Saturday, January 24, 2015

Fake Religion

TITLE: FAKE RELIGION
SCRIPTURE: Jeremiah 7:1-8
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date:January 24th, 2015.
1This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2“Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message: “ ‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. 3This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. 4Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!5If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 6if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. 8But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless." (Jeremiah 7:1-8)

Key Question: What looks and feels good but is really not good?

This week, I read about the story of a bank in the Eastern part of China that was just opened a year ago with more than 200 customers. Promising 2% interest rates every week, it attracted many small businesses from ZheJiang province to open accounts at this new bank. Called the “Nanjing Mou Village Economic Cooperation Unit,” this bank has a beautifully designed location with fully uniformed bank tellers. There are official letterheads and deposit envelopes with a logo and all. One customer even deposited 200 million RMB with them. But there was one problem. The bank was fake. After one year, no one suspected the problem until one businessman who had deposited $2 million, saw the interest credited to his account and tried to withdraw the money. He couldn’t. He complained. The bank shut down. Police arrested five persons. In total, more than 32 million dollars were swindled out of ordinary people. This is the first time I read about fake financial institution that looks real on the outside but totally fake on the inside. Five people were arrested, but for the 200 customers, many may never recover their hard earned money.



Monday, January 19, 2015

Persevering Saints

TITLE: PERSEVERING SAINTS
SCRIPTURE: Romans 5:1-5
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: January 19th, 2015

"1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." (Romans 5:1-5)

Powerful movie of Enduring Perseverance
Go watch it!
Last week, I watched "Unbroken," a powerful movie based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand which describes the life of the WWII hero, Louis Zamperini.  This man survived storms, scorching heat, hunger and thirst for 47 days on the open seas. Captured by the Japanese at the height of WWII, he endured ridicule and shame. He was tortured and humiliated by his cruel captors. His body was physically broken. Emotionally spent, the easiest thing for him was to give in to the demands of his captors or to simply die. No. Zamperini chose life and endured all things. The Japanese leader, Mutsuhiro "Bird" Watanabe, in the prison camp tried to break Zamperini, but failed to crush the spirit of his prisoner. In fact, Watanabe was instead broken from the inside out. All because Zamperini chooses to persevere regardless of the hardship and torture inflicted upon his flesh. It reminds me of Jesus' words, " Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).


Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Heart of Prayer

TITLE: THE HEART OF PRAYER
SCRIPTURE:Philippians 4:6-7
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: January 10th, 2015

With lots of good intention, many people would rally their fellow believers to pray whenever they encounter some life challenges. It could be health related. It could be some major project milestone. It could also be travel concerns or some dangerous situations a loved one is in. Those of us in ministry would be familiar with such a request.
  • Please pray for me, for journey mercies.
  • Please pray for my family member who is undergoing some treatment.
  • Please pray for the persecuted Christians in country X.
  • Please pray for my upcoming job interview.
  •  
  •  
Maybe, prayer is simply an anxiety reliever. After all, didn't we read in Philippians 4:6 which calls us not be be anxious about anything, but to present all of our requests to God? Indeed, in the spirit of neutralizing our anxieties, we can ask people to pray for us. A closer read tells me something else. Philippians 4 can be interpreted as a personal call to the one reading the letter. It is Paul calling the Philippians not to panic, not to let anxieties and worries overwhelm us. Instead, offer it up to the Lord in prayer. For in prayer, we let the Spirit of God still our hearts and minds, to give us the peace of God that we all need for that moment and beyond.

Maybe, prayer has something to do with a hidden hope. A hope that the journey will be safe; that the family member would have good health results; that the persecution of Christians would stop; that the upcoming job interview would be positive; and so on. This hidden hope is simply wanting to see personal desires fulfilled. More importantly, it is an acknowledgment that we can only do so much, that there are many things not within our own control, that we need help with the fulfilling of our  hopes. Who else can we go to when things appear to be spinning out of control?


Friday, January 2, 2015

Serving with Grace and Gratitude

TITLE: SERVING WITH GRACE AND GRATITUDE

Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: January 2nd, 2015

A Happy New Year 2015 to all my readers and friends.

For the first time since the launch of SabbathWalk, I took a two week recess from my weekly writings. It was not because I didn't have the time or the motivation. Neither was it because of some urgent work to be done. It was simply because I had a longer family vacation, the first real one in years. Since starting pastoral ministry, it has not been easy to take a vacation during the Christmas season. Take last year for example. I had to preach consecutively throughout the Advent. I had to organize various events, coordinate with different people, set forth a theme, and ensure that everyone were able to have a meaningful time of worship during the Christmastide. As for my family, they tagged along sometimes dutifully, but mostly lovingly. Ministry is a strange juggle between family and Church, between private thoughts and public words, between members you know and strangers yet to be known.

The Celebrity Reflection (inaugurated Oct 12th, 2012)
We traveled on the Celebrity Reflection to the Caribbean. For seven days, we walked, played, relaxed, and ate on the magnificent flagship of the cruise company.It was a thing of beauty, an engineering achievement, as well as a floating luxury hotel. With nearly a third of the passengers on board serving the other two-thirds, the large ship can hold a maximum of 3046 people. With a beam 123 feet, a length of 1047 feet, and at least 15 decks, this floating paradise can cruise about 24 knots (about 40 land miles per hour). Being the newest kid on the block, it contained some of the most modern technologies. I was especially impressed by a large stabilizer under the ship which made the ship less susceptible to water turbulence, reducing the level of seasickness among passengers. I could attest to the overall ride being stable and quiet. For the most part, I felt like this was the most stable ship I had ever traveled on. It made me wonder about stabilizers in general.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Church as Hope-Bearers

TITLE: THE CHURCH AS HOPE-BEARERS
SCRIPTURE: 2 Cor 13:11
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: December 14th, 2015

"Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you." (2 Corinthians 13:11)

I have just finished a book called "Churchless" with mixed feelings about the state of the Western Church. The authors are owners and members of Barna Group, which is a private, non-partisan, and research organization that serves to identify and interpret cultural trends, especially relevant to the Christian community. They begin with some grim news about the increasing number of people who are no longer attending church services. They define the "unchurched" as people who say they are Christians but have not attended a Christian church service in the past six months. With particular interest on those who are Christians but not involved in any Church, they made this conclusion: "Invite a friend to church on Sunday" is no longer an in-thing. This week, I look at three necessary things. We need to understand the current cultural movements. We need to find ways to connect them both in or out of the Church. We need to find ways to show the unchurched that Church is worth it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Walking with the Dying

TITLE: WALKING WITH THE DYING
SCRIPTURE: Job 7:13-16
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: December 5th, 2014

13When I think my bed will comfort me and my couch will ease my complaint, 14even then you frighten me with dreams and terrify me with visions, 15so that I prefer strangling and death, rather than this body of mine. 16I despise my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone; my days have no meaning. (Job 7:13-16)

Synopsis: We have often heard and read about people wanting the right to die. What about the right to live? Caught between the rock and a hard place, how do we walk with people who are dying? In this article, I will argue that it is not what we say or do, but how much love and care we put into being present. 

A) The Right to Die

Death is that inevitable end to a human being's time on earth. Dying is the lonely journey to that end. Put together the two and we will have a potent mixture for fear. How do we walk with the dying? What if the dying want to be assisted to die? Recently, a couple of stories hit the mainstream media. One of them is Brittany Maynard's widely publicized decision to die at an appointed time of her choice.  At 29, Brittany was already suffering from splitting headaches. Married just over a year, she and her husband had been hoping to start a family. Until the headaches got the better of her. Her doctors gave her the bad news: Brain cancer. Not only that, due to the aggressive nature of the cancer she had, doctors estimated she had only six months more to live. Not wanting to let her family see her suffer through palliative care, and knowing that there was medically no chance of survival, she set off for Oregon, the state that allows patient assisted dying under the "Death with Dignity" provision by the state. She planned her final day to be November 1st, 2014.  She explained her painful decision on video and news of her decision to die triggered many responses from both pro-life as well as advocates for mercy dying.  One notable response was a letter by Kara Tippetts, who was also dying of cancer. In that moving open letter, Tippetts bared out her soul with the words that deeply reflect how she felt:
"Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known. In your choosing your own death, you are robbing those that love you with the such tenderness, the opportunity of meeting you in your last moments and extending your love in your last breaths. As I sat on the bed of my young daughter praying for you, I wondered over the impossibility of understanding that one day the story of my young daughter will be made beautiful in her living because she witnessed my dying. That last kiss, that last warm touch, that last breath, matters — but it was never intended for us to decide when that last breath is breathed."

Monday, December 1, 2014

Mary's Song - The Magnificat

TITLE: MARY'S SONG - The MAGNIFICAT
SCRIPTURE: Luke 1:39-56
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: December 1st, 2014

It's the most wonderful time of the year, so goes the popular year end song. After American Thanksgiving, and the infamous Black Friday sale, many stores and retail shops switch to Christmas sales mode to capture the spirit of giving, of discounting, and of frantic buying. Many Churches follow the traditional format of Advent themes. This year, my Church will look at four songs, that make up four sermons prior to Christmas. Yesterday, I started off with my sermon on Mary's Song.

The Magnificat is Latin for "glorifies" or "magnifies." It is a joy unspeakable from within that needs a channel of expression. Words and explanations do not quite cut it. It has to be sung out loud with pompous gladness and gusto. Two themes are evident from the song of Mary.


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.

Share it