Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Searching for Meaning

TITLE: Searching for Meaning
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 28 Dec 2010

To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the reply of the tongue. “ (Prov 16:1)

MAIN POINT: Four Positive Learnings from the Year 2010. Four ways to find meaning through the past year.

For the past 10 years, I have used the last week each year to do an annual reflection of my own life. This year is no different. In fact, when I told my senior pastor about my intention to take a personal reflective retreat, he invited me to preach about it. Last year, I declined so that I can be with my family down at Seattle for the New Year street party bash. This year, I thought I should accept the challenge. My reflection this year is essentially a search for meaning.


I have been writing SabbathWalk for the past 2 years, and it has been very helpful as I take a day a week to simply share my spiritual journey, a process of ‘Sabbathing.’ As part of my doctoral thesis, I want to use this SabbathWalk to encourage my readers to take the Sabbath seriously. God created the world in six days, and he rested on the seventh. Should we as his creation not do the same?

Searching for Meaning
In one Bible Study recently, I shared with my group the need to beware of the 3Ms in modern society. The first is the temptation of Money/Materialism. This age-old threat continues to wreak havoc on the spiritual lives of many, replacing the need for God with the wants of materialism. The second is the threat of ‘Me-ism,’ where individualistic concerns overwhelm community care. The third M is basically the threat of Multiplicity, which I describe as a dizzy array of distractions from technology, busyness, and all manner of care and concerns. In our modern world, it is this third M that is a major threat to our spirituality. We cannot find meaning in any of the 3 Ms. Meaning can only be understood through the Word of God. Meaning cannot be found in Money, or self-fulfilment via Me-ism, or the huge array of multiple distractions in technology, business, or knowledge. While these 3Ms are stuff I want to avoid, there are four things I want to embrace.

1) Wise Up
We need to learn wisdom each year. This year, like many others has their share of ups and downs. accomplishments as well as mistakes, the important thing is that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. When we learn from mistakes, we will benefit from the past. 

My year began with an unwitting foray in a consulting business started by a friend. I was invited to provide some business expertise, even being offered promises of a share in the enterprise. The owner is a believer in Christ, and has tried to offer me a way to use my talents. What began with promise ended quite mysteriously. Without warning, I was dropped. I was left to wonder why.

I learn that I need to wise up, regarding trusting people. In business, even among believers, things do not always work out. There is no need to mourn over a failed business relationship. Indeed, man may plan out, but the meaning behind each plan comes from the LORD.

Though I was hurt by the whole arrangement, I learn that I need to re-focus on my core skills, and not be distracted by failure. Learning from failed business relationships teaches first-hand how messed up the world is. What we plan does not always come out the way we wanted. Christ didn’t say that Christian businesses all become 'successful'  but for believers to be faithful. Wise up but press on.

2) Give Out
My giving has not been regular since I began my theological journey. After all, if I have no income, how can I tithe? While I have given the Church a substantial amount of time and talent, serving in many different ways, and offering hospitality to visitors and friends, there is still something very unique about monetary giving. Recently, I re-started my tithing, and it has re-energized my faith. I learn that giving is an act of faith and worship.

Earlier this month, I decide to forego my purchase of a new electronic gadget upgrade. The money saved goes directly into giving to a needy cause. Instead of building up my collection of technological toys, perhaps, the money can encourage someone who needs the money more. After issuing the payment to this charity, a few weeks later, I received a gift card from someone else. Issued in my name, it is an EXACT amount that I had given away. What is particularly intriguing is not only the amount but the manner in which I feel God is speaking to me.

I learn that we express our faith through giving. When we practice giving, God is pleased, and He will encourage us in very unique ways. Giving is an act of worship, and it should be a mark of every disciple of Christ.

3) Learn Within
Soren Kierkegaard once said:
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."

This insight is so applicable when we reflect upon our lives. For me, the past year has been full of goodbyes. A member of my Church describes it well when he talks about attending 5 funerals over 3 weeks. It reminds me that I am not getting any younger. When I look at my children, my nieces and nephews, I cannot help but feel a sense of getting old. My father passed away few months ago. As the eldest son, I have a heightened awareness of responsibilities. I remember the words of my father that my family is not one that should seek fame and fortune. How precious these words are. In fact, it is very Christian.

I learn to be glad about living a quiet life. There is no need to seek fame or great fortune. More often than not, if it is the Lord’s will, fame and fortune will seek us. For me, seeking Christ must remain first and foremost.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

I should not be discouraged when the things I do are not recognized for fame, or paid back in terms of fortune. Instead, what I do for Christ, I need to learn not to expect earthly returns, but heavenly accumulation of Christlikeness.

4) Gratitude Always
Finally, I thank God for a year. For all its beauty and ugliness, its hello’s and goodbyes, its joys and its sorrows, this is the same world that God loves so much. He comforts me when I am sad. He remains my anchor of hope when all things seem to be at the mercy of the winds going out of control.

I give thanks for the group of men faithfully meeting in my Church. They came out strongly each fortnight to study the book of Job. While not everyone attends, the enthusiasm of those who are present are contagious. I give thanks for the small group of faithful readers to this blog, and for those who regularly encourage me in my writing. I give thanks for my family and friends who are there for me in my darkest moments.

I learn to be grateful for those who are present, and are faithful, and not be distracted or discouraged by those who are absent.

Closing Words
Let me end the year with a prayer.

“Dear heavenly Father,
Thank you for Your faithful guidance through the year. You have taught me to wise up and to learn from mistakes. You showed me that wisdom is often learned in hard and challenging times. You taught me about giving. You showed me what it means to be reflective upon the cause of Christ, and the cost of following Jesus. Despite the ups and downs of the year, you call me to remain faithful and thankful. True meaning can only be found in You alone. Lead me away from temptations, of materialism, of Me-ism and of Multiple distractions in life. Give me what I need. Not too much or too little. Just enough.
Help me to learn that Your will is for me to learn to attain wisdom, to give and share of my gifts, to reflect on your goodness, and to be thankful. Within each of these ways are precious glimpses of You as a Person. May the New Year be filled with more opportunities to learn from You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.“
Sabbathwalk wishes all readers a Meaningful New Year.


Thought: While it is said that "Man proposes, God disposes," perhaps the following is better. "Man may plan , God always has a better plan."


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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.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What Should Christians Do With "Santa Claus?"

Title: What Should Christians Make of Santa Claus?
Author: Conrade Yap
Date: 22 Dec 2010

MAIN POINT: Christians need not blast 'Santa Claus' away with theological cannons. Joining in the celebration with non-Christians does not necessarily mean a Christian 'believes' or worships Santa. They can participate in good Christmas fun without compromising their faith. They can point others toward the more important things in life. They can display the grace of Jesus in giving and forgiving.

"Do you believe in Santa Claus?"

Movies like "Miracle on 34th Street," "Call Me Mrs Claus," and "The Santa Claus Suit" all direct viewers toward a belief in Santa Claus. Every Christmas, the story repeats itself. Christmas time is synonymous with Santa Claus time. Greetings of "Happy Holidays" are fast replacing "Merry Christmas." In secular societies, modern Christmas songs about Santa Claus rival traditional Christmas carols about Jesus. Here is a short list:

- "Santa Claus is coming to town;"
- "I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus."
- "Here comes Santa Claus."
- "Santa Baby."
- "Hey Santa!"

If we include the songs surrounding Christmas trees and symbols surrounding Santa Claus sleigh, animals and all, the list is even longer.
- "Jingle Bells"
- "O Christmas tree"
- "Deck the Halls.."
...

Maybe it is because marketers are trying to create some kind of a Christmas spirit for people to join in the shopping frenzy. Maybe it is to make children happy, and make the child in each of us, happy too. Each December, practically all TV stations will be screening movies with Christmas themes behind them. No doubt, newer and snappier shows about Santa Claus are outstripping older and more traditional themes on Jesus and Christianity. For Christians, what are we to make of Santa Claus? How should Christians respond to the increased secularization of Christmas?

Unfortunately, some Christians take the wrong extreme. On one end, some Christians have gone on the offensive each year, attacking 'Santa Claus' as satanic or myth. On the other end, others have become so clueless about the Christmas story themselves that they know St Nicholas and the reindeer more than the birth of Jesus! Christians can celebrate Christmas amid the flood of red-nosed reindeers or over-sized fellows in red costumes.

Whether we like it or not, the world we live in is not going to give the traditional Christmas message any bigger stage than what they give Santa. If Christians dismiss Santa Claus too quickly, we may miss the hopes and joys secular people attach to them. Worse, they may not even take Christians seriously anymore, seeing them more as killjoys rather than Jesus' disciples. Christians need to adopt a more open approach. They need not be too combative about Santa Claus and the rising consumerism surrounding Christmas. Instead, they can co-exist with these images without allowing themselves to be absorbed into them. How can we do that?

I have three brief responses to suggest to you my readers. In all these responses, we can still join in the festive mood without becoming grouchy about the commercialization of Christmas. We can participate in common goodness without dismissing the heart of giving. We may disagree with the costume and the character, but we can surely agree about the spirit of giving and receiving. While many shows and commercials parade products and things as gifts, perhaps Christians can see Christmas time as an opportunity to showcase and redirect people toward the greater gifts.

1) Join in the Spirit of Giving
Christmas is indeed a time for giving and sharing. The 'Santa Claus' symbol tends to disarm people into a free spirit of giving and receiving. The Ho-Ho-Ho syndrome gives people an opportunity to hang loose and relax. I know of many companies that organize year end parties and Christmas lunches. Rather than avoiding these 'secular' events for more religious types, I think it is important for Christians to remain involved in their marketplace, regardless of the Santa Claus images. Celebrating the occasion without mentioning Jesus literally, does not mean Christians are not witnessing for Christ in the marketplace. In fact, if Christians participate with open hearts, people will welcome Christians more. Do unto others what we want others to do unto us. If others see Christians accepting non-Christians for who they are, non-Christians will accept Christians for who they are. Christians can still join in the giving atmosphere without compromising their faith.

2) Guide Toward Desire the Greater Things
Kids have been conditioned to expect presents. The taller the kid grows, the taller the expectations. We may even dismiss some of the modern expectations as overly materialistic. This attachment to things will not change overnight. There is not going to be an immediate paradigm shift under normal circumstances. However, Christians can still be tactful about directing people's attention toward the greater things.
"But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33) 

What about asking for things as follows; the greater gifts. I want the following:
- "I ask to be a peacemaker on earth and to do goodwill to men."
- "I ask to be a part of the solution instead of part of the problem."
- "I ask to contribute toward reducing poverty, world hunger, and the underprivileged in society."
- "I ask goodness and mercy to flow from me among the communities I interact with."
- "I ask to play a part in fair play and justice in society."
- "I ask for the gift of love, joy and peace that I can share with the world around me."
- "I ask for boldness, courage and faith to be willing to do all of the above, with God enabling me."

As Christians in the marketplace, after gaining the confidence and the friendship with non-Christians, we can become more credible witnesses to win an opportunity to point people toward good works. Hopefully, in the process, they will catch a glimpse of Jesus through us.

3) Forgiving
Relationships remain a key fabric of society. In our emotional roller-coaster ride, the heart is constantly in motion. It is not easy for two persons to be in sync with each other every time they meet. A lot of grace is needed to understand. A lot of space is required for people to be rightly understood. When in doubt, forgive. When misunderstood, give others the benefit of the doubt. Christians can lead the way in doing all of these in their Christian witness. The question: "What does it mean to be human?" applies to all people. While the world remains fixated on things and material gifts that they can grab, Christians can choose to fix their minds on things that matter more to God.

"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32) 

In summary, Christians should not dismiss the notion of Santa Claus. After all, most secular people know that Santa Claus is more myth than anything else. Let me summarize the three key points. Firstly, they may not even place Santa Claus on a higher plane in the first place. Hence, Christians need not be too offended, and are free to join in the decent fun, with or without the plump man in Red suit. Secondly, Christians are in an excellent position to point non-Christians toward the more important things in life. Since people are already in a spirit of giving, why not suggest them to give toward the greater gifts, and perhaps the Giver of all good gifts? Thirdly, the mark of the Christian is demonstrated by an attitude of grace and forgiveness. This single factor is perhaps the most powerful witness any Christian can be.

May this Christmas period, with or without Santa Claus, be another opportunity to demonstrate the spirit of Jesus in all that we do. In our hearts, we know that Santa Claus is no competition to Jesus, for the day will come when all the world's santas will bow their knees to the Son of God.


Sabbathwalk wishes all readers a Blessed Christmas.


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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.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Dual-Hearted Christmas

Title: A Dual-Hearted Christmas
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 16 Dec 2010

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4)

MAIN POINT: We can still celebrate Christmas, even when we are grieving over the loss of a loved one. The key lies in hope. What about living bold fruitful lives ourselves, and let this be our Christmas gift to them, our loved ones who have passed away?

As we near the end of the year, I cannot help but detect a deep sense of heaviness among many of my Church members. News of people getting sick comes unabated. Some have cancer. Others have a terminal illness. Yet, a number of people are grappling with the loss of loved ones. If there is one word I can use to describe the mood as we approach the festive Christmas season, it is the word ‘heavy.’ Bad news, accidents, sickness, cancer, retrenchment, death and dying are all potent ingredients to produce a heavy heart. One friend I know has to fly back home to be with a beloved who is dying. Her work is known to be especially tough and busy toward the end of December. Asked why she is able to leave all of these, the answer is simple.
Work can always be delegated to others. Work opportunities always have a future possibility. Money can always be earned back. However, there is only one life. Once that life is gone, it cannot be delegated or recovered from the grave.

How true it is. I feel for Church members who are experiencing a particularly tough December. Missing loved ones is already tough in itself. Having to remember their death anniversaries smack in the middle of a fiesty December party atmosphere traps one’s inner being into a state of confusion.

  • Is it ok to party?
  • Is it right to celebrate anything at all?
  • How do I celebrate the birth of Christ, in the light of the remembrance of the deaths of loved ones?

1) Heavy-Heartedness
Simply put, the question to ask is: “Is it possible to see hope in the midst of a discouraged or depressed mood?” The quick answer is “Yes. It is possible.” An unknown writer once said:
Hope is grief’s best music.” (source unknown)
If the death of a loved one marks the beginning, and joy of seeing them eventually being the end of the journey, hope is the fuel that sustains one through the journey of grief. It is possible, even necessary to maintain hope in any situation. Without hope, there is no effective living, only persistent moaning. Without hope, one resembles a baby crying over spilt milk. Without hope, when a person dies, the rest of the family dies with him/her. Without hope, a heavy heart throws endless burdens on a tormented soul.

One couple I know has recently lost their daughter. Each time they see the belongings of their deceased sweetheart, they break down in tears. December is their daughter’s Anniversary month. The only way out seems to be a constant barrage of activities and work so as to drown out the voices of sorrow and the remembrance of pain. During times like these, they need encouragement, not reprimand. They need understanding, not unsolicited advice. Grieving is not a problem to be solved, but an emotion to be recognized and accepted. Yet, it is possible to find some light in a darkened mood of heaviness. Let me suggest a two-pronged approach toward trying to recover hope when we have lost loved ones.

2) STEP ONE: Detachment from False Hopes
Firstly, suffering from loss and the remembrance of it, teaches us in a real way that the things of this world is not as important as we hold them out to be. Marcia Ford writes:
People who have suffered loss often learn to hold on lightly to what they have because they’ve experienced the reality of losing loved ones and possessions and opportunities in a heartbeat.” (Marcia Ford, Finding Hope, Vermont: Skylight Paths, 2007, p31)
I call this first step a ‘detachment’ from false hopes. I remember doing a new coat of paint for a friend’s house. The first thing is to get rid of the old layers of unwanted paint by scraping it out as much as possible. Imagine painting over uneven patches of paint on the wall. It would make the new wall and the new coat of paint even more uneven. By removing the old paint, we essentially prepare the wall for a fresh coat of paint. When we lose loved ones, at least, it should remind us that we too are mortal beings. We need to spend whatever available years we have to invest in activities that matter, that are more important. How tragic will it be for a person on his death bed to spend more time regretting for things he has not done instead of giving thanks for has been done.

3) STEP TWO: Re-attach to True Hope
Detaching ourselves from false hope itself is not enough. When we clear out a room of rubbish, what is there to make sure we do not fill it again with unwanted stuff, or more rubbish? If the first step is to dissociate ourselves from the materialism of this world, the second step is to ATTACH ourselves to the hope that is out of this world. Ford urges us to consider the word: “eventually.” Just think of the following by beginning with this word. EVENTUALLY: _____

  • “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes;”
  • “There will be no more death, or sorrow, nor crying.”
  • “There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
  • “Things will get better.”
  • “Truth will triumph.”
  • “Justice will prevail forever.”

There is much wisdom to learn from the loss of loved ones. Such wisdom can also draw out hope for us. The Anglican priest, Martin Israel, explains:
In this strange life we grow through adversity rather than through success. The greatest lessons we have to learn are those concerned with loss, not gain.” (Martin Israel, The Pain that Heals)
How true it is. Our learning senses are heightened during times of failure and loss instead of success and gain. I think of how fast successful sports teams fall the next year, after winning the championship. It makes winning the prize the easy part, and sustaining the winning extremely hard. I think of how quickly some people who got rich quick, end up in deeper trouble than before. The trouble is in this learning posture that is often diminished when one experiences success. Success breeds pride and complacency. Failure develops character and humility. Hope begins by remembering the word: "Eventually...."

4) Light-Heartedness During Christmas
This Christmastide is a time of celebration of the birth of Jesus. This alone is the reason to celebrate. Celebrating Christmas does not mean we forget the deaths of loved ones. We can celebrate the birth of Christ as well as remembering loved ones together. This is what I call dual-heartedness. Christians do have something to celebrate. They have Someone to celebrate toward. The loss of loved ones does not mean one needs to wear a gloomy face to dampen the lively atmosphere generated by party goers. We can balance a heavy heart with a light heart by cherishing hope in our hearts. A hope that refuses to be dragged down by the world. A hope that distances oneself from the false promises or deceitful riches of this world. A hope that is anchored in the Word of God, in the person of Jesus. A hope that only in God will the word ‘EVENTUALLY” come to fruition.

My fellow readers, especially those who are grappling with the loss of loved ones, it is possible to celebrate Christmas despite the heaviness of heart. Hope brings together both a heavy as well as a light heart. Hope detaches us from the follies of this world, to re-attach us to the promises of God. Hope enables us to celebrate Christmas, without having to numb our souls from feeling heavy. Hope heals eventually.

Those of us who are not experiencing any heaviness, it will be very appropriate to maintain a dual sense of awareness: Celebrating as well as being sensitive to heavy-hearted ones among us. Perhaps, the best gift we can offer our loved ones who have passed away, is to brave this world in remembrance of them. Finish what they have failed to finish. Complete what they are unable to complete. Achieve what they are not able to achieve. Continue in the legacy they have left behind. Perhaps, that can be our Christmas gift for them.

Cast the heavy burdens on Jesus, and Jesus will carry it for us. Have a dual-hearted Christmas with hope in Christ as our center.

Thought: “Saying goodbye to a loved one is not the same as forgetting them or ceasing to think about them. It is simply the way of owning the loss, integrating it, accepting its restrictions and limitations and saying yes to life without the one who has died.” (Joyce Huggett)

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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, December 10, 2010

Honest Shopping

TITLE: Honesty is the Best Shopping Policy: Spiritual Thoughts on Shopping
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 10 Dec 2010

Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.” (Lev 19:35b-36)

MAIN POINT: Let Honesty be the Best Shopping Policy. Let our shopping behaviour demonstrate that people are more important than material things.

The mathematics of society is likened to any business nowadays. Get more ‘bang’ with less buck. Do more with less. Maximize profits while minimizing costs. Over the past year, I have seen more ‘dollar’ shops sprouting all over the neighbourhood. For a dollar or two, one can buy nearly any household item. From electrical extensions to canned food; from cheap note pads to colourful Christmas decorations, the dollar shop is the modern version of the poor man’s supermarket. Not to be outdone, department stores are parading their own set of marketing ingenuity. They promote hefty discounts. They offer free stuff to accompany every purchase. Some even stay open for 24hours during this festive season for the convenience of customers. Christmas time resembles the marathon of shopping.

What about the Christian shopper? Do we buy something because it is on offer, or do we buy only what we need? Can we learn to be gracious in our buying? Can we place people more important than material things? In this week’s Sabbath Walk, I want to share some thoughts on shopping from a Christian perspective.

1) The Biblical Injunction
The passage from Leviticus commands us to be honest in all we do. Whether we buy or sell, whatever we measure and treasure, it needs to reflect a heart of honesty. Four times in Lev 19:36, the word ‘honest’ (translated from the Hebrew ‘tsediq’) is mentioned. It can also be translated ‘just’ or ‘true.’ In other words, the people of Israel must live differently from the rest of the people of the land. A chosen people of God must be honest in all their interactions and transactions. The strength of this commandment gives us a hint about the godlessness that exists in the Canaanite society at that time. The Canaanites have many different gods, all with varying standards. Dishonest dealings are a way of life among them. Thus, cheating and unjust measurements can easily spill into the lives of the impressionable children of Israel. How a person behaves largely depends on the kind of god they worship. Israel worships the LORD GOD (Lev 19:2), that because God is holy, Israel must be holy. Honesty is in obedience to a holy God.

2) Honesty in the 21st Century
Human society has advanced in many ways, but the human heart remains largely the same. Sin is the common denominator through all centuries. This is precisely why Lev 19:35-36 is still so relevant for today. We need to be honest in all of our dealings. Think of the following situations:

  • Your restaurant bill is $33. You give $50 in cash. The waitress mistakenly returns you $20. Do you take the money and leave quietly?
  • Patrick buys 5 shirts. When he gets home, he finds an extra shirt in the bag that he did not pay for.
  • Jinny is on a holiday. At a small shop in a poor village, she is attracted to a straw hat on sale for $5. Back home, she knows that it is at least 8 times more expensive. After much intense bargaining, she leaves the shop with three straw hats for $5. Jinny smiles while the shoplady sobs quietly.
  • Will you patronize a store that pays unfair wages to their employees?

What will an honest person do? Will we simply blame it on the waitress for her carelessness in giving the wrong change back? Will Patrick start rationalizing that it is so inconvenient to return the extra shirt back to the store? Will Jinny begin to reason that it is all a business transaction agreed by all parties? After all, isn’t it true that the poor shoplady can choose not to sell in the first place?

Lev 19:36 calls for ‘honest scales and honest weights.’ This applies both ways, from the seller as well as the buyer’s perspectives.

3) Don’t Just Buy Cheap. Buy Fair.
Pricing is a critical part in the retail business. A man enters a shop to inquire about one SLR camera. The shop assistant earnestly answers all of his technical queries. From the detailed technical specifications to the aesthetic look-and-feel, the man takes nearly an hour just asking questions. The shop assistant patiently waits on him, even turning away potential customers as a result. After an hour, the man walks off, claiming that the price is ‘over his budget.’ This man then walks into another shop, and pays for the exact same camera for a few dollars less, and all in a matter of 5 minutes. This may look all legal, but is ethically suspect.

Sometimes I feel for those retailers struggling to make an honest living. In some cases, they seem to be held at ransom by unreasonable customers, who think that their money grant them the power to lord over retailers. I like to suggest that we adopt an attitude of ‘buying fair’ rather than ‘buying cheap.’ If our objective in shopping puts ‘cheap’ as primary, ‘honesty’ can become a distant secondary concern. If honesty guides our life, we will deal fairly with all people, even though it may cost us more.

Our honesty reflects the god we worship. Lev 19:36 ends with a dramatic reminder that ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.’ It reminds Israel that what they have is largely given to them, not earned. Their salvation is freely granted, not transacted. When God tells them to be holy, it is because God wants them to be an example to the nations, and a testimony to all in the foreign land. It is the Old Testament version of witnessing to the ancient world.

In our modern world, we need to maintain our witness for God. In many secular societies, it is getting increasingly difficult to share and speak the gospel literally. Nevertheless, the gospel when it is lived out cannot be muffled. Who will reject a kind deed? Who will not acknowledge honest dealings? Can Christian shoppers be exemplified by honest dealings, in both buying and selling? Yes we can.

4) Three Brief Thoughts on Shopping
Christians should not be too quick to do what the world around us are doing. Think about other ways in which you can celebrate the festive season. Is there a compelling reason to shop and buy for the sake of shopping and buying? In rich consumerist societies, many households buy more than what they need. Let me suggest three shopping tips for Christians.

Firstly, make shopping a priority for giving. What about buying a useful stuff for a needy person? This year, I refrain from indulging myself in a hundred dollar computer accessory. That $100 will go to a needy student’s fund. Be generous and gracious in our buying, knowing that each time customers squeeze the price, the rest of the purchasing chain (storeman, salesperson, cashier, factory worker) gets squeezed eventually. When tipping, do it willingly and graciously with a thankful heart to God. Even if others try to cheat us, we will refrain from 'cheating back' at them.

Secondly, consider a shopping moratorium so that we can be more attentive to people. What about a shopping fast? When others are busy buying and accumulating stuff, resist. Do something else. Use it as a spiritual exercise to be thankful and be content with what we have. For some of us who rely on shopping therapy to de-stress, perhaps this is a good time to learn to lean on God, and to appreciate people for who they are, and not what they can give. Resist the temptation of filling the Christmas with shopping and more shopping. GK Chesterton gives this particularly apt insight.
“When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?”

Angus Reid, chairman of a leading Canadian polling firm issues the following challenge:
Will we start paying more attention to people and less attention to things?
(Angus Reid, Shakedown, ON:Doubleday, 1996, p218)

He suggests that more people learn to consider ‘physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual alternatives.’

Finally, if you really need to shop, shop honestly. Do business with honest retailers. Don't let price be the sole determining factor. Do not buy things merely because it is cheap. Neither should we continue to accumulate things that we do not need. This is one reason why I do not like gift-exchange programs. It seems to me that it is a merry-go-round of people giving one another things they will likely NOT need. Why not just go around sharing food over a potluck meal? If we want to buy gifts, be wise with our buying, to make sure that it meets a particular need. Will your shopping reflect the Christ in you?

May your Christmas season be holy unto the Lord.  May honesty fill all of our Christmas occasion with glad tidings and joy, giving of goodwill and the gifts of hope, joy and peace.

Thought: “The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.” (Burton Hillis)


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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