Monday, August 24, 2015

What Would You Ask For?

TITLE: 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

TITLE: 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?

TITLE: 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

(Credit: http://comments.bmartin.cc/tag/schadenfreude/)
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

TITLE: 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?

TITLE: 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?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Some Popularly Misunderstood Words

TITLE: SOME POPULARLY MISUNDERSTOOD WORDS
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 13 JULY 2015

This week, as I was thinking about what to reflect upon, I chance upon this video that highlights a number of “Christianese” or “Christian Talk.” In it, I hear a lot of familiar words used in Churches and Christian communities. The way that it was being played out, highlights some of the most used (and also misused) words Christians have used without really understanding what they mean.

A) Christian vs Disciple

On Christian: A “Christian” is often used loosely for “followers of Christ.” It could mean a person who had personally confessed Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. It could also mean a person declaring his religion on government forms to fill. Sometimes, that would include the denomination or the increasingly popular “independent” or “non-denominational” label in order to differentiate one from the mainline Churches which are increasingly out of vogue. The first time the word “Christian” is used in the Bible is Acts 26:28;

“Then Agrippa said to Paul, "Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?"”

There is an emphasis on belief, or a confession of faith. The moment one confesses the faith, one would be granted the title, “Christian.”

On Disciple: A “Disciple” in Greek (mathetes) simply means “learner.” Etymologically, some have linked this to the word of “discipline,” which is rather inaccurate as far as the meaning of “mathetes” is concerned. The way I harmonize them is to see “discipline” as a given for a true disciple of Christ. Those who claim to follow Christ will adopt the necessary disciplines to follow Christ all the way.

For me, I would prefer to be called a “Disciple of Christ” rather than a Christian, simply because the former better elevates the desire to go beyond nominal faith. One can call oneself a “Christian” and there is no way to verify that truth, just like anybody can set up his own $1 company and calls himself a CEO. We live in a time where people are increasingly disenchanted with the word "Christian" and equates them to being attached to institutional religion. One example is Jonathan Bethke's "Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus" which went viral a few years ago. While there are things I do not agree in Bethke's video, he manages to highlight the polarizing sentiments between the use of the words "Christians" and "Disciples." Again, I do not want to push this difference too much. My purpose of distinguishing the two terms this way is because of Matthew 28:18-20 which calls us to "make disciples of all nations" rather than "make Christians of all nations."


Monday, July 6, 2015

The Four Quadrants of Love - 1 John 4:7-21

TITLE: THE FOUR QUADRANTS OF LOVE
SCRIPTURE: 1 John 4:7-21
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: July 6th, 2015

Love is a highly touted word in modern times. The Beatles sing “All You Need is Love.” Antiwar activists tout: “Make love, not war.” Religious groups use the idea of “love” to promote inter-religious tolerance and common activities. A lot of good have come out of the desire to celebrate love. A lot of controversies have also risen.

One of the most contested topics is the area of same-sex marriage. It has divided Churches. It has polarized policy makers throughout the West. It has split families and defied long-held traditions. Last week, I wrote about the way we can respond to the June 26th, 2015 SCOTUS decision that effectively legalized same-sex marriage throughout the fifty United States. Hailed as a landmark decision, while many celebrated, equally many lamented on the state of society now. Marriage has been expanded beyond the conventional understanding of male-female union. Now, every sex can marry any sex. It makes a mockery out of the word “marriage” as understood in Ephesians 5:31. In a society that allows the freedom of religious beliefs, atheists, secularists, and non-Christians in general would assert that the Bible does not apply to them because they do not believe. Moreover, they would say that Christians have no right to impose their faiths on a secular society.

Four Quadrants of Divine Love
Christians respond by saying, it is not a question of belief. It is about truth vs falsehood. It is not the Christian imposing anything, but God who will judge, regardless of whether people believe in Him or not. For the battle is not the Christian’s. It is the Lord’s. Everybody have a right to their own opinion, but not every opinion is right. People can be utterly sincere but also seriously wrong. Love too is a many-splendored thing, but it is also greatly misunderstood. Like the proverbial one man’s meat is another man’s poison, a person’s understanding of love is another expression of hatred. The Apostle John, sometimes called the Apostle of Love wrote in 1 John 4, that God is Love. He compares worldly love with divine love. Most importantly, love is not a concept or a nice idea. Love is in Jesus Christ. In such times where love seem to be all kinds of things to all kinds of people, it is good to just pause and reflect on what John has to say about love.

This week, I offer some reflections on 1 John 4:7-21, using what I call the “Four Quadrants of Divine Love.”


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.)


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