Wednesday, July 28, 2010

When Life Gets Tough

TITLE: WHEN LIFE GETS TOUGH
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 28 July 2010

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

MAIN POINT: Life is tough, but it should not be allowed to remain that way. Be the light to bring hope to the world.


When I was a young boy, I remember saying something that seems to get my mum’s active agreement: 做人很困难, (translation: Life is tough.) I do not know what prompted me to say that, but it certainly made my mum nod gleefully with pride, that her son is beginning to understand that life is indeed difficult. My parents have gone through tough times. They have encountered bitterness and jealousy within the family. They have been despised upon, spat on, trampled by business associates, friends, and even trusted family members. My father’s bankruptcy many years ago has also given me a taste of how tough life can become. My extended family’s constant bickering over money casts a dark shadow over the history of my various family relationships. Closer to home, the quarrels and the frequent fights that happen under the same roof have made me rather distressed over what a happy family means.

Life is tough. For a young boy who has seen fury in my father’s eyes, and bruises on my mother’s face, a tough life seems to be an understatement. Those were the years of living unhappily. It takes a brain tumor to tame my father’s temper. It takes a jolt of reality to reduce my mum’s nagging. It takes a toll on me as well, as a young teenager of not knowing what a happy family looks like.

This past week, I have been reminded of those troubling teenage years again. The mails that I have received tell me that this world is not well. One faces communication problems with parents. Another is a widower in his 20s who lost his wife recently. He has to raise his young son all on his own. He felt lost. I ask myself, is life for me tougher than this young man? Why must such pain and suffering afflict a promising young life just starting a new family? Frankly, I am left helpless about what to say to this man. I can only pray, and that is exactly what I did.

A) How Paul Toughs It Out

The Apostle Paul is no stranger to suffering. After a time of persecuting Christians, the moment he embraces Christ, Saul the persecutor becomes Paul the persecuted. In the second letter to the Corinthians, the persecutions that Paul experience is nothing compared to the disunity that is occurring in the Churches at Corinth. False teachings have permeated the church so much that Paul feels grieved inside. He knows that such false teachings will lead people astray. One such teaching is the peddling of the Word of God for profit (2 Cor 2:17). He then details how authentic Christian ministry looks like. Paul serves Christ willingly. His focus is so fixated on Jesus that no amount of hardships can crush him. No amount of perplexity can bring despair. No amount of persecution can render him feeling abandoned. Afflictions can strike him, but will never destroy him. This is how Paul toughs it out. Not on his own strength, but by focusing on Christ.

During my teenage years, I have not come to follow Jesus. The way I tough it out is to repeat the mantra: “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.” It is like saying the problems will resolve by themselves. So why worry? I am surprised myself how I got through those years. Sometimes I wonder how my life will look like if I had followed Christ. Maybe, life is not necessarily easier. It might even be tougher.

B) For Helpers: Three Things to Note

Pain and suffering is something that has baffled many people. One group of people I turn to is the Jews. There is no other suffering that is equivalent to the Holocaust where millions of Jews were persecuted and gassed to death. I am encouraged by the thoughts of Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Out of his reflection on pain and suffering, let me highlight 3 pieces of wisdom I learned. Firstly, those of us who are NOT going through the same pain, should NOT try to explain the suffering. In fact, suffering can never be discussed on a rational manner without it insulting the sufferer. From my research on pain and suffering, it is clear that those who try to explain away suffering can dangerously resemble the unhelpful friends of Job, who not only gave advice, they provided bad advice.
One must take great care in discussing pain and suffering. . By recognizing that emotional , spiritual, or psychological pain is real, and that no amount of talk can truly relieve it. ” (Simon Jacobson, Toward a Meaningful Life, SF: HarperCollins, 2002, p126-7)

Secondly, understand that the pain can potentially cloud the sufferer’s normal sense of judgment and rationale. Anyone approaching those in pain, ought to give space and grace for that person to express his or her frustrations. Schneerson says:

Any emotion clouds our rationale, and when it is as powerful as pain, it can consume us, distorting the way we look at ourselves and the world.” (p127)
Knowing that the one experiencing suffering is not able to behave in his normal self does not mean that we are to go and assume we have the right to ‘correct’ him/her. Sometimes we may even need to ask for permission even before we can talk. Pray and seek God. Most importantly, pray for this grieving person(s).


Thirdly, the one suffering undergoes several temptations. They are inclined to challenge God. In their deepest anguish, they may even turn away from God. The Rabbi's advice to the sufferer:

“Perhaps you have been tempted at some point to resign yourself to your pain, to give up your spirit. Your pain may even lead you to turn away from God. But turning away from God means turning away from the very answer to your pain and suffering, thus allowing the pain to victimize you. (italics mine)” (p127)

For those of us wanting to help, make sure that we keep a healthy distance with the sufferer. Even as we give them space to grieve, recognize that they too are vulnerable. We need to discern how we can defend and protect them if necessary. Keep a distance, but do not stay too far away that you cannot catch them when they fall.

C) Concluding Thoughts

This has been a tough issue for me to write. It brings me back to my checkered past. It reminds me of the struggling young widower. It also brings to mind people I care for, who are going through really tough times. Life is tough, but it needs not remain that way. There is Someone tougher than the world’s toughest obstacle. There is Someone who is taller than the tallest challenges. There is Someone who is able to comfort anyone. Let me close with a story.

A Holocaust survivor was not able to carry on life in his teaching profession. He feels helpless and useless. There is too much pain and suffering that he cannot forget. He was given this advice:
There are no words to console you, but you cannot allow the Holocaust to continue in your life. We are day workers, and our task is to shed light. We need not expend our energies in battling darkness. We need only create day, and night will fade away.” (133)

What a word of wisdom! This reminds me of 2 rooms with a door in the middle separating them. One room is dark, while the other room is brightly lit. When the door is opened, will the darkness from the room bring black gloom into the other? Or will the light from one room shines in onto the other? You know the answer. Light triumphs no matter what. Let us bring light to the world.

This is something that we can ALL do. Bring a word of hope to the hopeless. Offer a hand of help to the helpless. Extend a comforting embrace to brothers or sisters who are in pain. Nothing, absolutely nothing should be able to stop anyone of us (even those who are suffering) from bringing more goodness into this world. Life no matter how tough it is, can never overcome whatever good humans can bring to this world. Let the light from the room of love, care and grace, overwhelm the darkness in the room of pain, disillusionment and suffering. In other words, darkness can never overcome the light. For we are the light of the world, and the salt of the earth. Will you be that candle of hope today?


Thought: When the world says, "Give up," Hope whispers, "Try it one more time." (Anonymous)


sabbathwalk


Copyright by SabbathWalk. If you use material here in anyway, do acknowledge it appropriately. 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, July 21, 2010

What's Your Preoccupation?

Title: What’s Your Preoccupation?
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 20 July 2010
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." (2 Tim 4:7)

MAIN IDEA: We are used to asking what we want to do when we grow up. Rather than asking what our occupation will be, what about asking ourselves, what is our daily preoccupation? The fact is, the things we are pre-occupied with most of the time, should offer up clues to our vocation.

During my growing up years, I have been asked regularly by my parents, my uncles and aunties: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In my teenage years, my peers will ask me: “So, what do you want to do next?” Now in my midlife, I ask myself, “Been there; Done that; So what’s next?

Forrest Gump’s famous words say it well:
My momma always said, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

This issue of SabbathWalk will deal with the kinds of preoccupation we can have. It then proposes a new form of preoccupation.

A) Preoccupation over Pleasures/Needs
Indeed, what we want to do in life does not always happen. Many of our Plan As just fail to happen the way we would have liked. Instead, Plan Bs and even Cs are the norms for much of our lives. This explains the popular quote:

Man proposes. God disposes.

But is God a killjoy Being up above? Can’t He simply allow our Plan As to succeed, instead of making us scramble for Bs, Cs and even Ds? Does God not know what it means to have fun? Couldn’t He simply create a world where all of our dreams can come true? Maybe, a spiritual Disneyland would have been just about right. A place where there is no suffering or pain, and where our deepest dreams can all come true. We can pick up an air-ticket for a heavenly chariot and fly celestial class, to our heavenly destination. On the way, we get to be served by the gentlest looking angel on board. Upon arrival, we will be given a detailed itinerary about our heavenly places, and check into a mansion that Jesus prepared for us. I guess when I am preoccupied with leisure, I dream of the heavenly Disneyland. Think about that. Rollercoaster with the Apostle Paul; Merry go round with the 12 Disciples; Parting the Red Sea with Moses.

Back down on earth, I just have to keep my dream of a spiritual Disneyland on ice. These dreams are fun, but is not something I will live for. For I am certainly not preoccupied with pleasure. There is a word that talks about pleasure: Hedonism.

Hedonism is a form of belief that sees the pursuit of pleasure as the chief aim of life.

I remember my Primary school history teacher telling me about how the wealthy Romans in the ancient world manage to eat all day long. Without regard for consequences, they will delight in food and wine, song and dance throughout. When their bellies are full, they will tickle their tongues, vomit themselves empty and then resume their eating regimen. The Bible does not have good things to say about pleasure-seekers.

Qoheleth asserts that pleasure seeking is a meaningless endeavour (Eccl 2:1). Paul warns Timothy about people who tends toward lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Tim 3:4).
"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them." (2 Tim 3:1-5)

I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. (Eccl 2:1)
Our modern pursuit of pleasure is not on the same scale as ancient Rome. Nevertheless, they cannot be underestimated. In fact, pleasure and pain go hand in hand. When one seeks pleasure, it also means pain avoidance. Go through the paths of maximum pleasure and minimum pain. The best epicurean equation would have been 100% pleasure and 0% pain.

Subtly, for some people, this preoccupation with pleasure shows itself up among some churchgoing Christians. If Church A offers the best feel-good atmosphere over Church B, I’ll switch. If Church C offers a more pleasurable and satisfying experience, I’ll ditch my current church. Maybe, if no church meets my needs, I’ll just stop attending church altogether. The logic is simple and difficult to argue against: “If my needs are not met, forget about church.” When we are too preoccupied about our needs, barring peculiar circumstances, it is quite likely that changing church or getting out of church altogether will happen in a matter of time.  Let me suggest that while the Church is not perfect, neither are we. 


B) Preoccupation Over Ambition
What about a preoccupation over occupations?

I have thought about medical school when I was very young. Too bad, my grades were simply not good enough. Although I am an above average student, I do not have that special gift, talent or connection to be selected into the class of the elite. Moreover, medical school is not possible, as I do not think I can stomach the frequent spectacle of blood and ghastly body tissues. Anyway, I am in a sour grapes mood.

The truth is, my choice of Engineering school has no apparent ‘engineering’ logic. I chose it because my good friends then were all doing Engineering. I chose it because that was what my academic grades point me to. I chose Engineering because I do not know what else I could do. Maybe it is a guy thing, which assumes engineering is a macho profession without sissies. Case closed. So much for intelligent choices and ambitions coming true for me.

Anyway, getting into Engineering School is like a dream coming true for my parents, who are preoccupied with their children’s future. My parents have only three years of rudimentary school education, but they learned more through the school of hard knocks. Like any typical Asian parent, they would rather work hard with their hands, so that their children can have a brighter future with better education.

C) Preoccupation with "Finishing Well" - YES!
Christians should ask what things they are frequently pre-occupied about? Perhaps, for some they are preoccupied with what is God’s will for their lives. Let me caution anyone pursuing this line of thinking. Whenever you ask for God’s will be done, first ask for that WILLINGNESS to do God’s will when it is revealed to you. I shared the other day about a person asking God about God’s will for his life. When God revealed “INDIA” to him as a mission field, he grumbled and ask God to show him the next will on the list.

The trouble with some people who ask God for His will is that they want to know, but the heart is not prepared to obey. It is one thing to know God’s will. It is yet another, to obey it when it is revealed to us. On my other blog called ‘TheologyAtWork,” I recently embarked on a series of daily meditations after 150 days of Psalms. For today's meditation on Proverbs 1:7, I shared about the definition of the 'Fear of the Lord' which drives home the point of this article:
The fear of the LORD is a total preoccupation with what God thinks of you.” (Huang Sabin)

Bummer! That is what we should adopt each day. We cannot behave in a disabled manner, preoccupied only with hedonistic tendencies for pleasure seeking or self-fulfillment. These things are sometimes necessary but they cannot be allowed to garner prime space that exhaust our limited resources. We cannot become trapped in our occupations, and worry all the time about our careers and ambitions. These things may be important, but if they start to confuse needs and wants, urgent and important matters, we will have a problem of prioritizing. We may then start to replace our need for daily bread with a daily lobster, or a simple gratitude with a selfish demands. Instead of humility, we may desire luxuries that puff up our egos, till they become deadly idols to our spiritual life. Each of us needs to ask ourselves:
  • “What does God think of us right now?"
  • "How does He want us to live our life?" 
  • "What cross are we carrying as we follow Christ?”
  • "Is my life more self-dependent, or God dependent?" 
  • "How can we be freed to obey Christ more fully, to be preoccupied with pleasing God?" 
The answers to these questions will reveal what we all need to be preoccupied about. Then we will learn the fear of the Lord, and pledge to do everything we can to ensure that we are fully preoccupied with what God thinks of us. There is one more thing that I encourage you to be preoccupied with: “Finishing Well.”

Bob Buford interviewed Dr Dallas Willard and asked about what finishing well means to Willard. Willard replied:
“It would mean that I would stay with the objectives that I believe have been placed before me by my family, and by my God, and by my country. I really believe that there is a unity there, and those objectives have to do, in my case, with teaching. Now by teaching, I don’t just mean classroom, I mean talking, writing, and so on in a way that would actually help people deal better with their lives before God, and what I would like to be able to do is to keep my strength and carry on with this, and to die in the presence of my loved ones with the manifest presence of the other world around me. That would be finishing well.


And what will you be doing the week before you die?


I would hope working at the things I love, and enjoying fellowship with my family, those who are still here at that point, and that’s my idea of bliss, is to carry on with my work, and be in the presence of my loved ones.” (Dallas Willard) [Interview can be downloaded here: http://is.gd/dA0hw]


Thought: What are you preoccupied daily? How do you plan to finish well?

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, July 13, 2010

Making Our Days Count

TITLE: Making Our Days Count
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 13 July 2010

MAIN POINT: We do not need to scramble for emergency only during emergency moments. We can cultivate an 'Emergency-mode' attitude even during non-Emergency times.
Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Ps 90:12)
As I was driving one morning, I can hear a fire-engine on the other side of the road. With its sirens blaring away, motorists can easily hear its emergency sound as far as 10-15 blocks away. By law, when the engine sirens are hailing, all vehicles on all sides of the road have to slow down and stop to allow safe passage for the emergency vehicle. The driver of the vehicle has the privilege to travel anywhere regardless of the directional signs on the roads. Only after the fire-engine has passed a distance, can regular vehicles continue their way. Any motorist who obstructs the public servants can be punished with a hefty fine.

A few seconds later, a second fire-engine appeared. I stopped again.

This time, I cannot help but observe how most ordinary humans bother to stop only when there is an emergency. I think about our busyness in life. I think about how we rush all day long, always doing something. I think about our discomfort whenever we are not doing anything. I think about life.

QUESTION: WHY DO WE STOP ONLY WHEN THERE IS A LIFE EMERGENCY?

I think about the late Dr Randy Pausch, who was diagnosed with cancer back in 2006. With this knowledge, suddenly there was a major change in terms of his life priorities. He started to spend more time with his family, rather than more time lecturing to his students. Instead of remaining in Pittsburg where his University is located, he moved back to Virginia to be closer to his wife’s family. Instead of preparing more lectures around his specialty of Computer Science, he consolidated all of his dreams into one final lecture entitled, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” This last lecture of his became a YouTube sensation. His book, The Last Lecture, which was published later, also became a New York Times bestseller. Toward his last days, Randy was admitted to a hospice and not long after, he died on July 25th, 2008.

1) EMERGENCIES
Emergencies come in many different forms. The most common is health related. It could be a friend or family who has been diagnosed with cancer or a debilitating disease. When this happens, it is normal to see family and friends rallying around this person to support and help provide as much comfort and assurance as possible. The logic is that, since this person’s days are numbered, we should all prioritize our time and resources according to ensure he gets his best share of life for the remaining days ahead.

Another kind of emergency is related to our jobs. It can be a career change or a layoff. It can also be a huge shift of responsibilities given or a lengthy overseas project that affects the family. I remember how my family comes together for a grand family meal, the day before I fly off for an overseas assignment. If tomorrow is simply another ordinary day, each individual will have his or her own programs in place. However, knowing that the father is not going to be around for weeks, even months, that alone is sufficient reason to gather together for one last meal before the long absence.

Sometimes I ask. How do we know that we are going to be alive tomorrow? How do we know that our friend or loved one is going to be around next week? Anything can happen. Anything can happen anytime. Why then do we live our lives as if we assume things are going to be normal day in and day out?

2) NON-EMERGENCIES
My take on relationships is that we should never wait for something to happen in order to get things done. In this sense, we should not wait for Mr CANCER to strike, before we start to arrange for the long-awaited coffee chat with our friend. We should not wait for a Ms TRAGEDY to strike, before we have lunch with a beloved brother or a sister. Neither should we depend on Mr DEATH to inflict us with guilt that makes us regret by saying:
  • “I wish I have made that phone call to Jim.”
  • “If only I have sought out her forgiveness before she died.”
  • “Turn back the clock! I have promised to bake little Madeline a cake just last week.”
  • “I wish I have not spent more time with my work, and have prioritized my relationships.”
  • “I wish I have used my time yesterday to share an email of encouragement or affirmation with Adam before he died.”

Life is mysterious. Once a heart stops beating, that life is gone forever. If the heart is about to stop beating, we tend to want to maximize the time. The trouble is, when a person’s days are numbered, there is only so much that anybody can do for him or her. If that is the case, isn’t that a reminder for all of us to start by NOT taking one another for granted? Begin by giving thanks for each other’s existence, and for one another’s relationships. Treasure our affiliations wisely, to live ‘emergency-mode’ in a non-emergency situation. By this, I mean learning to adopt an appreciative attitude, that is non-dependent on a life-changing event or circumstance. Say to our friends and loved ones:
  • “I appreciate you very much.”
  • “Thank you for being my friend, and for sticking with me.”
  • “I love you very much.”
  • “I want to affirm you for having done your best.”
  • “I want to share my blessings with you, to help you become a better person.”
  • “May I encourage you by saying that you are precious.”

We do not need emergencies in order to say any of the above. We do not need Mr CANCER, Ms TRAGEDY or Mr DEATH to open our warmth and compassion like a can opener to a sealed tin can. We do not need disasters to dictate our abilities to use our time to appreciate others. All we need is a heart that is aware that life is short, and we ought to live it as fruitfully as possible.

3) MAKING OUR DAYS COUNT - Try 'ABC'

Last Sunday, I preached a rather somber sermon. It is about “Making Our Days Count,” where I shared about our need to learn to live our lives as if we are counting down our days on this earth. In it, I suggested three ways in which we can make our days count. I called it the ABC way.

A = Account for what we have (steward our resources wisely)
Remember that God has given what we need right now. If we spend time just learning to account for what we have, we will hardly have time to worry about what we do NOT have.

B = Bless Others Using What we have (share our blessings generously)
The secret of life is learning to share what we have. This is something that motivates me as I write my SabbathWalk commentaries each week. I am not wealthy, but I love to share my learning and experience with you. In the process, it is my prayer that my writings can bless you all each week. This I do so freely.

C = Count Our Blessings (simplicity of heart)
It does not take a lot from us just to bless another person. Simple faith is often more profound. A simple act of kindness can trigger a lot of good around us. There is a story of Dr William Stidler, who decides one day to write a note of encouragement to people who have made a difference in his life. One of them is his school teacher, who first introduced him to love literature. The reply came back:

“My dear Willie: I am an old lady in my eighties. I am ill and I cannot leave my room. Your letter came like a ray of bright sun, illuminating my dark day and my even darker life. You will be interested to know that, after fifty years of teaching, yours was the first letter of thanks I ever received from a former student. You lifted the clouds for me.”
Wow!

We never know how an innocent little note of thanks can lift any clouds of gloom from another. Why not begin today by encouraging someone who have been a part of your life? Perhaps, as we live our lives by numbering them well, we can influence others to do the same. The best way to incorporate good living is with good faith in Christ. There is no better way to live than to declare that it is no longer I that lives, but Christ who lives in me.
"To live in such a way that wins others to Christ, that expresses Christ's love and my love to others - and to do my best to live in a state of forgiveness and strong faith - is excellent preparation for the grief that may come in my life. To live this way is not only the best way to face and to prepare for the inevitability of grief; it is the best way to live!" (Zig Ziglar, Confessions of a Grieving Christian, Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2004, p244)

Thought: Do we want to press the emergency stop button ourselves, or do we want to wait for an external circumstance (like terminal cancer, tragedy) to push it for us?

conrade


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, July 7, 2010

LIFE IS UNFAIR – Lessons from Soccer

LIFE IS UNFAIR – Lessons from Soccer
Date: 7 July 2010
Written by: Conrade Yap
For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it.” (Eccl 2:21)
This week is the final week of the world's most popular sport: Football, (or Soccer in North America). Since June 12th, 2010, the world has been captivated by exciting games played by the world’s best soccer players. Nationalism is feverishly high. Expectations of the soccer superstars are also soaring. Superbly hosted by South Africa, the once-in-four-years soccer tournament attracts more than a billion viewers worldwide. In fact, the cumulative total viewership ranges in the region of billions. That is a figure that should make any advertiser sit up and pay attention.

During my travels to Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan last month, I managed to enjoy the soccer mania going on there. The fanaticism over soccer in Asia can be likened to Ice Hockey in Canada, or American Football in America, or Cricket in Pakistan. As I sat at an open-air coffee shop one evening, I spoke to a soccer bookie, who was doing a brisk business taking bets. He told me that this year’s competition has caused many upsets. A lot of people lost money. Big money indeed! Even for Asia that does not have strong competitors, the interest is surprisingly astronomical. For countries represented, citizens express their nationalistic fervours openly. With stakes so high, losing is not an option. This week, I like to take a look at life’s lessons we can learn from the game of Soccer. One reason why soccer is such a fascinating sport is because it mirrors many lessons in life.

A) An Unfair Decision (Germany-England, 27 June 2010)
The rules are simple. Rightfully or wrongfully, the referees on the pitch have the final say. I remember the Germany-England game, when England was trailing by a goal. Almost a minute later, Frank Lampard, an English striker shoots the ball at the German goal. The ball hits the top post and bounced INSIDE the goal line. According to the rule book about goals, when the ball crosses the line even if it does not touch the netting, it is considered a goal, only if the referee sees it. Unfortunately, the linesman fails to see the ball landing past the goal line. The referee has the final say: No Goal.

TV commentators are baffled. Millions of viewers cannot believe the injustice. The ball is clearly in. As the English players remain stunned, the Germans go on to complete the rout to move on to the next round. England does what they could to try to equalize. Unfortunately, Germany is gifted with a bad refereeing decision. Pundits say that moment changes the pace of the game and cost England dearly.

Indeed, the single biggest lesson to learn from soccer is that life is unfair, at least from the victim’s point of view. The players go by the rules, and do their best. They summon their best skills, the most competent teamwork to score a goal. Eventually, what they do has to be decided by the decisions made by the referees of the game. The referees have the final say, regardless of whether it was the right or wrong decision. FIFA, the official governing body of the sport stands firmly behind their referees. Any complaints about justice or injustice, fairness or unfairness are all futile. Referees have the final say. Not allowed to use video technology to check the goals, the referees have no choice but to deny England an equalizer that can potentially change the tone of the game.

Life Lesson: Life is unfair, even after one has done all he can to ‘deserve’ the reward. Like the wise man in Ecclesiastes, one can work all he can, but the fruits will be reaped by others instead. The beneficiary for the referee’s mistake: Germany.

B) An Unfair Outcome [Ghana-Uruguay game, 2 July 2010]
The Ghana-Uruguay game also ended with controversy. With the teams unable to break the deadlock, there was a last minute push by the brave Africans to win the game. A ball that was headed directly into the Uruguayan goal was then, in an unsporting manner, pushed away by a Uruguayan player with his hands. Ghana should have won. Unfortunately, the rules of the game say that the maximum punishment that referees can inflict on the offending player is a Red card. A legitimate goal was unfairly stopped by an illegitimate tactic.

[Photo Credit: MSNBC]

I would have more respect for Uruguay, had they concede the goal in a noble fashion. Unfortunately, anything is worth it, at least from Uruguay’s point of view. The player was sent off. The penalty was given.

Unfortunately, it was the Africans who failed to take advantage of the penalty shots. When Ghana misses the shot, I have this sinking feeling that as far as Uruguay is concerned, it 'pays' to cheat with hands. Wouldn't it be fairer to simply award Ghana the winning goal?

Life Lesson: Even when we play by the rules, the outcome may still be unfair. The best team does not always win. Like Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes, the outcome is unfortunately not what he plans for. The beneficiary for sticking with the FIFA rules: Uruguay.

C) Justice Unfairly Served on the Soccer Pitch
Anyone watching a soccer game will be peeved by some of the bad calls made by referees. Having said that, there are also cases of cheating when players deceive referees by faking an injury, acting out by diving inside the penalty box, or to gesture in an unsporting manner. In the soccer pitch, acts of deception are common in a game of high stakes. When the referee awards a free-kick, or a penalty due to such ‘acting,’ where is justice? Where is fairness?

In the game of life, there will be some winners and many losers. With 32 teams vying for the coveted trophy, there can only be one winner and 31 other non-winners.

Life Lesson: Referees are not perfect. So why are we so ready to place expectations that seem to elevate them to perfected beings? As we live, we will only frustrate ourselves when we expect perfection all the time from others and from ourselves. While I am not condoning mediocrity, I am asking for us to exercise godly patience and grace to one another. The beneficiary for the referee’s bad calls: The opponent.

D) Justice Served in Christ
Whether we blame it on the system, the rules, the referees, the players, the coaches, the pitch, the weather or even the poor ball, all are part of the imperfect world we live in. It is into this imperfect world that Jesus comes into. It is through an imperfect family that Jesus was born into. It is along the imperfect religious and political constraints that Jesus walks and navigates through. Alas! The world’s most unjust event caused Jesus his life. As mortal man, we tend to complain when things do not work out according to our ways. What about Jesus? He obediently went to the cross, despising the shame, was crucified, died and was buried and is not seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

In doing so, he offers all who chooses to believe and trust Him the gift of eternal life.

Wow!

It is a paradigm shift. The greatest benefit that we have all received comes not out of our own hard work. It comes in the form of a gift, the gift of grace. When I read Ecclesiastes treatise on the unfairness of life, I cannot but feel a sense of shame and injustice. However, when I read it TOGETHER with the gospel, I marvel at how Jesus comes not to destroy but to fulfill the law. Whatever unfairness we seem to get, whatever injustice Jesus has suffered, it is comforting to realize that in Christ, Jesus has given us a blank check with one name as the beneficiary: Ours.

The beneficiary for the mistakes of the world redeemed in Christ: US!

At least in Ecclesiastes, there is a redeeming aspect toward the end of the book. Qoheleth is correct to identify the futility of life. However, that alone is incomplete. While Soccer can teach us about how unfair life can be, there is one lesson that soccer cannot teach us: The gift of life eternal in Christ.

Surprise! Surprise! In Christ, the ones who have not really worked for the rewards are none other than ourselves. [I am talking about salvation, the gift of eternal life] The soccer ball is round as if it is bounded by the imperfect rules of the world. Salvation on the other hand, is whole because it is unbounded through the sacrificial love of Jesus.

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (Rev 22:17)


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