Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Meditating on the Word

TITLE: Meditating on the Word
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 30 June 2010

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Ps 1:1-2)

MAIN IDEA: We love the Word of God but forget that growing in the Lord is not a matter of getting into the Word, but letting the Word of God get into us.

One of the hallmarks of Christians is their allegiance to the Bible, the Word of God. Outsiders may admire Christian believers for their common book, but they also frown at the many divides over this sacred text. Preserved, fought over, argued, studied, the Bible has often been a source of contention the world over. From bible versions to the interpretation of specific verses, people continue to get into the precious Word of God diligently. There revere it. They spend many years studying it. They organize themselves around it, claiming it to be the primary anchor for one’s life.

A) Getting Into the Text
Psalm 1 is one of my favourite psalms to memorize. For me, it is the title, the introduction, the preface, to usher us into the beauty of the Word of God. It begins by describing a blessed man who will not do any of the three evil deeds, which is followed by what he WILL do. Verse one prepares the reader for verse 2. Then with a mysteriously simple act of delight, we read about a seemingly ‘passive’ activity. In contrast to the three active works of evil, this one act of virtuous delight does not seem to be an appropriate response. After all, should we not counter enemies with guns and bullets? Should we not punish evil doers with justice? Should we not adopt Rambo-like heroism to defy the three kinds of viciousness? Perhaps, we can fire a righteous torpedo at Mr ‘wicked.’ We can shoot a corrective arrow at Miss ‘sinner.’ We can even fling a moral grenade into the gathering of ‘mockers’ to silence them. We tend to want to ‘get into’ the Word of God to find ways to deal with such despicable people. We ask what the Bible has to say on how to tackle such evil doers.

Surprise!

Instead, we have the image of a man who does not grit his teeth in a vengeful mode, but in gaping wonder at the Word of God. From delight to meditation, from start to finish, he seems to be passively NOT doing anything else but meditate. Imagine this, if the man is to meditate on the Word day and night, who is going to work to provide for the family? Can anyone right a wrong on meditation alone? Can we run away from rebuking a bad deed? Should we not address errors with corrections? Such an act can even be irresponsible.

This is one of the challenges each time we try to ‘get into’ the text to look for answers to the questions we have about the world. Unfortunately, the Bible is not a Do-It-Yourself manual for solving our problems. If we try to get into the text with such a mentality, we will be disappointed. We might even say that the Bible is irrelevant for mankind. The problem is that we cannot manipulate God’s Word to fit our world. We need to humble our hearts to let the Word of God fill us and change us from within.

B) Getting Into the Text For All Kinds of Reasons
As Bible believers, we can be guilty of getting into the text for all the wrong reasons. Of Psalm 1, we ask:

• “Meditation is good, but can it put bread on the table?”
• “Taking time to reflect is good, but can reflection pay my monthly utility bills?”
• “Reading the Word is excellent, but can I feed my family with it?”

These are questions common to many believers. Unfortunately, Psalm 1 is not a verse about earning money or to pay our monthly bills. It is not a Do-It-Yourself manual on solving the problems of our world. It is much more. The Psalmist recognizes this by adopting 2 postures: Delighting and Meditating.

C) Delighting In God
The Bible is the living Word of God. Unfortunately, man often treats it like a static text for answers. Like yeast that works through the dough, the Word of God when allowed to touch our hearts can work to transform our human heart and soul from within. It is one thing to cram biblical content into our heads. It is yet another to be touched by the word, that our immediate response is to delight and worship God. The story of Mary and Martha is a case in point. While Martha is busy attending to many different tasks to provide for her guests, she lets the work get into her head. Then the worry and anxiety got into her heart. Upon letting the worries dominate, Martha’s attitude begins to change. She turns from delight in having guests in her house turn into despair that her sister Mary is not helping her with the chores. Her concerns with everyday matters to get things done, turn her into a frantic woman. The final straw is when she becomes so frustrated with her sister, that she even refuses to call her sister by name!

On the other hand, Mary continues to enjoy the presence of Jesus. We may ask. If there are no ‘Martha’s in this world, how can work get done? I believe, the story of Mary and Martha is not about condemning one action (Martha) and elevating another (Mary). The key is in delighting in God. If Martha had not let the work get into her head and her heart, Jesus would have praised her servanthood.

Similarly, when we try to ‘get into’ the Word of God, and not get the answers we want, we can complain and even disregard the Bible’s relevance. We will be unwittingly allowed a Martha-like dissatisfaction to overwhelm our thankfulness. Jesus shows Martha the way:

"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 10:41)
Remarkably, Jesus is telling Martha that the way to peace is not to be distracted and worried about many things. Only one thing is needed. We need to choose that and then learn to delight in that. We need to hear this message. There are too many multi-taskers out there, more prone to worry and anxiety.We need one thing, not many things. The latter distracts. The former helps us to focus.

D) Meditating: Letting the Word in
The key to understanding the actions of this peaceful psalmist is to recognize that we deal not with flesh and blood but powers and principalities. Like chess, winning the battle is not to attack the pawns or devour many of our opponent’s pieces. At the end of the day, the goal is to checkmate the king. Likewise, in spiritual warfare, we need to think strategically. We need to engage the mastermind, and not be distracted by the smoke signals from the front line. The Psalmist is doing something that allows him to know the way of the righteous.

There is a remarkably similar parallel in Proverbs 4:14-17. It talks about the way of sinners that lead one toward all manner of evil. Proverbs 4:18 reveals the way of the righteous as follows:
“The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.”
This is the fruit of true meditation. It results in good works. It results in righteousness. A kind of meditation that keeps us fixated on self is never the good work God intends for us. The Psalmist in Ps 1:2 who meditates on the law day and night, is likened to the Proverbs rendition of righteousness from dawn to noon-day light.It teaches us something about Christian spirituality.

E) About Spirituality
Christian Spirituality is not about accumulation of information into our heads. It is about the de-cluttering of worries and multiple concerns; followed by a focus on Christ. Christian spirituality is not about organizing our lives according to our management know-how. It is allowing the Spirit of God to guide us, to learn when to push, to pause, or to pull back. Christian spirituality is not about our vain attempts to get into problem-solving mode, even trying to get inside the Word of God on our own strengths. It is about meditating on God’s Word and to humbly let the Word change us from inside. In other words, it is not us getting into the Word of God, but the Word of God getting into us, transforming us from inside.

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, June 23, 2010

Disappointment with Church

TITLE: Disappointment with Church
Written by: Conrade Yap
After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.” (Ephesians 5:29-30)

As Mike repairs the lamp fuse, he asks me what I do. I say I work part time in Church and study part time. Almost instantly, he quips that I am the religious type and says to me:
But I’m not religious. I’m spiritual.

He then rattles away the problems of the church and the need to engage the spiritual side of things. I have lived long enough in Canada to recognize such an attitude toward religion and especially the Church. People have a long memory of the wrongs that churches in the past have committed. They talk negatively about the Crusades. They complain about the lack of relevance of the church institution. They highlight the financial and sexual scandals of several prominent church leaders. Disillusionment reigns supreme. It has come to the point that the ordinary man in the street are more open to other religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and other non-Christian beliefs than the traditional faith of their forefathers many years ago. For whatever reasons, the Church in the West has largely lost its influence and credibility.

A) Not Just a Western Phenomenon
This week, I am in Singapore, spending time with family and friends. As I interact with various individuals, there is a sense that this ‘spiritual-but-not-religious’ momentum is gaining ground. Several people whom I used to see working actively in Church has left not just their home church but Church totally. Outside, more people are getting disillusioned with the church in general. Currently, one local Megachurch is being investigated for financial irregularities. Another is being cautioned for insensitive remarks that could threaten the fragile religious harmony in the country. The lifestyle of one particular leader and his wife is being questioned. All these point ominously toward a future Church that people will more likely abandon rather than embrace, sooner rather than later. The signs are ominous. It is not a question of whether they will fall. It is a matter of WHEN? All of these does not auger well for the Church at large in the small island nation.

Organized religion has largely waned in the West. I fear that the Church in Singapore is  following suit.

B) Meeting Schedules or Meeting Needs?
I have been observing the Singapore Church with much concern. It seems to have become more like another busy bureaucracy where it is more important to get things done more than anything else. With the pursuit toward excellence, and multiple attempts to balance various demands, it leaves a trail of disappointments when individual needs are not met.

While we can try to give Church the benefit of the doubt, there is only so much grace one can offer, especially when one feels the giving has been overwhelmingly lop-sided. A Church worker who served for more than 15 years was unceremoniously dumped when there is a change in leadership. A difference in perspective led to the founder of a major church charity quitting not just the organization but the denomination. A personal friend no longer attends church even after many years of sacrificial service, due to the lack of appreciation accumulated over the years. From doctrinal disputes, to relationship matters, the Church seems to be long on busily making ends meet, and short on meeting people’s needs. How can anyone not be disillusioned?

C) My Personal Disappointment
This week I was supposed to meet a Church pastor. We have planned this long in advance. Looking forward to this meeting, I planned the entire day’s program to ensure that I can be on time for the morning meeting. Unfortunately, there was a last minute cancellation by this pastor. I thought about this. If a meeting was planned months ago with me, can be easily pushed aside by another event called on the day itself, what does it say about my position in the pecking order? There was no personal apology. In fact I did not even hear his voice.

It was conveyed via his secretary, who then contacted my wife, who told me about it. On the one hand, I understand that emergencies happen. On the other hand, I felt it could have been handled better. At least, if this pastor has contacted me personally, I would have felt better. Unfortunately, it was not to be. For me, having turned down several other meetings with close friends in order to clear my schedule for this meeting, I was left disappointed.

Yet, I cannot help but wonder. Suppose the ‘emergency’ meeting the pastor has to attend is not life-threatening, and the pastor intentionally kept to his appointment, it speaks volumes about his priorities. I can understand that emergencies happen. However, what about a personal apology? Just one kind word can easily dissolve a multitude of disappointments. Yet, the phone stays silent. My Inbox reads empty, at least from this pastor. I feel like someone who is out of sight and out of mind, with other priorities making me feel I am last in line.

I will leave Singapore today, with this disappointment with Church, but with an anticipation of hope.

D) Abandon the Problem-Solving Paradigm
There is a paradigm that I have learned in my doctoral work. Often, more can be achieved with less. Computers are capable with multi-tasking programs but not the human heart. The Church is now infected with the virus of busyness. Under this climate, the human heart deceives oneself that by doing more things, one get more done. That is often not the case. Ask how a wife feels when the husband has his eyes glued to the TV, his mouth munching a sandwich, his hands holding his iPhone, partly listening to his iPod, and partly listening to his wife. The husband is doing many things, but what is he actually achieving?

Part of the problem with Church is due to the tendency to want to 'solve problems.' The mantra seems to be: "I solve, therefore I am." When we fail to solve enough problems that are surrounding us, we become anxious and worried. We get weighed down. Pastoral care has to do more with the heart. The way to the heart is not via a deed of work done, but a word of good cheer.
"An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up." (Prov 12:25)
I love the Church. I love the people and servants of the Church. I am just disappointed. The Church is a community of saints rather than a team of problem-solvers. I prefer a few kind words, rather than a multitude of activities. I prefer a few good sharing, rather than lots of high profile meetings. The current Church structure is not designed to cheer people up but to weigh people down. In love, in hope, and in faith, we pray that there will be a turning point, soon. It need not be too difficult. Let me suggest that we start with one friend to walk with us. Let us call it spiritual friendship. Perhaps, through the walking, we find it much easier to deal with the disappointments with church.

As I reflect on this week, I am glad for the friends who have allowed me to walk with them. It remains the single biggest piece of encouragement amid a climate of disillusionment.

Alister McGrath points out three phases of any Christian journey: Landmarks, Wilderness, and Oasis. I feel that the current state of the Church is in the wilderness. Pray that we will all find an oasis soon.
One cannot truly rest, until he finds rest in God alone.

sabbathwalk


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

Friday, June 18, 2010

Making Sense

TITLE: When Things Do Not Make Sense
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 18 June 2010
“The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1)

It was supposed to be a happy occasion. It was the end of a successful Church camp. What better way than to end our glorious week together with a sumptuous spread of local seafood dishes. With people we love, the atmosphere was perfect; Almost perfect. After our dessert, we found out that one of the cars our entourage came together with was broken into. All of us were stunned. This initial shock soon turned into a mixture of anger and disbelief. Our joyful week was marred by the sight of a smashed car window. Toward the end, when I ask my dear brother in Christ how he feels, the answer was a terse two-word phrase: “It happens.”

Bingo! These 2 words may be simple but they carry a deep insight into our fallen world. It happens. Whether it is good news that happens to ordinary people, it happens. Whether it is bad news that happens to regular working class people, it happens. In fact, I personally feel that these two words carry sufficient philosophical weight to challenge the many thoughts on pain and suffering made by talented individuals throughout history. What interests me is what happens next. What will we do AFTER we say ‘It happens.’ What happens next will reveal our approaches toward things that do not make sense. This week, I like to lead us through three possible pathways of dealing with bad things.

A) Path of Fatefulness
Simply put, this path paraphrases as, “We cannot do anything about it.”

Harold Kushner’s “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” is one example of this approach that tilts toward an acceptance of one’s fate. The book concludes that God essentially is not able to control the outcome. The result is that man simply has to accept the nature of this world, that when bad things happen, it is not because God is evil, but because God is not in control of that bad event. Note that Kushner uses the word ‘when’ rather than ‘why.’ Thus, there is a tinge of fateful acceptance, that one cannot do anything about it. This is one reason why I disagree with Kushner’s philosophy in his best-selling book. When things do not make sense, it does not mean it is fate in action. Saying God is not in control is speculation.

In tough moments, people commonly ask: “Why me?” They want a reason to understand. They want an answer to a hard question. They demand some fairness in the midst of injustice. When such reasons are lacking, there is no other options anymore, the fateful way is to accept the ‘unacceptable’ in utter despair.

B) Path of Fearfulness
If the first approach is to accept fate as it is, and carry on our lives, this second approach appears at first to ‘accept’ the problem outside, but not inside. After saying ‘It Happens,’ one could plant a seed of fear inside the heart, like wondering when and what the next bad thing is going to happen. It is like saying it is a premonition or a bad omen for something worse.

My mother once explains to me the presence of certain omens in the life of any one person. She tells me that sometimes, certain events in life can reveal a future occurrence. In an old Chinese movie, a young woman had a dream of his father waving at her at a door of a train leaving for an unknown destination. This filial daughter woman loves her father. Upon having this dream, she turns hysterical. She sees this dream as an omen that some ominous event is going to happen to her father in some unknown future. Soon, as the film progresses, the father had a tragic death and one bad thing seems to lead to another.

My problem with such a view is that there is too much unhealthy paranoia going on. It cripples. It discourages. It allows doubts to fester in the midst of uncertainty. When we allow fear of bad things happening to us, it distracts us from our ordinary work. Not only is such a path of fearfulness unhelpful, it is deeply misleading. Worse, it invites doubts to accumulate that God is not exactly good and loving. The entire fearful cycle repeats itself as one starts to search for reasons to prove that the omen is true. In the age of the Internet, it is so easy to find all kinds of ‘facts’ from dubious places to prove our emotions of fear. For Christians, there is a better way.

C) The Path of Faithfulness
The path of faithfulness is the way of trust. Senseless things may not make sense now. That does not mean God cannot reveal some answers in the future. Sometimes there is a light that seems to reveal a certain reason. Other times, all the darkness is doing is to force us to be humble and to wait upon God. The path of faithfulness will build in us a deeper insight into wisdom.

I lead an adult Bible study group in my Church. Increasingly, I realize that there is a certain pattern in the questions and statements of people according to different ages. For the young and the middle-aged, there is a lot of interest about explanation and searching for answers. “Why” is a popular interrogative to the hard questions of life.

I listen to those who are older, the seniors and the elderly. They give the group a lot of experience in terms of accepting the hard reality of life. It intrigues me that one of the most popular biblical books for such people are Ecclesiastes and Job. Unlike the younger members who are relatively more interested in answers, the elderly amongst us are more interested in the giving and receiving of wisdom. One respected elder I know reminds us that the book of Job touches on suffering and pain directly. It does not conclude with scientific or philosophical answers, but is full of questions from God about the limits of man.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4)

This one question should put the most prideful person in his rightful place. Indeed, who are we to try to explain the unexplainable? Who are we to try to answer the unanswerable? When we encounter the bad things in life, it is a good first step to say, “It happens.” The next step is not to rush into another frantic search for answers. It is to learn to lay our doubts and our questions at the foot of Jesus, so that He can embrace us in love. When bad things happen to us, the next thing we need is not an answer, but companionship.

D) Concluding Thoughts
Let us return to the first verse of Psalm 23. I will suggest that how we approach the challenges in life will dictate our reading of this verse. For those with a ‘fateful’ approach, that man and God cannot do anything about it, they read.

The LORD is my Shepherd, there are no answers for there is none.” (Fateful approach)

Those who let fear dominates, they read Ps 23:1 as:

The LORD is my Shepherd, I do not want answers as long as there is no repeat of such bad experiences.” (Fearful path)
For the faithful, good news or bad news will never be able to distract them from the Shepherd. Throughout Psalm 23, there is this common thread: God is with us. The faithful will read Ps 23:1 exactly as what God intended:
“The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want (anything else).” (italics mine)

When we allow fate to control us, we begin a downward trend of bitterness and meaninglessness. When we allow fear to scare us, we start to behave like the post 911 terrorist victims, where we behave like airport security staff sparing not even a bottle of mineral water! However, when faith and faithfulness to God is our guide, we strengthen our growth and relationship with our Lord Jesus.

Fate numbs us into meaningless acceptance. Faith gently guides us from a pointless event to a Person of love. Fear separates and pulls us further away from God. Faith draws us nearer. The primary line of thought in the Shepherd Psalm, Ps 23 is not that bad things do not happen. It is the promise that God will be with us no matter what happens.

For those of us who have a recent bad experience, let us not be trapped in a silly cycle of fateful acceptance that sucks away any joys of living. Neither should we be victimized by fear, that evaporates meaning and hope. Instead, remember that our hope is not of this world, but in a Person of Christ. The LORD is my Shepherd, He alone is enough reason to continue to live in anticipation that he will come again.

My friends, certain unhappy things do happen in this life. Regardless, God promises to be with us, and never to forsake us. This is the single most meaningful reason not just to live on, but to live with God.

sabbathwalk



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

Friday, June 11, 2010

On Christian Ministry

TITLE: ON CHRISTIAN MINISTRY
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 8 June 2010
"Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? " (1 Peter 3:13)

I'm in Boston this week to fulfill my final residency for my doctoral program. I look forward to meeting my fellow students, many of whom are in Christian ministries in various places throughout North America. Our time together has been filled with much fun and camaraderie. My initial plan was to arrive before the weekend, so that I can at least a full day's rest, and a day of sightseeing before a week of intensive training. Due to some administrative oversight, I was held up at the immigration at the US border. I had all my papers ready. Unfortunately, some information in their computers were not updated. I can only wait, pray, and hope that they sort out the situation soon. I have followed all the necessary procedures, filled up the necessary forms, but that is as much as I can do. It is not within my control.  The episode ended with a moment of relief when I was finally cleared and allowed to enter the US. This was followed by some sense of helplessness, when I was informed that my plane had left without me! Actually, the immigration cleared me just 10 minutes after the plane left.

A strange thing happened. Instead of getting upset over the immigration situation, I find myself preserving my composure and to appreciate the border officials for doing their job. I give thanks that the country is safer as they maintain a vigilant watch. Though things could be improved, at least administrative wise by various parties, by and large, the officers are courteous and professional. As I rebook my flight, I give thanks as I watch the airline people scrambling to get me a connecting flight to Boston via Phoenix. It was my first time after so many years, that I am flying US Airways. I must say their service is warm and extremely customer-centric. I remember telling the lady working on my flight details that I appreciate the way she is handling my case. She said: "This is my job."

Wow. That is taking responsibility in action. It makes passengers like me feel glad that the airline is taking responsibility to do something for my missed flight. I could have ranted at them for not waiting a few more minutes for me. I could blown my top. I could have insisted on my rights. However, I feel that being thankful is a better and more constructive way to channel my energies. It works not only for my soul, but helps others do their job better. In some way, I am 'doing ministry' for Christ.

Ministering for Christ

Christian ministry is about influencing lives for Christ, not about proselytizing and making people think or feel the way I do. It is about pointing people who need hope that there is Someone who can give eternal Hope. It is about showing the way of Christ, as people fumble or stumble in the ways of the world. It is about demonstrating the humility of Christ in our own lives. It is a lifestyle of faith in Jesus, instead of an infatuation with  money, sex and power. It is about learning to remind people that it is not about me or you. It is not even about us. It is about God.

One of the things I have learned at Regent-College is from the wisdom of Dr James Houston. He has retired officially, but still influences many students. Always open. Always generous with his time, he is a spiritual mentor for many. With a keen desire to develop Christian thinkers, Dr Houston keeps reminding us that theological education is not to train us to make a 'career of the Crucified Christ.' How often those of us who are more theologically astute need to hear that. We cannot make a career out of a crucified Christ. We cannot think that being in ministry for Christ gives us any special privileges. We do not serve simply  because we have nothing else better to do. We serve because Christ first loved us, and gave us all we need. In fact, by suffering for us at the cross, He has given us what is most precious: Himself. What more do we need?

Sometimes, many of us look for the title or label behind our namecards or our name tags before saying we are in Christian ministry. No. That should not be the case. In fact, the words 'ministry' can often be a misnomer. More accurately, 'Ministry' is more a 'privilege to serve' rather than a 'right to minister.' The former seeks to serve God, while the latter seeks more to serve oneself. Having a privilege to serve reminds us that we do not have any rights, only duty.  The key is in knowing who we are serving. It is to know how the first Minister, Servant believed, behaved and belonged to God the Father.

As I arrive in Boston, I give thanks for a safe journey made. A thankful heart despite the worst circumstances is one way of Christian ministry in action. May I encourage you to do the same. After all, who is going to fault us for doing good? Who will prevent us from serving people humbly in faith, hope and love? No one. That is Christian ministry, and all of us in Christ can do the same. Keep up a cheerful disposition for we are not serving ourselves, or mere people. We serve the God of the Universe!
"It is not fitting, when one is in God's service, to have a gloomy face or a chilling look." (Francis of Assissi)

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, June 2, 2010

Little Things

TITLE: Little Things
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 2 June 2010
A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Prov 18:24)

KEY IDEA: It’s the little things in life that adds it all up.

I am a little discouraged this week. I sense a lack of enthusiasm among church people in terms of outreach. Even among trusted friends, young eager beaver initiatives are more likely to be shot down rather than shored up by older more cynical adults. Maybe it is my perception. Maybe it is a wrong interpretation.  On top of that, today I got a rejection letter from a job that I was interested in. Even though applying for that position is a ‘long shot,’ it still hurts to be denied a first interview. It is a moment where realism seems to be the best friend of pessimism. Sigh. These little disappointments certainly make life a little more difficult each day.

Handling bad news is certainly not my forte. I have experienced lots of rejection before. None of them have been easy pills to pop down. In times like these, I hunker toward my spiritual cellar to pause and to recollect whatever optimism I still have. In times like this, it becomes absolutely essential to know that my identify is not defined by what the world thinks, but how God feels about me. Doing so allows God to re-fill my reservoirs of hope. While one should not take snubs too seriously, neither should one treat it overly lightly. It is in moments like these we learn not to carry our burdens alone. My wife and I support each other. Friends support me. God is always there for me.

One thing I have learned is that prior to any big fall is a series of steps or missteps. Like relationships, it is not the big thing that is the main cause of any fallout. It is the small things that are left unmentioned, unnoticed and untreated. In fact, small disappointments can eat away our strongest defenses over time. When left alone, anything can eventually become the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

A) Al Gore and Tipper Separates After 40 Years
There is a piece of heart-breaking news this week in the US political scene. Both Al Gore and Tipper his wife have decided to separate. Apparently, after losing the 2000 Presidential election, Al Gore soon poured his focus and attention on climate change. This has reaped huge dividends for Al Gore politically, with environmentalists heralding him for his famous work: “An Inconvenient Truth,” which seeks to increase international awareness about global warming. In 2007, Al Gore won another accolade by winning the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Then this week, the Gores announce a shocking revelation that they have ‘grown apart.’ These two words look simple, but contains a complicated truth. Relationships are never static. If we do not do anything about it, they will gravitate apart. Many had long considered the Gores an exemplary American family. News reports frequently talks about their public show of affection during the Presidential campaign. I suspect that Al Gore has not really gotten over his failure to win the race for the White House. Both he and his wife appear to have tried to deal with the disappointment in their separate ways. The Huffington Post reports:
The two of them have been living incredibly separate lives -- their separate schedules took them in different directions," she added. "They said they had just grown apart. Tipper loved life and wanted to have fun, and Al remained a very driven man with a lot of projects and irons in the fire.” (Sandra Westfall, Huffington Post)

B) Growing Apart
All of us will be familiar with saying that life comprises many ups and downs. No one is immune. When it comes to relationships, there are only two options: Growing or NOT growing. There is no middle ground. There is no such thing as staying still. Ask a salmon trying to swim up the river. If it does not swim at all, the waters will wash it downstream. Ask any couple that has not been talking regularly. They can tell you that their relationship is not working out well. The act of taking each other for granted, or each other’s emotions for granted can also be a cause for ‘growing apart.’ Marriage counselors like Les & Leslie Parrott calls such a mood as ‘loving on borrowed time.’ Seeing busyness as a major cause of marital struggles, the Parrotts continue:

You see, most married couples live and love on borrowed time. They spend their prime time on everything out there, and then scrape together whatever is left over and bank on the time they’re borrowing from the future – saying someday we’ll do this or that, tomorrow we won’t be so busy, eventually things will be different. But will they? Really?” (Les & Leslie Parrott, Your Time-Starved Marriage, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006, 15)

Time is needed for every marriage. Personally, I have heard far too many people, and couples talk about ‘quality time’ to the point that they undermine quantity time. The fact is, relationships is like a car that needs fuel. ‘Time’ is the fuel of a healthy marriage. Without it, a marriage cannot move forward. Marriage counselor David Mace says it well:
“One of the great illusions of our time is that love is self-sustaining. It is not. Love must be fed and nurtured, constantly renewed. That demands ingenuity and consideration, but first and foremost, it demands time.” (David Mace)

Though marriage is not exactly like friendship, if there ever is to be a hierarchy of friends, I believe our spouses should rank at the top.

C) Sharing the Ups and Downs
Sometimes, some couples have a mistaken understanding about happiness. They think that bad news are for themselves to bear, reserving only the good news for their spouse. They could not be more wrong. By thinking that our spouses can only handle good news, we undermine them. Such actions betray our marriage vows that clearly say:
“To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish 'till death do us part.”

With this vow, married couples are saying to each other that they are committed to share ALL of life together, not just a part of it. I think this is a mark of true commitment. We need to learn to share both our ups and our downs with the most significant person in our lives.

D) What About the Unmarried People?
Some of us are not married. That does not mean we cannot have friends that we can share our burdens with. In fact, one of the best ways to determine true friendship is to ask where they are when we are in the most depressing moments of our lives. Are they fair-weathered friends or ALL-weathered friends. May I suggest that we spend more time with the latter group. It is worth it. Better still, be that ALL-weathered friend to your friends. Become that ALL-weathered spouse to your significant other. That is the way to grow our relationships. As we share our deepest moments with friends, remember that we need to be ready to BE to others what we want others to be to us. Any efforts to feedback or rebuke must be done with gentleness. Any act of correction must be done with love and consideration. There is a Chinese proverb that says:
“Do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from your friend’s forehead.”

E) Jesus our Friend
Whether it is our relationship with God, with our spouses or with our friends, remember. Little things adds up. Sixty small seconds add up to one big minute. One hundred pennies add up to one dollar note. The smallest decimal point can determine the difference between one dollar and one million dollars. Time is the fuel of relationships. Time is that small second, that penny or that decimal point we spend with friends and loved ones. Add them all up and we get a huge significant thing called RELATIONSHIP. If we do not spend regular time with the people we love, we will naturally grow apart. Not growing at all equals to ‘growing apart.

One more thing; Jesus will always be our true friend. After all, He is a most profound example of what true friends are prepared to do. For Jesus died for us.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.

(Joseph Scriven, 1820-1886)

Thought: When was the last time you dated your spouse? When was the last time you had a coffee talk with your best friend? When was the last time you shared with God your deepest joys or sorrows?  When was the last time you bother to share that 'little thing?'


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