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.

sabbathwalk


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