Friday, October 29, 2010

Dealing with Disappointment

TITLE: DEALING WITH DISAPPOINTMENT
Text: Jer 14: 3-4
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 29 Oct 2010

“The nobles send their servants for water; they go to the cisterns but find no water. They return with their jars unfilled; dismayed and despairing, they cover their heads. The ground is cracked because there is no rain in the land; the farmers are dismayed and cover their heads.” (Jer 14:3-4)

MAIN POINT: If there is one thing definite in life, it is the presence of disappointments. Disappointments can come in many different ways. Disappointment is like rainfall. Sometimes they are heavy. Other times light. Yet it is because God is Sovereign, that after the rains are gone, He brings out the sun and brandishes a dazzling rainbow of hope.

“Go get some water!” says the master. Two servants took two pails each, and walk to the wells a few meters outside the house. They fling down their old trusted pails. They heave. They pull. They hear no sound. There is no familiar splashing sound of water. The wells are dry. Soon, their disappointment will spread from the empty well to the household they live in. Drought is a terrible thing to experience. The servants can only bring back the bad news.

“Master, there is no more water in the wells!”

Disappointment. Despair. Distress. Ashamed.

The word ‘humiliated’ is a strong indictment on how the servants feel when they fail to complete the task set out for them by their master. When something one expects fails to materialize, the natural response will be one of disappointment. How should we respond to disappointments? In a nutshell, we need to first see ‘disappointments’ from God’s perspective.

A) God’s Disappointment in Judah
Israel gets a yucky taste of what it means to live without the LORD. The prophet Jeremiah gives 12 prophecies that are against the nation of Judah. Jeremiah 14 marks the sixth such prophecy, which is regarding the horrors of being judged. In a way, the people of Judah gets to experience what they themselves know will happen, when they choose to walk away from the LORD. One of the effects of this judgment is discouragement. Simply put, some disappointments are due to self-inflicted acts, like the case of Judah disobeying God. They suffer the consequences.

Lest we go away with the feeling that God is that merciless Judge that easily dispenses punishment, it is important to know that God disciplines his children with sorrow in His heart. We cannot read the prophets and then conclude God is a cruel task master. Sometimes, erroneous theology like that can lead us astray. Such disappointment does not mean God rejects his people. It simply means God is meting out certain promised consequences, but still keeping a watchful eye to care for them.

When a person is suffering, it is common to start pointing blame at something or someone. There are occasions where the person in pain starts to bring in sins and wickedness committed in the past, and say that God is punishing him. Be careful not to let this false teaching take root. Otherwise, the end result will be bitterness and despair. No! There is a difference between punishment and discipline. Punishments weigh people down. Discipline lifts them up from their waywardness. Punishments put one down. Discipline holds one up. The LORD disciplines the ones He love.

My son, do not despise the LORD’S discipline and do not resent his rebuke,” (Prov 3:11)

In Jeremiah, the ills that Judah faces are largely self-inflicted. The heart of God is not happy, but sorrowful. Yet, in this disappointment that the people of God encounters, God is preparing for a new hope.

Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” (Jer 31:20)


B) Disappointments from Self-Inflicted Acts
Without a doubt, many of our modern encounters with disappointment and discouragement are self-inflicted. Like Adam and Eve who disobeyed, we too have our share of disobedience. We tell lies. We speak to one another with half-truths or failing to communicate in order to protect ourselves. We glory when credits are suddenly given to us by mistake. We complain when our good actions fail to be recognized or acknowledged. Even within our Church communities, we desire to help others on the basis of OUR convenience rather than their need. Love to many people is not love until we see a tangible benefit.

Jeremiah prophesies:

This is your lot, the portion I have decreed for you, because you have forgotten me and trusted in false gods. I will pull up your skirts over your face that your shame may be seen - …” (Jer 13:25-26)

For all my professed desire to be holy before God, I find myself making inappropriate comments from time to time. I remember a time when I was zealous about preaching the gospel to my colleagues. One colleague I met happens to be a friend from school many years ago. We become good friends almost instantly. When she becomes hesitant about coming back to God, or to return to Church, I become a little overwhelming on her. I said things that do not reflect a Christ-like attitude. I pounce on her weakness by prescribing a form of religion that works for me, but not for her. In a nutshell, I was purely and simply insensitive. She abruptly cuts off all contact with me, and to this day, I live with the uncertainty and regret that I may have unwittingly stumbled a sister in Christ. The ‘god’ I follow then, is perhaps a ‘god’ of religiously conquering weak hearts. I seem to be doing ‘gospel-pushing’ rather than demonstrating Christ-like love. For all its goodness, the gospel needs to be communicated sensitively and thoughtfully. I learn that we can sin against God, by doing selfish things in the name of God. Personally, I am disappointed with myself. Self-inflicted acts can lead to deep disappointment.

C) Disappointments Arising from a Sick Society
Other disappointments are not within our control. I read a news report recently about a father who rapes his daughter so that he can ‘save’ her from the clutches of evil men. That shows how sick society can be. Such hideous acts of violence on helpless innocent victims turns me off. It angers me. I feel sick.

The society that we live can give us some nasty disappointments when we least expect. A sudden tax rise; an unfortunate accident not of our doing; a rude encounter. Several years ago, I was rudely awakened one early morning to see two policemen at my door. They had bad news. That weekend, six vehicles were torched. My car was one of them.

I recall the lump in my throat. I choke. I struggle as disgust; despair, and distress mingle together to wreak a heavy disappointment inside me. That day, everything seems gloomy. My emotions are shrouded in a terrible state that wants the arsonist arrested and jailed. Even the Police prove to be most unhelpful, as far as catching the culprit is concerned. They have other ‘higher’ priority than a match-happy fire-starter. Moreover, I am a ‘nobody’ in their who’s who list of VIPs. My disappointment soon leaps like a flea, from the burnt car to the unhelpful police force; from the constables to the impatient traffic users on the roads; allowing the disappointments outside to grow roots inside my heart. I begin to ask the three questions Philip Yancey poses:

Is God unfair? Is God silent? Is God withdrawn?” (Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998, p48)
It is when we learn to pause, we start to see. Through disappointments, we learn to not to pin our hopes on non-living things, but to anchor our hope in the living God.

D) Dealing with Disappointment
There is hope. Hopeful people pray. In our helplessness over disappointments, we can remind ourselves to focus on the Giver of hope. This is what Oswald Chambers speaks of prayer.

We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties.” (Oswald Chambers)

Indeed, prayer is not staring at the mountain of difficulties but in gazing at the face of God. The former locks us into a prison of helplessness. The latter liberates us to seek God for Who He is. Paul exhorts Timothy even as he grapples with false teachers in the Ephesus Church:

"For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers." (1 Tim 4:10)

Indeed, prayer substitutes our disappointments of life, with hope in God. Prayer is not staring and getting bogged down by the mountain of challenges set before us. It is in gazing at the sight of God, and following the path set by Jesus. Disappointments like rain will come sooner or later. Sometimes they come pouring like cats and dogs. Other times they drizzle and skim off our backs, like water droplets sliding down a turtle’s shell. The key is to be prepared and to pray.

I have been dealing with disappointments in this article, because it is such a common occurrence in our lives. It can come through silly self-inflicted acts or mistakes on our part. It can also come through events that are way beyond our control. Even in Christian ministry, we can be disappointed when expectations (both yours, mine, and others) are not met. Sometimes disappointment comes as a result of sin. Other times, it comes simply because we live in a fallen world. If there is one guarantee I can give, it is this. It is not a matter of why but a question of WHEN we will be disappointed. Let the following encourage you, my readers.

On a sunny day, take a small coin say a quarter. If we compare the coin with the sun, one is only a few millimeters in diameter, while the other is in thousands, perhaps millions of miles. We can choose to bring the coin so close to our eye that it blocks out the sun completely. Or we can put the coin at a distance and recognize that it is utterly insignificant compared to the sun.

This is what faith is all about. Faith is putting our despairs in their proper perspectives by focusing our hope in God. In prayer, we look away from our disappointments that may accumulate over time. Instead, we look to God, to fix our perspectives. Let not the coins of disappointment blot our eyes from seeing the Son of God, who came, who died and who has been raised. Christ has risen and He promises to raise His children up with Him. That is his promise. Disappointments may come, but the day will come when the LORD will erase all disappointments forever.

Yes. Sometimes we may feel like there is no more water in our wells. We may feel like we are punished. However, the God we worship is One who disciplines rather than punishes. The God who will one day fill the wells that will overflow with living waters.

Thought: Let not the disappointments in life blot out our hope in God.

One’s best success comes after their greatest disappointments.” (Henry Ward Beecher)


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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, October 22, 2010

'-wards' of Discipleship

TITLE: The ‘-wards’ of Discipleship
Date: 22 Oct 2010
Written by: Conrade Yap

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Cor 13:11)
KEY POINT: Use the '-wards' of discipleship as a 'spark plug' to ignite your journey of discipleship.

Discipleship. If you are like most people, then you will know how easy it is to pronounce this word. It is even easier to get fellow Christians to agree with you that discipleship is the will of God for every Christian and for the Church. Yet, when pressed further, it is quite a challenge to find someone who can give a satisfactory answer to what exactly is discipleship. Look at some of the definitions (and misunderstandings).


  • “Discipleship is about disciples on a ship.”
  • “Discipleship is about disciplining people to go to Church.”
  • “Discipleship is obeying the Ten Commandments.
  • “Discipleship is obeying the Four Spiritual Laws.
  • “Discipleship is about following the Four spiritual disciplines: Fellowship, Prayer, Bible and Outreach.”


This week, I want to contribute a ‘spark-plug’ to ignite people’s desire toward disciple-making, beginning with ourselves. Discipleship has 5 key elements, which I call the ‘-wards’ of discipleship. An inward, upward, downward, outward and sideward perspective. I believe the lack of discipleship is the root of apathetic spirituality. This is the chief challenge in any Church. Before we can embark upon disciple-making, let me suggest that we learn to understand discipleship through the ‘-wards’ of discipleship.

A) Imitating Christ INWARD
HE WHO follows Me, walks not in darkness," says the Lord. By these words of Christ we are advised to imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus Christ.” (Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book I Chapter 1)

Disciples of Christ need to imitate Christ’s life and habits, not to merely copy his deeds and parrot his spoken words. Kempis urges us to study the life of Jesus well. Every Christian needs to read the gospels on a regular basis. Read Matthew’s account from the Jewish perspective. Read Mark’s account to garner a sense of urgency in Jesus’ mission. Read Luke for a meticulous recollection of Jesus’ deeds on earth. Read John to gather a sense of teachings that Jesus wants us to focus on. Each gospel produces a particular perspective of Christ. Put them together and we have a very comprehensive picture of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

KEY POINT: We need to imitate Christ inward, by regularly studying and learning from the gospels. This is a natural desire of a Christian disciple.

B) Seeking God UPWARD
“You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!” (Ps 123:1)

The Christian cannot live apart from faith in God. In every situation, he needs to learn to relate his experience back to God. When he is happy, he rejoices in the LORD. When he is sad, he looks up to the LORD. When he is fearful, he hides under the shadow of the LORD’s mighty wings. When he is helpless, he trains himself to trust God. Whatever one’s situation, at either end of the spectrum of ups and downs, the Christian will always look to God for help. He will worship God alone. This is only possible when the Christian realizes like Augustine.

“You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” (St Augustine, Confessions, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, p3)

KEY POINT: Like a compass that gravitates toward true north, our emotions must automatically point us to seek God in whatever emotional state we are in. This is a habit of a Christian disciple.

C) Living Humbly DOWNWARD
The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy. Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you.” (Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book I, chapter 2)

The golden rule of stewardship is ‘much is given, much is expected.’ The more we claim to know, the more we need to be humble about our knowledge. The Christian must never be prideful. Arrogance and boastfulness has no business in the life and behaviour of a Christian. Sometimes, those of us who have been in Church for many years can be very skeptical people. We easily dismiss the basics of Christianity simply because we thought we have already heard them. We think we want more. Yet, when we get more, we complain that the speakers or teachers spoke beyond our basic levels of understanding. It is really unfortunate. I have met people who are Christians for more than 20 years. When people teach Christianity 101 basics, they sneer at its basic level. Yet, when they are given a taste of Christianity 201 or even 301, they shudder and they retreat by saying that they are all too ‘heavy-going’ for them.

For people like these, it makes me wonder how much have they really progressed beyond a 101-level. My advice for people who have been Christians for many years: Keep learning the basics with humility. Let the desire to know Christ be demonstrated by a hunger for the Word of God, and a humility to be educated at all levels.

KEY POINT: Much is given, much is expected. Do not be content with milk only. Seek solid food. In other words, grow up. The more you know, the more you need to ask God to show you how to let this knowledge humble you. Christian discipleship is humble learning and meekly living out the ways of Christ.

D) Demonstrating Christ OUTWARD
“THE life of a good religious ought to abound in every virtue so that he is interiorly what to others he appears to be.” (Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book I chapter 19)

Our outward actions must reflect a healthy inner life. This is what authentic living is all about. Disciples must manifest their Christlikeness inside through good works outside.

There was a story of a man being pulled over by a traffic policeman. When asked why he was pulled over, the police said.

“Is this your car, sir?”

“Yes, of course. What’s the problem?” replied the man.

“I saw your bumper sticker which says, ‘I am a Bible-believing Christian.” From the way you drive, I had thought it was a stolen vehicle.”

We may laugh at this silly joke but the point is serious. True Christians are determined by the fruit they bear, not what they claim to be. It is a rich inside that determines a fruitful outside.

KEY LEARNING: Whatever the perceptions, it is one thing to declare our Christian faith by name. It is yet another to demonstrate Christlikeness outwardly. Christian discipleship is about demonstrating Christlikeness in our daily lives.

E) Sharing Blessings SIDEWARD

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)

No man is an island. There is no such thing as a Church of one. This is one reason why I believe that we should continue to meet together, as often as possible in the name of Christ. When we come together, we avoid the insidious vacuum of self-absorption, to worship with people who are different from us. The more we get together, the more we practice the presence of grace to people around us. I think people who go to Church simply to get something out of Church have gotten it all wrong. They have reversed the biblical teaching by saying: “I go to Church in order to get more blessings.” When a person comes to Church on the basis of self-needs, everything will need to revolve around him. Such a person will often leaves unsatisfied and frustrated.

What about reversing it? Come to Church, that others will be blessed by your presence? Give to anyone who has a need. Give our time, and our resources, and watch how God faithfully demonstrates His grace through you.

KEY LEARNING: Christian Discipleship is not about seeking more for ourselves, but in sharing more of ourselves. Blessings become double blessings when shared.

My friends, how should you grow? Where are you in your path of discipleship? Consider what ‘-wards’ you can practice daily. Do what you can to imitate Christ inwards. Constantly ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in your seeking God upward. Live out your faith by living humbly downward. Demonstrate your Christlikeness outward for God to see. Share your blessings sidewards.

Practice the ‘-wards’ of discipleship and watch God work in your life. Try it. Let it be a spark-plug to ignite your spiritual vigor toward Christian discipleship. Simply put, when we say we disciple each other, we are in fact pushing one another to be more Christlike inside, and outside.

Thought: “The religious who concerns himself intently and devoutly with our Lord's most holy life and passion will find there an abundance of all things useful and necessary for him. He need not seek for anything better than Jesus.” (Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book I chapter 25)


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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, October 15, 2010

Receiving Bad News

TITLE: RECEIVING BAD NEWS
SCRIPTURE: Isa 38:1
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 15 Oct 2010
“In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, ‘This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.’” (Isa 38:1)
MAIN POINT: There is a famous saying that no news is good news. This is not true when it comes to the gospel. In fact, the Greek word for gospel is ‘good news.’ Yet, how can Christians make sense of ‘bad news’ when it comes upon them? This week, I shall attempt to deal with the emotions that afflict us when we receive ‘bad news.’
Doctor: “Hi, I am sorry to tell you that you have cancer.”
Patient: “I’m sorry. Can you repeat that?” 
Doctor: “Mr P, you have an advanced stage of pancreatic cancer. There is no known cure.”
Patient: “.......” (his lower jaw drops.)
Doctor: “According to statistics, people with your condition live between 9 months to 2 years.”
For the next few moments, Mr P goes silent. He struggles to maintain a bold smile. Bad news about other people hits a person hard. Bad news about oneself is not only hard. It is vicious. It is inexplicable. It is purely and simply cruel.
All Mr P sees is his doctor mumbling away some things as his mind wanders off toward all kinds of possible future scenarios. None of his scenarios appear positive. All his scheduled appointments for the day suddenly vanish into the bucket of insignificance. No amount of sun outside can brighten up the gloomy dark clouds gathering inside. Mr P cannot expunge the words, ‘terminal,’ ‘advanced stage,’ ‘illness,’ ‘chemotherapy,’ and ‘death’ from his increasingly disoriented mind. Life is so unfair, so cruel. Can it really be true? Why me?
What happens when we receive bad news? 
A) Hezekiah’s Illness
Isaiah’s ministry happens during the reigns of 4 kings of Judah. He sees the LORD in a powerful vision in the year that King Uzziah died (Isa 6:1). The story of Hezekiah is an interesting insertion in the book of Isaiah (Isa 38). It tells of another king, not dead but dying. Like Mr P who is given the prognosis of terminal cancer, King Hezekiah is told that he will die from a non-recoverable unknown form of illness. Mr P’s personal doctor relays the bad news; The prophet Isaiah communicates Hezekiah’s sad news. Mr P worries helplessly; Hezekiah weeps bitterly (Isa 38:3b). Mr P turns inward to address his  emotional turmoil; Hezekiah turns to a wall and pleads with God (Isa 38:2).
For all the approximate parallels between Mr P and Hezekiah, there is at least one marked difference. The doctor can only estimate a less than 2 years survival schedule. The LORD gives a firm extension of 15 years more for Hezekiah (Isa 38:5b)
B) Bargaining With the LORD
Perhaps, people like Mr P may interpret King Hezekiah’s prayer as a way in which to extend his own life. Maybe, if he believes in miracles, God may even grant him more than 15 years of additional time on this earth. 
  • "Give me more years and I will serve you more passionately."
  • "Grant me longer life and I will give more to charity."
  • "Get rid of the disease for me, and I will share the gospel more."
The trouble is, why should we wait for a disease to strike before we do what we are called to do? Like procuring products, we humans have a tendency to bargain down to a price that we are willing to accept. However, when we are desperate, we become the bargain that we are seeking for. When we are helpless, we become sitting ducks. This hits high achievers especially hard. For all their worldly successes, they are no match for physical ailments. Cancer has that insidious capacity to paralyze a person’s emotions even before the cells can inflict serious physical damage. 
I have seen many people whose lives have been changed due to cancer. Nearly all of them at some point have bargained with the LORD. Questions of ‘why me?‘ get  meshed up with bargaining chips that offers: “What about this?” and “How about that?”
C) God’s Requirements to Hezekiah
If we are to read carefully, God did not simply pronounce a death sentence. He gives a specific instruction: “Put your house in order” (Isa 38:1b). Other translations render it quite succinctly:
“...Set your affairs in order...” (New Living Translation)
“...Prepare your affairs and your family...” (Message)
How should we put our house in order? What are we to do to set our affairs in place? How do we prepare our family? These are instructions that should not be restricted to Hezekiah or Mr P. More importantly, why should we depend on ‘bad news’ in order to take our lives more seriously? 
  • Why wait for a negative medical prognosis before we start to live more meaningfully? 
  • Why wait for a death sentence before we embark upon our dreams?
  • Why wait for things like ‘cancer’ to tell us to manage our affairs more diligently?
As I ponder on Mr P and Hezekiah’s situation, isn’t it true that the entire human race is suffering from a spiritual cancer, the cancer of sin? 
“but you must not eat from the tree of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it, you will surely die.” (Gen 2:17)
“For the wages of sin is death...” (Rom 6:23a)
How then should we live our lives? Do we live as dying people because of sin? Are we marked by spiritual cancer that inhibits our capacity toward meaningful living? I suppose those of us in Christ will proclaim that it is no longer the ‘I’ that lives but Christ that lives in us (Gal 2:20). 
D) Not I But Christ
How should we receive ‘bad news?’ Some Christians will be ready to pronounce judgment on the ‘cancer’ itself by declaring them away in the Name of the LORD. While some will pray for healing, others will go to miracle healing sessions, especially those big healing sessions by famed miracle healers. While Scriptures proclaim ‘Believe in the LORD Jesus and you will be saved,’ (acts 16:31) some of these faith-healers showcase a form of  ‘Believe in the LORD Jesus and you will be healed.’ 
Do we attack ‘bad news’ with ‘good news?’ Should we approach them with apprehension about ‘what-if-this-does-not-work?’ Should we then let our faith ride the roller coaster of uncertainty, by linking them to healing itself? If the person is not healed, does that mean we have lack of faith? Maybe, if the person is not healed during the miracle session, it is a lack of faith in these ‘miracle-healers’ rather than God Himself.
E) Some Recommendations
Here are three things that I find particularly helpful when we face bad news pertaining to a medical ailment such as cancer. Arlene Cotter, a cancer survivor shares a 3-stage challenge to cancer patients. She urges those afflicted with cancer to STOP making things worse. Secondly, to YIELD to a journey of seeking meaning in life and death. Thirdly, she encourages them to GO and live their lives well.
#1 - STOP-CHECK: Let It NOT Possess You
Cotter, writes:
“While it may seem obvious, sometimes you may need to remind yourself that: You have the disease - the disease does not have you.” (Arlene Cotter, From This Moment On, NY: Random House, 1999, p21)
Get our own affairs in order. Do not let the threat of cancer derail our goals of living a good meaningful life for others.
#2 - YIELD to a journey of seeking some sense out of it
In Aesop’s fable, one memorable story is about a quarrelling Oak and Reed. Both argue about each being stronger than the other. When a strong wind comes, the reed, being more flexible bends itself and leans with the direction of the wind, to avoid being uprooted. The Oak tree on the other hand tries to defy the wind as a way to boast of its strength.  
When we receive bad news, do we approach it like an Oak Tree to stubbornly defy it? We may find ourselves getting bashed up and humiliated. What about approaching bad news like a reed. We do not have to compromise our own principles or belief. We can be humble to adjust and re-orientate according to our new conditions. Faith in God helps us navigate through the valley of the shadow of death. Faith in God enables us to trust in the Joy of the LORD who gives us strength. Faith in God makes us more aware that we may be suffering from spiritual cancer, but we are not going to live defeated lives.
For all his anti-Christian stance, the German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche still has some good things to say about life.
He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” (Frederick Nietzsche)
Get our own house and our matters in order. This is the ‘why’ that will enable us to tackle any ‘how.’
#3 - GO and live life well
Terry Fox is a Canadian icon. Recently, there has been talks about renaming the Vancouver International Airport in remembrance of Terry Fox. In 1978, Terry Fox was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. Two years later, he had his right leg  amputated.  Eventually, the cancer spreads to his lungs. Instead of lying down and complaining about unfairness of life, he embarked upon a project that defies even the fittest man alive. He wanted to run more than 5300 miles across Canada to raise a million dollars for cancer research. He ran a marathon (26 miles) per day on an artificial limb on his right. After covering more than 3300 miles, he was forced to abandon the project due to lung complications. Cancer took his life but not his spirit.
Canadians all over the country look to Terry Fox for inspiration. Fox turns a private ‘bad news’ to a public inspiration for all. My children regularly bring back materials inspired by Terry Fox and his courageous life.
If you are Mr P, will you worry more about your own possessions, and your own death? Or will you possess the courage of Terry Fox? Maybe, for those of us believers in Christ, when we receive bad news, do not restrict ourselves to a tunnel-vision of self-interests and personal worries. Instead, see through a wide-angle lens of life with boldness and faith in God. We may possess a disease, but we can choose NOT to let the disease possess us. We may feel down but we have a choice to live out the rest of our lives in hope. We may be limited in our normal capacities, but our spirits are free to reach the highest possible level. This is something Terry Fox has shown us. This is something Jesus has promised us with the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).
Regardless of your conditions, GO and get your own house in order. May the Lord’s strength and grace be with you, as you deal with news both ‘good’ and ‘bad.’
Thought: “Even if you feel that you never did much with your life, it is MORE THAN ENOUGH if those around you have benefited from having known you, from having been touched by you.” (Arlene Cotter, From This Moment On, NY: Random House, 1999, p403)


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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, October 8, 2010

Reflections on Suffering

Title: Reflections on Suffering
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 8 Oct 2010
After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.” (Job 3:1)
When we lose a loved one, is it ever possible to ‘get over it?’ Will life ever return to normal? Can we ever recover from deep grief?

MAIN POINT: This week in SabbathWalk, I shall attempt to answer the above questions, believing that grief and grieving is a process we have to boldly go through, and not skipped around with shortcuts or half-baked quickie ‘solutions.’ My key belief is that in moments of pain and suffering, it is more important to learn and to grow with it.

Jerry teaches theology at a University in Washington state. His wife, Lynda home schools the children. Lynda follows the education curriculum earnestly. Toward the end of one module, which is native American culture, she decides to give her children a firsthand experience at a native community. That day, Jerry’s mother happens to visit them. Using this opportunity make the occasion a real family experience, Jerry, Lynda, Jerry’s mother and their 4 children hop into a minivan to learn and to explore the great countryside. After all, home schooling need not be restricted to only the kids, right?

That Friday afternoon, the whole family eat with their native hosts. They dance. They chat. They develop a special bond not only with the tribal leaders but also with each other. By evening, they decide to head back home. Through no fault of theirs, an oncoming car vaults away from its lane and crashes head on into their minivan. Out of the seven, only four of them return home alive. It is drunk driving at its worst.

In one night, Jerry loses 3 generations in a single crash. He watches his wife, his mother and his third daughter die before his very eyes, through no fault of his. The one who causes their deaths, a drunk driver survives even though it is all his fault. How can we explain this?

A) An Unreasonable World
My mind screams: “This is simply too cruel and unfair!

My heart bursts out: “This is so heartbreaking!

My fist gesticulates: “So angry that justice must be done!

Quietly, my stunned soul asks: “Where is God during events like these?

Indeed, where is God? Why must ‘no-fault’ Jerry suffers for the antics of the ‘all-fault’ drunk driver? This is all so unreasonable.

Why must Jerry’s mother visit them that weekend and not others? Why didn’t Jerry talk Lynda out of her excursion idea? Why does he has to bring along his 4-year old daughter? Reasonable questions. Unreasonable answers. Tragedy more often than not is never logical. In his novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” the Irish author Oscar Wilde writes:
It often happens that the real tragedies of life occur in such an inartistic manner that they hurt us by their crude violence, their absolute incoherence, their absurd want of meaning, their entire lack of style. They affect us just as vulgarity affects us. They give us an impression of sheer brute force, and we revolt against that.” (Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, London: CRW Publishing, 2003, p129)

B) Job: Spinning Out of the Orbit of Rationale
Not everything in life can be reasoned. Many things are beyond man’s rationalizing capacity. The author of Job makes it clear that no-fault living does not necessarily lead to a ‘happy and victorious’ life. This goes against those who perpetrate a form of good-feel teaching that spells prosperity-driving strategies and invokes health-quickening formulas. They rank high in momentary ecstasy, but rates low in longer-term reality. Such antics cheapen faith. They depreciate life. 

In the first 2 chapters of Job, we read that Job is practically blameless. The Bible states it (Job 1:1). God declares Job righteous (Job 2:3). Job even tries to take any blame for his family by offering sacrifices on his children’s behalf (Job 1:5). No matter how you read it, Job is one man who is so upright and faultless that you can find no reason why he should ever suffer. God vindicates Job saying:
...And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” (Job 2:3b)
For no reason, a righteous man like Job suffers an unjust fate of losing his loved ones (Job 1 & 2). Likewise, for no reason, Jerry suffers a tragic loss of three women in his life through an unreasonable act of drunk driving. Their stories tell of a cruel world that spins beyond all human rationale.

C) Sense and Sensibilities of Grieving
Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)
These words from Jesus are priceless. They present truth at its core. Time is the best antidote for the long process of grieving. Notice how Jesus never tries to explain away tragedies. Instead, He enters into the tragedy of tragedies, willingly to the Cross. He is faultless, and blameless, but in the eyes of a cruel world, He must die. This sense of Jesus willingly accepting blame on behalf of all mankind is something that is beyond reason.

I am still grieving over my father’s death. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about having any form of celebration. Even when I minister to my Church members, I do feel a bit of apprehension on where to place my emotions. Can I tell my congregation to rejoice, when I do not feel like rejoicing? Can I exhort them with words of encouragement when I myself need a boost of cheer? How can I comfort others even as I go through the valley of discomfort and pain?

D) What We can Do / Not Do?
I am experiencing first hand what to do and what not to do. Here are 5 suggestions I am cultivating. The first three are what NOT to do. The last two talks about what you CAN do.

#1 - Do NOT try to talk reason into a grieving person
No amount of reasoning can explain away either tragedy, suffering or death. Even Job, declared righteous by God suffers for no reason.

#2 - Do NOT attempt to inject other people’s experience into another
A common practice among well-intentioned people is to say things like:

  • False Empathy: “I know how you feel.”
           [No you don’t know how I feel. You’re not me.]
  • Distant Sympathy: “My friend’s brother’s friend has also suffered like that.
           [What has your friend’s friend got to do with my mourning?]
  • Disguised Apathy: “Oh, things will get better over time.
           [How do you know the future?]

#3 - NO Scriptural Plasters, Please
A favorite strategy used by Christians is to use what I call scriptural plasters. People send short messages using their cellphones or emails or Twitter to try to console their friends or loved ones as if the biblical verses can work its magical healing.

I remember once a fellow Christian was going through a really difficult time. I hastily shoot off Romans 8:28 on my cellphone about all things working out for good. Instead, I received a nasty reply that reprimands my insensitivity. Thinking back, I am insensitive. In fact, I am overly naive to think that problems can be easily resolved by plastering scriptural references all over.

#4 - You CAN Pray
You may be lost for words but you can still pray. During times of pain and suffering, we are called to embark upon prayer that is beyond solving problems or getting things done. Like a spacecraft, prayer lifts us away from the gravity of childish things and selfish demands. In prayer, we discover man’s smallness in the light of God’s greatness. Philip Yancey puts it succinctly:
The main purpose of prayer is not to make life easier, nor to gain magical powers, but to know God.” (Philip Yancey, Prayer, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006, p56)

#5 - You Can Walk with and Listen in
Listening is empathy at its best. Joyce Huggett calls listening a form of ‘catching compassion.’ She writes:
In this last and great commission Jesus commands his followers to love as he loved, to care as he cared, to hurt when others hurt. Such love, he said is the hallmark of the Christian. And such love is one of the basic requirements of anyone who would seek to stretch out a helping hand to others in the middle of life’s crises.” (Joyce Huggett, Listening to Others, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1988, p31)
We do not need a lot of words, just a lot of ears. We do not need to worry about what to say or how to care. Our minuscule presence and quiet listening is far more helpful than a load of verbal advice.

E) Through The Valley
Let me categorically answer the questions set out at the beginning of this commentary. For the first question, there is no such thing as getting over grief but going THROUGH it. For the second question, life will not become ‘back to normal’ because life will never be the same again. Finally, and thankfully, I project a positive YES to the third question. We CAN recover from deep grief. We CAN be comforted even as we mourn. We CAN be restored in Christ, to become a better person, a more wholesome outlook and a mature heart. When we journey through the valley of the shadow of death, when we venture into a new place, when we learn to seek comfort in the arms of God, then and truly then we have grown to declare this ultimate truth:
“The LORD is my Shepherd; I have all I need.” (Ps 23:1, NLT)
Thought: "The Christian in exile is comforted by a brief visit of a Christian brother, a prayer together and a brother's blessing; indeed, he is strengthened by a letter written by the hand of a Christian." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, London: SCM Press, 1954, p10)


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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, October 1, 2010

PRAYER: Heavenly Purposing in Earthly Living

TITLE: Heavenly ‘Purposing’ in Earthly Living
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 1 October 2010

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

MAIN THOUGHT: Prayer is not a temporary measure of meeting our own physical or spiritual need. It is seeking God’s will be done in heaven as well as on earth. It is heavenly purposing in earthly living. Prayer changes us more than it changes God.

It is exactly a month since my father passed away. The family is still in mourning. We struggle with making sense of what this all means. Letting go is hard. It takes a lot of ‘heart-work.’ Even my children occasionally repeat what I used to tell them when I am ministering to other grieving families. They will remind me cheekily:
There are 5 stages of grieving, dad.

So it is. I know that there are different levels of grieving, and they could happen at any time with no apparent chronological sequence. Yet, knowing about it in my head, and to personally go through it in my heart, are 2 entirely different things. Being aware of it keeps me prepared. Going through it keeps me humble. Thanks a lot, kids!

A) Nothing Much to Fight Over
My mum bounces between restlessness and a desire to make sense of life after dad. Things will never be the same again. When the family patriarch is gone, there is a shuffling of responsibilities in the family pyramid. One thing makes me glad. We do not have many possessions to fight over. My family does not have much, so there are not many things to really dispute about, assuming if we are trying to fight in the first place. If there is one thing to really tussle about, it will probably be some of the old photographs of my parents during their younger days. In an age of digital scanning and photography, these pictures can be easily replicated. If there is something that can be counted upon as a family treasure, it will probably be a ring that my father gave me many years ago. Unfortunately, it was stolen when my house I was renting in was burgled. Even if I have it today, I will be more than willing to give it up to any of my siblings if any of them wants it.

It reminds me so vividly that death happens to those who are rich and those like us, who are not so rich. I minister among people of different levels of affluence. There are those who are struggling to make ends meet. Like new immigrants, those who possess good careers and powerful connections back in their homeland, become unknowns in a new world. It can be a rude shock for the highly accomplished and richly qualified. In fact, I am learning that a life without much possession can be a blessing in itself. I prefer to word this kind of blessing as follows:
“True blessing is to be able to focus on storing up treasures in heaven, without the distraction of earthly treasures or the accumulation of earthly goods.”

The former is permanent. The latter is temporary. Storing up treasures in heaven gives us God’s perspectives. Storing up treasures on earth stubbornly clings on to human outlook or fleshly want. Heavenly living keeps God’s will in our priorities. Earthly accumulation of goods grips man’s will as the sole purpose in life. One lets go and lets God. The other refuses to let go, and loses sight of God’s purpose in the process. Purposing in God requires a letting go of earthly mindsets.

B) Futility of Earthly Qualifications and Experience
During my years at Regent-College, one of the places I haunt is a philosophy cafĂ© close to the University campus. Many students flock to that coffee house. Books surround the tables and chairs where customers sip coffee and chat freely about life in general. The ambience is good. People are encouraged to voice their thoughts. Even in the restrooms, there are whiteboards with markers for people to write down their musings as they ‘sit on the throne.’ I think of one particular person’s sad story:
“I was once a General Manager of an MNC. I have a PhD and qualifications from a prestigious University. Now as a new immigrant, I wash dishes. Life sucks.”
It is ironical. Immigrants who are well regarded and established in their home countries, become ordinary labourers in their chosen new country of residence.

For me, I am not affected as much because I came to Canada with a different mindset. I willingly gave up my professional career so as to spend more time to study and to bask in the riches of theological studies. For I believe that life is short. One should not simply wish for a long life, but to invest in doing things that lasts longer than one’s lifespan. That said, even if I were to wash dishes, if I can enjoy and do that to the best of my ability, it can be something very worthwhile too. A great American civil rights leader once said:

If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.” (Dr Martin Luther King Jr)

Purposing in God is not dependent on what we do, but what attitude we bring to what we do.

C) Storing Up Heavenly Treasures
In a nutshell, we need to be mindful of what really matters in life. We get a more accurate assessment of what is most important. We need to know more of ourselves. We practice what we claim to be. For example, one of the most common corporate catch-phrases I have heard is:
People are the most important assets in this organization.

For many of us, we have seen too often how untrue and hypocritical this has become. When the company is in trouble, one of the first things they do is to cut staff. They shrink salaries and at the same time ask the surviving workers to justify their existence in the company. I remember a supervisor being asked to lay off some people in his department. Upon returning to his office after delivering the bad news, he finds his door opened with two security guards, and a pink slip on his table with his own name on it. Cruel stuff.

For people who have poured out their life to work for their companies, getting the sack is one of the hardest things to experience. So much about one being a treasured asset in the company.

Yet, getting the sack is not necessarily the end of life. If one has put in his best, the one who appreciates and sees our works is not our earthly boss but our Heavenly Father. If we can learn to see our life as a temporary stay rather than a permanent resident, it helps immensely in our earthly endeavors. A Vancouver businessman, Joe Segal has been quoted as follows:

Many people think of life as a road or a highway. And that may be true in so much as there are many unexpected twists and turns and sometimes you get lost or end up at a destination that wasn’t on the map. But if you think about it, a highway can go on forever, and life isn’t like that. Life is more like a runway – because at some point you’re going to run out of asphalt.” (Peter Legge, The Runway of Life, Eaglet Publisher, 2005, p8-9)


Purposing in God is storing up treasures in heaven.

D) Prayer is Risky
Indeed that is a good metaphor of earthly living. Life is more a runway. We need to lift off before reaching the end of the runway, and to safely land in another runway. Each time we lift off, we give thanks. Each time we land, we appreciate God’s grace upon us. Let me end with something more practical by asking the question: How do we cultivate a heavenly purpose in our earthly living? The answer begins in one word: ‘prayer.’ Prayer changes us more than it changes God. Eugene Peterson warns us about prayer. He writes:

We want life on our conditions, not on God’s conditions. Be slow to pray. Praying most often doesn’t get what we want but what God wants, something quite at variance with what we conceive to be in our best interests.” (Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987, p44)

Perhaps, when we pray, we get jolted out of our comfort zones. We jump out of our tiny fishbowls of self-interests and individual concerns, to see a world larger than our concerns. We begin to dip in lakes of community around us. We find ourselves immersed in bigger concerns, as we become aware how tiny our problems are when compared to the huge needs around the world.

Prayer can be risky. So risky that our worldly priorities shifts from me to we; from we to God. So dangerous that our own personal concerns suddenly become less important when we feel the heart of God. While we are scrambling with meeting deadlines, God is scrambling to feed the hungry in the world. While we are rushing to meet our monthly bill payments, God is rushing to mete out justice in parts of the world that are persecuting the innocent and the weak. In prayer, we see God’s purposes more than we see ours. In prayer, we begin a journey of living God’s will on earth, of heavenly purposing on earthly living. Pray without ceasing.

Thought: “In prayer I shift my point of view away from my own selfishness. I climb above timberline and look down at the speck that is myself. I gaze at the stars and recall what role I or any of us play in a universe beyond comprehension. Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God’s point of view.” (Philip Yancey, Prayer-Does it Make a Difference?, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006, p29)


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.
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