Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Choices R Us

TITLE: Choices R Us
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 26 May 2010

MAIN IDEA: Ever felt helpless? Encountered hopelessness? In this life, there will be challenges. Some happen once in a while. Some occur regularly in different degrees. While we cannot control the kinds of problems that come our way, we can choose how we are to respond to any of them.

One of the most fascinating stories in the gospels is the meeting of Jesus and the lame man by the pool of Bethesda. The gospel of John reads:
A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?” (John 5:5-6, NAS)

What? Did Jesus ask the obvious? Of course, the blind would love to see. The dumb would love to talk. The deaf would want to hear. Surely, the lame would desire to walk. Why on earth would Jesus ask such an apparent question? The answer to this lies in Jesus’ profound observation skills.


A) With Eyes That See
Jesus sees not just a lame, handicapped man. The gospel writer says 38 years the man has lain in that condition. Think about that. What can 38 years do to a man? Probably, most of the productive and youthful years have been wasted. Jesus, who already knew about the history of this unnamed man, chooses not to take it for granted. He asks the question that tugs at the heart of the invalid man, “Do you wish to get well?

From the Greek, Jesus’ question can be paraphrased as ‘Do you really desire to be made whole and healthy?” I like the NRSV rendition, which translates as “Do you want to be made well?” Jesus apparently knew that for the man ‘in that condition,’ the biggest problem is not the physical handicap. The bigger problem is a heart that is lethargic, languid, and lame. The lame man was given a choice. Look at the reply.
The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” (John 5:7)

This very answer from the lame man, tells us that he is no longer simply a lame man. He is filled with shame and prefers to play the blame game. Both are symptoms of helplessness and self-imposed hopelessness.

B) Helplessness: Lame, Shame & Blame
If the man is physically lame, his words reflect a lamer attitude. Why didn’t the man say a simple, ‘Yes?’ Why didn’t he put some positive attitude into his reply? Why did his answer reflect a state of helplessness rather than a heart of hopefulness? The man was given more than a question of fact. He was practically given a choice to choose healing. He fails to recognize that ‘not choosing’ is already a choice in itself.
I get a feeling that this man has a sense of hidden anger about his own physical handicap. He has unwittingly allowed his physical disability become like a virus that impairs his mental and emotional willingness to get well. In other words, escapism is his form of coping with his helplessness. He escapes into blaming others for entering the water before him. He escapes into his own shame of being handicapped. He escapes into his cocoon of self-pity. In other words, this man digs his own grave of helplessness, to bathe in his own pond of hopelessness. He displays this escapist pattern right before the Giver of Hope: Jesus.

C) Helplessness in Modern Society
I hear about helplessness from time to time. People often talk about the homeless situation in Vancouver, yet are lost as how to go about helping them. In political circles, the news continues to show failings in leadership, and it is common to hear statements from the man in the street that the government is corrupt in some way. Even in Church, there is a temptation to complain and be skeptical about new changes implemented. I hear of people saying, ‘Been There; Done That. What’s New?’ I notice cynics who are not only ‘bored’ by ideas, but are downright condescending on people who are energized and excited about change. Such things are symptoms of a mood of helplessness.

During my studies, I discovered the works of a Bangladeshi banker, called Muhammed Yunus. He is a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner, largely due to his Micro-Finance initiative to help the poor help themselves. In an interview, he shares about his early years of feeling helpless at seeing the poverty around him.
“I was teaching in one of the universities while the country was suffering from a severe famine. People were dying of hunger, and I felt very helpless. As an economist, I had no tool in my tool box to fix that kind of situation.” (Muhammed Yunus)

What did Yunus do? First he observes how the poor gets bullied by money-lenders. Second, he thinks of ways to help these people help themselves. Third, he develops a plan called ‘micro-financing.’ Essentially, micro-financing is a way to provide small loans to a group of people who are prepared to be guarantors of each other. Say there are 5 friends who borrowed $10 each from Yunus. If one friend defaults, the other 4 friends are responsible to pay the difference. Called the ‘banker to the poor,’ Yunus has become world famous for being able to help the poor help themselves. The Bangladeshi bank he founded is called Grameen Bank, which literally means ‘bank of the villagers’ is largely owned by the poor. It is a positive success story that has brought hope to many poor communities in Bangladesh.

D) Against Negativity: Sharing Hope

We live in an increasingly tough world. Sometimes, we are susceptible to bad news after bad, that affects our mood for hope. In times like these, let Jesus nip our negativity in the bud, just like how Jesus did to the lame man. Speaking with authority, Jesus called him to:
"Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." (John 5:8)

In three terse verbs, Jesus calls the man to ‘get up’ from his state of self-pity, ‘pick up’ whatever he has, and ‘walk.’ These three active verbs help snap the lame man into action. Thankfully, the man obeyed Jesus’ words.

Perhaps, for us as Christians, when we encounter challenges, let us not complain. Let us not blame others for our predicament. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, and listen to Him whisper in our ears: “Get up! Pick up whatever pieces you have, and come follow Me.

Surely we can obey?

When the challenges in life come upon us, it is very tempting to swim in self-pity, or to hide our heads in the sand of shame like an ostrich in danger. Break out of our cocoons. Tear down the walls of self-pity. Let our light shine before men, that they may see God’s glory, through the way we live in hope. When the going gets tough, let go of any helplessness. When the challenges seem insurmountable, do not lose hope. For there is nothing, no temptation that can test us beyond what we can handle (1 Cor 10:13). It is a promise.

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Cor 10:13)

Albert Camus, another Nobel Prize winner, says that "Life is the sum of all our choices." 

Do not be afraid to choose. Choose wisely. Choose well. Choose Christ. Choose to be a ‘pencil’ for God to use.


Thought: “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.” (Mother Teresa)


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, May 18, 2010

Courage to Believe

TITLE: Courage to Believe
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 18 May 2010

"You are always righteous, O LORD,
when I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all the faithless live at ease?" (Jer 12:1)

During times of hardship, injustice and disappointment, how do we continue to be courageous? How do we maintain a brave disposition when all the odds seem to be against us?

A story was told during WWII about the ruler of Denmark, after the country was overrun by the hated Nazi troops. The Danish head, King Christian X became upset when the Nazi flag was raised on one of the official government buildings in Copenhagen. He ordered the Germans to remove the flag immediately. The soldiers replied that as conquerors of Denmark, they do not take orders from the Danish. Instead, they give orders. When King Christian X retorted that a Danish soldier was on his way to take the ‘filthy flag’ down, the Nazis threatened to shoot anyone who attempts to touch the flag. In a remarkable display of courage, King Christian X then challenged the Nazis to shoot him, because he was going to personally take down the flag. This example of courage inspired many Danish people during one of the lowest points in their history.

A) Jeremiah’s Plight
The Prophet Jeremiah is one of the most courageous men in the Bible. Called the ‘weeping prophet’ by many, Jeremiah lived through turmoil and distress, during one of the most depressing times in Jewish history. He began his ministry since the days of King Josiah (640-609BC). His ministry continued during the reign of 4 other kings, namely Jehoahaz, Jehoakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah, to the fall of Jerusalem. Jeremiah began his ministry on a high note (King Josiah’s reforms), and concluded with a miserable end (Fall of Jerusalem). Through it all, Jeremiah remained faithful. The passage above is part of Jeremiah’s prayer and tussle with God over what is happening. In times like that, we understand why Jeremiah complained about why the wicked and the faithless have all the good stuff.

Jeremiah’s ministry started positively, with God anointing him on his lips (Jer 1:9). He gave God’s warnings to Israel to repent (Jer 2-4). He warned them about the false religions, that they are worthless (Jer 7). He warned Israel about the punishments (Jer 8-10). Yet, people plotted against the prophet (Jer 11:18). Not only were the Israelites unfaithful to God, they planned evil against the prophet of God. Nothing seemed to be going right for the prophet. It was one of the hardest places to ‘do the right thing.’ How could anyone NOT weep?

B) Is Doing the Right Thing Worth It?
As I think about life in our modern society, how easy it is to become discouraged when things do not work out as we expect. We become depressed when even our Plan Bs and Cs fail. Our desire to ‘do the right thing’ in our offices, our social circles and our family interactions, diminishes especially when we see good ideas that do not bear fruit. There is a Chinese phrase [好心没好报];, which literally means ‘kindness does not beget good results.’ I suppose Jeremiah must be feeling this way, when despite all of his good intentions, not only do the Israelites ignore his warnings, they want to hurt him as well.

Last month, there was a report by USAToday, about a woman assaulted by an attacker in New York City. A homeless man, Hugo Tale-Yak came to the aid of this damsel in distress. In doing so, the Good Samaritan was fatally stabbed by the vicious attacker. What is even more troubling is that for more than one and a half hours, none of the passersby along the street called for help. People simply minded their own business. Is it worth it, to save a woman’s life, and losing one’s own? Does it make sense for Hugo Tale-Yak?

Chances are, there will be people who dismiss this homeless man as having ‘nothing to live for’ in the first place. Others may claim ‘not to know’ thinking that the man was simply ‘sleeping on the streets.’ Still some might be afraid whether this man sprawled on the ground can still hurt people. Whatever the reason, this incident is troubling. More troubling is that there are many instances which reflect a similar behaviour. Think about an innocent person being bullied inside a subway train. Think about a physical bully happening on the streets. Think about an unreasonable act of verbal abuse at the shop counter by an irritated customer. Is it worth it to risk one’s life, to stand up for the right thing?

Recently, I watched the local news on Canadian TV about another Good Samaritan recovering from stabbing wounds obtained while trying to help a total stranger, fend off another violent attacker. In the interview, he showed viewers the deep cuts and slashes on both his face and his body. The stitches he received highlight a brutal and senseless assault on him, while trying to save someone totally unrelated to him. Is it worth it? Remarkably, the man replied that if he is in a similar situation next time, he would do it again? Why? It is because he has been brought up to do the right thing.

I sat there amazed. How rare it is for a person to stand up for what he believed in, even if it means endangering his life. CS Lewis once said:
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” (C.S. Lewis)
This man passed the test of what he believed. What about us? How authentic our faith is, will be made known during moments of trial and tribulations. Will we pass the test when our faith is under pressure?

C) Courage Under Pressure
Many of us live in a cosy comfortable environment. As we climb the social strata, we rise in better living conditions and material gains. The question is, what about our inner selves? Are we growing inside, even as we accumulate outside? Are we progressing internally, even as we are prospering externally? There is a good chance, that some of us are having ‘stunted’ growth. Stunted in the sense that we develop a lop-sided growth. We are good at collecting and receiving stuff; but poor in giving away things to the needy. We are stunted when we say one thing and act another. We are stunted when we claim to have courage, but fail to exercise it when the need arises. Our growth is stunted when we become hearers only, and not doers of the Word. Stunted growth is a classic form of self-limitation because of fear, doubts and a lack of faith.

When our deep beliefs are questioned, how we respond reflects the kind of faith we have. Is it a full faith, or a half-way faith? Is it an All-weather-proof faith or a fair-weathered faith?

Continuing our earlier story, King Christian X of Denmark proceeded to remove the German flag. Confused, and fearful of punishment for shooting a king, the Nazi soldiers meekly proceeded to remove the flag. It was a small victory for the Danish king, but a big one for morale.

However, this is not the only story about this courageous king. Another time, the Nazis were trying to round up more Jews to be exterminated; they ordered the Danish Jews to wear an armband to distinguish themselves from the rest of the conquered Danish population. In a courageous show of defiance, King Christian X took an armband and wore it prominently on his arm. Furthermore, he hopped onto a horse and rode through the streets of Copenhagen, declaring that all Danish citizens were equal, and the armband symbolized the Star of David. It is because of courage like this, that Denmark was one of the few European countries to have a very low number of Jews massacred by the Nazis. Compared to more than 3 million Jews murdered in Poland, only about 60 Jews were killed in Denmark.

D) Believing Requires Courage
What is the lesson for us? Simply put, when our faith is under threat, let our courage do the walking. Let our faith and courage do the talking. Let us walk the talk, even as testify about our faith. Let us maintain a firm exercise of our faith courageously. It is better to die with courage, then to live in fear.

My readers, have you been depressed lately? Have you encountered disappointments? Perhaps there is a time to hide behind our closets. Perhaps there is a time to cover our heads and sleep away our troubles. Perhaps that is the preferred way to approach life for the moment. Avoidance.

Consider this. Maybe, it is time to take courage. It is time to live by faith. It is time to take up the Cross of Christ, and courageously follow Christ. Maybe, living by faith may look difficult, but when it is practiced, we bury our fears and let our faith do the work. The time to do the work of Christ is always right now. Faith is the courage to believe. Belief is faith courageously practiced during times of testing.

Thought: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” (Winston Churchill)

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.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

True Blessings

True Blessings
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 12 May 2010

“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3)

MAIN POINT: We pray for blessings equal to our willingness to BE a blessing. 

Before the Millennium, a young seminary student was searching for answers, for some sense of direction in an uncertain future. He turned to a relatively obscure verse in 1 Chronicles 4, where there was a little genealogy of the Judah tribe.

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, "I gave birth to him in pain." Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, "Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain." And God granted his request. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10)

Out of his misery, he prayed this same prayer, now famously known as the "Prayer of Jabez (POJz)" This prayer was written and published in 2000. The following year, it became a bestseller, with more than 9 million copies sold, and it won prizes in the Christian publishing industry. Bruce Wilkinson became an overnight star. Now there are versions of the POJz for others, like teens, for women, for children, for adults etc. I have heard of Wilkinson since the days of “Walk Thru the Bible.” Then there is the “Dream Giver” (read my review here) which is a compelling narrative about how we need to seek God to learn about his dream for us. These pale in comparison to the success of the POJz.

A) What is the ‘Prayer of Jabez?’
It is a prayer that promises to help one ‘break through to the blessed life.’ In other words, one’s potential can be realized via seeking God with a little prayer, that potentially releases God’s immense pleasure through favor, power, protection and all kinds of ‘blessings.’ Small price, big rewards seem to be the overarching theme of the book. As I reflect on such a formula, no wonder the book is a resounding hit! Who would not like to pay a little bit, and receive a whole bunch? It is tempting to go overboard. In our value-conscious economy, we can be tempted to bring in commercial methods into our spiritual domain.
  • Buy one, get two free;
  • Three for the price of one;
  • Small price, big rewards;
  • Why pay when we can pray?
The problem comes when we ask for blessings with an intention to HOARD them. When this happens, it neutralizes the benefits of the POJz.

B) The Problem with the POJz
In many Christian circles, the word ‘blessing’ is synonymous with material providence. It is increasingly linked to financial numbers as well. A businessman says that the LORD has ‘blessed’ him with a car. A sales executive can say that God has blessed her with a greater number of customers that month. A CEO says that he has been blessed with new business growth and they are recognized by the Board of Directors for a good performance that year. Modern use of ‘blessings’ have this common element. The majority uses of ‘blessings’ almost always revolve around the receiving of material stuff. The more one receives ‘stuff’ the more one uses the word ‘blessings.’ Such a view I think will devalue the meaning of ‘blessing.’

As I read Genesis, there is a strong sense of God wanting to bless the surrounding nations through Abraham and his descendents. Genesis can be read broadly in two chunks. The first chunk is a macroscopic view from the beginning of time to the death of Terah (Gen 1-11). The second chunk is a microscopic view of a particular family in Israel, namely Abram’s. Just like the LORD speaking the world into being in Genesis 1, the LORD outlines Abram’s purpose in life in three crisp verses (Gen 12:1-3). Studying these three verses will yield up a remarkable use of the word ‘bless’ or ‘blessing.’
  • And I will bless you. . . . And so you shall be a blessing (Gen 12:2)
  • And I will bless those who bless you” (Gen 12:3a)
  • And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (12:3b)
C) Blessed to BE a blessing
One way to understand blessing in a broader context is to see it in terms of being blessed for a reason. In other words, when we pray, and when we receive, we must also pray for the wisdom to steward what has been given to us. The LORD speaks to Abram and emphasizes this twice! In Gen 12:2, Abram is blessed to be a blessing.

I believe that when we pray, we do not simply ask God to give us stuff. Those things are important. Mature believers will learn to go beyond asking and receiving. Note Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Matthew 7.7-8 and we see a general progression. Ask and we shall receive. Seek and we shall find. Knock and the door will be opened to us. Mature believers will seek out ways to use what they have received in order to find God’s will for our gifts and talents. As a young child, we ASK and we receive. As we grow into young people, we SEEK out opportunities to please God, and these opportunities will be found. As we become adults, we gather up courage to KNOCK on doors asking others if we can bless them, if we can do things for them, or help them. The opportunities will surely open. That is God’s promise. However, if we were to stubbornly apply our 1-Dimensional Christianity all the time, we will never grow. We will look inward, become self-conscious, and gradually live our lives expecting the whole world to revolve around us.

We must break out of our egoistical mold. We need to pray that God will help us move beyond selfish asking toward selfless seeking out opportunities to give. When we pray, ‘Bless me,’ remember to pray ‘Help me to bless others’ as well. It is like a lock and key combination. When God gives us a ‘lock,’ and we receive it with open hands and glad hearts, ask God for the ‘key’ as well, which is the purpose of such a gift.

Abram receives this Word from the LORD, that when he is blessed, he is to become a blessing to others as well. I do not want to be overly critical of the POJz. Wilkinson has also talked about the enlarging of one’s life so that one can become a ‘greater impact’ for God. In this sense, I credit Wilkinson for being aware that this prayer can become too self-focused.

D) One Way Traffic
As I contrast the Prayer of Jabez with the Prayer of Jesus, I cannot help but feel that Wilkinson’s POJz is  too single-traffic minded. ‘Blessings’ seem to be associated with the gospel of more-and-more. Is God restricted to bless a person only with maximum capacities? If so, a person receiving 1 jacket is less blessed than a person receiving 100 jackets? No! If the POJz leads people to think of blessings in terms of ‘enlarging,’ ‘supersizing,’ ‘increasing’ and material extensions, we would have unwittingly limited God.

When we pray to God, we need to be willing to let God bless us with plenty, as well as with little. Sometimes, the best blessing God can ever give to us is NOT to answer our prayers. I personally believe that whenever we pray, we make it a 2-pronged prayer: the PETITION as well as the PURPOSE.

E) Prayer of Jesus
The Prayer of Jabez has encouraged many people. Wilkinson should be applauded for providing an encouragement for Christians to pray and to seek God. For all its merit, we must not forget a much better prayer example in Jesus. We are not followers of Jabez, but disciples of Jesus. Hence, given our benefit of having the entire Old and New Testaments available in our hands, we need to learn to pray more like Jesus, with the POJz as a supplement. Be careful not to reverse it. The table below contrasts Jabez and Jesus.




DIFFERENCESPrayer of JabezPrayer of Jesus
FrequencyJust one verse in 1 ChroniclesAll over the gospels, and NT
RequestPrayer for ‘increase’Prayer regardless of ‘increase’
Requestor ConditionJabez ‘more honorable’ than his brothersJesus ‘perfect and holy’ than any other human
Final AnswerGod granted his request.God did not take his cup of suffering away


Remember that God gives us so that we can BE a blessing to others. There is only so much that we can consume. If we hoard our things, they will decay and collect dust. Why not learn to seek out opportunities to give away what God has given us? Better still, when we ask for blessing, pray for the willingness and enthusiasm to bless others with what God gives.

Let me leave you with the words of Etiene de Grellet, a 19th Century Quaker missionary,
“I shall pass through this life but once.
Any good, therefore, that I can do
Or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature,
Let me do it now.
Let me not defer or neglect it,
For I shall not pass this way again.”

Thought: Sometimes we tend to wait to be ‘blessed’ before we attempt to bless others. Perhaps, we have ALREADY been blessed (given the lock), and greater blessings will not come, until we exercise what we have (exercising being the ‘key’) to bless others.

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.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Living Tomorrow's Hopes Today

Title: Living Tomorrow’s Hopes Today
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 5 May 2010

Main Idea: If not today, then when?
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Gal 6:9-10)

I remember Kendal sitting at the front checkout desk of the big spanking brand new library at Regent-College. She has a natural smile and makes an excellent front desk person to help library patrons check their books out. I work at the library too, supporting the computer systems that keep the catalogs and other systems up and running. Sometimes, I interrupt her duties in order to work on the front-desk computer. When nothing else exciting is happening, we chat. Kendal is at that time newly married to a fellow Regent student, also working at the library. Soon, Kendal gives birth to a beautiful baby boy.

Just this week, I hear that Kendal has gone home to the Lord. It was April 2010. ‘Shocked’ is an understatement. My heart goes out to David, her husband, and also to Isaac, the young toddler. I never expect Kendal to leave this world at such short notice. In a way, there is a tint of remorse in my heart. I ask:

“Have I said a kind word to her? Have I blessed her previously? Have I prayed for her and her family? Have I done a good deed today in the Name of the Lord?”

Unfortunately, ripples of regret do little to comfort the sudden news splash. This week, I feel disturbed as I ask myself if I have been missing opportunities to do good, especially to those of the household of faith.

Have I done a good yesterday, that I will be thankful today? Have I made the fullest use of my opportunities then, to love people, for I may never get the chance to care for them next time? Like Helen Rowland says:

"The follies which a man regrets most in his life are those which he didn't commit when he had the opportunity."

A) I AND THOU
Martin Buber, Jewish philosopher is best known for his book entitled “I and Thou.” The circumstances that surround the writing of the book, “I and Thou,” stems from a tragic event. Born in Austria, he came to Palestine in 1938, before the horrible events of World War II in Europe. About that time, a young German soldier came to him for advice. This young man was a pacifist at heart, bent against fighting any war. He had just been drafted to serve the Nazi army, and he could not consciously agree to becoming a soldier of war. He came to Buber for advice. Unfortunately, Buber was too engrossed in his own work, and quickly dismissed him, saying something like:

“Why are you bugging me? Do whatever you think is best.”

Disillusioned, this young man subsequently took his own life.

The news shocks Buber. Upon re-examining himself, he realizes that he is too selfish. He needs to become more other-centered instead of self-centered. He wants to learn to look out instead of looking in. The result is a book, that not only turn his life around, it made him famous too. “I and Thou” essentially talks about relationships. Buber says that there are 2 kinds of relationships; one that sees people as ‘objects’ or I-It, and the other that sees people as ‘subjects,’ or I-You.

B) OBJECTS (I-It) and SUBJECTS (I-You)
In I-It relationships, we treat people well only when they are a means to our ends. When we see people as objects, it is like asking:

  • “What use does this person (it) has for me?”
  • “What can I gain out of this person (it)?”
  • “How do I exact maximum leverage from her (it)?”

Buber muses:

In other words, insofar as a human being makes do with the things that he experiences and uses, he lives in the past, and his moment has no presence. He has nothing but objects; but objects consist in having been.” (Martin Buber, I and Thou, NY: Charles Scriber, 1970, p63-64)

When one uses a person like an object, that person is likened to an inanimate object, dead in the past. It cannot live in the present or the future, unless a new ‘use’ appears. Such an attitude is deplorable, even inhumane. I think about my relationships. If I go look for a friend only because he/she has something I want, I will be treating that friend as an object.

On the other hand, in I-You relationships, we look beyond ourselves to embrace what it means to be humans, not machines. We ask:

  • “I know how I feel. How about you?”
  • “This thing does not mean much to me. I am interested however about what it means to you?”
  • “Can I help you?”

Society has often reduced us to a measly number, like our age, or our weight and height. It categorizes us numerically based on things like our sex or ethnic group. In censuses around the country, we get reduced to a miserable statistic. Worse, if the neighbourhood we are in is too small, policy makers will conveniently ignore us, in favour of a bigger town a few miles down the road. This world runs on numbers, and numbers turn people into objects.

C) Cultivating a I-Thou Relationship
How do we cultivate a I-You relationship that sees one another as people first, people second, and people third? Does that mean we cannot ask for favours from anybody?

No. I am not saying that we cannot seek out help from people. What I am saying is that we need to learn how to behave as people, by first connecting ourselves with the Divine God. When we are sinners, we are prone to using people as means for our own ends. We need to repent. We need to ask God to forgive us, and to renew us to become I-You people instead of I-It machines. The way is to cultivate a I-THOU relationship.

This is because, unless we learn to accept the grace of God, that God is our first neighbour, we will find it hard to practice sacrificial love and extend grace. For man is empty. Man is sinful. Man has nothing to offer in the first place. That being the case, man needs God to fill him up. Man needs to be reconciled with God. Then they can be reconciled to each other. As we learn of Jesus, and his sacrificial love, we will want to follow Christ, to be the person that Christ created us to be in the first place.

Then and only then, we have something to give to others, especially our fellow neighbours on earth.

If we do not have a healthy relationship with God, we will be seeking out the world to fill our empty tank. We will be searching the globe for inferior supplies, like seeking waters that do not quench, or food that does not satisfy our hunger.

I cannot emphasize this well enough. Without God, we can do nothing.

D) Relationships is like Planting Seeds
Friends, what are our relationships made of? Is it made of objects where people around us are given to us to satisfy our wants? Is the wife there merely to satisfy the cravings of the husband? Is the husband there to merely provide the financial income to pay bills? Is the friend a friend only when he/she does what WE want? Do our children exist simply to do what parents want them to do?

No! Let us start with repentance toward God. We love because Christ first loved us. We forgive as Christ has forgiven us. We serve because Christ has served us. Draw near to God. He himself will draw you near to Him. In this living relationship, as we lift Christ up high, let us rejoice to see Christ draw all men to him. If God be gracious, may God use us as a conduit to direct people’s attention and focus to God. then we learn to see relationships with new eyes.

At a recent seminar in North Carolina, Billy Graham and his wife Ruth were celebrating their 60th Anniversary. Someone asked Billy about Ruth’s struggles over her with her health problems. Billy replies with twinkling eyes:

Ruth is doing just fine. She’s in a wheelchair now and can’t get around too well. So we continue our romance with our eyes." (quoted in Kathie Lee Gifford’s Gentle Grace, MI: Inspirio, 2004, p148)

Instead of looking at the faults or the 'have-not's, why not look at the merits, and the 'have's of the people we meet with? We do not need to look at the faults of fellow humans, and complain about them. We can learn to see with the eyes of love, seen through the eyes of God. Like Billy Graham, why should we despair over the agony of seeing Ruth's handicaps? Instead, we can still encourage one another with twinkling eyes. Such eyes reflect a healthy inside, even while our outside is weakening or decaying.

In this way, let us not look back with regret over the things we have failed to do. Let us look back with thankfulness. Let us look forward with hope. For the present, let us be faithful to God, by being faithful with our time, our resources, and our readiness to love, to care and to pray for each other.

I pray for Kendal’s family. I thank Jesus for the life she has lived on this earth. May the Lord’s peace be with her family. Most importantly, Kendal’s passing has taught me, that I need to love all as much as I can love NOW, to serve all as much as I can serve NOW, and to relate to all, as much as I can NOW. For those of us who procrastinate, and frequently says not-yet, let me ask: “If not today, then when?” Tomorrow may never come. Let us instead live our present days, in a manner that expects Jesus will come soon.


Thought: The fruits of tomorrow will come from the seeds of TODAY. Have you planted a loving relationship today?


Sabbathwalk




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