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.)


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.

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 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.



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