Saturday, September 13, 2014

"Mining for Facts" vs "Aligning for Faith"

SCRIPTURE: Ps 119:71
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: September 13th, 2014
“It is good for me to be afflicted so that I may learn your decrees.” (Ps 119:71)
Adam is worried sick about his exams. His mother enters the room and quotes Proverbs 3:5-6 to him to trust God for all things. Adam takes his mother’s advice and stops studying. He goes straight to bed without further worrying. He says: “God will make my paths straight right?” He fails his exams leaving him with a negative aftertaste that the Bible does not really work for him.

Teddy knows his Bible well. Since young, he has aced Bible quizzes and has won many Scripture memory competitions. He is literally a walking Bible. He has a quote for all occasions and people often look up to him for his level of Bible literacy. He participates actively in Bible discussions with his own ready answers. Sometimes, he can become quite disruptive during Bible discussions as he brings in verses from all over the Bible that distracts participants from properly understanding the verses in context. People are increasingly afraid of sharing deeper secrets with Teddy because every time they share something, Teddy would be so quick to quote a Bible verse that he would not listen to anything else at all. After all, how can anyone argue against the Word of God thrown at them? People call Teddy a Bible-rifle who uses Bible verses as bullets for everything in life. People avoid Teddy often by saying: “Thanks but no thanks. What’s right for you may not be right for me.

Monique loves Bible studies. She approaches every study enthusiastically mining the Bible for all kinds of information. She plows through many commentaries and dictionaries, marking every word, every phrase, and every passage, even punctuation marks! Like a gold digger, she digs away diligently looking for Bible gems as if she is the one in control. She is more interested in Bible information than spiritual formation.

Adam, Teddy, and Monique present three different types of Christians. Adam lets his faith be dependent on what people say. Teddy tells people without listening to what people are saying. Monique digs the Bible as if she is telling the Bible what she wants rather than to let the Bible teach her what she needs.

This week, I want to discuss the difference between Bible information and spiritual formation. For the former, one mines the Bible for facts and knowledge. One is in control of the learning. One is in charge of what to learn. For the latter, one lets the Bible be the teacher, the guide, and the cultivator of faith. The chief question this week is this: Are we mining for facts or are we aligning for faith?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ten Thoughts to Encourage the Weary Soul

SCRIPTURE: Colossians 4:7-8
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: September 6th, 2014

"7Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts." (Colossians 4:7-8)

These days, I have been sensing a general sense of despair and fatigue among people I know. While there are those who appear to be well and happy, there are also those faithful ones who serve each week, without complaining, and earnestly wanting to help people. Looking at Paul's encouragement to the Colossian Church, I am intrigued at how he is willing to send a dear brother like Tychicus to encourage others. I like to play the role of Tychicus this week, to focus on ten brief thoughts specifically to encourage fellow servants, ministry workers, and those simply desiring to do more for God.

  1. On People: As I look at the way God had been faithful to Israel, if there is any one person who ought to be most discouraged, it would be God, having to deal with a stubborn Israel and ignorant mankind. Yet, God continues to speak to us. He has used the Patriarchs of old; the Kings; the Prophets; the Priests; the Early Church and Disciples. Still, in spite of man's disobedience and unfaithfulness, God continues to keep His end of the bargain. It is because God has not given up on us, we ought not give up on fellow people.

  2. On Ministry: The demands of ministry is great. Due to varying amounts of expectations, there is no way one can ever meet all the demands of all parties. Something invariably had to give. Remember this. When we minister as servants of God, we are not in charge of the ministry results. God is. Moreover, God did not say that whatever we do, we will get success. God desires us to be faithful and in God's good time, God will be the agent for all forms of fruitfulness. Plant and water away!

  3. Doing More: It is easy to straitjacket ourselves to do more, to be more, and to invest more. In a world that seems to promote size, volume, quantity, and all kinds of quantitative bigness, it is good to be reminded that just like the poor woman with only two coins, or the words from Peter who had not gold nor silver, but the Word of God, so we too need to remember that in God's ministry, just like the confession of John the Baptist, less of us means more of God.

  4. On Evangelism: According to Kent Hunter, a Church leadership consultant, Evangelism is the biggest struggle among Christians. Perhaps, it is a erroneous mindset many people had from the beginning. I have always told people. Conversation is our responsibility; Conversion is God's.

  5. On Spiritual Growth: How do we grow spiritually? Some pay big bucks to attend conferences and retreats. Others work through a rigorous program or a multi-step process to inject some spirituality into our jaded faith. It is good to remember that just like the seed story in Mark 4:27, "Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how." Spiritual growth is the Lord's. We just need to be ready always.

  6. On Church: Week in week out, we hear more negativity about the Church than good news. Moreover, a Church as the Bride of Christ is supposed to be the bearer of Good News. It's true that the Church is grossly imperfect. Yet, the Church is not totally bad as some parties paint it to be. Among the bad perceptions, remember too that there are always genuine people within. There are always those who serve without complaining. There are faithful brothers and sisters who serve not because of pleasing people, but because they desire to please God. Find a few such brothers and sisters and fellowship with them.

  7. On Leadership: Some of us have been called to be leaders in various capacities. Whether in Church, at work, or in some organizations we are involved with, leadership is something we grow into. It does not happen automatically. Remember this one thing. In becoming a leader, the first person we ever lead is our own selves. Be confident in leading ourselves. As the patterns develop, and as we become followers of Jesus, people will watch us. Let our leadership grow as we follow hard after God, and be examples for others to follow hard after God. After all, leadership is both relying on examples for living as well as living by example.

  8. On Prayer: Perhaps, we have become associated with guilt whenever we fail to pray enough. Maybe, our own prayers seem to be before meals or during Sunday morning services. Don't worry. It is a process. In fact, Jesus has encouraged us not to be distracted by people who utter long prayers. The shortest prayer uttered with honest feelings will cover greater spiritual mileage. This is exactly what the Jesus prayer is about. Short, simple, and very spiritual. "Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner!"

  9. On Social Media: Sometimes, it can be rather discouraging for those of us who have few friends. Few people comment on our posts. Even fewer bother to add us as their friends. It can leave us feeling very unappreciated or unwanted, especially when we see others having tremendous following and popularity in their social media profiles. Note that like all things, beauty is fleeting. Popularity can work both ways. Fame can easily turn into infamy in 1 day. Do not be discouraged by the many who ignore us. Be encouraged by the genuine few who care for us.

  10. On Writing: Many of us who write encounter the writers' block from time to time. We try our best. We sit for hours. We load ourselves up with coffee, ambiance, and all kinds of writing resources. Yet, the ink never flows. Like my good old Professor at Regent College says: "All good writing is re-writing." Go ahead and write away. Do not expect Pulitzer Prize quality to appear from the first stroke of the pen or the initial tabs of the computer keyboard. All good writing comes after lots of editing, re-writing, and re-phrasing. In fact, based on my own writing experience, all good writing comes from faithfulness. Once the first words are on paper, the creativity and the ideas come once the editing process kicks in. All good writing is re-writing, and re-writing, and re-writing.

THOUGHT: One of the highest of human duties is the duty of encouragement. There is a regulation of the Royal Navy which says: "No officer shall speak discouragingly to another officer in the discharge of his duties." (William Barclay)


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Friday, August 29, 2014

Christian Influence

SCRIPTURE: Acts 26:25-29
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 29th, 2014

I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.” Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” (Acts 26:25-29)
The power of an influential life is this: When others see us, they wanted to be just like us. The power of a Christian testimony is this: When others see us, they wanted to be just like the Christ they see in us.

Influence moves people. Those who have been touched by Mother Teresa will faithfully learn and work like her. Those who have been impacted by the peace efforts of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. will advocate for the peace Gandhi and King had preached. Those who have been transformed by the ministry of Billy Graham would be on the way to evangelize and to share the gospel, just like the legendary evangelist. We like to become the people we like. The essence of leadership is that people would desire to follow the leader. If there are no followers, what good is a leader?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Vocationally Challenged

SCRIPTURE: Hebrews 5:5
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 22nd, 2014

"So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, 'YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU.'; " (Heb 5:5, NASB)

Key Point: Being vocationally challenged is another way of asking what we are called to do. Let us not become stuck in this endless cycle. This week, I propose that we do not need to elevate "calling" or "vocation" as a form of activity to be done. Instead, what is most important is cultivating our capacity and ability to listen. Perhaps, when we listen well, we will avoid letting our vocationally challenged posture become an end in itself.

When I was at Regent College, one of the most interesting terms I heard was "vocationally challenged." Next to the other three famous words "I Don't Know," fellow students and staff used "vocationally challenged" whenever they were asked about what they wanted to do with their lives. A friend of mine noticed that there were two groups of students. The first group came with a keen sense of calling that once they graduated, they would enter into ministry so and so. The second group was a little more common: those who are using theological education as a way to find their calling.

I countered with a third group: those who tried but still failed to find what they wanted. From my many encounters, I realized that students often come to Regent College thinking they can find answers to their spiritual search or theological learning. Instead, they leave with more questions. In fact, they will leave with more expertise to ask the very same questions in a more savvy manner. They become more confused. Like Humpty Dumpty who had a great fall, after a few years of de-constructing old theologies and archaic structural frameworks, they are at a loss on how to put them all together again.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Darkness - To Avoid or Embrace?

SCRIPTURE: Ps 88:1-2
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 15th, 2014
"1Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. 2May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry." (Ps 88:1-2)
Depression is in a way, a journey into darkness. For many, it is a descent not an ascent. What troubles me is the uncritical acceptance among people to avoid darkness at all costs.This week, I want to reflect on depression not simply as a descent into darkness. When we learn to embrace it with Christ, it can very well be an ascent to the light.

The world mourns the suicide-death of Robin Williams. Major news agencies and television channels cover the story feverishly. Social media buzzes with multiple sharing of posts. Pop stars chime in with their tributes and memories of the popular actor-comedian. Even scientists and medical professionals have entered the fray to discuss the causes, the fears, and the need to seek help during times of depression. The common thread among all is that depression is bad; it is something to be avoided like the Ebola virus; it is to be treated like a disease.  What is depression? Is it a walk in the dark?

A) Too Little Too Late?

Suppose it is a disease to be eradicated, sometimes I wonder why we talk about things only when it is too late. Like government agencies that tightened up their security checks when there is a breach. Or banks that install new procedures when a loophole was exploited. Or the revamp of some medical procedures as a result of a fatality. Or pharmaceutical companies that stop making profits off a controversial drug only after a major scandal. We are creatures that only learn when bad news arrives. Such a phenomenon is everywhere. Just take a look at the infamous 9/11 terrorist attacks. Before the attacks, traveling was a breeze with laughable security systems. Post-9/11 travel went to the other extreme: Police state style frisks at various checkpoints.

Depression however is different, perhaps more sinister. It is a hidden demon waiting to terrorize the victim. It stays dormant most of the time, appears some of the time, and if allowed to conquer and to consume, it can lead to fatality. Despite the news about Parkinson’s Disease as part of the reason, depression is reported to be a big factor leading to the death of Robin Williams. As a hidden monster waiting to reveal itself, if left unchecked, it will torment, torture, and torch away one’s sanity and sensibility. Such is the case of a fellow student at Regent College back in 2005. Brilliant and dedicated, he took his own life, leaving behind a young wife. (Read my article on suicide and depression here.) His death stunned my Regent community. Very soon, instructions and emails were sent out to all about the need to come out and talk when depressed or when harbouring suicidal thoughts. For the loved ones of victims, any post-partum activities will come too little too late. We can do all the talk about depression. We can conduct classes on what to do. However, for the loved ones of suicide victims, such things are literally “too little too late.”

Saturday, August 9, 2014

On "Chronological Snobbery"

SCRIPTURE: Ephesians 4:2
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 8th, 2014

"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." (Ephesians 4:2)

Things new are not necessarily superior. Things of old are not necessarily better.

I remember years ago the excitement at a school. What was life like 50 years ago? What kinds of fashion or things most defined that generation? The unveiling of the time capsule gave present day people a chance to glimpse at the past. After some searching for the actual location, the time capsule was found. When opened, there were old school uniforms, school magazines, books, newspapers namecards, and old photographs. The purpose of the time capsule was to communicate to future generations the life and culture of the times back then. It is usually a very exciting event as people go "woohs" and "wahs" about how life had progressed over the years.

I suppose a typical time capsule to describe our modern fast-paced Western society would comprise of some electronics, DVDs, picture of an electric car, green initiatives, newspapers, electronic tablets, some website pictures, an iPhone and a Samsung, and anything to represent what 2014 looks like. Perhaps we can include web addresses, the way we communicate, social media, and other creative things we can think of. Generally, when we look from a technological angle, things now are way more advanced than things then. This is evident from movies about some futuristic characters zapping through time to land sometime in a historical past. Like the Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, where the Starship Enterprise had to travel back in time to look for primitive whales in order to save themselves from potential destruction. As the crew traveled 300 years back into the year 1986, they mesmerized earthlings with their advanced communication devices, their technological prowess, and more classy ways of getting things done, like the classic Star Trek "Beam Me Up" effect. As a Star Trek fan, I saw everything from the standpoint of the Star Trek heroes, and becoming amused at the way 1986 people were so "primitive." I lived out a little bit of what CS Lewis had called: "Chronological Snobbery."

Saturday, August 2, 2014

A New Form of PTSD

SCRIPTURE: Galatians 5:13-15
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 2nd, 2014
13You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (Galatians 5:13-15)

Yesterday morning, a social media giant was down. For a few hours, Facebook users encountered frustrating times when trying to log into their accounts. "Sorry, something went wrong" has become the bane of many people. For some, they continue to try "" in the hope that maybe the problem was their own Internet connection. For others, they fled to the other social media titan "Twitter" to update their statuses. I was one of the latter ,who used Twitter to check on the status of Facebook. Ironically isn't it? Welcome to a new way of using Company A to check on Company B!

I marvel at the many messages due to this outage. Messages like:
(Picture Credit: @_youhadonejob)

  • [Ash@Infamous_PR] "It's official, society has finally lost it! Facebook goes down for 19 mins & FB users act like the world is going to end!#facebookdown
  • [Bizarre Lazar @BizarLazar] "Facebook went down this morning, marking the first time in five years some people actually saw their family."
  • People dialing 911 over Facebook outage (link)
  • and many more that puts sarcasm over those who panicked over the whole situation....
One user tweeted the following picture (on the right) that pokes fun at the whole thing. I shared my own tweets too under my Twitter handle @yapdates.
  • "Facebook down. Life goes back to normal." (link)
  • "Facebook is down. That may be a good thing for our real social life." (link)
  • "There's a new PTSD in town. Post-Traumatic SocialMedia Disorder." (link)

I moved from laughter (lol) toward sighs of incredulity (*facepalm*) as I watch how a Facebook outage appears like an end-of-the-world scenario. What has the world become? Calling an emergency hotline (911) just because one cannot post anything on Facebook?

Welcome to a new version of PTSD: Post-Traumatic SocialMedia Disorder

Friday, July 25, 2014

In Solidarity With . . . . . . . . .

TITLE: IN SOLIDARITY WITH  . . . . . . . . .
SCRIPTURE: Jeremiah 29:7
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: July 25th, 2014

"Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." (Jer 29:7)

A) Aviation Losses

Just last week, we hear of the terrible shooting of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner (MH17) over the land of Ukraine. It was a horrible act of violence inflicted by people engaged in the civil war going on in Ukraine. Standing in solidarity with the families of the victims, the employees of Malaysia Airlines, the people of Malaysia, the Internet is rife with show of support as well as anger against the violence. One such site is the Facebook page called "A Fly Guy's Cabin Crew Lounge" which has become a popular platform for airline workers from all over the world to extend their show of support. There were many moving messages of goodwill and love shared. Words such as "Rest in Peace MH17," "We Pray for MH17," "_____ Airways Love Malaysia Airlines," and so on, provide a small semblance of the positive side of humanity. Then two more disasters further clouded the scene. Calling it a "very bad week" for the aviation industry, news sites reported yet another two more crashes. On Wednesday, a TransAsia Airways plane crashed in Taiwan amid stormy weather killing 48 passengers. On Thursday, Air Algerie flight AH5017 crashed in Mali, killing 116 people. We stand in solidarity with those who have lost loved ones, employees who have been shaken up by the terrible tragedy, and all who feels unsafe to fly. It is human to feel vulnerable. It is also human to try and support one another.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Lament Over Flight MH17

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 28:1-2
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: July 18th, 2014
1To you, Lord, I call; you are my Rock, do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who go down to the pit. 2Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place. (Ps 28:1-2)

How long O Lord, will this go on?  Two disasters, two 777s, and two tragic losses of lives. 

How long O Lord, must we hear bad news after bad news? People grieving over MH370 are already having a tough time. Malaysian Airlines are reeling off an increasingly gloomy economic outlook. People are just beginning to come around feeling more safe about commercial air travel. Then came this terrible news. Flight MH17 was shot down.

Why Lord? Why must such a thing ever be allowed to happen? I suppose this question is an age-old one, but Lord, a lot of us cannot help it but ask again and again.

Why? Why? Why?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

When Our Hearts Need a Retreat

SCRIPTURE: Genesis 4:13-14 / Matthew 11:28
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: July 12th, 2014
13Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (Genesis 4:13-14)
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)

Tom has been working 60 hours weeks. He gets to the office early before sunrise. He returns home after dark. At mealtimes, he will be checking his phone for emails. During conversations and coffee talks, he periodically checks for social media updates. He seems to respond faster to electronic communications than face to face casual chats. Friends have been asking him to take time off, go for a short holiday, or just have some private family time away from the office.

"What you need most is a vacation!" They say. Tom agrees. "Yes, I need a break."

This is a common refrain from people who have been too busy, hopelessly fatigued, and totally maxed out. Despite their exhaustion, they still prod along with their holiday planning, hoping that they can find some breathing space to rest and to recuperate. They carve out a time on the calendar They choose a nice vacation place, a holiday resort, or a quiet retreat location. They arrange their travel plans and then set off with dwindling energy but high expectations. However, there is a problem. Studies have shown that holidays can be one of the biggest stress points. News agencies like Forbes even published an article on how to handle holiday stress. The reason is simple. Vacationing is about lifting ourselves out of familiar grounds into strange territories. For those traveling far, there is that time difference. There is the cultural difference. There are differences in ways things are normally done and most importantly, difference in expectations through local and foreign eyes. Ironically, while the intention of going away is good, the actual going away can be particularly stressful and can create more restlessness.

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