Friday, July 26, 2013

Man's Greatest Fear

TITLE: MAN'S GREATEST FEAR
SCRIPTURE: Genesis 1:27
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: July 26th, 2013
"So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." (Gen 1:27)

Real men?
(Photo Credit: Ben Rothstein/20C Fox/AP)
What do you mean by real men? If we were to buy what Hollywood is offering, real men tend to be those who spot a macho moustache like Tom Selleck; a muscle heavy body builder like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone; hairy-chested males like the star of Wolverine, Hugh Jackman; or the dashing superstar with a boyish look, Tom Cruise.  Maybe it is the Lone Ranger type individuals like James Bond,  who seems to be able to single-handedly defeat foes; or the sole heroes in Superman or Batman. Look at all of these examples carefully and one will be quick to notice how great looks and super-skills dominate the definition of the masculine hero. Maybe Cruise and Selleck are the famous "ladies' men," while Jackman, Schwarzenegger, and Stallone let their muscles do the talking. Are these the only real men in the world? Of course not.

A) What is "Male?"

If we press for an answer what precisely is masculinity, we will probably be challenged to go beyond the physical and the external. What then is masculinity? Biology classes will teach us that men are people who have both X and Y chromosomes in their genes. Genesis tells us that Adam was created first, and Eve then created out of Adam's rib. In Genesis 1:27, the word for male is "zakar" which Larry Crabb calls it "to leave a mark, to make an impact." Tying it back to the Triune Godhead, he points out that what makes a man a man, is how "he bears God's image" and impact the lives of people. A man is one who is weighty enough to make a difference in another person's life. This is different from "throwing one's weight" about, which refers to boastfulness and authoritarianism behaviours. Zakar is about influence. It is about living impactful lives in the Name of God.

Danger of People finding Fulfillment in Busyness of Work


If that is true, then man's greatest fear is essentially the opposite of Zakar. Crabb calls it "weightlessness." Rick Warren calls it the lack of purpose. I call it the loss of self-identity. When we fail to know who we are, what we are created to be, and the purpose of living, we will tend to doubt ourselves. For males, they tend to be people who adopt the mantra: "I do, therefore I am." A major problem is this: When people let their work and their accomplishments define their identity, when the flow of work and accomplishments end, there goes their identity.

B) Problem: Lack of Self-Identity

If the workaholic finds his self-identity being dissolved in his work, the other extreme happens to be those who loses their self-identity simply because they do not have any work. Living in Vancouver, I have met many immigrants from Asia, and one of the common observations is that the men tend to do worse than the women. One person stays home while the wife becomes the main breadwinner. Another volunteers part time while depending on handouts from the government. Some force themselves to take up entry level jobs despite them having top qualifications and solid work experience in their home countries. Some decide to cut their losses and head back to Asia to find work. A number of people who linger on go into depression. Those who survive the first five years testify to how tough it is to find work, meaning, and self-identity.

When one's self-identity is challenged, it affects one's self-esteem, the family, as well as overall perspective of life. How then do we regain our sense of purpose and of identity? We go back to the source: Our creator. For if God is the one who has created us, surely He knows who we are and what we are created for. This is the critical starting point of life, failing which men will fall head long toward more and more "weightlessness." Work or the lack of work thereof cannot be allowed to define who we are. Both leads to one or more of Crabb's "weightless men."

C) Three Types of "Weightless Men"

Crabb, in his latest book highlights three types of weightless men:
  1. The Shallow Man
  2. The Secularized Man
  3. The Spiritually Addicted Man
The Shallow Man is one of indifference, preferring shallow comfort instead of meaningful struggle. The Secularized Man tries to live a life that is independent of God. What is most intriguing in Crabb's list is the "The Spiritually Addicted Man," who are confused about their sense of priorities, getting a wrong sense of their deepest needs, and thirst for things temporal and easy.    

"Spiritually Addicted Men display power over people through whatever resources they have that win respect and admiration" (Larry Crabb, Fully Alive, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, p123)
Weightlessness will cause men to fall into one or more of the three categories.  The common symptoms are: not knowing what to do; unsure of oneself; inability to make any difference, thus the indifference; total lack of purpose in life; no relationship with God. Looking at Genesis 1:27, one cannot help but notice the important need to get back with God to God's original plan. When God made man as "zakar," there is purpose and there is a divine self-identity. Man is created to make a difference.

D) Masculinity of The Fourth Kind

Thankfully, there is a fourth category that Crabb is arguing for: The "Sincerely Struggling Man." Such a person will recognize one's limitations, embrace one's weaknesses, and ready to throw himself at the feet of Jesus to ask for help. He knows how formidable sin is, and as he tries his best to be holy, he will often fall and fail. He will however not give up trying. He is broken inside but hopeful that God will heal him from the inside out. He may fail on the outside, but he knows that what matters is not how the world sees him, but how God sees him. He may continue to struggle and the trials will seem to storm unabated, but he knows who holds the future for him. He knows the need to exercise faith. He is both realistic and optimistic, knowing that both needs to be centered on the Person of Christ. Realistic like Jesus who willingly risks his own life for the greater cause. Optimistic like Jesus because far greater than the greater cause is the perfect promise of God.

What makes a man a man is one who will not quit on the eternal hope and promise. Like Billy Graham, who states with conviction about hanging on to God's promises.

"God takes the weak and makes them strong.
He takes the vile and makes them clean.
He takes the worthless and makes them worthwhile.
He takes the sinful and makes them sinless." (Billy Graham)

It is this promise that ought to energize men of God. It is the promise that is incarnated in the Person of Christ. This promise is fulfilled in the death of Christ. This promise will continue to be resurrected when Christ comes again. One more thing. Remember the word "zakar" for "male?" Christians who do not know what to do with their lives, ought to consider seriously their role with regards to gospel living. Carry the good news. Spread the message of Christ far and wide. Talk about Jesus. Brave through the skepticisms and criticisms. Be sure of one's faith. Be so focused on Christ, that nothing can deter us from testifying. Can we dare ourselves to offer our utmost for God? Once we start living more and more for things eternal, and less and less of things temporal, we are on our way to a great run for God. Counter man's greatest fear of weightlessness, but hanging on to what CS Lewis calls: "The Weight of Glory" in Christ. History is full of people who in spite of their weaknesses make a difference for God. Think of Augustine's Confessions, whose classic book of the same name has warmed the hearts of thousands. Think of King David's honest psalms, that have guided the prayers of millions of Jews, Christians, and others. Think of the brave prophets in the Bible, and the men of faith in Hebrews 11.

If you think you cannot make a difference, you are probably right. What we need is to do all things through Christ who strengthens us. That is the basis of weightful living.

The world has yet to see what God can do in and through and for and by a man whose heart is totally His. I will do my utmost to be that man.” (D.L. Moody)


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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. Note that views expressed are personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

One Flesh: Three Forms of I-Love-You's

TITLE: ONE FLESH, THREE FORMS OF I-LOVE-YOU's
SCRIPTURE: Genesis 2:23-25
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: July 20th, 2013

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. (Gen 2:23-25)

KEY IDEA: Marriage is not about me or you. Neither is it about my needs or my spouse's needs. It is about how a couple is together in all things, working to build their marriage for the glory of God. This is done out of the truth of two persons becoming one flesh.

"You never listen!" screamed the woman.

"You don't understand me!" the man reacted.

The married couple stormed out of the restaurant.  A dinner that began nicely had ended abruptly and angrily. Both had their points of view. Both persons made their cases. Both persons thought they were correct. As the couple leaves the restaurant, I cannot help but wonder how on earth are they going to resolve their dispute, if ever that is going to happen? In a relationship, must it always be a case where one person is right and the other is wrong? When communications break down, where do they go to?

Thinking from the perspective of the woman, she will be craving a listening ear and at the same time fuming why she cannot find that her husband can listen better. In a spate of anger, she has summed up her frustrations about the relationship in three words: "You never listen." Is it really true that anyone "never" listens? Probably not. The woman's words mainly reveal the gradual deterioration of the marriage. Maybe she is right. The man she loves has taken her for granted. She calls up her girlfriend to chat. After all, whenever she has marital problems, she knows there is a friend she can confide in.

Tom wonders why his wife had not taken the time to show him the respect that he deserves. After all, he works hard for the family, and brings in the money to pay the monthly expenses. He even gives her a monthly allowance. After all these efforts, the least she can do is to give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps, she has taken him for granted. This time, things have gone a little to far. He feels disrespected, misunderstood, and lonely. Thinking that he has no one else to turn to in his frustration, he picks up his cell phone, ready to dial the number of the one who has been giving him tender loving attention: His personal assistant, Phoebe. For if Rebecca is not willing to listen and to give him attention, Tom can easily find another person who will.

Who is right or who is wrong? Maybe, both are wrong.

That is my position too. For whenever there is a communications breakdown, both parties are at fault. Even a 10% fault makes one at fault. The arguments may have been correct from the respective persons, but both need to be responsible for the communications process. Just like finding the right cable to connect the electrical device to the power source. If the connector is wrong, or if the connections do not fit, there will be no power for the device. Just like square pegs in round holes, without the proper cables, all of our electronic or electrical devices are practically useless, especially when the battery runs out. When the communications break down, unless both parties make amends, the breakdown remains.

A) The Binary Mindset

One of the common problems in a marriage relationship is the binary mindset whenever there is a dispute. Take the couple for example. When there is a problem, our human nature makes us take the stand that “I am Right and You are Wrong.” Imagine if both parties assert their rights, and refuse to admit that they are wrong. It can lead to an impasse where both sides will not budge. Each feels that they have given in a lot already. Why then should they give in any further?

A binary mindset sees life in black and white. If you are not white, you must be black. If you don’t support my decision, you are against me. There is very little room to see that the world has not just whites or blacks, there are also Asians, Hispanics, Middle-Easterns, Eurasians, East Europeans, and so on. Likewise, there are many different reasons for supporting or not supporting any decisions. Maybe more information is needed. Perhaps, abstention is best in the light of doubt on both positions. Maybe, the decision needs to be delayed.

A binary mindset turns a colourful world very much into black and white. There is not much maturity in understanding the world of relationships. An immature relationship will coat life only with brushes of black and white paint. Here are some examples of a binary mindset.
  • If you don’t buy this toy for me, it means you don’t love me.
  • If you don’t like eating hamburgers, it means you hate fast food.
  • If you don’t say you love me, that means you don’t love me!
  • If you don't see my point of view, you are not interested in what I think.
  • ...
Our love for our spouses is not a matter of buying stuff or not buying stuff. Neither is it about saying things according to the whims and fancies of the other person. We can remain faithful and loving even when we do not bow down to the personal preferences of our spouses. A black-and-white mindset will refuse to entertain a third point of view. It discards alternatives. For such a mindset, the only acceptable thinking is the I-am-Right-You-are-Wrong mentality. The question is: Why must it always be one person is right and the other wrong?

B) Both are Right?

Agreeing to Disagree Again?
(Credit: 1000Fights.com)
What if both persons think that both of them are right? They are then free to be entrenched in their positions, thinking that it is ok to agree to disagree. Perhaps, Tom and Rebecca are both right in their opinions. Perhaps they have already made their own conclusions. Blame it on the circumstances. Blame it on the restaurant ambiance. Blame it on the dog or the colour of the carpet! As long as their own views are preserved, they are willing to accept that all are correct, only different. While it can relieve the tension, I think it does not go far enough in bringing a sense of two persons becoming one in marriage. Without an agreed set of standards, each will set his or her own standards. Tom feels he is a good husband because he brings in the income. Rebecca believes that she is a good wife because she keeps the house clean. Without any desire to understand the other person, each stands their ground, insisting that they have done their best in their marriage. Two problems arise out of this attitude  The first is, when pride is involved, it is easy to insist both are right, even when both are equally wrong. The second is this: There is no oneness. 

C) One Flesh: What It Means

In Genesis, we read of how the first marriage relationship is formed.
The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. (Gen 2:23-25)
What makes any marriage unique is the union. This union is not just a physical union, but a holistic union. God creates man and woman. God blesses the marriage of one man and one woman. Both are united in the flesh, of two becoming one. That is the direction and purpose of marriage. That brings glory to God.

In that marriage, both are free to share of their deepest thoughts and feelings without shame, without fear, and without embarrassment. The man can feel free to share of himself without fear of negative repercussions. The wife can talk about her feelings totally trusting that the husband will honour her and protect her. When both are one flesh, both will know that whatever things they share or feedback to each other heal, help, or hurt BOTH OF THEM. That is what is meant by united in the flesh. In marriage, one is united physically, mentally, and spiritually.

This oneness is critical in marriages. The key reason why marriages break up is because there is no oneness. In fact, this is one of the major modern problems in marriage. Simply put, this dilemma is: “How can a husband and wife become one and yet retain their individual distinctivenesses?”

As long as we insist in our own way, any tiff, dispute, or argument, will spiral dangerously away toward a breakup, and quite possibly a divorce. When there is no oneness, there will be a broken marriage.

Marriage is a commitment to each other, not just oneself. Neither is it a sole commitment to please our spouses. Marriage is the union of two persons becoming one flesh. In this union, there is a shift of pronoun from I or You to WE. This is seen from the perspective of the married couple, and not our individual selves. The standard vocabulary that needs to be used often in any marriage are “we,” “our,” “together,” “ourselves,” and “us.”

A lot of research has gone into studying the reasons behind rising number of divorces in contemporary times. More than 100 years ago, only 10% of marriages ended in divorce. Now, it hovers around 50% at least! Marriage counselors Jack and Judith Balswick place a finger on “expectations” observing that fewer expectations lead to fewer divorces. As more men and women, husbands and wives become more highly educated, having more experiences and technical knowledge in worldly matters, they unwittingly apply the same set of expectations on their marital relationships. Spouses who have spent the whole day trying to meet customer demands and expectations return back to the home, hoping to be recharged and renewed by having their own spouse meet their demands and expectations. By bringing in work expectations home, they squeeze their marriage into the office mold, thinking that their spouses are the means to their own ends. That is the wrong way to see marriage. For marriage is plural, not singular people. Marriage is about two becoming one, not two becoming two persons or two opinions. 

D) Both Wrong: Three Practical “I-Love-You”s

Perhaps, whenever there is a conflict or dispute, the better approach lies in recognizing both persons are wrong in some way. Do not behave like a perfect person being right all the time. A marriage is two persons trying to do the right thing TOGETHER. It is about coming back to a fresh union every day. In a dispute, press the marital RESET button through three practical forms of I-Love-You.

The first is: “I Am Sorry.” Whether we have the right thinking or idea is not important. The important thing is that the communications for some reason have failed. If Tom never listens, maybe Rebecca has chosen the wrong time to share of herself. Maybe, Rebecca needs to apologize for not recognizing the needs of her husband. Likewise, Tom can apologize for having a bad day and for being in a foul mood. Admit that they are wrong. These three words defuse lots of tension. It reminds us that everytime we point a finger at another person, several fingers are pointing back at us!

The second is: “Please Forgive Me.” Admitting one is wrong does not go far enough. One needs to seek genuine forgiveness. Give the spouse the benefit of the doubt. Allow one to sober up and seek the forgiveness of the other in humility and in recognition that we ourselves may not have been the best part of ourselves that day. Admitting we are wrong must be supported by a desire to seek forgiveness. This is what oneness is all about. Refusing to be one with our spouses means we are just happy saying we are sorry. For saying sorry without a seeking of forgiveness from the other is not union at all.

Finally, in working through any arguments, disputes, or marital conflicts, there is a third and most important step: “Let’s Try Again.” Note that the first two phrases have more to do with the individual. The first is about admitting one is wrong. The second is to ask the other to forgive one person. It is the third that prepares the marriage to grow again. The third one is no longer about “I” or “me.” It is about US. Trying again together as a couple stems from the unique recognition that both persons have a common interest to make the marriage work. Without this third step, any reconciliation is not complete.


When all things fail, try and try again. What does it mean to be one flesh? Let me close with the following thoughts by Jack and Judith Balswick about "differentiated unity" on how two individuals can become one over and over again.

"We have a separate identity in Christ.
We have high regard for self, spouse, and the relationship.
We seek God-validation as opposed to self- or spousal-validation.
We express ourselves as honestly and directly.
We earnestly listen to and take each other seriously.
We choose interdependency rather than dependency or independency." (Jack and Judith Balswick, A Model for Marriage, Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006, 106)

THOUGHT: "Simply put, trinitarian theology conceptualizes God as three in one, a unity of three distinct divine persons in relationship. In like manner, a social scientific understanding of marriage is seen as a unity formed by tow distinctly differentiated spouse. We contend that God has created us to be in a mutually reciprocating relationship as two unique selves in relation to God and to each other." (Jack and Judith Balswick)

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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 inquiries. Note that views expressed are personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization.

Friday, July 12, 2013

When Bad News Happens

TITLE: WHEN BAD NEWS HAPPENS
SCRIPTURE: Job 1:13-19
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: July 12th, 2013

13One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” 16While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” 17While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” 18While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” (Job 1:13-19)
It has been said that no news is good news. It remains true to this day. Just over the past week, there is news of an aircraft that crashed in a failed landing at the San Francisco airport. Two young high school students died. Over in Singapore, I read about the case of two persons who died in a tragic hit and run incident. Two men, father and son died. Hardly a day goes by without the news media reporting about an accident, a tragedy, a war, or some negative headline. Even within my personal circle of friends, I hear people who experience failures in tests, discouraging job searches, as well as terrible medical results. I also read about people whose children decides to take their own lives. Recently, I hear of someone having an advanced form of cancer! My heart breaks. Call it a bitter pill to swallow or a tragedy. Whatever it is, bad news like any of the above is gut wrenching.

Grieving parents of the deceased on Asiana Airlines Crash
(Photo Credit: news.com.au)
My heart goes out to the parents of the two young teenagers who must be wondering right now, why their girls are not among the 305 survivors. They may be asking, why them? Why of all people must they be the ones receiving such bad news? Why of all the girls in the world, it has to be their own flesh and blood who perished? Why on earth must it be Asiana Airlines Flight 214, exactly on July 6th, 2013 that had to crash? There are way too many unanswered questions, and too few answers. The grief is hard to bear. When bad news happens, there are no words to describe the anguish and despair. Only pain, suffering, and lots of tears.

What do we do when bad news happens?

A) First Person Response: Why me?

This is perhaps the most famous question to any form of bad news. The superstitious may start blaming on not responding better to bad omens prior to the tragedy. Maybe they have failed to make amends for their deeds. Maybe, their past has come back to haunt them. Maybe, there is someone who is out to make their lives miserable. The Chinese has a word called (dao mei, 倒霉) which is essentially "bad luck" or "cursed." For those who believe in reincarnation, they will easily blame it on the evils they have done in their past life. Christians of course do not believe in this cycle of births and rebirths, and will be forced to deal with the aftermath in the present and the future. Even among Christians, the two word response is common. For many, the question goes much deeper. Adam Hamilton shares about a man who lost everything during the 2008 recession.

Why is God punishing me? I prayed. I gave to the church. I volunteered to serve others. And I lost everything! I just want to know what I did that was so bad that God would do this to me?” (Adam Hamilton, Why, Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2011, p2)

Such thinking reflects a commonly held belief that as long as one does good, nothing bad will come. As long as one does evil, nothing good will happen. That is why for people who receives bad news even when they have done a lot of good, it is a bitter pill to swallow and a confusing puzzle to solve. Worse, when they see "bad people" receiving all the good, or simply being lucky, their bitterness increases, lamenting life is not fair. The philosophy of good guys win and bad guys lose does not truly reflect reality of life.

B) Second Person Response: Why not other people?

Each time someone asks "Why me" there is another related question, "Why not others?" It is a cry for fairness. Sometimes, it is a little easier to accept that one's loved one is not the exception but among the norm. Safety in numbers. At least, if there are other fatalities, one will not feel so bad or alone. Like the case of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting tragedy, there are other affected parents who can find comfort and solace with fellow parents who have lost a child to the evil shootings. Better to feel among the grieving than to be alone in the mourning. Imagine how a parent will feel if their child is the "only" one who died, while everyone else survived? Such a parent will very well be asking beyond "Why me?" to ponder about "Why not others?"

This issue of fairness and justice is part of the human psyche to want to be treated equally and fairly. The truth is, this world is never fair in the first place. If one is born in a poor region, one grows up poor. If one is born with a silver spoon, one grows up privileged. If one is born with a handicapped, one is doomed to live with that disability for the rest of his/her life. Is that fair? The movie "Final Destination" is a horror flick that talks about how death stalks a person again and again. Once a victim has been identified by a "Death Force," even if the victim is able to avoid the death trap a couple of times, eventually, the victim dies. People who have experienced more than one setbacks in their lives will feel that they are the ones that have been stalked by "bad luck" or evil. Sometimes, our yearnings for fairness can also have a negative dimension. If positive means everyone wins, negative means everyone must lose, equally.  Such an attitude stems from a selfish disposition.

C) Third Person Response: Thank God It's Not Me?

I think some of the most insensitive news coverage happens to be on people who have survived. Just after 9/11, some news agencies will be frantically covering the testimonies of people who survived the terrorist attacks. For some strange reason, a person missed a flight on one of the ill-fated planes that crashed into the twin towers. Another survivor woke up late and failed to attend a meeting. Yet another got caught in some last minute errands. On and on, we read of close shaves and strange out of the blue escapes. This reminds me again the comparison of the praying styles of the tax collector and the Pharisee. The former pleads for mercy. The latter thank God that he is not like some other kinds of sinners.

“The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.' (Luke 18:11)

Talk about insensitive remarks. For every piece of bad news, there will be others who sing praises about their good fortune to be alive, or to have been on the "right" side of life. It can be the winner of the lottery, the one who just escaped a brush with death, or simply one who is plain lucky about something. I think it is important that we learn to be sensitive about tragedy situations. Whether one is fortunate or not, the priority must go to care for the grieving. Cut down on the reporting of the lucky people. Avoid bringing God into the blessings too quickly. For with every statement that says: "God has saved me from that fire!" there is a corresponding "Why did God let him burn?" There is no problem in giving thanks to God for the good in our private rooms. When it comes to the public sphere, be extra sensitive on victims, the families of victims, the grieving and those who are suffering. Silence is often a good rule of thumb,on either ends of the tragedy.

This third kind of response is not only unhelpful, it is unneighbourly. Angry about bad news on oneself is one thing. Wishing it on others whether directly or indirectly is cruel.

D) Meditation on Job 1

What about Job? How did he respond to tragedy?

This Bible book alone covers many issues of pain and suffering. It is a story of one who experiences a shift of fortunes from blessed to cursed. After all the upright living and pious spirituality, Job suddenly gets all the bad news. First, his property got stolen by enemies, and several of his servants murdered. Second, his sheep and several servants died when fire from above came down. Third, he lost more livestock, such as his camels. Fourthly, if those losses were not traumatic enough, a fourth servant came to inform him that all his children have died from a wind created disaster. Each time, there was a survivor, the "only one" who managed to escape the calamity and lived to tell Job the story.

See how the Bible describes the behaviour of Job.
20At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” 22In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (Job 1:20-22)
Job did not ask: "Why me?" like many of us modern folks. He did not complain about why the tragedy did not affect other people instead. Neither did he go around shaking his fist at God and cursing the Creator. All he is able to do is to recognize once again the Sovereignty of Almighty God. While losing possessions and the people he loves is one thing, suffering personally through physical ailments is another. In Job 2, we read about the fifth dimension of suffering, that is so bad that Job attempted to scrape his own skin with broken pottery (Job 2:8). The remarkable thing about this man of God is that, through it all, he did not sin (Job 2:10b).

E) What To Do When Bad News Happens?

What about applying the same question to ourselves? This is a tough one. I do not want to belittle the tsunami of pain and grief when bad news happens to anyone. That said, what I am sharing is for those while stunned, still wants some tips on what to do. That said, let me propose three things that anyone can do, especially Christians. This is what I call the fourth way to respond.

First, move toward the Healer. Prayer is a good option. There are many things that are not within one's control. At the same time, the human person tends to be most spiritually attuned to asking the meaning of life during times of pain and suffering. One story that I have recently read is one true story of pain and hurt. Two victims of a drunk driving accident had to reflect over and over again why people like them had to bear the brunt of the tragedy through no fault of their own. It was completely the drunk driver's fault whose vehicle slammed theirs. The drunk driver died on the spot with minimal suffering in terms of time (few seconds), the victims survived but had to suffer for years, even lifelong trauma, or post-traumatic stress disorders. For Dann and Tracey, they had to endure many weeks of emergency operations, months of rehabilitation, and years of pain and suffering. Yet, over and over again, they testify of God's healing presence and the power of prayer.
"We have had several other events that have revealed God's love and presence in our lives. While God sometimes intervenes when we least expect it, He also responds to our prayers and comes when we call Him and need Him most." (Dann Stadler, Angels in the Fire, Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2013, 185)
The famous nurse, Florence Nightingale comments about the place of prayer.

"Life is a hard fight, a struggle, a wrestling with the principle of evil, hand to hand, foot to foot. Every inch of the way is disputed. The night is given to us to take breath and to pray, to drink deep at the fountain of power. The day, to use the strength which has been given to us, to go forth to work with it till the evening." (Florence Nightingale, 1820-1910)

When we go toward the Healer, it may not necessarily guarantee relief from pain, but it surely increases our awareness that we are not alone, for God is walking with us in our pain.

This leads us to the second thing we can do. Look outward. As we work toward healing with God as the Healer, and the sole provider of peace and comfort, look on the needs of others more than ourselves. Learn to serve and to give. There is a story of a Chinese woman who suffered greatly after the death of her son. On the advice of a holy man, she goes on a journey of searching for some home that has NEVER known suffering. As she knocks on the doors of each household in search of this elusive happy family, she learns that every family has their own share of pain and suffering. In seeking closure and relief for her own pain, she becomes the comforter instead of the comforted; the minister instead of the ministered. CS Lewis shares this insight about the unique place of sufferers.
"The most beautiful people are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." (CS Lewis)
Lewis calls these people "beautiful" those who have suffered. It reminds me of the beautiful feet of people who brings the gospel to people. The gospel is good news, and for those who have heard bad news, the gospel is perfect peace.
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27)
Third, share about the healing process without forgetting the story of hurt. Learn to tell the story of our passageway through the valley of darkness. It is not for the purpose of re-living our grief and pain. It is the opportunity to reflect back and see once again that the Prince of Peace and Grace are with us even today. Imagine if there was no person such as Job who suffered. Imagine that no one had ever recorded the story of Joseph, who lived to tell about the faithfulness of God, turning evil into good. Imagine too that there was no Horatio Spafford who penned the beautiful hymn: "It is Well With My Soul." Helen Keller writes:

"Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it." (Helen Keller)
Yes! Balanced perspective. While it is ok to be grief-stricken for awhile, we need to move on. We need to embark upon a journey of hope, bringing goodness not only to others, but for the glory of God. Let me close with the chorus on one of the best songs to grieve and reflect with. Written by Laura Story, it tells of the song writer's personal struggle through her own spiritual darkness, when her husband was diagnosed with brain tumor. You can listen to this beautiful song here.

THOUGHT: 'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise



sabbathwalk

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Friday, July 5, 2013

Preparing for a Good End of Life

TITLE: PREPARING FOR A GOOD END OF LIFE
SCRIPTURE: Hebrews 11:22
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: July 5th, 2013

"By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones." (Heb 11:22, NAS)

If a person dies at 100, his half-point was 50. If a person dies at 90, his half-point of life was 45. If a person dies at 80, his half-point life time was at 40. My dad died at the age of 70. His half point was 35. According to a United Nations study in 2012 about global life expectancy, the highest average life expectancy for men happens to be 80 years of age. For women, it is slightly higher at 87 years of age. That brings the longest average mid-point for human beings to be around 40 to 43 years. Living in Canada and with 79 years as an average life expectancy, I have already gone past my mid-point of 39.5 years of age! With many of us so eager to talk about "living well," we have unfortunately avoided the topic of "dying well." The truth is, we are all dying. As the clock ticks, so do our lifespan. In fact, I will venture to argue that the longer we live, the more we ought to be appreciative of the past, and to lay up treasures for things of greater and eternal value. That is why I am convicted about being Christlike. That is why I share my faith. That is why I blog and write regularly. If my writings can touch lives in some manner, and to help share and point toward hope for people, I think I have accomplished my aim.

We all like to talk about living well. For some reason, very few people like to talk about dying well. This week, I want to argue that in order to live well, we need to learn to think and talk about what it means to die well. This is especially so when we all do not know exactly when our end of life is going to be. It is better to be prepared than to be sorry that we are not prepared at all.


Find out how life expectancy in the United States compares to other countries, in this LiveScience infographic.
Source:LiveScience

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