is it trying to gain acceptance by doing lots of big projects in the name of God. The key to the better way is in the simple knowledge that God loves us as we are. God loves us regardless of our size and shape of our achievements. God loves us, as we sit at Jesus’ feet, simply adoring him.

Your Choice of a Better Way
Are you struggling with the issue of being accepted in your workplace, your home or any particular comminity group? Do not despair, my brothers and sisters. Even when you encounter failures, or when you feel rejected by those you respect, you know that God accepts you. In Christ, He has already accepted you, before you were conceived. Jesus loves you just as you are, especially when you come with a humble and contrite heart. Remember, the better way is not in terms of which path to take, but the attitudes you wear before the throne of grace. 

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps 51:17)

Thought: The ways of the LORD are infinitely better than the waywardness of the world.


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, January 16, 2010

Reactionary Behavior

Title: Reactionary Behavior vs Proactive Behavior

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 16 Jan 2009

I traveled to Washington DC this week. Getting there is already quite an experience. The security, inconvenience and a little fear (and frustration) among ticketed passengers as well as security staff, takes the joy out of air travel. After being searched, frisked, my belongings scanned and examined, it is a big relief to pass all the security checkpoints at airports. It is not a nice feeling for anyone, to be a suspect unless proven otherwise. The defacto wisdom in clearing security is this: Bring less stuff. The less stuff we carry along, the fewer things need to be scanned. Vancouver airport is particularly stringent; with wait times extending to an additional hour or more on top of the normal security checks. Maybe, the Olympics next month has something to do with it.

Addressing Symptoms or Source?
I empathize with the guards. Just one security lapse, on NorthWest Flight 253 late last year, causes ALL other personnel to be impacted. The numbers themselves are not fair. Even those who have been maintaining their vigilance were ‘punished’ for this one incident. I call such methods a result of ‘reactionary behavior.’ It is like stuffing pegs into holes. Each time one gap is discovered, it will be plugged. Security nowadays has become more reactive, (responding to threats) rather than proactively building relationship through friendship (reducing threats). In other words, reactionary behavior addresses the symptoms more than it actually addresses the source. It employs methods to counter each action with an equal or more powerful opposite reaction. I suppose such methods have led to flaring bad tempers among the passengers. Some even hurled verbal insults. Otherwise, the security people would not have put up a sign that tells passengers not to abuse the security staff. It is not a nice job TSA (US Transport Security Administration) has on their hands.

Reactionary Behavior in Security
One big flaw in security is its reactionary manner of conduct. When the shoe bomber was foiled, nearly all passengers have to remove their shoes to be scanned. When liquids were found to be part of the explosive used by the terrorist, all liquids suddenly get banned from carry on baggage. When it was discovered that the latest terrorist used the restrooms less than an hour before his bombing attempt, the rules were tightened to ban all passengers from getting out of their seats, especially one hour before touchdown. Ridiculously, this included using the restrooms.

Although this latter rule has been recently relaxed, it is incredulous that this cat-and-mouse game is succeeding in making the terrorists the smart-smiling guys, and everyone else like scared-stiff ridicules. The mood is terrible. Nobody trusts anyone anymore. My feel is that, as long as we address only the symptoms, we can potentially see an already stressed security system even more strained. People who used to see traveling as fun, now sees more fear. Reactionary behavior sets the ground for more, not less, reactions waiting to happen. How can we address reactionary behaviors? I think proactive building of relationships must form a major part of the solution.

Reactionary Relationships
Reactionary behavior is not only seen in security measures, but in relationships as well. Sometimes, we jump into frantic rescue mode when a relationship sours. Couples seek marriage counseling. Bosses convene emergency meetings with unhappy staff members. Even Church leaders start to pay more attention to unmet needs when people start leaving their church. My questions are:

  • Why do many people play catchup all the time? 
  • Why must they wait until a problem occur before they do something?
  • Why don't husbands pay more attention to their wives during regular hours?
  • Why don't wives understand their husbands under normal conditions?
  • Why don't people believe the famous saying: "Prevention is better than cure?"

Frequently, the moment the problem happens, looking for cures is not only expensive, it is very difficult to recover. Even the best cures address the symptoms rather than the source. For example, if a wife feels neglected by the husband, can a sudden 24 hour attention change that? What happens after the 24 hours? Usually, we can see such behavior of neglect as a form of taking people for granted. In fact, taking one another for granted, especially our loved ones, is a major reason why relationships decline over time. There must be a better way. There is a better way. Preventative is better than curative.

Preventative Behavior
In the short term, current security measures is like a form of curative to alleviate the fears and stem the dangers of terrorist attacks. However, this alone cannot sustain the safety and peace of the world beyond. The events of September 11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and increasing unease due to terrorism clearly demonstrate that peace cannot be forged on the basis of a tit-for-tat strategy. One way forward is to learn from others. Rather than simply throwing handouts to the poorer societies of the world, why not cultivate in them an ability to help themselves? Why not begin with ourselves, our neighbourhoods or the communities we belong to? Why not actively make friends rather than concentrating on stopping enemies? Why not build communities of friends rather than enclaves of different social groups, and not treat others like outcasts?

Happiness Tied to Community Goodwill
In the West, especially in the technology world, the word ‘ubuntu’ is commonly associated with the popular world of Linux, a computer operating system. Instead of the pricey Windows or Mac OS X, Ubuntu is free for people to download and use on their computers. This word originates from South Africa, which translates as: “We are people through other people.” It implies a huge emphasis on living as communities rather than as individuals. Jean Rebick, a Canadian political activist, draws insights about Ubuntu from a Bolivian perspective. She writes about the deepest held values of the Bolivian indigenous people as being, “I cannot be happy unless everyone in my community has what they need.”

The individual’s happiness is completely tied to the community’s well-being. We can find this idea in all cultures, from ancient Greece to modern South Africa.” (Jean Rebick, Transforming Power, ON: Penguin Canada, 2009, p68)
One cannot be truly happy until everyone in our community has what they need. What exactly do they need? Let me suggest that the nature of relationships is like a paradox. One’s happiness is tied to the happiness of the community one lives in. Conversely, the health of a community is tied to the personal well-being of individuals living in it. The way to personal happiness is not grabbing things for ourselves, but in giving of ourselves for the benefit of others. It is easy to give away things, hard to give away ourselves to the point of humility. Sometimes, we can even be ridiculed. I remember the time when I decide to give up on my promising career. Some colleagues say I am foolish, even crazy. Others share that they wish they had the guts to do the same. After five years, I find myself richly blessed. I have learned to see how God works through community. I can testify to you, that for whatever career prospects I have lost, it has been more than compensated for, through the friends I have gained. True friends stick with us through thick and thin. I learn community trumps the personal. Community thrives among people willing to care and to share. Community injects a special meaning to life that no self-help seminars or manuals can give.

We cannot be happy until everyone in our community has their needs met. This goes against conventional understanding of one’s ‘right’ to pursue happiness in life. With this, there is a lot of wisdom to be gleaned from St Francis of Assisi’s prayer, written in 1226. I believe this is better than reactionary behavior which often goes to address symptoms. This prayer is a form of proactive behavior that addresses the source. It cultivates the ability of all to make peace. This is our calling, not simply as Christians, but as a human people.

Thought: Who are the people in your house and your neighbourhood? Your church? Your social group? Your office? Have you taken them for granted? Have you only gone to them when YOU have a need? Why not have coffee with them, even when you do not have a need. Why not simply enjoy them as friends?


PRAYER OF ST FRANCIS
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.


sabbathwalk




Copyright by SabbathWalk 2010. 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, January 5, 2010

Forgiveness Heals the Heart

Title: Forgiveness heals the heart

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 4 Jan 2010
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
Last week, I posted a final reflection for 2009 at my other blog called 'Yapdates'. (Note: this is different from SabbathWalk which is published only once a week.) Over there, I was thinking back on my many varied posts on topics ranging from technology to spirituality, from public matters to things more personal, or simply to write something to go along with what the whole world is doing: “Wishing one and all a Happy New Year!” Then, I decided, that one way to summarize the year is not simply forgetting everything like Auld-Lang-Syne, but to focus on something more constructive. I ask myself:
  • Should I be content with simply forgetting everything like sweeping dust under a carpet?
  • How should I approach the new year? Is it going to be repeating the same old years?
No. My last post for 2009 at Yapdates focuses on forgiveness. I feel that my first post at SabbathWalk ought to be on forgiveness as well. This is because I believe forgiveness heals the hearts. Here is why.......

A World in Need of Healing
In life, because of our fragile human nature, it is only a matter of time before we eventually get hurt one way or another. It could be a careless scratch on the face. It could be a silly word uttered by a close friend. It could be an insensitive remark said over the meeting. It could also be an accidental push by something carrying a dinner tray. Given our human tendencies to get hurt or to hurt, isn't it appropriate for us to find ways for healing as well?

Lest I be accused of extreme pessimism, let me add that with hurts, come the redemptive prospect of healing as well. For physical hurts, we can use various ointments and medication to sooth physical nerves. We see a medical doctor for advice to our external wounds, migraines or anything that is impeding us from our normal activities. For hurts that are less pathological, like mental well-being, one will have to visit a local psychologist, a psychiatrist or even a pastor. Whatever it is, in any holistic treatment, there are many ways to heal the flesh and the mind.   

What about things of the heart? How can one heal a broken heart? In my last 2009 reflection, I chose one of Michael Jackson’s video clip, which was rather symbolic for human relationships. It is not ‘Thriller’ or ‘Billie Jean.’ In fact, it is lesser known compared to these record smashing songs. Entitled, 'Heal the World,' Michael Jackson’s singing versatility drives home the perennial human need: Forgiveness. I like to begin this first SabbathWalk post of 2010 by urging all of us to embark on this pilgrimage of forgiveness, as not merely acts, but as an attitude of peacemaking. Healing the heart begins with an attitude of forgiveness.


[If you have not, you can pause here to watch the video.]


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