Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On Loneliness

TITLE: On Loneliness
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 27 July 2011

TEXT: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matt 11:28)

Last week, I preached on Solitude and Community, at the gracious invitation of a pastor friend. It gave me an opportunity to revisit one of my favourite topics on the Christian life: the art of being rather than doing. As ‘solitude’ and ‘community’ are huge individual topics by themselves, I like to devote the next few weeks of SabbathWalk to Solitude and Community. Key to my meditation on ‘solitude’ is to recognize with our whole being, that God loves us as we are, not as per what we have done. This week, I deal with the issue of loneliness.

1) Loneliness a Natural Condition

There is no shame in being alone. Loneliness is a condition that exists in all groups of people. One can try to hide it, but over time, it reveals itself. In our world, loneliness is detested, and resisted like a plague. Why? Why are people afraid of being lonely?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Google-Effect

TITLE: THE GOOGLE-EFFECT – reflecting on the condition of the human soul
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 19 July 2011

Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” (Gen 9:16)

MAIN POINT: By subcontracting learning and remembering to technologies like Google, we may have unwittingly subcontracted away more than just information.

Rainbow: Covenantal Reminder
Traditionally, the 3Rs of Learning consists of Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic. In an Internet Age, there are worrying signs that the 3Rs may have turned into 1G. Google. In what is termed the Google-Effect, 1G has left the reading to Google spiders constantly roaming and collecting data from websites all over the world. It has left the writing to ‘experts’ in a Wikipedia age. It has allowed computers to do the arithmetic. In other words, as long as one has Google, one has learning all wrapped up.

My children nowadays come back from school with weblinks instead of book lists about certain research topics. They come with website references, a single piece of paper with a search parameter, or a simple instruction: “Google it!”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Reading People Correctly

TITLE: Reading People Correctly
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 14 July 2011
Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (1 Cor 10:23-24)
MAIN POINT: Our tendency to misunderstand and misinterpret another person's intent stems from a lack of self-examination. When this happens, we easily misread people.

It began with a simple email about one’s opinion on a project. I gave a sharp response. The reply came back quick and fierce. I tried to calm nerves by offering to clarify what I have said. The response came back at an even more aggressive tone. In the end, I was accused of being insensitive, ignorant, and downright incompetent. The pattern is predictable. Each reply requires a clarification later. Each clarification spirals into another round of re-clarifications and re-stating one another’s positions. At one point, I simply hated the Email icon on my computer, even threatening to move that program into the trash. The whole episode turns both parties into misunderstanding each other, as well as a deep sense of being hurt and misunderstood.

In this week's installment of Sabbath Walk, I offer to examine the reasons why we tend to misread other people, and how we can learn to read people better.

A) Misreading People

What I have described above is not unique. I have seen many examples of how the familiar scenario plays out on public electronic forums, or social media networks like Facebook and mySpace. One negative comment leads to an even more negative rebuttal. Technology only goes to speed up the pace of disagreement. For example, emails are very convenient to use. Misinterpretation of emails are equally convenient to transmit at electronic speed. Though the medium of communications and the technology may change, the people behind the use of such devices and systems remains the same.

The sinful human person has a natural disposition to treat oneself more important than others. Many of us do, and are prepared to defend ourselves to the core, refusing to give in. Sadly, some of the nastiest words are uttered by people who profess themselves to follow Jesus! Churches split over trivial matters. Christians take each other to court over disputes and arguments. The common reason is this:
"I am fighting on the basis of a principle!"
Such cases do not help the Christian public image at all. It makes non-Christians rather glad not to be part of the Church especially when they see Christians squabbling away in both private and public places. Of course, the most prominent disputes are fought out in the law courts, to the embarrassment of the Church at large. It makes me wonder what happened to Jesus' call to the disciples:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Are we loving people, or are we loving principles? Telling.

KEY POINT: Each of us are very prone to misreading people.

B) The ‘Emotional’ vs the ‘Rational’

Here is a physiological take on why human behaviour tends to be more emotional. The personal communications guru, Oscar Bruce poses an interesting take on linking human communications with brain behaviour. After all, he is a communications ‘guru.’ He says that the human person is prone to making mistakes because they are ‘hard-wired’ to do so. He explains it by pitting the ‘rational’ side of the brain against the ‘emotional’ part. Like a lion that overpowers the cougar, the emotional side usually dominates over the rational cerebral cortex. Bruce goes on to say that due to the tendency to let the emotional ‘overwhelm’ the rational, humans are more prone to misjudge others, misinterpret intentions, and to misunderstand one another. That is not all. Once the ‘rational’ is won over by the ‘emotional,’ the brain then goes on to work as an integrated whole, where “I AM RIGHT AND YOU ARE WRONG!” becomes a personal crusade, regardless of truth. Perceptions reign.

KEY POINT:  Our hearts often overwhelm our heads when reading (or misreading) people.

C) Reading People Rightly Begins With Self-Examination

Psychological analysis like the one suggested by Oscar Bruce tend to be overly simplistic. Yet, I think it is a good reminder for us to be conscious that we manage our emotional involvement at an appropriate level.  I will venture to suggest that in order for us to read people more fairly and correctly, we need to adopt a stance of self-examination first.

St Ignatius of Loyola has long been one of my favourite authors. His classic treatise, “The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius” occupies a prominent position on my bookshelf. It is a foundational book on guiding oneself toward spiritual perfection in God. This is a response to Jesus’ teaching:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
Before one begins the spiritual exercises, Ignatius offers his very important starting point. He writes:
In order that the one who gives these Exercises and he who makes them may be of more assistance and profit to each other, they should begin with the presupposition that every good Christian ought to be more willing to give a good interpretation to the statement of another than to condemn it as false.” (Anthony Mottola, trans. The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, NY: Image Doubleday, 1989, p47)

In other words, when we interact with one another, we ought to assume that the other person has good intentions in the first place, and to interpret everything from that angle. Such an attitude prepares us toward the path of spiritual perfection as advocated by Jesus. In order for us to live as 7-days a week, 24 hours a day Christians, all our thoughts, words, and deeds need to begin with this healthy presupposition.

KEY POINT:  In understanding others, adopt a healthy positive interpretation as a natural default position.

D) What If We Are Suspicious About Others?

This question stems from a desire to protect ourselves, especially those of us who have been badly burned or hurt previously. I can understand. Ignatius gives this advice.
If he cannot give a good interpretation to this statement, he should ask the other how he understands it, and if he is in error, he should correct him with charity.” (47)
This is great teaching. When we feel we have reasons to suspect, why not take a step back and put it in a simple question without any pre-judgment? This not only lowers ourselves from a mental boiling point, it helps us practice humility, and to avoid judging others.

I work a lot with small groups. Sometimes, there are strong views said which threaten the overall mood of the discussion. Handled incorrectly, they can become divisive and explosive. One way I manage it, is to ask the person:
  • “You have said that _____________________, have I understood that correctly?”
  • “Can you explain your point again, maybe in a different way?”
  • “Can I paraphrase what you have just said?”
Every leader of small groups must be aware of the insidious danger of suspicions. Suspicions are little trojan horses implanted in the minds of members of any group. It comes across as seemingly innocent questions. Over time, the trojan horses can create untold damages on relationships. As suspicions come in, trust goes out. This then leads to a sharp reduction individuals giving one another the benefit of the doubt.

Ignatius wisely teaches. Let the person know that you are genuinely interested in a right understanding of what he said. In other words, clarification and understanding remain key objectives in group dynamics. From Paul’s exhortation to the Christians at Corinth, no one should seek only his own good, but for the good of others. Likewise, in our interactions, we can learn to seek out the good of others in our group, rather than to put ourselves as a foremost concern.

KEY POINT: When in doubt, paraphrase, clarify, and seek to understand others.

E) What If It Does Not Work?

I understand that even with the best of intentions, we can still read people erroneously. Ignatius gives a third additional guideline.
If this is not sufficient, he should seek every suitable means of correcting his understanding so that he may be saved from error.” (47)
This is practical advice. In other words, the journey of self-examination does not end after the first step, but ought to be exercised at every step, over and over again. Like a self-correcting feedback mechanism, one needs to adopt a stance of ‘seeing other’s good’ over and over again. This requires us to self-examine our own intentions. This requires us to clarify other people’s intentions and words. This requires us to re-evaluate our understanding over and over, until we reach a good and clear perspective that is free from self-prejudice.

Dale Carnegie, the author of "How to Win Friends and Influence People" offers this guide for our benefit.
"Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving."
In a world that literally worships abilities and talents, it is a good reminder to know that relationships thrive more on maturity and graciousness. We have a calling to become better persons ourselves, for Jesus' sake and for our neighbours' sake. We have a calling to obey Jesus' command to love one another. We have a calling to be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect. A proper understanding of other people is closely tied with a proper understanding of self. Perhaps, when we misread others, we may have also misread ourselves.

Thought: "We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are." (Talmud)


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, July 8, 2011

Living Forward

TITLE: Living Forward
Date: 8 July 2011
Written by: Conrade Yap

Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions. (Eccl 7:10)

MAIN POINT: Sometimes we complain about the present by lamenting how good the past was. When this happens, we prevent ourselves from living forward positively. When we reminisce, try to see God’s blessings over the years, and be freed to live toward the future, instead of getting ourselves stuck in the past. This is what I call ‘Living Forward.’

Several of my Facebook friends have been posting photos about their yester-years. It triggers some nostalgic moments for me. Spurring such a mood is my current phase of unpacking my boxes containing all kinds of stuff that reminds me of the ‘good-old-days.’ Like my friends who have meticulously scanned in their photos of days of old, I too have my share of photos from the ‘good-old-days.’ The worn out colours reveal the era where photography is still considered ‘primitive’ compared to our modern ubiquitous digital technology. Back then, we buy film rolls that require us to have an understanding of ASA 100/200/400, or a 12/24/36 quantity of photos, or a brand preference like Kodak/FujiFilm/Agfa/Polaroid and so on. Compared to our modern digital gadgets where point and shoot technologies have transformed the commoner into a pretty good photographic amateur, back in those days, one will need to know more about the camera. Now it seems like the camera knows more about us, making ‘photo-taking for dummies’ a common occurrence everywhere. I still have my good old SLR camera that relies on hard to find camera film rolls, depends on troublesome photo development dark rooms. Compared to the almost immediate images we see on our digital camera screens, back then, we need to wait until the last photo has been snapped before we see our masterpiece, or our mistakes. I can still remember one embarrassing mistake I made. Thinking I had 36 shots in my camera, I would offer to take group photos, urged my friends to pose in their prettiest or fabulous best, and click away. Only to realize at the end of the day, I had no film inside my camera! The ‘good old days’ are not exactly good old days for me. Thankfully, modern cameras warn users about missing SD cards, or memory sticks prior to snapping any digital photos.

Some of my stuff waiting to be unpacked
Looking back, I am thankful for the help friends have given me, like David and Lyndon who volunteered graciously to take our wedding photographs, without payment, without fuss, and without any hint that they have been inconvenienced in any way. Such is the power of friendship. Friends give and give, without asking anything in return. As a recipient of their grace, I am encouraged to live forward graciously.

I am also reminded of my younger years where there are certain questions I get easily irritated. Let me mention three of them. First, it is "Aren’t You Going Home?" I live on campus during my Undergraduate years. Since the University ground is rather remote, I spend most of my time inside the campus. I sleep. I study. I eat. I swim. I rest there. All day. All week. Many months. When the long holidays come after each semester, many friends will go home. They have their families and big houses. They have their exciting holiday travels. They have their nice good-old-connections to return to. Not for me. My priority is to do some catch-up. After all, I am not that good a student to be able to understand most of the stuff my professors have taught. Unlike some, I need to put in extra hours just to understand basic concepts. After a hectic study term, all I wanted then was to sit back in the quietness of campus and do catch-up at a more manageable pace. Why then are people asking me to ‘go-home’ when I need to do some catch-up? I need time to study, time to revise, and time to relax a little. I suppose what annoys me then is the way the question tries to fit me into a tiny ‘everybody-is-doing-it-and-so-must-you’ cubicle. Looking back, perhaps, I should have simply acknowledged the question as a conversation starter, instead of seeing it as meddling my personal life.

The second question is perhaps more irksome. “When are you getting a girlfriend?” Come on, if others are hitched, that does not mean I have to go on crazy dates with strange girls! Moreover, you are not my fairy-godmother who can wish me any damsel I want. Such a question applies pressure, unnecessarily. It distracts me from my main goal, which is to study. During those tough years, I do not have a lot of money. My parents then are struggling financially so much that my monthly subsistence of $300 is largely borrowed from relatives. Imagine getting a date that costs me more money? Good grief. I will rather have my Chicken Rice dish, rather than a cup of water and a miserable piece of bread for lunch. Anytime. No pretty face is going to deprive me from my favourite food. This question, “When are you getting a girlfriend?” pops up most annoyingly during family gathering times. For North Americans, these times are Thanksgiving or Christmas. For me, it is Chinese New Year. My wonderful uncles and aunts will almost always pepper me with questions like:

- “So when are you getting that lucky girl?
- “You are not getting any younger, you know?”
- "When are you getting married?"

Even my mother, to my dismay, sometimes joins in the prying. Before my degree, I can easily divert that question by stressing that my priority is to graduate. It is after getting my Bachelors, this question takes on a whole new potency. I can easily say, ‘girls want guys with a stable career,’ but excuses only delay not stop the questions from coming. Truth is, the longer I wait, the more such nosy questions will come. I suppose I feel insecure then. I have a degree but no job. I have many friends but no one special girlfriend. I have the questions, but not the answers. Ouch! That question hurts.

The third question comes fast and furious after marriage. “When are you two going to have kids?” Following close to this will be “When are you going to have #2? #3? and so on” in quick succession. O brother! When will it all end, I ask myself. Why can’t people leave my personal life alone? The consolation is that the question is not to be carried by me alone. I have my wife to shoulder this burden. I have my job to bury my head under. I have God to divert all questions to.

Learning Point: Looking back, I tell myself I should have simply accepted these questions as a recognition of my stage in life. The irritations I feel are but glimpses of my insecurity in life.

B) Wisdom in Looking Back
One of my favourite quotes is from the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkergaard.

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." (Soren Kierkegaard)
There are many things that we cannot understand in the present. Only having lived through it, and as we reflect, we see glimpses of God's Hand at work in some mysterious way. I think about the time I am single. While carefree and independent on one hand, there is that nagging feel that I need to have some emotional settling down, preferably with a nice loving Christian lady. I have no dates throughout my high school or college years. I remain a bachelor, living with bachelors, armed with a measly Bachelors. Going through this period of singleness is tough. I remember reading somewhere in a survey about the happiness index affecting the different sexes. It is ranked as follows, 1 being most happy, 4 the least.

  1. Married Man
  2. Married Woman
  3. Unmarried Woman
  4. Unmarried Man.
Oh no! At that time, from the looks of it, I seem destined to be #4, most unhappy. I look back, and when I see how God has led me through the learning experiences, the opportunity to focus on the Word, I learn to surrender myself to God. I pray:
"Lord, if it is your will, let me go to the mission field, single or married, as you wish. Doing your will is the safest place for me." 

A funny thing happens when I yield myself to God. I have that peace. I have that assurance that things will be ok. It is no longer how I see things, but it is how I see things from God's point of view. I learn about the struggles singles face. I learn about being able to focus on God's ministry, with a glimpse from the Apostle Paul's perspective. Learning to let go, and let God remains a precious learning jewel. I learn about prayer.
"Prayer is not about telling God, 'My will be done.' It is in confessing to God, 'Thy will be done.'"
Prayer is not telling God what to do, but in letting God inform us about what we ought to be doing. We pray not to change God but to change ourselves to learn to see from God's point of view. We look to the past not to get stuck in the past. We remember the past, appreciate the lessons learned, and live forward.

In times of trouble, we often complain why present life is tough. We compare our present situation negatively by propping up our past positively. Qoheleth tells us that it is foolish to bring up the past and downplay our present. On the other hand, if we learn well from the past, cherish the present, we put ourselves in good stead toward living forward. Learn well. Live Bold. Think Constructive. Be Grateful. These form the essence of a thankful heart. Let the 'good old days' spur a greater new future. Live forward.

Thought: "All it takes is one bloom of hope to make a spiritual garden." (Terri Guillemets)


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, July 1, 2011

On Moving

TITLE: On Moving
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 30 June 2011

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives, And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you;” (Gen 12:1)
MAIN POINT: Reflections on Moving to a new House. Lessons on faith, and holy urgency.

This week, my family moved again to another city in the lower mainland in Greater Vancouver. It is our third move in 3 years. Each time we shift, we head East. This is because property prices in the West are increasingly unaffordable. For those of you who think that we are insane, what we are doing is nothing compared to the year 2004. Back then we manage 4 moves in 1 year, one of them across he Pacific Ocean!

Still, I hate to move. Each time it happens, I have to pause my normal work, re-prioritize my reading/writing commitments, re-schedule my appointments, and many more. I joke with my wife that each time we move, we find some things, and we lose some. Moving frequently involves double the work. For instance, we have to clean two houses. We have to pack our stuff in the old house, and unpack our stuff in the new house. We have to stop the electric and gas utilities in one house, and to start the same in another house. We move so much that I am glad some of my stuff remained in boxes, ready to be moved at anytime.

As I write this belated article of SabbathWalk, I cannot help but feel that amid all the craziness, there is something to learn from. I think about the Patriarch Abraham. Often heralded as a man of faith, I begin to see glimpses of why Abraham’s ancient step of faith is still a popular model for modern times. This week, I share 3 lessons about moving.

A) Moving is a Step of Faith

Following God’s direct instruction to Abraham, the Scriptures record an amazing step of obedience.

“So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.” (Gen 12:4)

What obedience! What a prompt response! What a step of faith! There is no mention of Abraham bargaining with God about his step of faith. There is no request to delay his departure for an unknown land. There is no explicit question from Abraham about where his destination is going to be.

For my family, we struggle a lot with each move. We deliberate over the pros and cons. We consider the impact on our children. We pray over how it will affect our daily commute and our links to the neighbourhood. Truth is, we cannot imagine us behaving like Abraham, who simply ‘went forth.’

Abraham was 75 years old when he left the land of Ur. All in all, he had about 70 people with him in this huge move. For me to move the stuff for 5 persons is already a tall order. Imagine 70! That is about 14 times the size of my family. Just think of the logistics. Perhaps, back then, there is not so much stuff. There are no computers. There are no books. There are no big furniture or electronics, or electrical appliances to care about. Simply put, moving with 70 people is no simple feat.

B) Moving into Unfamiliar Territory

It boggles me to think about someone with 70 dependants traveling together to an unknown destination. All he knows is that the LORD will show him the place. There is no itinerary. There is no clear destination point. There is no guarantee of how they are going to survive the unknown. Despite this, Abraham left in obedience.

In our modern times, we move only when things are more certain. We do all our budgeting. We make meticulous plans. I remember one student who contacted me via email just before coming to Canada to study at Regent College. She had everything planned out to the very last detail. How long to stay? Budget for every single detail, from housing to tuition fees; from banking to various logistics. She peppered me with all kinds of questions to the point that I feel she has a problem with living with uncertainty.

In an Internet Age, where Google can feed us all kinds of information worldwide, we are increasingly reliant on information technology for security. If we cannot find it on Google, we may even panic. We are living in times where the uncertain, the unfamiliar, and the unknown are increasingly unacceptable for daily living. Unfortunately, faith requires us to step into the unknown. It needs us to swim often in unfamiliar territory. In uncertain situations, faith extends a hand to us to take. Here is the hard truth. As far as faith is concerned, being too careful can be an act of ‘un-faith.’ It can even lead to failure.

The OMF Missionary, Oswald Sanders has this to say:

A great deal more failure is the result of the excess of caution than of bold experimentation with new ideas. The frontiers of the kingdom of God were never advanced by men and women of caution.” (Oswald Sanders)

Jesus says:
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)
In order for growth, we need to take a leap of faith. Without allowing ourselves to die to self, how else can we free ourselves from the kingdom of self? Only then we are ready to move into the unknown.

C) Getting Ready to Move

The third learning point I have is about our readiness to move. As Christ followers on earth, we are called to be God’s agents for heralding the kingdom of God in heaven and on earth. We pray that often in the LORD’s prayer. Unfortunately, too many people are simply too complacent with their present stability. They hate change so much that they are willing to forgo an opportunity to take a leap of faith, choosing instead to lean on fate.

For the Christian, we are called to take the adventure of faith. This is best done by inculcating in ourselves an attitude, a readiness to move when we are called. This readiness is what prepares each of us to take a step of faith into the unknown.

D) A Holy Urgency

We need a holy urgency to make known the kingdom of God in our lives. Otherwise, we will become stagnant in our Christian walk. We will be complacent thinking that what we have known in the past will suffice for the future. Martin Luther once said that every believer ought to live each day as if Jesus died yesterday, resurrected today, and will come again tomorrow. A holy urgency will lead to holy action by people desiring to obey a Holy God. We cannot let our desire for stability overwhelm holy urgency. The former (desire for stability) easily chokes our spiritual hunger, deceives us with a false sense of security, and weakens our desire to share the Good News. The latter (holy urgency) increases our longing for God, clarifies that only faith in Christ is eternal security, and strengthens our resolve to be disciples of Jesus.

Moving is hard. It can be frustrating. It is one of the highest stresses of life. Yet, it is also a leap of faith. A step into the unknown. The truth is, change will somehow get us one day. If we do not change now, we might be forced to change later. If that is the case, why don’t we make the leap of faith sooner than later? The need for holy urgency is powerfully given by Jesus:

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matt 16:25)

There are far too many people in churches who choose to play safe. They despise change. They do not want to venture into new territory. In fact, people who stubbornly refuse to change their mindset is most vulnerable to 'forced change' in the future. Helen Keller writes:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

I am no super saint. Neither do I see my move as a big example in terms of faith. What I can say is that faith requires us to keep moving, even to unfamiliar territory. Keep getting ready to move, with the Holy Spirit as our Guide. Keep a good sense of holy urgency, with God’s kingdom foremost in mind.

That said, I hope not to move again anytime soon. But again, life is unpredictable, right?

Thought: Risk aversion is another way of saying: “I trust myself more than I trust God.


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.