By Chua Wee Hian
THE VALUE OF FEEDBACK
Recently, I have been noting an interesting trend. Enterprises that are successful and flourishing pro-actively solicit customers’ feedback. A week after our cruise to Alaska, Holland America invited me to rate their services. After the annual servicing of our boiler and other equipment, our utilities company requested my honest appraisal of their engineer’s performance. When I used the toilets at two airports, I was surprised to see machines “blinking” with emojis of smiling, frowning or neutral faces. Whichever emoji I pressed would indicate my satisfaction or otherwise with the state of their facilities. Each press sent my mind flashing to the words of an American pastor in Hong Kong, “You can tell the health of your church by the state of its toilets.” And he was frequently obsessed by the cleanliness of his church’s rest-rooms!
John Wooden (1910-2010), legendary basketball coach used to comment “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”
Sadly, I have spoken to pastors and leaders who are averse to feedback. “Only trouble makers write nasty remarks” “Criticisms lock you in the cell of utter despair” “How dare you evaluate God’s work. It’s carnal to assess spiritual work”. This sentiment was demonstrated when I, on a visit to India, received an earful of angry words when I gently suggested to a Christian executive that he reviewed his financial operations and the way his magazine publicised their ministry. He declared that any human review would demean him as God’s agent and ultimately, an attack on God. Looking back at my own re-actions to criticisms, I regretted the times when I was over-defensive, giving excuses for my shortcomings. I am thankful for the occasions when God gave me the grace to humbly listen and then to work at change and improvement.
Someone who was deeply concerned for the health and growth of his congregation, asked me what I would do today if I were the lead pastor. I would talk to six or seven church members asking what they what they like about my church or my sermons and how I/we can do better. I would include a couple of newcomers and my entire staff team. I read of a well-known corporation that welcomes and rewards practical suggestions and constructive criticism from its employees. Online and senior managers study, discuss and act on ones that will enable the company to improve its marketing and production and create a better working atmosphere and relationships within the firm. Are you secure enough to entertain feedback’s?
On October 31 2017, Protestant churches will be celebrating 500 years of Reformation. What an opportunity to remind our congregations what the Reformers proclaimed and wrote that resulted in this earth-shaking revolution. They were not proponents of a new theology but they re-discovered the heart of the Gospel – God’s grace displayed in his saving acts in Christ received through faith. On what grounds and by what authority? According to the Scriptures.
In the past two weeks, I have re-told the history of the Reformation and the lasting legacy that the Reformers have deposited in the Five Solas:
- SOLA SCRIPTURA (Scripture alone)
- SOLA GRATIA (Grace alone)
- SOLA FIDE (Faith alone)
- SOLUS CHRISTUS (Christ alone)
- SOLI DEO GLORIA (Glory alone to God)
Never forget: we are heirs of the Reformation. We need to know what we believe and why both historically and today. I pray constantly that the Protestant Church and the Roman Catholic Church subject themselves to the reforming power of the written Word.
Faith take what grace offers
No one can understand the message of Scripture who does not know the meaning of grace. The God of the Bible is ‘the God of all grace’ (1 Pet.5:10). Grace is love, but love of a special sort. It is a love which stoops and sacrifices and serves, love which is kind to the unkind, and generous to the ungrateful and undeserving. Grace is God’s unmerited free love and favour, loving the unlovable, seeking the fugitive, rescuing the hopeless, and lifting the beggar from the dunghill to make him sit among princes. (Psalm 113:7-8)
John Stott Understanding the Bible p.127
Grace is the ‘free and unmerited favour of God’. It is Paul’s word to describe the loving, underserved initiative of God I giving Christ to die, raising him from the dead and revealing him to sinners. His whole message became ‘the word of his grace’ (Acts 14:3) and ‘the good news of the grace of God’ (Acts 20;24) ‘The grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men.’ (Titus 2:11). It is supremely manifested in the provision and offer of salvation. Salvation includes the past, the present and the future. It describes God’s liberation of man from all the ravages of sin in the conscience, the mind, the heart, the will and the body; in his relation to God, the world and to himself. It comprises the believer’s justification (his acceptance before God), sanctification (his growth in holiness) edification (his life in the church) and glorification (his perfection in eternal glory) Or more simply, it makes him a son and a saint, a brother and an heir. Such is the grace of God received by faith. The only function of faith is to respond to grace. Faith takes what grace offers.
John Stott Men With A Message p.57
Justification is a gift of God’s sheer grace, not a reward for any merit or works of ours. For God’s grace is his spontaneous generosity, his free and unmerited favour, his gracious kindness to the underserving. Grace is God loving, God stooping, God coming, God giving. John Stott Messenger and God : Studies in Romans 1-5 p.69
If we come to Christ and put our trust in him, a marvellous but mysterious exchange takes place. He takes away our sins, and clothes us with his righteousness instead. In consequence, we stand before God, ‘not trusting in our righteousness, but in God’s manifold grace and great mercies’, not in the tattered rags of our own morality but in the spotless robe of righteousness of Christ. And God accepts us not because we are righteous but because the righteous Christ dies for our sins and was raised from death.
John Stott Christian Basics p.19
We must never think of salvation as a kind of transaction between God and us in which he contributes grace and we contribute faith. For we were dead and had to be quickened before we can believe. No, Christ’s apostles clearly teach that saving faith is God’s gracious gift.
John Stott The Message of Ephesians p.83
GRACE & GUILT
Preoccupation with self is always a major component of unhealthy guilt and recrimination. It stirs our emotions, churning in self-destructive ways, closes us in upon the mighty citadel of self, leads to depression and despair and preempts the presence of a compassionate God. The language of unhealthy guilt is harsh, It is demanding, abusing, criticizing, rejecting, accusing, blaming, condemning, reproaching and scolding. Christians are shocked and horrified when they have failed
Yes, we feel guilt over our sins, but healthy guilt is one which acknowledges the wrong done and feels remorse, but then is free to embrace the forgiveness that has been offered. Healthy guilt focuses on the realization that all has been forgiven, the wrong has been redeemed. As John R. Claypool wrote: “We all have shadows and skeletons in our background. But listen, there is something bigger in this world than we are and that something bigger is full of grace and mercy, patience and ingenuity. The moment the focus of your life shifts from your badness to his goodness and the question becomes not ‘What have I done’ but ‘What can he do?’ release from remorse can happen; miracle of miracles, you can forgive yourself you are accepted, and begin to start building up the very places you tore down. There is grace to help n every time of trouble. The grace is the secret of being able to forgive ourselves. Trust it.”
Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel pp114/5.
NEW EVERY MORNING
When God’s love is taken for granted, we paint Him into a corner and rob Him of the opportunity to love us in a NEW and SURPRISING way, and faith begins to shrivel and shrink. When I become so spiritually advanced that Abba is old hat, then the Father has been had, Jesus had been tamed, the Spirit has been corralled, and the Pentecostal fire has been extinguished. Evangelical faith is the antithesis of Luke-warmness. It always means a profound dissatisfaction with our present state.
In faith, there is a movement and a development. Each day something is new. To be Christian faith has to be new, that is, alive and growing. It cannot be static, finished, settled. When Scripture, prayer, worship, ministry become routine, they are dead. When I conclude I can cope with the awesome love of God, I have headed to the shallows to avoid the deeps. I could more easily contain Niagara Falls in a tea-cup than I can comprehend the wild and uncontainable love of God.
Ibid pp .161/2.
I passed them right and left today: homeless vagabonds who are strangers to themselves. Then as I passed a storefront I caught a glimpse of myself, and realized I am one too. I have an address, but I am not at home. I am a man in flight afraid to turn around lest I run into myself.
So I’m clinging to your words this evening: “You have a home…I am your home…claim Me as your home.. you will find it to be the intimate place where I have found My home. It is right where you are… in your inner being…in your heart.” I don’t want to be afraid any longer.
Brennan Manning Dear Abba Morning and Evening Prayer
Dissatisfaction and failure, far from being a psychological disaster is the fuel that guides leaders to change and renewal. Great innovators always develop their insights not from an appraisal of how good everything is but from what is going wrong.
ATM was a response to the problem of getting hold of cash before and after opening hours. The inventor John Shepherd-Baron created ATM whilst lying in a bath one night worrying, because he had forgotten to go to the bank.
The collapsible buggy was a solution to the impracticality of unwieldy prams. Owen Malcolm saw his daughter struggling with her pram when carrying his grand- daughter and fitting her in.
Masking tape was invented because of the failure of adhesive tapes that would rip off paint when removed from cars and walls.
James Dyson invented his dual cylinder vacuum cleaner because he was frustrated with existing models as they kept losing suction power and letting out a high pitch scream when full.
M. Syed, Journalist.