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.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Christian Discernment (Proverbs 3:5-6)

SCRIPTURE: Proverbs 3:5-6
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: July 4th, 2014

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

What is God's will? This is one question that has everyone agreeing as important but equally mystifying to many. Should I get married? If yes, who is the right one? If no, why? Which college should I apply for? What if there are no job interviews for me? Is it God's will to have children? One? Two? Or Three? What does the Bible say about discernment?

A) Christian Discernment: Man's Will or God's?

This week, I want to start looking at Christian Discernment, what it is and some thoughts about moving forward with it in our daily lives. I still remember vividly Parker Palmer's vocational discernment exercise that he had with a group of Quaker brothers. It was in his early years teaching sociology at Pendle Hill. One day, Palmer received an invitation to be the President of a small educational institution. He was flattered and enthused by the opportunity. Yet, something in him prompted him to get further affirmation from people he trusts. This group of people mainly helps him to discern what is God's will through listening and questioning. In truth, Palmer had already decided that he would take up the job. He only wanted the "clearness committee" to rubber stamp it to erase any doubt. The questions that came were easy, at least to Palmer. He had everything all thought out and ready answers to give. All of a sudden, one question stumped him: "What would you like most about being a president?" Eventually, Palmer was forced to a corner. Whatever answers he had given were of no consequence except one. Softly and meekly he said:

"Well, I guess what I'd like most is getting my picture in the paper with the word president under it."

The reply to that honesty cracked everyone up: "Parker, can you think of an easier way to get your picture in the paper?"

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Praying Through Ps 23

Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 28th, 2014

A sister in Christ went home to the Lord yesterday at 4.55pm. There is much grief. There is much sorrow. Joy, where art thou? Hope, please show yourself. Comfort, please give generous portions. Happiness is a foreign word. Sadness is the preface to a long and winding road, with chapters after chapters of struggling, questioning, and lamenting.

During this time, I did a mental sprint toward Psalm 23, the famous Shepherd Psalm, having memorized it in my earlier years. The words are close to my heart. In times of sorrow, I cling to the Lord, and pray for the people. I am aware of many emotions but wary of saying too many words. Here is my prayer through Ps 23 this week, in remembrance of Sarah, beloved sister in Christ.

The LORD is my Shepherd. Not just mine, but for all God's people. Black, white, yellow, or whatever complexion, God shepherds them all. God walks with all. God loves all. The Shepherd is kind, big, loving, and gentle. He knows what is in our heart, and our hearts long to know what is in His heart.

I shall not be in want. Yes, I do not want to remain needy after my own strength. We are a world in need. That is not the point. The point is, so what if our needs now are met? Will that dilute our need for God? Surely not, for when we long for God, we will gradually realize that with the LORD, everything else will take their appropriate places. The priorities will be set aright. The imperfect needs will be arranged according to the perfect God's will.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures. Yes, we are a busy lot. The more we think we are able, the more we become busy, sometimes busybodies. Truth is, busyness is pride in disguise. If we can run, we run everywhere, sometimes not knowing the reason or the destination for running. God has to "make" us lie down especially when the sheep behave out of line. Even sheep will grow tired. The Shepherd who knows His sheep will force them to rest, despite their stubbornness. That is love in action.

He leads me besides the still waters. What better way than to let us commune with nature, God's creation. God created the world and prepared the environment before creating man. That is love. The love of preparation. He knows the healing prowess of natural beauty and calm.

He restores my soul. Our modern world teaches us how to run fast and how to act efficiently. It is a poor teacher when it comes to resting and pacing ourselves. Even exercise regimens require hard work. What will all work and no rest do to the human body? I remember hearing about a research that proves how people who rest once in seven days fare better than those who rested only once in every ten days. The human body is optimized for seven days: six days work and one day rest. As we rest in God, we are restored.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for His Name's sake. Sheep can run, yes. They can run astray too. They need direction where to run. Here, we pray for God to guide us through paths of righteousness. The best route for godliness. The best way toward living a life for God. The reason we walk, is for the sake of Christ. We walk not in our own name, but in the Name and Glory of God.

Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Who does not have dark moments. We all do. Death is one big black blot in anyone's life. Dark corners do bring out the fear in us. What lurks behind? Will it harm us? When we cannot see what is ahead of us, the whole mood can be scary. The point is, it is not the darkness or the valley that brings out the courage. It is the knowledge of the One walking next to us: The Shepherd.

For You are with me. Whenever we walk with anyone, we are essentially promising our presence. The ministry of presence is much needed for the human soul. In our world of mobile devices and Internet communications, it is easy to say that we are contactable anytime and anywhere. But hey, can the cell phone hug us physically? Can the computer provide us the warmth of the human touch? Can the digital devices sense all of our senses? No.

Your rod and Your staff they comfort me. The presence of the Lord is so remarkable that mere sight of the instruments the Shepherd uses will bring immense comfort. In a pre-GPS world, whenever I drive in a foreign land, I often have to depend on signs to tell me where I am heading. Strange roads and strange driving conditions can be rather intimidating. All it takes is a familiar sign, a clear pointer to confirm our directions and the anxiety will diminish. Show us Your presence, Lord.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. We know of David who himself had been pursued by enemies. He had to flee for his life. Imagine having a table set before us and seated opposite is our enemy! That is scary. Yet, the scene is surreal. Enemies who want to kill us have to receive permission from the One setting the table for a meal.

You anoint my head with oil, my cup runs over. This scene shows that we the children of God are anointed people, precious and protected. Whoever dares to harm us will have to suffer the Lord's wrath. The anointment runs over shows the generosity and the overflowing goodness of God to empower us. As far as the Lord is concerned, the oil is never seen as wasted. It is generous love. Come to think of it, love in itself is generous.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. The word 'follow' is not exactly reflective of the mood of the word. The better word should be "hound." Goodness and mercy will pursue us like a hound, never giving up on ensuring that we receive the goodness and the mercy the Lord wants to shower upon.

And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. This is the best summation. There is no better place than to be in the arms of Jesus. As I think about believers who die, they are entering into the spiritual bliss with God. The dwelling is eternal. The experience is exhilarating. The beauty and the glory will surround all who are with the Lord. Always.

THOUGHT: "God is closest to those with broken hearts." (Jewish saying)


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Friday, June 20, 2014

Counterfeit Spirituality

SCRIPTURE: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 20th, 2014

"1Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God." (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4)

SYNOPSIS: Our tendency to copycat others is a poor rejection of our ability to create and to be creative in God's world. When we have run out of ideas to create and depend on copying for our survival, that is not because we have not tried hard enough. It is simply because we have failed to recognize that true creativity comes from God. 

Yesterday, I was watching a documentary entitled "Counterfeit Culture" on CBC Doczone. It is an indepth look at how the world's famous brands and products are fast becoming prey to copycats and pirates who sell imitations at a fraction of the price of the original goods. From cheap electronics to pirated movies and songs; automotive accessories to aircraft spare parts; pharmaceuticals to any consumer products; the world's best known names are increasingly and blatantly copied and sold. They look like the original. They feel like the originals. They are made to be as exact as possible to the original. Surface wise that is.

If one can wear a Rolex imitation, a Lacoste look-alike, or a fancy iPhone fake, one can indeed raise social profiles when walking out in the streets. While the documentary identifies different cities that manufacture fakes all around the world, it is China alone that supplies 75% of the world's fake goods. What struck me was the confidence the Chinese peddlars had: Show them what you need and they will create a fake indeed. The Chinese even has a word for that: Shan Zhai, which is essentially a culture of copying and replicating imitations. My friends from mainland China tell me that if I want to buy anything original, buy it outside of China.

Welcome to a world of counterfeits.

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