Monday, December 26, 2011

Overcome Evil with Good

TITLE: Overcome Evil With Good (The Year in 2011)
Written by: Conrade Yap
"All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan." (Ps 90:9)
MAIN POINT: The Year 2011 is associated with a year of protests. Christians need not protest like the world. They can do more than protests. They can witness with good works, with good behaviour, and with hope. Even though the world treats you badly, do all the good anyway.

This week, many people worldwide will be slowing down to prepare for the New Year's Eve bash. As they prepare to ring in the New Year 2012, invariably many will be reflecting on the past year. All around the globe, stories abound about the joys of victory for winners, and the agonies of defeat for the losers. We welcome new births, and say goodbye to loved ones who died. Some find new jobs while others lose theirs. With the continuing slum in the US economy, and the economic uncertainty worldwide, there seems to be more reasons for gloom. In relationships, some have gotten married to their sweethearts, while some have to annul their marriages through divorce or other kinds of agreements for separation. Students busy with their studies while parents busy themselves with bills and making ends meet for their families. The year has been mixed but many will say that there are more bad news than good.

A) Year Review

This morning, I read an article published in Huffington Post about the top stories in Canada for the year 2011. They are numbered as follows:
  1. Stephen Harper's Conservative Party winning the majority vote to govern Canada. (politics)
  2. Riots in Vancouver after the Stanley Cup final game. (sports/culture)
  3. Wildfires in the town of Slave Lake. (environment)
  4. Coverage of the Occupy protest movement (culture)
  5. End of the military mission in Afghanistan (politics)
  6. Corruption Scandal in Quebec (politics)
  7. Hockey Headshots Controversy (sports)
  8. Prince William and Kate's Visit to Canada (politics/leadership)
  9. Decline of the Separatist Movement in Quebec (politics)
  10. The Proposed Keystone LX Pipeline (environment)
Most of them are stories about politics and power, sports and leisure, and some concerns about environment. They reflect the general concerns of the people. Very little is mentioned about spiritual stuff. Although the Occupy protest movement is #4 in the list above, note that there are other similar movements around the world that produces the protests. There is the Arab Spring protest movements that are continuing to bring down long-time governments and rulers.

B) Year of Protests

(Credit: Time Magazine)
The death of a boy who committed suicide in Tunisia sparks the Arab Spring revolution. Bouazizi was a 26-year old boy just minding his own business. For a boy his age, he carried huge responsibilities. His meager income basically supported his family of 8 persons. He sold produce on a cart in the market. Along came a female enforcement officer who not only confiscated all his goods but also made derogatory remarks about his father who had passed away. He tried to complain to the authorities. Instead of being given a just hearing, he was ignored, slapped, and pushed away with a challenge to kill himself instead. Bouazizi in despair set fire to himself. He died on January 4th, 2011.

The Bouazizi suicide is the spark that lits up the Arab Spring movement. As Tunisia falls to public cries for justice, the other autocratic regimes quickly follow suit. Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen all have similar uprisings which led to the deposing of their hardline autocratic leaders.

In the West, there are protests too, albeit over economic disparity. Even after the US government bailed out large US corporations with public money, the economy did not seem to improve. Main street people continues to question Wall street corporate bigwigs. This produces the 99% movement (Occupy movement) where protesters claim to represent the 99% of common folks over the rich guys (1%). Rightly or wrongly, the logic is simple: Corporate greed of the 1% is the cause of the economic problems affecting the 99%. It is no surprise then that Time Magazine this year declares 'The Protester' as the person of the year.

C) Ending the Year with a Moan?

Psalm 90 has been attributed to Moses. Called the 'man of God,' Moses declares that all of life has been held together because of God's mercy and grace. The generations of Israel have been kept in existence because God has been their dwelling place. The creation of the world has been sustained because God is at work. Time is limited but God is not (Ps 90:4). There is the image of powerful men and women of the day become nothing by the night (Ps 90:5). Due to sin, and the continued rebellion of Israel, God has allowed justice and judgment to follow suit. Without God's mercy, man would have ended their years with a moan. The trouble with the world is this. Man's continued rebellion and disobedience will lead to man ending their years with a moan.

The events of the year is less of God's judgment but more of man's failure to come back to God. All over the world, people are more concerned about their own things which lead to widespread corruption, power hungry moods, and a general lack of compassion. Even the protests are symptoms of an underlying discontentment with life. When the economy is good, it is like sweeping the dust of unhappiness under the carpet of good jobs and comfortable materialistic living. When the economy turns nasty, when the carpet of comfort and affluence is removed, the dust of discontentment is revealed once again. Man is sinful, regardless of the state of the economy. Sin produces more sin. It leads to God's wrath. Contrary to what some people think, God is not angry simply because His Law has been broken by sinful people. God is angry because man is setting themselves up for failure right from the start, and chooses to condemn themselves. Man tends to blame everyone else except himself. Playing the blame game, man names all manner of excuses and problems, pointing at everything else except himself. Days of blaming leads to a final puff of moaning.

D) Overcome Evil with Good

Christians should go beyond protesting. They can do more. Christians have a higher mandate to witness regardless of their positions in life. They can overcome evil with good. Mother Teresa is not a high and mighty queen who can command large military ships or powerful armed forces. She is a gentle and humble lady, serving among the poorest of the poor, with whatever she has. Mother Teresa overcomes the evil of poverty by the good acts of mercy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer stands up against the tyrant Hitler during World War II, knowing that his resistance against the Nazi regime can ultimately mean him losing his life. He protested with boldness for God. Bonhoeffer overcomes the evil of Nazi power with the good of Christlike courage. Recently, the CEO of American Airlines chooses to resign in protest against the 'immoral' behaviour of corporate politics when AA declares bankruptcy. In an age where CEOs who failed their companies can still depart with generous severance pay, Gerard Arpey left AA without any golden handshake. The previous CEO of HP, Leo Apotheker takes home nearly US$25 million after leading Hewlett-Packard through one of the worst performances in corporate history. The ex-CEO of Yahoo, Carol Bartz receives about US$10 million after failing to turn Yahoo around. John Chidsey pockets about $20 million after his failure at Burger King.  In an age where leaders are rewarded despite doing a lousy job, Arpey bucks the trend. He has no such financial windfall. He leaves based on an ethical principle, that by declaring bankruptcy, AA is legally free to avoid meeting their obligations. From pensions and medical benefits to negotiations with worker unions, the corporation hides under the legal umbrella of Chapter 11, to walk away from their ethical responsibilities. For Arpey, such acts are immoral. We may agree or disagree with Arpey's manner of resignation. One thing is clear. He lets the desire for doing right, overcome any temptations for doing wrong.

Paul exhorts us: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Rom 12:21)

We may not be able to control external circumstances, but we can certainly control our inner selves. We can control how we respond to evil. While the rest of the world spins away in their protests and despair about life, Christians can continue to do all the good that they can. They can give thanks rather than complaining. They can do something good regardless of what happens to them. They can trust our dependable God instead of the undependable rulers of this world.

As we prepare to ring in the New Year, let us do soul work to prepare to welcome the coming of the Lord. Do all the good that we can. Say all the good that we can. Be all the best that we can. Hope is simply this: When the world around us calls us to give up, to complain and to drown ourselves in despair, hope tells us to 'Give good works another go!"

Have a Happy New Year 2012!

Thought: "Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway." (Kent M. Keith)


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 . You can also send me an email at for comments or enquiries.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Standing Up For Jesus

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 21 Dec 2011
SCRIPTURE: Luke 1:74

"He promised to rescue us from our enemies' power so that we could serve Him without fear by being holy and honorable as long as we live." (Luke 1:74, GW)

MAIN POINT: Fear not. Do not be afraid to stand up for your faith, even when society frowns on your worship of Jesus during this festive period. If believers do not stand up for their own faith, how will others take any interest?

Credit: Blackshear Place Baptist Church
It is this time of the year where spiritual and secular battle lines are drawn once again. Santa Claus vs the Son of God; 'Happy Holidays' vs 'Merry Christmas;' or commercialization of the Christ's event vs concentrating on Christ. Last year, I wrote about what Christians ought to do with 'Santa Claus.' I had argued that instead of confronting others about the use of Santa Claus, and become killjoys of people's happy occasions, Christians could use the relatively happy mood to point people to Christ. By our very presence, we can be living reminders of God's grace.

A) Banned from Wearing the Cross

It is no secret that many countries in the West are increasingly secular. Even Europe which has had a long and colourful history of Christian roots have swung to a secularism that tends more toward anti-Christ. In 2006, a British Airways employee by the name of Nadia Eweida was banned from the workplace because she was wearing a small cross around her neck. According to a spokesperson from BA, the official policy is that no religious symbols are allowed to be worn in the workplace. Since the wearing of the cross around Eweida's neck is a religious symbol, it has to be removed every time she goes to work for BA. Eweida refuses to back down, and opts to stay home rather than to compromise on her right to display her affection for Jesus. The main BA contention is that they are not saying Eweida cannot wear her cross. The only condition is that she has to keep it hidden away from customers, colleagues, or anyone in the workplace.

Eweida refuses to comply and accuses her employer of religious discrimination. It is her freedom to practice what she believes in. This sparks one of the biggest uproar in the United Kingdom, as both camps trade angry arguments. While the secularists and the atheists are cheering the BA decision, church leaders in England are not pleased. They protest their public displeasure. The archbishop of Canterbury threatens to boycott the airline and initiate the sale of all of the Church of England's share in the national airline. That will have created havoc to the share price of British Airways. The archbishop, Rowan Williams finds the lack of tolerance of people wearing a cross to work, 'offensive.' The archbishop fearlessly fights for the right of Eweida to practice her faith. Thankfully, BA finally backs down. If they have been allowed to ban the wearing of the crucifix, then BA will have to ban turbans for religious Sikhs, or veils from Muslim women.

B) 'Happy Holidays' or 'Merry Christmas'

This saga repeats itself every year. Somehow, while many countries in Asia do not see it a problem to use 'Christmas' as an open reference to commemorate the birth of Christ, not so in the West. It seems like the West is beginning to banish symbols of Christianity not only on normal days, but on the Christmastide as well! What is happening? Even the humble Christmas tree has been banned from one Ontario courthouse, based on the judge's logic that the courtroom must remain secular. People are replacing Christmas greetings with 'holiday' greetings. Crosses are removed if it offends the secular eye. If that is so, maybe churches in future will not be allowed to ring the church bells if they sound overly religious to the secular ear.

Personally, I do not have a problem with 'Happy holidays.' The problem comes when people tries to shove secular ideals down the throats of religious people. Tolerance must happen both ways. For instance, just because Canada is a secular society does not mean Christians have to toe the line to refrain from verbalizing 'Merry Christmas.' Hey! You are free to say 'Happy Holidays.' Don't tell us that we cannot wish people, 'Merry Christmas.'

Recently, at the commemoration of 400 years of the King James Bible translation, the British Prime Minister boldly calls the UK a 'Christian nation.' Lots of displeasure and bemusement begins to circulate all over the Internet, that David Cameron has lost touch with the fact that modern Britain is more secular than Christian. In his speech at Oxford, he emphasizes the need for Christians to stand up for what they believe, instead of bowing down to pressures by secularists to quieten down their practice of faith. Being a Christian does not mean dumbing down others. It simply means being bold to testify of one's Christian heritage.

"We are a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so," he told the audience at Christ Church. . . . Let me be clear: I am not in any way saying that to have another faith - or no faith - is somehow wrong. . . .I know and fully respect that many people in this country do not have a religion. And I am also incredibly proud that Britain is home to many different faith communities, who do so much to make our country stronger.. . . But what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today." (BBC report, 16 Dec 2011)
Don't be afraid to stand up for Jesus. Those who insist on 'Happy Holidays' should not insist on Christians' right to call the season, Christmas. Christians have rights too. They have rights to worship Jesus the way that they want. If secularists insist upon Christian not to impose faith on them, the reverse is equally true. Secularists cannot insist that Christians stop worshipping or proclaiming their faith. They can do their shopping. Let Christians do their worshipping.

C) Fearless Faith

Zechariah the priest has seen the power of God. After his unbelief, he is struck dumb (Luke 1:20). Once the Word of the Lord has been fulfilled, his mouth opens and he proclaims the powerful works that his son, John the Baptist will be doing for God. Luke 1:67-79 is his prophecy. It is a prophecy of God working in the lives of his people. God rescues the people from their enemies, that they will serve God without fear. The gospel writer mentions two things that demonstrates bold and fearless faith: Be holy, and honorable all their lives. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his wonderful book, the Cost of Discipleship reminds us,
"When God calls a man, he bids him come and die."

This is discipleship at its core: Proclaiming the Name of the Lord boldly. No fear. It is fearless faith. Several years ago, Nathan Chan, a student at the Stanford Graduate School makes this insighful comment about how multiculturalism is actually individualism in disguise.
"If you take multiculturalism to an extreme, it is very individualistic, you have your own bias, and you can think what you want in that box, so long as you don't affect others' boxes. When you say that Christianity is the only truth, you are imposing on someone's box." (quoted in Tim Stafford's article, 'Campus Christian and the New Thought Police' in Christianity Today, 10 Feb 1992, 19)
D) Heroes of the Faith

Only those who have been changed by the gospel will proclaim fearless faith. There is no halfway faith. It is either we believe in Jesus or we do NOT believe in Jesus. The tragedy in many Christians is that they shun away too easily from any debates with people who disagree with them. This is not necessary. Even if we are not able to command a wide range of theological points for debate, each of us has a story to tell. Our testimony. If we fail to tell the story of how Christ has changed our lives, we not only lose the opportunity to share Christ, we fail to live up to our own calling as disciples of Christ. There are other modern heroes that have boldly stood up for their faith. There is the Coptic priest called Zakaria Botros, who is currently heavily protected because of his fervent preaching of the gospel. He has become so influential that some Muslim radicals have promised to pay out $50 million to anyone who assassinates him. Yet, Botros speaks out fearlessly, preferring to fear God rather than man.

There is Charles Colson, the man who is one of the driving forces behind the Manhattan declaration that seeks to stand up for traditional values such as marriage being between a man and a woman, and other fundamentals of faith. He is constantly ridiculed by many, including some Christians for his stand. His conviction to Christ leads him to start many powerful ministries, of which the most well-known is the Prison Fellowship. Then there is Corrie Ten Boom, who boldly demonstrates the love of God through her forgiveness of her most bitter enemies. Apart from these people, there are many unsung heroes of the faith. One of them is the British Airways employee,  Nadia Eweida, who prefers to take a no-pay leave to fight for her right to stand up for her faith even in the workplace.

We do not have to be a Ten Boom, a Colson, or a Botros. All of us can be like Eweida. My fellow readers, do not be afraid to call the name of Jesus, especially during this Christmas and every Christmas season. Jesus after all, is still the reason for the season. Don't be afraid. Be fearless. Stand up for Jesus, ye soldier of the Cross. Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive the King!
Thought: "The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But their strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians - when they are sombre and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.." (Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy, New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1977, 85) 


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 . You can also send me an email at for comments or enquiries.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thoughts on Retirement - (Part 2 of 2)

TITLE: Thoughts on Retirement - (Part 2 of 2)
SCRIPTURE: Joshua 24:1-2
Date: 13 Dec 2011
Written by: Conrade Yap

"Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel and for their heads and their judges and their officers; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, 'Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods.'" (Joshua 24:1-2) 
Last week in Sabbath Walk, I remind readers not to equate retirement with financial definitions. Instead, it is an attitude that we bring to the world. We will soon pass away. The world will also pass away. The Will of God and the Word of God will remain forever. This week, we continue this reflection on retirement, with a focus on passing our spiritual baton of God's work for us. The best way to pass this baton is to live exemplary lives firstly, continually, and finally.

A) Stories in Progress

All of life is basically telling a story. All of our lives is basically the living out of our story. How well we live, is dependent on how much we lean on the Author of our stories. God is in control. If birth is the beginning of our story, death marks the end. Fully aware that his time is almost up, Joshua continues to tell the story of Israel, and how God has been faithful despite Israel lack of faithfulness. In Joshua 1, we see how even as the life of Moses ends, the story of God's redemption of Israel continues through the passing of leadership to Joshua. The times may change. People's focus may change. Even the place of dwelling of the people may change. What makes the story significant is that as far as God's love for His people is concerned, the story remains the same.

As we see the passing of the spiritual baton to Joshua, we read of Joshua's amazing declaration toward the end of the book of Joshua:

". . . as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15b)

B) When We Forget Our Stories

The trouble with many of us is that we have forgotten our own stories. When this happens, two possible distractions come in: Focus on Money, and a Loss of Purpose.

From my interactions with elderly people in my years of ministry, these two reasons are common. Firstly, MONEY. Far too many people, (including myself) have equated retirement with money. The government through the Old Age Security or Pension schemes use money. Insurance companies talk financial terms. Many corporations offer a retirement benefit that almost always have something to do with monetary units. Such overwhelming focus on money matters is a major distraction from true planning for retirement. Everyone worries about money. The old may worry even more. Graham continues:

"Our society places too much emphasis on money, implying that financial achievement is the main measure of a person's true success in life." (Billy Graham, Nearing Home, Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2011, 59)

Great counsel. I think of couples whose life savings have been lost due to financial scandals such as the infamous Madoff Ponzi scheme. One couple laments about their loss, saying that they will never be able to retire. Reason: No money.

One elderly widower I know speaks constantly about money or the lack of it. She asks her children constantly for money, using her old age as the reason. She does not want to die poor. Many of us will be able to share stories of old folks in our midst who are exhibiting similar behaviour.

The question: Is money the solution to a good life of retirement?

KEY: No. The fact is this. For money-minded people, no amount of money is ever enough. For heavenly-minded people, godliness with contentment is great gain.

C)  The Loss of Purpose

The second consequence of forgetting our stories is the loss of purposeful living. A few weeks ago, I wrote on my Facebook profile the following:
Ambition Through the Ages:
Young: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
Teenager: "What do you want to do when you grow up?"
Adult: "What is my calling as I busy myself day and night?"
Old: "What have I done?""
Is this familiar to you?

It is well known that we live in a busy and fast paced society. When times are good, this word 'retirement' is simply an after-thought. When times are bad, we dread even thinking about it. Some people retire at the age of 30 after striking a fortune. Some take retirement benefits when they sense they have passed their prime. Others retire when they are pushing 60. Some people never really retire, blaming it on the economic situation, the state of their finances, or simply an inability to let go of their familiar work routines. One couple, the Friedmans, invested their life savings in an investment fund, lost everything (US$3million) due to the infamous Madoff Ponzi scandal. With their nest-egg gone, they have no choice but to continue working in order to pay their bills and make ends meet.

D) The Life of Teresa Hsu

This grand lady of charity died on Dec 7th, 2011 in Singapore. She was 113, the oldest person in the small island country. Yet, her life emanates power and vitality. Having gone through poverty, she can understand the dire straits of people living in hunger and need. Having experienced her parent's lifestyle of giving and charity, she can learn to share whatever she had. Teresa recalls at time when she was so hungry that she had to chew and swallow grass to satisfy her hunger. She still felt hungry. What was helpful then was to satisfy the thought of her thinking that she was hungry. After that experience, she learned to share whatever she has with others, constantly thinking of people who are less fortunate than others.

Teresa Tsu (1898-2011)
In life, we are so apt to compare ourselves with the rich, the famous, the powerful, and the people high up the echelons of society. Unfortunately, when we are fixated in one direction (looking at the rich), we fail to turn around to see the other direction (looking at the rest who are not as rich). There are always needs around us. This attitude of looking out for those less fortunate drives Teresa's life. She believes in helping people with whatever she has. Some of us think that the only way we can help others is to wait for a $1million to accumulate in our bank account, or to receive something first. The truth is, we can always share. We can always give of what we have. Take a closer look, and chances are, all of us have extras to go around all the time.

Teresa's life does not develop out of a vacuum. She did not have a miraculous vision or splendid announcement from somewhere. Instead, she learns from her mother. There was a time in which someone who has not eaten for 2 days came to them for food. Immediately, her mother took the food from the table and gave it to them saying:

"We ate yesterday. They have not eaten for 2 days. They have more right to the food than we."

This begins Teresa's 'guiding light' all her life in which she is constantly thinking of people less fortunate than her. Wow! What a lady!

E) Concluding Thoughts

This is the way to retire. This is the way to rework our lives. Do not be distracted by financial limitations. Do help with whatever we can. There is always extras. Do not despair for the lack of purposefulness. Learn from people of wisdom. Learn from others who have inspired us. Maybe, as a gift to the world, to our friends and loved ones, live an exemplary life. Leave a path of faithfulness, charity, and conviction in Christ, to guide the ones younger than us. That all who come behind us will find us faithful.

There is no retirement age for the Christian. There is only constant reworking of our abilities, constant reminders of God's grace, and constant passing of the gospel baton to the next generation. Best of all, the way to retire well, is when someone else is able to tell OUR stories, as one that reflects Christlikeness.  Don't forget your own story.

THOUGHT: "How can we know - beyond a shadow of doubt - that there is life after death? The only way would be for someone to die - and then come back to life and tell us what lies beyond the grave. And that's exactly what happened when Jesus Christ rose again from the dead." (Billy Graham, Nearing Home, Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2011, 169)

Note: If you want to see the life-giving work of Teresa Hsu, click here.

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 . You can also send me an email at for comments or enquiries.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Thoughts on Retirement - (Part 1 of 2)

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 9 Dec 2011
TEXT: Joshua 13:1
"When Joshua was old and well advanced in years, the LORD said to him, “You are very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over." (Joshua 13:1)
MAIN POINT: Far too many people think of retirement almost entirely in financial terms. Retirement is an attitude, not a state of being.

A) The Retirement Dream

Picture of a retired couple. (Credit:
What is retirement to you? One common dream I have heard is this. According to this person named Johnny, this is how he describes it.
"When I grow old, I will buy myself a nice cottage by the seaside. There will be 8-bedrooms that can accommodate at least three generations in my family. Each Winter, there will be a nice log fireplace to keep our bodies warm. Each Summer, there will be grandchildren running around the house to keep our hearts warm with adoration and love. Every morning, instead of rushing to work, and engaging in office politics, I will walk hand in hand with my wife. After the walk, I will sip my Earl Grey Tea. Following lunch, I will take a nap. Then it'll be time for my second cuppa, and so on. Life will be good. Doing nothing. Nothing at all. The money in our bank should pay for all our needs until death. That's retirement life!"
Or is it?

Such a dream, while not impossible to attain, will often remain a dream. The money may be there. The bungalow may be available. The grandchildren may still come. However, if the heart is not ready, there is no retirement, only confusion, frustration, and a drastic mismatch of expectations about retirement and reality.

B) The Reality of Unreadiness

Billy Graham talks about one such 'successful' couple in their golden years. This couple achieves a lifestyle almost identical to the above dream vacation and lifestyle. The first week was a welcome joy. They freely set their own schedule, and did everything in stride. The second week was filled with more of the same. By the third week, as the novelty started to wear out, all these things started to appear boring. By the fourth week, the beach looked the same. The sunrise and sunset looked identical. The house they lived in looked more dead than alive. By the fifth week, they wondered about life. They pondered whether there is life other than simply walking the beach or napping all day long. The 'retirement dream' that they were living was not as exciting and as meaningful as they had initially thought. Five weeks of reality are more than enough to shake up all of their expectations, accumulated through more than 50 years of hard toil and labor.  It was a classic major mismatch where external reality completely misses internal expectations. This friend of Billy Graham has this to say.

"I thought I was ready for retirement, but I just didn't think it through." (21)

Bummer! Thinking we are ready does not necessarily translate into being ready. Graham makes this insightful observation that is worth our remembering.

"Loneliness, loss of purpose, depression, feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, fear of the future - these and a host of other emotions are common among retirees." (30)

Indeed. Retirement is more of an attitude, instead of a state of being. More importantly, what the world calls 'getting retired' is less of trying to achieve a certain financial independence, but more of attaining a successful transition to a new phase of life that is MORE than monetary terms.

C) Dreaded Transition?

Retirement. This 10-letter word is dreaded by some, anticipated by others, but ignored by many. Canada, like many countries in the West has a pension fund. The purpose of such a fund is to provide some financial relief for people who have retired from the workforce. Each month, eligible Canadians will get some money, depending on various factors. Persons between the ages of 65 to 70 are able to get some monthly allowance until their death. It is meant to facilitate persons transitioning from work to retirement, rather than a way to maintain their standard of living. This particular point is often missed, which is why some seniors become more skeptical about the government handouts. Such people also tend to be sarcastic about the amount, pointing to an inflation rate that is fast overwhelming anything the government gives.

As I glimpse at the half century mark, I marvel at how I am even going to survive in the present. Financially speaking, I am not sure I can even retire comfortably. Some of you may be asking:

"Conrade, you're not even 50 yet. Why are you talking and thinking about retirement?"

My reply is this: "It is never too late to plan for retirement."

This point is made even more obvious as I read the reflections of Billy Graham as he nears 'home.' At 93 years old, he continues to live strong. He maintains a heavenly focus and an energy to finish well. In what is perhaps his most retrospective book so far, he writes:

"All my life I was taught how to die as a Christian, but no one ever taught me how to live in the years before I die. I wish they had because I am an old man now, and believe me, it's not easy." (Billy Graham, Nearing Home, Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2011, vii)

If a man like Billy Graham, who has lived such an illustrious life can say that retirement is not easy, what makes us think we can do better? Perhaps, the more 'successful' and more 'recognized' we have been in our corporate worlds, or during our prime years, the more challenging it will be as all of us approach the same destination: Death and Dying.

D) Golden Wisdom

Just yesterday, I happened to be visiting my favourite bookshop. It is one of the last surviving top quality Christian bookstores in North America. The owner is fast approaching 60. He recognizes my face, but not my name. All he remembers is what I do. I have previously assisted him to solve his computer problems. As people age, memory recall becomes a bigger challenge. Yet, when I engage him on some theological chitchat, his knowledge and ability to reason is remarkably sharp. Bless him. Being old is not just the gray hairs on the head. It is the great wisdom in his heart. Something about growing old and memory loss strikes me. Whatever we have exercised regularly will translate into better remembering.

Tiger Woods will probably remember his golf strokes for the rest of his life as he practises and competes with these skills all year round.  Bill Gates will probably remember all the major turning points in his management and founding of one of the largest software companies of the world. Likewise, Billy Graham remembers the Bible fondly and vividly, for he has preached so often, prayed so much, and studied so diligently the Holy Scriptures for so many years. The parts of the human body that we use the most, will be the last thing that we will ever forget, even as we grow old.

Implication: The less we use, the faster we forget. The more we use, the better we remember. As we grow old, this becomes more and more significant.

E) Remembering the More Important Things

Are you ready for retirement? What are the More Important Things in your life? What about relationships? What about the things that we say so often but fail so frequently to do?

Think Relationships. The long forgotten friend of yours that you happen to bump into last week. You promised to call him. Have you called him? You say that your young son is the most important gift to you from God. Have you said a word of appreciation to him? Your own spouse that you have pledged to cherish for better or for worse. Have you said a loving word of appreciation to him/her today? The colleague of yours who happens to be stressed out at work. Is your time with this colleague only restricted to office matters?

Think Spirituality. You say that you believe in the Word of God. You proclaim Christ. Suppose one day you happen to be arrested for your faith, will there be sufficient evidence to convict you that you are a follower of Jesus? Have you manifested the fruit of the Spirit? Are you living out the Beattitudes in the Sermon on the Mount? Are you doing to others what you want others to do to you? Are you praying often enough that you will never forget the prayers for the ones you love? Are you reading the Bible daily enough?

Think Wisdom. Remember Jesus' definition of the wise man from the foolish man? The latter builds his house on sand (material things, like money, etc). The former builds his house on the Rock (Christ, God's Word).

As long as we think of retirement in mere financial terms, the only things we remember are the means we use to attain these financial targets. We will remember how we make our first $1 million dollars, but forget our children's first transition into young adulthood.  We quickly remember to tell others we go to Church every Sunday, but slowly forget about the true meaning of Church beyond such Sunday attendance. We  quickly remember how we sign our first major contract, or strike the biggest business deal, but slowly forget about our first marriage vow with our spouse. We are quick to point out that there are 66 books in the whole Bible, but slow to recall what they actually say. We are quick to state the importance of prayer, but slow to confess how weak our own praying has been.

Getting ready for retirement is a long process. It is never too early or too late to prepare for it. This is because retirement is not a state of being. It is an attitude of the heart. The LORD sees Joshua getting old, and shows a gracious understanding of who Joshua is, and the work that needs to be done. Instead of asking Joshua to conquer the rest of the land that has yet to be conquered, He tells Joshua to plan ahead. He tells Joshua to mark out the land according to His instructions. He tells Joshua to remember to trust the LORD (Joshua 13:6) to make the way, while Joshua makes the plans. Joshua will die, but the Work and Word of the LORD will never die. As we think about retirement, let it not be a resignation to a frail, useless, and meaningless life. Instead, let the LORD rework our perspectives to move to appreciate our relationships (think relationship), to refocus our attention on things above (think spiritual), and to lay the foundation of God (think wisdom) for us and our loved ones.

In the words of one of my favourite Carpenters' classic: "We've only just begun. To live."

Thought: "As the older generation we should be mindful of our responsibility to pray for others. Retirement should not put us on the shelf. We should use this time in our lives to rest from our labors but lift up others who are carrying heavy loads." (Billy Graham, Nearing Home, Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2011, 28)


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 . You can also send me an email at for comments or enquiries.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Zealous Marketing

SCRIPTURE: Ps 69:7-9
Written by: Conrade Yap
"for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me." (Ps 69:7-9)
MAIN POINT: We may not share the same materialistic focus of marketers, but we can surely learn from the zeal they display, the creativity they possess, the passion they manifest, and the belief they have, in what they are selling or promoting. Why can't Christians have the same passion in the gospel?

Some of the most passionate people in the world are marketers. Driven by the need to distinguish themselves from others, businesses out-think, out-talk, and out-perform one another in order to stay ahead of the pack. The result is a bewildering spectrum of clever marketing techniques and programs that can attract most customers. It makes me wonder how society can continue to thrive every year by hawking the same stuff relentlessly.

Last Thursday, millions of Americans around the world celebrated Thanksgiving, the biggest day of the year for American families. It is a day where families come together over a big meal, served with lots of good food plus the irresistible turkey. When I visited the Regent College library that evening, I noticed that the library seem more empty than usual. Folks from America had gone home. Even Canadians, who celebrated their Thanksgiving in the beginning of November were not to be left out. Some even drove down South, rented a hotel room, and queued up all night for the next big thing: Black Friday.

It made me wonder: If the gospel is life-giving, shouldn't there be more people queueing up all night to enter the worship hall?

A) Black-Eye Friday Sales

Black Friday is the day where many big retailers throughout the country offer their premium goods at below factory outlet prices. It is also a day where shoppers throng the stores, happy to snap up really hot deals. Even the venerable Apple retail stores that rarely budge on their product prices, offered attractive discounts to entice the Black Friday shopper. Unfortunately, the wonderful side of Thanksgiving on Thursday disappeared literally overnight by Friday. Happy shoppers became impatient as latecomers tried to cut into the long lines. The huge crowds created problems for security. While the mood at many places were generally upbeat, some turned nasty. At one Walmart in LA, an angry woman pepper-sprayed several shoppers in order to get ahead of the pack. It is common to see people shoving one another in order to grab boxes of toys, electronics, clothes, and anything they could lay their hands on. It is a crazy zoo. All it takes is a price drop, and consumers flock in by the hundreds.

B) Cyber-Monday Online Sale

Then, there is Cyber Monday, the first Monday after black Friday. In order to spread the Black Friday spirit of consumer excitement, many retailers introduce the idea of special deals in cyberspace. Cyber-Monday can be seen as a Black-Friday kind of sales with a difference: It is only available online. From Amazon to BestBuy, Sears to Target, retailers pack it in. There is even a newspaper article that warns office workers about the ethics of buying stuff during office hours. From the looks of the frenzied buying and crazed shopping activities, it is hard to tell that there is any recession at all!

All it takes is a prized discount, and online orders gushes in.

C) Christmas Sales

After the mad rush, shops are back to the Christmas sales track. Through the radio, the Internet, and social media networks, retailers promote sales in many creative ways. Through Twitter, Facebook, and modern technology sites like Groupon, retailers continue to entice the consumer to buy, buy, and buy. Living in the West basically means having to wrestle with all these materialistic and consumeristic messages. Turn on the TV or radio and there will be commercials. Open the newspapers and there will be special offers at every other page. Open up websites and there will be enticing displays of special deals available just for you. Even Youtube videos contain a rectangular window that promotes certain products and services.

There was a time where one can avoid spending simply by not going to the mall or the shop. Nowadays, it is the shops coming to us that seduces us to buy more stuff, even stuff we do not really need now. With consumers constantly on a lookout for bargains, all it takes is a special sales promotion, and the sales will rise.

D) Amazing Zeal

Do not misunderstand me. I am not promoting marketing in the church. We have all heard about the dangers of materialism, and the problems of consumerism. I am simply marveling at the creativity and the non-stop zeal these retailers and businesses continue to offer. Every deal challenges another to offer something different and better. Many price match. They give a straight discount if you are able to show them a better price. On top of that, they employ clever marketing techniques to differentiate themselves from others. I call these 'Amazing Zeal.'

If the retail industry can be so passionate and zealous about their products and services, why can't Christians be equally (or more) passionate and zealous about sharing Christ? This thought has been occupying my mind for the past few days. I think about the way retailers offer their best products at best prices. I wonder why the church is not offering their best behaviour and Christlike attitude to demonstrate the attractiveness of Jesus? I think about the brilliant strategies and tactics adopted by the marketers to try to get shoppers into their stores. I wonder what are churches doing to try to bring people closer to Christ? I think about the online presence of many retailers on the Internet. I wonder why are there so few churches engaging people on the new social media network.

E) Governments Cannot Limit Creativity

I admit. In many churches, members' zeal for Christ, pale in comparison to many retailers' zeal to sell their products and services.  Sad but true. We can hide behind the excuse that this is a 'secular' society. The problem is not the restriction in sharing Christ. The problem is the lack of creativity among Christians to exercise their freedom of speech and practice of religion. Sharing Christ cannot be determined by the do's and don'ts of any government.
  • What is there to prevent Christians from showing acts of mercy, like Christ?
  • What is there to prevent Christians from exhibiting patience, like Christ?
  • What is there to stop Christians from giving generously to the needy, like Christ?
  • What is there to stop Christians from proclaiming the good news, meaningfully, like Christ?
The answer is none. What we need is not the regulation or de-regulation of any evangelistic efforts. What we need is the creativity to share the mission of Christ through good works and gracious words. Expand our range of good works. Enhance our speech with good meaningful words that help. Most crucially, when our convictions in Christ grow, we will demonstrate the creativity and marketing genius that retailers commonly have. They sell their products for a financial gain. We share the good news for spiritual profit. They sell their goods to make ends meet. We share the good news to meet needs. They hawk their services to gain market share. We speak of Christ to let God share His Kingdom.

Lee Strobel tells a story of his encounter with an atheist. It begins when the atheist states up front that he believes the bible is 'fable.' Strobel probes and asks if he has a question. The atheist then raises his voice and states another phrase that discredits the Bible. Due to his aggressive manner, Strobel starts to match the atheist tone for tone, argument for argument. At one point, it appears as if these two men are about to come to blows. After nearly half an hour, the atheist smiles and says to Strobel:

"Thanks for being willing to argue with me. I really appreciate that you stood up for what you believe."

There are many non-Christians who are really open to knowing Christ. The problem is often not the message of Christ. It is the messenger. When the messengers of Christ shun away from debate, it is like waving a white flag even before the battle begins. When the messengers of Christ are weak in their beliefs, non-Christians see no reason to believe in a 'weak religion.' When the messengers of Christ lack zeal, non-Christians will not be attracted at all. They may even think that if they become a Christian and be afraid to share about Christ, they too will become weak people.

If you are lost on how to share Christ more effectively, maybe, we ought to learn a few tips or so from modern marketing.

Thought: "People who don't believe in missions have not read the New Testament. Right from the beginning Jesus said the field is the world. The early church took Him at His word and went East, West, North and South." (J. Howard Edington)


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 . You can also send me an email at for comments or enquiries.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Receiving a Little Child

TITLE: Receiving a Little Child
SCRIPTURE: Luke 9:48
THEME: Reflections on kids with Down's Syndrome. Are they any less precious?

"Then he said to them, "Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all--he is the greatest."" (Luke 9:48)

I remember a time speaking with a friend about his wife being asked to do an amnio. According to many medical experts, once a woman over the age of 35 gets pregnant, the routine advice is to undergo the test. The main purpose in doing an Amniotic fluid test is to check for any abnormalities in the chromosomes, in particular, the detection of Down's Syndrome. My friend makes a committed statement that he is not going to let his wife do it.
"So what? If the tests reveal a Down's Syndrome baby, are we going to abort? If it is no, then why do the test?"

I like his conviction. He is one of those brothers in Christ I have that says, believes, and acts at the same beat. We need more of such people. In many parts of the world, both rich and poor, the pattern is to prefer the good and despise the not-so-good. Like selecting Fuji apples in the grocery store, we pick and choose only the crunchiest and nicest looking fruit. The slightest defect merits a toss to the side. Only the best gets selected. While this is quite understandable for a little fruit, what if the attitude extends to the human domain?

A) Our Flawed World

Sometimes when I read the daily papers, I get dismayed when the newspaper headlines seem to elevate the rich, the famous, the most intelligent, the most beautiful/handsome above all others:
  • "Prodigy kid is the youngest to get his PhD."
  • "Top student fails to get a scholarship."
  • "A New Millionaire has risen from the slums."
  • "Prettiest girl comes from humble village."
  • "..."
Our Messed Up World. (Credit: Internet sources)
This can also be called 'elitism,' that only the top, the richest, the best gets royal treatment.

I think to myself, "You mean the average, the ordinary, and the lesser student is of less worth? What happened to the everybody-is-equal belief"

As a result, there is an unwritten disdain for the poor, the weak, the unknown.

This widely circulated picture on the Internet on the right tops it off when painting the overall shape of cultural sentiment. After the outpouring of emotions at the death of a technology icon recently, the world reacts in shock and disbelief. All of a sudden, the everyone is talking about how the world has lost a charming inventor. People value the Apple icon and inventions more.

One wonders why the difference in reactions? With the ongoing poverty and hunger conveniently forgotten, one wonders if they are any less important.  Something is very wrong. Our world is a messed up world. We treat human beings like apples. Worse, we may unwittingly assume that the messed up world is a norm that cannot be changed. A messed-up thinking can also infect the way we treat children.

B) Focusing on the Chromosome and Missing the Child 

It is a common prayer request for Christians that their child will turn out 'normal.' What if the child turns out different? What if they have something extra? What if they have an additional chromosome, that labels them a Down's syndrome kid? Will that chromosome reduce them as a real person? I hope not.

Are we more afraid of how the child will survive in this world, or are we more afraid of the stares public eyes will throw at us when we walk our child out in the streets? Probably, both.

When Amy Julia Becker learns of little Penny inside her having an extra chromosome, her emotions turn into a state of turmoil. The amnio tests reveal that Penny is most likely to be a Down's Syndrome kid. Her theological training only makes it worse.

"What I want to figure our is whether Down syndrome is a mistake, I said. 'I know that scientists and doctors would say that it is.. . . But how do I think about it in terms of God? Is it a manifestation of sin in the world? Is Penny less perfect than that little girl who was born next door?'" (Amy Julia Becker, A Good and Perfect Gift, Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2011, p48-9)
Further tests only reveal the hard truth. It is not just Penny but a "Penny has Down's Syndrome" feeling that dominates. For anyone whose child has an abnormal medical condition, it is tempting to become fixated on the problem, that the person is missed out.

C) Receiving Children

I often hear Luke 9:48 being spoken about at Communions, at Sunday School children dedications, baby shower celebrations, and so on. While that is good, what about letting Luke 9:48 maneuver a little deeper and a lot wider to include ALL children? Whether a child is sick or not, a child is a child. Whether a child scores straight A's or all F's, a child is a child. Whether there is an extra chromosome or not, a child is a child. The words of Jesus is plain and clear.

Then he said to them, "Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest." (Luke 9:48, NLT)

The journey to receiving a little child is long. We need help. We need companions. When the Beckers learn about Penny's Down Syndrome condition, they begin to appreciate the openness and warmth extended to them by counseling groups, self-help organizations, and well meaning words of support. They learn to learn to forgive others of insensitive advice, and to be thankful for the loving counsel from some wise friends.  Most importantly, the spousal support is key. Amy recalls her husband, Peter's words.
"Peter said the other day that he thinks our highs will be higher and our lows will be lower than most parents. That the joy will be more joyful, her accomplishments even more exciting. But the fear and sadness will be deeper, too." (67)
When we embrace the child we have, just as they are, no one is going to take away the privilege of celebrating the highest highs, and enduring the lowest lows. For whatever condition is the child in, love can still be given.

Key Note: Jesus' primary reason when coming to earth is not to solve problems but to SAVE people. 

D) Loving the Child Regardless

While we are called to pray for all children, may I ask that we specially pray for those raising up children with Down's syndrome or other 'abnormalities.' These parents and children are the ones who have to endure insensitive stares whenever they venture into public places. They have to tolerate weird advice too by people who mean well but communicate terribly. Pray for wisdom to love the child regardless. Encourage them, just like this friend has encouraged Amy in an email that says simply: "I can't wait to see the ministry that Penny will have." Only time will heal. Wise counsel will help.

Here is Amy's reflection:

"It hadn't crossed my mind that Penny would have a 'ministry,' a means of giving to other people. And that simple sentence, with its hopeful words, made me realize that as much as I insisted that our experience was different from other parents, and that our child was different from other children, different didn't mean less than. Penny would give to us. She would not only be blessed. She would be a blessing." (79)

My challenge to you my reader is this. Let the beauty of God's love stack higher than the ugliness of sin. If you believe in God, believe that He can cause all things to work out for good, in His perfect time, no matter how difficult or impossible it may seem. The presence of an additional chromosome does not mean the end of the world, but the beginning of a special journey. It is a journey to enlarge our heart of love. Once we are able to love our children just as they are, we will be better equipped to love others just as they are. Let us never call any child, 'retarded.' Jesus will never look at the child and say: "You're retarded," and then hurries to the next activity on his itinerary. Instead, he gazes lovingly at any child to say, "I loved you so much that I died for you too."

Thought: "'Amy Julia,' Virginia said. 'I know you don't like this word, but I'm going to say it anyway. Your daughter is not retarded.'" (218)


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 . You can also send me an email at for comments or enquiries.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Success of Failure

DATE: 14 Nov 2011
Written by: Conrade Yap

You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure.” (1 Thess 2:1)

MAIN POINT: The world measures success in terms of financial profits, pleasurable gains, and worldly acquisitions. The Christian rises above the paradigms of success and failure, to begin at the cross of Christ, which is foolishness to the world, a stumbling block to many. In other words, Christians see success and failures using a different measurement.

Aaron Feuerstein was a Jewish businessman. Like many, he did not enter into business to fail. He wanted to make money out of it. He desired to inject meaning in what he works. He aimed to live faithfully according to the Torah. For close to a century, his family had devoted their lives to supporting the economy in their hometown in Lawrence, Massachusetts. This company is Malden Mills, one of the largest textile companies in the state of Massachusetts. As CEO, Feuerstein was the third generation member to manage the innovative and reputable company.

Fire at Malden Mills, Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1995
On the night of Dec 11th, 1995, the sprawling factory ended up in smoke, in one of the biggest fires ever in Massachusetts. While there were no casualties, the damage to the economy in the town was immense. Without a factory, there will be no production. Without output, there is nothing to sell and there will not be any revenues. Without revenue and work, there is no justification in keeping the 3000 employees. The fire burned up not only the factory and jobs. It burned up hopes amid a difficult economy.

Monday, November 7, 2011

On Culture of Entitlement (Part 2 of 2)

TITLE: On Culture of Entitlement (Part 2 of 2)
SCRIPTURE: Romans 5:6-8
Written by: Conrade Yap

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’” (Romans 5:6-8)

Last week, I provided some observations of how the culture of entitlement has become so common place that it has been accepted as a way of life. I ended with some questions about what then are we to do about it. As a proof of how the Culture of Entitlement has infected society, read this open letter. Here is an open letter from a kid who is obviously upset about NOT getting candies from this particular home owner.
Image from Kijiji posted 3 Nov 2011

Here is the reply: "Dear Children of Entitlement (and likely their parents), You have gone ahead and reminded me of why I do not want children, and why I weep for the future."

This week, I want to provide a way forward for us to do something about it. I will suggest four ways where we can counter the culture of entitlement (CoE): Confession, Right-Sizing, Self-Understanding, and Humility.

A) Pursuit of Happiness as a CoE?

In 'Counterfeit Gospels,' Trevin Wax points out six false representations of the true gospel, one of which is relevant to this reflection about the culture of entitlement (CoE). Wax calls it the 'therapeutic gospel.' Proponents of such a gospel teach about human happiness as a right, as something that God wants us to have.
  • "It is God's will for you to be rich."
  • "If you are feeling empty, it is because you have not claimed enough of God's promises."
  • "Is your marriage troubled? Blame sin. Better still, blame the devil."
  • "It is your God-given right to be happy. Let no one deprive you of happiness."
In a culture of entitlement, this kind of therapeutic gospel is highly appealing.  Here is how it works its way into the heart of Christians. Firstly, it introduces itself with a single-minded focus on human worth. It says that humans do not deserve to suffer, but to have a good life. Secondly, it moves on to use anything, including God as a means to comfort us. It brings in all the biblical passages of comfort in the Bible and applies them lock, stock, and barrel. Thirdly, it harps on the point that it is God who has to keep His promise, and that it is not God's will for anyone to suffer. When the therapeutic gospel takes root, Trevin Wax lists three kinds of deceptive results:

  1. "Disillusionment when suffering comes" (How can God let anyone suffer?)
  2. A reduced view of sin (God prefers us to be happy rather than to fight sin?)
  3. The gifts are more important than the Giver. (If God loves me, He will give me what I WANT!)
Wax writes emphatically,
"Scripture is clear that our biggest problem is not that we feel guilty; it's that we are guilty." (Trevin Wax, Counterfeit Gospels, Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2011, 48)
The trouble with the therapeutic gospel is that it begins with an erroneous assertion. Instead of man being born sinful in the first place, it claims outright that man deserves not punishment but reward, for just being who he/she is. 

B) Fighting CoE Begins with Confession

A culture of entitlement puts us in the center of the world. It tells us that our personal happiness is the purpose of life. Anything that counters this pursuit is considered bad. This runs contrary to the spirit in Romans 5 where man is not entitled to anything at all, save the mercy of God. It tells us that personal holiness, (not happiness), is the goal of our lives. Instead, our path to God begins with a confession that God is the center, not us. It is a confession that we are utterly undeserving. Happiness is not a right. If it happens to us, good. If not, do not despair. We are not to deceive ourselves that being happy is more important than being holy. It starts with confession.

I appreciate the Communion ritual at many Anglican and Methodist churches that goes as follows:
Almighty God,
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Maker of all things, judge of all people:
We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from to time have most grievously committed; 
by thought, word, and deed, against Thine divine majesty.
We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these misdoings, the remembrance of them is grievous to us. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, 
Most Merciful Father.
For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we hereafter serve and please thee with newness of life, to the honor and glory of Thy name ; through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Source: Internet

C) Fighting CoE Involves Right-Sizing Ourselves

I like the wisdom in Proverbs that say

"Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread." (Proverbs 30:8)

On one extreme, when happiness becomes a right, it is like insisting that God gives us a signed blank check for us to fill in, according to all our whims and fancies. We upgrade thoughtlessly. We accumulate recklessly. We see only riches as God's will, and shun poverty like a plague. Those with a warped theology of prosperity may even say that the poverty in the world is due to people receiving a curse from God!

On the other end, there are those who attack the rich and the powerful to the point that they pursue poverty as a reaction against the rich. It is like sacrificing oneself just to make a point. Is that a wise choice?

Proverbs show us that it is not poverty or riches we should pursue, but our daily bread. Not too much or too little, but just right. In order to know what is just right, we need to understand ourselves.

D) Countering CoE with Self-Understanding

A story was told about a young Catholic excited about meeting Mother Teresa during one of her trips to Australia. Due to Mother Teresa's tight schedule, it is practically impossible to interview her. On realizing that her next stop is New Guinea, he makes plans to buy an air-ticket, to sit next to her in order to learn from her about giving and helping the poor. When Mother Teresa heard about it, she said to him,
"You have enough money to pay airfare to New Guinea? Then give that money to the poor. You'll learn more from that than anything I can tell you."
Mother Teresa is spot on. She diagnoses the young man's condition as one that is seeking to 'experience a feeling' rather than doing the right thing. The way to learn giving is not to talk about it, much less to feel it, but to do it. Doing it is key to learning about giving. More importantly, one learns about self.

The problem why many of us fail to counter the culture of entitlement successfully is largely due to non-action. We complain. We shrug our shoulders. We blame the government. As we do all these, we become so fixated on the speck of dust in another person's eye that we miss the log in our own eye. Perhaps, for those of us caught in such a culture of entitlement, whether we like it or not, it will not change unless we do something about it.  A healthy understanding of self begins with a recognition that we are undeserved sinners saved by grace. It continues with seeing holiness, not happiness as the purpose of our spiritual lives. It seeks God more than the gifts.

E) Humility: Key to Right-Sizing

Sizing our own selves correctly is crucial to knowing what we really need. Humility is the key. See how Jesus considers himself.

"And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:8)
The God of Heaven, who in spite of his riches, chooses to humble Himself, take up His cross, to be crucified, and humiliated before the world. By sizing Himself as a man, by forsaking all for the sake of us, He died. CS Lewis makes this remarkable observation about humility.

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less." (CS Lewis)

In a culture of entitlement, let us despite of our heavenly inheritance, choose simple living. When people take advantage of us, be ready to forgive. Do not elevate ourselves so high up the pedestal, that we become proud to the point of using people just to prop ourselves up there. If we are honest with ourselves, when we die, we can bring absolutely nothing with us. If that is the case, why harp on our rights and our entitlement so much that it messes up our life and our true purpose?

The culture of entitlement can be countered with a confession of our sinful selves. Right-sizing ourselves is more important than insisting of what others must give us. Having self-understanding is necessary to knowing the difference between needs and wants. Most of all, humility enables us to become more like Christ.

Thought: A humble knowledge of ourselves is a surer way to God than is the search for depth of learning. (Thomas a'Kempis)


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 . You can also send me an email at for comments or enquiries.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On Culture of Entitlement (Part 1 of 2)

TITLE: On Culture of Entitlement (Part 1 of 2)
SCRIPTURE: Acts 20:32-35
Written by: Conrade Yap

“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:32-35)

"Trick or treat!"

My Daughter's Pumpkin Carving
It's Halloween again. Once a year, kids, teens and young people will unabashedly knock on your front doors asking for candies, chocolates, and anything that is sweet. It has become a tradition in itself. Here in North America, Halloween is a fun day. In the morning, many school children will dress up in various costumes. Some wear elaborate movie characters. Others don a simple pony tail ribbon or some facial makeup. Even teachers get into the act. Everybody is in a cheerful mood. It is after school is where the Halloween celebrations really pick up speed. They will gather in pairs of small groups to raid the neighbourhood for candies. Of course, homeowners do their part by putting up delightful decorations outside their houses to welcome these visitors. The 'scary' props are actually quite impressive. It shows the creative part of being human, all for the fun of it. For all its negative religious undertones, Halloween is truly a family friendly event. Kids are happy. Candy sellers are happy. The dentists are happy.

While I see many excited kids in the neighbourhood, behind the fun, the chocolates, and the candies, hide something more sinister: An attitude of entitlement. Like Halloween where kids expect handouts, the general society at large too expect handouts. This week, I will argue that there is a deeper concern besides being aware of this culture of entitlement. It is knowing it but NOT doing anything about it.

A) Free Expectations

Individualism remains a challenge in every society. John Donne's famous words, "No man is an island," is often quoted by people to remind people including themselves that they do not live for selves or selfish reasons. What strikes me as inherently more true is that while no man is an island, man has that innate craving to carve out an island for himself! The infamous five words that individualistic people ask are: "What's In It For Me?"

By asking this question, one seeks to find out the benefit before entering into any contract, buying any service, or investing any money. The premise is simple. As long as the transaction benefits me, I say yes. If it does NOT benefit me in any way, I say no. It makes me sad whenever small businesses close down. It makes me sadder that when these businesses offer 'closing down sales,' the people immediately swarm the stores to wipe out all the goods in no time. The classic example is the case of the ill-fated tablet, the HP Touchpad. When it is first launched at an entry price of $499, sales hardly take off. When it is reduced to a fire sale price of $99, the entire inventory vanished within hours. The same can be said of newspapers. Free newspaper bins are the ones that get emptied much faster. The public generally likes free stuff. From free emails to free newspapers, complimentary samples to free coffee, people like free things. Free things only make the culture of entitlement even worse.

B) A Culture of Entitlement

The culture of entitlement is widespread. Citizens assert the right to be heard by the leaders. In the business world, thanks to the Internet freebies regularly dished out by the big corporations like Google, Youtube, and free WiFi services from fast food restaurants, people are generally spoilt for choice.  Unfortunately, freebies make the problem of entitlement worse. While consumers benefit, they too become spoilt.

The culture of entitlement has also affected the elderly. Many countries in the West have a social security welfare scheme. Upon reaching retirement, adults get a certain amount of money from the government. One advantage of such a system is that it compensates older workers when they give up their jobs to younger ones in the workforce. The overall effect is to reduce unemployment. At the same time, it is a token of appreciation to the worker for the many years of labour and contributions to society in general. It is common to see retirees repaying the welfare by volunteering themselves in charitable organizations in the neighborhoods they are in. A culture of entitlement turns this system on its head.

In this culture of entitlement, older workers refuse to retire early, feeling that they are entitled to receive back from society for all their past contributions. For many, after struggling many years to get promoted to their levels of seniority, are they going to simply give it all up? They easily justify their decisions to hang on to their jobs by blaming inflation and the tough economy. Young graduates think that they are entitled to a job, and that it is the responsibility of the government to find them one. A culture of entitlement is like blood clots in the system. If nobody gives, nothing flows.

Some civil servants I know often give this excuse for not helping.

"If I help you, who helps me? If I do you a favour, how does that do me a favour?" 
In societies where everybody expects everything and gives out nothing, everybody loses.

C) If Nobody Gives, Everybody Loses

I remember the story of how Robin Hood and Little John first met. They were trying to cross a stream on narrow beam of oak. Robin Hood happened to hop on one side first. Before he could make his way across, along came Little John on the other side of the stream wanting to cross over. Since the oak was large enough for one person to cross at a time, one of them had to give way. Robin claimed that he was entitled to go first. Little John rebutted that based on his bigger size, he was entitled to go first. Both of them refused to give way. As a result, they got stuck in the middle. The only way forward then was to wrestle each other until one wins the right to cross over first.

I have driven in both Asian cities as well as North American cities. I must say that driving in the West is a lot more pleasant compared to Asia. In the West, people generally adopts a first-come-first-serve attitude. When I try to change lanes, the moment I signal my intention with my signal lights, drivers tend to be generous in letting me pass. In Asia, this is hardly the case. In congested roads, it is common to find situations that when nobody give in, everybody loses. Drivers with a strong and arrogant sense of entitlement are least likely to give way. The trouble with our culture of entitlement is not only in public roads, but in our private lives. Anthony Selvaggio observes the effect of individualism in marriages. He says:

"Our self-absorbed individualism has had profound effects on our culture. For example, consider how the view of marriage has changed in our culture. Marriage was once thought of as the union of two people into one for life, but now marriage is viewed as a flimsy contractual arrangement between two companions who agree to temporarily live together until their individual needs are no longer satisfied by the arrangement." (Anthony Selvaggio, 7 Toxic Ideas That Pollute the Mind, P & R Publishing, 2011, p73) 

IF we feel that we are entitled to our own happiness, people can often become a means to meeting our ends. When people no longer meet our end, we go our own separate ways, treating people like disposables. For an individualistic person anchored in a world of entitlement, self comes first. All other people is a distant second. Even God has to serve him.

D) Not Doing Anything About It?

Speak to anyone and they will be quick to tell you that they KNOW we live in a culture of entitlement. They can even point out examples of everyday life where it is every man for himself. As they complain about everything, invariably the question will come to rest on the most important question.

  • "What about you?"
  • "What are you doing about it?"
  • "Are you going to sit on your hands, shrug your shoulders and accept this culture of entitlement all around you?"

Many Christians remember Jesus saying that it is better to give than to receive. However, remembering is not enough. We need to do it. .. .. . . .

Oops. There's the doorbell. Time to give out candy treats, lest the kids go unhappy. I will write more next week.

Thought: Our refusal to submit to one another in Christ usually stems from an overly high view of ourselves, and a sadly low view of others. Aided by a laser-like focus on self-need, individualism  rationalizes everything from the angle of self. We are seeing a great reversal. While the builders at Babel seek to reach the heavens by building a tower, modern individualists seek to drag heaven down by building a pulley of ropes tightened with narcissism, individualism, and egotism.


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 . You can also send me an email at for comments or enquiries.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fear of the Lord

TITLE: Fear of the Lord
SCRIPTURE: Proverbs 9:10
Written by: Conrade Yap

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." (Proverbs 9:10)

Wisdom means many things to many people.  For some, it means anything that brings about a good return on one's investment. For others, it may mean improving relationships overall. Yet, for some, it means simply cleverness, wit, or a masterful stroke of intelligent move performed at the right time. Buddhists have their Buddha figure as a guide to their ultimate nirvana. Hindus use holy men and Brahmins as objects of wisdom. Many in secular circles, especially atheists use their heads, often critically, against religion. For the secularists, the atheists, and the skeptics, the Christian religion is ultimately one big lie. Christopher Hitchens blames religion for their role in much violence and 'holy wars' and claims that 'religion poisons everything.' Richard Dawkins dismisses Christianity as a belief in a 'God delusion.' For these men, the fear of the Lord is farthest from their minds, for they are their own gods.

A) Foolishness to the Greeks

Greece is famously known as the land that has produced some of the world's most prominent thinkers and philosphers. People like Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates are still being studied by many people in schools, universities, and widely quoted by learned people all over the world. According to the Greeks, the word 'philosophy' comprises two words: 'philo' (love) and 'sophia' (wisdom). Literally, philosophy means the 'love of wisdom.' Paul is well aware of the prevailing cultural sentiment at that time. He writes to the Church at Corinth,

"For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness." (1 Cor 22-23)

This week, I like to reflect on true spiritual wisdom. It is a wisdom that the world cannot understand. It is a wisdom that is foolishness to the Greeks. It is a wisdom that is drastically different from worldly cleverness. It is a wisdom that begins with the fear of the Lord.

Monday, October 17, 2011

On Marital Conflict

TITLE: On Marital Conflict
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 17 Oct 2011

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” (Col 3:17-19)

Sometime ago, I spoke to a group of husbands, asking them to tell me about why they love their wives. The men were largely muted. Some were uncomfortable. Others seemed more protective about their own privacy. I ventured to provide a personal opinion, that I would tell my wife:

I love you because you’re you.

That sparked a flurry of responses. Of course, I am not at liberty to give out any further details. Safe to say, marital conflicts have changed the way many of us men perceive our marriage partners. Yet, a marriage is never just about the men or the women. A marriage is about both the man and the woman becoming one person, unique in themselves, united as one. That said, why are there so many troubled marriages?

This week, I will reflect on one of the biggest obstacles to marriage: Marital conflict and the management of it thereof.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Feeling Jaded About Church?

Title: Feeling Jaded about Church?
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 10 October 2011

Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love.” (Songs of Solomon 2:5)

One Christian leader I know recently laments to me that Church attendance is declining at all levels. The numbers at Sunday services have dropped. The already small young people group has shrunk even more. Even Bible study group attendance has fallen. What is happening? This week we tackle the issue of Jaded Christianity and that the cause of it is due less to church programs and popularity but more because of broken and non-existent spiritual friendships. It is not about programs, preachers, or prizes. It's relationship or the lack of it!

A) Changing Climate

George Barna and Mark Hatch has predicted a general decline of Church attendance through the Millenium since 2001. From a high Church attendance of 49% in 1991, to 40% in 2000, and to a low of 35% in 2010. Worse, it is still declining. The statistics are grim:

(Statistics adapted from George Barna and Mark Hatch, Boiling Point – How Coming Cultural Shifts Will Change Your Life, Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2001, p213)

Looking at the numbers can be depressing. Apart from small group growth, which is holding relatively well, all the other numbers are dropping across the board. In North America, small churches are getting smaller. Those who leave their churches flock to Megachurches. Growth is hardly due to new converts but believers moving through revolving doors from one church to another. What do we make of this changing climate? Is it due to a jaded sense of religion, or is it simply a sign of the church unable to change with times? Angela Kiesling consolidates some of the reasons why people are leaving churches. Let me highlight three.

B) Reason #1 – Consumerist Mindset

The first reason is a consumerist mindset a typical Church attendee brings to the Church. Such a consumer Christian wants:
  • Lots of choices in Church programs, options that are catered to one’s personal preferences
  • Church to provide a product/service while members return a 'favour' by their attendance
  • No connection to the community interests except for one’s personal spiritual needs
  • When one does not feels the Church is meeting one’s needs, off they go.
  • Deny openly but practice a form of “Ask not what I can do for the church, but what the Church can do for me.”

If we are honest ourselves, we will see some of their consumerist tendencies pluck a sensitive string in our consumerist heart. That is not all.

C) Two Other Reasons – Era & New Communities

The second reason is based on which era we are born. If we are born before 1940, chances are we tend to be loyal in Church attendance. More often, we give structures and people in leadership the benefit of the doubt. If we are part of the Boomer generation born between 1940-1960, we tend to be more open to stay in traditional religion. If we are the Busters (1960-1984), we stay on the fence, waiting to see whether something is relevant to us or not, before deciding on change. Sometimes, these parents will simply choose church going on the basis of their children's needs. Those born after 1984 (Gen X) are more impatient and apt to change at the slightest disappointment. If these findings are correct, it more than verifies and explains the declining level of church attendance. In other words, we have a problem of archaic church structures that is increasingly unable to adjust to the changing population mix. For example, how can a Boomer-church make sense to a congregation filled with more Busters and Gen X? Is it then any surprise that pre-Boomer-style churches attract pre-Boomer and some Boomer people only?

The third reason is because of a more complex and sophisticated need that churches are not responding soon enough. While some churches are declining, others are growing. It is a decline of the old, but growth of a new. While the young tends to shy away from traditional religion, that does not mean that they are discarding the faith altogether. In other words, the decline is only for ‘traditional churches’ and NOT new forms of church. This explains the rise of new emergent churches that are full of young people and apparently meets the needs of ‘consumerist’ people as well as a changing landscape. Nate Krupp writes of three new types of ‘wine skins’ namely, the open Church, cell church and house church, where these people believes that the church is a community of believers gathered in the name of Jesus. Unfortunately, one church's gain is another church's loss. What is also not helpful is the increase of members who prefer individualized religion rather than community.

Kiesling warns of a 'Lone Ranger' Christian.

"Inherent dangers lurk anytime believers try to live a Lone Ranger existence, apart from other Christ-followers. We need each other." (Angela Kiesling, Jaded, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004, p124)

How then do we respond to a consumerist, a cultural age gap, and an individualized kind of faith?

D) Refreshment and Renewal

It is important that when we read statistics like these, and the attempts to analyze them, we do not lose sight of the presence of faithful sheep among us. For every one person who leaves a Church, there is also a responsibility to take care of those who are still attending. For both, who faithfully come, or are not coming, it is also important to note that BOTH groups need refreshment and renewal. The faithful attendee needs to be refreshed in the Lord, to have their faith in God renewed week after week. We cannot presume that people who leave the Church automatically leave the faith as well. No! Instead of criticizing their decisions, we need to understand them. When we understand the reasons for their leaving, not only can we learn, we share Christlikeness of love and understanding with them.

Most crucially, our desire for refreshment and renewal must stem from LOVE. We need to be careful of two errors we make when trying to woo back the sheep or to fast-forward our spiritual recovery.

Firstly, do not focus on programs. It looks too commercial. It is tempting to try to renew people’s interest by throwing in better programs. This makes the Church look more like a spiritual station dishing out religious variety shows.

Secondly, do not depend on a powerful preacher. It breeds a cult culture. It is also tempting to throw in a charismatic speaker to inspire people. Unfortunately, this makes the Church become like a one-man-operated motivational speaker circuit. No. We come to Church to worship God, and not to meet our needs, though the latter can happen when the Spirit leads. Richard Foster reminds us about what worship leads to.

"To worship is to chance. As worship begins in holy expectancy, it ends in holy obedience. Holy obedience saves worship from becoming an opiate, an escape from the pressing needs of modern life." (Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 1978, p173)
In other words, we do not come to God to change God to fit our needs. We come to let God change us to befit His glory. For that, we need help.

E) The Gift of Friends

Let me suggest that the key to recovery from jaded Christianity remains 'relational.' In a nutshell, a Christlike relationship has 3 components.

"Draw close to God. Let God draw you closer. Together, let God draw others closer through you."

Such a relationship cannot be done on our own strength, simply because our moods fluctuate from time to time. We need a community called the gift of friends to help one another link up.

The Songs of Solomon tell of a joyful and loving connection between a lover and his beloved. Bible scholars have long taken these songs to be the love poems of a man and a woman, or more specifically, King Solomon and his lover. A few other scholars have allegorized this as a conversation between God and human beings. I prefer to see it plainly as a man and a woman. There is no need for precise programming. There is no motivational speeches or clever remarks, save the deep emotional desire for each other. It is love. Renewal and refreshment must begin in LOVE. Love grows in the crucible of a relationship. This is the key theme in the Song of Solomon. The relationship is expressed through words of desire, hope, and love for each other.

SS 2:5 shows us that it is the LOVE that drives the beloved to long for the lover. She pleads for raisins to sustain her physical longing. She asks for apples to spread over her pining. It is not the raisins or the apple that is the key point. It is the LOVE that drives the cry for raisins and apples. Much like our modern worship. Do we let our desire for programs (raisin), and a yearning for apples (feel good) dictate our Church going? Or do we let our relationship with the Lord lead us to worship REGARDLESS of the building, the church programming, the facilities or all the external offerings? In other words, isn’t the Lord Jesus’ presence reason enough for us to go to Church?

I know some readers will argue back: “I love Jesus. I just need help to love him more.” Yes. I understand. Help is never from within ourselves, but always from outside. It is from the Lord, and the Lord often chooses to use community of believers. There is a third party in the lovely conversation between the Lover and the Beloved in the Song of Songs. Friends. The unspecified friends join in the chorus to affirm the desire of the beloved damsel for the Lover.

We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love more than wine.” (SS 1:4b)

They mirror the excitement of the woman for the man, in such a way that the woman is encouraged. They also praise the woman for who she is, encouraging her for her work, and her search for her lover.

If you do not know, most beautiful of women, follow the tracks of the sheep and graze your young goats by the tents of the shepherds.” (SS 1:8)

We need friends to encourage us in our spiritual journeys. We need friends to encourage us in our relationship with God. We need people to understand where we are, and also to understand others when they need us. Perhaps, when we are jaded about Church, it is not about the poor church programs, or mediocre sermons. It is probably not because there is a lack of desire to go to Church. It is more to do with a lukewarm faith. Such lukewarm faith can usually be traced back to a lack of spiritual friends.

Thought: “ . . . you could be a solitary wanderer, but you can’t be a solitary Christian.” (Eugene Peterson, The Wisdom of Each Other, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998, p25)

When all things fail, try love. Love never fails. Perhaps, you can try to remember a friend. Pray. Then call up that friend to say: "Hello. I thought and I prayed for you today. Want to catch up sometime?"


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 . You can also send me an email at for comments or enquiries.