Thursday, December 27, 2012

But I am No Bonhoeffer!

TITLE: "BUT I AM NO BONHOEFFER!"
SCRIPTURE: Luke 9:23
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 27 December 2012

Discipleship is not an easy feat. It is tough. It demands sacrifice and commitment. It requires courage. Our Lord Jesus has given us this mandate a long time ago.
Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:32)
This verse has often been quoted at discipleship conferences, teaching moments, and pulpit sessions. Hard hitting, direct and frank, it is targeted not only at Peter, who had just confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, but for all of us. Confession begets motivation. Motivation demands action. It is relatively easy for us to confess Jesus as Lord. It is more difficult to be motivated to practice what we believe. It is even more difficult to live as if we are going to die. Why?

We are creatures of excuse. We prefer the easy way out. That is because sin in us is such a serious condition. It numbs us toward inaction. It discourages us from becoming radical. It eats us from inside so that we are of no outside use. It deceives us by saying:
  • "Don't worry, you have time."
  • "Relax. Let others do the job. You have better things to do for yourself."
  • "Why bother about the Great Commission? You've been saved right? If God is so mighty and powerful, surely He can save other people without involving small little you, right?"
Wrong. The call of discipleship is a calling to pay the cost of discipleship. Willingly. Gradually. Totally. There are three major impediments to any positive response to discipleship.

1) We Fear Threats to Our Self-Security

We fear because we try to save our own skin on our own strengths. We fear because we cannot see with our eyes the horizons in front of us. We fear because we are unwilling to pay the price. We fear because we lack the foresight to see the world that is larger than our own. For when our eyes are fixated on our own small world, forgetting about the reality of the world at large, as our inner balloon of self-concerns expands inside us, we become bloated up and we let fear deceive us into thinking that the greatest purpose of our existence is to maintain our bloated selves. Stephen Covey once said:

 "Courage is not the absence of fear, but the awareness that something else is more important. Courage can be displayed in heroic, visible ways, or in quiet, private battles we fight when attempting to conquer inner fears." (Stephen Covey, Everyday Greatness, Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2010, p83)

This gives us a clue on what it takes to overcome inner fears. We need an inner strength that only the Holy Spirit can give. While we may not be a Bonhoeffer, remember that Jesus has promised us the Holy Spirit? Remember too that Jesus himself has said that greater things we can do?

"I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." (John 14:12)

When we fear, we excuse the power of God for the pitiful strength of men. We have unwittingly exchanged the glory of the Immortal God with the images and idols of the material world. Merely reflecting on Bonhoeffer's inglorious death is enough to cause one to say, "I am no Bonhoeffer!" and we think we can deflect any responsibilities to follow Christ to the hilt.

2) We Fatten Ourselves with Self-Importance & Self-Needs

Recently, I have been thinking about the kinds of things we are stuffing ourselves with. The moment we are full of ourselves, we tend to become selfish and conceited. Like cancer, we become like cells that draw all resources and attention to ourselves. In doing so, we not only threaten and infect our own lives and be a bad influence to our neighbours, we jeopardise the body that we are a part of. The most serious situation is when we allow sin to contaminate us so much that we become cancerous ourselves. In such a state, it is extremely easy to brush off all calls of discipleship, including the great German martyr by saying:

"But I am no Bonhoeffer!"

We think that this alone can excuse us from further efforts to draw us away from our comfort zones. Mind you. We are all creatures of comfort. Wake us up from our warm beds and we become irritated. Make our lives a little more inconvenient and we become easily disgruntled. Prod us toward the right path that is narrow and thorny and we react aggressively why we cannot be left alone.

"I am no Bonhoeffer! So don't you Bonhoeffer me!"

An angry man is a man on the verge of sinning. It is easy to hit back at others who attempt to draw us out of our shell. It is plainly and simply uncomfortable, and we do not like it. So we blurt out a flare to try to distract others from holding on to us. We try to shake away the good intentions of others by claiming something that appears true on the outside but hides the truth of our inside.

"But I am no Bonhoeffer!"

Easily said, and those of us who say it, believes it. Have you ever seen a fat soldier? The truth is this. Soldiers who are obese will lack the agility to shift positions or to take quick action to fight the enemy. If we use the words "I am no Bonhoeffer" as an excuse to keep feeding ourselves with our self-needs, it is easy to see that eventually, when we fail to live out our calling, we become a nobody. 

3) We Forget that We are in a War

A popular maxim is this "Make peace, not war." This is the ideal state. After all, we are called to be peacemakers, especially when it comes to sharing love and goodwill. That said, that is something that we do toward fellow people. That is not something that the spiritual forces of darkness are going to let us do.

Did the devil leave Jesus alone in the wilderness? No. The devil tempts Jesus. Not once, not twice, but three times.

Did Paul had an easy time in the gospel? No. All evidence points to Paul having a tough time trying to reach the Gentiles. He even had a quarrel with fellow workers like Mark and Barnabas on how this is to be done.

In case you are not aware, we are at war. Spiritual warfare is real. Why are we called soldiers? Why are we to put on the armour of God in Ephesians 6? Why are we to fight the good fight in Paul's epistle to Timothy? It is simply this: We are at war. People who refuse to acknowledge that there is a war will never take up arms. The trick the devil does is to make us think that we are not in a war.

The words, "But I am no Bonhoeffer" is one example where we can easily shirk the responsibility of spiritual warfare, to hide our real motives behind some factual statement.

Come next year, I will be leading a small group through Dietrich Bonhoeffer's classic work on discipleship, "The Cost of Discipleship." It is a no-holds-barred book that does not mince words. Bonhoeffer tells the cost of following Jesus as bluntly as he can, with his own life. Written amid a worsening WWII situation concerning Germany's threat to the neighbouring nations and beyond, it is also a book to rally the people of God right thing. In a call to pursue truth and faithfulness in God, Bonhoeffer ventures out valiantly at a great personal risk at a huge cost. He paid the cost the way that he himself has called others to. Just like Jesus.

Those of us who can easily say, "But I am no Bonhoeffer" can also easily chime in that "But I am no Paul" or "But I am no Jesus" or "But I am no this saint or that saint."

Those of us who are familiar with this modern day prophet will remember that Bonhoeffer died a martyr for the faith, a patriot of his country, and a prophet for God's call to commitment in discipleship. In a nutshell, the classic challenge that Bonhoeffer has issued to all is this:

"When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther's who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time - death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call. Jesus's summons to the rich young man was calling him to die, because only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ. In fact every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts. But if we do not want to die, and therefore Jesus Christ and his call are necessarily our death as well as our life. The call to discipleship, the baptism in the name of Jesus Christ means both death and life." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, New York, MacMillan, 1959, p79)

Pursuing this path of discipleship is not an easy feat. Already, I have heard individuals contributing their 'but' and their 'why.' I confess that I too am not keen on the book initially, simply because of the fear that the book may be deemed too challenging and may even turn away prospective attendees. That said, must truth be censored? Can we ever dilute the call to discipleship? Shall we even dare to diminish the uncomfortable call in favour of the comfortable topical studies about making us feeling nice inside but passive outside? Four words typify a response to any hard call to discipleship.

"I am no Bonhoeffer!"

Agree. There is only one Bonhoeffer.

Disagree. That does not absolve us from the call to follow Christ.

If we are aiming to imitate Bonhoeffer, we will have gotten it all wrong. We cannot miss the forest of following Christ for the tree of Bonhoeffer's life. It is not WWII now, but it sure is spiritual warfare that is ongoing and threatens our very growth as disciples of Jesus.

Beware of these three threats. We fear threats to or comfortable lives. We fatten ourselves up with self-needs to the detriment of the Great Commission. We forget that we are at war.

Perhaps, when we overcome these threats, we will not be saying "But I am no Bonhoeffer." Instead we will be saying, "Lord, help me to be the best disciple for You, and if it is your will, to live like Bonhoeffer lived, and to die like Bonhoeffer died."

The bigger threat to our call to discipleship is not whether we could do this or we should do that. The bigger threat is whether we would.

THOUGHT: "It isn't always others who enslave us. Sometimes we let circumstances enslave us; sometimes we let routine enslave us: sometimes we let things enslave us: sometimes, with weak wills, we enslave ourselves." (Richard L. Evans)

conrade

Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Candle of Joy and Love"

TITLE: CANDLE OF JOY AND LOVE
SCRIPTURE: Ecclesiastes 3:1
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 20 December 2012

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:" (Eccl 3:1)
Last week has been a traumatic week for many people. Events from Newtown Connecticut have rattled many of our nerves, just to imagine how violent our society has become. The media has pounded the small town with attention. Too much attention I think. All over the media, both conventional and social, in many community gatherings and religious circles, people have been talking and praying, discussing and sobbing, about the tragic deaths of 27 people. Many have gotten quite used to hearing the continuous flood of information about the tragedy. Others like me will feel that it is too much information and attention  that is preventing the Newtown community from grieving properly. From funerals to gun-control, from interviews with townsfolk to analyses by journalists, the poor folks there are inundated by unwarranted and unwanted attention. Personally, I think it is time to move on.

A) Let the Media Move On

Indeed, there is a time for mourning and a time to moving away from all the publicity. Imagine if you are a Newtown resident doing your grocery shopping, or quietly going to the neighborhood bank, or just sweeping the frontyard, along comes an out-of-town journalist asking you for the umpteenth time, your personal experience with the Newtown tragedy. Is that not opening up old wounds? Is that not re-living the tragedy all over again for the sake of the reporter selling news? Is that not an invasion of much needed privacy and time to mourn?

I think so. I think our modern competitive news reporting culture has put profits above people, sensationalism above sensitivity, and impassioned curiosity above compassionate sensibility. Enough is enough. People in Newtown needs a break from all the world's attention. They need a respite from headline news to mourn privately, live peacefully, and to reflect quietly. So much has happened and much more needs to happen. Those of us who do not live in Newtown do not need more news. We need more prayefulness and compassion. The time has come for the press to move on, for the Newtown folks to live on, and for the rest of us to carry on our daily lives.

B) Let Newtown Begin Their Mourning and Healing

There is a time for everything. There is a time to mourn, mourn. When there is a time for joy, rejoice. With Christmas just a few days away, we are caught smack in the middle of joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness, activity and passivity. Where do we put our emotions during this time? This is what mourning is about. It is a time where one learns to put grief in perspective, mourning in action, and remembering in progress. Where there are funerals, observe the families' privacy and quiet space. Where there are opportunities to interview any of the townsfolks, refrain. Enough is enough. For the sake of neighbourliness, let the media retreat back to their own offices or other assignments. Enough is enough. For the sake of the parents whose children had died, just pray for them. Enough is enough. For the rest of us, let us also do our part. We have heard and seen enough.

I have heard news of media climbing over one another to push a mike in front of a terrified child who had just lost a friend. Enough is enough. With the media around, it is difficult, almost impossible to grieve.

No more flashbacks of how horrible the whole shooting is. No more psychoanalyzing the killer or the moods of the surviving families. No more interviews of children in trauma. No more invading the turf of our dear teachers and children's private lives. When the rest of the world ignore the news reports, the media will leave the families and the children alone. They will leave the traumatized community alone. They will leave Newtown alone. They will leave Newtown.

C) Let Us Do Our Part

Here is what needs to happen. We the news consumers can choose NOT to consume any more news of Newtown, for the sake of granting the Newtown folks greater privacy. When there is a TV report on Newtown, let us change channels or turn off. When there is a newspaper article, choose another paper instead. When people talk about it, walk away. For when there is no interest, there will be no coverage. Plain and simple. Christmas is coming. We can remember them. We can pray for them. For the sake of human kindness, let us move on, and let the healing begin.

There is a time for everything. As we look toward Christmas time, we ask, how is it possible to have joy during this time? It is tough. The year 2012 has not been kind to some of us. I know. Just today, I hear of a brother and sister in Christ who had lost their son to leukemia. It is really sad news, especially when the name of the son has so much in common with the Nativity theme in Christmas.

With sorrow comes the promise of joy. The joy just to know that children go straight into the arms of the Father's loving embrace. The joy just to know that there will be no more suffering for the boy. The joy just to know that there is a time for everything, a time to grieve, and a time to move on.

A healthy person will know the difference. He will not be rushed from one emotion to another. He will not be hushed to behave in any way that is unbecoming of character. He will instead wait upon the Lord. He will pace himself. He will let the Lord carry him along.


When I read John 11 about Martha and Mary, I am glad that the gospel writer records, "Jesus wept." Certainly, Jesus knows when to rejoice and when to weep. For love knows when to weep and when to rejoice. Love is aware of when to push and when to pull; when to hang on, and when to let go; when to go forth and when to hold back. It is love that came down at Christmas.


D) We Rejoice Not of Circumstances but of Christ

My friends, there is a time for everything. We need to learn that rejoicing is not a matter of circumstances, presents, or multiple friends around us. Our reason for hope, peace, joy, and love is centered on one person: Jesus Christ. He is the reason for the season. Always.

Even in the midst of tragedy, there is a Person we can rejoice in. I understand that some quarters in the world are preparing for a coming Mayan calendar doomsday. Let me assure you that the Lord Himself has said that no one knows when the last day is. We do not need to worry or panic over any Armageddon looming upon us. Just fix our eyes on Jesus, knowing that He is control of everything, including time. For God is timeless, unbounded by time.

This Christmas is a perfect time to remember that Christ, born a child and yet a king, will certainly come again in glory and in honour. He came to earth as a little helpless baby. He will come again in power and in might. Just thinking of that day again, gives us a vision of a candle of hope that will grow in hope. It is a vision of everlasting peace that will be brought about by the Prince of Peace. It gives us joy unspeakable in the Person of Christ. It gives us Love Unlimited in the arms of God, our Heavenly Father.

Merry Christmas to you my readers.



THOUGHT: "Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we're here for something else besides ourselves." (Eric Sevareid)


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Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Candle of Peace (Second Advent Week)

TITLE: CANDLE OF PEACE (SECOND ADVENT WEEK)
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 122:6
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 14 December 2012

"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: 'May they prosper who love you." (Ps 122:6)

It has been a tragic morning. News of the deadly shooting has ruined my weekend. I feel sick. How is it possible, that someone can just walk into a school and empties his bullets on young children, and adults armed only with books and stationery? Latest reports say that at least 27 people are dead, including 18 elementary school kids. It makes me wonder what kind of a deranged world we are living in. We are not even talking about guerrilla warfare or terrorist attacks like the ones during September 11 back in 2001. We are talking about the shattering of all interpretations of peace in the midst of civilians just having a normal day.

How is it possible to have true peace?

A) Peace-Loving People?

We have all heard it before. The phrase, "We are all peace-loving people" are used so common like the way we greet one another, "How are you doing?" Interview an Arab and they will way, "We Arabs are peace-loving people." Interview a Chinese and they too will say, "We Chinese are a peace-loving people." Talk to a Jew, and they can easily say, "The Jewish people are peace-loving people." In fact, talk to any leader in this world, and they will say things like, "My country is a nation of peace-loving people."

So, if we say we are peace-loving, surely we will have more peace on earth, right? Wrong. Saying peace-loving is one thing. Actually living it out is another. For, if it is indeed true, that everyone says, believes, and behaves, as peace-loving people, then explain to me why there are so many wars going on right now? From Asia to the Middle-East, from civil wars to political battles, we are seeing a world that is increasingly crying out for peace.

Saying peace-loving is not enough. We need true peace.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

"The Candle of Hope" (First Advent Sunday)

TITLE: CANDLE OF HOPE (First Advent Sunday)
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 9:2
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 6 December 2012



“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. ” (Isaiah 9:2)

The lights are on. The decorations are up. The music is swinging. 

Christmas is coming. Each December, cities all over the world are gearing up to gradually close out the year. The song, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” ends with a “Happy New Year.” 

Christmas is coming. For the Christian, the celebration of Christ’s birth begins not on December 25th, but commences four Sundays before. Called the Advent month, for four Sundays, pulpits around the world will be preaching sermons about Christmas and the birth of Christ. It is a happy event, a joyous celebration of God born a baby and also a king. 

The word “advent” comes from the Latin adventus, which also means “arrival,” or “coming.” It reminds us of John’s gospel that famously says,

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

A) Advent Candles

There are three significant things about the Advent. All of them stresses the coming of Christ, namely, the past, the present, and the future. It has been said that the Advent is essentially the NEW YEAR for the Christian. In other words, Christmas Day is the month long culmination of the Coming of Christ. In the Church I serve here in Vancouver, we do a traditional candle lighting ritual. For four Sundays in a row, we light candles one by one as follows:

  1. First Sunday - We light the Candle of Hope
  2. Second Sunday - We light the Candles of Hope + Peace
  3. Third Sunday - We light the Candles of Hope + Peace + Love
  4. Fourth Sunday - We light the Candles of Hope + Peace + Love + Joy
  5. Christmas Eve/Day - We light all the Candles above + the Candle of Christ.

We use different colours to represent the candles. For hope, peace, and joy, we use purple to symbolize Christ’s royalty as King. For love, we use the rose or pink coloured candle to represent Christ’s love and faithfulness. For the Christ candle, white is used to symbolize purity. 

B) Christian New Year

There is one more thing that is significant about the Advent season. For the Christian, the Church calendar officially begins on the first Sunday of December. In order words, Christians should be saying to one another “Happy New Year” already. One Jewish Rabbi likes to poke fun at Christians who do not know their own religious significance. On the first day of the conventional January 1st New Year, he likes to go around and wish his Christian friends, “A Happy Secular New Year to You.” 

He is right. Too many Christians have been observing secular events more than their own events. For that matter, Sunday is in a sense ‘secular’ as the day has often been attributed to the pagan sun-god during the time of Constantine. In 321 AD, after the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, the day “Sunday” became the day where work is stopped and leisure began. That is why there is often a confusion among some Christians and Jews on when actually is the Sabbath. Is it still the traditional Friday/Saturday Jewish Sabbath or is Sunday the new “Sabbath” for Christians. For me, Sunday is essentially the Lord’s Day. The Sabbath is the Jewish day of rest. Christians are not compelled to observe any one specific day like the Jews to stop doing anything. They are strongly urged to take some form of a sabbatical rest as a way to remind themselves of their calling as participants of the Kingdom of God. Understood in this way, every day can have Sabbath moments.

In other words, for Christians, last Sunday (Dec 2nd, 2012) is the start of the Christian New Year. 

C) The Candle of Hope

I preached on the “Prophecy of True Light” on the first Advent Sunday, based on the text of Isaiah 9:1-7. In it, I lamented on the tragedy of Claus-mas, where our Western culture is increasingly more open and more embracing of all things Santa Claus, and more hostile and dismissive of the Person of Jesus Christ. From movies to songs, Christmas shopping to  year end dancing, the big red costumed bearded men evokes more squeals and delights from both children and adults by society in general. 

For all the openness Christians may have about Santa Claus and the fantasies surrounding the North Pole workshops, sleighs, and reindeers, it is a tragedy when the True Christ is missed out from all the festivities. After all, without Christ, there is no Christmas. Without Christ, there is no true joy. Without Christ, there is no everlasting hope. In the popular Christmas movie, “Miracle on 34th Street,” the central message behind the movie is that if adults have the right to proclaim “In God We Trust,” children have every right to cry out, “In Santa We Trust.” 

Don’t get me wrong. I am not bashing Santa Claus. I am lamenting the diminishing platform for the Christ-child. People are fast getting rid of anything that is religious. A few years ago, one poor Christmas tree became the controversial tree to be removed from a Toronto courthouse simply because the judge feels that it is too “religious” for secular comfort.  

Light is a significant symbol during the Advent Season. Christ is the Light of the world. The people of Israel walking in darkness has seen a great light. This light has not only revealed itself, it has come to the people. The light is a coming glory, not a distant sight. It is a fulfilling prophecy, not just a fulfilled event in history. For the Advent is a remembrance of the light having come, the light has come, and a light that will be coming again. That is the significance of the Advent.

My friends, how are you celebrating the Advent season? When we carve our Turkeys, or budget our money for Christmas shopping, remember why we are doing it. When we give toys and distribute gifts to the needy, remember in whose Name we are doing it for. When we send Christmas and holiday greetings to friends and loved ones, remember the reason for the season. 

Christ has come. Christ will come again.


Happy New Year! 


THOUGHT: Santa Claus may have been said to come into our homes through our chimneys. Whatever gifts this bubbly fat man gives is temporal. Christ comes into our lives through our hearts. Whatever gifts the Son of God gives will last through all eternity.



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Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

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