Monday, November 24, 2014

Questioning God

TITLE: QUESTIONING GOD
SCRIPTURE: Job 38:1-3
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: November 24th, 2014

1Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: 2"Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? 3Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me."

I have been following with some interest an open letter online about why a former believer left her faith. It contains various reasons and faults with the Christian religion. Most of all, it stems from a tragic loss of her father, which was made worse by certain insensitive comments that tried to explain it all.

At the same time, I have just read through twenty-four earnest and honest reflections of faith from the standpoints of atheists, believers, agnostics, and various perspectives. Many of them had one thing in common: Faith Under Trial. Some of these respondents who had "left the faith" were raised in rather religious circumstances. They go to Church. They followed the educational processes. They essentially kept with their parental expectations. Until one day, the water bag broke. Skepticism gives birth to sarcasm, followed by plain dismissal of formerly held beliefs. All it takes is a shaking down of the nice image of a big and friendly God who is all loving and all providing. Whether it is cancer, loss of a family member or a friend, or some tragic circumstances, at some juncture, we will all intersect with the pain-and-suffering station of life.  When that happens, questions turn into doubt; doubt turns to fear; and for self-professed "former" believers, fear coupled with frustrations soon turn one away from God.
  • "God, where are You?"
  • "God, why is this happening to me?"
  • "God, are you there?"
  • "God, hello? You there? Why don't You pick up my prayer?"
  • "God, God, God? Why are You so quiet? I'll try again tomorrow."
  • "God? You'll probably sleeping."
  • "God? Are you real?"
  • "God? Maybe there is no such thing as God."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Let Our Lives Speak, not Speed

TITLE: LET OUR LIVES SPEAK, NOT SPEED
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 34:8
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: November 14th, 2014

"Taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him." (Ps 34:8)

We have all heard about the fast-paced lifestyle. With so many things to do and so little time, we zip through the highways. We wolf down our meals. We hurry our kids. In a world where every second seems to matter, we easily grow impatient with incompetence. We become frustrated when the driver in front of us cruises at the posted speed limit. We wonder why the bank teller can chat so casually with the customer she was serving even when the line is long.

What if we allow this kind of crazy speed through life to enter our relationship? What if in our rush to get things done, we push others to travel at our expected speed instead of their natural pace? Ever heard about how a twenty-year old young man pushed over an eighty year old lady just to reach the cashier first? Or how this cartoon urges us to "Stay in Queue" even when the line in front of us does not appear to be moving. The story of Martha and Mary demonstrates how the busyness of activities can mess up our sense of priorities. Good works are noble tasks, but when we try to force people to pander to our expectations, the nobility quickly evaporates. Work first, pray later. Get things done first, leave people alone. Move first, love later. Even in the presence of our Lord Jesus.

(Picture Credit: www.allaboutgod.net)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Leftover Believers

TITLE: LEFTOVER BELIEVERS
SCRIPTURE: Luke 9:59-60
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: November 10th, 2014
59He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.60Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-60)
Yesterday, I preached about the Great Commission versus the Great Suggestion. It was a call for believers who had gotten their priorities mixed up. While they testify boldly about believing in God as their first priority, their living testimonies say otherwise. By doing so, they affirm the accusations of such people as "Sunday Christians." Personally, I would call such people as leftover believers.

I remember a story of a little boy living with his busy dad. Dad often brought home his work. He worked long hours. He often returned home late and when it came to bedtime reading, he was too exhausted even to spend time with his son. It had cost him his marriage, and due to his earning powers, he was able to gain full custody of his only son. Even at the breakfast table, the dad would be either reading his newspapers or checking his phone updates. As a psychologist, he makes lots of money straight from the top of the hour. He is an important man for patients desperate for help.

One regular morning, after getting another of those feelings of being ignored, the ten year old kid asked:

"Dad, can I ask you something?"

Sipping his coffee cup, dad continued to read and said, "Just give me five minutes."

Five minutes past, seeing his dad still busy combing for information on the newspapers, he decided to wait a few minutes longer before saying, "Dad, can I ask you a question now?"

Dad: "Just ten more seconds, my son."

Finally, the dad was ready. The boy asked: "How much do you earn?"

Dad said: "I make about $60 per hour, so that's about a dollar per minute."
Boy: "Wow, that's a lot of money."
Dad: "Yes, but that's because I've invested a lot in my education and training too."
Boy: "Dad, can you give me a minute. I'm going to get something."
Dad: "Ok, son."

The boy returned soon and in his hands were coins making up $5. The boy said: "Dad, can I buy 5 minutes of your time?"

You could imagine the tears in the eyes of the father. He had become so caught up with earning and working, that he had forgotten his own priorities. That morning, he realized that by putting all his best energies and time to focus on his work, he had relied on leftover energies and time for his own son. I feel for the boy. Just seeing the father devote his best attention to work makes the boy feel under appreciated and less important than the work. To the boy, making money is primary, time with family is secondary.  I can imagine the boy complaining to his friends:

"My dad is very loving. He spends a lot of time to work and make money for the family. That is really nice of him. But sometimes I wished that I don't always have to depend on his leftovers just to hear him read me a story."

Some people do exactly that when it comes to faith. In Luke 9:59-60, when Jesus called an unnamed man to follow Him, the man's quick reply was: "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."

It sounded like a reasonable request. It can even be a very filial act. The question is, is that the Jewish understanding at that time? Is the father truly dead? If so, should not the man be busy with funeral and burial details rather than simply walking the streets? Should he not be mourning and comforting his family? Is Jesus showing a lack of compassion when telling the man to let the dead bury the dead? Many interpreters say that what Jesus meant was to let the "spiritually dead" bury the "physically dead."

I prefer another interpretation that Jesus is not talking about burial matters. He is talking about priorities. The man had his priorities mixed up, and had chosen to put his earthly priorities first.

According to Jewish customs, immediately after the burial, the family would separate themselves from public appearances and mourn for seven days. If that was the case, it would be very weird for this man to be walking around in public during this time. That is why I believe that the man's father had not yet died. What the man was actually saying is this:

"Lord, first let me wait until my father had died. Only then can I come and follow you."

In our modern era, we can substitute this for the following:

  • "Lord, first let me get a job. Then I will come and follow you."
  • "Lord, first let me make my first $1 million."
  • "Lord, first let me find a wife."
  • "Lord, first let me finish my project."
  • "Lord, first let me close my very important business deal."
  • "Lord, first let me get my degree."
  • "Lord, first let me take a selfie with you."
  • "Lord, first let me update my Facebook status."
  • "..."
When the heart is not willing, the list of other things is endless. If we say to Jesus, "Lord, first let me _____, " we are essentially telling Jesus that there is something more important than following Him. For our priorities are our work, our projects, our businesses, our families, and our lives on earth. Jesus only gets to inherit our leftover time and energy. Our minds have become so caught up with the things of the world that we easily forget the promises of heaven. More importantly, we have missed out what it means to follow Christ. 

The Bible tells us to wait on the Lord, not make the Lord wait for us.

"Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD." (Ps 27:14)

Do we offer up our best to God, or do we leave behind leftovers to Him? Leftover believers will prefer to put their own priorities above God's. They may claim to follow Jesus, but by their actions, they are making God wait while they busy themselves with their own priorities.

Leftover believers have a tendency to say: "Why me?" when approached to help or volunteer for some community work. They claim that they are too busy or simply had no time to serve. They will be punctual at work and at client appointments, but on Sunday mornings, they arrive to Church late, and will only serve when they have sufficient energy reserves or some leftover time.

Leftover believers will claim that following Christ is most important, but by their actions they betray their words. They will dedicate their utmost attention to the highest paying customers instead of their utmost for God's Kingdom. They justify their personal actions by claiming:


  • "God helps those who help themselves."
  • "God had called me to work hard, so what's wrong with working hard?"
  • "Surely God had given me a family to take care of. He will understand that Christian work comes only after all the serious work had been done."
I have a problem with that. Firstly, it dichotomizes work into secular and sacred. All work done for the glory of God is good. All work is sacred when we do it in God's image. All honest work is holy to the Lord. Secondly, the problem with such justifications is that it de-emphasizes the value of work done in Christian communities like churches, para-churches, or religious communities. It is one thing to equate all work as good, regardless of whether it is in the religious or non-religious environment. It is yet another to desecrate the importance of religious work. In the Old Testament, God had a visible way of reminding people the importance of religious work and dedication. That is why He called one tribe out of twelve, the Levites, to be focused on religious work. We may not be called "Levites" per se, but we can participate in the work of the Kingdom of God.

My friends, each of us are called to unique places in this world. We can become so busy trying to make a living that we can easily forget the importance of making a life. I suppose that is another way of understanding Jesus' words to the man wanting to bury his father first. For the man's desire to bury his father first is used as a way to describe man's fascination with the world that the world now is bigger than the world to come. It speaks of a temporal that overshadows the eternal. It turns the affairs of man into something that is bigger than the concerns of God. How can that be?

Those who want to follow Christ must remember that priorities are not just spiritual words but our physical responses as well. Let me close with the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who warns us about hoarding our possessions, our time, and our earthly resources.

Earthly goods are given to be used, not to be collected. In the wilderness God gave Israel the manna every day, and they had no need to worry about food and drink. Indeed, if they kept any of the manna over until the next day, it went bad. In the same way, the disciple must receive his portion from God every day. If he stores it up as a permanent possession, he spoils not only the gift, but himself as well, for he sets his heart on accumulated wealth, and makes it a barrier between himself and God. Where our treasure is, there is our trust, our security, our consolation and our God. Hoarding is idolatry.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship,  New York, Touchstone, p175)

Beware of idolatry which often masquerades in the things we give our priorities to. When we give God only our leftovers, we are guilty of giving our allegiances to other things, not God.

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.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Of Reformation Day, All Souls' Day or Halloween?

TITLE: REFORMATION DAY, ALL SOULS DAY OR HALLOWEEN?
SCRIPTURE: Hebrews 13:24
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 31st, 2014

"Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings." (Heb 13:24, ESV)

MAIN POINT: The best way we can remember October 31st, 2014 is not to buy into the fun of Halloween, which really means nothing much, besides the candies in our mouths and cavities in our teeth. As Christians, we can honour Christ by remembering, and learning from the great Reformation in the 16th Century and to be constantly reforming ourselves. Who knows, we may very well be planting the seeds of reformation for the generations to come.

It's that time of the year again, of Trick-n-Treating. For the past two years, I have been buying boxes of chocolates and candies, of different colours, shapes, and sizes. From as early as 4 in the afternoon till as late as 10pm, October 31st is also the day where family members keep running back and forth to answer the doorbell. Usually there are young school kids at the door in groups. Those who come with parents are the cutest, in their bumblebee costumes, disney characters, or simply some colourful makeup on the faces. Not scary but highly amusing. Once there was this little toddler that was so cute that I struggled to control my squeal of delight inside. God certainly makes children adorable. (There goes another box of candies.)

The older ones tend to be a little more adventurous, donning more sinister costumes. Anyway, in good fun, I distribute the goodies liberally, to be rewarded with a musical "Thank You" as payment. Halloween celebrations are big events in the annual calendar. Students dress up for the occasion in the morning, and had special celebrations in school. At dusk, they venture out to the neighbourhoods to fill up their goody bags.

All in the name of fun! Period.

However, Church history offers a different view of October 31st. There are at least two other significant events: 1) Eve of All Saints Day; 2) Reformation Day.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

God Put You There?

TITLE: GOD PUT YOU THERE?
SCRIPTURE: Roman 1:1-4
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 25th, 2014

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendent of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 1:1-4)

One of the common clich├ęs used in Christian circles is the authoritative phrase: “God put me there.” Whether one is working at the hospital, teaching in a school, serving in the government office, joining a culinary school, or going on a mission, if one is a Christian, the sure way to spiritualize our jobs is to simply say: “God put me there. It is my calling.

  • The medical professional says, “God put me there to be a doctor.
  • The school teacher says, “God put me there to teach.”
  • The chef says, “God put me there in the kitchen to cook.
  • The missionary says, “God put me there in the mission field.

Who am I to judge? How can I, who have never seen that doctor receive a vision on one morning out at a walk? How would I know that God had appeared to the school teacher the other day, when she was praying? How could I doubt the chef who reported some strange feeling in his heart while choosing some ingredients? Can I really question the calling of a missionary?

These famous four words offer some divine authentication to make one feel better about it all, regardless of how one discerns his or her calling. In a sense, it is true that one is put in a particular vocation for a reason. On another angle, what if the job turns ugly for whatever reason, are we going to blame God for “putting us there?” Have we misheard God’s call in the first place? Are we wrong to say “God put us there?”

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ten Tips For Gracious Living

TITLE: TEN TIPS FOR GRACIOUS LIVING
SCRIPTURE: Colossians 4:6
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 19th, 2014

"Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man." (Colossians 4:6, KJV)

#1 - It's not what you say but how you say it that makes all the difference.

#2 - What good will it be win the argument but lose the relationship?

#3 - Listening is the first step to understanding and the visible posture in humility.

#4 - Ask questions not to find loopholes to manipulate but to find opportunities to encourage.

#5 - Learn to see the spirit of the law instead of the letter of the law.



Friday, October 10, 2014

Dealing with Negativity

TITLE: DEALING WITH NEGATIVITY
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap Date:10 October 2014

Christianity has an increasingly negative image problem. This is easily felt in the West, especially in North America. For Europe, the Christian influence has largely been erased from the minds of ordinary people. Even the ancient artifacts and grand structures of Christendom in Europe wow mostly visitors to Europe. In a post George W Bush era, I sense an even greater negativity against anything Christian in many parts of America and Canada.

Just this week, I read of a graduate from Trinity Western University, a private institution that is openly Christian, being rejected from a Norwegian company because she was deemed "unqualified." The rejection email was followed by sneers and jeers about her school, her God, and her faith. It is not only the rejection, but the harsh negativity of the prospective employers who claimed that it was Christianity that destroyed their culture. Feeling hurt and discriminated against, the plucky Bethany Paquette filed a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal. I hope justice will be served as Paquette certainly does not deserve being ridiculed personally or her faith being lampooned foolishly. 

As I think about it, her case is not alone. There is a particularly high animosity against evangelicals or anyone standing up for their Christian beliefs. Why are Christians being labeled "bigots," "homophobes," "intolerant," "judgmental," "anti-abortion," and all kinds of nasty names? In fact, some of the most ferocious voices against Christianity are formerly from Christian backgrounds. People like John Loftus, who was formerly a Christian minister, but is now a forceful opponent against Christianity. He is the founder of the anti-Christian blog named, "Debunking Christianity." A fellow alumni of mine had debated him, even wrote a book together with him to ensure that both views are represented. You can read my review of "God or Godless" here

How should Christians deal with negativity? One way is to do a frontal assault by direct debate and argumentation. You have apologists like Ravi Zacharias International Ministry, William Lane Craig, Josh McDowell, Norman Geisler, CS Lewis, Alister McGrath, and many who can do that. Others like John G Stackhouse will adopt a "Humble Apologetics" format. Another way is to simply ignore the accusations and avoid any forms of confrontation. For me, there is no fixed way to deal with angry attacks. It is one thing to win arguments. It is yet another to win over the person.

I wrote the following yesterday in order to suggest a 3L approach in dealing with negativity. I list them below for your reading.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Olivet Prayer

TITLE: THE OLIVET PRAYER
SCRIPTURE: Luke 22:39-44
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 4th, 2014

39Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.41He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.43An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
One of the things I observed about Christians' behaviour is the use of divine power in the midst of heated arguments and controversies. Different groups would regularly pray that God's will be done, but I wonder how many of them are more inclined toward asking for "their will" to be done instead. This week, I reflect on two current events and look at ways we can pray. With increasing submission and decreasing manipulation of course. Otherwise, we will be guilty of manipulating God to turn people against people.

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Salvation-Skewed Faith

TITLE: A SALVATION-SKEWED FAITH
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 7:13-14
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: September 26th, 2014

13Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
"Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved!"

This refrain is one of the most common evangelistic statements from Christians to non-Christians. While it may seem quite offensive to some people in a secular culture, it is far better than some who screamed out like a doomsday prophet: "Believe in Jesus or else you go to hell!"

The first statement is a lot more palatable. It promises the upside of faith. The second will usually result in an verbal backlash. It condemns and strongarms one into confession. Some see both statements as different ways to say the same thing. I differ. I think the first statement is more true than the second. For instance, look at the second statement and I see an immediate theological problem. We are on the way to hell not because of faith or non-faith in Jesus. We are already condemned because of sin. Paul reminds us in Romans:

9What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:9-12)

Thus, it is incorrect to say that we go to hell because of failing a decision making matrix at the Cross. People are on the way to damnation anyway. Christ just offers them a way out. By rejecting Jesus, they are preferring to walk their default ways. That is why we choose what we want to live. Some choose Christ. Others choose their own ways. No one forced them.

This week, I like to look not about the decision for Christ, but what happens AFTER the decision. It does not mean the initial decision is unimportant. It simply means the first decision is simply triggering a journey of faith that needs to be completed in Christ. In his book, "After You Believe," NT Wright stated that our Christian living must be "understood and shaped in relation to the final goal for which we have been made and redeemed." Having said that, he argues that life after that decision for Christ must be reflected in character formation in Christ. This is what must happen after we believe.

A) Pitfalls of a Salvation-Skewed Faith

In many outreach events, Christians behave like gospel salesmen, feeding promises and salvation to anyone who would make a decision to believe in Jesus. The prosperity gospel group would trumpet material riches that grow proportionally with faith. Give more and you will receive double or triple, they say. Others proclaim a faith whereby if we fail to obey the do's and don'ts of the faith, we will be rewarded or punished accordingly. The hyper-grace party will pooh-pooh away every negativity with a generous dosage of grace and unmerited favours, to the point that it does not matter what we do after we believe, as grace is an umbrella large enough to shield believers from all things.

What concerns me is this. People who believed in Jesus have chosen to enter the narrow gate, which is the Person of Jesus. Unfortunately, after the initial excitement and fanfare, once the novelty wears off, they proceed to walk the highway of worldliness instead of the narrow way. Jesus warns us explicitly:
"13Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it." (Matthew 7:13)
People who choose to simply enter the narrow gate, only to ignore the other aspect to continue walking the narrow path, are people who are "salvation-skewed." They care only to possess the ticket to heaven, and then continue to bask in worldliness. They claim Jesus to be Lord, but they live as if they are the lords of their lives. They confess Jesus but refuse to obey the teachings of Jesus to forgive others. They think that their one decision is enough to guarantee their stairway to heaven.

According to Matthew 7:13, there is a gate followed by a road, a way, or a path. Just like the Parable of the Sower where there are four different kinds of soil where only one is fruitful and desired of them all, we can also see four different scenarios in Matthew 7:13-14 of which the best is preferred and the worst is mentioned. The best is the "narrow gate" / "narrow way." The worst is the "wide gate" / "wide way." What about the "narrow gate" / "wide way" and the "wide gate" / "narrow way" scenarios?  I present the four scenarios below.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

False Choices

TITLE: FALSE CHOICES
TEXT: John 18:38
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: September 20th, 2014

[Life is often not so straightforward. A YES does not necessarily mean we fully agree. A NO does not mean we totally reject. Life is a lot more nuanced than a simple YES or NO. That does not mean there is no such thing as truth, or there is no such thing as right/wrong. Beware of false choices.]

"What is truth?" retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, "I find no basis for a charge against him. (John 18:38)

Many want the best of both worlds,
and not be trapped in a forced YES/NO ultimatum.
(Credit: abcnews.go.com)
This week is a week of referendums. After 307 years, political activists in Scotland forced a nationwide referendum to give the entire population of Scotland a chance to vote on the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” All voters needed to do were to mark either “Yes” or “No.” Voter turnout was a healthy 84.6 percent, representing a total of 4.2 million registered citizens. Advocates from both camps fought hard. The “Yes” camp led by the Scottish Nationalist Party First Minister, Alex Salmond argued passionately for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom and to be an independent country. The “No” camp, led by Alistair Darling countered with an equally vigorous defense of the status quo. As of yesterday, Scotland chose to remain within the United Kingdom with 55% of the population voting for it. This is clearly bigger than the razor thin decision predicted by many commentators.

I am not a fan of anything that nudges toward disunity. Neither am I someone who likes to see split ups and painful divorces. While I am in favour of democracy in general, I think we need to be able to keep both our heads and our hearts together. For Scotland to just vote YES and leave the Union, it needs a very strong support base, and as far as I am concerned, for a country to go her own way, the percentage of support must be as unanimous as possible. This is because nation building is a massive task. If it is a marginal victory for the NO camp, it is still alright, because keeping the status quo is the easiest thing to do. However, if it is for the YES camp, then it is a major problem because the country would already be split down the center right from the start. What kind of nation building will there be if resolve comes only from half the population? Anyway, I am glad that the votes have settled once and for all, the question of independence, and Scotland can focus on the major and practical challenges confronting them.

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