Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Acceptance, Not Suspicion

Title: “Accepting One Another” Not “Suspecting Each Another”
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 23 Feb 2010

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Rom 15:7)

We live in an age of scepticism. We watch role models fall because of sexual misconduct. We see respectable blue chips companies like Enron fall because of unethical practices. We see fairy tale weddings like Prince Charles and Lady Diana's end because of irreconciable differences. In life, reputations are hard to build but easy to break down. With more bad news than good, if we are not careful, sarcasm can easily color our views of society and culture. We see life with more suspicion than acceptance.

A) The Christian in a Culture of Suspicion
Take celebrity couples for example. It is to my dismay when I hear that due to the high divorce rates, some matrimonial lawyers in Hollywood rub their hands in glee whenever celebrities get married. They suppose that every new marriage is a potential divorce over time. Unscrupulous ones can easily gain from multi-million dollars celebrity couples break ups. At the same time, they get to bask in the media attention generated by their high profile clients. I am horrified at such level of sarcasm over the sacred institution of marriage.

The trouble is, if we allow tabloids and sensational papers, to influence us, we become unhealthy cynics ourselves. In this issue, I will be encouraging us to cultivate a posture of acceptance, amid a culture of suspicion. This is because it is important for Christians in society to be able to live as people of acceptance. Until we learn what the grace of God means to us personally, we will not be able to show the same grace to others.

B) Wading in a Pool of Suspicion
On Feb 19th, 2010, Tiger Woods made a personal apology about his personal misdeeds. In that widely televised event, he pledges to take full responsibility for what he has done. Being a famous golf personality, he is accountable to many of his sponsors as well as his admirers all over the world. No doubt, Woods is one of the most marketable persons in the world. His extraordinary skills at the golf course, plus a boyish look certainly charms many people, until his recent revelation of sexual scandals. His unreserved, unassuming, unconditional and unorthodox confession surprises many. For a celebrity, it is quite a bold move. It makes the former President Bill Clinton's public apology pales in comparison. Look at his carefully worded statement:

I was wrong. I was foolish. I don't get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me. I brought this shame on myself. I hurt my wife, my kids, my mother, my wife's family, my friends, my foundation and kids all around the world who admired me.
I've had a lot of time to think about what I've done. My failures have made me look at myself in a way I never wanted to before. It's now up to me to make amends and that starts by never repeating the mistakes I've made. It's up to me to start living a life of integrity.”
(From: www.tigerwoods.com, 19 Feb 2010)

Despite his openness, sceptics and cynics continue to view him with suspicion that he is less than honest. Many people are still cautious about believing all that he says. That day, in an ABC opinion poll, 23% of respondents do not trust him. Other polls report a higher figure of 39% (http://bit.ly/bLe1dP). Some even poke fun at Woods’ confession by making videos depicting Woods as a fake, a show off. I feel that such deeds are uncalled for. My thoughts are: “So what if Tiger Woods is rich and famous? That does not make him less human.” Being wealthy does not mean he deserves to be accepted lesser than any other normal person like you and I. Truly, I feel that sometimes we allow our perception of another person’s success to cloud our heads. Should a millionaire be held to a higher ethical standard than a lowly paid clerk? Should a celebrity be condemned more for misdeeds than an unknown man on the street? In God’s eyes, a sinner is a sinner, regardless of riches, reputation or relationship. Scriptures clearly state:

As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one’;” (Rom 3:10)

If there is no one righteous, why should anybody behave in a self-righteous behaviour like judging the sincerity of Tiger Woods? He will be judged. Let us not judge. We can choose to believe whatever we can, and to accept at face value those that we do not know. For all the suspicions and disbelief, let us not become judges sitting up high in an ivory tower of pride.

C) Cultivating a Posture of Acceptance
Resisting the temptation to wade in a pool of suspicion is not the only thing. We need to embrace an attitude of openness. We need to cultivate a posture of acceptance. Let me suggest three ways to cultivate this. The first step to accepting others is always to begin by acknowledging the grace of God. As much as Christ has shown grace to us, we ought to show grace to others. Without recognizing our sinful selves, everything else we touch will be tainted by sin. Once, there was a disgruntled church member, seeking to look for a perfect church. On some Sundays, he complains that the music is too loud. Other times, he will comment about the attitudes of the ushers. Then he will say some negative things about the leadership. Finally, he throws up his hands in disgust and seeks to leave for a better church somewhere else. A friend says to him:

“Don’t bother to look for a perfect church. If you do, do not join it, for YOU will make it imperfect.”

Right on! None of us are perfect enough to make a perfect church. We must learn to accept one another and seek to be the best church that we can be.  If we think that we can make a church perfect on our own abilities, we deceive ourselves. We deceive the church. We dishonour Christ. We cannot judge others from a superior pedestal of self-righteousness. Instead, we sit under the judgment of the Word of God which declares us righteous only after having been washed in the Blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:14). We are sinners needing the grace of God. Having accepted this grace, we ought to learn to accept the imperfections of people, and graciously accept the failings of church and church people. Even as we live in a culture of suspicion, we need to be careful not to walk the same path of sin as in our former lives as unbelievers. By recognizing where we ought NOT to go, we will be LESS likely to repeat walking the erroneous ways.

The second thing to learn in cultivating a posture of acceptance is to show grace during moments of opportunity. CS Lewis observes:
Sceptical, incredulous, materialistic ruts have been deeply engraved in our thoughts, perhaps even in our physical brains by all our earlier lives. At the slightest jerk our thought will flow down those old ruts. And notice when the jerks come. Usually at the precise moment when we might receive Grace. And if you were a devil would you not give the jerk just at those moments?
(CS Lewis, The Collected Letters of CS Lewis Vol III)
Lewis warns us about that moment of weakness. We need to be careful not to allow an opportunity for grace to succumb into a moment of unkind scepticism. Chances are, it not only discourages the person wanting to repent, but sows a seed of self-righteous doubt in our hearts. When we show grace, we anchor ourselves in God's abiding love .It happens to me before. At one time, when my daughter comes back with a C+ grade in one of her subjects,  my mind becomes focused on A's and B's that I forget about her efforts to improve her scores from C- to C+. Silly me. That was a moment for me to show grace, rather than unkindness.

The third thing to adopt is praying for them. In prayer, we commit to God our best desires for the people concerned. If we see someone confessing his or her sin, rather than suspecting them of any negative intentions, why not pray for them? Why not let them come under the blessing of our prayers for them? Why not ask God to help them do what they promised to do? Better still, pray that God can freely use US! More importantly, prayer is an opportunity for the restoration of relationships. Kenneth Leech writes:

Prayer is fellowship with God, the healing of a broken relationship, but it can only occur in Christ and in his great atoning work of prayer. There is therefore a close connection between prayer and the Cross.” (Kenneth Leech, True Prayer, Toronto: Anglican Book Company, 1980, 127)

D) Concluding Words
Tiger Woods has made his confession. Let others view him with suspicion. Let others make derogatory statements about him. Not me.  I choose not to judge him. Whether he tells the truth or he lies, is for him to decide. Not me. Christians need to adopt an attitude of acceptance, to take his words at face value. Let us cultivate a posture of acceptance. Let Tiger Woods try to recover. Accept him based on his promise to repent. Even though he has chosen Buddhism as the path for his recovery, let us not be too quick to criticize his spiritual choice. Let us concern ourselves with the work and purpose of God, believing that as we lift Jesus higher, Jesus will draw all people to him, maybe even the disgraced golfer. In his good time, grace will lead more people home.

Thought: In prayer, we not only relate to God, we relate to humankind as well, not as superior beings, but as forgiven sinners.


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, February 18, 2010

Praying Attentively

Author: Conrade Yap
Date: 18 Feb 2010

MAIN IDEA – True and honest prayer is giving attention to God.

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Ps 43:5)

Attention is a limited resource. Wives love it. Children need it. School teachers demand it. Professors request it. Marketers entice people to give it. Advertisers everywhere take it under our noses. In the online world, thousands of Internet websites deceive people into giving their very attention through cheap flicks and expensive clicks. Using a formidable arsenal of ‘weapons of mass distraction’ (WMD), this very precious but limited supply of attention is siphoned away from many unsuspecting people. In April 2009, BBC mentions a Microsoft security report that states that 97% of the world’s emails delivered are ‘unwanted ones.

For many of us, we can be easily miffed by unsolicited email requests or hoaxes. Web advertisers are partly to blame. Using a clever cash-for-clicks model, they encourage web users to click at various links as often as possible. If an ad on a website exceeds a certain number of clicks per month, the owner gets paid. If the user goes on to purchase the product, the owner gets paid even more. This simple formula has been creatively and most profitably used by Google. In doing so, they make money and at the same time receive a disproportionate amount of attention on the Internet. Their astronomical success has made Google a household name. Even children in school learn to use the term ‘Google it’ as a 2-word way to replace the common: ‘Search for it on the Internet.’ What made Google an Internet superstar is the way it quietly garners attention for itself. In such a way, how can we not become easily distracted? How can we not succumb to surrendering our precious attention to less worthy causes? How can we avoid letting our prayer lives crumble under the weight of distractions?

Praying Inattentively
Prayer is already a challenge for some of us. Living in an Internet age has made it harder. Much harder. This is most evident when we repeat our commonly used prayer occasions. For me personally, one of the most obvious cases of inattentive praying is saying grace before meals. In my family, we observe a brief moment of silence in order to pray. All of us take turns to say grace at different days of the week. After a day of hush and rush, sitting still and going slow is a challenge. We just want to get on with it, and go to the main dish.

If there is an Olympic medal to be given out for the speed in giving thanks, I believe one of us could have easily won it. The words: “Thank you God for dinner. In Jesus’ name, Amen,” Can be made in mere seconds, some say micro-seconds. The problem with such praying is that we want to hurry through the motions in order to get to the main thing: the food. The hungrier one is, the faster the prayer. Perhaps, dinner is one of the most inappropriate times to be practicing contemplative prayer. Yet, I cannot but feel a sense of dishonesty when we try to do the ‘Christian’ thing of saying the right words, regardless of where the heart is. If giving thanks over meals is the ‘only’ time that we pray, sadly, it will make our prayer life, a life of praying inattentively.

Another example is the way that we rush through our Sunday rendition of the Lord’s Prayer. Most of the adults and elderly among us have memorized this prayer. When the service is rushed due to a late start, we tend to zoom through the prepared order of service so that we can finish on-time for after service refreshments and coffee. Such intense ‘wanting-to-get-on-with-it’ feelings make traditional rituals even more ‘ritualistic.’ After going through the motions, some people will then start to complain even more, how boring and meaningless the church service has been. I will be quick to add: “Excuse me? In the first place, aren’t you a part of the ‘boring and meaningless’ church service?” Indeed, the trouble with many of our prayers and worship is due to a preoccupation with the self rather than with God. When this happens, our attention gets focused on the self, and in doing so we get distracted from the God and people we say we love.

Tim Dearborn describes it well.

“It is a strange tragedy that western spirituality and worship are often held captive by a preoccupation with the human rather than the divine. Instead of awakening us to perceive the gracious presence of God, our worship services too often begin and end with ourselves: what we do, hear and experience. We evaluate worship in terms of what we get out of it, what we like, what we feel and what we receive.” (Tim Dearborn, Taste and See, Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1996, 31)

Indeed, it is the preoccupation with self that leads to the accumulation of attention to self that affects true praying. If everything is about I, Me, Myself, we will be giving leftovers to God. Is this how we treat the One who generously gives His Only Son to die for us? No!

The key to attentive praying is crucially to recognize that it is not about us. It is not about meeting our needs. It is definitely not about breaking the speed record in praying. No one should ever boast of any ability to pray for 1000 people in less than 1 second. Let me put it this way: Inattentive praying is dishonesty before God. In prayer, it is about entering into God's presence with attention.

Praying Attentively
Attentive prayer is one that is done with an attitude of worship. You may find this strange. Isn’t worship about singing songs and giving God glory? Isn’t worship about following a set of Sunday rituals laid out in our Order of Service in Churches? No. Prayer is the glue of worship. Prayer is the full and total attention given to God. It is the honest plea of our heart to ask God to listen to our deepest desires for Him. It is the deepest delight of our heart IN the LORD that God joyfully grants us the desires of our heart FOR God. A good prayer is attentive prayer. Once, Martin Luther wrote a simple prayer guide for his friend and barber. At the heart of this simple guide is the need to cultivate attentiveness to God. In A Simple Way to Pray, Luther writes:

“Thus if anything is to be done well, it requires the full attention of all one’s senses and members, as the proverb says, ‘Pluribus intentus, minor est ad singula sensus’ – ‘He who thinks of many things, thinks of nothing and does nothing right.’ How much more does prayer call for concentration and singleness of heart if it is to be a good prayer!”
(Martin Luther, A Simple Way to Pray, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000, p33)

If we are saying grace over meals, I recommend using fewer words, but more attention to God. Simply say with earnest and honesty, “Father, thank you,” with meaning is far more significant than pages of wordy prayers without much understanding or meaningfulness. The key of prayer is not in terms of quantity of words but the quality of attention. This is one reason why I like short prayers. They are easier to remember or memorize. They can be taught without much theological jargon. It does not drain our limited pool of attention span.

One more thing. One way to start cultivating attentive praying is to pray with the Psalms. I have been meditating through the Psalms at my other website (theologyatwork.wordpress.com). It is an attempt to help cultivate attentive praying. Published daily at midnight, it is intentionally short, and allows the reader to meditate on the Psalms. You are welcome to subscribe there with your email address.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Ps 51:10)

Thought: Prayer is not a matter of being worried about whether God answers it or not. Prayer is learning to trust that God will take care of us and people we love, regardless of our needs.


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, February 9, 2010

Words Hurt, Words Heal

Title: Words Can Hurt; Words Can Heal

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 9 Feb 2010

This week, I am mindful of relationships. I was drawn to Proverbs.

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)

A story was told about a rabbi, teaching his class about the seriousness of words, especially spoken word. He says that words are likened to an arrow, rather than a sword. One puzzled student asks why. In reply, the rabbi says:

“A man may attempt to kill his friend by removing his sword from the sheath. If the friend pleads for mercy, the man may relent and puts the sword back in the safety of the sheath. However, if an arrow is shot, it cannot be returned. For once it is fired off, its aim is to hurt and perhaps kill.”
Words can hurt. Words can also heal.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Marriage as a Covenant

Covenant Marriage: Remove your 'Rights' Hat; Put On your 'Responsibility' hat
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 3 Feb 2010

Last Sunday I spoke in Church about marriage, in particular Christian marriage. I was pleasantly surprised at the numbers that turned out. There were even visitors from outside the Church who came. Several people later came up to me to ask for more of such sessions. The high level of interest about marriage confirms in my mind that marriage, despite its challenges, remains one of the most treasured institutions in church and I dare say, society at large. One can find numerous books about marriage in nearly any library. Preparing for the talk in Church gives me an opportunity to research, learn and consolidate what I know about marriage. This week, I like to share one profound truth about marriage. Marriage is a covenant. This covenant has two parts. Firstly, marriage as a covenant means we remove our 'rights' hat, and secondly, we put on our 'responsibilities' hat.

1) Removing our 'Rights' Hat
This is one of the most profound truths that I have learned. We live in a world where people insist on their right to have things their own way. We have a right to be hired without discrimination of any kind. Citizens have a right to vote. The American Freedom Declaration enshrines the 'pursuit of happiness' as a right of every national. Even criminals when they are arrested need to have their rights read to them. Rights are especially important when it comes to getting things done anywhere. In fact, when we refuse to exercise our rights, sometimes we risk being bullied or ignored. Customer service officials tend to pay more attention to people who protest loudly, rather than people who accept their predicament meekly. Insisting on rights is very much a way of life in our society.If marriage is written as a contract, like many Hollywood movie stars, there is always money and compensation arranged in kind, a so-called prenuptial agreement. The wealthier one gets, the greater the likelihood of such a self-protective agreement.

For the ordinary folk, having lived a whole day in a culture of rights, the moment we return home to our marriages, we invariably carry with us this 'rights' insistence. We bring home such a mindset that we unconsciously and unwittingly apply these 'rights' expectation onto our marriages. The problem is, when a husband insist on his rights, and the wife insist on hers, we have a standoff that strains marriages slowly but surely. Our marriage suddenly becomes more 'contractual' rather than 'covenantal.'

Marriage as a covenant means one does not live for oneself for own's sake. Once, a Regent professor I know, was traveling in Europe with his wife on their 40th anniversary. When a monk living on the mountains knew about it, he said to them: “Mamma Mia! 40 years of martyrdom.” Indeed, this monk realizes the truth of what marriage means. Marriage is a kind of martyrdom that essentially means dying to self.

You may be questioning what kind of a credibility monks have, since they are pledged to celibacy. Let me then remind you that Christian monks are in a sense 'married,' to the cause of Christ. (I am referring to those monks who have pledged their lives to celibacy.) They love the Church and they love the Lord Jesus. They learn to love as Christ loved. Thus, we can learn from these monks, that our love in marriage ought to be like the way Christ loved the Church. 

Marriage as a covenant means we are no longer ourselves. We are in a new relationship. Scriptures have a very special way of describing our marriage state.
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24, NIV)
'Becoming one flesh' means we are no longer our own. We belong to the marriage. It is no longer 'my' marriage, but 'our' marriage. When a spouse is celebrating or hurting, both spouses are affected. Becoming one flesh means that we give up our individual rights to be self-satisfied. It is no longer my rights or your rights. Far too many books have been written about marriage techniques, and how to resolve differences. However, very few books talk about recognizing the meaning of dying-to-self when it comes to marriage. I do not mean denying our own personal identity. That is self-debasement, which is non-scriptural, and spits on the very value God has given to each of us. Martyrdom in marriage means voluntarily giving up our rights. Marriage as covenant means we give up the right to insist that our spouse:

  • Anticipate all of our needs according to our whims and fancies;
  • Behave in a certain way;
  • Cater to our moods;
  • Do things to our satisfaction;
  • Engage us when we want to be engaged.
  • ......

Marriage is a covenant, not a contract. When we see marriage as a contract, we are insisting on a set of rights. When we see marriage as a covenant, we lay aside our 'rights' so that we can put on another hat, the hat of responsibility. This requires humility, and a willingness to love one another, like Christ.

2) Putting ON the 'Responsibility' Hat
One of the things I shared last Sunday is 'Mind Your Own Verses.' In Paul's epistle to the Ephesians, he writes to wives that they ought to submit themselves to their husbands, as in the LORD (Eph 5:22). It is specifically addressed to wives, and not meant for husbands to use this as ammunition against their wives. Likewise, Paul writes to husbands to love their wives, the same way Christ loves the Church (Ephesians 5:25). It is not meant for wives to use the verse in order to hold their husbands to ransom. In a nutshell, the message is “Husbands and wives, mind your own verses.

The way to do this in marriage is to put on the hat of responsibility. This requires a willing heart, and an intentional mind. Wives need to willingly put on their hat of responsibility. Husbands need to willingly put on their hat of responsibility. Wives need to ask: “What can I do or say to be the best wife I can be?” Husbands need to ask: “What can I do or say to be the best husband to my wife?

At the same time, wives can also say to themselves:
  • How can I help my husband become the best person he can be?” 
  • "If my husband is hurting, how can I play my part at healing?" 
  • "Have I prayed for my husband today?"

Husbands too, can say to themselves:
  • How can I help my wife become the best person she can be?
  • "If my wife is hurting, how can I play my part in healing?"
  • "Have I prayed for my wife today?"
The hat of responsibility means that each spouse:
  • Be responsible to communicate fairly and appropriately;
  • Be responsible to be the best husband or wife first;
  • Be responsible to correct one another in love;
  • Be responsible to control oneself, and not be too eager to correct others;
  • Be responsible to fulfill the other persons's needs;
  • Be responsible to celebrate joyous occasions;
  • Be responsible to protect the partner when the partner is vulnerable.
  • the list can go on.....
C) Final Words
A marriage as a covenant has one additional uniqueness. It is done regardless of what the spouse does or does not do. In other words, regardless of how many percent the husband gives to the marriage, the wife will give her 100% always. Likewise, regardless of how many percent the wife gives to the marriage, the husband will give his total commitment of 100%. A marriage seen contractually is never like this. A marriage as a contract means that the moment one party fails to do as promised, the other can freely withhold his or her end of the bargain. Marriage as a covenant is entered into willingly, not forcibly.

My brothers and sisters, especially those who are married, learn to differentiate the hats you wear. When you relate to others, perhaps you need to maintain and keep your hat of 'rights.' However, when you return home to your spouse, remove your hat of 'rights' and put on your hat of 'responsibility.' In marriage, do not talk about your rights. Practice your responsibilities first. For in marriage, we are talking more about responsibilities rather than rights. In marriage, we live and we love not by feelings, but by vows voluntarily and freely made. Live as people of responsibility, not as people insisting on their rights.

Finally, I know many of us are busy people. What if we 'forget' to remove our rights hat? Let me suggest we remember the following, 'Covenant Marriage Bill of Rights' and practice them responsibly.

  1. I have the right to encourage you daily. I have the right to build you up, not tear you down.
  2. I have the right to affirm you every time you succeed.
  3. I have the right to encourage you every time you win or lose.
  4. I have the right to comfort you when you hurt.
  5. I have the right to protect you when you are attacked.
  6. I have the right to pray for you without ceasing.
  7. I have the right to defend you from every weapon formed against you.
  8. I have the right to esteem and honor you.
  9. I have the right to pick you up when you fall.
  10. I have the right to speak life to you.
  11. I have the right to love you unconditionally.
  12. I have the right to respect you in front of others.
  13. I have the right to find out your needs and meet them and to diagnose your hurts and heal them.
  14. I have the right to serve you at any time.
  15. I have the right to ask God to give you wisdom. I have the right to bless you.

    [Credit: www.2equal1.com - (http://bit.ly/9q3RvY)]

Thought: Marriage as a covenant means: 'For better or for worse. For richer or for poorer. In sickness and in health, till death do us part.'


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.