Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Purpose of Church

TITLE: WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF CHURCH?
SCRIPTURE: Ephesians 3:10-11
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 29 Feb 2012
"His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Ephesians 3:10-11)

Main Point: Is your Church a hospital, a hotel, or herald of angels?

Many Christians go to Church on Sundays. Faithfully they attend, faithfully they give, and faithfully they stayed with the Church. For many Christians, Church on Sundays pretty much is their main source of fellowship with fellow believers. For the young, it means Bible stories, games, and fun activities. For the youths, it often means some level of serious Bible study before the main event: Sports! For the rest of the congregation, it is one full length Sunday service complete with psalms, Bible readings, sermons, and others. Is this what Church is all about? What about our modern era? I like to begin by asking which of these is true of your Church.

  1. Is your Church constantly clamouring for care, with people constantly wanting to be fed and need lots of attention? If the majority of your church are complaining about the lack of pastoral care, perhaps your church is running on 'HOSPITAL' mode.
  2. Is your Church more about maintaining a level of comfortable social gathering, where activities center around playing sports, social outings, buffets, BBQs, and food? If the majority of your Church functions like that, your church is running on 'HOTEL' mode.
  3. Is your Church actively looking out for opportunities to share the gospel, to be the mission post, the salt and light of the neighbourhood? Is the Church actively equipping members and friends to reach out and touch lives? If it is, your church is running on 'HERALDS of angels' mode.

This week, I want to look at the purpose of Church. I begin by asking whether the Church is some kind of a hospital for hurting people. Is it a place where people constantly cry out for their needs to be met? Is it where people feel that the leaders are largely ignoring their needs.

Or is the Church more like a hotel? Is it a place for people to enjoy connecting with one another like a business conference? Is it a place for people to have fun and fellowship all the time, delegating the other stuff like mission work, prayer, evangelism, and discipleship matters to the ragtag bunch of 'more spiritual people' to do? After all, some Church organizations have hired specific people to do their jobs, so why not simply let them? Let the ordinary member just eat, drink, and be merry. Let the more pious people, the elders, the pastors, the leaders, the trained, and the experienced handle the rest of the Great Commission?

A) What Is the Purpose of Church?

Church is for all. Unless every member wakes up to the responsibilities and the roles that they are in, they are not living up to the expectation of living stones for God. The WWII martyr for Christ, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says this about the purpose of Church.

"The church is the church only when it exists for others. To make a start, it should give away all its property to those in need.. . . . It must tell people of every calling what it means to live in Christ, to exist for others." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, NY: MacMillan, 1967, 282)

The passion of Bonhoeffer is clear. Church is not about us. It is about God, and church is a channel in which we glorify God. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul has this passion too. God intends his wisdom to flow 'through the church' outwards, to rulers, to authorities in the heavenly realms. The imagery is impressive.

How can the heavens see the glory of God on earth? Answer: When all of earth manifests God's glory. This means that the church is the primary engine in which the glory and wisdom of God is expressed. Mind you, it is more than evangelism and mission. It is all of our lives as a manifestation of God! This is the purpose of church.

During the times of the early Church, the members are persecuted and they come together largely to encourage one another. Times are really bad. The name 'Christian' is very unglamourous, and often used as a derogatory manner. Church for them is fellowshipping in their common suffering, and their persecuted identity in Christ. Through their persecution and suffering, their fervent practice of faith has glorified God and the gospel spreads far and wide.

What about the modern church? Let us look at how some Churches have turned into.

B) Church as Hospital

For the early Church, the gospel spreads vibrantly from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to many other parts of the world. Peter ministers to the Jews. Paul goes to the Gentiles. It is outward looking, and upward honouring. The Church in hospital mode tends to see too many of the unmet needs. Their self-seeking attitude has become so big that the general mood is this:

"How can our church help others when our needs are not met? Our members are hurting. Our people are needy. The pastor hardly visits. The elders seem to have their own busy schedules. Nobody cares for me!"

In hospital mode, the church is constantly on a 9-11 emergency call mode. An illness, a major accident, a sudden death, are all examples of emergencies that turn the church into a hospital. Others suffer job losses, marital problems, relationship woes, which also turn the church into counselling centers. While these are legitimate needs, it is a problem if these occupy the main concerns of church leadership. Such an attitude is too inward looking and outward lacking. After a while, caregivers get exhausted. Some becomes so discouraged at the continued level of give-and-give-and-give-some-more that they leave the church eventually.

C) Church as Hotel

Some Churches spend lots of money on their church building fund. After the mad and passionate plea for money, property, and building resources, after the work has been completed, the vibrancy dies down. Once the structures are built, people settle down, feeding themselves with frequent meals together. They meet to play more often than to pray. They plan social outings more often than designing opportunities to hang out with the neighbourhood. They take away parking spaces on Sundays and give nothing back to the neighbourhood. The Church in hotel mode is constantly consuming things for themselves, budgeting programs for themselves, and planning events for themselves. Such a mentality is narcissistic, inner-looking, and also outward lacking.

In hotel mode, Christians become fattened up so much that they eat more and more while the original cause of Christ becomes less and less prominent in their spiritual radar.

D) Church as Herald of Angels

Let me say an emphatic no to hospital-mode or hotel-mode kinds of church. In my opinion, the former is a counseling center, the latter a social club. None of these are true churches of Jesus Christ. The Church as a biblical model knows that it exists for the benefit of others.

Let us read through a few passionate quotes from some Christians from the past.

On the existence of the Church, the famous Oxford don, CS Lewis writes with conviction:
"The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose." (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, Harper Collins, 2001, p199)

The English missionary to China, James Hudson Taylor says:
"The Great Commission is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed."
One of my favourites is from the British cricketeer turned missionary to China, Charles T. Studd says:

"Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell." (CT Studd)

The very popular spiritual writer, Dallas Willard, even calls the ignorance of the mission of God, as the Great Ommission.

"The last command Jesus gave the church before he ascended to heaven was the Great Commission, the call for Christians to 'make disciples of all the nations.' But Christians have responded by making 'Christians,' not 'disciples.' This has been the church's Great Omission." (Dallas Willard, The Great Ommission, San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 2006)

Men like these are people I call 'heralds of angels.' Jesus says:

"The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few." (Matt 9:37)

In hospital mode, these words become: "The church is needful but the carers are few."
In hotel mode, these words become: "The food and fun are plentiful and the consumers are many."
In heralds of angels mode, people will turn Matthew 9:37 into a response: "Yes Lord. I will go."

What kind of mode is your Church? What are you doing about that? Perhaps, begin with prayer, just as Jesus has said:

"Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." (Matt 9:38)

Thought: "To know the will of God, we need an open Bible and an open map." (William Carey, missionary to India)

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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.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On Tolerance in a Pluralistic Society

TITLE: ON TOLERANCE IN A PLURALISTIC SOCIETY
SCRIPTURE: 1 Corinthians 1:25
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 22 Feb 2012

"For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength." (1 Cor 1:25)

A Popular World Perspective of Tolerance
Nowadays, tolerance is being marketed in society as a do-it-all word in a pluralistic, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious climate. Intolerance is increasingly unacceptable, and in many cases illegal. Some activists take the issue even farther. For every mention of 'intolerance,' even without the presence of real facts and evidences, people will be up in arms to claim solidarity with the marginalized, the weak, the poor, or the minority.

A) An Intolerant World

Recently, there is a rather sensational news report about a pregnancy care center in British Columbia. The center provides counsel for pregnant women in crisis. The reporting is a case of an intolerant one-sided reporting against a Christian-based organization that is against abortion. A news reporter disguised herself as pregnant, and acted as if she was lost about not knowing what to do with her baby. Despite signing a standard agreement of services that prohibit any recording material, this journalist recorded the entire session using a hidden camera. Not only was this reporter not pregnant, she broke several ethical principles just to make the whole crisis pregnancy center look bad in public eyes. The end result is a classic case of spin reporting where a less than 5 minutes comment about the dangers of abortion becomes highlighted as if the ENTIRE counsel is about the dangers of abortion.

Nothing was said about how the counselor tries to comfort the woman. Nothing was said about the honest desire to connect with the client. Nothing was said about the counselor trying to console, and to understand the predicament of the woman 'in distress.' Instead, the news zooms in on one small segment of the interview and make the small thing the main thing. Not only that, it spins this short phrase over and over again throughout the report, manipulating viewers to believe the interpretation of the news station. Fact is, this report has been conceived by a pro-choice group. The end result is sad. Apart from the negative publicity, the center has been 'punished' by schools that cut all links from this group. Just one biased reporting can unravel all the good the center has ever done.

Things typically happen in 3 steps. Do it once, and people will remain skeptical. Do it twice, and minds change. Do it three times, and people start believing. You can read more about the sting operation here.

This week, I will write about the climate of tolerance in our modern society. I will argue that true tolerance is not about retreating to a position of "You have your opinions, and I have mine, so let's agree to disagree." Instead, tolerance has three faces. Firstly, it is humble enough to attempt to understand the different positions reasonably. Secondly, it is that conviction to affirm one's faith resolutely. Thirdly, it is the courage to disagree with another person respectfully. Any deficiency in any of these faces will be a deficiency in our practice of tolerance.

B) Tolerance #1 - Understanding Different Views Reasonably

In a pluralistic society, there are people of different faiths. Even atheists who promote their secularism in an active manner, are being religious about it too. A recent radio interview with the famous atheist Richard Dawkins is a case in point. In an interview with a Rev Giles Fraser on radio, Dawkins disses the Christians by saying that the majority of them cannot claim to be Christians if they cannot even remember the first book of the New Testament. Here are his exact words:

"Many of them don’t go to church, don’t read the Bible, and an astonishing number couldn’t identify the first book in the New Testament." (Richard Dawkins)
In reply, Fraser asks Dawkins if he himself can remember the full title of Charles Darwin's seminal work on Darwinism, often championed by atheists in the origin of life. The reply is indeed embarassing for this self-professed champion of atheism.

“‘On The Origin Of Species’ … Uh. With, Oh God,” “On The Origin Of Species.’ There is a subtitle with respect to the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.” (Richard Dawkins)

This has become the talk of the town as Dawkins, the champion of atheism cannot even recall the full title of the book that made Darwism famous. Dawkins in dumbing down Christians as a whole, has made himself a laughing stock.

Bigotry or intolerance flow many ways. It is not enough to simply talk about it. We must all practise it. Though I disagree with Dawkins's many anti-Christian tirade, I feel that he has been given fair opportunity to present his views. What he is unfairly given is the literally free sphere of publicity and popularity just because he is an atheist. My question is, if the media regularly flaunts and paints Christians as 'intolerant,' why are they not giving fair representation to all parties? Why in the case of the CTV crisis pregnancy session, is the reporter breaking all the normal ethical principles just to gather a tiny bit of evidence and magnify the part to become the whole? Tolerance must occur from all parties. Tolerance means the recognition that all of us are guilty of intolerant behaviour. Even the atheists who attack Christians for imposing their faith, are often guilty of imposing their brand of secularism or atheism on the rest of society. Tolerance require us to give fair representation to all parties concerned.

C) Tolerance #2 - Affirming One's Faith Resolutely

Being tolerant does not mean we compromise our deeply held faith or values. If being tolerant simply means we stop becoming what we claim ourselves to be, it is no longer tolerant. It is hypocrisy. There is a way of being resolute about our faith without diminishing others. Recently, a student organization has been told to stop all campus activities after an unfortunate bulletin that appears to be intolerant and 'offensive.' As the complaints mount, as the media pounce on this unfortunate turn of events, it seems like the rest of society are seeking to exact more than a pound of flesh from the besieged student group. In cases like these, it is normal for people to retreat back into their shells or cocoons. I can imagine hearing the parents of students in the group to retreat and to simply hit their books. After all, Christianity is 'just a religion.' I can even hear prominent leaders trying to score political points by harping on the need for tolerance, while shooting down any accusations of intolerance. In times like these, it is easy for people to just live and let live, and to move back to a neutered position. Discouraged. Dejected. Disillusioned.

No. Every failure is but an opportunity to learn about seeking a better way to practice one's faith. There is no shame for apologizing for something not done properly. There is no shame in acknowledging humbly that we can do better. In fact, by standing up for what we believe, we will gain more respect and more credibility for our own positions. John Marks, even after abandoning his evangelical faith, continues to marvel at the convictions of his believing friends. He confesses with a surprising force of conviction.

"No force, neither political movements nor intellectual arguments, neither violence nor money, has ever been able to obliterate those beliefs. The refusal to surrender completely to reason, the choice to believe, doesn't prove the existence of God, as some claim. It's merely beautiful, the closest thing to a taste of the infinite in this life." (John Marks, Reasons to Believe, New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2009, 372-3)
If Christians are so easily discouraged, and distracted by accusations whether true or false, people will start to question their convictions. If Christians honestly believe, let them earnestly stand up for what they believe. Falling down is no shame. It is the failure to get up, or the refusal to stand up for what one believes in, that is downright embarrassing.


C) Tolerance #3 - Disagree Respectfully

We live in a world with different beliefs. There is no turning back. Even during the New Testament times, there is a plurality of beliefs. Look at Paul's letter to the Corinthians.

"Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Cor 1:20)

Everyone claims their right and opinion to the truth, but what is truth? Is tolerance simply based on one's own definition of what wisdom is? Is the free citation of particular scholars make one more credible? Is the wisdom of the world going to save the world? In a remarkable understanding of the world, Paul writes,

"Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength." (1 Cor 1:22-25)
 
Paul is able to understand the culture of his times. Jews are more sensitive to miraculous signs. The Greeks are more open to philosophies, and debates about ideas. It is good to be able to engage Greeks and Jews at their level. This is only the beginning. The Christian needs to learn the contexts in which they live in. There needs to be critical engagement with the world around us, because we are called to be the salt and light of the world. Remember that the greater our witness, the greater the resistance too. That does not mean Christians should start going around calling people names, or denigrating their religions. Christians need to engage actively but to always do so respectfully. One way to do that is to proclaim the faith of Christ. Let the Spirit convict the hearts of hearers that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. We do the sharing. Let God do the converting.

D) Truth is Primary; Tolerance is Secondary

One more thing. Tolerance must never be obtained at the expense of truth. Christians are called to truth claims. Tolerance must always be done in the name of truth.  We need to speak the truth in love. We need to proclaim the truth at all times. We are to be truth tellers, speaking in love, in earnest, and in honesty. Let me close with this wise words of a missionary regarding cross cultural work.

"Cross-cultural reality testing forces people to examine both their own and others’ understandings of reality. Most people simply assume that the way they look at things is the way things really are, and judge other cultures’ views of reality before understanding them. These judgments are based on ethnocentrism, which closes the door to further understanding and communication. Furthermore, ethnocentric judgments keep missionaries from examining their own beliefs and values to determine which of them are based on biblical foundations and which on their cultural beliefs.” (Paul G. Hiebert, R. Daniel Shaw, and Tite Tienou. Understanding Folk Religion. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999, p27)"


Thought: Conversation is our job. Conversion is God's.

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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, February 16, 2012

The Character of Leadership

TITLE: THE CHARACTER OF LEADERSHIP
SCRIPTURE: Ps 26:1
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 16 Feb 2012

"Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, And I have trusted in the LORD without wavering." (Ps 26:1, NAS)

For the past two weeks, I have been preaching on leadership matters in my Church. It has made me more aware of all things leadership. I read about it. I pray. I talk with friends. I pray. I write about it. I pray. One word stands out clear: Character. If there is one word to describe spiritual leadership, this is the word.

What is character? For Henry Blackaby, character essentially means people follow leaders and are influenced on the basis of their leaders' integrity. For that, there are two kinds of influences: illegitimate and legitimate.

A) Illegitimate Sources of Influences

Blackaby goes on to indicate three kinds of illegitimate sources of influence. Firstly, good leaders do not need to depend on a position to be authoritative. People who depend on their titles or the power associated with their titles are merely leading by position. Such a manner will lead followers to chase after positions for all the wrong reasons.

Secondly, power is another illegitimate source. In this world, we hear about money is power, and that money can make the world go round. Like the rich man paying money for a prostitute to sleep with him. One can buy sex but not love. Worse, the rich man loses respect for self because he has failed to respect the woman for who the woman is. Even in churches, there is that common concern about power struggles within the board and the clergy. When things do not go the way of either party, it is common to see each group garnering support in order to force a majority decision. The fact of life is that, majority decisions do not necessarily mean they are right. Just because more people voted for A does not mean A is ethically more correct.

The third illegitimate source of influence is personality. Nowadays, we see personality cults in all places, including churches and Christian groups. Hire a famous name, and we can see people queueing up every Sunday morning to enter the church. Get a charismatic speaker and the congregation grows by leaps and bounds. The fact remains is that spiritual leadership has got nothing to do with personality. It has more to do with Christ-like humility.

B) Legitimate Sources

Thankfully, Blackaby does not stop at just giving us the bad aspects of leadership. There is hope. He gives us 5 sources of legitimate leadership influences. First and foremost, it is God who chooses the leader. God chose Moses, Joshua, David, Deborah, and Jesus. God chose John Wesley, John Calvin, the disciples, and many others. Good spiritual leaders will recognize their being chosen by God.

Second, the spiritual leader will have that vibrant relationship with God. If anyone does not have that special intimate relationship with God, he/she cannot be a leader.

Third, a spiritual leader has character and integrity written all over him/her. I preached last week that 'what a person is doing when no one is looking is a test of his true character.' The story of Ted Haggard is a sad case. Haggard was once a prominent evangelical leader, and had many followers. Due to one hidden sin in which he solicited sex in private, while appearing pious in public led to his downfall.

Fourth, how a leader is can be seen from his/her past track records. Here, I want to caution anyone from merely looking at the results or the highlights of the person. Remember that all of us go through periods of ups and downs. Look at the trending. Are the ups and downs trending toward a greater and deeper trust in God? Look at how potential leaders handle their highs with humility? Notice how the leader manage their disappointments. It is ok to be disappointed from time to time, but if one remains in disappointment for a prolonged period of time, it is a red flag.

Fifth, how much is the potential leader preparing himself for leadership? Is the leader actively exercising his/her gifts and talents? Is the leader always telling the same old stories without any sign of himself or herself learning things new?

C) Leading From the Spirit

Spiritual leadership is not for the faint-hearted. It is definitely not for the fleshly-minded. Here, Oswald Sanders gives us a valuable contrast between natural and spiritual leadership.

[Adapted from Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1994, p29]

It is a helpful table to remind us the difference between self-dependence and God-dependent. Spiritual leadership is wholly dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to respond to the Spirit's work. Let me close with Sanders's powerful words about spiritual leadership.

"Spirituality is not easy to define, but you can tell when it is present. It is the fragrance of the garden of the Lord, the power to change the atmosphere around you, the influence that makes Christ real to others." (31)

Pray for your leaders. Pray for future leaders. Pray that your spiritual leaders will not lead from illegitimate sources of leadership, or natural skills only. Pray that they will lead with the Holy Spirit guiding them. For the spiritual leader himself is led by God first. Then and only then he can lead others spiritually.

THOUGHT: "The development of a strong Christian character is the development of a man after God's heart. Your character is who you are when no one is looking and what you are willing to stand for when someone is looking. Character is who you are striving to be and what you can be trusted with." (Henry Blackaby, The Man God Uses, Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 1999, p6)

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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.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Is Worry a Sin?

TITLE: IS WORRY A SIN?
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 6:24-25
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 8 Feb 2012

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? " (Matt 6:24-25)

This prickly question can be controversial. It invites all kinds of theological interpretations. It has the potential to split groups. On the one hand, there are those who insist that any forms of worry is sin. Some argue from the Bible that because Jesus calls his disciples not to worry, and if the disciples still worry themselves out, it is a sin (Matthew 6:24-25). This is based on the contexts of serving either God or Mammon. If one serves God, one will learn to trust God, and not be given into worry. If one serves Mammon, the pressure will be to perform and to accumulate to the level of our own expectations. Worry comes as a result of the lack of trust. That is why they say worry is a sin.

On the other hand, others reason that there are legitimate worries. For example, a mother worries for her son when he fails to return home at his usual time. It can also be a frantic brother outside a hospital operating room worrying about his sister after a bad car accident. Is it a sin to worry like that?

A brother in my discipleship group shares that biblically, worry is sin. What is important is to be sensitive to the underlying concerns that surround such worries. Another brother shares wisely about worry being more of an 'attitude' rather than an act. He also advocates distinguishing 'concern' from 'worry.'

Wise words. I am inclined to agree with both of my learned brothers in Christ. There is a lot of wisdom in that. Yet, the questions remain. Is worry really a sin? How do we know when is it 'concern' and when is it 'worry?' The problem continues.

As I think about it, one of the most important ways to determine whether something is sin or not, is to know the Scriptures. Here are some of the verses dealing with sin.
  • "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." (Ps 119:11)
  • "Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin." (John 8:34)
  • "Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness." (1 John 3:4)
It is the Word of the Lord that is the reference. Disobedience to it is a mark of sin. In other words, sin is not what we human beings argue out to be. Sin is defined by God in the Bible.

A) Sin in the Bible

The Bible deals with many different aspects of sin. There is no one concept that is nicely packaged for us to take home. I will draw out some aspects of sin from the Old and the New Testament. In the Old Testament, sin is basically disobedience to God, as evidenced in the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve intentionally ate the forbidden fruit. Then we have the intentional worshiping of idols by Israel through the ages. The Law of Moses are written to instruct Israel about what is sin and what is not. The book of Amos contains multiple references to the different acts of sin.

In the New Testament, we see how the devil tries to tempt Jesus to sin in the wilderness. There is the sin of Judas Iscariot, and subsequently in the Pauline epistles, Paul warns the church against false and deceptive teachings that blur the lines of what sin is. The Greek word for sin essentially means 'miss the mark.'

Our working model for determining what is sin can be described this way. Sin is that deviation from the divine path. It uses anything to manipulate, distract, deceive, and disrupt any person's path toward God. The nature of sin itself is to miss the mark, and in the process, cause anybody to miss their mark, to miss out on their original calling. William P. Young, author of the bestselling book, The Shack, calls sin as follows:

"Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside."

B) Worry as a Legitimate Human Emotion

Credit: CompleteSalesActionSystem
Let me try to reconstruct our understanding of worry in terms of a legitimate human emotion. Jesus in Matthew 6 realizes this as a typical human reaction to the problems and the struggles of this world. His remedy is simple: Do not look at the problem of what we ought to eat, what to drink, or what to wear. Instead, look at the certainties of God's providence.

Look at the birds of the air, and marvel at how God feeds them. Look at the flowers of the field, and take in the beauty of God's providence. A story was told of a man who happens to get everything that he wanted from the Lord.  He planted an olive sap. He asked God for rain, and God sent rain. He asked God for sunshine and God gave sunshine. He asked God to provide frost to firm up the leaves. God provided the frost. However, by the evening, the plant died.

In contrast, his friend planted a little tree about the same time. All he did was to pray to the Lord:

"Lord, whether, rain, sunshine, or frost, I do not want to bind your hands, but trust you to provide for this plant. Amen."

This friend's tree blossomed.

Through this story, it reminds us about who is actually trying to control life. Worry if it is an attempt to try to control events in this world, will lead us farther from God. Trusting God is a way that leads us away from sin.

C) Where There is Worry, Sin Abounds

It is quite hurtful to tell people that worry is a sin. Let me say that worry is a human emotion that we need to learn to manage with faith and with hope. Where there is worry, sin abounds. Sin will try to manipulate oneself into thinking one knows best, instead of God knows best.

Principle #1: Worry is not necessarily a sin, but where there is worry, sin is lurking very closeby.

It is one thing to worry and then forget all about it. It is yet another, to remain in a state of worry. It is in this state that sin wields its most powerful influence.

Principle #2: Worry becomes sin when it moves one away from God

When we try to take control, we are not trusting God. We are trusting anyone or anything other than God. Christians sometimes pay lip service to their faith. On the one hand they say they trust God. Yet, in their private moments, they worry themselves to death. Like the serpent that tricks Adam and Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. The evil thought that is planted in their heads causes them to question God's original command.  Their first result is to fear their own nakedness. This leads to the first murder where one brother killed the other out of envy. Cain's envy of Abel, leads him to take things into his own hands. Each act of sin moves people farther and farther from God.

If worry causes us to move away from God, that is sin.

Principle #3: Turn Worry Into a Journey Toward Contentment

For those who worry a lot, think of each worry in terms of an opportunity to trust God. Treat it as an invitation to start the journey toward a state of contentment. This is what Linda Dillow suggests. Learn to treat our anxieties and worries with a journey from control to contentment. Whenever things do not turn out her way, she worries a lot. Anxiety becomes depression soon after. It takes a friend to gently counsel her.
"Linda, you like control, and there are too many uncontrollables in your life."
Indeed. Worry is a sign that we are trying to control the uncontrollable. It is an attempt to wrest control from God. It is a stubborn retort that spits at God saying: "I know what is best."

When worry orientates itself away from God, it becomes sin. If worry is turned back toward God, and the person embarks on a journey from control to contentment, it becomes redemption.

D) Worry Little, Stop Quickly, Trust Fervently

It is ok to worry a little while. The important thing is not to remain in that condition. Worry is a result of our imperfect self, and it is not sensible to deny our basic expression of our emotions. It is a little bit like anger. We all do react angrily at matters of injustice. However, remaining in that state of anger for a prolonged period will breed harmful pride and destructive wrath. Righteous anger is acceptable. Jesus has been angry before at the merchants hawking goods outside the holy temple of prayer. It is normal for parents to worry about their children. The key is what happens AFTER the worry. Do we seek to grasp control for ourselves? Are we trying to claim we know best, more than God?

Each time we worry, take the 3-step process. First, let ourselves a little room to express our emotions either through sharing with a friend or loved one. Keep a leash on the time. Set a worry time if necessary.

Second, stop. When it is time to stop worrying, try to stop worrying. Pray. Meditate on the word.

Third, trust. Memorize key verses in the Bible that enables us to trust. Let me share three.


  • "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  • "And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. " (Romans 8:27-28)
  • "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 2:6-7)

As for me, whether worry is literally a sin or not is not something we need to argue about. What is important is to love the person who are in the state of worry. Do not condemn or downplay that person's concerns. It is what that worry leads to that we need to pay careful attention to.

Worry is not necessarily always sin. It can lead to sin. What matters is not to remain in the state of worry. Worry loves to feed on more worry. If needed, worry but limit the worry. Then stop and turn our eyes to God and trust God.

THOUGHT: "The temptation of the age is to look good without being good." (Brennan Manning)

sabbathwalk


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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Parents, Are You eReady?

TITLE: Parents, Are You eReady?
SCRIPTURE: Ephesians 6:4
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 1 Feb 2012
"Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4)
MAIN POINT: We raise teens in a Social Media world by first becoming eReady parents ourselves. A lack of understanding is a major cause of parents exasperating their children.

You have heard it all before. Statements that reference young people as being addicted to electronic games, computers, video gaming, and electronic gadgets. Now, we hear parents complaining about their teens getting hooked on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and so on. Adults say that the children are wasting time on the Internet. Teens argue saying that it is the way of life for them. Adults insist on doing some kind of monitoring of their children's activities online. Teens say that the Internet is part of their whole education process. Adults assert the problem of distractions in the new e-media. Teens rebut by saying they are able to multitask very effectively. It is a familiar pattern. Parents push. Teens push back.

(Credit: stylex.ca)
The Internet has changed the world. The bludgeoning world of social media is set to change the world even more. As Facebook prepares to launch its first initial public offering, pundits are betting on how much the value of the company will be. According to ComputerWorld, Facebook may be one of the largest IPO in the history of the American stock market. With an estimated 800 million user accounts, Facebook is the face of the Internet today. Even the traditional stronghold of emails is being threatened. One European technology company, Atos,  has even eliminated emails, in favour of the new media such as social media. After all, it is easier to locate friends on Facebook than to search Google for them. Like it or not, social media is here to stay. The question is: "What are the implications for our relationships?"

This week, I want to suggest five ways that parents can adopt to connect with their teenagers. Every effort to connect is an act of love. Every effort not to connect breeds distrust. For parents, understanding our children is a major first step toward connecting well.

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