Friday, October 2, 2015

Tempted to Deny Christ

SCRIPTURE: John 13:37-38
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 2nd, 2015
37Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
38Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!"

KEY POINT: How real is our faith? Will it survive the hard knocks of life? Or will it crumble under the first signs of trials?

In John 18, we see a dramatic and negative transformation of Peter, the famous disciple of Jesus. From someone who had the nerve to rebuke Jesus for speaking about his own dying (Matthew 16:22), to his bold physical defense against those trying to arrest Jesus (John 18:10), Peter is that kind of a shoot-first-worry-later kind of a guy. How is it possible for a guy who talks big on the outside but when the hard times come, deny Jesus. As modern readers, Peter's denial seems like a nice story to know about. What if the very trials and tribulations happen to us today?

Romans 1:16 (NIV)
Yesterday morning, another deadly shooting shooting occurred in America. This time, it happened at Umpqua Community College in Ten people were shot dead and another 7 injured. The gunman was eventually shot dead after a gunfight with police. From eyewitnesses, there are shocking news about how the shooter singled out Christians to be killed. According the reports, the gunman had a "disdain for religion" and in particular, Christianity. He reportedly asked:

"Are you a Christian? . .. Good. If you are a Christian, you are going to see God in just one second."

What followed was a horrendous act of violence where Christians were quickly shot on the head.  Those who said otherwise or stayed silent were shot on the legs. One teacher died immediately when shot on the head. Many were probably too stunned to know how to react. I wonder what I would have done if I was there. Probably, I'll be dead by now. Maybe, I won't as I might have rationalized the gunman as some deranged individual who was mentally unstable, and would not have taken his question seriously. Truth is, I really don't know. The whole situation can be extremely complex that there is no time to think of some rationalized answers. Incidentally, another recent shooting happened too in a Church in Charleston where black Christians were killed in cold blood. Some said it was racially driven. Others claimed it as another religiously motivated murder. Perhaps, there are elements of both race and religion.

What do we do when we are challenged to deny Christ?

I remember hearing a story of a few gunmen who entered a house Church in a persecuted country, asking believers in the Church to stand up. As the pastor stood up, along with a few other individuals in the congregation, the rest were then asked to leave. As the ones who stood got themselves ready for the worst to happen, the gunmen removed their masks and said to them: "Now we know who are the true believers of Christ, let us continue with worship." I am not sure how true the story is but it is a dramatized form of testing whether one's faith is genuine or not. When the trials and tests arrive, how many of us would pass the faith of test? Will we really lay down our lives for Christ?

I guess my readers would be split down the middle about this. There is no easy answer to such a situation. Stand up for Christ and be killed. Or we sit down by denying Christ and live for another day.

Peter failed the test. When the whole regimen of religious officials and Roman guards arrived to arrest Jesus, Peter and the rest of the disciples fled from the scene. John's gospel describes in vivid details how Peter denied any association with Jesus three times. At the third time, the rooster crowed and Peter wept like a baby.

Never say never.

In a book entitled "Killing Christians," author Tom Doyle has some rather dramatic statements to make about true Christians. He shares eight stories about how courageous believers live out their faith in lands of persecution.
"Sometimes survivors are unrecognizable even by their own families because, in the midst of their brutal affliction, they experienced Christ in an hour of need as few of us ever do. Persecuted believers have become the new face of genuine Christianity. They are filled with passion to live or die for Christ, and we in the West have much to learn from them." (Tom Doyle, Killing Christians, Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2015, xii)
When persecutions come, when the temptations to deny Christ arrive, how would we fare? In a comfortable West where convenience trump conviction; where shallow belief is preferred over deep matters of faith; where empty words speak louder than solid allegiance to Christ, it is hard to determine who are the genuine believers among us. Maybe, there is no better way than to have fires and hardships to sieve us out. Tests of faith are not there to make life difficult for us. They separate the sheep from the goats. They determine the faithful from the faithless. They pointedly asked: "Are you for God or against God?"  There is no middle ground as far as faith is concerned. It is either we believe or not believe. Choosing to withhold our beliefs is already a statement against belief. Until we decisively make the choice to believe.

We are all easily tempted. As long as we live in this world, there is no way we can run away from tests and trials. What we can do however, is to prepare for it. Like the parable of the Ten Virgins, we can keep our levels of faith at maximum level at all times by learning to keep to the basic spiritual disciplines of faith. Like the call to maintain Christian Fellowship in Hebrews 10:24-25, we can maintain godly community by faithfulness in our commitments to one another. We can make it a point to be regular at our group meetings REGARDLESS of how busy we are or how tired we may be at the end of the day. For if we succumb to the busyness of life and the exhaustion of the day during good times, we would collapse quickly like a house of cards when trials and tribulations come.  United we stand. Divided we fall. When the trials and tribulations arrive, will your faith stand?

That is the question that we can only answer for ourselves.

THOUGHT: "No healthy Christian ever chooses suffering; he chooses God's will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not." (Oswald Chambers)


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Monday, September 28, 2015

Humility in Service

SCRIPTURE: Ephesians 4:2-3
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: Sep 27th, 2015

"2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:2-3)
Is it possible to be completely humble? Given our imperfect selves and our natural tendency to be prideful, how then can we ever follow through on Paul's call for us to be humble?

My quick answer: We can't. Not on our own strength that is.

(Credit: ThorstenConsulting)
Humility has been promoted highly at all kinds of leadership conferences. Gurus trumpet it. Writers publish volumes about it. Pastors and preachers regularly mention it over the pulpit. The trouble with humility is that it is elusive and quite difficult to achieve directly. It is an attribute that can only be seen indirectly through various means. The humble will deny he is humble in the first place. The one who claims he is humble is already on the track of pride and arrogance. This is one of life's irony. The more we want something directly, the less we get it. It is like romantic love where a man pursues a girl, only to find the girl running away from him. The moment the man stops pursuing, stops harassing the girl, and begins to do good works to others, the girl would stop running. She would turn around and with piqued interest, find ways to connect with this "nice man." If humility is that desired damsel, we cannot be too overpowering in our pursuit. We need to take a step back and check our own hearts.
  • Am I seeking humility for my own sake or for others?
  • Am I seeking to be humble in order to gain someone or something for self gratification?
  • Am I seeking the humble route because I want to honour Someone?

According to Professor John Dickson of Macquarie University, humility is defined as follows:
"Humility is the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself. More simply, you could say the humble person is marked by a willingness to hold power in service of others." (John Dickson, Humilitas, Zondervan, 2011, p24)
In other words, humility comprises three elements: it presupposes the dignity of others; it is a choice; and it is self-deprecation for the sake of others.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Vote Prayerfully

SCRIPTURE: 1 Thess 5:15-18
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: September 10th, 2015
15Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. 16Rejoice always, 17pray continually, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

As the country of Singapore prepares to vote at Elections 2015, it is time to commit the future of the country to God. One of the catchphrases of the elections is "Vote wisely." It has become so overused, so cliche, and so dull that it does not really mean much to the common man anymore. If a politician tells you that, it is a veiled instruction to vote him/her. If a staunch party activist says it to you, it means to vote for the party that he/she supports. If a passionate advocate for a particular candidate says that to you, it means to cast your vote for his candidate. If a preacher tells you that, especially when he has publicly made known which political affiliation he takes, there is a good chance that hearers of his sermons may vote the same way as him.


Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr

Saturday, September 5, 2015

When a Loved One Gets Cancer

Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: September 5th, 2015

"I have Stage One cancer."

Five words speak volumes. Five words strike fear. These five words are like five pebbles dropped into still waters, creating ripples of all kinds of emotions throughout the pond. In five words, all of our busyness and concerns flow back into perspective. Suddenly, life no longer is about jobs, reputation, or climbing the career ladder. Cancer is one of the most dreaded words ever to be uttered in any family. After hearing about it, what do we do?

This week, I heard news of at least two cases of people getting cancer. They were from people I know. It knocked me off my regular schedule. My prayer list just got longer. Like many people, I felt troubled. I didn't know what to do. Downhearted, I took it to the Lord in prayer. Tempted to ask why,
PSALM 13 (italics mine)
1How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
          How long will you hide your face from me?
2How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
          and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
          How long will my enemy (of cancer) triumph over me?3Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
          Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,4and my enemy (that cancer) will say, “I have overcome him,”
          and my foes (fears, anxieties, and pain) will rejoice when I fall.5But I trust in your unfailing love;
          my heart rejoices in your salvation.6I will sing the Lord’s praise,
          for he has been good to me.
Like many other psalms, this is a psalm of lament. It is a plea to God in prayer to help the downcast and the discouraged. It allows the heart to express to God the deepest longings of the heart, to share with God the hurts and the pains that one is going through. According to Walter C. Kaiser, ex-Professor of Old Testament and past President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Psalm 13 is the lament of an individual who was hurting and suffering. There are at least 39 other psalms that can be classified as lament psalms. Instead of succumbing to continuous trumpeting of victorious songs and beating of the happy drums, lament psalms are used to capture the profound essence of what it means to be human. It makes one real and honest enough to confront the things that really matter. Kaiser adds:
"Suffering does not go away merely if we pretend it does not exist; it does exist and it does continue to hurt and cause suffering. Nor is there any sort of magic pill that can suddenly remove the heavy weight that suffering lowers on mortals’ spirits and shoulders. But the most comforting news is that where there is pain, grief, and hurt, there is God!....   The reason for suffering that is the focus of these laments can be attributed to three main causes: self, an enemy, or the Lord himself. In the lament, pain, grief, and suffering are given the dignity of language." (Walter C. Kaiser, "The Laments of Lamentations" in The Psalms, edited by Andrew J. Schmutzer and David M. Howard Jr, Moody Press, 2013, p112-4)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Thoughts About Bersih 4.0 and Merdeka

Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 31st, 2015

Then people will say, “Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.” (Ps 58:11)

Malaysia celebrates her 58th Anniversary today. It was on August 31st, 1957 that the British colony became the federation of Malaya, referred to as Peninsula Malaysia or West Malaysia. Until September 16th, 1963, the country was still called "The Federation of Malaya." Many people still confuse this with another event called "Hari Malaysia" which was when the states of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore, all came together to become Malaysia. Merdeka Day is about how Malaya became a sovereign state (1957). Malaysia Day is about how the Federation of Malaysia was born (1963). This year, two days before Merdeka Day is Bersih 4.0 which highlights a mysterious show of the best of Malaysians and the worst of Malaysian politics.

A Sea of Yellow from Bersih 4.0 @KL
(Photo Credit: Nicholas Cheng on Twitter)
Bersih 4.0 was conducted to showcase the best side of sanity and that democracy reigns supreme. From cars to buses, trains to planes, Malaysians from all over the country brave the threats of arrest and tear gas to gather at Kuala Lumpur in a sign of patriotism, unity, and solidarity. The largely peaceful crowd was aided by a well organized and restrained police force. Kudos to the Police and security forces in this regard. I even suspect that there are many within the police ranks who are increasingly sympathetic to the cause of Bersih. From August 29th to 30th, 2015, thousands of Malaysians descended upon Kuala Lumpur to gather for the Bersih 4.0 rallies. It was a peaceful demonstration against the ills of Malaysian politics, especially with the recent exposure of RM2.6 billion that was found credited into the personal bank account of the leader of the land: the Prime Minister. Explanations flowed from incredulous justifications like "donations from the Middle East" to "money being used to fight Jewish influence." Depending on where you read the news, or who you were hearing it from, there seemed to be a strategy of confusion used to deter attention from the glaring problem. The Americans call it wag-the-dog. I call it "the publicity haze." Many people voluntarily traveled to Kuala Lumpur, and other major cities both inside and outside of Malaysia to make their feelings known. From where I am, watching via the Internet, I saw unity. I saw solidarity. I saw a common call for integrity. The sea of yellow numbered in the tens of thousands. The place was like a carnival with people from all races and all religions coming together not with swinging accusations of racist rhetoric, but with singing of the national anthem: The Negaraku. Instead of heckling, non-Muslims remained respectful and quiet as their fellow Muslims say their prayers. Instead of discrimination, Muslims shook hands with non-Muslims. They embraced. They partied. They walked together. They declared with one voice that they are all Malaysians.

Monday, August 24, 2015

What Would You Ask For?

SCRIPTURE: 1 Kings 3:5
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 21st, 2015

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (1 Kings 3:5)

The story of Solomon begins well but ends badly. Most of us would remember how God was pleased with Solomon, instead of asking for wealth or anathema for his enemies, he asked for wisdom and discernment to rule the country. It seems like a sudden appearance from God. Suppose God were to appear before you in a dream and said to you: "What can I give you? Ask." What will you ask for?

I don't know about you, I think not many people really know what to ask for when given a spiritual blank check. Maybe, what we ask would depend on the situation we are in. If we are poor, we may ask to be rich. If we are sick we may ask for health and healing. If we are jobless, we may ask for a job. If we are single, we may ask for an ideal someone to marry.

There was a joke about a man who found a bottle with a genie inside. Upon rubbing the bottle, a disgruntled genie appeared. "Alright, since you've released me, I'll will have to do the genie obligation. However, times have also been tough for the genie world, I can only grant you one wish of my choosing."

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Thoughts on SG50

SCRIPTURE: Job 12:23
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 14th, 2015.

"He makes nations great, and destroys them; he enlarges nations, and disperses them." (Job 12:23)

Panorama of August 9th, 2015 Celebrations @ The Padang
(Photo Credit: NDPeep)
It was one of the most elaborate celebrations ever for the tiny island nation. It was also a rare long weekend to celebrate 50 years of independence. From the 7th to the 10th of August, many were dressed in red and white, the national flag colours. Singaporeans ought to celebrate this momentous event, which they did. It had been a long and hard journey. I woke up at 4am Vancouver time, in time to catch the last part of the awesome National Day Parade. My wife was sound asleep.

She is Singaporean. I am not. Yet, I found myself enjoying the parade, especially with the six chapters brilliantly told with professionalism, realism, and fond memories. There were so many things I could identify with. I remembered the songs, the campaigns, the landmark events that happened in the country since independence.

This week, I will share about what Singapore means to me. It's a journey through my years in Singapore.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Am I Growing?

SCRIPTURE: Colossians 1:10
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 7th, 2015
“And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,” (Col 1:10)
Are we more interested in other people's spiritual growth? Or are we serious about our own? If we are, be prepared to deal with the ugly parts of ourselves. For spiritual growth has less to do with programs or activities. It has more to do with personal self-examination.

If you are like me, you would probably prefer to talk about other people than ourselves. Better to hide while others get exposed. We are comfortable about telling stories about someone else, or the plight of some unfortunate soul. By shining a spotlight on others, we avoid the limelight of being singled out as some kind of a mental guinea pig for others to talk about or comment on. Most people do not like unwarranted attention, especially the negative ones.

When I am preaching from the pulpit, it is a lot more comfortable to tell stories about other people from another place, another Church, another time, or another era. Sometimes, I would choose stories that would not embarrass any of my listeners. I would say things like:
This story is about a man who is NOT from this congregation.”
Upon hearing this, people usually heave a sigh of relief. At least the pastor is not talking about any one of them. Whether it is good news or bad news, people are generally more at ease at looking through the windows of other people's lives. It is also easy to talk about a fictional story or some movie plots and to explain our ideas from there. It is not so easy to talk about ourselves, our warts, weaknesses, and wobbly works. Sharing about ourselves can be very risky. People may take it the wrong way or misinterpret our intent. If we share too much about ourselves, people might accuse us of self-glorification. If we share too little, people say we are too impersonal. We can choose to share a lot about other people and then make a convenient excuse that time does not permit us to share more about ourselves!

The fears of self-revelation are real. It might not be safe. Someone else may use our stories against us. We may say things only to regret later. That is why sharing about others remains a popular choice, even in prayer meetings.

A) The Strange Curiosity About Others

Humans tend toward Schadenfreude, where we take special interest in bad things happening to other people. Like a curious zoo visitor excited to watch how lions and crocodiles eat up their prey alive, humans are especially piqued by tragic events happening to others. That is one reason why news reports on tragedies, disasters, and accidents tend to be more widely read. Air disasters are extremely popular and seem to be picked up by most if not all news agencies. The missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 is a case in point. When the ill-fated Boeing 777 was first reported missing on March 8th, 2014, many countries throughout the world reported on it. Although the plane was traveling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with passengers hailing from 15 countries, interest in the missing plane garnered attention from more than these affected countries. This week, when part of the plane was washed ashore at a French territory called Reunion Island, the world took notice all over again. It is easy to talk and read news about others. It is not so easy to talk and read news about ourselves, especially bad news.

What about self-examination questions? What about asking ourselves about our own health, our own situation, and our own spiritual growth? This is the subject of this week’s Sabbath Walk.

Am I growing?

Friday, July 31, 2015

We Are Our Greatest Enemy

SCRIPTURE: Romans 1:21-24
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: July 31st, 2015

"21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. 24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another." (Romans 1:21-24)
I remember a time when I was rushing a paper for a theological course. I try to put down everything I know, not only to impress my professor, but also to prove to myself that I deserve an A. Like many eager beaver high achiever, there is a word limit to the paper. How am I supposed to squeeze my learning into a measly 1500 word essay? Just trying to explain the background, the historical contexts, and the nuances of theologians cited can easily fill 5000 words. On top of that, I need to state the reasons why certain theologians have been selected and why their works are relevant to the essay. When asked whether students can write more than 1500 words, the Professor said no. Anything beyond the word limit means he stops reading. The rationale he gives is rather surprising: "The word limit is there is not to stifle you or to make it difficult for you. It's there to save you from yourselves."

That caught me off guard. Me an enemy to myself? How could that be? Surely, we all do our best. Surely we do whatever it takes to be the best versions of ourselves. Surely, we try our very best to do all that we can. Alas! In doing so, we may have given ourselves too much credit. Left unchecked, we become engrossed in our own doings that we forget that we can become too smart for our own selves. We become self-absorbed and in the process become blind to the needs around us. We may even start barking up the tree of self-righteousness, thinking that on our own strength and intelligence that we know best.

That is so true during my school days. Left to my own whims and fancies, I feel free to quote anyone, anyhow, and anytime. I can become so engrossed in my own piece of essay that I forget to show consideration to the professors and teaching assistants who needed to mark and to read not just my paper but my fellow students too. I can become big headed and lose sight of the main question. In fact, one reason why people write too much and out of point is because they fail to answer the question exactly. Which was what happened to me which resulted in a bad grade. I write a lot for that paper, only to be told that I have not really answered the question. In fact, the single most valuable exam tip I have learned is this:

"Just answer the question!"

How we do become our own worst enemy? That is the subject for this week's discussion. There are three ways in which we stumble ourselves. First, we become conceited and blind to others, and fall into the trap of self-importance. Second, we focus on the peripherals instead of the fundamentals. Third, we become more human centered and less God-centered.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

What Are Our Blind Spots?

SCRIPTURE: Matthew 7:3-5
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 23 July 2015

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:3-5)
Impact Magazine (Aug-Sep 2015, p40)
One of my book reviews appeared in the latest edition of Impact Magazine (vol 39, no. 4, Aug-Sep 2015). I managed to shorten it for publication purposes. It was a review of Collin Hansen's thought-provoking book entitled, "Blind Spots." For a longer version, you can read it here. I find the book very illuminating as it points out ways in which Christians often gravitate toward a one-dimensional emphasis in a three-dimensional world.

In general, churches tend to emphasize at least one of three perspectives. The first group is called "courage" which refers to people striving to stand up for truth, to speak out the truth aloud, and to protest, profess, and protect the dignity of the faith. They are the vocal ones who would refuse to lay down their convictions but would be ready to take to the streets to make sure their voices are heard. They assert the need to be reverent to the truth, the pure truth, and nothing but the truth. Of course, they might invoke God's Name in the process. By doing so, this group believe that the gospel is about speaking the Word of God into the world, that the world may hear and heed.
"And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:15)

Everything is seen on the basis of black and white. Good works alone do not save people. It is the Word of God spoken out that is crucial. Faith comes by hearing and the gospel is the spoken Word of God. Who can argue against that?

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