Thursday, April 17, 2014

Good Friday 2014

SCRIPTURE: Luke 22:39-46
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: April 18th, 2014

39Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.41He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.43An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. 45When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”(Luke 22:39-46)

For many people, it is a public holiday. For stores and shopping malls, it is another day to cash in on shoppers with additional time on their hands and cash in their wallets.  For Christians all over the world, it is a time to remember the deepest angst, the greatest injustice, and the cruelest stroke of undeserved punishment, ever to be meted out on one man. Not just any man, but a pure and innocent man, sinless and completely human: Jesus the Christ of Nazareth. It is the culmination of a week of powerful events. One version of the events are described below: 
Chronology of Holy Week Remembered
Day 1 - Palm Sunday
Day 2 - Cleansing of temple, Cursing of the Fig Tree
Day 3 - Day of Silence, Rest @ Bethany, Jesus Anointed with Nard
Day 4 - The Last Supper and Jesus Washing of the Disciples' Feet
Day 5 - Maundy Thursday
Day 6 - Good Friday
Day 7 - Silent Saturday
Day 8 - Resurrection Sunday!

The Scene at the Garden of Gethsemane

Jesus and his disciples were going to the Mount of Olives. Luke notes it as something Jesus had done often. It was the same place, with the same group of people, but at a special time. A time that will be specially hard, tormenting, disappointing, and downright heartbreaking. In this touching scene, Jesus was recorded to say four things which I will reflect upon this week.

Friday, April 11, 2014

On TWU, Freedom and the Law

SCRIPTURE: Ephesians 5:1-2
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: April 11th, 2014

"Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5:1-2)

Recently, the provincial government of British Columbia approved the establishment of a private University seeking to set up a law faculty within its campus. The Federation of Law Societies in Canada had also approved TWU's application. There was wide agreement on the technical and educational ability of Trinity Western University to train and to produce graduates able to uphold and to practise the laws of the land. There are also no disagreement with regards of the rights of a private University to operate on the basis of their faith. After all, Canadian law permits people the freedom of religious beliefs and the freedom of speech, that will be consistent with the law and constitution. Unfortunately, the passage to legal approval has been rocky. At the heart of the dispute is the "community covenant" which TWU expects all to sign before being hired as an employee, or allowed in as a student.  You can read the entire covenant here.

This morning, the Law Society of British Columbia debated on the motion to reject TWU's application for the establishment of a law school in BC. Listening to the submissions, I noticed it is all about protecting rights. Some argued forcefully that they need to protect the minority group, namely the LGBT community. Others stated that they need to speak for the law of the land more than their personal beliefs. Still, others would reject TWU because they see the covenant as discriminatory. Eventually, when put to a vote, the society decided to defeat the motion, which essentially meant TWU will be recognized and accredited by the Law Society of BC as a legitimate law school. Some of my initial questions centered around the following.

  • Where do we draw the line between freedom of religious belief versus freedom of secular choice?
  • Is the country big enough to accommodate differences of opinion and faith beliefs?
  • Are people big hearted enough to allow people of different faiths to co-exist?
  • Do people have a choice at all in their choice of educational institutions?
  • Who is the minority who are increasingly being marginalized?
  • Who is the mainstream of today?
This week, I want to offer three reasons for optimism, three reasons for continued caution, and end with three hopes for the future student and members of the TWU community.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Unforgiveness is Spiritually Deadly

SCRIPTURE:  Mark 11:20-25
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: April 4th, 2014

20In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” 22“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23“Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:20-25)
It is enshrined in the Lord's Prayer. It has been spoken about in parables. It has been put through a mathematical formula that ends in infinity. It is also the lubricant of relationships, the essence of living, and the vital ingredient in the spiritual vitality of anyone. It requires the biggest step of faith anyone can possibly undertake. It is the bridge over all waters, not just troubled ones. The Hebrew language has three different words to describe it. Biblical Greek has two.

It is something easy to blurt out, but incredibly hard to put into action. The deeper the thorn, the more painful the act of forgiveness. This week, I like to suggest the following. Forgiving others is hard, difficult, and may even be impossible. Not to forgive is harder, more difficult, and will become spiritually deadly. 

A) Child's Play

I remember hearing about gender differences in young children's behaviour. A study was shown about a group of kindergarten boys playing out in the field. Invariably, as kids push and shove one another in ball games, running in the park, or just having fun, there will be fights and nasty situations. The boys played in their special corner while the girls at another. At each fighting or quarreling, it was observed that the boys are more physical. They argued and soon teachers needed to separate them and forced them to apologize. Grudgingly they would shake hands and utter out a reluctant "Sorry." Soon after, their focus turned to the games and toys they were playing, and things amazingly returned to normal.

The girls were a little different. If there was a fight or tiff, even after the apology, any games or playing would come to an abrupt halt. It seemed like the girls tended to take a much longer time to be recover, if it ever were normal again. While the boys returned to their open games, the girls returned to their closed corners.

Of course, there are many other studies that show gender differences in other ways. One such study of 1400 college students shows us that men found it harder to forgive. One striking comment made by the researcher is this.
Offenses are easier to forgive to the extent that they seem small and understandable and when we see ourselves as similar or close to the offender.” (Julie Juola Exline, Western Reserve University)
This comment is particularly revealing as our ability to forgive or not forgive, is a reflection of who we truly are. If we see ourselves larger and more righteous than others, it is much harder to forgive. A guest speaker at Regent College recently broached this question: "Do you want to be right or do you want to be loving?"

Whether we are kids or adults, male or female, we all have to decide. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Good and Perfect Gift

SCRIPTURE: James 1:12-18
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: March 29th, 2014.

12Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. 13When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. 16Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Patrick won the jackpot. Alice struck the lottery. Michael received the first prize in a lucky draw. With the winnings, all of them rejoiced. All of them claimed to have been blessed. All of them said that the good fortunes were all gifts from God. With glee, they promised to give a tenth of what they had gained to either a Church, a charity, or some kind of a Samaritan initiative. Of course, we can debate about whether Christians ought to gamble or buy lottery, but that is not the point today. the point is, what constitutes a "good and perfect gift?"

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Lord's Supper

SCRIPTURE: 1 Corinthians 11:27-34
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: March 21st, 2014
"27So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world. 33So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. 34Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions." (1 Cor 11:27-34)

One of the most (if not the most) important sacraments in the liturgical calendar is the Holy Communion, also known as the Lord's Supper. If you are Roman Catholic, you would call it the Eucharist or the Mass. Regardless of the differences in theological opinion, all if not most will agree of its spiritual significance. You may be a Roman Catholic who believes in the real transformation of bread and wine as the physical Presence of Christ.You may be a Lutheran who may not agree with the RCC version's of "transubstantiation," but in the local transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. You may be a Reformed who sees the Lord's Supper more as symbolism or a Baptist who argues that Christ's presence may not be physical but sure is real. You may also be a Pentecostal who refuses to be drawn into the physical presence debate, but insists on the spiritual significance of the whole Eucharist. One thing is for sure, the Lord's Supper, or if you are Roman Catholic, the Eucharist (or Mass) is perhaps the most significant ritual or sacrament the Church can observe and take together. During the days of Paul, there are no denominations that we talk so much about today. Instead, there are divisions. There are multiple parties trying to boast that their faith is better than one another. The Corinthian Church was in a state of disunity and discord.

Paul reprimands them for divisions (1 Cor 11:18). He points out the factions among them. He blames the church for the lack of unity to share and to care for one another. There are disparate levels of wealth, with the rich feeding only themselves and the poor left with nothing. Worse, some even uses the Lord's Name in vain by eating unworthily at the Lord's table with the haves looking down on the have-nots. Instead of coming to the Holy Meal in the Name of Christ, they come in the name of self! Thus, Paul tells them to examine their own selves, lest they are punished with death (v30).

While we do not want to busy ourselves with the denominational differences, it is appropriate for us to observe the spirit rather than the letter of the Lord's Supper. Let me share five common elements of the Lord's Supper which I believe is common ground. The details may be somewhat different according to your religious persuasion, but the general thrust is the same.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Five Signs Your Church Is On Life Support

SCRIPTURE: Acts 2:42-47
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: March 14th, 2014

"42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42-47)

This week, I ponder on the question of Church and especially those that claim to be on "maintenance mode." I want to argue that "maintenance mode" churches are actually churches on life-support, not maintenance.

In "Mourning the Death of a Church," the writer Angie Mabry-Nauta began with a grim picture of the American Church scene where nine churches close down daily.  Her church was one of them. In fact, one of the comments in the article disturbed me. That person said: "Can't we figure out a way to save our church?" It makes me wonder theologically. Is it not the Church who will be the vehicle to share the message of salvation? If the Church herself needs saving, what hope will there be for others who need to hear the gospel? Mabry-Nauta then compared the dying of the church to the dying of an individual, asking the same kind of questions pertaining to death and dying. How does one desire to die? What is the quality of death? What does it mean to call it quits? It was a tough and emotional struggle for her and for her church that decided to shut down.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Four Pathways to Christian Maturity

SCRIPTURE: Hebrews 12:1-3
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: March 7th, 2014

"1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Synopsis: What is Lent all about? Is it about refraining from chocolates or coffee? Is it about fasting till our face turns blue? Or is it about a turning toward an invitation to spiritual maturity? In this week's article, I want to focus on the four pathways of holiness, to learn to live in greater spiritual maturity as well as growing discernment of the ease of entanglement with the worldly; the focus of attention on the Cross; the the joy of perseverance in faith. That we be complete in Christ.

Lent has begun. Ash Wednesday two days ago marks the traditional kickoff with forty days to Holy Week, also known as Passion Week where Jesus entered Jerusalem en-route to the cross.  During this time, many believers make special efforts toward a more intense and intentional doing of one or more spiritual disciplines. It could be prayer. It can be fasting. For the latter, some contributors to ChristianityToday recently checked on the Twitter world to reveal the five most popular things to fast from: "Chocolate, Twitter, school, alcohol, and swearing." When I saw the list, I cannot help but wonder if these people will start swearing again after Lent.

(Credit: ChristianityToday, What to Give Up for Lent 2014?)

A) Lent as Giving Up Some Things?

There is also another list which tries to classify the tweets in terms of categories of things people are seeking to give up during Lent.
  1. Relating to Food (30545 tweets)
  2. Relating to Technology (9764 tweets)
  3. Relating to School/Work (6744 tweets)
  4. Relating to Habits (6689 tweets)
  5. Relating to Smoking/Drugs/Alcohol (5737 tweets)
As I go down the list, I cannot help but wonder how many of these people are Christians. At the end of the article, I felt something seems amiss. Honestly, these efforts to fast from various things tend to miss the point of Lent totally. The purpose of Lent is not the fasting or the refraining. Neither is it some kind of a contemporary sacrifice of modern comfort so that we can experience a piece of Christ's suffering now. No. Theologically there is no need to do that, for Christ's sacrifice is already all-sufficient. No one can add or subtract from it. That is why Jesus said just before his death, "It is finished." His work of grace and salvation is finished at the cross. The purpose of fasting is to disentangle ourselves from things that easily hinder us from our pursuit of Christ. Looking at Hebrews 12:1, if the giving up of some things during Lent is a way of throwing off anything that "hinders," so that we can run the race set before us, it is a good thing.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Dealing With Personal Failure

SCRIPTURE: 2 Samuel 12:13-14
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date:  February 28th, 2014
Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt fora the Lord, the son born to you will die.” (2 Samuel 12:13-14)

Last week, the Christian world was shocked by the court conviction of David Cho Yong-Gi, founder and pastor of the largest Church in the world, South Korea's Yoido Full Gospel Church. You can read more of it at Gospel Herald, Christianity Today, Yonhap News, Huffington Post, and many others on the Internet. All of them have reported in a manner that mirrors shock and horror at how a prominent and quite respected senior leader to be charged and convicted in a court of law. After all, he is doing God's work right? Others like Bob Rodgers has attempted to supply some background information in order to set the record straight. By doing so, Rodgers has tried to assure the public that David Cho is not as bad as the press reports have made him out to be.

Amid the social media feeding frenzy, many subsequent comments and articles have pointed out to the lack of accountability, the problem with megachurches, the temptation of riches, and the stumbling of fellow believers. I find something rather troubling about how people are suddenly distancing themselves from anything to do with David Cho, Yoido Full Gospel, or any churches or structures resembling the same. A former model and hero of the faith is suddenly ostracized and banished to the pits of the grave of respect. Probably, David Cho will go down the beaten paths of disgrace and embarrassment, just like Ted Haggard, Eddie Long, Vaughn Reeves, and others have gone before.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Drifting Away, Naturally

SCRIPTURE: Deuteronomy 4:23
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: February 21st, 2014

"Be careful not to forget the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the LORD your God has forbidden." (Deut 4:23)
SYNOPSIS: What causes organizations to move away from their original vision? Why do churches often doing things that do not reflect their founding mission? Clue: Forgetfulness is the natural wave to drift us away.

The phrase "mission creep" is used to describe projects that have spiraled beyond their original mission or objectives. Instead of a laser-like focus on the necessary, mission creep has led to distractions and bloated amount of work that may not necessarily reflect the original vision or mission. In business circles, when companies leave their core competencies, they take on strange initiatives that confuse people both inside as well as outside the organization. There is Intel, the semi-conductor companies that bought over an elderly care website in 2010. Ebay bought over Skype in 2005, only to sell it away to another investor at a huge loss. The fanatical mergers and acquisitions happening across all industries are all part of the desire to grow big as quickly as possible. Airlines buy over airlines. Grocery stores merge into one giant corporation. As they do, their mission becomes more vague and the vision more blurred.

Why? Perhaps, leadership transitions and the different styles of management have distracted the organization from their original purposes.

The problem is not restricted to commercial enterprises. It happens too at the Education sector. In 1636, the founder of a famous Ivy League institution put forth this mission statement.
"Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed, to consider well that the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3), and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning."

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Holy Smoke! It's Not Fair.

SCRIPTURE: Proverbs 1:1-3
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: February 14th, 2014
"1The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: 2for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; 3for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair;" (Proverbs 1:1-3)
SYNOPSIS: Kids often cry out "It's Not Fair." Adults too complain about the kind of justice or injustice meted out in this world. The point is, there is a difference between a court of law and a court of justice. This week's article will reflect on this.

At the heart of the human soul is a deep cry for fairness. We hear it from young children. We hear it with teens at high school. We hear it at our workplaces. We even debate and argue over it throughout our adult life. The reality is: Life is often not as fair as we want them to be.

During my college years, I often see ironical cases of how some hardworking friends of mine barely made the grade beyond C. At the same time, there were students who seemed to be playing everyday, who hardly hit their books, who skipped lectures, and who appeared in every way destined to flunk their exams. These students ended up being at the top with a heap of As. Fair or unfair?

Then there is the job hunting period of life. I heard of some dedicated friends with reasonably good results (at least better than mine!) who had sent out hundreds of job application letters without receiving a single reply. Another sent out just a few applications and received job interviews. Fair or unfair?

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