Friday, July 27, 2012

On Tension and Humility


TITLE: ON TENSION & HUMILITY
SCRIPTURE: Ephesians 4:29
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 26 July 2012
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (Ephesians 4:29)

Serve One Another
(Credit: http://christians-in-recovery.org)
One of the biggest struggles Christians have is the ability (or inability) to hold two opposing views in tension. Whatever the issue, some see the right or wrong so clearly that they leave no room for alternate interpretation. The other extreme is equally true. Often triggered by a reaction to its opposing viewpoint, this view sees the same issue from the lens of Self-Importance. The sad state of many Christian discussion groups is that they have practiced a warped version of Ephesians 4:29. More often than not, instead of "building others up according to their needs," they are essentially puffing themselves up according to their pride.

A) When People Disagree

Few people are able to hold both views in tension, to boldly attempt to see both the pros and cons of both perspectives. Even fewer are able to wait patiently to see God's perspective not just on the issue, but our role in bridging the gap and loving people more than our own pet arguments. When the arguments are hot, this a gentle and forgiving attitude is hard to find. In the hurry to make our views known, we unwittingly put down our brother/sister's equally legitimate points. For example, after a politically correct "I know what you mean BUT,  ....." the rest is essentially parading one's convictions, one's opinions, and sometimes an entire treatise of one's philosophy or theology.


Perhaps, this is one of the flaws of any society that prides itself as being efficient and effective. Not getting a result or an answer by a certain set time seems more like failure. If time and tide waits for no man has a debate equivalent, it will be, "my time and my tide seems more important that other people's time and tide." Call it a disease of the individualistic society. Call it a self-seeking paradigm that is so pervasive in society. Call it selfishness that puts one's own interest above others.


B) The Opposite of Love


This week, I completed a review of a soon to be published book, "The Fruitful Wife." As a pastor, I deal with so many different kinds of people, that I am learning to be open to reading on materials that also concern my congregation. Even though that book has been written with the female gender in mind, I find the principles very applicable to all. In it, the author Hayley DiMarco asks: "What is the opposite of love?"


The answer is not hatred. Neither is it unlove. It is selfishness. In the book, DiMarco allocates a chapter each to the nine attributes of love in Galatians 5. The first fruit of the Spirit is love. In contrast, she mentions an equivalent fruit of the flesh to accompany the biblical nine. The first fruit of the flesh is this: Selfishness.

C) Selfishness: It's Much Nearer Than You Think

It's Much Nearer Than We Think
The premise of this is simple. Love is the foundation of the fruit of the Spirit. This foundation is not built upon the kingdom of self. It is upon Christ, who loves us so much that He gave, over and over again. Without love, 1 Corinthians 13 declares that we are nothing. Using the 1975 pop song by the Nazareth group, "Love Hurts," DiMarco affirms that love does hurt, in particular, ourselves. Her rationale is that love hurts ourselves first is because love demands we become lesser, and that others become greater. She writes:

"The truth is that love does hurt our selves, because love, if purely lived, strips us of all our self-interest, self-promotion, and self-protection." (23)

This is an important understanding. Some of us may dispute the literal opposite of love being selfishness. Yet, I think the essence of love is precisely this: That we see lesser of ourselves, and more of others. Pure love is desiring after the better interests of others, for others, and with others. There are ample biblical support for this. See the references below.

  • "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)
  • "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:4)
  • "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (Ephesians 4:29)
Note how Paul talks about our speaking to help others up rather than help ourselves first. See how we are urged to build others up and not puff ourselves up with self-knowledge and self-understanding. See how intent he is in meeting the needs of others, and not trumpet our own pet thoughts and selfish desires. Moreover, the other-centered practice of Christian spirituality is not something we can do on our own strength. We need God. Do you remember the texts prior to Jesus' call for us to love one another? Before there is John 15:17, there is John 15:5.


For the Lord Jesus has taught us:


"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
Perhaps, we can use a metaphor for our tendency to imagine things. Selfishness is like our side mirrors of our car. Objects typically are closer than what we see. We are more selfish than we think. The more selfish we are, the more difficult it is to go through a detoxification process.

D) Time With God

One of the most important marks of a Christian is how they are spending time. In fact, the quality of one's relationships with people, is heavily linked to the quality of one's relationship with God. Otherwise, we learn from all the wrong sources. We deceive ourselves. We behave badly. When that happens, we can easily become big-headed or prideful for our own good. That is when we need to release some intellectual puffiness under the cautionary, "Oops. I may be wrong." 


One more thing. Someone has said that humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less. In a way it is true, but it needs to go farther. John Dickson, in his excellent treatise on humility, has this wise words that we can learn from.


"Humility is the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself. More simply, you could say the humble person is marked by a willingness to hold power in service of others. " (John Dickson, Humilitas, Zondervan, 2011, 24)


Note the three things. We need to be willing to let go of our own selfishness. We then learn to use whatever we have for the benefit of others. That is essentially putting Ephesians 4:29 to practice.


Humility readies us to start looking toward seeking the better of others instead of self. It makes us realize that by ourselves, we are always tempted to look inward and become selfish. When living and interacting with others, we are disciplined to look outward and learn unselfishness. This is particularly important when it comes to time alone with ourselves. Are we using that time to walk with God, to sense what God is speaking to us? I tweeted a few days ago, that if someone claims to love God with all their hard, why are they then only spending time with God in their SPARE time? Have we consciously or unconsciously depended on our own strength for our own good? The evidence is telling. Pop up our schedules. Are they in line with our public proclamation of our priorities? Look back over the day. What is the first thing you do when you wake up? Who is the first person you greet? Have you given thanks?


THOUGHT: "The only humility that is really ours is not that which we try to show before God in prayer, but that which we carry with us in our daily conduct." (Andrew Murray)


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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.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Reel to Real Violence?

TITLE: REEL TO REAL VIOLENCE?
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 61:1
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 20 July 2012

"Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer." (Psalm 61:1)
Shock. Horrified. Grieved. Pained.

I wake up this morning stunned by terrible news of shooting at a cinema in Aurora just outside the city of Denver. As of today, 12 people are confirmed dead, and more than 70 have been injured.  Many of you will have read about the details and the horrors of seeing normal movie-goers becoming victims of guns and violence. There have even been reports of kids (including a 4-month old baby who was injured) being inside the cinema during the past midnight premiere of Batman: The Dark Night Rises.

I muse to myself. "It happened at schools. It happened at shopping malls. Now, it happened at cinemas. Is there anywhere safe now?"

The director of the movie, Christopher Nolan has even said the following:
"The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me."

He has described it well. I echo with thoughts of where on earth is safe.

The jury is out there with regards to why. As more official reports trickle in, the numbers may vary, but the images of horror have been etched painfully in the hearts of families, friends, and even the most distant observer. I think many have written far more eloquently about the case. Every time something like this happens, we think about pain and suffering, the meaning of life, and what matters most to us.


So, this week, instead of me writing some reflective piece, I want to just share the grief and the powerful reflections from two alumni reflections from Regent. One of the first reactions is a vigorous reaction against violence on reel matters. This is the view of Elizabeth S who shares a provocative study that links media culture to violence. 


"This is a controversial statement but in light of recent events, I feel the need to share. We need to stop ignoring the acts of violence that are occurring in our culture by simply responding with shock and sympathy and no action. Exposure to violent media is likely a contributing factor to increasing aggressive behaviors and violence in some children and teens. These children and teens grow-up to be adults. It would be naive to say that violent media is the single cause of violent acts. However, why would we want to support "entertainment" that could even potentially cause mass death to real people? Take some responsibility and stop supporting violent media or excusing the violence based on the fact that it is "just entertainment"!"


On a different note,  Sorina Higgins prefers to de-link the connection between reel life and real life. Instead, reel life is a way to tell the story of human life. Film has the power to dramatically inform us how evil violence is.  Faith is a powerful channel to help us make some sense out of art, of culture, and even violence. She makes it plain that the movie is not to be blamed. 

"it seems appropriate to reflect on a real-life incident in which art and violence have been flung together into a meaningless partnership that just screams for faith to make sense out of it." (Source: iambicadmonit)

I like in particular her take about our culture's unhealthy obsession with violence.

"If even one miniscule good thing comes out of this universe of horror, there is a chance that it might remove some of our unhealthy voyeurism-of-violence."

I agree, sister! Absolutely true.

I believe there will be more to come. Both Elizabeth's and Sorina's views need not be seen in contradiction of each other. No. They are simply honest reactions of how Elizabeth cherish the sanctity of human life, and how Sorina appreciates the place of beauty in film. When violence occurs, it shakes us up. It shakes our perspectives of life up. It shakes our closely held convictions about the goodness of people.

The violence at Aurora needs to be met with the highest level of condemnation. There needs to be stronger political will not just to curtail the easy availability of weapons. Yet, that alone is not enough. We need to expose the factors and any unwholesome environment. I feel that violence does not begin on a vacuum. In other words, there is always a reason. This is not the time and place to rationalize too much. This is not even the time to argue who is right or who is wrong. This is a time to pray.

The Psalmist begins with a simple plea. Hear my cry, O Lord. Listen to my prayer. It is a plea for God up high to hear us who are in the deepest grief and agony. The best thing to do in the light of such terrible violence is to pray. Reflect. Cry.

I pray that we heed Elizabeth's caution about the links between media and violence, to be more seriously pursued in the coming days through wise followup actions. I agree with Higgins that we need to let film paint the ugliness of violence in such a way that we will repel any thought about being a part of any forms of violence. Those are good thoughts. Those may even be necessary thoughts. For now, we need to put them as secondary steps. Our primary step is to grieve with those who are grieving. Mourn with those who are mourning. May our collective grief and mourning lead us to a collective awareness that we need God more and more.

Hear our cry, O Lord.

THOUGHT: "Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal." (unknown)

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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, July 12, 2012

Be Slow to Anger

TITLE: BE SLOW TO ANGER
SCRIPTURE: Proverbs 19:11
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 12 July 2012

"A man's discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook a transgression." (Proverbs 19:11, NAS)

This morning, as I was driving my daughter to work, I was about to make a left turn to the other lane. A white car sped toward me. Apparently, the driver was trying to beat the red light by speeding away. Seeing me making a turn, he rudely honks at me, as if he is saying, "Good grief! Can't you wait?"

Huh? Hello? Who is being impatient here?

Are we easily angered?
The incident left me thinking, at first, how impatient that driver was, and how hypocritical he had behaved. On second thought, I sensed an inner unhappiness within me.
  • "What an impatient driver? (Reflect: How about me?)
  • "Can't that driver wait?" (Reflect: What about me? Can't I wait too?)
  • "If only people drive with greater consideration?" (Reflect: Can consideration begin with you?)
  • Why am I feeling what I am feeling?
Ok. That man had driven dangerously. He had interrupted my morning peace. Having done that, what remained is my inner response. How I respond determines my capacity of becoming slow to anger. Indeed, some of my thoughts also include the wish that a policeman will flag down that driver to give him some demerit points.This week, I like to reflect on the words, "slow to anger."

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Turn the Other Cheek

TITLE: TURN THE OTHER CHEEK
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 5:38-39
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 5 July 2012

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38-39)
There is a story of an anchorite named Makarios (300-390). (Anchorites are people who have pledged to withdraw from the world and to live a life of devotion, to spend time in their religious beliefs). Before settling in the city of Sketis in the heartland of Egypt, he lived in a small village very much minding his own business. Being mild-mannered and eccentric, some villagers despised him. A virgin girl foolishly got pregnant by another man, and feared being found out by her parents. She also dreaded the public shame. Conveniently, she blamed Makarios. Without checking the facts, some men pounced upon Makarios and beat him up. The girl's parents said that the beating will not stop until Makarios agreed to marry the girl, and take care of the girl. Makarios, after humbly taking the blows, agreed and even started taking additional work in order to pay the bills. When the girl was due to give birth, she could not deliver the child. The labour went on for many days without much progress. Finally, the girl decided to confess, "I have slandered the anchorite. He is not to be blamed for my pregnancy. It is another young man. I have lied and accused the anchorite unjustly."

Upon her confession, the baby was delivered. Before the entire village could come to apologize to the anchorite, Makarios fled to Sketis, and went on to be a big catalyst in making Sketis "the place where God weighs the heart."

A) A Tit-For-Tat World

The story of Makarios is such a rare find nowadays. It is an amazing story of humility and self-deprecation. Who on earth practices that? We live in a tit-for-tat world. You punch me, I punch you back. You irritate me, I irritate you back. You write nasty Facebook comments on my page, I write even nastier notes.

The big bully the small, and the small bullies the weaker still. This world's modus operandi is, an-eye-for-an-eye, and a-tooth-for-a-tooth. In Chinese martial arts movies, it is common to find characters spreading violence from one generation to another. Some of these stories go beyond three generations. Murdering one generation leads to violence in the next generation, and the next, and the next. Many of these killings not only grow in intensity, they expand in brutality as well.

In our offices, how often have we played tit-for-tat with our competition? Whether we call it "turning the tables on them," or counter-attacking them, there is that element of revenge that remains strong, especially after a humiliating loss. Movies like Rambo show a strong revenge theme. Even Jaws manages to turn one from fear to anger, to long for the time where the evil Great White Shark will be killed once and for all. These movies play human emotions very well, cleverly riding the natural wave of a personal sense of justice via a vengeful heart.

B) Counter-Culture

Instead of playing to the common wisdom at that time, Jesus overturns the conventional thinking surrounding fairness. He says,

"But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:39)

Are you serious? Is it not right to hit back? Evil needs to be defeated, right?

Wrong. Jesus says it plain and simple. Do not resist the evil act. Now it is important to note that this "evil" is to be understood as an angry or unreasonable person, and not the devilish or satanic dark force like Darth Vader. It is like the way Ecclesiastes is talking about the "evil under the sun," where injustice reigns supreme, and where one's good works do not get reciprocated, while the idle gets a bountiful harvest. It is to be understood as an injustice done to us.

Unfair. Mistreated. Unjust act. Something we do not deserve.

That is not all. Jesus goes farther. Besides surrendering any desire to retaliate, Jesus tells us to turn the other side of us that is untouched to be hit as well! It is a double whammy! Not hitting back is one thing. Turning the other cheek? Isn't that stupid?

It is a tough instruction to obey, even though many Christians read this passage from time to time. It is so easy to quote this verse to one another when times are good, and when all is normally at peace. Until we are wrongly accused. Until someone slanders us. Until we are cheated or bullied into submission. Can we honestly practice turning the other cheek?

C) Resist Retaliation: Three Reasons

I reflect on how Adam and Eve become active players of the blame game in the Garden of Eden. When God asks Adam what happened, Adam blames Eve. When God asks Eve, Eve blames the serpent. On and on, the desire is to hide from truth, and to pass the buck. In reading Matthew 5:39, there are at least three reasons why Jesus urges one to refrain from retaliation, and the offer the other cheek. Firstly, it stops the cycle of evil and violence. In shouting situations, like between husbands and wives, sometimes raising voices can be extremely hurtful and harmful for the marriage. Husband raise his voice. Wife raises to the next higher level. Husband responds with an even louder tone. Wife tries to beat the husband with a sharper scream. In contrast, some marriage counselors have advocated speaking softer with each response to force a similar action. This not only signals the intent to reduce the tension, but also to create self-awareness on the other. Try that. When you speak softer at each level, see how your opposite responds.

Secondly, it reduces the ground for root formation. Every seed needs a fertile soil to grow. When the ground space is reduced, there will be less room for the seed to take root. Likewise, when one refrains from retaliation, there are fewer words the adversary can use to hit us back.


Thirdly, when we turn the other cheek, we are telling ourselves that we too are sinners. We have no right to take another person's life. We have no right to hurt another person. When Jesus died on the cross, He did not just die for me. He died for all. When we retaliate, we are also retaliating against a person that Jesus loves. When we turn the other cheek, we are also offering the person space to de-stress. It is an opportunity for us not just to save a friend, but to potentially save an enemy.

D) Radical Hospitality

Reading Henri Nouwen's thoughts about hospitality also gives me some idea about a fourth reason not to retaliate: Radical hospitality. Turning an enemy to a stranger, to a friend, and eventual restoration to God. Nouwen writes of hospitality as follows:

"Hospitality... means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place." (Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out)

Turning the other cheek is radical hospitality.  Recently, my name was implicated in an unfortunate email situation. It was a clear case of miscommunication by another person. For reasons unknown to me, the email began to take on a life of its own. Misunderstanding led to a bigger misunderstanding. Surprise turned to shock. Astonishment turned to anger. People were downright angry and upset.

One email can open the floodgates of negative emotions.

I prayed. I reflected. I thought about reasons to deny the allegations. Finally, reflecting on the life of Makarios, I thought the best thing for me is to apologize unreservedly. I had no desire to defend myself. I did not wish to make things worse. More importantly, I did not want to stumble a weaker brother or sister.

I apologized, simply because I acknowledge I am imperfect. Things could have been better communicated. I could have justified or denied each and every statement.

I chose not to hit back. I resisted the temptation to hit back, thereby halting any evil from taking root. I apologized, thereby turning the other cheek. I will apologize again, without wanting to justify myself, thereby preventing pride from growing in me.

I am no Makarios. I am simply a sinner saved by grace, and I will let my emails and my life be one of grace.

It takes a small heart to fight back. It takes a big heart to resist fighting back. It takes a spiritual heart to see every person from the eyes of God. Turn the other cheek is oft quoted, seldom practiced. Perhaps, you may want to start doing more of it, regularly.

THOUGHT: "It takes a strong person to say sorry, and an ever stronger person to forgive."


sabbathwalk

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

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