Friday, June 26, 2015

Seven Responses to the Supreme Court Judgment Over Same-Sex Marriage

TITLE: SEVEN RESPONSES TO THE SUPREME COURT JUDGMENT OVER SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 22:37-40
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 26th, 2015
37Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”(Matthew 22:37-40)

Group celebrating the Supreme Court Decision
(Photo Credit: abc7.com)
As widely expected, on June 26th 2015, the United States Supreme Court has declared that same-sex marriage is legal throughout the United States. That means states that had been resisting homosexual marriages would have to comply. In a landmark 5-4 decision, gay advocates all over the world are celebrating. President Obama in a nationwide address from the White House calls it “a more perfect union.” Many people throughout the country are celebrating, aided by popular media that are unabashed in splashing the rainbow all over their areas of influence. It appears like the whole country is approving of this “historic” decision. That is furthest from the truth. It has only made even more public the deep divide the country is facing.

What are people celebrating about? Why are some quarters unhappy? What should Christians supporting traditional marriage do? Over at Christianity Today, Mark Galli share “Six Things To Do after the Supreme Court Decision on Gay Marriage.” Writing to conservative circles, he urges us not to sulk but to rejoice in the Lord, for such joy is never dependent on things of this world. True joy is always based on what Jesus had done. He calls for all to repent from all manner of sins. During this time, we are in danger of looking at the speck of another person’s eye and forget about the log in our own eye. We are encouraged to rethink about our faith and how to live out our faith as a result of this court decision. It is going to be very tricky for people to navigate their practice of faith without becoming embroiled in legal matters. We are to re-engage once again using the freedoms that we have been blessed with. Do not be too quick to say that Christians are persecuted on the basis of this court decision. Real persecutions exist outside of North America that are worse. There is also the opportunity to reach out in order to build constructive relationships with all people from all walks of life. The gospel must still be preached to all the world, and sexual orientations are not to be seen as a barrier. Galli comes back full circle to tell us to rejoice once again with a future outlook. There is much to be done and to be hopeful about in the joy of the Lord. A friend of mine commented to me that God will eventually prevail. That is true but more importantly, we need to anchor our faith with conviction in Christ and lived out in wisdom. No court decision is going to change that. In this week’s reflection at Sabbath Walk, I want to share about seven things that we can do.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Forgiven but Never Forgotten

TITLE: FORGIVEN BUT NEVER FORGOTTEN
SCRIPTURE: 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 22nd, 2015

"3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." (2 Cor 1:3-4)

It was a rough week for the city of Charleston, South Carolina, in particular, for the families of nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, who were shot dead by a 21-year old white man. One hour into a regular Wednesday evening's Bible study, Dylan Roof, shot dead nine black members of the study group in cold blood. It was a murder cum massacre of the racist order. It was totally uncalled for and totally evil to the core. The crime was beyond anybody's wildest imagination and the act roundly condemned by all persons of every race and religion. Even the most hardened of hearts would have their consciences seared with pain and disbelief. After all, we are not talking about a war zone or some kind of a gangland battleground. It was a Church where the key "weapons" of warfare are not guns but prayers, not clenched fists but open arms, not hatred but love. That is what made the whole shooting such a mind-boggling event. On top of that, Roof was graciously invited to do a Bible study with the pastor among them. No one would have thought that welcoming a guest like Roof would turn into a vicious and bloody murder scene. Although Roof managed to escape and subsequently caught a day later, the nine who died never stood a chance and were ushered very suddenly into the presence of the Lord. How do we explain that?

A) Always a Mental Condition?

In cases this this, there are always some who would try to justify it from a psychiatrist's angle, pleading for leniency on the basis of a mental condition. Such is the approach done by Newsweek, that headlined the whole shooting event as follows: "Charleston Massacre: Mental Illness Common Thread for Mass Shootings." Like a skilled researcher, the report goes on to highlight seven previous cases of mental illnesses behind each mass shooting. The problem is, what if they are wrong? What gives them the sudden insight into the mind of this killer? Even mental health professionals are not entirely sure that every case is a mental puzzle in the first place. For us laypersons, who on earth does NOT have mental problems when under stress? How many people would not break under duress? Here's the problem. Who gives people the sudden inside scoop on all shootings to primarily psychology? In an age where people are innocent until proven guilty, what about their victims whom they have hurt before the final judgment? Don't they too have mental problems and scars? For all the attention dished out on the killer's welfare, what about the families of the victims?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Reflections on Grieving

TITLE: REFLECTIONS ON GRIEVING
SCRIPTURE: John 11:35
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 12th, 2015
"Jesus wept." (John 11:35)
The Brave Expedition Team from TKPS
Photo Credit: malaysiastylo.com
The past two weeks have been a sober one. The unexpected earthquake (June 6th, 2015) that rocked Sabah had hit home in many ways, in particular, the lives of people from 18 families from Malaysia, Singapore, China, Philippines, and Japan. It is heartbreaking to see young people as young as 12 who succumbed to injuries, falling rocks, and tragedies on Mount Kinabalu. The full list of victims can be found here. In Singapore, the Prime Minister declared that June 8th would be a day of remembrance with state flags on all government building to be flown at half mast. The majority of the victims were from Singapore’s Tanjong Katong Primary School. The nine of them were student leaders and teachers on an “Omega Challenge” leadership training expedition organized by the school. The sense of loss cannot be described in words, only expressed in tears.

How do we grieve? It is important that we remember different ages grieve differently. In “A Necessary Grief,” Pastor and grief counselor, Dr Larry Michael distinguishes grieving from mourning. He says that grieving is essentially a “response to loss” that is experienced inward through thoughts and feelings. Mourning is an outward expression of grief. One can mourn with loud cries and visible sobs. When it comes to grieving, a lot of emotions can be locked up in an unknown territory inside. Due to the complex nature of grief, Michael points out several kinds of grief:
  • “Nonfinite Grief” which is the loss of hope and future expectations. (Example, news of a loved one being diagnosed with chronic illness)
  • “Anticipatory Grief” which is a state of getting ready for the impending transitions. (Example: A divorce or the last stages of a terminal situation)
  • “Traumatic Grief” which is about unexpected deaths.  (Example: Sudden deaths, accidents, or tragedies like the Sabah quake)
  • “Complicated Grief” which is how a sense of loss leads to dysfunctional behavior and depression. (Example: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, after a major setback)
  • “Normal Grief” which is the typical reactions and everyday responses to a natural death of a loved one. (Example: Natural death due to old age.)


Monday, June 1, 2015

Spiritual Vibrancy (People's Responses)

TITLE: SPIRITUAL VIBRANCY (People's Responses)
SCRIPTURE: John 15:5-8
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 1st, 2015

"5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." (John 15:5-8)

You have just heard a great sermon. You can sense that many people's hearts were touched. There is that feeling that going to Church is so good, so heartwarming, and so meaningful. Yet, after the refreshments and the fellowship hugs and kisses, come Monday, and things appear to be back to the usual grind. Familiar?

When we talk about the Christian life, it is not only what happens during the Sunday service, but also what happens after the Sunday sermon. In my experience as a preacher, there are at least 4 types of respondents. The first type is the diplomatic type. These are the ones who tell you "Great sermon!" no matter how bad you thought your sermon was. They would smile at you and say nice things simply because you are God's servant and they had to give you the benefit of the doubt. This happens most of the time. It's a wonderful way to just be nice and not commit oneself to be defensive in any way. Unless the preacher were to ask: "Which part exactly did you find it great?"

The second are the skeptical who would either give you a quick piece of their mind about your message or send you some negative feedback sometime over the next few days. Friends of mine would appreciate not having any feedback at all within the first few hours after delivering a sermon. Giving one is already mentally and emotionally exhausting. In such a state, it is not easy for the preacher to receive criticisms in a "weakened" state. While people may claim to speak the truth in love, the suggestion is to pray and wait until at least a 24-48 hours gap before giving a comment. Alternatively, congregation members can put down in writing via an email but keep it in DRAFT mode. Usually, over time, any negative feedback would be more nuanced and tampered with more grace. Shooting off the hip is never a good thing, especially when giving complaints.

The third are the nonchalant where no amount of pulpit feeding can ever get them to get outside their comfort zones. They are anchored on their concrete ground of self-affirmation and absolutely determined not to let anything interfere with their way of life. Maybe, their focus is simply on the refreshments and the fellowship time at the end of the service. Some may have dozed off for the most part of the sermon, so they do not have much to feedback about, little act on them.

The fourth are the ones who would keep the message in their hearts. They remember the key points and appreciated the way God has been speaking through the weeks. It can be a story shared or a quote said. It could be a passage that jumps out of the page like never before. When the seed of the Word is sown, the Spirit will aid in the germination and the people will respond accordingly.

Being fruitful is a mark of the Christian. More precisely, it is abiding in Jesus that we see Jesus bear fruit, and if necessary, through us. Very often, we hear teachings from the pulpit that we need to do this or to do that. We must practice kindness, show grace, or help the poor. We must give of our best to our work and be faithful in our service in society. What about putting the focus on what we can do but on Jesus who is the enabler of all good works? What about living in such a way that our good work is a direct reflection of the goodness and love of God? What about acknowledging that without Christ, we can do nothing?

In a recent documentary entitled, "Godless," I was appalled at how some wayward Church denominations have lost their spiritual bearing and focus on God and chose human wisdom instead. One such church is West Hill United Church in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada that had changed "the glory of God" to the "glory of good." Led by an atheist minister called Gretta Vosper, the church no longer have any mention of God in their beliefs. They worship the good, the moral choices of human beings, and the nice fellowship of people who are there on the basis of moral good. They think that the living is more important than the believing, putting the focus on good works more than good traditional doctrine. This essentially means that they have come to a point where God, a Divine Supernatural Being, is no longer necessary for faith, and irrelevant to daily living.

How can any church call themselves "Church" when they do not worship God? By removing God altogether, they are surely on their own. John 15 is an urgent call for us to remember that no matter how skilled or how brilliant we are, we are never in control of the world. Try we may, venture forth we can, but to think we are the masters of our own fate will be a serious error. Whatever we do, we do in gratitude to the grace of God. The words to Job powerfully remind us about how limited we are.

4“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— 7while the morning stars sang together and all the angelsa shouted for joy? 8“Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, 9when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, 10when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, 11when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?
I shudder to think about people who happen to boast their own abilities over God's providence. There are way too many unsolved puzzles in this world, let alone trying to take on Almighty God. Our responses to God's Word must never be in our own ability to produce fruit. It needs to be in being faithful to God, in remaining in God's grace, displayed in holiness and God's goodness. As we see this world more and more from God's perspective, practice living like Jesus, and to be responsive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, we are on the way to fruitfulness.

Whatever good deeds we do in the Name of the Lord, make sure we acknowledge the One who is the true worker: God. This should be our response each Sunday, and every Sunday. The pulpit message preached must reside in our hearts to push us to abide in Christ, that Christ may bear fruit, and if necessary, through us.

THOUGHT: The fruit of the Christian life is not about good works. It is about God's work done as we abide in Christ and Christ in us. The visible sign of fruitfulness is when people see our good work and are pointed to the Source of all good works: God in Christ.

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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 inquiries. Note that views expressed are personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any person(s) or organization(s).

Saturday, May 23, 2015

SPIRITUAL VIBRANCY (Fellowship of the People)

TITLE: SPIRITUAL VIBRANCY (Fellowship of the People)
SCRIPTURE: 1 John 2:9-11
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: May 22nd, 2015

"9Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them." (1 John 2:9-11)

Spiritual Vibrancy #2:
Fellowship of the People
Last week, I wrote about the spiritual vibrancy of the Church that centers around the preaching of the Word. This week, I want to continue with the reflection on spiritual vibrancy by looking at the response to the preaching of the Word. If there is no response, the preaching will be in vain. If there is a response, not only will the people in the community be blessed, the Church will also be blessed. This week is Part Two of the Spiritual Vibrancy series.

In an talk show hosted by Anderson Cooper of CNN, famed marital expert Dr John Gottmann was asked about what was the #1 issue that couples fight about. He replied with a witty word: "Nothing."

The answer was hilarious but also spot on.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Spiritual Vibrancy (Preaching of the Word)

TITLE: SPIRITUAL VIBRANCY (Preaching of the Word)
SCRIPTURE: 2 Timothy 4:2
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: May 11th, 2015

"Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction." (2 Timothy 4:2)

Spiritual Vibrancy #1:
Biblical Preaching
Why is it that some churches are vibrant while others are simply dull? Is it because of the quality of the sermons? Or is it because of the warmth of the fellowship? Or is it because of something more practical like logistics, travel, or the convenience of something more unusual like parking? Starting this week, I like to launch a series of three reflections about spiritual vibrancy.

In conjunction with May 30th, 2015 as Global Outreach Day, I would like to say that vibrancy comes about with three things. First, the preaching of the Word. Second, the fellowship of the people. Third, the passion of outreach of the community. Both the second and third elements are active responses to the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. With the preaching of the Word, there needs to be a response. Without any responses, the Word remains within the four walls of churches and Christian communities who gather each week for worship.

The Preaching of the Word

One of the most striking traits in any revivals is the strong preaching of the Word. In the 18th Century (1731-1755), in what we know as the first great awakening in North America, we have men like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, whose powerful preaching revitalized the entire society to go forth in faith and witness of the gospel of Christ. In the nineteenth century (1790-1840), there is the American spiritual awakening with Francis Asbury (Methodist), Henry Ward Beecher (Presbyterian), Charles Finney, and others who inspired a new generation with powerful preaching against the ills of society. Then comes the 20th Century (1850-1900) spiritual awakening, thanks to the Pentecostal movement and the Holiness movement. People like Dwight L. Moody and Ira Sankey were household names. In the 21st Century, we will all recognize the names of Billy Graham, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, and in our modern days, Chuck Swindoll, Rick Warren, and Tim Keller. Many of the megachurches all had one thing in common: Powerful preaching over the pulpit.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Praying Through Psalm 30 (For Nepal)

TITLE: PRAYING THROUGH PSALM 30 (For Nepal)
SCRIPTURE: Ps 30
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: April 30th, 2015
"I will exalt you, LORD, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me." (Ps 30:1)
(Photo Credit: BBC 2015)
O Lord, it's Nepal. What is happening there, You know best.
How do I exalt you in the midst of news like that? Can the wounded be lifted out of the depths?
Did the people of Nepal do something wrong to deserve all this disaster?
There is so much suffering and pain over there now. Lord, do something!
Let there be miracles in the midst of tragedy. Let there the enemies of Nepal, wherever they are gloat over the tragedy of Nepal.

"2Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. 3You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit." (Ps 30:2-3)
Lord, You are able to help. Bring forth your compassion through the efforts of the nations who have pledged help. Enable them to send their best. Bring them from afar. Enlarge the capacity of the Nepali infrastructure to cope with the increased demand. Encourage the rescuers with good news. Heal the hurt. Strengthen the rescuers. Spare more lives. Let there be survivors who would call out, cry out, and shout aloud their location. Prevent more people from going to the pit.



Monday, April 20, 2015

Living in a Hostile Climate

TITLE: LIVING IN A HOSTILE CLIMATE
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 5:43-48
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: April 21st, 2015.

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The climate against Christianity is increasingly hostile. From persecutions of Christians in the Middle East by ISIS to religious extremism in Malaysia, life is getting very complicated and dangerous for people of the Cross. Just today, I read about Ethiopian believers being executed in cold blood by the Islamic radicals. The killers even gloated about the killings as something that they do in the name of Allah. The violence that they have meted out is atrocious. The Christians were killed simply because they refused to embrace Islam or pay a heavy tax to retain their faith. The ones who died are the martyrs of today. They died for their faith.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Relinquishing Control

TITLE: RELINQUISHING CONTROL
SCRIPTURE: John 8:31-32
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: March 13th, 2015

31So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32)

It is not easy to relinquish control. The more competent a person is, the more difficult it is to stay away from controlling things, circumstances, or even people. An expert mechanic would be able to sense the reasons behind a rumbling noise behind the wheel. Upon hearing the troubling creaks or squeaks, he would be quick to offer a way for the driver to look into. After all, mechanics are trained to listen for strange sounds or problems regarding the automobile.

Like mechanics, computer technicians too will be ready to solve any problem regarding computers. If a computer slows down, try adding additional RAM memory, defrag the hard drive, or simply reboot the machine. If the software breaks at some point, try to tweak it, or to uninstall and reinstall it afresh. Troubleshooting problems can be very time-consuming, especially when customers do not really know what they have done before. It takes a patient and understanding technician to get to the root of the problem. While skilled technical people find it easy to get into a problem solving mode, it is not so easy to relinquish control of the situation. For some, it is the thrill of finding out the cause that drives them. For others, it is their reputation of a computer expert that is at stake. Yet, for others, they need to satisfy the impatient and increasingly irritated customer.

This is a world of technical prowess in a culture infatuated with speed. If one is not competent, one will lose the job to the competition. If one is not quick enough, customer satisfaction will be affected. For such people, rest is particularly hard especially when it means relinquishing control over things that are within your domain of expertise. For Christians who honour the Sabbath, it is also a practical question. How would you reconcile trying to solve work issues on your rest day? Are you able to relinquish control for an immediate resolution to a problem? Why is it so hard to wait?

There are many reasons why people find it hard to rest. Let me share just three.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

What About Saturday?

TITLE: WHAT ABOUT SATURDAY?
SCRIPTURE: John 19:28-30
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date:April 3rd, 2014.

"Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, 'I am thirsty.' A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lip. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." (John 19:28-30)

SYNOPSIS: Good Friday is often remembered as the day where the sins of the world are laid upon Jesus Christ. Resurrection Sunday is the day of hope. What about Saturday?

So what do we do between Good Friday and Easter?
Today is Good Friday. Christians all over the world commemorate this event as the day where the wrath of God was satisfied as Jesus took upon himself the punishment for the sins of the whole world. This is through no fault of his but all of mankind. Theologians call this the atonement. Also called the penal substitution where Jesus bore upon himself the sins of the whole world for our sake, it is a core doctrine that unites the Church during this Good Friday remembrance. That is not all. In our Christian doctrine of the Trinity, in Jesus is suffering, it also means God the Father and the Holy Spirit suffers too. For God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three persons in one Godhead. When one suffers, all suffer. It is not three Gods but one. It is a mystery that has confounded people through the ages. One of the best ways to understand the Trinity is this:
The Father is the Father because of the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The Son is the Son because of the Father and the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit because of the Father and the Son.
Those who over-analyze this risk turning the Trinity into some form of heresy about the Trinity. This is not to say we cannot study or think of the Trinity. It simply means that there is an aura of mystery that will keep us in wonder and openness to revelation to come. The Athanasian Creed is particularly instructive.

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