Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Grace Observed

“There is nothing we can do to make God love us more.
There is nothing we can do to make God love us less.”

(Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997, p70)
I like Yancey’s rendition of what grace means. It is a down-to-earth definition. It is beautifully captured in God’s love. It removes from us the burden of having to work for something in order to be affirmed in our humanity. It is given to us freely. Grace is something that is more easily conveyed than explained, as Yancey would attest. How can we ever define what an act of grace? There are far more expressions and nuances of grace than one can ever know. It is one of those things that is better felt than thought, better practiced closely than observed at a distance; better lived out in the present rather than stored up for a future which may never come. Of course, one cannot be overly dogmatic about grace. The arms of grace must be long enough to embrace the people from all walks of life. It is wide enough to make room for people of different shapes and sizes. It needs to be deep enough for people with much more profound needs. It ought to be tall enough to encourage people to pursue the heights of their vocation. Grace is like water which freezes in order to retain the freshness of people; which steams up to reawaken the coldness of society; which eases itself into liquid form under conditions of normality. It is like what Yancey writes, ‘the last best word.’

Living in Grace in a World of Ungrace
Some learns grace by actively doing good works. Some exercises grace best when they are in a giving mode. Others know grace instinctively when there is a need to let people show kindness to them. Some needs to be introduced to grace via a classroom approach. Others prefer to be educated in the school of hard knocks.

In a broken world, it is a constant ordeal to live against the backdrop of an environment where ‘ungrace’ seems more prevalent than true Christian grace. Sometimes in Christian organizations, there are more instances of ungrace than anticipated. Christianity Today has an article about the state of ungrace in the Church. This is sad. Perhaps expectations have been painted too unfairly. Those who work in non-Christian places seemed to be under a different expectation ruler compared to people working in churches and Christian based societies. The work might be the same, but the expectations are different, too dissimilar for comfort. For example, it seems to be ok to have disputes in a business being fought out in the law courts. Yet, when church conflicts get publicized openly in the media, people shake their heads even more. Sometimes, the world seems to think that ‘Christian people’ ought to be sinless in their behaviour. The fact is that all people including Christians, still belong to the human race that has sinned. “For all has sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” writes Paul in Romans 3:23. Believers of Jesus may not be sinless, but they are called to sin less. Biblically, the word ‘grace’ is an oft-mentioned word. In the New Testament, the word ‘grace’ is used in every one of Paul’s epistles. Each time it is used, Paul acknowledges the source: God. The word χάρις (charis) is a noun that can be translated as grace, favour or simply ‘goodwill.’ It is not merely to be analyzed or admired but to be received with open hands. Like a bottle of vitamins, merely holding up the bottle and analyzing the ingredients on the label will not provide additional nutrients to the person’s physical body. The bottle has to be uncapped, the number of required capsules to be taken out and swallowed via the mouth often with water. Grace cannot be simply studied for itself. It needs to be accepted with gratitude. It takes grace to receive, grace to give. Like air, grace is not something that is an object that is visible in any one specific form. It is only seen through acts of love. When a person listens carefully to a grieving party, that person is showing grace in desiring to comfort the anguished. When a driver slows down to let another car on the shoulder join a busy highway, grace is demonstrated. When one gives up an entitlement for the sake of another, grace is illustrated. When a wife refrains from comment when her husband is in a foul mood, grace is lived out in love. In an electronic age, when one is offended by an email, one can choose to give the sender the benefit of the doubt with an attitude of grace. Sometimes, it may be necessary to do a reply to clarify certain things. A gracious answer will be one that is sprinkled with grace. It will be one that is honest to God, self and neighbour. When placed under the care of God’s grace, it will be measured with considerable quantity of self-control.

Grace tilts the balance between the left and the right unto truthful talking. Grace saunters the tightrope of gentleness between two opposing viewpoints unto graceful walking. Grace tiptoes across the garden of roses to avoid trampling the roses while shunning the thorns. Grace navigates the ship gently when caught amid the stormy waters of disputes and conflicts. Human grace is never complete without God. The grace of God is the best fertilizer, the perfect sunshine and the most hydrating fluid in the garden of humanity. Grace extends through all kinds of human relationships. Luci Shaw paints a beautiful portrait of God as the Gardener and our struggles as parents.
“Just as young parents learn, from the experience of having children, a great deal about the Parent heart of God – his delight in our growth and success, his disappointment and yearning when we ignore him or rebel against his guidelines – so the illustrious and creative gardener learns much about the God who wants to make of us a garden, where with abundant water and sunshine, with heat and cold, with sowing and growing he can see the fruits of his loving labors.” (Luci Shaw, Water My Soul, Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1998, p45)
As friends, grace is also shown in terms of the willingness to let our friends be who God has made them to be. True friendships are usually seen in rocky moments of life. Jesus failed to find any friend among his disciples when he was arrested and tried for crimes he did not commit. All his disciples and all who knew him deserted him in his darkest hours of need. It is important here not to become too absorbed in the sufferings of Christ, that we forget about the purpose of his suffering: To bring us closer to one another in Christ.
“But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” (CS Lewis, The Four Loves, Harcourt, 1991, p89)
Only in Jesus, who is fully man and fully divine, can we learn true grace. The late American playwrite, Eugene O’Neill describes the relationship between humanity and divinity beautifully as follows.

Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.” (Eugene O’Neill)

Let me end this article with a lovely blending of friendship and grace in the garden of love. Essentially, let us all start by planting this garden, and over time, the flowers will bloom and we obtain the sweet fruits of God's love. Credit goes to this website.

A Garden Just For You

For the garden of your daily living plant three rows of peas
  1. Peace of mind
  2. Peace of heart
  3. Peace of soul
Plant four rows of squash:
  1. Squash gossip
  2. Squash indifference
  3. Squash grumbling
  4. Squash selfishness
Plant four rows of lettuce:
  1. Lettuce be faithful
  2. Lettuce be kind
  3. Lettuce be patient
  4. Lettuce really love one another
No garden is without turnips:
  1. Turnip for meetings
  2. Turnip for service
  3. Turnip to help one another
To conclude our garden we must have thyme:
  1. Thyme for each other
  2. Thyme for family
  3. Thyme for friends

Water freely with patience and cultivate with love. There is much fruit in your garden because your reap what you sow.

May the Lord be blessed as we observe grace more frequently in our lives.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Karoshi and Work Spirituality

It has that familiar ring to it. The questions: “Does your work have meaning and purpose?” “Have you ever considered what meaningful work is and how to go about making it so?” For some of us who have attended marketplace theology classes, these are issues we think about all the time. Different stages of our learning reveal a different kind of flavor in our approach to it. The core belief is largely similar: Glorify God in all we do, including our workplace efforts. For Christians, the approach is usually from the biblical perspective. Dr Kenneth Boa and Gail Burnett observe that many people in the workplace tend to view work in a negative light.
  • The daily grind
  • Overworked and underpaid
  • Work like a dog
  • Slaving through the day
While these stems from an unhappiness that gets released at the end of the day or during coffee time, some become extreme forms of stress leading to death.

In Japan, the recent series of deaths arising from overwork have led the greater use of the word “Karoshi,” a Japanese word for ‘death from over work.’ This word was first cited in an organization interested in the study of work and stress. With rising deaths due to karoshi, an crisis web site has been created to try to help people cope with overwork. Recent cases of karoshi only have highlighted the rising problem. The highly regarded British publication, The Economist, picked up on this recent trend with an article “Japanese employees are working themselves to death,” published in Dec 2007. Interestingly, the two recent prominent karoshi cases involve the leading carmaker, Toyota, currently on the verge of becoming the top car company in terms of sales of number of vehicles. I have been reading up on Toyota these past weeks and have been impressed by their culture of excellence and quality. The Toyota Production System has been used as a case study at top MBA schools. Books like “The Toyota Way (Jeffrey Liker)” and “How Toyota Became #1 (David Magee)” have been written to help business leaders emulate their success. However, I can hardly find any warning messages about overwork and the need to take care of the soul at the workplace. Isn’t it obvious, that an unrealistic optimism renders one depressed when reality kicks in? Behind every success lies thousands of hours of hard work and failed attempts. It is a pity that business books often paint the positives so well that it disguises this fact. We need a reality check every-time we read business publications that trumpet the glory of any one method or organization. Jeffrey Liker, who wrote about the Toyota Culture, trumpets Toyota’s human systems as part of their success factors. However, I feel it is fails to go deep enough, even though he calls it the ‘heart and soul’ of the company. For instance, Liker calls culture as something that is ‘all in the head’ (Liker, Toyota Culture, 5). The purpose of people in the books is to make the company successful. Thus, management is called to care for people because people are the reason for their success. Yet, when the economy slows down, and when profits are at risk, cutting jobs (and people’s livelihood) become almost the de-facto management strategy to ‘stay afloat’ or ‘be responsible to shareholders.’ Of course, it is not fair to blame karoshi on just one company. Even restaurants have been known to have become factors to karoshi cases. I believe it is the entire work ethic gone astray. Though karoshi has largely been confined to Japanese situations, I do have some concerns.

Firstly, many have tried to emulate Japan as a model for their own successes. Are they unwittingly digging the graves for an eventual karoshi themselves? Secondly, can anyone of us realistically recreate Japan’s context for business success? Japan is a unique country, with a history that is not repeated elsewhere. Being the only country in the world to have suffered a nuclear detonation, their economic rise from the ashes of war have built in them a unique resilience. Thirdly, the Japanese culture cannot be easily replicated. There are not many cultures I know that retains their traditional culture in spite of technological advancement.

Workplace Spirituality on the Rise
Protestant Christians generally pride themselves as being part of the ‘Protestant Ethic,’ popularized by the Puritans in the 18th Century during the New Awakening revival, as well as Max Weber, the German economist who wrote “The Protestant Ethic and the Rise of Capitalism.” The core motive is the increase of wealth, rather than the pursuit of healthy working individuals. If the pursuit of money is the overarching goal, then isn’t it obvious that all other things, including people become the means to that end? Like it or not, Dilbert has painted this as a top management lie.
"Employees are our most valuable asset.”
For the skeptic, they see this both ways. People become valuable assets because in good times, they can be used to increase profits. In bad times, they can be quickly offloaded to cut losses. That will be far too cruel on management, who are people themselves. Having worked in the marketplace for 13 years, I am familiar with this conundrum. Not all workers are angels. Wherever possible, some will attempt to take advantage of the organization for selfish reasons. Others will try to maximize gains even at the expense of community within the company. We cannot be too hard-and-fast about any one rule. However, to run a successful company, we need to adopt and practice a healthy people philosophy. Having said that, publishing a grand philosophical statement is not enough. The key is in the implementation of these principles. I think one of the key elements is the spiritual factor in any business. The need has always been there. We only need to recognize it. Patricia Aburdene’s Megatrends 2010 lists ‘Spirituality in Business’ as one of the seven ‘Megatrends’ for the new century. In fact, out of seven, she lists ‘spirituality’ TWICE! For companies to succeed, even survive, there is a need to evoke ‘human consciousness’ in the workplace. In contrast to the previous Megatrend books, this latest publication is significantly more ‘internal’ and more ‘spiritual.’

I am a little suspicious here of the modern books on spirituality. Firstly, it is not explicitly Christian in perspective. While some authors claim the importance of spirituality, they left it pretty much open to all kinds of spiritual things, which is very new-age or postmodern new-age. If people are a means to an end in the previous two to three decades, the next decade is using gods as a means to an end. The objective of a capitalist organization is the same: Make more profits regardless. How should a Christian then work in a world confused about their own values, while conscious of the need for spiritual consciousness? I think education remains a key component in the revival of Christian spirituality in the workplace. Dr Paul Stevens is a pioneer in the field of marketplace theology, and I like his reading of Thomas Aquinas’s ‘seven spiritual alms deeds’ for the marketplace.
  • To feed the hungry (the food industry)
  • To give drink to the thirsty (beverage)
  • To clothe the naked (clothing, design)
  • To harbor the harborless (hospitality)
  • To visit the sick (medicine, counseling)
  • To ransom the captive (police, military)
  • To bury the dead (funeral business)

    [Paul Stevens, Doing God’s Business, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006, p214]
The list can be longer, but the point is, we need to see everything from the perspective of God and from our neighbours. Whatever we do or work, if we can see it as part of being obedient to the call of God to love God and to love neighbour in all that we do, this world will be a much better place to live in. Our workplaces will not be prisons of chore and toil, but a garden in which we tend lovingly, gratefully and joyfully.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Spiritual Olympics

Nothing is for Free

Those of us who have seen the Beijing Olympics 2008 opening ceremony on the 8th of August would have been wowed by the spectacular display of Chinese pride, Li Ning’s sensational flight to light the Olympic torch and the pompous pyrotechnics all around. Reported to cost more than US100 million dollars, this single event drew in more than a billion viewers worldwide. The whole event was directed by the famous filmmaker, Zhang Yimou. No expenses were spared to put China on display for the world to see, that the middle kingdom has come of age. Even the date was deemed auspicious. The Games began on the 8th of August, 2008 at exactly 8pm.

On a smaller scale, the Olympians have been known to invest huge thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into their preparation for the games. In an article, “What price glory?”, two athletes were compared side by side with one thing in common: Their sacrifice to get to compete for the gold medal.
“The bills for coaching, training facilities, tournaments and other expenses easily add up to tens of thousands a year. For young American athletes, that financial burden falls squarely on their parents; for Chinese youth, the government picks up the tab - if they're good enough.

Either way, the Craig and Luo families have learned it takes gold to make gold. And both have sacrificed much along the way to make their daughters' Olympic dreams possible. To get to a similar place, though, they've taken very different journeys.”
Nothing is for free. Sometimes, we watch the Olympics on TV, and we envy the fame and glory that the winners of the respective events get to receive at the medal award ceremony. That one moment of glory disguises the tremendous sacrifices put in by the athletes, their families, friends, sponsors and many supporters. We can also forget that for every one medal winner, there are many others who have paid the price for competing in the event, and went home without winning anything. Many vie for the gold, but only one gets it. Many seek the glory but only the best and the fittest receives it. How unfair can it be for the hardworking, the multi-talented young ones, to be deemed ‘not good enough’ for the grand prize?

The apostle Paul is one who is most aware of the cost of competing to win.
You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. (2 Tim 2:1-5)
The Christian is compared to as a soldier and also as an athlete. The common themes for both soldier and athlete are the components of FED (Focus, Endurance & Discipline). The ‘prize’ or the ‘crown’ referred to in verse 5 is referred either to the wreath of victory or the prize given out to the champions during the Greek games in those days. The origin of the Olympics is from Greece, so this verse in 2 Timothy holds a special meaning for Olympians, especially those who are Christians. Do we need to participate officially at the Games in order to compete? No. There is a long running spiritual marathon that Christian believers have been called to run. Like the athletes we see on TV, Christians are called to invest heavily in their spiritual walk. It is not necessarily always money, though monetary terms are considered a common quantifiable. Some of us will pay lots of money for training and education to equip others. Some will spend lots of hours to keep relationships warm and healthy. Yet, some will venture into lands far away to reach out to various rural people groups needing to hear the gospel. For every single one of them, the truth is that the spiritual race demands hard work, faithful endurance and to obey the rules of the competition. The rules are enshrined in the Word of God, like the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount and many others in the Bible. In the Spirit of the teachings of Christ, we compete in the world stage by observing the rules of the game. No cheating. No drugs. No corruption. No devious forms of cheating or breaking the rules. No dishonesty. These are the rules. What good will there be for one to win the world, using dishonest means? It will soon be found out, and the net result is shame not only for oneself but the family as well. Look at Marion Jones (took drugs to win 5 medals at the 2000 Olympics) and Ben Johnson (took drugs to win the 100m dash at the 1998 Olympics). They brought not only humiliation to themselves but embarrass the countries they represent. It is one thing to win the gold medal. It is yet another to win it in fairness and with integrity. Not all of us are called to win the games at the Olympics. Not all of us will get to stand at the podium to receive the medal. Yet, all of us are called to run the race of our lives, in integrity, in truth and in love.

Nothing is for free. It will cost us something, and for some, it will cost us everything we have. The key to willingness to give it all up is not simply winning the prize. It is not even the expectation of getting the results according to the amount of investment we put in, for some will inevitably fail to reap the required results. For the Christian, it is essentially the faithfulness to endure all hardship in order to glorify God. Love is the fuel that will sustain the journey. Love is the compass to focus our drive for excellence. Let love provide the faithfulness needed to stick to our stated paths. Let love form the discipline for us being a good soldier or an athlete. While nothing is for free, all things can be FREELY given. That is what love is all about. Love is not love until it is freely given away. In Christ, we see the greatest love ever known.

My readers, compete aggressively with a prize-driven mentality and a God-led integrity. Run earnestly and be willing to pay the price to get a chance to run the race. You may not win every earthly battle or competition before you. You may not even come close to qualify for the finals. However, it isn’t finished until it is finished. It will not end until the kingdom of God fully appears in all its glory. Yet, there is an interesting twist about running and winning the race. This is best demonstrated by telling the story of love, which can also be referenced here.
“A few years ago at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100 yard dash. At the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a relish to run the race to the finish and win.

All, that is, except one boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times and began to cry. The other eight heard the boy. They slowed down and looked back. They all turned around and went back. Every one of them! One girl with Down's Syndrome bent down and kissed him and said,"This will make it better."

All nine linked arms and walked across the finish line together. Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for several minutes.

People who were there are still telling the story. Why? Because deep down we know one thing. What matters most in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What truly matters in this life is helping others win, even if it means slowing down and changing our course.”
As we compete to win, remember that whether we win or we lose, it is love that makes everything meaningful.


Saturday, August 09, 2008


One of my favourite authors is the late Lewis Smedes, former professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, who passed away in 2002. He left a legacy of excellent heart-felt communications and set a benchmark on what forgiveness meant. I heard of Dr Smedes way back in the late 80s, (or early 90s) where one of my pastors then mentioned him as a ‘great communicator.’ He was in Singapore and gave a series of talks at the SLF Building at Thomson Road. Indeed he is a master at communicating simple truths. His words about forgiveness and commitment in relationships remain one of the most memorable lessons for me as a young Christian. In a ChristianityToday classic republished in Dec 2002, just after his death, he talks about forgiveness being an act that has the potential to change our past. That is a very healing way to look at broken relationships or shattered history. Truly, one of the greatest human emotional moment is that instant of forgiveness between two parties. In that special time, what was previously far apart is now drawn closer together. What was damaged yesterday is now given an opportunity for reparation works today. In the act of forgiveness, the miraculous power to change the past becomes immediately available. This is not saying that we can wind back the clock to change events. It is not even talking about going back to the past to prevent unhappy circumstances from ever appearing. It is about establishing the peace to an otherwise tumultuous future resulting from an unresolved past hurts. Without forgiveness, we will continue to live under the shadow of brokenness and despair. We unwittingly allow the past to dictate our future. In forgiveness, we loosen the chains of blame; we release steam that threatens to blow up our humanness inside us; we empower others by granting them wings to freedom in their relationships with others as well. Smedes says it very well calling forgiveness and promises as twins to can change the past and secure the future respectively.
“God offers two answers to our deepest anxieties. He is a forgiving God who recreates our pasts by forgiving them. He is a promising God who controls our future by making and keeping promises. By forgiving us, he changes our past. By promising, he secures our future.”
The Apostle Paul may not have a degree in Psychology but he understands the spiritual need of Christians in the church. He prescribes forgiveness to the Corinthians, who are in constant bickering, paralyzing the church there with internal strife. Not only do they cause bad blood among the members, they do the gospel of Christ a great disfavour. Ron Susek, author of Firestorm agrees:
“With every church conflict, the first causality is the gospel of Jesus Christ because when the church is survival oriented, it cannot be salvation oriented.” (Ron Susek)“

No church is more than 24 hours away from a major conflict breaking out.” (Dr Roy Roberts)
In Firestorm, one of the key errors of leadership during times of conflict is indecision. When pinned to a corner to choose a side to support, leaders typically tend to take the middle ground or not making a decision in order to keep the peace. Indecision is not simply refusing to make a decision. It is a BAD decision in itself. I will suggest that the best way in times like this is to make an immediate decision to work at forgiveness, bringing in a mediator immediately if need to.

“If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven – if there was anything to forgive – I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” (2 Cor 2:10-11)

Being a Peacemaker, not Peacekeeper
Paul here is playing the role of a mediator. He uses himself to come between two opposing parties and draw their attention to Christ. One may claim to speak FOR Christ, but it takes a peacemaker to act IN Christlikeness. Matthew 5:9 says: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” Indeed, there is a distinction between being a peace-MAKER versus a peace-KEEPER. One is active while the other is passive. The former acts actively to ensure that peace is preserved. The latter simply tries to keep the peace but will withhold active participation. Peacemakers look forward to a brighter future of peace and harmony. Peacekeeper tries to maintain the status quo. How can we allow ‘peacekeepers’ to maintain a status quo of internal squabbling? How can we ever keep the peace if it was never peaceful in the first place? Like a canoe going downhill on a rushing river, having only peacekeepers in the church is like asking everyone in the canoe to stop rowing at all. On the other hand, having peacemakers is like getting everyone in the boat to paddle upward to safety. Here, Paul seeks to make the peace by exhorting the Church to forgive, even as Paul in Christ has forgiven them.

There are five observations I want to highlight:
Firstly, the Greek form of ‘forgive’ in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is χαρίζομαι (charizomai, to show favour, to give freely). The primitive word in this verb is charis, which is grace and kindness. It appears to be an active verb that takes the initiative to bless and grant grace to another. This act of forgiveness is something that is done freely. In contrast to the other Greek word for ‘forgive,’ ἀφίημι (aphiemi, to send away, to leave), which has the image of abandoning one’s state of unforgiveness or negative behaviour. It is like putting away and leaving behind in contrast to chariszomai which is a putting ON of an attitude of grace.

Secondly, Paul’s use of the middle voice here is very curious. In Greek, the middle voice means two things: to initiate an action and to participate in the response or the results of that action. Paul wants the feuding groups to make the peace by initiating forgiveness and participating in the atmosphere of grace. In one word, Paul brings out two actions of initiating and participating. In forgiveness, we become vulnerable to the other party’s responses. No one can guarantee what kind of reply to be expected.

Thirdly, the audience is unnamed. It can mean the left or the right. It can mean anyone reading the epistle, including us. This letter is written for the benefit of all Christians, even though it is addressed to the Corinthians directly. Isn’t it so wonderful that the Word of God can have such timeless applications? That is one way that the mediator can behave, by not taking sides straightaway, but to teach the fact that any dispute involves all parties. It is not simply the aggressor against the aggrieved. It also involves the many silent majority, especially those who chose to watch on the sidelines without behaving like peacemakers.

Fourthly, forgiveness is made in the name of Christ. This is important. If a perfectly blameless person like Christ, chooses not to cast stones at the sinful woman, how dare we, as sinful beings encourage another toward culpable acts? The way to forgive one another is to do so in the spirit and person of Christ.

Fifthly, by forgiving, we pull the carpet under the devil’s feet, who is standing just outside the doorway of church divisions. Satan is most pleased when there is infighting among the children of God. In forgiveness, we pull ahead of any devilish schemes that can break down a church. We ‘outwit’ the devil as a result. Paul emphatically states that he is ‘not unaware’ of the devil’s schemes, indicating that he is careful not to exclude the possibility of spiritual warfare going on. Here, I will like to add a quick comment about blaming the devil. It is sometimes very difficult to distinguish whether the cause of church divisions is due to the whims of the flesh or the darts of the evil one. While both deceives, their origins are different. It has been said that while not all church divisions are due to the presence of the devil, it is certainly true that disunity comes largely because of the absence of the Holy Spirit. I will not go to the extreme of casting this statement in concrete. As much as we try to be aware of the schemes of the devil, we must be even more conscious of the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit. The leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit is in the way of forgiveness.

Truly, forgiveness is the key to any healing of rifts; the catalyst for bonding of relationships; the essence of being human. It is enshrined at the core of the Lord’s prayer. It is to be done unto others and for others to do unto us. It is something that we can do on our own, yet makes us dependent on others to reciprocate willingly. That is why it is grace epitomized.

Indeed, when we forgive others, not only do we set others free, we realize that when that happens, the greatest beneficiary is us. Let us shake loose the chains of hatred and enmity. Let us open the prison doors of pride. Set ourselves free from self-imposed incarceration. Recognize that the act of forgiveness not only set others free to forgive and forget. It turns one narrow path of relationship and transforms it into a highway of goodwill and peace. In forgiveness, we learn one of the basic tools of being a peacemaker. Let me end with Smedes's five things about forgiveness:
  1. "Forgiving is the only way to be fair to yourself after someone hurts you unfairly.
  2. Forgivers are not doormats; they do not have to tolerate the bad things that they forgive.
  3. Forgivers are not fools; they forgive and heal themselves, but they do not have to go back for more abuse.
  4. We don’t have to wait until the other person repents before we forgive him or her and heal ourselves.
  5. Forgiving is a journey. For us, it takes time, so be patient and don’t get discouraged if you backslide have to do it over again."
Great tips indeed. This last quote should get us all eager to forgive.

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” (Lewis Smedes)



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