Thursday, December 27, 2012

But I am No Bonhoeffer!

TITLE: "BUT I AM NO BONHOEFFER!"
SCRIPTURE: Luke 9:23
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 27 December 2012

Discipleship is not an easy feat. It is tough. It demands sacrifice and commitment. It requires courage. Our Lord Jesus has given us this mandate a long time ago.
Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:32)
This verse has often been quoted at discipleship conferences, teaching moments, and pulpit sessions. Hard hitting, direct and frank, it is targeted not only at Peter, who had just confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, but for all of us. Confession begets motivation. Motivation demands action. It is relatively easy for us to confess Jesus as Lord. It is more difficult to be motivated to practice what we believe. It is even more difficult to live as if we are going to die. Why?

We are creatures of excuse. We prefer the easy way out. That is because sin in us is such a serious condition. It numbs us toward inaction. It discourages us from becoming radical. It eats us from inside so that we are of no outside use. It deceives us by saying:
  • "Don't worry, you have time."
  • "Relax. Let others do the job. You have better things to do for yourself."
  • "Why bother about the Great Commission? You've been saved right? If God is so mighty and powerful, surely He can save other people without involving small little you, right?"
Wrong. The call of discipleship is a calling to pay the cost of discipleship. Willingly. Gradually. Totally. There are three major impediments to any positive response to discipleship.

1) We Fear Threats to Our Self-Security

We fear because we try to save our own skin on our own strengths. We fear because we cannot see with our eyes the horizons in front of us. We fear because we are unwilling to pay the price. We fear because we lack the foresight to see the world that is larger than our own. For when our eyes are fixated on our own small world, forgetting about the reality of the world at large, as our inner balloon of self-concerns expands inside us, we become bloated up and we let fear deceive us into thinking that the greatest purpose of our existence is to maintain our bloated selves. Stephen Covey once said:

 "Courage is not the absence of fear, but the awareness that something else is more important. Courage can be displayed in heroic, visible ways, or in quiet, private battles we fight when attempting to conquer inner fears." (Stephen Covey, Everyday Greatness, Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2010, p83)

This gives us a clue on what it takes to overcome inner fears. We need an inner strength that only the Holy Spirit can give. While we may not be a Bonhoeffer, remember that Jesus has promised us the Holy Spirit? Remember too that Jesus himself has said that greater things we can do?

"I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." (John 14:12)

When we fear, we excuse the power of God for the pitiful strength of men. We have unwittingly exchanged the glory of the Immortal God with the images and idols of the material world. Merely reflecting on Bonhoeffer's inglorious death is enough to cause one to say, "I am no Bonhoeffer!" and we think we can deflect any responsibilities to follow Christ to the hilt.

2) We Fatten Ourselves with Self-Importance & Self-Needs

Recently, I have been thinking about the kinds of things we are stuffing ourselves with. The moment we are full of ourselves, we tend to become selfish and conceited. Like cancer, we become like cells that draw all resources and attention to ourselves. In doing so, we not only threaten and infect our own lives and be a bad influence to our neighbours, we jeopardise the body that we are a part of. The most serious situation is when we allow sin to contaminate us so much that we become cancerous ourselves. In such a state, it is extremely easy to brush off all calls of discipleship, including the great German martyr by saying:

"But I am no Bonhoeffer!"

We think that this alone can excuse us from further efforts to draw us away from our comfort zones. Mind you. We are all creatures of comfort. Wake us up from our warm beds and we become irritated. Make our lives a little more inconvenient and we become easily disgruntled. Prod us toward the right path that is narrow and thorny and we react aggressively why we cannot be left alone.

"I am no Bonhoeffer! So don't you Bonhoeffer me!"

An angry man is a man on the verge of sinning. It is easy to hit back at others who attempt to draw us out of our shell. It is plainly and simply uncomfortable, and we do not like it. So we blurt out a flare to try to distract others from holding on to us. We try to shake away the good intentions of others by claiming something that appears true on the outside but hides the truth of our inside.

"But I am no Bonhoeffer!"

Easily said, and those of us who say it, believes it. Have you ever seen a fat soldier? The truth is this. Soldiers who are obese will lack the agility to shift positions or to take quick action to fight the enemy. If we use the words "I am no Bonhoeffer" as an excuse to keep feeding ourselves with our self-needs, it is easy to see that eventually, when we fail to live out our calling, we become a nobody. 

3) We Forget that We are in a War

A popular maxim is this "Make peace, not war." This is the ideal state. After all, we are called to be peacemakers, especially when it comes to sharing love and goodwill. That said, that is something that we do toward fellow people. That is not something that the spiritual forces of darkness are going to let us do.

Did the devil leave Jesus alone in the wilderness? No. The devil tempts Jesus. Not once, not twice, but three times.

Did Paul had an easy time in the gospel? No. All evidence points to Paul having a tough time trying to reach the Gentiles. He even had a quarrel with fellow workers like Mark and Barnabas on how this is to be done.

In case you are not aware, we are at war. Spiritual warfare is real. Why are we called soldiers? Why are we to put on the armour of God in Ephesians 6? Why are we to fight the good fight in Paul's epistle to Timothy? It is simply this: We are at war. People who refuse to acknowledge that there is a war will never take up arms. The trick the devil does is to make us think that we are not in a war.

The words, "But I am no Bonhoeffer" is one example where we can easily shirk the responsibility of spiritual warfare, to hide our real motives behind some factual statement.

Come next year, I will be leading a small group through Dietrich Bonhoeffer's classic work on discipleship, "The Cost of Discipleship." It is a no-holds-barred book that does not mince words. Bonhoeffer tells the cost of following Jesus as bluntly as he can, with his own life. Written amid a worsening WWII situation concerning Germany's threat to the neighbouring nations and beyond, it is also a book to rally the people of God right thing. In a call to pursue truth and faithfulness in God, Bonhoeffer ventures out valiantly at a great personal risk at a huge cost. He paid the cost the way that he himself has called others to. Just like Jesus.

Those of us who can easily say, "But I am no Bonhoeffer" can also easily chime in that "But I am no Paul" or "But I am no Jesus" or "But I am no this saint or that saint."

Those of us who are familiar with this modern day prophet will remember that Bonhoeffer died a martyr for the faith, a patriot of his country, and a prophet for God's call to commitment in discipleship. In a nutshell, the classic challenge that Bonhoeffer has issued to all is this:

"When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther's who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time - death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call. Jesus's summons to the rich young man was calling him to die, because only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ. In fact every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts. But if we do not want to die, and therefore Jesus Christ and his call are necessarily our death as well as our life. The call to discipleship, the baptism in the name of Jesus Christ means both death and life." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, New York, MacMillan, 1959, p79)

Pursuing this path of discipleship is not an easy feat. Already, I have heard individuals contributing their 'but' and their 'why.' I confess that I too am not keen on the book initially, simply because of the fear that the book may be deemed too challenging and may even turn away prospective attendees. That said, must truth be censored? Can we ever dilute the call to discipleship? Shall we even dare to diminish the uncomfortable call in favour of the comfortable topical studies about making us feeling nice inside but passive outside? Four words typify a response to any hard call to discipleship.

"I am no Bonhoeffer!"

Agree. There is only one Bonhoeffer.

Disagree. That does not absolve us from the call to follow Christ.

If we are aiming to imitate Bonhoeffer, we will have gotten it all wrong. We cannot miss the forest of following Christ for the tree of Bonhoeffer's life. It is not WWII now, but it sure is spiritual warfare that is ongoing and threatens our very growth as disciples of Jesus.

Beware of these three threats. We fear threats to or comfortable lives. We fatten ourselves up with self-needs to the detriment of the Great Commission. We forget that we are at war.

Perhaps, when we overcome these threats, we will not be saying "But I am no Bonhoeffer." Instead we will be saying, "Lord, help me to be the best disciple for You, and if it is your will, to live like Bonhoeffer lived, and to die like Bonhoeffer died."

The bigger threat to our call to discipleship is not whether we could do this or we should do that. The bigger threat is whether we would.

THOUGHT: "It isn't always others who enslave us. Sometimes we let circumstances enslave us; sometimes we let routine enslave us: sometimes we let things enslave us: sometimes, with weak wills, we enslave ourselves." (Richard L. Evans)

conrade

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 20, 2012

"Candle of Joy and Love"

TITLE: CANDLE OF JOY AND LOVE
SCRIPTURE: Ecclesiastes 3:1
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 20 December 2012

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:" (Eccl 3:1)
Last week has been a traumatic week for many people. Events from Newtown Connecticut have rattled many of our nerves, just to imagine how violent our society has become. The media has pounded the small town with attention. Too much attention I think. All over the media, both conventional and social, in many community gatherings and religious circles, people have been talking and praying, discussing and sobbing, about the tragic deaths of 27 people. Many have gotten quite used to hearing the continuous flood of information about the tragedy. Others like me will feel that it is too much information and attention  that is preventing the Newtown community from grieving properly. From funerals to gun-control, from interviews with townsfolk to analyses by journalists, the poor folks there are inundated by unwarranted and unwanted attention. Personally, I think it is time to move on.

A) Let the Media Move On

Indeed, there is a time for mourning and a time to moving away from all the publicity. Imagine if you are a Newtown resident doing your grocery shopping, or quietly going to the neighborhood bank, or just sweeping the frontyard, along comes an out-of-town journalist asking you for the umpteenth time, your personal experience with the Newtown tragedy. Is that not opening up old wounds? Is that not re-living the tragedy all over again for the sake of the reporter selling news? Is that not an invasion of much needed privacy and time to mourn?

I think so. I think our modern competitive news reporting culture has put profits above people, sensationalism above sensitivity, and impassioned curiosity above compassionate sensibility. Enough is enough. People in Newtown needs a break from all the world's attention. They need a respite from headline news to mourn privately, live peacefully, and to reflect quietly. So much has happened and much more needs to happen. Those of us who do not live in Newtown do not need more news. We need more prayefulness and compassion. The time has come for the press to move on, for the Newtown folks to live on, and for the rest of us to carry on our daily lives.

B) Let Newtown Begin Their Mourning and Healing

There is a time for everything. There is a time to mourn, mourn. When there is a time for joy, rejoice. With Christmas just a few days away, we are caught smack in the middle of joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness, activity and passivity. Where do we put our emotions during this time? This is what mourning is about. It is a time where one learns to put grief in perspective, mourning in action, and remembering in progress. Where there are funerals, observe the families' privacy and quiet space. Where there are opportunities to interview any of the townsfolks, refrain. Enough is enough. For the sake of neighbourliness, let the media retreat back to their own offices or other assignments. Enough is enough. For the sake of the parents whose children had died, just pray for them. Enough is enough. For the rest of us, let us also do our part. We have heard and seen enough.

I have heard news of media climbing over one another to push a mike in front of a terrified child who had just lost a friend. Enough is enough. With the media around, it is difficult, almost impossible to grieve.

No more flashbacks of how horrible the whole shooting is. No more psychoanalyzing the killer or the moods of the surviving families. No more interviews of children in trauma. No more invading the turf of our dear teachers and children's private lives. When the rest of the world ignore the news reports, the media will leave the families and the children alone. They will leave the traumatized community alone. They will leave Newtown alone. They will leave Newtown.

C) Let Us Do Our Part

Here is what needs to happen. We the news consumers can choose NOT to consume any more news of Newtown, for the sake of granting the Newtown folks greater privacy. When there is a TV report on Newtown, let us change channels or turn off. When there is a newspaper article, choose another paper instead. When people talk about it, walk away. For when there is no interest, there will be no coverage. Plain and simple. Christmas is coming. We can remember them. We can pray for them. For the sake of human kindness, let us move on, and let the healing begin.

There is a time for everything. As we look toward Christmas time, we ask, how is it possible to have joy during this time? It is tough. The year 2012 has not been kind to some of us. I know. Just today, I hear of a brother and sister in Christ who had lost their son to leukemia. It is really sad news, especially when the name of the son has so much in common with the Nativity theme in Christmas.

With sorrow comes the promise of joy. The joy just to know that children go straight into the arms of the Father's loving embrace. The joy just to know that there will be no more suffering for the boy. The joy just to know that there is a time for everything, a time to grieve, and a time to move on.

A healthy person will know the difference. He will not be rushed from one emotion to another. He will not be hushed to behave in any way that is unbecoming of character. He will instead wait upon the Lord. He will pace himself. He will let the Lord carry him along.


When I read John 11 about Martha and Mary, I am glad that the gospel writer records, "Jesus wept." Certainly, Jesus knows when to rejoice and when to weep. For love knows when to weep and when to rejoice. Love is aware of when to push and when to pull; when to hang on, and when to let go; when to go forth and when to hold back. It is love that came down at Christmas.


D) We Rejoice Not of Circumstances but of Christ

My friends, there is a time for everything. We need to learn that rejoicing is not a matter of circumstances, presents, or multiple friends around us. Our reason for hope, peace, joy, and love is centered on one person: Jesus Christ. He is the reason for the season. Always.

Even in the midst of tragedy, there is a Person we can rejoice in. I understand that some quarters in the world are preparing for a coming Mayan calendar doomsday. Let me assure you that the Lord Himself has said that no one knows when the last day is. We do not need to worry or panic over any Armageddon looming upon us. Just fix our eyes on Jesus, knowing that He is control of everything, including time. For God is timeless, unbounded by time.

This Christmas is a perfect time to remember that Christ, born a child and yet a king, will certainly come again in glory and in honour. He came to earth as a little helpless baby. He will come again in power and in might. Just thinking of that day again, gives us a vision of a candle of hope that will grow in hope. It is a vision of everlasting peace that will be brought about by the Prince of Peace. It gives us joy unspeakable in the Person of Christ. It gives us Love Unlimited in the arms of God, our Heavenly Father.

Merry Christmas to you my readers.



THOUGHT: "Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we're here for something else besides ourselves." (Eric Sevareid)


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.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Candle of Peace (Second Advent Week)

TITLE: CANDLE OF PEACE (SECOND ADVENT WEEK)
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 122:6
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 14 December 2012

"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: 'May they prosper who love you." (Ps 122:6)

It has been a tragic morning. News of the deadly shooting has ruined my weekend. I feel sick. How is it possible, that someone can just walk into a school and empties his bullets on young children, and adults armed only with books and stationery? Latest reports say that at least 27 people are dead, including 18 elementary school kids. It makes me wonder what kind of a deranged world we are living in. We are not even talking about guerrilla warfare or terrorist attacks like the ones during September 11 back in 2001. We are talking about the shattering of all interpretations of peace in the midst of civilians just having a normal day.

How is it possible to have true peace?

A) Peace-Loving People?

We have all heard it before. The phrase, "We are all peace-loving people" are used so common like the way we greet one another, "How are you doing?" Interview an Arab and they will way, "We Arabs are peace-loving people." Interview a Chinese and they too will say, "We Chinese are a peace-loving people." Talk to a Jew, and they can easily say, "The Jewish people are peace-loving people." In fact, talk to any leader in this world, and they will say things like, "My country is a nation of peace-loving people."

So, if we say we are peace-loving, surely we will have more peace on earth, right? Wrong. Saying peace-loving is one thing. Actually living it out is another. For, if it is indeed true, that everyone says, believes, and behaves, as peace-loving people, then explain to me why there are so many wars going on right now? From Asia to the Middle-East, from civil wars to political battles, we are seeing a world that is increasingly crying out for peace.

Saying peace-loving is not enough. We need true peace.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

"The Candle of Hope" (First Advent Sunday)

TITLE: CANDLE OF HOPE (First Advent Sunday)
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 9:2
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 6 December 2012



“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. ” (Isaiah 9:2)

The lights are on. The decorations are up. The music is swinging. 

Christmas is coming. Each December, cities all over the world are gearing up to gradually close out the year. The song, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” ends with a “Happy New Year.” 

Christmas is coming. For the Christian, the celebration of Christ’s birth begins not on December 25th, but commences four Sundays before. Called the Advent month, for four Sundays, pulpits around the world will be preaching sermons about Christmas and the birth of Christ. It is a happy event, a joyous celebration of God born a baby and also a king. 

The word “advent” comes from the Latin adventus, which also means “arrival,” or “coming.” It reminds us of John’s gospel that famously says,

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

A) Advent Candles

There are three significant things about the Advent. All of them stresses the coming of Christ, namely, the past, the present, and the future. It has been said that the Advent is essentially the NEW YEAR for the Christian. In other words, Christmas Day is the month long culmination of the Coming of Christ. In the Church I serve here in Vancouver, we do a traditional candle lighting ritual. For four Sundays in a row, we light candles one by one as follows:

  1. First Sunday - We light the Candle of Hope
  2. Second Sunday - We light the Candles of Hope + Peace
  3. Third Sunday - We light the Candles of Hope + Peace + Love
  4. Fourth Sunday - We light the Candles of Hope + Peace + Love + Joy
  5. Christmas Eve/Day - We light all the Candles above + the Candle of Christ.

We use different colours to represent the candles. For hope, peace, and joy, we use purple to symbolize Christ’s royalty as King. For love, we use the rose or pink coloured candle to represent Christ’s love and faithfulness. For the Christ candle, white is used to symbolize purity. 

B) Christian New Year

There is one more thing that is significant about the Advent season. For the Christian, the Church calendar officially begins on the first Sunday of December. In order words, Christians should be saying to one another “Happy New Year” already. One Jewish Rabbi likes to poke fun at Christians who do not know their own religious significance. On the first day of the conventional January 1st New Year, he likes to go around and wish his Christian friends, “A Happy Secular New Year to You.” 

He is right. Too many Christians have been observing secular events more than their own events. For that matter, Sunday is in a sense ‘secular’ as the day has often been attributed to the pagan sun-god during the time of Constantine. In 321 AD, after the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, the day “Sunday” became the day where work is stopped and leisure began. That is why there is often a confusion among some Christians and Jews on when actually is the Sabbath. Is it still the traditional Friday/Saturday Jewish Sabbath or is Sunday the new “Sabbath” for Christians. For me, Sunday is essentially the Lord’s Day. The Sabbath is the Jewish day of rest. Christians are not compelled to observe any one specific day like the Jews to stop doing anything. They are strongly urged to take some form of a sabbatical rest as a way to remind themselves of their calling as participants of the Kingdom of God. Understood in this way, every day can have Sabbath moments.

In other words, for Christians, last Sunday (Dec 2nd, 2012) is the start of the Christian New Year. 

C) The Candle of Hope

I preached on the “Prophecy of True Light” on the first Advent Sunday, based on the text of Isaiah 9:1-7. In it, I lamented on the tragedy of Claus-mas, where our Western culture is increasingly more open and more embracing of all things Santa Claus, and more hostile and dismissive of the Person of Jesus Christ. From movies to songs, Christmas shopping to  year end dancing, the big red costumed bearded men evokes more squeals and delights from both children and adults by society in general. 

For all the openness Christians may have about Santa Claus and the fantasies surrounding the North Pole workshops, sleighs, and reindeers, it is a tragedy when the True Christ is missed out from all the festivities. After all, without Christ, there is no Christmas. Without Christ, there is no true joy. Without Christ, there is no everlasting hope. In the popular Christmas movie, “Miracle on 34th Street,” the central message behind the movie is that if adults have the right to proclaim “In God We Trust,” children have every right to cry out, “In Santa We Trust.” 

Don’t get me wrong. I am not bashing Santa Claus. I am lamenting the diminishing platform for the Christ-child. People are fast getting rid of anything that is religious. A few years ago, one poor Christmas tree became the controversial tree to be removed from a Toronto courthouse simply because the judge feels that it is too “religious” for secular comfort.  

Light is a significant symbol during the Advent Season. Christ is the Light of the world. The people of Israel walking in darkness has seen a great light. This light has not only revealed itself, it has come to the people. The light is a coming glory, not a distant sight. It is a fulfilling prophecy, not just a fulfilled event in history. For the Advent is a remembrance of the light having come, the light has come, and a light that will be coming again. That is the significance of the Advent.

My friends, how are you celebrating the Advent season? When we carve our Turkeys, or budget our money for Christmas shopping, remember why we are doing it. When we give toys and distribute gifts to the needy, remember in whose Name we are doing it for. When we send Christmas and holiday greetings to friends and loved ones, remember the reason for the season. 

Christ has come. Christ will come again.


Happy New Year! 


THOUGHT: Santa Claus may have been said to come into our homes through our chimneys. Whatever gifts this bubbly fat man gives is temporal. Christ comes into our lives through our hearts. Whatever gifts the Son of God gives will last through all eternity.



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.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Before Your Shop.... Turn the T.A.P.

TITLE: BEFORE YOU SHOP . . . TURN THE T.A.P.
SCRIPTURE: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 29 November 2012

What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)

Typical Shopping Mall
(Photo Credit: blogto.com)
Shopping. For shopaholics, this is the time of the year to splurge. If one were to look into any shopping mall during this time, one will be hard-pressed to find evidence of a retail slump or an economic depression. There are sales galore and buying frenzy in many places. Why do we buy? What is the point of buying on impulse at a special sales? This week, I like to look at the way we shop, especially when we in the rich hemisphere already have our basic needs met.

A) Non-Stop Shopping

First there is Thanksgiving Thursday Shopping. Thanksgiving week has always been a crazy week. Down in the US, it is perhaps the busiest time of the year for families, for friends, and for retailers. With turkeys in high demand, prices rocket. Parking lots are full. Tempers flare easily amid the heavy human traffic. With the retail industry trying to maximize the holiday shopping, many staff work longer hours, and family time gets shortened as a result. In the rush to bring in the bucks, people are fast forgetting what Thanksgiving is all about.  I spoke to a cashier at the Fred Meyer till on Thanksgiving week, commenting about how hard it is to get a parking space that day. She said, that it will be like this from November to the end of the year.

Then, there is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Lines snake round the block outside big retailers like Walmart, Best Buy, Target, and others. This year, Black Friday shopping began early, 8pm on Thursday evening.

Yes. You got it. Some workers at Walmart even protested at the management's decision to let business eat into their own family hours. Whether we blame it on the economy, or the aggressive stance by the competition next door, Black Friday has creeped into Thanksgiving Thursday. Already, there has been several Youtube videos on fights, swearings, and pandemonium as shoppers trample over one another for stuff offered at steep discounts. A popular tweet by a Tweeter named "Sarcasm" on the day leading up to Black Friday says it all.
"Black friday: because only in America people trample each other for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have."

Third comes Cyber Monday. Retailers are going all out to rake in the profits, offering Black Friday like sales online. This online sales is a very attractive alternative for people who want to take advantage of big discounts, but refuse to join in the crazy crowds and long line ups.

Finally, here comes the big one: Christmas. It makes me wonder when will it all stop. Toward the end of November, it will be all Christmas mood, food, and continuous shopping. It makes me wonder, why are people shopping so frantically during this time of the year? Are they in the spirit of giving and sharing? Are they genuinely in lack? Or are they simply chasing after the Joneses?

B) What's After the Shopping Spree?

Psychologists have said that the period after Christmas is also a time where many people enter into depression. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, people has one single goal. Shop till you drop. Shop for the best deals. Shop for all kinds of reasons. If an alien from outer space is to land on a typical North American shopping mall, it will probably ask: "Is people living to shop?"

Is our culture encouraging us to live for the sake of shopping? Honestly, the evidence are all there. Turn on the TV or radio, you can watch or hear frequent commercials that are parading their latest wares at the craziest prices. Go onto the Internet and web advertisements come in the form of pop-ups, clever mouse-over flash views, or inserted links on webpages. Even our emails can be inundated with ads.

I know. Some women swear by shopping. They even call it "retail therapy." It helps take the stress out of the long day working in the office. There is some satisfaction when one has managed to find the best deal.

C) Is There More To Life Than Shopping?

The answer is a no-brainer. Of course there is life. My point is, how are we showing it? Do we really need more stuff? What's with the crazy spiral of upgrading our electronics and toys? Does the price justify the purchase of a fourth flat screen TV? Do we have a way to be wise with our purchases, or with our refusal to consume non-stop?

Several groups have started various initiatives against the crazy consumerism in the West. There is a "Buy Nothing Day" that advocates for a 24-hour hiatus on buying stuff. There is also "Buy Nothing Christmas." Their agenda is simple. Rebel against the consumeristic tendencies of our age, and to enable us to reflect on why we need to buy so much stuff? Even if we are to give stuff to people we know, are we buying them staff they already have? Or are we simply becoming pawns to the clever marketing and aggressive sales by the retailers. Honestly, retailers are becoming extremely creative with their marketing and sales.

Just take the Apple iPad for example. Since the launch of the iconic tablet on April 3rd, 2010, there has been four generations of iPad in the span of 30 months! That means, my wife's iPad 1 is already obsolete nearly four times over.

D) Living Beyond the Temporal

Paul's letter to the Corinthians is an exhortation to look for things that are eternal. Reminding the people that time is not only short, people also need to start living more urgently and intentionally. If one has a wife, live as if he has none. The NLT translates 1 Corinthians 7:30 as follows:
"Those who weep or who rejoice or who buy things should not be absorbed by their weeping or their joy or their possessions."

We must not be absorbed by our worldly activities so much that we forget about our heavenly duties. This begins by not becoming too possessive of our earthly things. The NIV translates the Greek word "me katechontes" as "not theirs to keep," a clear reference to not becoming bogged down by things, but be lifted up to see the things above. Paul confirms this in 1 Corinthians 7:31 by saying that this world we know is passing away. Perhaps, the thinking behind the consumer is that they can buy happiness with things.

"Residing at the core of the ideology of consumerism is the belief that personal happiness is advanced through the acquisition, consumption, and enjoyment of material possessions." (Anthony Selveggio, Seven Toxic Ideas Polluting Your Mind, P&R Publishing, 2011, 102)

If we approach life the way we shop and bargain for the best price, invariably, we let the consumerist tendency creep into Church. Heard of shopping for Church? Things cannot buy happiness. Yet, many people continue to buy into this deceptive practice. They turn the wants into needs. They turn wants into must-haves. In the pursuit of happiness, people forget that they hearts can never be filled by things or all kinds of stuff. Pascal reminds us again that we all have a God-shaped heart. This means that only God can satisfy.

E) Turn the T.A.P

What about Christians who shop passionately?

This one thing I know. If Christians passionate about shopping, can translate that shopping energy into living for God, there will be a spiritual revolution.

What about the one who skip your Bible study class because of a special sale downtown? What if a certain sale grabs your attention, making you move from a want to a must-buy? Let me provide three brief tips. I call this "Turn the TAP."
  • Tap: Is there a better investment of time?
  • Alternative: Is there a better way to use that cash? If I can save 20% from buying, what am I saving that 20% for?
  • Pray: Ask God if I really need it.

Turn the TAP. Maybe, instead of counting our savings and get distracted about something to buy, why not consider how much we have already been blessed? Jesus comes to earth not to buy, shop, and queue up for the best bargains. He comes to earth to give, give, and give, that we all may live. As you count your blessings, you will make your life count, to be a blessing.

THOUGHT: "The secret of happiness is to admire without desiring." (Francis H. Bradley)

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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, November 22, 2012

True Helping

TITLE: TRUE HELPING
SCRIPTURE: 2 Thessalonians 3:10
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 22 November 2012
For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” - 2 Thessalonians 3:10

You see a poor man begging on the road. What do you do? Do you stop to give a dollar or two? Or do you simply walk pass the man, complaining about them being lazy and unwilling to work? Or do you do something more?

Cycle of Poverty Plan Canada
Whenever I drive past Chinatown, images of poverty and unemployment populate the entire neighbourhood called the Down Town East Side (DTES), infamously called the poorest district of the entire West Coast of Canada. There is heavy police presence. Well-dressed individuals are hardly seen. It is common to see people lazing on the ground, straddling across the roads, without a care in the world about their own safety. The faces tell the same story. Helpless. Hapless. Hopeless.

Can the Christians do something about it? The spirit is willing but the plans are often terrible. 

It is a familiar cycle. It begins with a restlessness that the Church can do more. This is enthusiastically followed by a gathering of a few like-minded individuals. Exciting plans are laid out. Resources are sought out. Approval is obtained. Before long, the Church is on the way to doing something good for the poor and the needy. A neighbourhood Community Church is one example. Each Christmas, they will organize a collection of gifts for children and hungry families. With volunteers, they wrap the toys. They gather their children to do the same. They deliver them to families that have been identified as "poor and needy." Sometimes, they will even sing carols and mingle with the folks. The feeling is good. The mood is loving. It is all good. Pastor J is ecstatic and says to himself, "This is what true ministry is about."

A) Christmas Giving

The next year, it happens again. Christmas comes. Gifts are collected and wrapped. Carols are sweetly rendered. After the novelty starts to wane, Pastor J notices a reduction in volunteers and helpers. Finally, he receives one feedback:
"Pastor, we are tired of trying to help these people out. We have been bringing them things for several years now, but their situation never improves. They just sit there in the same situation year in and year out. Have you ever noticed that there are no men in the apartments when we deliver the toys? The residents are all unwed mothers who just keep having babies in order to collect bigger and bigger welfare checks. They don't deserve our help." (Steve Corbett, & Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts, Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2012, p63)
What has happened to the initial fanfare and excitement? Why are good people feeling tired from all the "good work" they have been doing? Why the change of mood? Simply put, no improvement or no progress is the single most discouraging factor for any ministry.

Call it charitable fatigue or helper exhaustion. The truth is, when we try to give people fishes instead of equipping them how to fish, we will be like digging holes of codependence. Give someone the first time, and they will appreciate it. Give them a second time, and they will anticipate it. Give a third time, and expectations will be formed. Give a fourth time, they will develop a sense of entitlement. Give five times and we will have created a codependence relationship where we are the powerful giver and they are the helpless receiver. This vicious cycle of helping is not only unhelpful, it is harmful.

B) The Biblical Example

Paul's reprimand to certain people in the Thessalonian Church is against idleness. It is not enough to say that one has faith. One needs to let that move toward action. It is not enough to say that we want to want. We need to put into action the plans we have. It is also not enough to say that we want to help. We need to do our homework on how best we can help, not just on our own terms, but what is the most helpful terms for the sake of the other person. The instruction is pretty universal. If a man will not work, he will not eat. We are what we invest in. The problem with some people is that they have a wrong sense of what faith means. Will pure prayer and fasting help an unemployed person? Will simply repeating words of faith do anything?

The problem with an idle man is not whether they are able to work. It is in their unwillingness to work, choosing instead to wait for the last days to take form, while they idle themselves. The Greek word "thelo" in 2 Thess 3:10 is the same verb used for the lame man at the pool of Bethsaida where Jesus asks, "Do you wish to get well?"

When a man is unwilling, questions need to be asked to rouse the man up from his sleep. The biggest problem among those of us who are poor and perpetually needy is the loss of dignity. This is especially so in a materialistic world where money talks, and where reputation flies. Rich people get all the attention. Poor people get none, apart from a passing condescending mention whenever one drives past the poor neighbourhood. Rich people can order people about while poor people gets pushed around. Rich people have materially plenty. Poor people are needy both materially and non-materially.

C) Working Hard or Hardly Working?

Don't get me wrong. I am not against prayer or fasting. I am also not saying that faith is unimportant. We need to be people of faith that is demonstrated through faithfulness with what we already have. If you have legs, walk. If you have eyes, see. If you have ears, hear. If you have hands, work! Honestly, sometimes the best advice one can give to an idle man is to rebuke him for any inaction. That said, it is also important to appreciate the circumstances behind each poor person. This calls for wisdom and discernment in any desire to help.
  • Are there physical weakness we do not know of?
  • Are they trapped in a system that abuses or prevents them from growth?
  • Are they able to walk on their own two feet now, or do they need temporary hand-holding?
  • ...
We need to balance affirmative action with grace. Many churches in North America are considered quite well to do. They contain a sizeable number of affluent individuals who are able to provide lots of material help. Just think of short-term mission trips. We see far more North American churches sending teams to the poorer nations than the other way around. Have we ever taken the time to consider the two questions and which reflects the reality better?

#1 - We help others based on what they truly need.
#2 - We help others based on what *WE THINK* they need.


D) True Help

True help begins when we learn to recognize our own brokenness first, before we can help others. It is because the world is broken, we see life being strewn about in broken pieces. There are people with emotional hurts. There are those with physical handicaps. There are also people who really try to find employment, but have been rejected over and over again. There are people who are victims of the system. There are the despondent and the depressed, the tired and the lonely, the down and out. Only when we develop the eyes of Jesus, can we attain a heart of compassion. Then, and only then, we will learn to let our brokenness, motivate us to reach out to others.

Tom is a well to do Christian. He goes to Church, has a nice house, a well-made car, and a cushy job. He too wants to do good. He even gives to charity regularly. Yet, he is always complaining about how the poor are not helping themselves. He is right, but also wrong. Right in the sense that there is no improvement in the poverty cycle. Wrong in trying to straitjacket poverty into one single problem. The truth is, poverty is an extremely complex problem. There is a different story behind each individual poor. There is a unique tale behind each beggar. Poverty never really gets resolved because far too many well-intentioned individuals fail to understand the complexity of the poverty world. Poverty alleviation is a very complex issue. It is not about doling out cash or gifts. It is about connecting their sense of brokenness with our own brokenness, like a beggar telling another beggar where to find food.

The community Church, Pastor J, Tom, and many people have good intentions. However, good intention alone is not enough. I will even call it Step 0. Step 1 is about recognizing our own brokenness.

As long as we fail to recognize our own brokenness, we will cause more harm than good in the long run. Let me offer a start. We can all pray. We can all read Scripture. We can all talk about helping. If you really want to start, true helping begins by knowing the person you are trying to help. Take time to talk. Take time to pray for that person. Take time to understand the story. This ability to "take time" must come from an important source: To recognize that we too are broken people. When this happens, we are ready to really help.

THOUGHT: "True helping is not about giving things away. True helping is about walking along with the needy in a way that is helpful for them, according to what they really need, not what we perceive their needs to be."

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, November 14, 2012

Praying Circles - A Birthday Reflection

TITLE: PRAYING CIRCLES - A BIRTHDAY REFLECTION
SCRIPTURE: Mark 11:17
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 14 November 2012

And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written: "'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it 'a den of robbers.'" (Mark 11:17)

What do people do on their birthdays?

For parents, they buy gifts for their children on their special days. For others, their loved ones will either cook them a lavish meal, or go for a nice dinner. Still there will be others who will do something to make it a really memorable time for the birthday person. Once a year, families all over the world will celebrate each other's birthdays. Of course, we do not forget that the most common thing to do on the special day for anyone is this, "Happy Birthday!"

In a social media age, technology has helped bridge the world of distance, bringing people together through quick and efficient connections online. Friends that we know from long time ago can easily locate us either through an Internet search, or through our other friends. With websites like Facebook, you may not need to comb past yearbooks just to remember one specific "long lost friend." Instead, all you need is one friend from that class, and there is a good chance that this friend will know our "long lost friend." Receiving birthday greetings is one way to begin the day. Due to the time differences, birthday greetings can start coming in from Asia almost a full day before North American time. It is quick. It is easy. It is one effective way to help us keep in touch. Yet, for all the technology and the efficiency, there is one thing that I do not like. Birthday greetings from machines.

A) Dehumanization in Process: Mechanized Greetings

For all the power and beauty of technology, robotic greetings still get on my nerves. Marketing calls in particular irritate me a lot, especially those that are made by machines.

"Hi. You have been selected for a special promotion. Press 1 for English, 2 for French, or 0 to speak with an operator."

Huh? Goodness gracious. If you do not even bother to invest in a human person to call me personally, how can you expect me to reciprocate? If you let a machine call me automatically, I will hang up on the machine automatically. It is that simple. A mechanized solutions is no way to cultivate personal connections. In fact, I think such use of technology is a sad act of dehumanizing people. For the sake of cutting costs and increasing efficiency of reach, people's feelings have become less important than selling goods.

I receive birthday greetings too from University computers or professional societies I am registered with. For all the nice words on the email letterhead, or the e-card, I cannot but feel being just a piece of data on the organizations database. As a programmer myself, I can think of algorithms in which I can create a spreadsheet of last names, first names, year, month, and day of birth. The information is then passed through a sorting software that spits out birthday greetings for the alumni or the member on their special day. Just program once, and the machine takes care of the rest. All year round, this machine will be the one saying "Happy Birthday!" to the birthday persons on their special day. No human person in the management, or the staff, needs to remember the details. It is the machine that remembers and takes actions. The human persons do not bother to remember, leaving an impersonal machine to give out an impersonal greeting to a real person.

For me, such greetings are meaningless. They are either ignored or deleted. Neil Postman warns that technology is never neutral. It either adds or subtracts. If we do not take time to reflect on its impact, chances are, we will lose more than we gain. Mechanized solutions, for all its efficiency and effectiveness, when it comes to human connections, it is a net loss.

B) One Year Older

I don't know about you. The older I get, the more I begin to think about my friends and loved ones. I more I start to ponder about what kind of a race am I running. The more I get to ask myself, what have I accomplished all these years. This retrospective mood is particularly strong on birthdays. When I am younger, I want to grow old faster. When I get older, I want to stay young longer. As I watch my kids grow up, I too begin to wonder what my next half of my life will be like.

In his book "Finishing Well," Bob Buford relates his experience with Tom Luce. When asked about what gives him most satisfaction in life, Luce gives two answers. The first is about building an institution that will bless others and outlast himself. The second is something more personal.
"The other thing that I feel good about, is the wonderful friendships I’ve developed over the years. God gave me the ability to be a good counselor, to put myself in the clients’ shoes, and that has led to many rewarding relationships.” (Tom Luce)
The older one gets, the more one becomes aware of the importance of relationships. This is something most of us know in our heads, but it takes time before it sinks through to our hearts.

Is there something more to life than making a living?

C) Praying Circles

While thinking about birthdays this week, I think of what I like to do on my own birthday. After receiving tonnes of birthday greetings on social media, I decide to turn the happy greetings into praying for my friends and loved ones. I think of Jesus who spends a great amount of time simply praying for people. So much so that when he sees merchants messing up the worship mood in the temple, he angrily overturns tables and scolds the people for turning God's House of Prayer into a den of robbers. A prayerful man recognizes immediately the things that make God unhappy.

The idea of praying for my friends on my birthday comes about when I pick up Mark Batterson's bestselling book "The Circle Maker" yesterday. In it, Batterson shares the story of a Jewish hero, Honi. About 2000 years ago, before Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem, Israel was experiencing a terrible drought. In that first century, the drought was poised to destroy an entire generation. When rain was plentiful, the people hardly thought about water needs. When rain became rare, people often thought and talked about it. As the people looked on in despair and hopelessness, Honi took on a new role. He prayed.

Taking a six foot staff, he drew a large circle around him. With heads bowed downward, and attention focused upward,  he cried out,

"Lord of the universe, I swear before Your great name that I will not move from this circle until You have shown mercy upon Your children." (quoted in Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, p10)

What made the prayer special is that it is filled with conviction and belief. It is a resolute act of defying the drought and expecting great things from heaven. Soon, there came a drizzle, which silenced the onlookers. Yet Honi was not satisfied. Standing within that circle, he called out for more.

The drizzle turned to droplets of rain. Yet, Honi remain resolute, determined not to budge from the circle. Droplets of rain became a torrential downpour. Still, the pious man remained in the circle. He wanted more.

"Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain of Your favor, blessing, and graciousness." (10)

The prayer warrior has showed his hand. He seeks not for the gifts but for the Giver. He asks not for mere showers for the land, but showers of blessings for the people he loves.

That is my prayer for my friends, my loved ones, and my readers. I pray that the Lord will send showers of blessings to you and your family. I pray that when you feel lost, the Lord will make you found. I pray that when you are sad, God will send joy and hope in His time. I pray that you will find fulfilment in things eternal, and place less faith in temporal things. I pray that your relationships will grow strong and healthy. Even if you may feel down or discouraged, I pray and believe that the Lord holds you in His good hands.

Each week, as we enter the Lord's presence in the House of Prayer, may it lead to us doing something more.  Overturn the tables of materialism, individualism, consumerism, and all kinds of mannerism that dehumanizes people. Turn toward God. Turn toward caring for people. Turn toward making our own hearts hospitable for God and for people God loves.

Let us open our hearts for the Lord to dwell within us. There is no greater joy than to have the Lord do just that. For us, for friends, and for loved ones. This will be what I will do for my birthday. I will pray for all my friends. This is my prayer for you.

THOUGHT: "Dream Big. Pray Hard. Think Long." (Mark Batterson)

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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, November 8, 2012

Elections Aftermath

TITLE: ELECTIONS AFTERMATH
SCRIPTURE: 1 Peter 3:13-16
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 8 November 2012

"Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." (1 Peter 3:3-6)

So Obama has won the US Elections. In a winner takes it all culture world, people draw battle lines. Winner gloat about their victories loudly. Losers resign to their defeat quietly. Anyone looking at the recent elections may be forgiven if they think that the US has only two colours: Red or Blue. One either votes for the Republican party (Red) or the Democratic party (Blue). Otherwise, one can simply choose not to vote at all. At the final count, even though Obama has taken 303 electoral votes over Romney's 206, one needs to remember that the number of votes are not an accurate reflection of popular vote. Take for example, the hotly contested state of Florida, where both candidates won nearly half the total votes cast, the margin of victory is only 0.56%. Yet, whoever wins, no matter how small the margin, the winner takes all 29 electoral votes of Florida. That is pure democracy at work, where majority wins.

Map of the US Elections 2012
Is Obama's win a win for America? The answers are mixed. The fact is, if there is any win for the people, Obama's administration has the next four years to demonstrate it.

A) Who Wins?

People in support of gay rights and marijuana legalization say that they win. The day following the hotly contested US elections, the front page headlines of newspapers in BC proudly flash out the victory of Obama as a win for marijuana and same-sex marriage activists. In Canada, Obama is extremely popular. Yet, on major news agencies, the capitalized words on the front pages are extremely optimistic of greater rights for gays, for marijuana use, and for human rights, as defined by these activists. It is quite easy to see how the news media portrays the choices of US Presidents as a reflection of their lifestyle choices. Simply put, people can do the correlation. Rightly or wrongly, the opinion points to:

  • A vote for Obama means a vote for pot, for same-sex marriage, and for more gay rights.
  • A vote for Romney means a vote against all the above.
Such a clear cut distinction only muddles the thinking of most people. Does this mean that Obama is a gay advocate or a pot champion? Does this necessarily say that Romney is attacking the rights of all gay groups? How then is a President going to deal with his calling to stand up for ALL groups? Every group has rights. Ever sector needs attention. Every individual needs to be respected as a citizen. A President is not just a president for any one activist group. He needs to serve ALL groups. So, what kind of a "victory" is this?

Canadians here in BC feel it is a win for them. Yet, for some Canadian businesses, a win for Obama represents greater competition from their neighbours. With British Columbia a neighbour to the US state of Washington, whatever happens down south has a direct implication for matters up North. With the legalization of marijuana in Washington, the Canadian customs are becoming more stringent to check for illegal importation of the drug into Canada from the US. BC drug pushers will feel threatened about the easy availability in Washington. With the legalization of same sex marriage, Vancouver's same-sex wedding industry is bracing for greater competition from Washington state.

A win for Obama is not necessarily a win for some businesses.

Yet, I am concerned. I am concerned not because I agree or disagree with whatever human rights in question. I am concerned about how the next generation is going to make wise and informed choices. I am concerned that the way adults fighting for rights for that generation, spill over to another generation that are not equipped to think as well as the present generation. In other words, simply on the basis of different eras, what is benefit to one generation is not necessarily be so to the next.

B) What About Responsibilities?

Is a win for more rights a win for the teaching of responsibilities? Not necessarily. We can all fight for rights, but with each right, there needs to be a corresponding rise in taking responsibility. Who is doing that?

A right to smoke marijuana requires responsible use, and a responsible teaching of the pros and cons, and how it impacts society at large. That is why cannibis, marijuana are drugs that are controlled. Any society that legalizes their use without a corresponding framework of teaching responsible use, is downright irresponsible. It is also harmful.

How can one curb addiction? Where are the helps and guidance with regards to responsible use? What can parents do when their kids bring home a bag of pot and start smoking them in their room, claiming that it is their "right" to smoke the drug? The logic they can say is, since the state allows it, why can't their parents allow it? The onus is on parents to teach responsibility. If society at large, and activist groups simply fight for rights for the pure sake of rights, ignoring all responsibility in the process, their actions will be deemed irresponsible.

C) Pray for Parents

For all the talk about greater human rights, I fear that society is becoming less family friendly. Society does a great job in highlighting the plight of the weak and marginalized, and for fighting for greater rights for all. For people who are passionate about rights, they often despise rules. They diss off laws that prevent them from doing what they want to do. They want to abandon the very structures that have stood the test of time, to provide them the very atmosphere of freedoms they have. My concern: are they are sawing off the very branch they are standing on?

I think of the Ten Commandments that have shaped the ethic of society in general.  With the hugely anti-religious sentiment nowadays in the West, just saying, "Thou shalt not steal," can trigger a straight rebuttal: "Don't you impose your religion on me?"

Huh?

Remember the talk about the silver spoon generation? Parents who struggle hard through the tough economic times to raise their kids, store up a form of character in themselves, an ethic of hard work and an appreciation for the right for human dignity. By removing the struggle and the challenges of hard work, their children grow up with a silver spoon, sometimes thinking that the world owes them a living, assuming rather than fighting for the sake of others. In the same way, people of one era who understands the issues, and fights for the rights based on their understanding of the pros and cons, are potentially offering pot and legalized drug to the next generation without guidance. That to me is not only dangerous but irresponsible. Education is key. In fact, I will argue that education needs to be all-rounded, not just from the gay-advocates, or from the pro-pot groups. Equal rights means equal rights for all, not just any one group. Just as education curriculums are tailored to promoting gay and lesbian rights, is there space for an alternative view? Is there a way in which parents of different opinions are able to teach their kids not to simply swallow lock, stock, and barrel, what their public school teachers tell them? Is there a place for people of religion to teach their kids in the public arena, just as the people of secularism are imposing their philosophies on our children? I am talking about equal rights, but the way the society is shaping up right now, shows that some groups have more rights than others.

Winners take it all?

If a win for Obama results in a general relaxation of a freedom of ethical rules in businesses, it is a defeat for a free and fair business environment. If a win for Obama means an unchallenged right to free and irresponsible use of marijuana, it is a defeat for social organizations who have suffered the brunt of the negative effects of drug addiction. If a win for Obama means the children in our culture have free and unrestricted access to all things drugs, sexual liberty, and a right to do whatever they please, it is a defeat for families struggling to cultivate greater responsibility and citizenship.

Character begins at home. Unfortunately, if there is a  rise in rights over responsibilities, and the elevation of individual rights over community matters, it is not a win. It is a loss for all, both the present as well as the next generation.

D) Our Hope in Christ

Pray for parents. Society is good at fighting for rights, but is utterly poor in promoting responsibility. Parents form the final frontier in the bringing up of good and responsible people in society. It cannot be based on simply fighting for rights for the sake of rights. Neither can it be fighting for the sake of fighting. It must be something else.

The Apostle Peter has this one goal. Hope in Christ. Anyone of us who wants to do good, needs to ask ourselves, "What is good?" Christians know that only God can define what is good. For those who refuse to acknowledge any god, they themselves are their own gods. Christians know what hope they have. Those who refuse any knowledge of God, base their hopes on other things, like narcissism, self-seeking motives, and all kinds of rights based on an undefined brand of secularism and pluralism. Our hope is in Christ. Their hope is in an eclectic mix of everybody wins, everybody has a right to their own opinions, and everyone has rights to everything they want.

Peter encourages us, that those who seek to do right, will be expected to suffer for doing right. It is to be expected. One more thing. Who wins? The jury is out there. Whatever happens in the next four years in America, or the world, we wait to see. Our present duty is to live well in the light of God's Word. We are to live responsibly and base our righteousness on the Word of God. We are not to be ashamed of the gospel. We cannot please the world. We cannot please all people. We can please God.

God wins. Eventually.

THOUGHT: "I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty." (John D. Rockefeller, Jr.)

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, October 30, 2012

How NOT to Choose a Church

TITLE: HOW NOT TO CHOOSE A CHURCH
SCRIPTURE: 1 Peter 1:22
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 30 October 2012

"Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart." (1 Peter 1:22)

Hopping around for a church to fit in? Church shopping? Well, this article is for you. This week, I like to highlight seven ways how NOT to choose a Church.

Hundreds, if not thousands of people church hop. I know of many who do so at various phases of their lives. Some move because of an unmet need in their own lives. Others move because of their children. Still, others move because they needed a break.

Fair enough. Church is not for the faint-hearted. There are legitimate reasons why people church hop. There are also strange and selfish reasons too. This is partly due to the consumer culture we have, as well as the freedom of choice. In such a culture, our own priorities increasingly trump community needs. When the "I" becomes bigger than the "you," or the "we," the decision to jump-ship on the basis of self-need is a no-brainer. Before I go on, let me offer a piece of advice. This is for those of us who are looking for a "perfect church" to go to. If you eventually find one, do NOT join it. Stay away. Keep it separate from your influence. For if you do, you will make it imperfect. If in doubt, check out Romans 3:23.

Such an advice will not go down well with those who are conceited and who have an overly high view of themselves. They may even accuse me of judgmentalism. Sigh. That's how life is. We have more problems of imperfect people trying to look perfect, thinking that the whole world owes them a living. I have been in Christian ministry for more than 27 years.  I have seen people shop for the perfect church, often seeing another church as "better suited" to their liking than their existing one.

Let me put together seven thoughts on how NOT to choose a Church.

Seven Tips on How NOT to Choose a Church

#1 - A Church that adopts the latest and the greatest new stuff

In our world of latest and the greatest technological gizmos, a higher version number of anything generally means a faster, better, and more improved version. From iPads to iPhones, from software version 1 to the next upgrade, whatever new and fresh almost always looks better. Most of the time, people who are attracted to the latest-and-the-greatest churches will tend to let the facade drives their decision making. Just because the Church uses the latest Powerpoint projector, or biggest sound system, does not necessarily mean it is better. Beware the danger of fascination with the idol of technology or the neo-ism (new things - ism).  Not all new things are good. Neither are all old things bad. If we can learn to see new things with old, tried and tested wisdom, and old things with a fresh perspective, it augers well for all generations, both young and old. If your reason for joining a church is on the basis of new stuff, the latest and the greatest, do not join them.  For if that is your criteria, all it takes is a brand new church next year to make you jump ship again.

Beware: If we choose a Church on the basis of the latest-and-the-greatest, remember that we will eventually become obsolete, as the church becomes a victim of its own focus.

#2 - The Church never talks about tradition or history

This flows from the first point. Some churches are so full and excited about new things that they totally ignore the historical past or the traditions that have stood the test of time. It is one thing to embrace the new, it is yet another to do so at the expense of the past. A church that forgets about its past is erasing its own sense of identity. I have seen young people who get easily tired about their old traditional churches, and leave for supposedly "greener" pastures. After a while, they too grow tired of their adopted church. Worse, they have lost the opportunity to learn the wisdom and the tradition that have faithfully given the Church its very identity.

The author George Santayana writes, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." We need to let history be our guide for the future. Without a firm foundation of the past, how can one even how how to think or plan for the future? If the church you are considering, NEVER talks about their story, their history, or the traditions of the faith, do not join it. They are fast losing their sense of identity. If you join them, you too may lose your own sense of identity.

Beware: A Church that never talks about its tradition or history is erasing its own sense of identity.

#3 - The Church never questions my views or values

In an individualistic society that is high on personal rights, it is common for society at large to accept that everyone has a right to their own views and opinions. This places the Church in a strange situation. On the one hand, individuals do have a right to their own opinion. What if they are wrong? What if the Church fails to speak out, just because they have to toe the line of "respecting" people's individual rights? Sometimes, people become so sensitive about comments on them that they are ready to go on the defensive everytime they find themselves questioned about anything. So everyone has a right to their own opinion, and no one dares to speak out. If you go to a Church that behaves exactly that way, that never ever question your behaviour, even when the behaviour is sinful and wrong, the Church is not living as the true Church.

Beware: The Church that never questions you even when you are wrong, is not standing up for the truth. 

#4 - The Church is entertaining (High Entertainment Value)

We live in an e-world. From TV to movies, from Internet apps to all kinds of social activities, entertainment is a way of life. Sometimes, we bring that expectation to church on Sundays. People come with expectations of a great worship time, a place honed for maximum experiential value, and of course, great sermons! I liken these things to spiritual steroids. They beef us up for a little while. After the effect wears off, like energy drinks, we become worn out after the kick factor is gone. If one chooses a Church on the basis of entertainment value, I will question what is the priority of the person attending church. Is worship for self or for God?

Beware: A Church that is focused on mere entertainment has misappropriated their resources and misdirected the focus that belongs to God.

#5 - The Church meets my needs (High in Meeting Needs)

Once, I heard a church member say this. "I'm leaving this church because this church does not meet my needs, or my family's needs."

I shudder when I hear that. What? Is Church about meeting your needs? Are you not bringing in a consumerist mindset into the church of God? What happens if the new church you are going to, no longer "meets" your need? Does it mean you will hop on to the next church? Where then is your sense of calling? You may say you have a right to have your needs met. What about your responsibilities as a church member?

Hey. In my years in Church, I cannot remember a time where the church fully meets my needs. That is not the purpose of church in the first place. If you want entertainment, turn on the TV. If you want babysitting, go get a babysitter. If you want good songs, hop onto to the Internet radio. Church is not for entertaining you. Church is us worshiping God. Together.

Beware: A Church that meets all needs is never sustainable. After all, Church is not about meeting needs. It is about letting God meet needs, and as God leads, through people like you and me. Church is not a hospital. It is a place for worship.

#6 - The Church that is open to all kinds of values

If one chooses a church simply because it puts openness above doctrinal truths, one may start to question whether it is a church or simply a spiritual club. In an age where many people espouses a form of spiritual-but-not-religious, it is tempting for churches to jump on the bandwagon of syncretism, where anything and everything goes. One reason why many people prefer spirituality instead of religion is because they do not want to be hemmed in any one view or religious position. They prefer an undefined idea of spirituality instead of a rigid persuasion of religion, so that they can be free to believe and to practise whatever they WANT to believe, without feeling judged by anyone, even God. The center of decision making is not truth. It is their own perception of truth.  If one does not stand for anything, one essentially stands for nothing. If the Church you are about to attend is open to all kind of values, think again. Churches like these are interested in numbers and a false sense of openness.

Beware: A Church that is totally open to everything stands for nothing.

#7 - The Church never challenges me, and requires very little from me.

It is easy to say nice things to one another, and feel like we are accepted. Did Jesus say nice things to all people he meets? Yes, he is compassionate. Yes, he is gentle. Yes, he speaks and shares lovingly with the poor, the weak, and the handicapped. Yet, he challenges the Pharisees, the Zealots, and the Sadduccees not to be hypocrites. He gives his disciples the challenge to love one another, to lay down their lives for each other, to deny themselves, take up the cross and to follow Jesus. He even tells Peter to brace himself for the worse.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer warns us of cheap grace.  Let me close by sharing an excerpt of his writings.
"Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting to-day for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks' wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, SCM Press, 1959, p43)

Beware: A Church that offers cheap grace, does not challenge people to move beyond their comfort zone, is not living out its calling to be the true Church of Jesus Christ.


If any of these seven reasons forms a big criteria in your choosing of a church, think again. For the sake of your family, think double. For the sake of yourself, think thrice. For the sake of the gospel, think.


sabbathwalk



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