Friday, August 30, 2013

The Call to Worship (CW)

TITLE: THE CALL TO WORSHIP (CW)
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 24:30-31
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: Aug 30th, 2013

30“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other." (Matthew 24:30-31)
Key Point: Do not let our Call to Worship begin with a focus on man's needs. It needs to focus on the character of God. It is a call, not a request. It is a proclamation of God, not an appropriation of God for the purposes of man.

"Good morning! Let us rise and read the call to worship," says the worship leader.

Seems quite normal and familiar right? Now, something does not seem quite right with that. What's wrong with that? Here is what's wrong.

A) What is the Call to Worship?

A call to worship (CW) is not about begging people to read something together. Neither is it merely getting people to read something in order to get the worship going. It is also not a form of "warm up" to the rest of the worship service. Instead, it is a rousing exclamation to all believers to come and worship. Note the passage above about the coming of the Son of Man. The angels appear with a "loud trumpet call" and "gather" the elect from all over. It is loud. Like ringing the school bell to signal the start or end of a school session, or the emcee who calls upon everyone seated in the stadium to stand to sing the national anthem, the CW is an active trumpet call to all in the Church to come. Brian Doerksen's song begins well.

Come, now is the time to worship
Come, now is the time to give your heart
Come, just as you are to worship
Come, just as you are before your God
Come.

A CW is a call. It is a calling to the called, a declaration of the start of praise, and a cry for action. It is not to be muted into simply a word to be said or an item in the program sheet. It is purely and simply a call. Let those who have ears be ready to listen. The CW is not something simply for worshipers to read like a newspaper or a magazine. It is a declaration of intent. It is a resolution for the body of Christ to come together in the Name of Jesus. It is a trumpet sound that shakes up the lethargy of the week and rouses the whole congregation to declare the praises of God, by the people of God who have been called out of darkness into God's marvelous light.

KEY: The Call to Worship is not a request for people to straddle into the sanctuary. It is a trumpet sound that declares the time for the elect, the called to come together to worship God in Spirit and in truth.

Friday, August 23, 2013

I Surrender More?

TITLE: I SURRENDER MORE?
SCRIPTURE: Philippians 2:7
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 23rd, 2013

"rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness."(Philippians 2:7)
KEY POINT: When Jesus empties himself, he is emptying not his attribute but surrendering his self-will in favour of God's will.

One of the most popular hymns in many churches is the classic, "I Surrender All" written by Judson W. Van deVenter (1855-1939). Trained in the arts as well as 17 different musical instruments, deVenter gets involved in all things music and arts, whether traveling or ministering. Having many different talents, like many, he struggles with making choices on what best to do with his own life. It is not a situation where he has nothing to do, or does not know what to do. He simply is stuck between the love of teaching versus the desire to be a part of an evangelistic team. No matter what decision he makes, there is always a pro and con. Stay behind and teach, and bless the students inside. Go out and evangelize with the team and he can bless people outside. Both decisions are good. Which then is God's will for him?

This week, I reflect on the common challenge for Christians. How can we truly surrender our all? For that, we will learn from the life of Jesus, and how he surrenders all.

A) Emptying Himself

Philippians 2:7 has often been highlighted for anyone studying Christology and the doctrines related to Christ. The words "made himself nothing" can also be translated as "emptied himself." The verb "kenoo" (kenovw) means 'empty,' 'void,' 'make nothing.' Is "emptying" about becoming like the person who falls short of God's standards? This makes the verb very problematic for theology students when they study kenosis. What does it mean when Christ empties himself?

  • Is it the giving up of his OmniPotence (All-Power), his OmniScience (All-Knowing), and his OmniPresence (All-Present)?
  • Is it making himself equal to man completely?
  • Is it the sacrifice of his complete self-will in favour of God's total will?
If we answer yes to the first question, it will mean that for a period of time, Christ is not divine. For example, one place that scholars have argued is in Mark 13:32, where Christ acknowledges that no one, including himself knows about when exactly the last day is. That represents a temporary giving up of his divine attributes. However, if that is true, then it will deny the very being of God! How can one deny himself the very essential attribute that defines him?

Surely not. Emptying oneself is not exactly giving up of his divinity. Jesus can be divine and still human in his choice making. So, we can say that the idea of 'kenosis' is not about Jesus giving up divinity. Choosing not to exercise divine attributes does not mean one has to give up the attribute altogether.

B) Making himself fully equal to man?

This brings us to the next question. Is Jesus by giving up his own will, becoming more like man rather than God? It is possible, but that will bring problems with regards to how we see Jesus. Is Jesus at that time more human and less divine? How can a person be subdivided into different spiritual stages? Surely, it will bring about all kinds of confusion about the Person of Jesus.

No. When Jesus empties himself, he is not emptying himself of his divine attributes. Neither is he giving up his humanity. He is giving up something else. More particularly, he is giving up self-will. When Christ comes to earth and becomes human, he is already 100% human. He is already fully equal to man. He does not need any more addition or subtraction to make himself more or less like man. He is already fully human. He does not need to give up more of his human being in order to be more human. So if Jesus is fully divine, and also fully human, what then is Christ emptying himself of? The answer: His will.

C) God's Will Be Done

Remember how Jesus prayed on the night before he was crucified? He specifically asks:
"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42)
Jesus submits himself to the Father's will, preferring to obey God rather than to give in to any other way. It is a deliberate denial of self. It is an absolute determination to put God first. It is a humble acknowledgement that doing God's will is primary, and all other things are secondary. By a wide margin. Note in Philippians 2:7 where Paul writes of Christ as one who "taking the very nature of a servant," as an intentional choice. He chooses to be a servant even when he is a king. He chooses to take the lowly road even when he is fully eligible to take the royal path. He chooses to adopt the nature of a servant, to serve rather than to be served. Paul adds, "being made in human likeness" as a reference to the possibility of choice. Jesus gets to choose. Jesus gets to decide what needs to be done. He is not forced. No one is pointing a gun at his head to tell him what to do or what not to do. Jesus chooses freely, willingly, and obediently. That is the essence of surrender! It is the offering up of our wills in favour of God's will that is the essence of surrender.

D) Essence of Surrender


Unlike wars where the defeated surrenders to the victorious, Jesus surrenders himself to God, not the enemy. The enemy can bash up the Son. The enemy can wallop the body of Jesus. The enemy can create all manner of evil to hurt Jesus. By trying to humiliate Jesus at the Cross, the tables are turned that the one humiliated is the devil and death itself. Remember the taunt,

"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55)

In overcoming death, Christ has broken the power of sin. In freely choosing God's will, Jesus has done more than what the righteous Job has done. In obeying God completely, Jesus has defeated the enemy completely. The essence of surrender is about fully yielding our own wills and to fully embrace God's will. The writer, Elisabeth Elliot reminds us that "One does not surrender a life in an instant. That which is lifelong can only be surrendered in a lifetime."

E) Practicing I-Surrender-All

True indeed. We cannot say "I Surrender All" at an instant, for life is not an instant frame. All of us can take snapshots of our lives, both physical and spiritual. We can remember only the good parts and forget about the bad. The life of surrender is a lifelong process. There are no short cuts to surrendering. It has to be done constantly, freely, willingly, and obediently.

Judson deVenter, the hymn writer of "I Surrender All," struggled with the decision between teaching vs evangelism for at least five years. He could have screamed out surrender right at the beginning, but it will not be authentic. He could have waited and not make any commitment, so that he can change his mind anytime, but that will not satisfy his inner being. Instead, he struggled, he prayed, he pondered, and on a daily basis continued to be faithful with his skills and talents. Then, as he was conducting a meeting at East Palestine, Ohio, something dawned on him that only one thing is needed: surrender. Surrender the decision to God. Surrender the consequences to God. Surrender himself to God.  The words become a song. The song becomes a classic. The classic becomes God's reminder to many believers, that when we surrender all, we are acknowledging that God knows best.

My friends. Surrender is not a one time decision made quickly. It is a series of decisions made over a period of time. Some may surrender sooner, and others later. What is most liberating is that God is patient. God is willing to wait for us to choose him in everything, and in all things. For in doing so, we will soon realize that surrendering ourselves to God is not about emptying ourselves of our future. It is about putting our lives fully in God who knows our future. When we are in the arms of the perfect God, we are in the arms of one who loves us and gives himself for us, through his great love in Jesus.

If you have trouble singing "I Surrender All," why not try "I Surrender More" for now. At some point of time, God will reward us, with the ability and the faith to sing "I Surrender All." Freely, obediently, and willingly. Are you stuck in the middle between choices like a rock and a hard place? If you are, surrender that choice to God, and pray that whatever choice you make, God's will be your focus. Once you have made the choice, let that choice lead you to greater freedom, greater obedience, and greater capacity to say: "God's will be done in all of my life."

THOUGHT: "The man or woman who is wholly or joyously surrendered to Christ can't make a wrong choice - any choice will be the right one." (A.W. Tozer)


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

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Fifth Quarter of Life

TITLE: THE FIFTH QUARTER OF LIFE
SCRIPTURE: Ps 27:13-14
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 15th, 2013

"I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." (Ps 27:13-14)
KEY: It is good to begin well. It is even more important to finish strong. How do we climb out of tragedy? How can we live on when our present hopes are dashed?
  
Once in a while, a movie comes along that tugs hearts, moves souls, and unleashes tears. Such a movie will not just be a story, but a realistic portrayal of a real life event. Helmed by two very experienced actors, this film brings to life the tragedy, the pain, and the suffering endured by a couple who lost their youngest son in a horrific car accident. On February 2006, Luke Abbate was a backseat passenger catching a ride from one of his teenager friends. In a moment of teen foolishness to show off his speeding ability, the friend driving the vehicle lost control and the car ended up a mangled wreck, killing all but one. After 24 hours, due to excessive brain damage, doctors declared Luke brain dead and were legally allowed to take Luke off life support. Luke was 15, full of potential, mostly unrealized. Instead, it breaks the hearts of the family into a million pieces. The end of one life, only begins the journey to darkness for the remaining members of the Abbate family. Steven and Maryanne lost their youngest son. Rachel, Jonathan, and Adam lost their little brother. As a viewer, I lost my fight against tears. It has been a long time since I felt that way.

The film is chock full of incredibly moving scenes. At the hospital, personal friends, schoolmates, teachers, teammates, well-wishers from all over lined up with a powerful demonstration of solidarity and support. Family surrounded Luke with prayer vigils, with the Maryanne praying and reading from the Bible, toggling between faith and fear. Just after doctors pronounced Luke brain-dead, a representative from "Donate Life" came to ask the family for permission to find recipients for Luke's body parts. As if one spin was not enough, the family now had to grapple with another. Once calm presided over the mayhem, the family remembered Luke agreeing to donate his organs not too long ago at a government office. Very quickly, once the father agreed to the organ donation, five recipients had already been identified.

I watched the movie and thought about the many beautiful themes spread throughout the movie. The number "five" is prominent as well. Let me offer five themes to take home.

A) No Fault of Our Own

Pain can come at us, whether we are directly responsible or not. Luke Abbate on that fateful day could have simply said 'no' to his friend offering him a ride home. After all, he can always call his mother to pick him up from school that day. Yet, for some reason, he gives in to his friends enticement with fatal consequences. If we put ourselves in the shoes of the Abbates, we will have tried to reason it out, that Luke could be alive today, if he had just said NO! The scenarios can be repeated over and over. The probabilities can be calculated time and again. The regrets can also be felt repeatedly with thousands of "if-only" combinations. But will that help? The reality is, what had happened happened. It is easy to blurt out "Do not cry over spilled milk."  Living the consequences is long, dark, and often unknown, something that Maryanne the mum had expressed very well.

"My family has been deeply touched by the love and support of our dear community
Please continue ---  to pray for us.. because I...(sob)
...I suspect that the journey will be both dark and hard.
Our lives have been shattered (breaking) into a million pieces.
And I have no idea how to put them together again.
  Luke was and always will be deeply loved.  And now, now, he will be deeply missed."

This is followed by another moving scene by the father, Steven pushing and crying as he single-handedly pushed the casket away. As I watch the movie unfold, I notice that there are no scenes of the family cursing and swearing at the family of the foolish driver. There are no moments of hatred for people. There is one single goal: Mourning, crying, and praying. Finishing strong means recognizing that our past is past. The past cannot be allowed to drag us and remain in the mud of life. We need help to get out of the mud of the past.

B) Grieving

Billed as a film in the tradition of the Blind Side, the movie has several scenes of praying and Scripture reading. There are prayers just before the start of each game. There are honest questions of why God will allow bad things to happen. There are prayers uttered with Scripture. I remember hearing twice the reading of Ps 27:13-14.
"I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." (Ps 27:13-14)
Aptly chosen, it is an expression of hope during times of hopelessness, knowing that only God understands exactly what the family is going through. God is good. God is faithful. The pain will remain, but the knowledge that God's presence is near will remain stronger still, through the support and encouragement by friends and loved ones. I see how the coaches and staff at Wake Forest University come alongside Jon, caring and giving Jon space to grieve. Jon, being a rising football player for the college team is poised for stardom. He just needs the time to grieve. Graciously and generously, Jon receives lots of space, and lots of time to just grieve. Yet, grieving is tough. Back home, as if one loss is not enough, amid their grief, the husband and wife relationship begins to break down. Steven buries himself in work. Maryanne suffers alone. Both have become too weak to support each other. If grieving is dark and hard, grieving alone is darker and harder. Grieving is necessary, but grieving together is even more necessary. During such tragic times, families must come together as often as possible. If one loses a family member, the rest of the family must learn to come together quickly, decisively, and be in unity with one another. Health experts have noticed that divorces are particularly high for couples who lose a child. Finishing strong begins with a desire to grieve in a way that is constructive, not destructive.

C) Symbolism of Five

The number "5" is highly symbolic in the movie. Remembering that Luke used to wear the number 5 on his football jersey, older brother Jon got permission to change his own jersey number from 40 to 5. At the same time, during each football game, Steven and Maryanne hold up all their five open fingers in an outstretched fashion, as a symbol of family solidarity. This soon catches on with both supporters, fans, even opponents, who remember the life of Luke Abbate. Amazingly, Jon becomes the inspirational leader as well, rousing his teammates to come from behind in several crucial games to win at the final quarter. Due to the amazing finish by a team that was ranked last in the minds of the public media, Wake Forest's Demon Deacons came to win and finish strong every final quarter, topping their Atlantic division, and eventually winning the 2006 State championship, defeating Georgia Tech at the finals. It is an amazing achievement for the school which has never won a state championship in its 172 year history.

Symbols are important in life. For Christians, the most prominent symbol of faith is the cross. There is no substitute, for in the cross, we see how the person of Christ has died for the sins of the world. With one act of obedience, and the complete fulfilling of the will of God, the cross stands as a powerful symbol of reconciliation. Vertically, at the cross, man gets reconciled with God. Horizontally, man is able to be reconciled with one another. A symbol can be a powerful aid to help us finish strong.

D) Finishing Strong

Starting well is important. Finishing strong is even more important. For it is not the initial performance that will win games. It is the set of final and finishing touches at the last quarter that will lead the team to victory. The film is called the Fifth Quarter simply because in many of the games played, Jon Abbate's team came up on top after overcoming very tough opponents. In the game against Duke's Blue Devils, Jon found his team down by 10-0 at halftime. Eventually, the Deacons caught up, and were leading by 14-13 with just six seconds remaining in the game. The problem is, their opponents from Duke had a significant advantage as they have a free kick that if converted, will win the game for Duke. Thankfully, it was blocked and Wake Forest savoured the close win. Wake Forest may have started badly, but they ended strong. Strong finishers win competitions.

In the Old Testament, we see several examples of people who had started well but fumbled at the end. Think of King Solomon who began with much fanfare and wisdom. His prayer at the commissioning of the Lord's temple remains a model for all of us to learn. The proverbs often attributed to Solomon have also been used for centuries in daily living. Unfortunately, through a series of missteps and utter foolishness, Solomon fumbled after the glorious beginning. In just one reign, Solomon manages to unravel the good work of his father David, causing havoc to his own personal and spiritual life, but also the split of Israel into two separate nations: Israel on the North and Judah to the South. Strong starts may wow audiences, but strong finishers win games. That is true in life too.

E) Faith and Hope

What helps one to grieve well? What enables one to be lifted out of the darkness of despair toward the brightness of hope? What compels one not only to brave the start but to finish strong? It is faith in the Divine God. It is hope for a brighter future. Psalm 27 begins with a declaration:

"The LORD is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?
" (Ps 27:1)

Based on the LORD's covenant of faithfulness with David, this psalm verbalizes the inner belief of David. He knows that in his hours of darkness, only the LORD can give him light. It is in basking in the sunshine of God's assurance that helps him to fight the fear of death and defeat. It is standing on the promises of God that gives him the courage. Throughout the fourteen verses, David think thoughts of God. He gazes at the face of God and not be distracted by the face of trials and tribulations. He directs his whole perspective to see from the standpoint of God and not the world. He knows that the LORD wins battles for his people (Ps 27:2). He knows that the best place is in the very house of God (Ps 27:4). He knows that eventually it is God who finishes strong and perfect (Ps 27:6). He knows that in the valley of darkness, God will teach him what is necessary (Ps 27:11). All of these statements of faith lead him to one final crescendo:

"I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.
" (Ps 27:13-14)


It is the Word of God that will help us to start well, to strive faithfully ahead, and to finish well.In life, we too live lives of four quarters. Suppose the average life-span for us is 80 years.
  • Quarter 1 - Years 1 to 20;
  • Quarter 2 - Years 21 to 40;
  • Quarter 3 - Years 41 to 60;
  • Quarter 4 - Years 61 to 80.
We do a lot of absorbing and taking of stuff in our first 20 years. We learn. We study. We take in all that our parents, our teachers, and what society offers. In our next quarter of life, we venture into young adulthood. We graduate with our first degree. We get our first real job. We marry and start our families. We busy ourselves with work and more work. By the third quarter, some of us will have been promoted to higher levels in our organizations or social levels of importance. For others, retrenchments and unemployment will prove to be tough setbacks to our game of life, struggling to play in the challenges of the second quarter with a body made up of the third, even fourth. Then, we reach the final quarter. We begin to think about the meaning and significance of life. In First Things First, the late Steven Covey has helped many people with his four things in life: to live, to learn, to love, and to leave a legacy. Leaving a legacy will very well appear to be at the final quarter of our lives. That we live, we love, and we learn in a way that leaves legacies for future generations. It is a good start, but does not necessarily mean a strong end.

Let me put forth one more L to help us finish strong: Longing. If there is one word to describe Ps 27:13-14, it is longing to see God's goodness on earth as it is in heaven. It is longing for the LORD that causes one to wait earnestly for a glimpse of God. It is learning to be strong at heart knowing for sure that God will come, and to wait patiently for God who will definitely come.


Longing for God is one of the best signs of a growing Christian. It is this longing for something better that propels people at a funeral to move ahead. This longing gives them hope that one day, all will be well. This longing enables them to gradually move beyond the darkness toward the light. This longing, supported by symbols of hope, will sustain not only the toughest points of life, but the entire journey. As one longs for God, in some very strange way, God teaches us what life is about. God shows us what love is like. God reveals to us what we can learn. Gently and surely, God unfolds the legacy that Christ has left behind that he has finished what he has set out to do. This longing for God will help us finish strong. Let me close with these words from the late Brennan Manning.

"The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian. Our religion never begins with what we do for God. It always starts with what God has done for us, the great and wondrous things that God dreamed of and achieved for us in Christ Jesus." (Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God, 125-6)
I want to add. Not only is our faith started in Christ Jesus, it will end in Christ Jesus. For at the Cross, time stands still, and lifts us up toward an eternal God, where time has no hold. Man in Christ gets reconciled with God, and finds that only God is able to reach out and touch us. We who have "eternity in our hearts" can only be truly filled by God who is eternal and everlasting. It is because of a sustained longing in Christ and for Christ, that makes unceasing prayer always possible.

Toward the end of the movie, there remains one final scene which made me cry. A survivor with the heart of Luke Abbate was shown standing there, allowing Steven the father to hug and listen to the heartbeat. The memory of Luke does not just live on, it beats on in the heart of a survivor. Luke did not just finish strong. He finishes strong in the heart of another person.

THOUGHT: "Why is it so important that you are with God and God alone on the mountain top? It's important because it's the place in which you can listen to the voice of the One who calls you the beloved. To pray is to listen to the One who calls you "my beloved daughter," "my beloved son," "my beloved child." To pray is to let that voice speak to the center of your being, to your guts, and let that voice resound in your whole being." (Henri Nouwen)


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

Friday, August 9, 2013

Should I Cut My Cable TV?

TITLE: SHOULD I CUT MY CABLE TV?

Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 9th, 2013

There was a time when TV is a must-have in every household. For some, having two or more television sets at home is common. There will be one for the family room, another for the parents' room, and even in children's rooms. For those who spend a lot of time in the kitchen, sometimes, they will even have a small LCD monitor conveniently installed at the side wall so that they can cook and watch TV at the same time. Now, the ubiquitous television set is under threat. Thanks no less to the growing popularity of the Internet. According to news reports, 1 out of 6 Canadians have already cut the cable cord, preferring the web over the traditional TV. It is the younger and more web-savvy users who are refusing to pay for TV, opting for a fully wireless Internet option. After all, many have said that since they are not watching TV as much so why not simply do away with it? From a cost standpoint, I understand. From a convenience standpoint, I concur. Yet, I am reminded too that although cutting the cable may mean saving some money, there are other more subtle repercussions which we ought to take careful note of. I will mention just three of them for now.

1) Threat of the Internet Cannibalising the TV and Phone 

Like many families, my home has a phone line, a cabled television set, as well as Internet.  Of all the three facilities, the one that is used most is the Internet. Gone are the days where we need to dial up a phone number with a modem in order to connect to the Internet. Not only that, the connectivity is slow and buggy, with download speeds that crawl and make it a challenge to download big files. Waiting is something most people have gotten used to.

Not anymore.

With the rise of networking technology and faster wide area networks, service providers have pampered consumers with high speeds that are up to 250Mbps (Mega bits per second) or roughly speaking, about 31MB per second speed. In some places, you can get even higher. With such high speeds, it is possible to use VOIP features, a voice over IP telephony features using the Internet. They not only cost a fraction of the traditional phone prices, sometimes, if one uses Skype-to-Skype or FaceTime to Facetime, or other equivalent applications, the telephone call is free anywhere in the world, with an Internet connection. It is possible to remove your traditional telephone totally and to replace it completely with an Internet telephone. All it takes is some special equipment to be installed, usually at a small fee. The weak link is this. The moment the Internet connection is lost, so too the telephone connection. This problem can be circumvented with the use of mobile phones, which is the other threat to the conventional telephone. Friends of mine have increasingly migrated from a land-line phone to a mobile phone. They prefer a phone where they are easily reachable. At the same time, if the home phone is not used as much, why pay more?

Also gone are the days where we have to stay up for a particular time on a particular day to watch a specific TV program. With many popular TV episodes increasingly on the web, consumers can pick and choose a time and place at their own convenience to watch the episode. Just wait until the episode has been screened by the TV provider, and within a few days, the episode can be streamed to our Internet devices anytime. Just like if we miss a Sunday sermon, we can always go to the Church website and download or stream the sermon when we have the time. Of course, this assumes that your Church has a website and people who will faithfully upload sermon material on the web. Must one go to Church faithfully in order to listen to sermons only? Not anymore.

The Internet has not only cannibalized the conventional phone and the ubiquitous TV and cable, it has changed cultural norms and social behaviour. This is my greater concern, which incidentally, is the guiding thought to help answer the question: "Should I cut my TV Cord?"

2) Threat of Individualism

Years ago, I remember a new theological institution being built. Someone close to the developments complained to me saying that he disagreed with the idea of having a network connection in every room. He said with the ease of network connectivity and the convenience of not having to leave the hostel room altogether, will that not increase the level of individualistic behaviour? I understood precisely where he is coming from. During my early Gordon-Conwell days, the wireless Internet is only available at the main halls. Thus, students who want to do their emails or Internet surfing have to leave their comfortable rooms and to go to the lounge. There, I see familiar faces, and we often chatted before and after meals. After dinner, we hang out together, and for those who need to rush out a paper, we can see them quietly at the next table working away. We even play table tennis together after a hearty meal! The desire to use the Internet can bring people together. In my final year at Gordon-Conwell, the Internet connectivity has improved by leaps and bounds. Not only is the wireless signals stronger in the common lounge, it is also readily available in every room in my block! Thus, there is no more need to head for the lounge to read one's emails. There is no more need to look for a space in the lounge sofa to surf the net. There is no need to get out of our rooms. I notice the change in social behaviour.

People stay more in their rooms and less in the common areas. People huddle inside their own Internet world, oblivious to the outside world. Even theological students behave like that. Individualism has arrived in a new way, through the ubiquitous Internet connection. Individualism stands out as the key cultural phenomenon of our modern age. Drive on the roads, and you see how easily irritated other drivers are when you want to switch lanes, especially into their lanes. Societies with people caring only for themselves are not nice places to live in. For with individualism comes the acts of selfishness, pride, and self-centered deeds. That is one reason why it is increasingly difficult to get people to agree, and to work on common goals. Individualistic people tend to prefer their own ways over all other ways. So much so that the sociologist Wade Clark Roof has commented on the individual empowering oneself even above God!

"The real story of American religious life in this half-century is the rise of a new sovereign self that defines and sets limits on the very meaning of the divine." (Wade Clark Roof cited in Nancy Pearcey. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, Wheaton, Ill, Crossway Books, 2008, p293)

Back in the 60s, there was a popular song by Lobo called, "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo," which talked about a carefree lifestyle and a culture of doing whatever one sees fit. Life revolved around the lover and the beloved, with a pet dog named Boo. In such a condition, nothing else really mattered. Likewise, fast forward to contemporary times, with everyone having their own laptops, their own cell-phones, their own iPods, and tablet devices, people are comfortable about living alone, with "I and Me with a technology named Internet."

3) Threat of Reduced Bonding Time

With the rise of individualism comes the fall of community concerns. People who are deep in their own problems will find it very difficult to put themselves in the shoes of another. They fear that if they venture out to help others, will there be anyone who will help them? Such a mood arises out of that state of individualistic concerns that will only give when one can get something back in return. That kind of giving is not true giving, for true giving is being able to give without expecting anything in return.

If there is one thing that is most Christian, it is the ability to give, and give, and give. I will also include "forgive" among the giving disposition. Giving up one's individual concerns in order to spend time on other people is a human being at his highest level of virtue. Sometimes I wonder. Why are we so used to accepting people's "I'm busy" comment as an excuse to decline invitation, miss schedules, or to simply stop hanging out altogether. Of course we have become too busy. We have become too busy because the 'me' has become bigger than the WE. The 'I' is more important than the group. For spending time with 'myself' has become so important that other people matters less.

In my household, I turn off the Internet about two hours each day. When that happens, I notice how my kids behave. They start coming out of their rooms. They stop staring at the computers. They begin to play musical instruments. They begin to do other things non-Internet related. They start to hang out together with the rest of the family in front of the TV. Once the Internet connectivity stops, human community begins.

4) Final Comments

Take time to smell the flowers.
When I think about the meaning of living together, individualism is a direct threat to community life. While there is Internet and social media that are fast becoming the common staple of daily living, we must beware of the underlying dangers of weakening social cohesion and community spirit. Whatever weakens community, whatever threatens the fabric of family life, whatever things that prevent us from becoming more neighbourly to one another, we must take action. The Internet may be here to stay, but we can surely take action to prevent it from unraveling our most important relationships.

This comes back to the point of learning to take a Sabbath. Try doing that for technology. Once a week, or for a few hours a day, take a break away from the computer, away from the Internet, away from constant checking of Facebook or emails. Walk to the garden. Smell the flowers. Say hi to your neighbours. Walk instead of drive. Observe the blooming life around us. Then, and gradually, we will realize that life is bigger than our Internet connection.

Seeing how my kids come together during non-Internet hours is reason enough for me to renew my TV/cable subscription.

THOUGHT: "A world without a Sabbath would be like a man without a smile, like a summer without flowers, and like a homestead without a garden. It is the joyous day of the whole week." (Henry Ward Beecher)

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

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Woman's Greatest Fear(s)

TITLE: WOMAN's GREATEST FEAR(s)
SCRIPTURE: Ruth 1: 14-17
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: Aug 1st, 2013

4At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. 15“Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” 16But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.
KEY: Following last week's article on the male gender, this week I will cover what it means to be feminine, and what makes the woman a true woman in the light of biblical truth.

I am no psychologist. Neither am I some love doctor or emotional therapist. I am simply a trained scholar, eager theologian, an associate pastor, and of course, a husband as well as a father. I am also a wide reader, reading on the average a book every other day. I am interested in a wide range of issues, from marriage to theology; families to individuals; children and teens; aging and diseases; spirituality as well as religious matters; current affairs and various trends in society and culture; etc. In fact, my reading passion has taken me to many places, without having to buy an air ticket or to travel long distances just to learn. The Internet and technology have helped bridged the far and the near together.

Why am I sharing all these? That is because in my line of work as a pastor, I come across many different issues, and faces different and unique challenges. Marital problems, Church member to member relationships,  Sunday services, leadership matters, spiritual growth, counseling, visitation, meetings, Bible teaching, administration, and many more are the mainstay of any pastoral ministry. It is because I am called to preach on a regular basis that I need to read a lot as well.

Last week, I wrote about  issues pertaining to the male gender, where being a real man is not exactly about what they do, but is essentially about making a difference with their lives. I mentioned four kinds of men, giving due weight eventually to the fourth kind that defines what a real man is about. The defining moment for a man is that innate commitment to glorify God regardless of how good or bad the struggle is. Whatever it takes, the Christian man will make a decision for God. That is why many men in particular find special meaning in Rick Warren's purpose driven life.

This week, I like to share what I have learned about the female gender, and what it means to be a woman. I know, I am not a woman, so I am not exactly biologically qualified. Come to think of it, if only women deal with women issues, then men can never be gynaecologists. It is important for men to know about female issues too. 

Like last week, let me borrow again some observations from a trained psychologist, Dr Larry Crabb, once again.

A) What is Femininity?

According to the Hebrew word for female, neqebah means "punctured, bored through." Based on the Hebrew understanding of this word, Crabb writes that being feminine essentially means being open to, inviting, and neither demand nor control, but to be relational. More importantly, the original design for femininity is for receiving from God's fullness, that the woman be able to reflect the full character of God and for the purposes of God. Such a relationship is life giving and nourishes relationships.  So like man's greatest fear is to lose his sense of purpose and direction, woman's greatest fear is the breaking down of relationships. Crabb also talks about the four personas that inhibit the woman from being fully feminine. This is especially true of those who reject a Christ-centered relationship.
  • Type 1 - The Defensively Deranged Woman
  • Type 2 - The Prematurely Satisfied Woman
  • Type 3 - The Angrily Hardened Woman
  • Type 4 - The Visibly Troubled Woman (The True Woman)
B) Fear of Unsatisfied Desire (The Defensively Deranged Woman)

A few weeks ago, while shopping with my family at an Asian supermarket, I walked past a woman in her 50s, complaining in Cantonese about a man who had mistresses in mainland China. Speaking as if she was cursing her husband in front of her, it was quite easy to see that she had been traumatized by an adulterous man, most likely her husband. I wonder to myself why she behaved like a mad woman in public. Has she been so hurt that she had become consumed with hate for her husband? Then there are also women I have encountered who had such a horrible relationship with their fathers that they transferred the trauma into their marriages.

Crabb also shares about one woman whose husband on their wedding night preferred to watch a football game than to have sex with her. When the wife woke up the next morning, her husband then said that he "screwed" her when she was sleeping. Angry and frustrated, the relationship went downhill, with the woman quickly becoming a seductress, unable to heal from her brokenness. The defensively deranged woman is not able to recover from a broken past toward healing, as her focus is often on revenge, on bitterness, and on hate.

C) Fear of Loss of Blessings (Premature Satisfaction)

The other extreme is also unstable. Crabb talks about the woman who lives on blessings alone. They let their joy be tightly linked to blessings of good marriage, good kids, good social circles, to define what a good life is. In their overwhelming trust in these good things, it also means the focus is away from building trust in God alone. Such a woman embraces only the good, and refuses to accept the bad. The relational aspect gets compromised as instead of building a relationship with God, the prematurely satisfied woman builds her relationships on blessings alone. It takes the godly woman to be able to trust in God whatever the good or the bad.

D) Fear of Loss of Control (Angrily Hardened Woman)

Like men, anger is an emotion that impacts woman a lot. A woman undergoing pain and painful memories may hide their anger through numbing one's emotions. The "tough lady" image is popular. Toughness is not the issue. Unnatural dealing with anger is the issue. By allowing her sense of "I should have been better treated" to dominate her life, she unwittingly starts to control other people's lives. Some mothers attempt to control their sons and daughters under the guise of doing what is best for them. The trouble is, it can backfire. Their biggest hurt or regret comes when they realize that their adult children are not willing to share openly with them their real struggles. With the female gender that is high on relational matters, it hurts when the closest relationships are not close at all.

E) True Woman (Visibly Troubled)

The first three types of women continue to play hide-and-seek with themselves and their emotions. If there is a common trait, it is a fear of their broken relationships that lead them to performing lots of hiding and little of seeking. The defensively deranged woman hides her past hurts with emotional and mental instability. The prematurely satisfied woman hides her true needs by becoming absorbed in the good things of life. The angrily hardened woman hides her fears through grit and controlling behaviours. It is the fourth woman that is most feminine in the biblical sense.

This fourth type is what Crabb describes as self-aware and God-oriented. Most importantly, she does not hide. She faces boldly her fears and trusts that God will help her. It is this disposition that defines the godly woman:

"God, I come to You. Do with me as You want. Embrace me in Your perfect love that casts out all fear.

The story of Ruth is an excellent example of a visibly troubled woman who chooses the God of her mother in law, even after the passing of her husband. Knowing that her status is low, and her hope is bleak, she clings on to a faithfulness that is anchored in God alone. Some say that her desire is to be a faithful daughter in law. Others say that she had no better decision to make. I think not. Firstly, Ruth had every right to go marry someone else. Becoming a widow was an accepted state in society. There was no shame. Secondly, Ruth could have returned to her own homeland, just like Orpah. The fact that Ruth chose to stick with her is a conscious decision. More importantly, we note that Ruth does not need to choose God. Yet, she makes a conscious decision to bind her heart to God. With that decision, God blesses her with one of the greatest blessings ever: Bloodline to King David.

Being feminine is not about good looks or biologically features. Being feminine is relational. It is being invited into building that relationship solely and solidly in God alone. The best woman one can ever become is to be a woman of God. A woman of God will be a deep source of blessings to all around. Let us pray for our women friends and family that they too can be the women of God that they have been called to be.

THOUGHT: "The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian does make me a different kind of woman." (Elisabeth Elliot)



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

There was an error in this gadget