Monday, March 28, 2011

Be Satisfied

TITLE: Be Satisfied
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 29 March 2011

“The leech has two daughters. ‘Give! Give!’ they cry. “There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, ‘Enough!’: the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’ (Proverbs 30:15-16)

MAIN POINT: Discontent has many faces. It grows from an evil root of wanting what we do not have. Satisfaction is knowing you have all you need. The journey to contentment begins with a single word: "Enough."

Once I went on a hike with friends through a tropical jungle. Though we stayed on the hiker’s path for the most part, there are moments when we would take a break by the stream, a small waterfall, or a nice restful spot. Often, the biggest fun in any hike are the breaks we take. As we rested, as we open up our packed lunches or bottled drinks, we would share about our lives. Then we would continue our journey, walking through miles of jungle terrain, wading over streams of water, and occasionally cutting past trigs and branches that impeded any short-cuts we took. At the end of the day, we would set up camp, to refresh ourselves and to rest for the night. Sometimes, when we remove our shoes and socks, we would find unwanted guests like leeches.

Leeches are essentially blood suckers. They must have entered as tiny little worms through our boots as we were wading on the streams. Leeches have an affinity for blood. Lots of blood. The moment they find a source, they will be oblivious to any threats around them, gorging on blood non-stop until their bodies become bloated up. For these little critters, ‘greed’ is their middle name. The proverb above talks about the attitude of leeches like having 2 suckers screaming out: “Give! Give!” all the time. They are always thirsty, always wanting, never satisfied.

A) The Many Faces of Discontent

One of the biggest challenges facing modern living is discontent. Like leeches, modern people grapple with the question: “How much is enough?” I know of someone who did not get the pay increment she was looking for. She felt miserable. It affected her work quality. She became disillusioned. It affected her relationships. Her dissatisfaction dominated her conversations. It affected her attitude toward her boss and her work. Even though she had signed a contract to work for her stated salary, and the pay increment is at the sole discretion of management, she refused to accept the increment she deemed ‘miniscule.’ As a result, the mood of the whole office became very negative.

Tom has been married for more than 10 years. He meets many clients, often at dinners and after office hours. His very own success is a magnet for many of his clients. Some of his clients happen to be young and attractive single ladies. Soon, his roving eyes around his attractive clients start to overwhelm his mindfulness of his faithful and loving wife back home. The journey from innocence to adultery is complete, facilitated by the lubricant of discontent. Like leeches that never say enough, Tom gets sucked in from one affair to another. At the same time, his discontent with his wife grows larger.

Discontent has many faces. It can also be technology. Launched in April 2010, the Apple iPad tablet device has garnered a cult following, and started a whole new revolution in portable computing. A million was sold within a few weeks. Last week, less than a year later, Apple released a new version called ‘iPad 2.’ Many early adopters ditched their first version for the newest and the greatest. While ‘discontent’ can be a harsh word for those who love technology, and upgrading their gadgets, I feel that it parallels the human heart for an endless need for satisfaction. For instance, why must people upgrade so quickly? Those with a PC want a newer PC. Those with a Blackberry Bold series want the latest Storm 3 devices. Those with a fast car want a faster car. If Olivia Newton John is to release an updated version of her hit single, 'Hopelessly Devoted to You,' she will probably call it: “Hopelessly Devoted to Upgrading.

B) Journey to Contentment

The first step toward contentment is to learn to establish limits. Stop. Halt our tendency for more. Those who complain about their pay and benefits need to remember their obligations, and their commitment to do their best for their paid work. Those who lust must realize that ‘lust’ leads to things that does not last. Those who upgrade unquestioningly must understand that obsolescence is only a matter of time. Discontent breeds more discontentment. Dissatisfaction leads to a life of unhappiness. Dissatisfaction blinds us two-ways. One blinds us with glittering images of what we do not have. The other blinds us to what we already have.

One with a greedy heart may have a million dollars and yet remains dissatisfied. Another may have only a few dollars in the bank, and can still be grateful for the little he has. Ironically, the one who is rich is not based on how many things he has, but how little things he need.

The Amish community in Pennsylvania has a habit of refusing to dabble with technology. They shun car ownership. They avoid the use of electricity. They even refuse to install a telephone inside their main house. In fact, emergency phones are only installed in a shack outside their homes. The Amish feels that technology is a threat to their community living. They feel that technology has a sinister way of enslaving them to technological-speed rather than human speed. By placing limits to their use of technology, they refuse to let technology master them.

Some of us may find it hard to understand the Amish’s disdain for technology. It is important to see that they are not against technology, but simply against the ‘negative’ aspect of technology on their relationships.
They do not consider technology evil in itself, but they believe that technology, if left untamed, will undermine worthy traditions and accelerate assimilation into the surrounding society.” (Donald Kraybill, et al, Amish Grace, CA: John Wiley, 2007, 209-10)
For those of us skeptical about Amish attitudes toward technology, just look at what they have achieved. Without government help, the Amish takes care of their elderly, disabled, women and children. They have no drug abuse problem. There are no homeless people. There is a high level of literacy and humaneness in their relationships to one another. Divorce is rare. Even in businesses, compared to modern American small businesses where 50% fail within 5 years, more than 95% of Amish small businesses survives beyond 5 years! More importantly, the Amish level of close community and relationships are legendary. They don't even buy insurance!

The road to contentment lies in establishing limits voluntarily. It begins by learning to set self-limits. Satisfaction is not more-and-more-and-more. It is simply one word called ‘enough.’

C) Being Satisfied

I like to suggest 3 attitudes we can adopt to increase our satisfaction level.

Firstly, reach out to the needy and less fortunate. When we are constantly looking at the elite, at the bunch of rich and prosperous people, we begin to lament about what we do not have. We have all heard about the world’s rich becoming richer, and the poor getting poorer. Why make ourselves more miserable by comparing ourselves with the haves?

Secondly, be grateful for what we have. Cherish our existing relationships. Ask ourselves. We have 86400 seconds every day. How many of them have we used to say "Thank You O LORD?"

On March 23rd this year, the famous Elizabeth Taylor passed away at the age of 79. At her prime, every look at her astonishing beauty can instantly launch a thousand wall pin-ups. Yet, she struggled through 8 marriages. At the age of 79, I wonder how many men will put a poster of a 79-year old Taylor? Be real. Our looks are never stagnant. Everyone grows old eventually.

Thirdly, seek the true Source of satisfaction. The person of Christ. He has promised us living waters. He has guaranteed that when we drink from the well of Jesus, our thirst will be quenched. The Great Augustine reminds us over and over again.
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” (Augustine's Confessions)
We are not leeches that never say enough. We are humans who need God to say to us: “Enough! Be thankful for what I have given you. Rest in God. Rest fully in Me.

THOUGHT: Let your satisfaction grow 3-ways: "Count your blessings. Share your blessings. Be a blessing."

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, March 22, 2011

On Prayer Requests

TITLE: On Prayer Requests (Part 3 of 3)
Written by Conrade Yap
Date: 22 March 2011


This is the final installment of a 3-part Lenten series on praying. In Part III, we look at the nature of prayer requests.


MAIN POINT: In many Christian circles, people ask for prayer requests all the time. The kind of prayers that we ask for reflect the state of our Christian health. Are we requesting for things to survive materially, or are we asking for things that help us to thrive spiritually? Our prayer requests can often divulge whether we are worldly-focused, or God-centered.


As I reflect upon prayer, I wonder about the kinds of prayers Christians ask for. What do I want to pray for when I look up to God? Among Christians, prayer requests are commonly asked of one another as a sign of brotherly and sisterly concern. For the sick, the prayer request will be for quick recovery. Before major examinations, people ask for help not to panic during the paper. In modern busy societies, the most popular request is for time management. The rationale is simple. For working professionals with heavy responsibilities in the office, and endless obligations at home, just keeping everything in check is a challenge in itself. What if the same person constantly mentions the same prayer request over and over again? 


What about a prayer request for life?


As a kid, we are asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” If you are living in a prosperous country, with a stable economy with jobs and plenty of opportunities, you’ll probably be rattling off some of the popular professions like accountant, doctor, lawyer, teacher, engineer, and so on. If you live in a rural area, chances are, you have to either help make ends meet by working on the farm or shop, running various errands, flip hot dogs or distribute newspapers. In some poorer places, parents may even need to sell their children away, in order to survive. In some parts of Asia and Africa, families are so poor, that fathers are known to give up their kids to work in manufacturing firms or plantations that use cheap human labour. Unfortunately, many of our prayer requests are often filled with requests on how to survive materially. Very few ask on how to THRIVE spiritually.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Of Disasters, Deaths, and Devastation

TITLE: Of Disasters, Deaths and Devastation (Part 2 of 3)
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 14 March 2011

This is the second part of a 3-part Lenten series on prayer. Part One touches on cultivating patience in waiting through four benefits of patience. Part Two deals with how to pray in the light of disasters, deaths and devastation.
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pangs.” (Matthew 24:6-8)
MAIN POINT: In times of natural disasters, the last thing we ever need is finger-pointing or name blaming. The first thing we must do is to pray, and to ask God for wisdom and boldness to help.

For the past week, I have been getting sad news one after another. A member of my study group has died. Some friends are seriously ill. Others are plain anxious, even fearful of the unknown future. With the depressing sight of devastation in North-East Japan after a deadly tsunami, I can understand anyone who is feeling downright distressed and dumbfounded right now.

{If you have not seen the devastation caused by the March 12th tsunami, check below.

  • Waves engulfing Sendai [link]
  • Terrifying Waves [link]
  • Unforgiving Tsunamic [link]}



The threat of a huge nuclear disaster on top of the tsunami aftermath makes me sick. When will it all end? When will the bad news stop coming? How long must we wait for God to intervene and take away the pain and suffering? So many questions. No answer.

A) Foolish Theologizing
A Japanese friend of mine has been getting nasty comments about her home nation. Phrases such as ‘Japan deserves it;’ and ‘God is punishing Japan.....’ are some of the most foolish and insensitive comments received. I am appalled at such words, even from people who claim to be ‘Christian.’

What is wrong with those people? Don't they have a heart at all? If anyone wants to philosophize about why such suffering is happening to Japan, do it later, and not now. Who gives anybody the right to say horrible things like these, and to pronounce judgments as if one is God? No one is immune from natural disasters. The Bible tells us to expect disasters and natural calamity. Interestingly, it does not tell us when or any reason why. They are simply signs of the end times. If one laughs at the unfortunate now, it will be counted against that person when that person suffers a similar fate in future.

In times of natural disasters inflicted upon our fellow human beings, the last thing we need is to start finger pointing or name blaming. We need to stop any foolish theologizing, and start praying and thinking about how to help.

B) Four Ways to Help
I suppose you must be thinking how you can be of help. This is only natural. It is part of our make-up as people made in the image of God. As much as we detest seeing such devastation, deaths and disasters, we know that we are called to be a part of the solution instead of the problem. Let me suggest 4 things that we can do.

First, pray for yourself. This may seem surprising. Let me explain. I find that some Christians in the Church have a tendency of using ‘praying for you’ as a convenient catch-all phrase to say something nice quickly, so that they can hurry along to do their own thing. For example, when Jennifer shares about the death of her mother, her church friend Geraldine quickly says:

Oh dear. I’m sorry. Don’t worry. I’ll pray for you.

Geraldine then walks out, glad that these magical four words gives her a convenient exit from an otherwise depressing conversation. In the midst of her busyness with her other scheduled activities, soon Geraldine forgets about the grieving Jennifer.

What happened to the “I’ll pray for you?

When we commit ourselves to intercede for someone, make sure the promise is kept. We must pray to God for ourselves first not to be hypocrites in the first place. We ask God to help us to pray, as we do not know all the details of the person’s grief. We ask God to guide us to learn when to stay silent, and when to speak up. We remind ourselves that God is Sovereign. By asking other people to trust God, are we trusting God ourselves? Thus, pray to God that we be reminded we are helpless without God.

Second, pray for personal boldness. It is easy to simply utter words of intercession. It is easy to say flowery prayers. What matters is the condition of our heart. How about praying:

Father God. Empower me to help. Enable me to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem. Help me to give generously. Guide me to pray constantly. Grant me boldness to volunteer fearlessly. Oh God, show me how to help Japan right now. For we ask in the name of Jesus.
When it comes to doing good works, boldness is needed.

Third, pray for corporate togetherness. Whether you are a Church, a cell group, a community gathering, or simply a small group of friends, you can come together to help. Go on a prayer vigil to remind one another we need God to intervene. Organize fund raising activities to show people we can still care despite the distance. Together, come to God boldly as a group. The Book of Hebrews exhort us as a body to:
“Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
How fitting. We remind ourselves that God is ever ready to receive us. He wants to share of His love to all mankind.

Fourth, pray for wisdom for the long haul. Many responses to natural disasters tend to be more knee-jerk that do not last. When all the world’s media is showering attention on the event, people rush to help. Some go out of pure compassion. Some are there simply because it is their job. Others simply want to snap up a piece of publicity, or to lace up one’s resume for self-gain. True compassion is not short-sighted or short-term. It endures.

C) Help is a Long-Term Commitment; Not a Short-Term Comment
In early 2010, Dr David Horn of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary led a team of students on a humanitarian mission to New Orleans. In his report, he made some pointed observations. Immediately after the New Orleans disaster in 2005, the media were full of praise for people offering to help. Hollywood stars like Brad Pitt even went to build new houses for the homeless then. Political leaders score high approval ratings simply by being there, in the midst of suffering.

Now, more than five years later, where are the news crews? Where are the Hollywood stars? Where are the famous politicians? Horn observes that the people he sees are staff and volunteers representing many Churches, Christian organizations. Here are the words of Horn.

“One of the unsung songs in the national media, now that the television cameras are gone after five years, is that it is almost solely faith-based organizations—churches, Christian schools, and other religious organizations-- that are still packing their bags and heading down to New Orleans to patch the city back together again. Where did everyone else go? But why should the national media care? They already have their story. And the story is that apparently the church is full of hypocrites who think about little else but heaven.” (David Horn, Where is Brad Pitt Now?, GCTS website)

To those who constantly smirks, “Where is God in the midst of suffering?” I challenge them:

Where are YOU in the midst of suffering?

Perhaps, when we spend our limited time, addressing the ‘log’ in our own eyes, we will have lesser time worrying about the ‘speck’ in another person’s eye. We will have more time to think of solutions, and less time to look for people to blame. There will always be people ready to point an accusing finger at the Church being ‘full of hypocrites.’ Let them point. Let them accuse. Christians have better things to do. Our job is to serve God faithfully by being part of the solution. Quietly but surely. Pray, and then move.


Thought: Be part of the solution, and not part of the problem. Be part of the long-term commitment, not the short-term knee-jerk offering of help.


sabbathwalk

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

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Waiting Builds Patience

TITLE: Waiting Builds Patience (Part 1 of 3)
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 9 March 2011

This is the first part of a 3-part Lenten series on cultivating a spirituality of waiting, and learning to wait well in a culture of rush. Part One touches on cultivating patience in waiting through four benefits of patience.
“But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, "First seek the counsel of the LORD.” (2 Chronicles 18:4)
MAIN POINT: Prayer is Waiting. Waiting to glimpse at the glory of God. Waiting to see a hint of God’s movement in our world, and in our hearts. Waiting as prayer. Prayerful waiting cultivates patience.

Credit: grahamhurdle.wordpress.com
Waiting is now a lost art. Our dislike for waiting is evident all around us. Drivers hate traffic congestion. I am one of them. If I see the main freeway packed with cars, I will tend to want to take the nearest exit, to drive the smaller secluded roads. Roadworks or accidents tend to be one of the biggest causes of traffic jams. It is common to see drivers making illegal U-turns to take alternative routes. People despise waiting. Friends sometimes tell me in jest, how a modern micro-second is defined as:
“It is the time between the switching of lights from red to green, to the first sound of the honk from the driver behind you.”
Our disdain for waiting goes far beyond the roads. Coffee barristers who take a little longer with the latte will be quick to apologize with “Sorry for the wait.” Automated voice messages apologize for not being available to take the phone call. If the website takes a few second longer to load, users will either keep clicking refresh, or to go to another page.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Speak Lord, for Thy Servant Hurteth!

TITLE: Speak Lord, for Thy Servant Hurteth!
TEXT: Job 10:1-2
Written by: Conrade Yap
“I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God: ‘Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me.’” (Job 10:1-2, NIV)
MAIN POINT: Suffering is real. Pain is hurtful. Despite the reality of these, it is still foolish to claim that its presence deny the existence of God. On the contrary, having someone we can speak with, to complain to, or simply to cry out to, helps. Immensely.

I am currently leading a group of men through the study of Job. It is one of the toughest books, not content-wise, but emotional. The men that I have, share their deepest wounds and pain. It is not easy to share. However, once spoken, heard by, and understood, the sharer is often helped. It is because we are persons, we can only be helped by persons, which is a clue that we live because we have a personal God.

For many people, suffering is the single biggest barrier for people to accept the existence of God. Some say the purpose in life is to get out of the cycles of births and rebirths, that lock oneself in endless suffering. Others propose a limited god. Yet, others vehemently declare the non-existence of God.

None of these approaches purport a personal God. Not one of them teach anything close to the God of the Bible, that tells us that God himself understands what pain is, in the suffering of Christ. This week, I will deal with three non-Christian approaches, and why they are inadequate. Then I will share about why I believe having Christ to share our burdens with is not only adequate. It brings hope. It is because we are persons, we can relate to a personal God.

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