Saturday, June 20, 2009

Shout to the World

Pastor Paul Long from Paul Long's Ramblings has been using my book, Spiritual Formation on the Run for his reflections. Here is his latest, reposted here with his consent.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

SHOUT TO THE WORLD (Spiritual formation on the Run)

Been a while since I last posted my reflections of my Lectio Divina exercises using Alex's "Spiritual formation on the run". Been extra busy as my wife is still in Malaysia. Not too busy to do my contemplation as it is after all being done ... "on the run". :-) If you didn't get that, that's the whole beauty of this concept. You do not have to be disappear for hours in a quiet secluded place to get close to God and "practice the presence of God". But busy I have been as all the cooking and cleaning duties are now my domain so time to type is rather limited ... but more on that as it is related to this blog's reflection and ramblings. Ah ... Brother Lawrence would be smiling in heaven at hearing this .... :-)

Ok, first this is from chapter 16 entitled:

Elie Wiesel writes: One of the Just Men came to Sodom, determined to save its inhabitants from sin and punishment. Night and day he walked the streets and markets protesting against greed and theft, falsehood and indifference. In the beginning, people listened and smiled ironically. Then they stopped listening: he no longer amused them. The killers went on killing, the wise men kept silent, as if there were no Just Man in their midst. One day, a child, moved by the compassion for the unfortunate teacher, approached him with these words: "Poor stranger, you shout, you scream, don't you see that it is hopeless?" "Yes, I see;' answered the Just Man. "Then why do you go on?" "I'll tell you why. In the beginning, I thought I could change man. Today, I know I cannot. If I still shout today, if I still scream, it is to prevent man from ultimately changing me."

This short story from Wiesel has a powerful message for us as we struggle to live a Christian life or a life pleasing to God in the world. The world has a powerful and seductive influence on us. It knows the right buttons to push. Get this mobile phone and it will make you look sophisticated, techno-savvy and well connected. Drive this brand of car and the world will recognise you as a successful man. Do not leave home without this credit card because you are a well-travelled jetsetter. It takes a lot of effort and wisdom to resist the temptations of this world. Satan tempted our Lord Jesus with the satisfaction of fleshy desires (bread from stones), security from harm (angel's protection), and power and wealth (all the kingdoms on earth). And Satan is still tempting Jesus' disciples in these areas. Jesus taught that we, His disciples, are not of this world but are destined for another.

As new Christians, many of us were full of fire, shouting and screaming, as we tried to make people understand the danger they were in. We were like people standing at the edge of a cliff and shouting to others, "Do not walk over there. There is a cliff. You will fall over to your doom. Turn back:' And, to our astonishment and dismay, we discovered that nobody was listening to us. Nobody paid attention to our message. Nobody believed us. The people kept on walking and fell off the cliff. Soon we stopped shouting and screaming. Maybe we whispered a bit here and there. But as we stopped fighting the world, we became like the world. We were like someone swimming against a current. The moment we stopped swimming, we were swept back by the current.

I wonder how many of us have stopped swimming against the current and are even now swimming with the current. It is so easy to stop shouting and be with the crowd. Just relax a little here and there. A small white lie; a little stealing and cheating here and there. Nobody will know. We become insensitive to the needs of others. We eat, drink and are merry to excess.

The Christian life is a life of constant struggle. We struggle against our flesh, the world and Satan. We know that we cannot change man; only God can do that. However, we must always be on guard that the world does not change us. That will happen if we let down our guard and stop struggling against the world. So, brothers and sisters, let us continually encourage one another in our struggle. We cannot go at it alone; a piece of coal that falls out of the fire cools down very fast. Do not let the world change us.

I really like Wiesel's story. And I like Alex's reflections in this chapter. I like the story as I can truly identify with it. And I like Alex's reflections especially that on materialism as this is one (of many many many many .... reason why I felt I should leave Malaysia and come to New Zealand.

Living in PJ and serving in a middle class (dare I say upper middle class?) church was killing my family. The pressure of finding the money to join in basic activities of the majority was just too hard. Too many heart breaking incidents ... like having my then 9 year old son close to tears because he was afraid that his friends would laugh at his RM 30 shoes (not cool and branded like the what others wore) was difficult for me. It was so hard not to capitulate and go for the RM 60 shoes that was more presentable (let's not even go near the RM 100 - 200 shoes) . But how could I live with myself if I bought my 9 year old shoes (in which he would outgrow in a year) that cost more than my working shoes?

In times like this (and I best not give any more example lest I be misinterpreted) I would shout (in my head and heart or else I might end up being committed to a mental institution) the values that I believe I should hold and ray my heart listens to my head. And every now and then when I cannot take it anymore I make myself unpopular by speaking to some parents or youth and tell them things like ... "Please don't buy your child a new car when he / she gets his . her driver's license." Or "Is it justifiable for you (a teenager who is not working) to pay RM 10 for a cup of coffee at coffee bean?"

Of course "nobody" goes to coffee bean anymore ... (it was that long ago :-)) and being the dummy that I am, I forgot that RM 10 was for the cheapest cup of coffee and only cheapskates like me would drink that. Yes, I went but someone paid as they wanted to chat with me over coffee and I bought the cheapest.
And of course there were times when a few youth would listen to me and refrain from certain things but most of this handful soon caved in under pressure.

And yes I knew after a few years that "nobody" is listening to me. They are just tolerating me BUT like the man in the story, every now and then I needed to "shout out" not so much for the sake of others but for my own sake.

Ok, better make it clear that I am not totally against going for buying branded goods, buying nice stuff for your children, taking fancy holidays and going to StarBucks (or is that place also not cool anymore - I don't know ...) etc. Just that have seen too many Christians being so used to such things that their spending and lifestyles I feel are way to excessive in comparison to other important things. As the world's lifestyle influences them, their walk with God clearly suffers (if not them, then their children).

But "nobody" listens to me anyway, right? LOL So I am "shouting" out extra loud for myself so that I will be forced to read what I blog one day should I go astray :-)

Side note:
End of this year I am taking my family when my mum comes for a visit for a nice holiday. Jennifer and I have saved up since coming and we are going to spend $2,000 holidaying. Of course there may be some who may be rolling on the floor laughing (ROTFL) because $2,000 may not seem much especially since prices of tourist holiday activities are so expensive. But for me it is a huge amount and in my spare time I have been working on the budget so I think we will manage. :-) And it has taken me a long time to get to this stage to spend money like this but I think we all deserve a good holiday as a family. I have learned from the example of some families here. They work hard, live simply, serve God and save up for family holidays. I think that is a good example of discipline and good stewardship.

So what have I been shouting about lately?
Basic disciplines! My children must really resent me for this but I need to shout (and often literally!) even if they do not seem to be listening.
The floor is not the place to toss their stuff, clothes (clean or dirty) nor rubbish! So hang up your clothes and keep your rooms tidy.
The dining table must be wiped clean after meals

When you have finished your drink, wash your cup, don't leave it in the sink and soak it with water! (What an irritating habit!)
Do your chores first before going off to play!

Let me know your schedules early and not inform me at the last minute.
That should suffice, right? :-)

And of course I tell them whether they seem to be listening or not that these are basic disciplines that will help them later in life. Because not to do them is just being plain lazy! Obvious my "shouting" is also for my benefit because the most embarrassing thing would be if I be lazy and my children get the opportunity to point a finger at me and say,
"Hypocrite!" :-)

One more side note ...
My church's former pastor, (a wise man in my eyes) commented on Sunday that there were some difficult things in the passage he was going to preach on that needed to be heard. That was the difficulty of preaching through a book of the Bible. You can't just only preach the nice encouraging stuff and avoid the tough stuff. I wonder too in my preaching.

Very few people like to listen to the rebukes and challenges in Scripture. But I must also shout these things if I wish to be a faithful preacher of God's Word. BTW, note that the famous verses of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says the following:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Notice that of the four uses of Scripture mentioned, rebuking and correcting are two of them? Food for thought?

A final note for now ... "shouting our loud" truths (as hard as it may be to do or hear) is not totally hopeless. I see changes in people's lives. For example, my eldest now that he has a part time job faithfully tithes and has decided to do it anonymously. My heart overflows with joy and thanksgiving to God. All my "shouting for years" on financial giving, responsibility, the importance of being generous, blessing others etc has reaped benefits.

So let us indeed keep shouting to the world (and ourselves) what needs to be heard for the glory of God.

Paul's other reflections from Spiritual Formation on the Run:

the Silence in the Noise
Omission and Commission
A Burning Bush

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Blogger Tony Siew said...

Dear Alex, thanks for putting this up. I am encouraged by Paul's sharing and reflections based on reading your book.

12:31 PM  

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