Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Zealous Marketing

TITLE: ZEALOUS MARKETING
SCRIPTURE: Ps 69:7-9
Written by: Conrade Yap
"for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me." (Ps 69:7-9)
MAIN POINT: We may not share the same materialistic focus of marketers, but we can surely learn from the zeal they display, the creativity they possess, the passion they manifest, and the belief they have, in what they are selling or promoting. Why can't Christians have the same passion in the gospel?

Some of the most passionate people in the world are marketers. Driven by the need to distinguish themselves from others, businesses out-think, out-talk, and out-perform one another in order to stay ahead of the pack. The result is a bewildering spectrum of clever marketing techniques and programs that can attract most customers. It makes me wonder how society can continue to thrive every year by hawking the same stuff relentlessly.

Credit: islandsdesignsstudio.com
Last Thursday, millions of Americans around the world celebrated Thanksgiving, the biggest day of the year for American families. It is a day where families come together over a big meal, served with lots of good food plus the irresistible turkey. When I visited the Regent College library that evening, I noticed that the library seem more empty than usual. Folks from America had gone home. Even Canadians, who celebrated their Thanksgiving in the beginning of November were not to be left out. Some even drove down South, rented a hotel room, and queued up all night for the next big thing: Black Friday.

It made me wonder: If the gospel is life-giving, shouldn't there be more people queueing up all night to enter the worship hall?

A) Black-Eye Friday Sales

Black Friday is the day where many big retailers throughout the country offer their premium goods at below factory outlet prices. It is also a day where shoppers throng the stores, happy to snap up really hot deals. Even the venerable Apple retail stores that rarely budge on their product prices, offered attractive discounts to entice the Black Friday shopper. Unfortunately, the wonderful side of Thanksgiving on Thursday disappeared literally overnight by Friday. Happy shoppers became impatient as latecomers tried to cut into the long lines. The huge crowds created problems for security. While the mood at many places were generally upbeat, some turned nasty. At one Walmart in LA, an angry woman pepper-sprayed several shoppers in order to get ahead of the pack. It is common to see people shoving one another in order to grab boxes of toys, electronics, clothes, and anything they could lay their hands on. It is a crazy zoo. All it takes is a price drop, and consumers flock in by the hundreds.

B) Cyber-Monday Online Sale

Then, there is Cyber Monday, the first Monday after black Friday. In order to spread the Black Friday spirit of consumer excitement, many retailers introduce the idea of special deals in cyberspace. Cyber-Monday can be seen as a Black-Friday kind of sales with a difference: It is only available online. From Amazon to BestBuy, Sears to Target, retailers pack it in. There is even a newspaper article that warns office workers about the ethics of buying stuff during office hours. From the looks of the frenzied buying and crazed shopping activities, it is hard to tell that there is any recession at all!

All it takes is a prized discount, and online orders gushes in.

C) Christmas Sales

After the mad rush, shops are back to the Christmas sales track. Through the radio, the Internet, and social media networks, retailers promote sales in many creative ways. Through Twitter, Facebook, and modern technology sites like Groupon, retailers continue to entice the consumer to buy, buy, and buy. Living in the West basically means having to wrestle with all these materialistic and consumeristic messages. Turn on the TV or radio and there will be commercials. Open the newspapers and there will be special offers at every other page. Open up websites and there will be enticing displays of special deals available just for you. Even Youtube videos contain a rectangular window that promotes certain products and services.

There was a time where one can avoid spending simply by not going to the mall or the shop. Nowadays, it is the shops coming to us that seduces us to buy more stuff, even stuff we do not really need now. With consumers constantly on a lookout for bargains, all it takes is a special sales promotion, and the sales will rise.

D) Amazing Zeal

Do not misunderstand me. I am not promoting marketing in the church. We have all heard about the dangers of materialism, and the problems of consumerism. I am simply marveling at the creativity and the non-stop zeal these retailers and businesses continue to offer. Every deal challenges another to offer something different and better. Many price match. They give a straight discount if you are able to show them a better price. On top of that, they employ clever marketing techniques to differentiate themselves from others. I call these 'Amazing Zeal.'

If the retail industry can be so passionate and zealous about their products and services, why can't Christians be equally (or more) passionate and zealous about sharing Christ? This thought has been occupying my mind for the past few days. I think about the way retailers offer their best products at best prices. I wonder why the church is not offering their best behaviour and Christlike attitude to demonstrate the attractiveness of Jesus? I think about the brilliant strategies and tactics adopted by the marketers to try to get shoppers into their stores. I wonder what are churches doing to try to bring people closer to Christ? I think about the online presence of many retailers on the Internet. I wonder why are there so few churches engaging people on the new social media network.

E) Governments Cannot Limit Creativity

I admit. In many churches, members' zeal for Christ, pale in comparison to many retailers' zeal to sell their products and services.  Sad but true. We can hide behind the excuse that this is a 'secular' society. The problem is not the restriction in sharing Christ. The problem is the lack of creativity among Christians to exercise their freedom of speech and practice of religion. Sharing Christ cannot be determined by the do's and don'ts of any government.
  • What is there to prevent Christians from showing acts of mercy, like Christ?
  • What is there to prevent Christians from exhibiting patience, like Christ?
  • What is there to stop Christians from giving generously to the needy, like Christ?
  • What is there to stop Christians from proclaiming the good news, meaningfully, like Christ?
The answer is none. What we need is not the regulation or de-regulation of any evangelistic efforts. What we need is the creativity to share the mission of Christ through good works and gracious words. Expand our range of good works. Enhance our speech with good meaningful words that help. Most crucially, when our convictions in Christ grow, we will demonstrate the creativity and marketing genius that retailers commonly have. They sell their products for a financial gain. We share the good news for spiritual profit. They sell their goods to make ends meet. We share the good news to meet needs. They hawk their services to gain market share. We speak of Christ to let God share His Kingdom.

Lee Strobel tells a story of his encounter with an atheist. It begins when the atheist states up front that he believes the bible is 'fable.' Strobel probes and asks if he has a question. The atheist then raises his voice and states another phrase that discredits the Bible. Due to his aggressive manner, Strobel starts to match the atheist tone for tone, argument for argument. At one point, it appears as if these two men are about to come to blows. After nearly half an hour, the atheist smiles and says to Strobel:

"Thanks for being willing to argue with me. I really appreciate that you stood up for what you believe."

There are many non-Christians who are really open to knowing Christ. The problem is often not the message of Christ. It is the messenger. When the messengers of Christ shun away from debate, it is like waving a white flag even before the battle begins. When the messengers of Christ are weak in their beliefs, non-Christians see no reason to believe in a 'weak religion.' When the messengers of Christ lack zeal, non-Christians will not be attracted at all. They may even think that if they become a Christian and be afraid to share about Christ, they too will become weak people.

If you are lost on how to share Christ more effectively, maybe, we ought to learn a few tips or so from modern marketing.

Thought: "People who don't believe in missions have not read the New Testament. Right from the beginning Jesus said the field is the world. The early church took Him at His word and went East, West, North and South." (J. Howard Edington)

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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.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Receiving a Little Child

TITLE: Receiving a Little Child
SCRIPTURE: Luke 9:48
THEME: Reflections on kids with Down's Syndrome. Are they any less precious?

"Then he said to them, "Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all--he is the greatest."" (Luke 9:48)

I remember a time speaking with a friend about his wife being asked to do an amnio. According to many medical experts, once a woman over the age of 35 gets pregnant, the routine advice is to undergo the test. The main purpose in doing an Amniotic fluid test is to check for any abnormalities in the chromosomes, in particular, the detection of Down's Syndrome. My friend makes a committed statement that he is not going to let his wife do it.
"So what? If the tests reveal a Down's Syndrome baby, are we going to abort? If it is no, then why do the test?"

I like his conviction. He is one of those brothers in Christ I have that says, believes, and acts at the same beat. We need more of such people. In many parts of the world, both rich and poor, the pattern is to prefer the good and despise the not-so-good. Like selecting Fuji apples in the grocery store, we pick and choose only the crunchiest and nicest looking fruit. The slightest defect merits a toss to the side. Only the best gets selected. While this is quite understandable for a little fruit, what if the attitude extends to the human domain?

A) Our Flawed World

Sometimes when I read the daily papers, I get dismayed when the newspaper headlines seem to elevate the rich, the famous, the most intelligent, the most beautiful/handsome above all others:
  • "Prodigy kid is the youngest to get his PhD."
  • "Top student fails to get a scholarship."
  • "A New Millionaire has risen from the slums."
  • "Prettiest girl comes from humble village."
  • "..."
Our Messed Up World. (Credit: Internet sources)
This can also be called 'elitism,' that only the top, the richest, the best gets royal treatment.

I think to myself, "You mean the average, the ordinary, and the lesser student is of less worth? What happened to the everybody-is-equal belief"

As a result, there is an unwritten disdain for the poor, the weak, the unknown.

This widely circulated picture on the Internet on the right tops it off when painting the overall shape of cultural sentiment. After the outpouring of emotions at the death of a technology icon recently, the world reacts in shock and disbelief. All of a sudden, the everyone is talking about how the world has lost a charming inventor. People value the Apple icon and inventions more.

One wonders why the difference in reactions? With the ongoing poverty and hunger conveniently forgotten, one wonders if they are any less important.  Something is very wrong. Our world is a messed up world. We treat human beings like apples. Worse, we may unwittingly assume that the messed up world is a norm that cannot be changed. A messed-up thinking can also infect the way we treat children.

B) Focusing on the Chromosome and Missing the Child 

It is a common prayer request for Christians that their child will turn out 'normal.' What if the child turns out different? What if they have something extra? What if they have an additional chromosome, that labels them a Down's syndrome kid? Will that chromosome reduce them as a real person? I hope not.

Are we more afraid of how the child will survive in this world, or are we more afraid of the stares public eyes will throw at us when we walk our child out in the streets? Probably, both.

When Amy Julia Becker learns of little Penny inside her having an extra chromosome, her emotions turn into a state of turmoil. The amnio tests reveal that Penny is most likely to be a Down's Syndrome kid. Her theological training only makes it worse.

"What I want to figure our is whether Down syndrome is a mistake, I said. 'I know that scientists and doctors would say that it is.. . . But how do I think about it in terms of God? Is it a manifestation of sin in the world? Is Penny less perfect than that little girl who was born next door?'" (Amy Julia Becker, A Good and Perfect Gift, Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2011, p48-9)
Further tests only reveal the hard truth. It is not just Penny but a "Penny has Down's Syndrome" feeling that dominates. For anyone whose child has an abnormal medical condition, it is tempting to become fixated on the problem, that the person is missed out.

C) Receiving Children

I often hear Luke 9:48 being spoken about at Communions, at Sunday School children dedications, baby shower celebrations, and so on. While that is good, what about letting Luke 9:48 maneuver a little deeper and a lot wider to include ALL children? Whether a child is sick or not, a child is a child. Whether a child scores straight A's or all F's, a child is a child. Whether there is an extra chromosome or not, a child is a child. The words of Jesus is plain and clear.

Then he said to them, "Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest." (Luke 9:48, NLT)

The journey to receiving a little child is long. We need help. We need companions. When the Beckers learn about Penny's Down Syndrome condition, they begin to appreciate the openness and warmth extended to them by counseling groups, self-help organizations, and well meaning words of support. They learn to learn to forgive others of insensitive advice, and to be thankful for the loving counsel from some wise friends.  Most importantly, the spousal support is key. Amy recalls her husband, Peter's words.
"Peter said the other day that he thinks our highs will be higher and our lows will be lower than most parents. That the joy will be more joyful, her accomplishments even more exciting. But the fear and sadness will be deeper, too." (67)
When we embrace the child we have, just as they are, no one is going to take away the privilege of celebrating the highest highs, and enduring the lowest lows. For whatever condition is the child in, love can still be given.


Key Note: Jesus' primary reason when coming to earth is not to solve problems but to SAVE people. 

D) Loving the Child Regardless

While we are called to pray for all children, may I ask that we specially pray for those raising up children with Down's syndrome or other 'abnormalities.' These parents and children are the ones who have to endure insensitive stares whenever they venture into public places. They have to tolerate weird advice too by people who mean well but communicate terribly. Pray for wisdom to love the child regardless. Encourage them, just like this friend has encouraged Amy in an email that says simply: "I can't wait to see the ministry that Penny will have." Only time will heal. Wise counsel will help.

Here is Amy's reflection:

"It hadn't crossed my mind that Penny would have a 'ministry,' a means of giving to other people. And that simple sentence, with its hopeful words, made me realize that as much as I insisted that our experience was different from other parents, and that our child was different from other children, different didn't mean less than. Penny would give to us. She would not only be blessed. She would be a blessing." (79)

My challenge to you my reader is this. Let the beauty of God's love stack higher than the ugliness of sin. If you believe in God, believe that He can cause all things to work out for good, in His perfect time, no matter how difficult or impossible it may seem. The presence of an additional chromosome does not mean the end of the world, but the beginning of a special journey. It is a journey to enlarge our heart of love. Once we are able to love our children just as they are, we will be better equipped to love others just as they are. Let us never call any child, 'retarded.' Jesus will never look at the child and say: "You're retarded," and then hurries to the next activity on his itinerary. Instead, he gazes lovingly at any child to say, "I loved you so much that I died for you too."

Thought: "'Amy Julia,' Virginia said. 'I know you don't like this word, but I'm going to say it anyway. Your daughter is not retarded.'" (218)

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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.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Success of Failure

TITLE: THE SUCCESS OF FAILURE
DATE: 14 Nov 2011
Written by: Conrade Yap

You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure.” (1 Thess 2:1)

MAIN POINT: The world measures success in terms of financial profits, pleasurable gains, and worldly acquisitions. The Christian rises above the paradigms of success and failure, to begin at the cross of Christ, which is foolishness to the world, a stumbling block to many. In other words, Christians see success and failures using a different measurement.

Aaron Feuerstein was a Jewish businessman. Like many, he did not enter into business to fail. He wanted to make money out of it. He desired to inject meaning in what he works. He aimed to live faithfully according to the Torah. For close to a century, his family had devoted their lives to supporting the economy in their hometown in Lawrence, Massachusetts. This company is Malden Mills, one of the largest textile companies in the state of Massachusetts. As CEO, Feuerstein was the third generation member to manage the innovative and reputable company.

Fire at Malden Mills, Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1995
On the night of Dec 11th, 1995, the sprawling factory ended up in smoke, in one of the biggest fires ever in Massachusetts. While there were no casualties, the damage to the economy in the town was immense. Without a factory, there will be no production. Without output, there is nothing to sell and there will not be any revenues. Without revenue and work, there is no justification in keeping the 3000 employees. The fire burned up not only the factory and jobs. It burned up hopes amid a difficult economy.


Monday, November 7, 2011

On Culture of Entitlement (Part 2 of 2)

TITLE: On Culture of Entitlement (Part 2 of 2)
SCRIPTURE: Romans 5:6-8
Written by: Conrade Yap

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’” (Romans 5:6-8)

Last week, I provided some observations of how the culture of entitlement has become so common place that it has been accepted as a way of life. I ended with some questions about what then are we to do about it. As a proof of how the Culture of Entitlement has infected society, read this open letter. Here is an open letter from a kid who is obviously upset about NOT getting candies from this particular home owner.
Image from Kijiji posted 3 Nov 2011

Here is the reply: "Dear Children of Entitlement (and likely their parents), You have gone ahead and reminded me of why I do not want children, and why I weep for the future."


This week, I want to provide a way forward for us to do something about it. I will suggest four ways where we can counter the culture of entitlement (CoE): Confession, Right-Sizing, Self-Understanding, and Humility.

A) Pursuit of Happiness as a CoE?

In 'Counterfeit Gospels,' Trevin Wax points out six false representations of the true gospel, one of which is relevant to this reflection about the culture of entitlement (CoE). Wax calls it the 'therapeutic gospel.' Proponents of such a gospel teach about human happiness as a right, as something that God wants us to have.
  • "It is God's will for you to be rich."
  • "If you are feeling empty, it is because you have not claimed enough of God's promises."
  • "Is your marriage troubled? Blame sin. Better still, blame the devil."
  • "It is your God-given right to be happy. Let no one deprive you of happiness."
In a culture of entitlement, this kind of therapeutic gospel is highly appealing.  Here is how it works its way into the heart of Christians. Firstly, it introduces itself with a single-minded focus on human worth. It says that humans do not deserve to suffer, but to have a good life. Secondly, it moves on to use anything, including God as a means to comfort us. It brings in all the biblical passages of comfort in the Bible and applies them lock, stock, and barrel. Thirdly, it harps on the point that it is God who has to keep His promise, and that it is not God's will for anyone to suffer. When the therapeutic gospel takes root, Trevin Wax lists three kinds of deceptive results:

  1. "Disillusionment when suffering comes" (How can God let anyone suffer?)
  2. A reduced view of sin (God prefers us to be happy rather than to fight sin?)
  3. The gifts are more important than the Giver. (If God loves me, He will give me what I WANT!)
Wax writes emphatically,
"Scripture is clear that our biggest problem is not that we feel guilty; it's that we are guilty." (Trevin Wax, Counterfeit Gospels, Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2011, 48)
The trouble with the therapeutic gospel is that it begins with an erroneous assertion. Instead of man being born sinful in the first place, it claims outright that man deserves not punishment but reward, for just being who he/she is. 

B) Fighting CoE Begins with Confession

A culture of entitlement puts us in the center of the world. It tells us that our personal happiness is the purpose of life. Anything that counters this pursuit is considered bad. This runs contrary to the spirit in Romans 5 where man is not entitled to anything at all, save the mercy of God. It tells us that personal holiness, (not happiness), is the goal of our lives. Instead, our path to God begins with a confession that God is the center, not us. It is a confession that we are utterly undeserving. Happiness is not a right. If it happens to us, good. If not, do not despair. We are not to deceive ourselves that being happy is more important than being holy. It starts with confession.

I appreciate the Communion ritual at many Anglican and Methodist churches that goes as follows:
Almighty God,
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Maker of all things, judge of all people:
We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from to time have most grievously committed; 
by thought, word, and deed, against Thine divine majesty.
We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these misdoings, the remembrance of them is grievous to us. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, 
Most Merciful Father.
For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we hereafter serve and please thee with newness of life, to the honor and glory of Thy name ; through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Source: Internet

C) Fighting CoE Involves Right-Sizing Ourselves

I like the wisdom in Proverbs that say

"Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread." (Proverbs 30:8)

On one extreme, when happiness becomes a right, it is like insisting that God gives us a signed blank check for us to fill in, according to all our whims and fancies. We upgrade thoughtlessly. We accumulate recklessly. We see only riches as God's will, and shun poverty like a plague. Those with a warped theology of prosperity may even say that the poverty in the world is due to people receiving a curse from God!

On the other end, there are those who attack the rich and the powerful to the point that they pursue poverty as a reaction against the rich. It is like sacrificing oneself just to make a point. Is that a wise choice?

Proverbs show us that it is not poverty or riches we should pursue, but our daily bread. Not too much or too little, but just right. In order to know what is just right, we need to understand ourselves.

D) Countering CoE with Self-Understanding

A story was told about a young Catholic excited about meeting Mother Teresa during one of her trips to Australia. Due to Mother Teresa's tight schedule, it is practically impossible to interview her. On realizing that her next stop is New Guinea, he makes plans to buy an air-ticket, to sit next to her in order to learn from her about giving and helping the poor. When Mother Teresa heard about it, she said to him,
"You have enough money to pay airfare to New Guinea? Then give that money to the poor. You'll learn more from that than anything I can tell you."
Mother Teresa is spot on. She diagnoses the young man's condition as one that is seeking to 'experience a feeling' rather than doing the right thing. The way to learn giving is not to talk about it, much less to feel it, but to do it. Doing it is key to learning about giving. More importantly, one learns about self.

The problem why many of us fail to counter the culture of entitlement successfully is largely due to non-action. We complain. We shrug our shoulders. We blame the government. As we do all these, we become so fixated on the speck of dust in another person's eye that we miss the log in our own eye. Perhaps, for those of us caught in such a culture of entitlement, whether we like it or not, it will not change unless we do something about it.  A healthy understanding of self begins with a recognition that we are undeserved sinners saved by grace. It continues with seeing holiness, not happiness as the purpose of our spiritual lives. It seeks God more than the gifts.

E) Humility: Key to Right-Sizing

Sizing our own selves correctly is crucial to knowing what we really need. Humility is the key. See how Jesus considers himself.

"And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:8)
The God of Heaven, who in spite of his riches, chooses to humble Himself, take up His cross, to be crucified, and humiliated before the world. By sizing Himself as a man, by forsaking all for the sake of us, He died. CS Lewis makes this remarkable observation about humility.

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less." (CS Lewis)

In a culture of entitlement, let us despite of our heavenly inheritance, choose simple living. When people take advantage of us, be ready to forgive. Do not elevate ourselves so high up the pedestal, that we become proud to the point of using people just to prop ourselves up there. If we are honest with ourselves, when we die, we can bring absolutely nothing with us. If that is the case, why harp on our rights and our entitlement so much that it messes up our life and our true purpose?

The culture of entitlement can be countered with a confession of our sinful selves. Right-sizing ourselves is more important than insisting of what others must give us. Having self-understanding is necessary to knowing the difference between needs and wants. Most of all, humility enables us to become more like Christ.

Thought: A humble knowledge of ourselves is a surer way to God than is the search for depth of learning. (Thomas a'Kempis)

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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, November 1, 2011

On Culture of Entitlement (Part 1 of 2)

TITLE: On Culture of Entitlement (Part 1 of 2)
SCRIPTURE: Acts 20:32-35
Written by: Conrade Yap

“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:32-35)

"Trick or treat!"

My Daughter's Pumpkin Carving
It's Halloween again. Once a year, kids, teens and young people will unabashedly knock on your front doors asking for candies, chocolates, and anything that is sweet. It has become a tradition in itself. Here in North America, Halloween is a fun day. In the morning, many school children will dress up in various costumes. Some wear elaborate movie characters. Others don a simple pony tail ribbon or some facial makeup. Even teachers get into the act. Everybody is in a cheerful mood. It is after school is where the Halloween celebrations really pick up speed. They will gather in pairs of small groups to raid the neighbourhood for candies. Of course, homeowners do their part by putting up delightful decorations outside their houses to welcome these visitors. The 'scary' props are actually quite impressive. It shows the creative part of being human, all for the fun of it. For all its negative religious undertones, Halloween is truly a family friendly event. Kids are happy. Candy sellers are happy. The dentists are happy.

While I see many excited kids in the neighbourhood, behind the fun, the chocolates, and the candies, hide something more sinister: An attitude of entitlement. Like Halloween where kids expect handouts, the general society at large too expect handouts. This week, I will argue that there is a deeper concern besides being aware of this culture of entitlement. It is knowing it but NOT doing anything about it.

A) Free Expectations

Individualism remains a challenge in every society. John Donne's famous words, "No man is an island," is often quoted by people to remind people including themselves that they do not live for selves or selfish reasons. What strikes me as inherently more true is that while no man is an island, man has that innate craving to carve out an island for himself! The infamous five words that individualistic people ask are: "What's In It For Me?"

By asking this question, one seeks to find out the benefit before entering into any contract, buying any service, or investing any money. The premise is simple. As long as the transaction benefits me, I say yes. If it does NOT benefit me in any way, I say no. It makes me sad whenever small businesses close down. It makes me sadder that when these businesses offer 'closing down sales,' the people immediately swarm the stores to wipe out all the goods in no time. The classic example is the case of the ill-fated tablet, the HP Touchpad. When it is first launched at an entry price of $499, sales hardly take off. When it is reduced to a fire sale price of $99, the entire inventory vanished within hours. The same can be said of newspapers. Free newspaper bins are the ones that get emptied much faster. The public generally likes free stuff. From free emails to free newspapers, complimentary samples to free coffee, people like free things. Free things only make the culture of entitlement even worse.

B) A Culture of Entitlement

The culture of entitlement is widespread. Citizens assert the right to be heard by the leaders. In the business world, thanks to the Internet freebies regularly dished out by the big corporations like Google, Youtube, and free WiFi services from fast food restaurants, people are generally spoilt for choice.  Unfortunately, freebies make the problem of entitlement worse. While consumers benefit, they too become spoilt.

The culture of entitlement has also affected the elderly. Many countries in the West have a social security welfare scheme. Upon reaching retirement, adults get a certain amount of money from the government. One advantage of such a system is that it compensates older workers when they give up their jobs to younger ones in the workforce. The overall effect is to reduce unemployment. At the same time, it is a token of appreciation to the worker for the many years of labour and contributions to society in general. It is common to see retirees repaying the welfare by volunteering themselves in charitable organizations in the neighborhoods they are in. A culture of entitlement turns this system on its head.

In this culture of entitlement, older workers refuse to retire early, feeling that they are entitled to receive back from society for all their past contributions. For many, after struggling many years to get promoted to their levels of seniority, are they going to simply give it all up? They easily justify their decisions to hang on to their jobs by blaming inflation and the tough economy. Young graduates think that they are entitled to a job, and that it is the responsibility of the government to find them one. A culture of entitlement is like blood clots in the system. If nobody gives, nothing flows.

Some civil servants I know often give this excuse for not helping.

"If I help you, who helps me? If I do you a favour, how does that do me a favour?" 
In societies where everybody expects everything and gives out nothing, everybody loses.

C) If Nobody Gives, Everybody Loses

I remember the story of how Robin Hood and Little John first met. They were trying to cross a stream on narrow beam of oak. Robin Hood happened to hop on one side first. Before he could make his way across, along came Little John on the other side of the stream wanting to cross over. Since the oak was large enough for one person to cross at a time, one of them had to give way. Robin claimed that he was entitled to go first. Little John rebutted that based on his bigger size, he was entitled to go first. Both of them refused to give way. As a result, they got stuck in the middle. The only way forward then was to wrestle each other until one wins the right to cross over first.

I have driven in both Asian cities as well as North American cities. I must say that driving in the West is a lot more pleasant compared to Asia. In the West, people generally adopts a first-come-first-serve attitude. When I try to change lanes, the moment I signal my intention with my signal lights, drivers tend to be generous in letting me pass. In Asia, this is hardly the case. In congested roads, it is common to find situations that when nobody give in, everybody loses. Drivers with a strong and arrogant sense of entitlement are least likely to give way. The trouble with our culture of entitlement is not only in public roads, but in our private lives. Anthony Selvaggio observes the effect of individualism in marriages. He says:

"Our self-absorbed individualism has had profound effects on our culture. For example, consider how the view of marriage has changed in our culture. Marriage was once thought of as the union of two people into one for life, but now marriage is viewed as a flimsy contractual arrangement between two companions who agree to temporarily live together until their individual needs are no longer satisfied by the arrangement." (Anthony Selvaggio, 7 Toxic Ideas That Pollute the Mind, P & R Publishing, 2011, p73) 

IF we feel that we are entitled to our own happiness, people can often become a means to meeting our ends. When people no longer meet our end, we go our own separate ways, treating people like disposables. For an individualistic person anchored in a world of entitlement, self comes first. All other people is a distant second. Even God has to serve him.

D) Not Doing Anything About It?

Speak to anyone and they will be quick to tell you that they KNOW we live in a culture of entitlement. They can even point out examples of everyday life where it is every man for himself. As they complain about everything, invariably the question will come to rest on the most important question.


  • "What about you?"
  • "What are you doing about it?"
  • "Are you going to sit on your hands, shrug your shoulders and accept this culture of entitlement all around you?"

Many Christians remember Jesus saying that it is better to give than to receive. However, remembering is not enough. We need to do it. .. .. . . .

Oops. There's the doorbell. Time to give out candy treats, lest the kids go unhappy. I will write more next week.

Thought: Our refusal to submit to one another in Christ usually stems from an overly high view of ourselves, and a sadly low view of others. Aided by a laser-like focus on self-need, individualism  rationalizes everything from the angle of self. We are seeing a great reversal. While the builders at Babel seek to reach the heavens by building a tower, modern individualists seek to drag heaven down by building a pulley of ropes tightened with narcissism, individualism, and egotism.


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