Wednesday, June 22, 2011

When Hope is Lost

TITLE: When Hope is Lost
Date: 22 June 2011
Written by: Conrade Yap

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Rom 3:10-12)
MAIN POINT: What do we do when all hope is lost? Some vent frustrations outside through riots, or sinful acts. Others through depression inside. Christians need not fret about either. They have the Person of Jesus to hope in.

Last week, Vancouver’s hockey team lost the deciding game of the Stanley Cup final. Despite the many positive signs that this year is THE year of Vancouver lifting the coveted cup, the team lost badly. Hopes were dashed. Crowds gathered downtown to watch the game became frustrated that they may never get to see the Cup in their city during their lifetime. As the home team faded away during the game, negative energy rose among the crowds. Disappointment led to sadness. Aggravated sadness led to anger. Anger led to public unrest, and riots led to vandalism and widespread looting. You can see some pictures and videos in my blog here.

I stayed glued to the TV set after hearing news about car explosions, overturned trucks, broken windows, and senseless looting. Stunned, I saw people flinging newspaper bins at glass panels of a major department store. Some tried to set fire to police cars. Many chants include:
  • “Flip the truck!”
  • “Burn the car!”
  • “Break the window!”
The police had identified the culprits as a ‘small group’ of trouble-makers who are not hockey fans. The day after, Vancouver Police chief, Jim Chu blamed the riots on a small group of ‘criminals, anarchists, and thugs.’ Public outcry blamed the whole situation on the city of Vancouver, and the way the authorities have allowed such a huge gathering in the first place. Some blamed the hockey team for not winning! The game of hockey has become a game of blame.

I think two factors stand out clear. People riot because they feel a deep sense of injustice and an utter loss of hope.

A) A Feeling of Injustice

I remember seeing the 1992 LA riots on TV in a hotel room in San Jose. On that infamous day, many blacks attack a sense of injustice when the policemen who are white, were acquitted after having beaten up a black man, Rodney King. Now in 2011, there is also a feeling of injustice. After all, the Vancouver Canucks has been ranked #1 in the league this year. They have scored the most number of goals, allowed the least, and boasts many highly ranked players. They have a hugely important psychological advantage of playing at home to Boston. On top of that, the signs all point to a Vancouver victory. Sports commentators declare it. Canadian politicians affirm that. Psychics predict it. The entire city embraces the ‘guarantee’ of a victory. With such a high hope and expectations, more than a hundred thousand people throng the streets of Vancouver to watch the final game from huge TV screens specially delivered from California.

The team loses. Badly. The people take it. Badly.

When hyped up expectations are rudely taken down, it is like pouring petrol on the streets waiting for someone to fling a lighted match. Feelings of injustice ignite the whole tragedy.

B) A Feeling of Helplessness

Those of us watching the whole riot scenes unfold on TV feel utterly helpless. There is not much we can do from such a remote distance, except to call our loved ones to leave the downtown neighbourhood as fast as possible. Thankfully my daughter has the sensibility to stay away, opting to hang out in her friend’s house instead.

The thing that troubles me is not the rascals hurling chairs and tables at windows, or burning and property. It is the hundreds of people raising their Smartphones or digital cameras to film or capture the entire riots scenes. I ask:


  • “Are you guys some reporter for some news agencies?”
  • “Are you a licensed representative for the press?”
  • “What are you doing there?”


In other words, if you are not helping, then get out! If you are simply standing by not doing anything, move away so that the police can catch the culprits. By standing around videotaping the scenes, curious bystanders are shielding the police from the rioters. They are forming an unnecessary barrier. Their very presence are encouraging the rioters to continue their acts, even to raise their boldness in committing bigger crimes. Worse, those observers can become caught up in a mob-mentality, that will tempt the inner demons in them. For instance, if one sees looters running into an electronics shop and grabbing an iPhone, will that not tempt a man to shed his innocence and to grab one for self?

Contrary to what the police has said, two days ago, out of the 8 persons who gave themselves up, 6 of them are first time offenders. This is a fact. There are no such thing as an innocent person. All are guilty. All are in fact one offense away of committing a crime. All it needs is a spark or light. That is injustice. When injustice is sensed all over, people fling rule books out of their vocabulary. Anarchy reigns, spurred on by the nonchalant looks of many bystanders who can do something but chooses not to. Feelings of helplessness erase tangible hope of a better tomorrow.

C) "These Are NOT Vancouver Canucks Fans"

With many rioters wearing hockey jerseys doing their criminal acts, it is understandable that people watching the riots from afar tends to paint every single Canucks fans with the same brush, that "Canucks fans are rioters." That too is an injustice. Sensing the negative perception, something good starts to happen.. . . . . . .

A man from Victoria decides to do something about the image of Vancouver hockey fans. Proclaiming that the rioters are not ‘true Canucks fans, thousands sign up for a citywide cleanup campaign. Many volunteer with brooms, scrubs, soap, and cleaning equipment. Within hours after the riots, the city redeems itself once again, as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Touching indeed. The worst and the best of Vancouver happening within a span of 24 hours. I figure it is pride at stake. I think people who does something good has the sense to realize that injustice does not reign forever. Hope lasts longer.

That day, I went downtown. I feel for the city. I feel for the people. I feel for the image. Imagine my surprise to see much of the city returning to normal, with the riot zones the night before, becoming a tourist attraction the day after. I join in to write this:

“True fans win gracefully; lose graciously.”

It is my contribution to remind people that a sports game is a game. We need to bear witness as people to people, and not judge one another on the basis of wins or loss, or pride. Sportsmanship is not about winning or losing. It is about bringing out the best in sports, and sportsmanlike behavior.

D) When Hope is Lost

Photo Credit: Rich Lam
When the Vancouver Canucks lost the final game, I sense that the loss is much greater in the hearts of people. It is a feeling of hope being lost. If the best team after 40 years cannot even win, then where is hope? What is there to hope about?

Many find hope that with the public display of images and videos of culprits on social media networks, the guilty will eventually be punished. If not, the images will haunt the guilty ones. They find hope in justice being served in due course. They find hope even in romance during a time of trouble, like this picture which has gone viral. They find hope that there is still something good when everything around looks bad. 

I remember how the disciples of Jesus behave in the gospels after Jesus was arrested and crucified. Peter deny him three times. The other disciples flee. The women weep. Everyone goes back to their original occupations. In their hearts, Jesus is not the Messiah or the Powerful King they expect. In their minds, Jesus is a loser. There is no more hope. Only later, they will realize that Jesus is that 'something good' that will shine forth more, when all hope seems lost.

E) Looking to Jesus

What do we do when all hope is lost? Hang on to the promise. Hold on to our hopes. Never give up. The gospels reveal something more. It reveals Jesus appearing to the disciples and hundreds of eye-witnesses that he has been resurrected from the dead. This is hope. This is the evidence that the disciples all need to see. This is the reason why the Christian Church grows, and grows and grows.

When hope is lost, wait for the appearing of Jesus. Read the promises of Scripture. Remember that Jesus has come, and will come again.

The Vancouver Canucks may have lost this year’s hockey game to Boston. There is always a next year. There is always another chance. There is no reason to riot like crybabies. We all need hope, otherwise, we become easy pickings for anarchic behaviour.

For Christians, there is no reason to fret or worry about tomorrow. In Christ, we have the assurance that He will come one day, in the most perfect moment, to love all, and to call those who follow Him faithfully to enter into his kingdom, a new Jerusalem come on earth as it is in heaven. Yes, on earth, there is no one righteous, not even one. That is why we need to hope in Jesus, the only fully righteous man to walk the brutal earth. It is because he will come again, we have this everlasting hope. A hope that refuses to be defeated. A hope that never says die.

Thought: We may face many defeats in this life, but there is no reason to let our spirits become defeated.

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.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cultivating the Whole Brain

TITLE: Cultivating the Whole Brain
WRITTEN BY: Conrade Yap
Date: 13 June 2011

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (1 Cor 13:11)

MAIN POINT: The way we do Bible studies need to be re-examined. We need to adapt. We need to grow. We need to cultivate our whole minds for God.

A few weeks ago, while trying to explain how I resolve a certain situation, my daughter exclaims: “Dad, you’re so left brained.” I smile as I remember that it is not the first time I have heard that.

Years ago, a good friend with a psychological training background said the same thing to me. They call me logical and systematic. They say I am one that prefers to quantify things. They say I am rational and like most engineers, very methodical and analytical. Given my training as an engineer, and my experience as a technologist, these skills are vital. I am a problem solver. I like to see myself as a solutions provider, dishing out answers to complex problems. When friends who have problems with their computers approach me for help, I will give them suggestions and tips. Problems can range from a slow performing computer, to a virus-infected software. Once resolved, there is a certain satisfaction I have, just to know that I have accelerated the computer performance, or vanquished the pesky viruses.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Petty Christianity

TITLE: PETTY CHRISTIANITY
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 7 June 2011

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’” (Matthew 18:32-33)

MAIN POINT: Pettiness is a behaviour symptomatic of a 'small-heart.' Some people call it a sign of ungrace. Others call it selfishness. I call it a lack of a big-heart.

A few weeks ago, I notice a small interest charge on my card account. That irritates me. The credit card issuer insists it is due to me not paying the due amount in time. I dispute the charge, claiming my good payment record. They say otherwise, claiming their computers are correct. After some tussle back and forth, they finally agree to waive all interest charges on the basis of my track record. A small victory for me.

A) Pettiness: Losing Sight of the Big Picture

Ebenezer Scrooge: Rich but Miserly
As I reflect on my unhappiness over a few couple of cents, I wonder if my anxiety over a few cents is an indicator of small-hearted behaviour. I feel ashamed. The phrase: “Penny wise, pound foolish” seems highly appropriate. Guilty as charged. In winning a 'penny' of waiving a few cents, I lose a 'pound' of human courtesy. Though I maintain a cordial tone throughout, there are times in which I nearly dump a barrage of irritation on someone just doing their job.

Pettiness is basically being too fixated on the little things in life, and missing out the big picture. Pettiness magnify little things out of proportion. It focuses on trivial things. It is narrow-minded, selfish, even downright rude. Most tragically, it lacks the generosity that we so freely receive from God. It lacks grace.

Pettiness is a stumbling block both to others as well as to ourselves. It makes one bitter, not better. Pettiness can appear in many forms.
  • Like honking the driver in front who fails to respond quick enough (within 2 seconds) when the green light comes on;
  • Getting our change that is one penny less, and making a big fuss out of it;
  • Being so calculative that we would rather sacrifice relationships in order to get our own sense of ‘rightness.’
  • Insisting on a 'minimum-payment' mindset;
  • Becoming so ultra-competitive that 99% is not enough.
  • Seeing ourselves more important than others;
  • Living as if the whole world owes us a living.
Losing sight of the big picture is the beginning of small-hearted behaviour. I remember hearing a story of a child coming home:
Daddy, Daddy, I got 95 marks out of 100 for my Math test?
A petty father will say things like, what happened to the other 5 marks? Or questions the child whether the test is really that simple. Pettiness lets the 5% becomes so big that it overwhelms the 95% obtained.


B) Petty Christianity

One can become very calculative, like the parable of the Unmerciful Servant. In that parable, the context is forgiveness on the basis of being forgiven first. Jesus uses this parable to teach the disciples that the essence of forgiveness is to remember always that we are huge beneficiaries of the greatest forgiveness ever given to men. A man owes the king 10000 talents. In modern terms, think of this ‘talent’ in terms of millions of dollars in debt. This man is unable to pay, and so the king orders that he and his entire family be sold to repay the debt. After much plea and promise to repay, the king relents. The debt is canceled and the king lets the debtor free.

If I am that man, I will be jumping up and down for joy. Like a creditor bank who tells me that I do not have to pay back monthly mortgage payments, or a car loan that has been fully redeemed, I will certainly be grateful. Unfortunately, the story does not end in gratitude. It ends in greed and ungracious behaviour. The servant quickly forgets his canceled million dollar debt. He pounces on one of his fellow servants over a small debt of 100 denarii (this amounts to a few dollars). Imagine one who have just received a million-dollar pardon, refusing to forgive another over a few dollars, is that just?

Like a coin, grace has two faces. The first side receives grace and mercy. The second side GIVES grace and mercy. A life of gratitude. A life of generosity. A life of graciousness.

C) Pettiness in Church

Pettiness is widely seen in Churches too. For a community that claims to worship God, sometimes, it appears like the true god tends to be ‘self.’

  • "Why must I serve this week? Didn’t I do it last week?"
  • "I’ve already paid my tithes this month? Why is the Church asking me to give MORE to the mission fund?"
  • "Why does Missionary A need so much money for his work? I hear of Missionary B in another Church that lives on 50% less than what A is getting."

It is sad when money becomes a divisive factor in Churches. One of the biggest joys I have experienced is the growth of small groups. When people come together, there is fun, conversation, and great fellowship. Adults hang out. Kids have fun. For all the efforts at organizing the event, the food, and the party, there is the hard fact that many of these things are not free. Food needs to be paid. Members need to sacrifice their discretionary time to organize the event. Miscellaneous things need money too. The issue of ‘fairness’ invariably comes up. What is fair to A may not be fair to B. What is equitable to one may not be equitable to another. Some examples:

  • Should a family of 1 contribute the same amount as a family of 5?
  • Should a family who is away on a business trip be exempted from giving to the common fund for that month?
  • I missed out on the past few functions because I have been away. Should I then be exempted from paying?

The list goes on. If one is full of calculative pettiness, nothing is ever fair. Pettiness makes us so calculative that we allow ‘cents of pettiness’ to replace a ‘sense of graciousness.’ Pettiness lets two small coins of MATERIALISM come so close to our eyes that they blind us from the big picture of LOVING RELATIONSHIPS. When the love of MONEY gushes in, the love of PEOPLE oozes out. When graceless behavior takes over, graciousness lets go.

I believe giving must always be voluntary. "Give all you can" is good advice, that comes from the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. It must be given with a cheerful heart. It can be given with an attitude of worshiping God.

D) PETTINESS: Sign of a Shrinking Heart

Wayne Cordeiro relates how easy it is for any successful church to forget their roots. His Church, New Hope Oahu is now a thriving Church in Hawaii. In 2008, their weekly attendance numbers nearly 15000 people. In 1984, the Church started with only 35 people. However, membership growth does not translate to a growth of a big-heart. It is worrying that growing membership can often lead to shrinking hearts. One of the pioneers laments:

We have such talented musicians and such wonderful services at this church. Yet I remember the early days when we had little or nothing. I am sure it’s still there, but it’s hard to see anymore. Where’s the heart gone?” (Wayne Cordeiro, The Irresistible Church, MN: Bethany House, 2011, p47)

Cordeiro goes on to talk about a healthy irresistible church is one that ‘lives heart first.’ He says: “A mind will reach a mind, but only a heart will reach a heart.

He warns us about programs starting to replace community life, and taking a life of its own.
The danger comes when our programs outgrow our hearts. Usually in the beginning of any ministry-oriented initiative, we lead with our passion. We take more risks. We develop things with a sort of raw energy. Yet once a program is implemented, the temptation exists to endlessly produce the same results. The problem is that our hearts start to depend on the programs. We can have programs going, but no heart behind them. ” (p48)
E) Pettiness: Putting Programs Before People

I think part of the reasons for pettiness among Christians is that our hearts have not kept up with the programs. Most critically, our hearts have not kept up with the grace of God. When we remember the things people owe us, we forget the things we owe God. When we are petty over a few cents, we forget how God has forgiven and paid all of our debts. We forget that all that we have belongs to God in the first place. Pettiness comes about because we have misplaced our heart. We let programs assume the responsibility of relationships.

Let me urge you my readers to remember the grace of God. Remember that we are born into this world with nothing, and we shall leave this world with nothing. Remember that whatever God has given us, God has every right to take that away. If we are petty over little things, be warned that if God treats us the same way we treat others, we will be worse off. May we all be grateful servants, who are mindful of the big picture, to grow our heart full of gratitude to God and to one another.
  • Give one another the benefit of the doubt;
  • Forgive one another, as Christ has forgiven us;
  • Do not let money come in between relationships;
  • Rather empty our pockets, than to empty our relationships.

Petty Christianity sucks the joy out of being a Christian. We should not shoot our own community on its foot by petty behaviour. Adopt grace. Sandwich each 'right' of ours with TWO 'layers' of responsibility.

How do we get out of petty Christianity? Here are seven pointers:

  1. Be People-Wise, Penny-Foolish
  2. Avoid Calculative-Christianity. Allocate your giving on the HIGHER side, not minimum requirement.
  3. Giving people the benefit of the doubt, especially small matters.
  4. Put People before Programs.
  5. Let graciousness enlarge our hearts.
  6. Each time we name 1 'right' of ours, sandwich it with 2 layers of our 'responsibility.'
  7. Live Heart First

Thought: There are three kinds of givers -- the flint, the sponge and the honeycomb. To get anything out of a flint you must hammer it. And then you get only chips and sparks. To get water out of a sponge you must squeeze it, and the more you use pressure, the more you will get. But the honeycomb just overflows with its own sweetness. Which kind of giver are you? (Source: Unknown)


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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