Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sleeping with Idols

SCRIPTURE: Jeremiah 50:38
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 25 Jan 2012

"A drought on her waters! They will dry up. For it is a land of idols, idols that will go mad with terror." (Jer 50:38)
MAIN POINT: Idols are everywhere. The worst state of idolatry is to sleep with idols without even being aware of it. Beware of the three dangerous forms of idolatry.

Idolatry. What is idolatry? The great reformer, John Calvin, has this to say:
"Man's mind is like a store of idolatry and superstition; so much so that if a man believes his own mind it is certain that he will forsake God and forge some idol in his own brain." (John Calvin)
A) An Unnatural Incline

The human tendency is to lean toward idolatry. This is why God is so insistent about Israel removing idols from their land. Idols have no respect of nationality. It does not care about ethnicity or language. Idols fuse themselves to human flesh and feelings, and turn the possessor into the possessed. Sometimes, I feel that the media has completely transformed the word 'idol' from danger to desired. Instead of sounding out the alarm on the threat of idolatry in the human heart, the world has waxed the image of idols and made them more sought after. Look at American Idol. We have contestants so focused on winning the ticket to Hollywood that they cry and jump for joy when selected, or pour out scorn and profanities when not selected. Our modern culture has turned idols into deceitful prizes to capture our hearts' attention.

Problem: We tend to seek after these things so uncritically, that we sleep over thoughts of wanting it.

B) An Ancient Curse

If the Creator understands how humans naturally behave, should we not listen more intently, and obey God more fervently? Calvin perceptively points out that idolatry begins in the heart. In the human heart, there is only room from one person. If it is not God, then it is an idol.

The verse from Jeremiah is a reminder to us too, that although we do not live in an ideal world, we live in a world furnished with idols. The passage is a hard hitting prophecy against Babylon during the times of King Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonians (or Chaldeans) are known to be harsh rulers over the exiled people of Israel. In a way, this prophecy is laced with a triple purpose. It warns the Babylonians not to be proud and arrogant about their riches and power. It encourages the Israelites that God is mightier than Babylon. It reminds all the nations that God is in control, and idolatry will cause the downfall of anyone.

Problem: We live in a world of idols but often fail to see them as idols.

C) No Lack of Idols

In our modern world, there is no lack of idols. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, suggests that there are three 'mid-day demons' that we all need to be wary of, namely; ambition, boredom, and vainglory. All of these are actually distractions from a true seeking of God. Ambition makes us focused on our primary targets of the world. Boredom makes us easily dissatisfied. Vainglory is an attitude of self-seeking that puts oneself more important than others, even God.

Problem: In vainglory, we substitute holy ambition for God with an unholy pursuit of idols.

D) Idol #1 Ambition

We are used to having fresh water from our taps. Sometimes, we take the convenience for granted. Water is a gift from God. The distribution of the water is a service we have also taken for granted. In those days, when the water dries up, it creates havoc in the daily life of ancient Babylon. Worse, the dried up river means that enemies can march along the river and attack Babylon. With the river the source of life, it is easy for the enemy to strike at the hearts of Babylonian homes.

The same applies for ambition. When we take things for granted, we are not easily satisfied. When our rivers of contentment dries up, the enemies of temptation will march up our dried rivers, offering all kinds of promises that look good on the outside, but fatal on the inside. Wilson-Hartgrove calls ambition as a 'whisper.' Human beings tend to pay more attention to seductive whispers of the world than the instructive commands of God. Wilson-Hartgrove writes:
"We are so easily unimpressed by the ordinary, longing for the feeling of excitement that comes with a new task to take up, new people to engage, new challenges to face." (114)
Isn't that true? Some of us change our cellphones so much that every new flashy phone makes us despise our prized phone obtained a few months ago. Some of us think that only the latest and the greatest makes us cool. This is not a problem of technology. It is a problem with the human heart that is not easily satisfied.

E) Idol #2: Boredom

Boredom is very much the state of the mind. While it may not be a directly categorized form of idolatry, it leads one rapidly toward idols. Even the monks who are supposed to be 'spiritually sensitive' are guilty of boredom. One story speaks of a monk opening the door of the monastery. On seeing a familiar face, the monk shakes his head and says: "Oh. It's you again." Wilson-Hartgrove warns us about the effects of boredom that leads to idolatry.

"Boredom tempts us to give up on the people God has given us. But simply walking away from our commitments usually requires too much initiative when we are weighed down by the heaviness of life. . . . When spiritual boredom sets in, we fight over the smallest things, unable to care for the other person whose will is bumping up against our own." (119)

PROBLEM: When boredom steps in, we find it more difficult to love our neighbours. We turn the command to love our neighbours into a demand for making our neighbours love us instead.

F) Idol #3: Vanglory

The third 'idolatry' that Wilson-Hartgrove points to is 'vainglory.' He writes:
".. vainglory is the evil thought that suggests that we should care only about our own success." (Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2010, 122)
The dangerous thing is that many people sleep with one or more of these idols without really realizing it. Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham, describes this scenario in terms of the formula for Christianity.

"Jesus + Nothing = Everything."

Instead, many Christians add something to Jesus in order to mean everything.
  • Ambitious researcher formula: "Jesus + New Discovery = Everything."
  • Bored believer formula: "Jesus + cool-stuff = Everything."
  • Money-Minded formula: "Jesus+More-Money = Everything."
  • Vanglory Formula: "Jesus + Glory+Fame = Everything."
  • General Idolatry Formula: "Jesus + anything = Everything."
G) Summary

No! Let there be no idols in our hearts. Let them in, and it will be very difficult to flush them out. My readers, is ambition your idol? Is boredom leading you to other seemingly more attractive idols? Is vanglory your idol? Is discontentment your idol?
  • When you are ambitious, think: "What is Jesus telling you about your ambition?"
  • When you are bored, ask yourself: "Is Jesus not enough for my happiness?"
  • When you are tempted toward vainglory, ask: "Is the glory seeking for self or for Jesus?"
Do not sleep with idols. You have been warned.

Thought: The first step to turning away from idols is to unmask them.


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, January 18, 2012

Lessons from the Costa Concordia

TITLE: Lessons from the Costa Concordia
DATE: 18 Jan 2012
SCRIPTURE: 2 Chronicles 32:7

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him." (2 Chronicles 32:7)
MAIN POINT: Leaders Need Courage, Initiative, and Integrity.

King Hezekiah faces a formidable enemy. As king of Judah, the beloved King Hezekiah has done a lot of good for God throughout the land. Living amidst pagans that worship idols, practise human sacrifices, and all kinds of despicable religious acts, Hezekiah bucks the trend. He obeys the laws. He seeks after God. He does everything that is right in the eyes of the LORD. Amid all of these righteous acts, comes a terrible Assyrian king by the name of Sennacherib, whose very name is 'bramble of destruction.' Instead of backing off, Hezekiah instructs his people:

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him.

With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles." And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said." (2 Chronicles 32:7-8)

Hezekiah is one bright light in a situation of dark gloom and potential doom. With courage, he encourages the people to stand up against the enemy. Simply because, God is with them. He knows it. He wants Judah to know it. He makes sure that the enemy knows it. As a result, Sennacherib becomes the frustrated Assyrian king who never really did conquer Judah. Despite his taunts to the Jews, and him stirring up his own forces for attack,  plus a large efforts in war propaganda, Sennacherib suffers a humiliating defeat.  He ends up slain by his own children (2 Chronicles 32:21). As Hezekiah leads boldly as leader of the nation, the LORD protects Judah and fights against the enemies. Kudos to King Hezekiah!

Such courage is commendable. Leaders are expected to manifest this trait. Unfortunately, there are some leaders in this world that does the exact opposite. Instead of fighting fear, they flee. Instead of standing up to be responsible, they shrink back from taking charge. One example is Captain Francesco Schettino of the ship, Costa Concordia, one of the largest luxury cruise liners in the world.

A) Failure to Act

On the evening of January 14th, 2012, the Costa Concordia ran aground when it hit rocks along the island of Giglio, in Italy. Carrying 4234 passengers including crews, with more than half a million gallons of fuel, there is danger to both humans as well as an ecological disaster. As the ship keels over to its side, passengers jump off the ship for their lives. The captain of the ship flees on a life boat, paralyzed as to what to do. For more than 70 minutes, while crews wait for the command to abandon ship, the captain is non-existent. Schettino has fled on a life boat, leaving both crews and passengers to fend for themselves. This failure to act has become a police matter. Schettino has been charged for manslaughter, for running the ship aground, and for failure to be the captain he has been expected to be. He fails as a leader because he has not demonstrated a critical initiative to act.

B) Failure to Save

Preferring to save his own skin, the lives of the crews and passengers appear to be the last thing on the captain's mind. A voice recording has been released to the public, showing how the captain shrinks from his responsibility as a captain. The Coast Guard in charge of the rescue operation has to literally order Captain Schettino to get back on the ship to direct rescue efforts. After all, the ship is the captain's responsibility. Instead, it takes an off-duty personnel on the ship to give out the order for the occupants to abandon ship. Roberto Bosio, himself an off-duty captain, condemns Schettino's actions as 'disgraceful.' He fails as a leader for failing to be courageous when called.

C) Failure to Own Up

When asked why he has abandoned the ship in the first place, Schettino's confession turns out to be a bigger joke. He gives the excuse that he 'fell off from the sinking ship into a lifeboat.'  Fear causes him to flee first for his own safety. Fear also makes him fend off blame by giving the most incredible excuses. Such a captain is no leader. He has no courage to take action. He has no initiative to direct the rescue efforts. He has no integrity to own up for what he has done, or not done. The disaster itself is already bad. Schettino's actions have made it worse. He fails as a leader for the lack of integrity.

D) Courage, Initiative and Integrity Are Essentials

It is the quality of the inside that leads to the quality shown outside. Far too often, people seek after accolades and prestige on the outside. They want the title. They desire the fame. When the bough breaks, and the cradle falls, and when everything comes crashing down, the one possessing the title is put to the test. Courage is essential. Initiative is expected. Integrity is exacted. All of these are missing from the actions of Captain Francesco Schettino. I wish this has never happened. It gives me no pleasure in seeing leaders trip over themselves.

Hezekiah has been able to demonstrate true courage because of his trust in God. He keeps to his obedience of God. God sticks to His promise to deliver. Hezekiah believes. God honours that faith. Hezekiah urges the people of Judah not to fear, beginning with himself. God is pleased with the trust, and strikes fear in the hearts of Judah's enemies.

Do not covet the title of 'leader' without understanding the three important traits that come with it: Initiative, Courage, and Integrity. If one is not prepared to be a leader, do not chase after the title. It may cause grievous harm to others.

Thought: "A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way." (John Maxwell)


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, January 9, 2012

Unbroken People = Fragile Relationships

TITLE: Unbroken People = Fragile Relationships
SCRIPTURE: Ps 51: 17
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 9 Jan 2012
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps 51:17)

MAIN POINT: Unbroken people makes for very fragile relationships. Worse, unbroken people hide their brokenness and refuses help. Effective ministry to broken people begins with a broken spirit and contrite heart. When we recognize our brokenness, we are less susceptible to hurts when we do ministry.

I remember a time sharing about my ministry reflections with one good pastor friend: “Sheep can bite!”

Admittedly, the phrase catches him off guard. Both of us subsequently laugh out loud. Laughter soon turns into an awkward moment of contemplative silence as both of us reflect on our own packages of hurts and disappointments in ministry.

The word ‘ministry’ is often seen as a high and noble calling by laypeople outside. It is sometimes elevated above other professions. It is also well-known for its low financial compensation. That aside, people do not enter the ministry for the money. They enter into it because they want to be channels of blessings for the people they love. Ministry work is not necessarily a higher calling. It is a unique calling, especially of its promised reward in spite of many discouraging moments.

A) Rewarding but Often Discouraging

Ministry is exciting. I am energized by people who take initiative to grow, and to empower others to grow. I am encouraged by those who lovingly give me hints by offering me a way out of tricky situations. Such people provide lots of wisdom and experience to help the unsuspecting clergy. Every ministry happens within the context of culture. It takes a while for anybody to understand culture. The better one understands the culture, the less likely the frustrations and discouragement. Culture in itself is a tricky thing. Misreading it can at best be laughed at or forgiven. At worse, it can mean a premature termination of the clergy contract.

While ministry can be rewarding, it can also become very discouraging as well. In some cases, church workers not only are dragged through the mud of unhealthy expectations, they end up becoming the sacrificial lamb. The one giving the sacrifice becomes the very sacrifice. A rural pastor shares this sad story:
"It is very frustrating to be a rural pastor," he says. "Church members are whipped and beaten down by the economy, then they pass that on to the pastor. One member even suggested that my salary increases be tied to the hog market." (Jennifer Schuchmann, "What to Pay the Pastor", in ChristianityToday, Jan 2000)
Thankfully, not all churches are like that. As the economy for 2012 continues to become more unpredictable, it is very likely that serving in ministry will become more challenging, salary wise as well as service wise. I know a lot of friends in ministry who have given up lucrative salaries, and have chosen instead to take a huge pay cut just to serve the people they love. Even though money is not the purpose of ministry, we cannot subdue its importance to helping the clergy make ends meet. While financial compensation is challenging, it is a distant second to what is most challenging in ministry: Discouragement.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pressing On

TITLE: Pressing On
Written by: Conrade Yap
SCRIPTURE: Hosea 6:3

"Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth." (Hosea 6:3)
MAIN POINT: If God does not give up on us, why do we give up on ourselves? This week, I share 7 reasons why we ought to press on.

A Happy New Year 2012 to all my readers!

On the last week of 2011, I had pockets of quiet moments to reflect. Like the preceding year, I preached on New Year's Day. Again. Thus, my countdown celebration had been mixed with both anticipation of the New Year and at times anxiety about whether I would be too tired for a morning message. Thankfully, our service started an hour late, as we knew that most people would appreciate an additional hour of rest for New Year's Day. In my sermon, I challenged my congregation live beyond their average lives. Based on 1 Cor 12:31, my intent was to prepare my hearers for the pulpit theme for January 2012: Love according to 1 Corinthians 13.

After my sermon, I was exhausted. When I arrived back home, I watched "Dolphin's Tale" with my daughter. It was a good movie, and a nice way to simply chill out on a cold and rainy day. From tired, I became moved. I was inspired. The story was a dramatization of a true story of how a little boy (Sawyer Nelson) became re-energized about his own calling, and how he channeled this calling into saving the life of a dolphin. I was particularly fascinated by how Lorraine talked about her son's revived energy and passion. It was like a lamp inside him had suddenly lit up. Before I share 7 points about not giving up in the midst of adversity, let me reflect on the passage above.

A) Hosea's Predicament

Hosea is the first of 12 minor prophets in the Old Testament books. The 'minor' here is used with regards to the books being shorter in length, and does not mean they are of lesser importance. At the time of writing, the Jewish nation had already been split into Northern (Israel) and Southern Kingdom (Judah). Hosea spoke out against the spiritual atrocities of Israel, and called them to return to the Lord. Hosea 6 is written within the context of asking the people to hang on to God in the midst of hardship and persecution. One thing about reading the Old Testament is that we need to always look at judgment from the perspective of redemption and restoration. Hosea 6 is an excellent example. Even after judging the people by letting their enemies conquer them, the Lord provides a way back to Him. Note how Hosea develops his exhortation:
  • "He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us;" (Hosea 6:1b)
  • "He has injured us but he will bind up our wounds." (Hosea 6:1c)
Like Hosea 6, Hosea encourages the people to hope in God, and to never give up. He urges them to 'press on to acknowledge the Lord.' Punishment is not forever. Redemption will finally come.

B) Pressing On: #1 - Sawyer's Calling

Great Family Movie: 5 stars!
Coming back to Dolphin's Tale, there are many elements of how those who have been down and out manage to press on despite their struggles. Firstly, the movie shows Sawyer as a boy without passion or energy. He goes to school late. He hardly pays attention in class. He looks uninterested in anything. Until one day, he sees a wounded dolphin landed on the beach, whose tail is caught by a nasty crab trap.  He develops a special connection with this dolphin. As he tries to help the dolphin survive and live, little does he realize that he has triggered an inner desire and purpose to live: To save the dolphin. From that day on, Sawyer becomes a passionate boy pressing on toward doing all he can for the dolphin.

KEY: Hosea recognizes his calling to be a prophet for a kingdom doomed to destruction. Imagine how Hosea feels when he sees only the threats and the coming judgment. Thankfully, he sees God's hopes more and the threats of judgment less. Hosea does not simply pronounce judgment. He announces hope.

C) Pressing On: #2 - Sawyer and Hazel

Secondly, both Sawyer and his friend Hazel have something in common. They are children of single parents. Together, they share a common bond in trying to help the dolphin called 'Winter.' It is encouraging to see that when one suffers, one needs not suffer alone. In one very special scene, when Sawyer laments about his dad who 'never calls' and 'never writes,' Hazel chimes in about her feeling the same way about her own mum. Pain when shared is halved. It seems like in moments of disappointment, one can find comfort and understanding with those who have gone through somewhat similar experiences. In other words, we are able to press on with the help of fellow strugglers.

KEY: For us, we can think of Jesus as a fellow sufferer, persecuted by the world. It is because He has suffered, we too can press on in spite of any disappointment or suffering. Pain shared is halved.

D) Pressing On #3 - Amputated Tail

Thirdly, due to the extensive damage and potential infection, Winter's tail has to be amputated. Without a tail, Winter cannot swim. Worse, it can lead to early death. With the lack of financial support, the rescuers are looking at the possibility of putting down Winter humanely. Just when all hopes seem lost, one of their friends agree to build a new prosthetic tail for free! That raises hopes in the midst of an impossible situation. Thankfully, the story's characters do not simply give in to their circumstances and give up on their hopes. They press on with whatever little they have.

KEY: Losing a part of us does not mean all hopes are lost. One small flicker of hope shines brighter than a large shade of gloom.

E) Pressing On #4 - Multiple Rejections

Time and again, the dolphin refuses to wear the tail. Each time a tail is put on it, it destroys it in no time. This is not only financially damaging, it is emotionally discouraging. It seems like the dolphin is destroying its very hope for survival. Yet, Dr Haskell presses on. Until Sawyer reflects on a possible reason for the rejection in the first place. When all hopes seem lost, Sawyer brilliantly comes up with a reason why Winter does not like the new tail. Sawyer eventually saves the day for all.

KEY: When the same way fails, try a different method. 

F) Pressing On #5 - Kyle

Sawyer's cousin, Kyle, was once a champion swimmer serving with the military forces. Unfortunately, an accident leaves his right leg maimed. Kyle goes into depression and refuses to live for anything. The turning point arrives when he sees some similarity between Winter and himself. He sees how his cousin, Sawyer, presses on to keep Winter alive, and at the same time, keep encouraging Kyle. Toward the end of the show, Kyle was seen proudly swimming his best, with his artificial limb, just like Winter was swimming with its artificial tail. Sometimes in life, we learn to press on when we see someone else doing their best to get back to normal.

KEY: God can use anyone to encourage us, even a dolphin.

G) Pressing On #6 - Financial Disaster

Hazel's father, Dr Haskett had poured his money and energy in building up a non-profit hospital for animals. Without additional money, they would have to close down the whole operation. As they prepare to shutter the doors, to give all their animals away, and call it a day, that would also mean certain death for Winter, as no buyers wanted Winter. Someone came up with a great idea to have a "Save Winter Day," a day in which they would highlight their plight to the world, and showcase Winter the amazing dolphin. Miraculously, it worked. Eventually, they landed a generous donation that allowed their entire operation to continue. It took a creative idea to avert a near certain disaster.

KEY: When we do our best, we let our best shine for all to see. When that happens, chances of a dramatic turnaround are higher. When all hopes seem lost to men, it is never lost with God. God always has a better way. We need to give ourselves time to hope in God.

H) Pressing On #7 - Never Give Up

The story of Dolphin's Tale is not simply about a dolphin's tail. It is about the spirit of pressing on, regardless of the mountain of challenges. Scene after scene, we see how every adversity has been overcome by a sudden turnaround of hope and faith. Sometimes, like the case of the failure of several prosthetic tails, one discouragement leads to another. During moments like these, we need to remember to press on, perhaps through another creative manner. As long as we do not give up, there is always hope.

My fellow readers, as we begin this New Year, we will all experience our fair share of ups and downs, happiness and sadness, encouragement as well as disappointments. The Bible tells us to hope in God. It tells us to press on. It calls us to look always to God. The certainty of God's coming is as certain as the sun that will rise in the morning. It is as certain as rain that will come one day to water our crops. It is because Jesus says He will come again, we can be sure to see it becoming a reality. Soon.

Press on. If you find it hard to press on, do yourself a favour. Watch "Dolphin's Tale."

Thought: "Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you respond to it." (Anonymous)


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.