Saturday, December 28, 2013

When Stars Testify

TITLE: WHEN STARS TESTIFY
SCRIPTURE: Philippians 1:15-18
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: December 27th, 2013

"15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice." (Philippians 1:15-18)
(Photo Credit: gospelherald.com)
One of the most popular evangelistic tools is to have movie stars, pop singers, or famous personalities to share their story of how they have become a follower of Jesus. The latest is that of Hong Kong sweetheart, Vivian Chow. In a moving testimony, Chow shares with listeners how she had moved her focus of self-development in her life pursuits and became more gospel-centric and more God focused. She shared her testimony boldly and the report has been widely publicized among many of my friends in social media circles.

I remember in my varsity years how Vivian was the pin-up girl in many of the guys' dormitory walls. A versatile singer and a photogenic actress, Vivian has been around in the Hong Kong entertainment circles for almost 25 years. She has a faithful following. Vivian was not the only HK star to publicly testify of her faith. There are others like Jacqueline Law who died last year in Singapore. Her very touching video was about how her faith enabled her to brave the cancer and approach death without fear. Other stars include Ada Choi, Gigi Lai, Kwong Wa, Edison Chen, Maggie Cheung, Tracy Ip, and Sammy Cheng. For fans of these stars, it is understandable that many of them do come to Christ because their favourite stars are Christian. A whole list of testimonies by various stars have been compiled here.

As one who is cautious about letting the influence of fame and fortune influence faith, I ask: Why are testimonies of stars so powerful?

Friday, December 20, 2013

That Age-Old Christmas Debate Again

TITLE: THAT AGE-OLD CHRISTMAS DEBATE AGAIN
SCRIPTURE: Romans 12:18
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: December 20th, 2013
"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."

SYNOPSIS: "Happy Holidays" is not as inclusive as many thought it to be. "Merry Christmas" is not as critical as some may think.

The Age-Old Christmas Greetings Battle
Living in the West, one of the peculiar happenings during Christmas is the ongoing debate whether to use "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas." In secularized North America, many are afraid, even outraged over allowing the use of the word "Christmas" in the office, at government buildings, outside shopping centers, various community centers, public gathering places, and various workplaces. They say that we live in a secular city, so all references to anything religions must be done away. They are angry whenever corporations or government offices use the word "Christmas" on their properties. In order to appease the atheists, the secularists, the non-religious, in a largely secular society, public organizations and schools ink the words "Happy Holidays" across all their year end celebrations. Of course, some churches accepted that as a reality of living in a secular culture. Others are up in arms against the way materialism, humanism, and secularism, are steamrolling their atheistic agenda on all things Christianity.

Four years ago, I wrote on this same issue, and argued two main points. The first is that the use of Christmas is important from a historical and traditional standpoint. The second is that those who dogmatically insist on "Happy Holidays" as a preferred substitute for Christmas are becoming the very people they themselves are trying to avoid: Being religious about it.

Of course, we are not talking about religions per se. Christians can sometimes label secularism as a religion in itself. Of course, the secularists will deny it, saying they have no god, or they do not believe in any god, as the reason why they are not a religion. That is not the point. The point is religiosity. It is religiosity that has often put off many people. Whether it is the "hypocrisy" or the "bigot" label, as long as one is human, one can practice anything religiously. Let me make two additional points.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Troubles

TITLE: TROUBLES?
SCRIPTURE: James 1:2-3
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: December 13th, 2013

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." (James 1:2-3)

It was December 14th, 2012. After killing his own mother, Adam Lanza drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut. Removing his semi-automatic weapons, he emptied rounds of ammunition in a horrendous few minutes of terror and tragedy before turning the weapon on himself. That day, twenty school kids died, together with six other adult staff members at that school. Questions remained on why Lanza did what he did; why the gunman had to choose that particular school; why the little children had to die; and why God had allowed such evil to exist and takes its toll. Did evil win on that fateful December 14th, 2012? Tomorrow will be the first Anniversary of that terrible day that shocked the entire nation. My hearts go out to the families affected and who will be reminded again of that unforgettable day. Did evil win that day?

Today's news only made the reminder worse. In a Colorado High School this morning, two persons were shot dead, and that included the lone shooter. When will these all end? What is happening to the world that we once longed for? Is it not true that Christmas is about peace on earth and goodwill to all?

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Peace of Christmas

TITLE: THE PEACE OF CHRISTMAS
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 9:6 / John 14:27
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: December 6th, 2013

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isa 9:6)
Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)
Yesterday, one of the greatest symbols of peace died. The world mourns as the Nobel Peace Prize winner (1993) passed away at the age of 95. Films have been made about his life. News and new media lead the way in giving tributes to Mandela as the man who helped unite his country, and has became the defacto symbol of ending apartheid in South Africa. Jailed for 27 years because of charges against him for inciting worker strikes and various offenses, he understood what it meant to be persecuted and bullied. He knew the painful truth of what evils one human being can do to another. Arrested and then jailed in 1962, he was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment and released only on February 11th, 1990.

Why the arrests? That is simply because Mandela was seen as a threat to the status quo: of separation of privileges between whites and the blacks in South Africa. With his conviction to free South Africa from apartheid, he commits to winning over both the blacks as well as the whites for a new cause, a new country, and a brand new united African community.

I find Mandela's life inspiring. If Martin Luther King Jr was a hero to the American black community in fighting for equality for the blacks; Mahatma Gandhi as a hero to the country of India in the fight for India's independent status; Nelson Mandela is the undisputed hero of South Africa, if not, all Africa. All three men had one thing in common: Peace.

Peace did not come easy for the black people in the sixties. Gripped by rising tensions and fueled by hatred from the white extremists, Dr Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in cold blood. The same thing happened to Mahatma Gandhi, who was murdered in broad daylight. Against all odds, amid acts of terrorism by opponents, Nelson Mandela, upon his release in 1990, worked hard to bring freedom for all, and eventually became the first democratically elected President of South Africa in 1994. According to John Carlin, Nelson brilliantly used the game of rugby to unite the whole nation, setting the stage for eventual stability, freedom, and unity of South Africa. That occurred in 1995 when South Africa hosted Rugby's World Cup in 1995. With the New Zealand All-Blacks as the overwhelming favourite to lift the coveted trophy, many did not expect the South African national team (called the Springboks) to go far in the tournament. They were wrong. Not only did the Springboks go all the way to the finals, they beat the heavily favoured New Zealand team! In Carlin's words, it was that game, that match that "made a nation."

In some ways, Mandela's life reminds us of what the Son of God had to go through. Both were unjustly accused and arrested. Both were charged. Both men were committed to do what is right. Mandela was committed to the cause of anti-apartheid. Jesus was committed to the obedience of God's will.

If there is one thing that is common in the lives of Luther, Gandhi, Mandela, and Jesus, it is this: Peace is not cheap. It comes with a heavy price. Is it any wonder why St Augustine said: "The purpose of all wars is peace?"

Even Jesus himself has said that he has not come to bring peace, but through him, there will be much war and opposition.
34“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to turn “ ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ (Matthew 10:34-35)
Is there a contradiction between Isaiah 9:6 and Matthew 10:34-35 here? Not really. Jesus is indeed the Prince of Peace, and he will bring peace. What is happening in Matthew 10:34-35 is that the peace that Jesus brings is not going to be palatable to the world and the worldly. In Christ, the enemies are stirred. The Anti-Christ is spurred into action to wreak havoc and destruction. The currency of this world is sin, and anything that can increase sinfulness. The currency of the Kingdom of God is God's will and the fulfillment of it. What is peace to God is war for the world. That is why Jesus said:

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27)

The peace of God is to be understood in God's perspective. This is what the Christmas peace is about. The white opponents to Martin Luther King Jr's version of peace is more violence to anything the black people stands for. White supremacy groups are bent on exterminating the black people. Muslim and Hindu radicals are threatened by Gandhi's peace strategy, that the only way out for them is to kill Gandhi. For Mandela, he had lived to enjoy the fruits of his peace efforts, but only after much persecution and torture.

This Christmas, say a prayer of peace. Live a life of peace. Share a word of peace. How can we do that and be a part of the peace movement? The secret lies in the most important first step. There must be peace in your hearts. Thomas a Kempis writes with wisdom: "First keep peace with yourself, then you can also bring peace to others."

Shalom.

sabbathwalk

THOUGHT: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”(Nelson Mandela)

sabbathwalk

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. Note that views expressed are personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Christmas Hope

TITLE: THE CHRISTMAS HOPE 
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 63:15
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: November 29th, 2013

"Look down from heaven and see from Your holy and glorious habitation; Where are Your zeal and Your mighty deeds? The stirrings of Your heart and Your compassion are restrained toward me." (Isa 63:15)

I watched a weepie last night. It was a film made in 2009 called "The Christmas Hope" that tells three stories of how individual persons having lost something, gained something else back as Christmas Day approaches. It is a feel-good movie that begins with tragedy and closes with a teary end. The first scene is about a single mother and daughter (Emily) hugging and enjoying each other's company. Emily's mum works as a waitress and tries to make ends meet. Emily is an adorable 9-year-old who loves everything Christmas, and especially remembers her mum as one who always keeps her promises. Then tragedy strikes with the mother was fatally hit by a car. The second scene is about a couple , an airline pilot Mark, and his wife Patty, still grieving after the loss of their teenage son, Sean, also to a road accident. Two deaths, two remaining families, all longing to cling to some hope, any kind of hope.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Three Fears

TITLE: THREE FEARS
SCRIPTURE: 1 John 4:1
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: November 21st, 2013

"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1)
I use GMail a lot. Not only is it increasingly popular among many users, it is eloquently speedy and is widely compatible with a host of browsers. One of the best features by this Google product is the spam filter. There was a time in which mails selling all sorts of products, propagating all kinds of messages, and spewing out all kinds of garbage which made reading emails a chore. In came GMail and the rest is history. Occasionally, a few legitimate mails get caught in the spam folder, but that is a small price to pay in order to get a cleaner InBox.

Many of these spam mails hardly deserve any reading or action. Sometimes, the quickest fix is to simply hit the DELETE button and voila! There goes the thorn that threatens to irritate and frustrate. Sometimes, people do send out other kinds of mail that border upon hate mail. Whatever the message within that spam, there is a general pattern. First, there is a title that grabs attention. It can be based on a famous personality that screams out: "Obama lies!" and so on. Like tabloids that sells based on sensational headlines, spam mails market themselves in order to win clicks to their products and services, the more sensational the title is, the more likely it is going to get people to click on it. Second, it is usually based on a famous name, company, or a nearly legitimate name. After all, putting "Miley Cyrus" or "Tom Cruise" in the headlines will grab attention. Third, it masquerades itself as the real deal. It pretends to be written by some famous or highly qualified individual to authenticate the email. That way, it hopes to have a label of authenticity so that readers will read them with more attentiveness. Fourth, there is usually a product, a service, or a message to spread. The goal is to spread it far, spread it wide, and to spread it fast.

This week, I want to reflect on the three modern fears strangling society today, and to argue that we cannot live on the basis of fear. We need to live on the basis of faith. Fear pushes people down for the sake of self. Faith lifts people up for the sake of Christ.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

It Doesn't Matter

TITLE: IT DOESN'T MATTER
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: November 14th, 2013

From time to time, I will ponder about life and the various ways we can get stuck in discouragement or despair. That is not necessary. All it takes is a change in perspective. In God's time and wisdom, we all can learn to re-direct our energies toward constructive thinking and helpful living. This week's Sabbath Walk is about learning to change our perspectives. Below are 21 thoughts.

*********

1) It doesn't matter if the world forgets about you;
     It matters more that God and your loved ones remember you.

2) It doesn't matter if the plans you have made have failed miserably;
     It matters more that you have given your best and have succeeded in trying.

3) It doesn't matter if not many on social media bother to interact with you;
     It matters more that the few who do have interacted with you meaningfully.

4) It doesn't matter if you have given terrible sermons, speeches, or sharing in the past;
     It matters more that each time you give a "terrible" one, you improve on the next.

5) It doesn't matter if you feel helpless about how to assist in the disasters you hear about;
     It matters more if you care to give, and are ready to help at the short moment's notice.

6) It doesn't matter if your superiors constantly complain or criticize your work;
     It matters more if you can distinguish the constructive from the destructive, and respond humbly.

7) It doesn't matter if you have not read all the books you wanted to read;
     It matters more if the ones you have read had already brought benefits to you or to people you care.

8) It doesn't matter if you've only got a C in your mid-terms;
     It matters more if you become more resilient to try again, and aim for an A in life.

9) It doesn't matter if the ham in the oven had become burnt beyond recognition;
     It matters more that you have not wasted the education the burnt ham had taught you.

10) It doesn't matter if the vacation you have been waiting for had been postponed;
     It matters more if postponing it is the right thing to do, and a better time and date is available;

11) It doesn't matter if all the world's a stage and everyone seems to be mere players;
     It matters more if the world stage is your chance to be the best player you can be.

12) It doesn't matter if you do not know what to do with your life;
    It matters more if you do not stop seeking and keep searching for your calling.

13) It doesn't matter if people brand you a failure in things you do;
    It matters more if you see each failure as a step toward success waiting to happen.

14) It doesn't matter if you feel inadequate every time you go to Bible studies;
    It matters more if each time you go, you learn that only in God, one is adequate.

15) It doesn't matter if you feel your life in the past had been wasted;
    It matters more if you recognize that there are still many years left to try living well again.

16) It doesn't matter if you cannot remember all the Ten Commandments;
    It matters more if you put into practice what you CAN remember.

17) It doesn't matter if you feel your spiritual life is stagnant;
    It matters more if you not only recognize it, but is prepared to do something about it. You can start with praying first?

18) It doesn't matter if you feel lonely, or think no one seems to be listening to you;
    It matters more if you know that God listens even when the world turns away. Jesus knows what loneliness is all about.

19) It doesn't matter if you have not brought anyone to Christ in the past;
    It matters more if you learn to shine wherever you are, that you are part of the sowing, watering, or cultivating. Let someone else do the harvesting while you do the planting.

20) It doesn't matter if you feel no one appreciates you, or thank you enough;
    It matters more if you appreciate others and thank God more.

21) It doesn't matter if you doubt what you think about yourself;
    It matters more what God thinks about you.

If you do use any of them, I will appreciate if you can either link back to this article, or simply credit the author above.


sabbathwalk

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. Note that views expressed are personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Why Pastors Pray a Lot

TITLE: WHY PASTORS PRAY A LOT
SCRIPTURE: 2 Chronicles 6:18-19
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: November 8th, 2013

18“But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 19Yet, Lord my God, give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence." (2 Chronicles 6:18-19)

Key to the spiritual health of any minister or ministry worker is prayer. How prayerful are they? How much time do they spend in prayer? How often do they pray? Leonard Ravenhill gives a powerful indictment on people, especially ministers, who do not pray.

No man is greater than his prayer life. The pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying. The pulpit can be a shop window to display one's talents; the prayer closet allows no showing off. Poverty- stricken as the church is today in many things, she is most stricken here, in the place of prayer. We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few pray-ers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here we fail everywhere.” (Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries, Bloomingdale, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1987, p25)

Sometimes, I get asked: "What do pastors normally do over the week?"

It is a fair question. I rattle off the list of things I do. It ranges from teaching to preaching; from studying to ministering; from visiting to emailing; from administrative work to ministry practices; from meetings to caring; and so on. As far as ministry work is concerned, there is no particular 9-to-5 time frame. Even on Sundays, I find myself at work. Sabbath keeping is particularly hard in ministry work. For example, if someone in Church has a need that happens to coincide with the pastor's rest day, what gives? It requires a judgment call. I know it is a cliche, but I will still say it: There are no easy answers when it comes to ministerial duties and allocated time for work.

Underlying all of these ministry activities, programs and preaching, there is something not many people appreciate: Prayer. Of all of the ministry activities that I feel is most significant, I will put prayer without hesitation. Why? Let me share three reasons.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Halfway Prayers

TITLE: HALFWAY PRAYERS
SCRIPTURE: John 17:20-23
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 2nd, 2013
“20“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

Everything goes back to God.

Looking at the prayer of Jesus for all believers, I notice that Jesus prays what I call complete prayers. Right from verse 20, Jesus does not simply pray for his own disciples, he prays for all believers. He does not just pray for them individually, he prays for them that they may be one, united, and together. He does not just pray for the disciples to be in him, but in “us” directing focus back to God the Father. From God, he prays again with a link back to the themes of unity in Christ, reconciliation with God, and the spread of the gospel to all the world, demonstrating that God’s love had come to the world.

Such prayers remind me of Acts 1:8, that when the Holy Spirit comes, the disciples were called to witness the gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the far ends of the earth.

A) Halfway Prayers (College Years)

What are halfway prayers? Since my University years, I cannot help but notice the sharp rise in attendance at prayer meetings when students are too stressed up about their exams. Those who rarely go to fellowship meetings suddenly turned up. People who were not Christians at all, decided to get some divine “power” in order to do well in their studies. Such need-dependent motives are very common. A typical prayer goes like this:

“God, help me with my exam paper tomorrow. I am panicking and you know how I feel right? So help me God. Amen.”
 Another popular student's prayer comes in the following manner. There is a humour in it, but shows forth how incomplete it seems.

“Now I lay me down to study,
I pray the Lord I won't go nutty.
And if I fail to learn this junk
I pray the Lord that I won't flunk.
But if I do, don't pity me at all,
Just lay my bones in the study hall,
Tell my teacher I've done my best,
And pile my books upon my chest.
 
Now I lay me down to rest,
To pray I'll pass tomorrow's test;
But if I die before I wake,
That's one less test I'll have to take.

Even panicking parents often ask for prayers on behalf of their children. Why do I call this halfway prayers? When I look at how such prayers are understood in the light of John 17, I feel like I have not prayed in the manner Jesus had prayed.

Jesus prayed: “My prayer is not for them alone.” How many of our prayers are “for us” or for certain people “alone?” Jesus stretched his prayers from disciples to all believers; from all believers to all non-believers.

Jesus prayed for unity “that all of them may be one.” We pray for good exam results. We pray for calm hearts. We even pray for cool heads and comfort. What about our prayers bringing glory to God? How are our prayers patterned after Christ in his love and concern beyond our small world into the larger world? Jesus prayed for the spread of the message of love. How are our prayers moving that forward? 


POINT: Halfway prayers are basically prayers of a person who desperately needs to grow beyond self-concerns.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Ministry in a Needs-Based Culture

TITLE: MINISTRY IN A NEEDS-BASED CULTURE
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 11:28-30
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 26th, 2013

28“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

SYNOPSIS: This week, I write about the ministry of meeting needs. In fact, there are organizations that have built themselves on the premise of meeting needs, so much so that they have forgotten that it is only in Christ, needs can be truly met.

"There are so many needs around!"

Those who know what to do will offer generously: "How can we help?" Those who do not know what to do will be quick to refer them to someone more knowledgeable, more resourceful, and maybe more pastoral. Those who absolutely do not know what to do, but just want to be nice will say things like: "Don't worry. Things will be all right."

Comforting? I am not sure about that. Somehow, such words sound good to the aching ears but feel empty to the perceptive heart. Come to think of it, everyone has needs. Babies have need of milk. Adolescents have needs for attention. Youths need pocket money.  Singles need a companion. Marrieds need a regular renewal of their vows. Churches need revival. The sick needs prayers and healing. The discouraged needs hope. The panicking student needs calm nerves before exams. The grieving needs comfort. The Sunday School needs teachers. The gospel needs workers. Hey, I need a new cell phone!

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Pharaoh in Our Pocket

TITLE: THE PHARAOH IN OUR POCKET
SCRIPTURE: Deuteronomy 6:20-21
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 18th, 2013

“20In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” 21tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. " (Deuteronomy 6:20-21)

This week, I like to share a little of my cellphone journey, with some tips about not letting the smartphones take control of our lives. For the little thing in our pocket may very well be the Pharoah that enslaves us.

Nokia 8110 Banana Phone
A) The Cellphone: Classy, Speedy, but Temporary

My experience with cellphones is a slow and cautious one. It still is. In fact, my first mobile phone is a borrowed one. At that time, I was excited about being able to contact anyone, anytime, and anywhere, and to be contactable anytime, anywhere, by anyone. In 1999 I received my brand new Samsung flip-phone from my employer. At that time, there was only a small 3 row screen just enough to text and to talk. There were no fancy graphics. The keyboards were protected by a flimsy plastic flip. Its only function was to prevent users from accidentally pressing the buttons. I enjoyed using it hands-free when driving. By hands-free, I meant having an earpiece stuck into my ear as I drive. Choosing a Samsung at that time is not cool. The cooler models were the Motorolas (Startac), the Nokias (3210, 8250, Banana 8110), and of course, the Blackberrys with their revolutionary mini-keyboards widely used by business executives. I watched with gaping mouths as people text, talk, and toy with their phones everywhere they go.
Blackberry

The revolution continued. Soon I realized that people are not only playing fondly with their newest gadgets, they are also changing their phone devices every 12 months. From Motorolas to Nokias; from Nokias to Apples; and now From Apples to Samsungs.

Apple iPhone
In the early 2000s, as Blackberry continued its runaway success, Apple was quietly preparing their launch of the first iPhone. In 2007, the iPhone was launched and the world was captivated by the beauty and simplicity of a smartphone that could do practically anything. Like its competition at that time, it could be used to text, to talk, to snap photos, and everything appeared to be happening on a beautiful flat piece of glass. Slick, elegant, and revolutionary, Apple never looked back. The world's attention turned to Smartphones: Apple style.

The design was indeed visionary. First there was colour. Second, there were many apps to choose from. Third, everything took place within a clean piece of glass. Plus, it came from the visionary company called Apple.

I have never had a Blackberry so I cannot say much about it. I am also a latecomer to the Nokias, seeing it more as a "ladies'" phone. When I came to Canada to study theology, after losing my cellphone, I decided not to have any replacement, since my budget was tight. All I can do at that time was to watch others play with their gadgets, their pretty iPhones, and all things colour and smart. Thus, my introduction to smartphones are pretty much skeptical with a tinge of envy.

I admit it. I am sour grapes when it comes to smartphones.

Last year, someone who had upgraded to a new iPhone 4S model donated an old iPhone 3GS. I was impressed by its capability. I started to realize why people are so fascinated and captivated by it. For one, it can do lots. As I observe the way the smartphones are influencing life, the skeptical side in me starts to come back with a vengeance.

B) How Cellphones Intrude Into Our Daily Life

For one, I shake my head each time I see friends having dinner together at a restaurant, but each of them appears preoccupied with a distant someone else on their phones. People nowadays talk less but text more; socialize less but social-media more. Shockingly, this phenomena is applicable for both non Face-to-Face meetings as well as Face-to-Face meetings.

What then is the meaning of eating together when people are so distracted by their phones? Even families are not immune. At a Dim Sum restaurant one Sunday, I noticed a family of four were sitting together but relating only with their gadgets. The father and his two sons were busy with something on the phone, leaving the hapless mother staring into the air wondering what to do with her time. When I shared this scenario with friends, they gave me a brilliant plan.

"When my friends and I eat out, we would all place our phones at the center of the table. The first person who picks up the phone if it rings will have to foot the entire bill for the meal."

What a cool idea! Best of all, it works.

I wonder to myself. Why are people so easily distracted by their smartphones? Why must people religiously Instagram their photos, tweet their locations, Facebook their daily programs, YouTube their own frustrations, and blog their lives away? Why are they so eager to update themselves on social media? Why are they preferring to spend more time electronically even when they are face to face with friends and loved ones? I think one reason is because behind each activity, every reaction, and every update lies a search for identity. Some say it is a search for God. Others say it is a search for meaning. I say it is a search for identity.

I think about the nature of cell phones and the constant craze over upgrading. Perhaps, it is important to remind ourselves that it is only a temporary gadget in our daily lives. Why spend so much time on a smartphone when we can have a more meaningful time with our loved ones? I wrote on Facebook recently.
"People nowadays talk less but text more; socialize less but social-media more. Shockingly, this phenomena is applicable for both non Face-to-Face meetings as well as Face-to-Face meetings."
Perhaps, the way ahead is to control the smartphones before they control us. Below are some challenges I will offer for your consideration.

C) Three Challenges for Users of Smartphones
  1. Resist picking up your smartphone during important meal times. After all, if you have been holding on to the phone for hours through the day, what is half an hour of respite from it?
  2. Have a smartphone free day. Stick the smartphone in the car glove compartment or your desk shelf. Tell people that for one day each week, you are not contactable on smartphones, because you are spending time with your loved ones.
  3. Think of the scenario of you losing your smartphone. Will your private information be protected? What is your backup plan if you lose your smartphone?

The questions above will reveal our dependence on our smartphones. The key is moderation. If we do not take time to reflect and ponder upon our use of smartphones, we may be sucked in and letting our lives become directed by the smartphones. If that were to happen, we will be enslaved by the ubiquitous smartphone.

Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church recently published an article called "7 Sabbath Killers" which I find quite helpful. At number 4, he nicknamed the smartphone as the "Pharaoh" we put in our pockets. 
"Our pharaoh today tends to fit in our pocket. One of the great Sabbath-killers is the smartphone: ever-present, dominating our whole life, interrupting at all hours, and demanding our constant attention with e-mails, social media, articles, calls, texts, and more. Technology will kill your Sabbath if you don’t establish some boundaries. If your phone does not Sabbath, your soul cannot Sabbath." (Mark Driscoll)
Yes. It is a sabbath killer, but only if we let it. 

My observation of the smartphone is that it never really last. In fact, the life of newer cellphones is getting shorter and shorter. Why not spend time on things of greater permanence? One more thing. Smartphones are meant to serve us and not the other way around. So live accordingly.
THOUGHT: There's so many people to reach, but so few labourers; There's so many people to meet, but so much busyness; There's so many things to share, but so few attentive listeners; There's so much noise and chatter in social media, but so little discernment. Many hear, few listen. Many see, few observe. Many confess the sins of other people, but not of themselves. Welcome to a social media age, a new era that parades the age-old problem: "Having eyes that do not see, and ears that do not hear."

sabbathwalk

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. Note that views expressed are personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Four Things Pastors Appreciate

TITLE: WHAT PASTORS APPRECIATE
SCRIPTURE: 1 Timothy 2:1-3
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 11th, 2013

“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity,” (1 Timothy 2:1-3)


If you are not aware, in North America, October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Just like Christmas time, where retailers brandish their goods and up their advertising ante, Christian retailers take advantage of this special month to encouraged congregations all over the country to buy something for their pastor(s) as a token of their appreciation. I have received several emails from Bible software companies like Logos and Accordance Bible. There are special deals from the major publishing houses for members to buy books for their pastors. Just do a search on the Internet and you can find many different ideas on what to do to appreciate your pastor.

Giving things is nice. Most pastors I know will however appreciate something more than things or material goods. This week, I like to reflect upon four things that pastors will surely appreciate.

Friday, October 4, 2013

God's Wisdom vs Human Wisdom

TITLE: GOD'S WISDOM vs HUMAN WISDOM
SCRIPTURE: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 4th, 2013

1And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

How do we distinguish between human wisdom and godly wisdom? What are the differences? How do we know how to exercise godly wisdom in our decision making and discernment? This week, I like to reflect on this. Let me begin with a case study to get the discussion going.

A) Case Study: Buying a Church Building

A Christian community has been meeting at a rented hotel meeting room for many years. Each time they meet, they have to turn a big meeting space into a worship hall.  Faithfully each week, teams of volunteers will come together to arrange the chairs and tables, to prepare the platforms in front, and to estimate the size of the congregation that day. Some connect the power cables. Some wire up the sound equipment. Others work on refreshments while another team tests the lighting and audio visual equipment to make sure that they are working well. Within an hour, the large rented hotel room turns into a sparkling worship hall, ready for the morning worshipers to arrive. Unfortunately, the logistics team are getting smaller by the months, with more and more team members leaving town for work purposes or study matters. It is also difficult to recruit new members as not many people are willing to come early to do the set up. So the leadership decides to assign someone to look for a more permanent property. In this Church, Board decisions are made according to a majority vote process.

To buy or not to buy? A Splitting Question.
Desmond volunteers to start the process rolling. One day, while walking the neighbourhood, he notices an old Church building with a "For Sale" signboard. After some inquiries, he excitedly shares the information with the 15 member Board of Directors. The reception is mixed. Soon, the chairman calls for a vote. Seven members vote YES, saying that the timing and the location is nothing but perfect. This group says: "It's God's will, timing and providence for us to go ahead!"

Another seven members of the Board vote NO, saying that they cannot afford the high price. They say: "We must be prudent with what God has given to us." The chairman is now stuck with the deciding vote. What should he do? 

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Reactor Factor

TITLE: THE REACTOR FACTOR
SCRIPTURE: Mark 2:22
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: September 27th, 2013
And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins." (Mark 2:22)

I am a member of a global advisory group with an international Christian organization. From time to time, I will contribute facts, ideas, and opinions to some of the most pressing issues surrounding the Christian Church and faith matters. This week, the question is: "Why Young People Leave the Church and How to Stop it?" An accompanying article points a finger at two main reasons: 1) The young has never really been challenged in their faith; 2) They have not seen authentic discipleship done among adults in their churches.

I am not entirely convinced. With that, I want to do some exploration of what others are saying before I offer some of my thoughts.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Why People Don't Sing (Three Views)

TITLE: WHY PEOPLE DON'T SING (THREE VIEWS)
SCRIPTURE: John 4:24
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: September 19th, 2013

"God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth." (John 4:24)

Last week, I wrote about the importance to keep our feelings in check when it comes to worship. For there are some people who merely sing based on how they feel instead of singing on the basis of who God is. This week, I like to expand my reflection on the topic of singing and worshiping on Sundays. Three views in particular are pertinent as we continue on this subject. The first is a more positive continuation of the worship experience in singing, where due to a cultural change, people no longer sing about God, but TO God. In this view, we note the positives when letting feelings guide our singing and in our worship. This is a slightly more redemptive view from the perspective of wanting to be authentic before God. I call this view the "Authenticity View." The second view is also more redemptive but in a manner that reflects the way people are created: Extroverts vs Introverts. In this view, we note that one reason why not everyone sings as directed is because they are uniquely created to respond only in a certain manner. I call this the "Musical View." The third view is my contribution, where I will try to bring about a balance between feelings, our created beings, and our theological response. I call this view a "sacramental view", where worship and singing is part and parcel of a practical theology demonstrated in a sacramental spirit.

View #1 - Authenticity View (Place Matters)

In the article "Have Christians Stopped Singing?" David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church, observes that worship is no longer what people do but what people feel. He attributes the problem to an increasingly entertainment culture where the place is the theater and the audience mere spectators. No longer are people content to simply sing because the worship leader in front asks them to. For every "Let us sing," one mutters "Why should I?" For every "Let us stand," these think "Oh no, not again."


If I follow Murrow's arguments correctly, he is placing the blame squarely at the way organizers have unwittingly created an environment that stimulates desires for entertainment instead of invitations to worship. Think of the dim lights. Think of the platform in front that looks more like a movie or theatre rather than a sanctuary. Think of the musical equipment in front that appears more like a professional music rock band rather than a traditional Church organ. In a dimly lit atmosphere, the worship leaders cannot see clearly whether the people are singing or participating with them. With blaring sound systems, loud drums and electric guitars, the band jazz it up so much that the sounds from a few easily drowns out the voices of the congregation. When the songs used are unfamiliar, the problem becomes worse. At best, worship then becomes a matter of a ragtag crew of professional musicians and singers dragging the rest of the congregation to put up a performance for God. At worst, worship becomes a time where the band lets out their vocals and synthesizers, while the rest of the congregation waits for the whole performance to be over. Along the way, if there is some music to enjoy, members can sit back, relax, and catch a nap before the sermon.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

When You Don't Feel Like Singing

TITLE: WHEN YOU DON'T FEEL LIKE SINGING
SCRIPTURE: Ps 149:1-5
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 12 September 2013

1 Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly!
2 Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
3 Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
4 For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.
5 Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds. (Ps 149:1-5)
What do we do when we do not feel like singing during the worship service on Sundays?

"I can clap. I can stand.
Just don't make me sing
when I don't feel like singing.
"
The scenario pans out in many congregations across the nation. You are a worship leader. You have prepared really hard. You put in hours to deliberate the songs and to arrange them. You practice with the band on Wednesday. You sacrifice Saturday nights to rehearse and the whole session, Powerpoint slides, musicians, singers and all. Sunday arrives, and you lead with the call to worship. With vigor and enthusiasm, you summon the people to sing as one people, with the desire to worship in spirit and in truth. Instead, you are only accompanied by a handful in the congregation. Some yawn. Others mouth the words.  The section on the left appears uninterested. The section at the far right keeps their heads done, preoccupied with devices glowing in the dark. People call these devices smartphones, but seeing how these things distract people from worship makes one wonder how smart the users are. A number of people strolls in late. One parent nudges her teenage daughter to stand, while two kids push each other in jest. Toward the end of the praises and songs, the sanctuary is finally filled, a far cry from the handful of eight persons at the beginning of the call to worship.

Welcome to the Sunday worship service!

A) Worship as a Prelude to Sermon?

Some people like to come late for the singing, in time for the sermon, and super early for the refreshments. They give various excuses, all of which can be easily produced in brilliant and creative combinations. One blames the alarm clock which cannot fight back. Another shames the traffic in highways that are always packed. Some say they don't like the songs. Others claim the songs as too traditional or not conventional enough. One week, they say there are too many new songs. Another week, they say they find the hymns too boring and monotonous. When asked how is the service, many mention the pastor's sermon. Few talk about the worship mood and songs. If an alien is to observe the rising number of people entering the sanctuary, up to the moments leading to the sermon, it will pretty much see the worship as a prelude to the sermon.

No. Worship is a sacrament from the beginning to the end. The "Call to Worship" begins the worship. The songs of praise continues the worship. The announcements present opportunities to worship in thanksgiving, celebration of community news, prayer, and special testimonies. The sermon continues the worship through the Word. The response songs affirms the Word in gratitude. The benediction sends worshippers forth into the mission field. All in all, worship begins at the "Call to Worship" and ends at the sending out of the people into the world. John Piper writes:
"Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions." (John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003, p17)

Worship is not just the singing or the playing of the musical instruments. It is the rousing of the hearts, the symphony of voices, and the unity of the Church that proclaims the glory and majesty of God. It is this Magnificent God that believers encounter each Sunday in worship, and to proceed forth to the world in mission. Worship in song is not a prelude to the worship in Word. Worship is very much the stilling of the hearts to declare the end of self-will, so that one can declare the praises of God, the One who has called believers out of darkness into His wonderful light.

KEY: Worship is not the prelude to the sermon. Worship is the entire service, from beginning to end. Following the worship service, we are sent to the mission field in which our lives are to be reasonable acts of worship to God.

B) Feelings as the Director of Worship? 

"I just don't feel like singing," pleads the Church member. This single reason is one of the most common. People sing only when they feel like singing. When they do not feel like it, they clam up and face down. Maybe, they will offer a token of light clapping, just to show some support. Another seems to be too distracted by the way the lady in front of him wears her hat. Still, another gets all sniffles when someone in front of him wears a sensitive perfume. For all the efforts the worship team has invested, seeing people disenchanted and in a perpetual mode of disinterest can be downright discouraging.

Some people use "We are only human" as a way to excuse themselves from singing. Some in the congregation plead tiredness. Others say they don't know the song. Still others find songs as either too traditional or too contemporary for their own liking. 

Whether it is a bad week, exhaustion, or some human condition, many do not sing because they do not feel like singing. As worship leaders, it can be discouraging when this happens. We can try our best to lead people into worship, and yet some people simply keep their mouths shut or roll their eyes. So the question before us is this: What do we do when people don't feel like singing?


Feelings are important, but in worship, some people may have misrepresented or even exaggerated their importance. For worship is less about how we feel, and more about WHO GOD IS. In worship, we submit ourselves fully under the lordship of Christ. We subject our feelings to the scrutiny of the Word. We give up our rights for self-will and embrace the responsibility of community life. We declare the end of our pride and wilfulness to usher in the beginning of humility and the celebration of four GWs: God's Will; God's Word; God's Work; God's Wisdom.  Feelings are important, but they must be informed by faith. They must be led by faith. For worship is very much an act of faith.


Feelings cannot be allowed to direct or dictate our worship. It can influence, but it must be the grace and glory of God that will tilt any balance in the direction of God. It is God the Person that we present ourselves before. Our feelings are important, but in worship, we subject that feelings to be taken captive just like Paul who says:
"We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."(2 Corinthians 10:5)
KEY: Feelings cannot be allowed to direct our worship. For worship is less about what we feel, but more about WHO GOD IS. 

C) Worship in Spirit and in Truth

Jesus says that true worship must be in Spirit and in Truth. Granted that sometimes our feelings may not correspond with the words flashed out in front of us. It is an honest problem. For example, how can I sing "I Surrender All" when my heart does not feel ready to do just that?

This practical problem has a simple solution. Confession. Maybe, we can preface quietly each "impossible" word or phrase with the words: "Lord help me to ...."
(Lord help me to ) ______ I Surrender All;
(Help me to ) __________ I Surrender All;
(please help me to) _______ I Surrender All.
In worshiping God in Spirit and in Truth, we are essentially letting the words and our hearts beat as one. We want to know Jesus more. We want to see Jesus lifted up. We want to worship in Spirit and in Truth. We sing what we feel. We feel what we sing. We sing praises. We feel His love. We submit our feelings under the lordship of Christ. There is no shame in bringing forth our truest selves before the Lord. He knows our every thought and our every emotion. When we sing, we sing not because of our lack, but we sing out of God's fullness. This is what worship is all about. It is not about how we feel. It is recognizing that God is Good, Glorious, and Gracious regardless of how we feel.

We approach God, singing that it is not about us. We trust God that He will take care of us in His good time. Remembering first that it is not about us, and all about God, can change our attitude toward singing. The song "Who Am I" is apt. Remember the words:
Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name,
Would care to feel my hurt?
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart?
 
Not because of who I am
But because of what You've done.
Not because of what I've done
But because of who You are.

In summary, worship is less about how we feel, but more of what God deserves. He deserves our worship.  When we come to God in the Name of Jesus, we are subjecting our humanness under the lordship of Christ, trusting that even as we come as broken vessels, Christ can make us whole. What is impossible with man is possible with God. That is another reason why we sing.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, worship well, not in our own strengths, but in God's strength; not on our own efforts, but as one united body; not according to how we feel, but according to Who God is. So when you do not feel like singing, say it out to God. Confess before the Lord. In due course, as we put God first, and as we subject our tendency toward self-will and joins with the rest of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we become one people, one body, one Church. In due course, God will give us a melody in our hearts that will chime a sweet sweet sound for God.

THOUGHT: "Worship has been misunderstood as something that arises from a feeling which 'comes upon you,' but it is vital that we understand that it is rooted in a conscious act of the will, to serve and obey the Lord Jesus Christ." (Graham Kendrick)


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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. Note that views expressed are personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Peace

TITLE: PEACE
SCRIPTURE: 2 Thessalonians 3:16
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: September 6th, 2013

"Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you." (2 Thess 3:16)

Come Wednesday next week, the world remembers once again the terrible events about 12 years ago: September 11. Is our world a safer place since that fateful day? Are we more assured that the future will be better than before? As I read the news, there seems to be one bad news after another. The Middle East tensions continue to rise, and this is not just between the Palestinians and Israel.  Nations are now talking about punishing Syria for using toxic chemicals on their own citizens. Egypt is still going through a leadership crisis. The Americans have started to withdraw non-essential personnel from their embassies in Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and other countries in the region. Remember too that technically, there still war going on in Afghanistan and Iraq. Foreign troops remain on the ground. Will there really be peace on earth? Whatever happened to that Christmas hymn where many all over the world sing about?

"Let there be peace on earth....."

A) True Peace

There is a difference between truce and true peace. Maintaining a truce is basically putting down arms temporarily. At the Korean Peninsular, the two Koreas remain technically at war. Security patrols remain high at the border, especially the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). While the 250 km long buffer zone remains demilitarized, there is a heavy military presence on both sides of the border. All it takes is for a freak event and war can be re-started. Until a peace treaty is signed, there is no peace, only a terse ceasefire.

Even in marriage relationships, couples can remain married without them talking to each other. All it takes is a silly mistake and all hell breaks loose.  We can have enforced peace on the outside. We can even insist on quietness in our surroundings. Yet, these are no guarantee of inner peace. For true peace must come from within. That begs the question. How can peace be present in the inner man?

B) Heavenly Peace

I remember the powerful words of Fanny Crosby in the hymn, "All the Way My Savior Leads Me."

All the way my Savior leads me,
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well;
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

True peace comes from heaven. True peace is never found on earth. We can sing about it. We can talk about it. However, when it comes to realizing it, it cannot simply appear in the vacuum of the human soul. For we are empty people. We are needy people. We are people who need help. God's help. Unfortunately, the pride of man has refused the grace of God. In doing so, we turn away from the Giver of Peace. That sets us toward the path of war and destruction. Without God, there can be no peace. Without God, there is no comfort. Without God, there is no hope for everlasting peace.

C) Peace Begins With Us

Recently, a friend of mine happens to be at a multi-religious event at a prestigious university in England. Key representatives of various religions were present. Despite the differences in theological beliefs and convictions, there participated in dialogue and religious conversations. While there are disagreements on how they see life, there are agreements in terms of eating food together, having fun together, and to develop friendships together. While these do not necessarily lead to peace, it is a good start. For the underlying belief in conferences like the one in Cambridge is that, in order to prevent war, there needs to be greater understanding among different people. It comes from regular gatherings and open conversations. Once people become friends, they will not fight each other. Once they become brothers and sisters, they will instead fight for one another.

Peace comes when we let humility lead and guide us, to be people willing to learn. Peace comes when we refuse to insist on us being more "right" than others. Peace comes when we learn to put the interests of others above our own. For Christians, peace comes not from the absence of trouble, but from the presence of God.

As I think about peace, I cannot help but be gravitated toward this prayer of St Francis. I think it fits in very well for us who desire peace. Peace must begin with us.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

As we approach September 11, may this be a reminder once again, that peace must begin with us. It must come from the Lord. It must be freely received and freely given.



THOUGHT: "While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart." (St Francis of Assisi)

sabbathwalk

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. Note that views expressed are personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Call to Worship (CW)

TITLE: THE CALL TO WORSHIP (CW)
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 24:30-31
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: Aug 30th, 2013

30“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other." (Matthew 24:30-31)
Key Point: Do not let our Call to Worship begin with a focus on man's needs. It needs to focus on the character of God. It is a call, not a request. It is a proclamation of God, not an appropriation of God for the purposes of man.

"Good morning! Let us rise and read the call to worship," says the worship leader.

Seems quite normal and familiar right? Now, something does not seem quite right with that. What's wrong with that? Here is what's wrong.

A) What is the Call to Worship?

A call to worship (CW) is not about begging people to read something together. Neither is it merely getting people to read something in order to get the worship going. It is also not a form of "warm up" to the rest of the worship service. Instead, it is a rousing exclamation to all believers to come and worship. Note the passage above about the coming of the Son of Man. The angels appear with a "loud trumpet call" and "gather" the elect from all over. It is loud. Like ringing the school bell to signal the start or end of a school session, or the emcee who calls upon everyone seated in the stadium to stand to sing the national anthem, the CW is an active trumpet call to all in the Church to come. Brian Doerksen's song begins well.

Come, now is the time to worship
Come, now is the time to give your heart
Come, just as you are to worship
Come, just as you are before your God
Come.

A CW is a call. It is a calling to the called, a declaration of the start of praise, and a cry for action. It is not to be muted into simply a word to be said or an item in the program sheet. It is purely and simply a call. Let those who have ears be ready to listen. The CW is not something simply for worshipers to read like a newspaper or a magazine. It is a declaration of intent. It is a resolution for the body of Christ to come together in the Name of Jesus. It is a trumpet sound that shakes up the lethargy of the week and rouses the whole congregation to declare the praises of God, by the people of God who have been called out of darkness into God's marvelous light.

KEY: The Call to Worship is not a request for people to straddle into the sanctuary. It is a trumpet sound that declares the time for the elect, the called to come together to worship God in Spirit and in truth.

Friday, August 23, 2013

I Surrender More?

TITLE: I SURRENDER MORE?
SCRIPTURE: Philippians 2:7
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 23rd, 2013

"rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness."(Philippians 2:7)
KEY POINT: When Jesus empties himself, he is emptying not his attribute but surrendering his self-will in favour of God's will.

One of the most popular hymns in many churches is the classic, "I Surrender All" written by Judson W. Van deVenter (1855-1939). Trained in the arts as well as 17 different musical instruments, deVenter gets involved in all things music and arts, whether traveling or ministering. Having many different talents, like many, he struggles with making choices on what best to do with his own life. It is not a situation where he has nothing to do, or does not know what to do. He simply is stuck between the love of teaching versus the desire to be a part of an evangelistic team. No matter what decision he makes, there is always a pro and con. Stay behind and teach, and bless the students inside. Go out and evangelize with the team and he can bless people outside. Both decisions are good. Which then is God's will for him?

This week, I reflect on the common challenge for Christians. How can we truly surrender our all? For that, we will learn from the life of Jesus, and how he surrenders all.

A) Emptying Himself

Philippians 2:7 has often been highlighted for anyone studying Christology and the doctrines related to Christ. The words "made himself nothing" can also be translated as "emptied himself." The verb "kenoo" (kenovw) means 'empty,' 'void,' 'make nothing.' Is "emptying" about becoming like the person who falls short of God's standards? This makes the verb very problematic for theology students when they study kenosis. What does it mean when Christ empties himself?

  • Is it the giving up of his OmniPotence (All-Power), his OmniScience (All-Knowing), and his OmniPresence (All-Present)?
  • Is it making himself equal to man completely?
  • Is it the sacrifice of his complete self-will in favour of God's total will?
If we answer yes to the first question, it will mean that for a period of time, Christ is not divine. For example, one place that scholars have argued is in Mark 13:32, where Christ acknowledges that no one, including himself knows about when exactly the last day is. That represents a temporary giving up of his divine attributes. However, if that is true, then it will deny the very being of God! How can one deny himself the very essential attribute that defines him?

Surely not. Emptying oneself is not exactly giving up of his divinity. Jesus can be divine and still human in his choice making. So, we can say that the idea of 'kenosis' is not about Jesus giving up divinity. Choosing not to exercise divine attributes does not mean one has to give up the attribute altogether.

B) Making himself fully equal to man?

This brings us to the next question. Is Jesus by giving up his own will, becoming more like man rather than God? It is possible, but that will bring problems with regards to how we see Jesus. Is Jesus at that time more human and less divine? How can a person be subdivided into different spiritual stages? Surely, it will bring about all kinds of confusion about the Person of Jesus.

No. When Jesus empties himself, he is not emptying himself of his divine attributes. Neither is he giving up his humanity. He is giving up something else. More particularly, he is giving up self-will. When Christ comes to earth and becomes human, he is already 100% human. He is already fully equal to man. He does not need any more addition or subtraction to make himself more or less like man. He is already fully human. He does not need to give up more of his human being in order to be more human. So if Jesus is fully divine, and also fully human, what then is Christ emptying himself of? The answer: His will.

C) God's Will Be Done

Remember how Jesus prayed on the night before he was crucified? He specifically asks:
"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42)
Jesus submits himself to the Father's will, preferring to obey God rather than to give in to any other way. It is a deliberate denial of self. It is an absolute determination to put God first. It is a humble acknowledgement that doing God's will is primary, and all other things are secondary. By a wide margin. Note in Philippians 2:7 where Paul writes of Christ as one who "taking the very nature of a servant," as an intentional choice. He chooses to be a servant even when he is a king. He chooses to take the lowly road even when he is fully eligible to take the royal path. He chooses to adopt the nature of a servant, to serve rather than to be served. Paul adds, "being made in human likeness" as a reference to the possibility of choice. Jesus gets to choose. Jesus gets to decide what needs to be done. He is not forced. No one is pointing a gun at his head to tell him what to do or what not to do. Jesus chooses freely, willingly, and obediently. That is the essence of surrender! It is the offering up of our wills in favour of God's will that is the essence of surrender.

D) Essence of Surrender


Unlike wars where the defeated surrenders to the victorious, Jesus surrenders himself to God, not the enemy. The enemy can bash up the Son. The enemy can wallop the body of Jesus. The enemy can create all manner of evil to hurt Jesus. By trying to humiliate Jesus at the Cross, the tables are turned that the one humiliated is the devil and death itself. Remember the taunt,

"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55)

In overcoming death, Christ has broken the power of sin. In freely choosing God's will, Jesus has done more than what the righteous Job has done. In obeying God completely, Jesus has defeated the enemy completely. The essence of surrender is about fully yielding our own wills and to fully embrace God's will. The writer, Elisabeth Elliot reminds us that "One does not surrender a life in an instant. That which is lifelong can only be surrendered in a lifetime."

E) Practicing I-Surrender-All

True indeed. We cannot say "I Surrender All" at an instant, for life is not an instant frame. All of us can take snapshots of our lives, both physical and spiritual. We can remember only the good parts and forget about the bad. The life of surrender is a lifelong process. There are no short cuts to surrendering. It has to be done constantly, freely, willingly, and obediently.

Judson deVenter, the hymn writer of "I Surrender All," struggled with the decision between teaching vs evangelism for at least five years. He could have screamed out surrender right at the beginning, but it will not be authentic. He could have waited and not make any commitment, so that he can change his mind anytime, but that will not satisfy his inner being. Instead, he struggled, he prayed, he pondered, and on a daily basis continued to be faithful with his skills and talents. Then, as he was conducting a meeting at East Palestine, Ohio, something dawned on him that only one thing is needed: surrender. Surrender the decision to God. Surrender the consequences to God. Surrender himself to God.  The words become a song. The song becomes a classic. The classic becomes God's reminder to many believers, that when we surrender all, we are acknowledging that God knows best.

My friends. Surrender is not a one time decision made quickly. It is a series of decisions made over a period of time. Some may surrender sooner, and others later. What is most liberating is that God is patient. God is willing to wait for us to choose him in everything, and in all things. For in doing so, we will soon realize that surrendering ourselves to God is not about emptying ourselves of our future. It is about putting our lives fully in God who knows our future. When we are in the arms of the perfect God, we are in the arms of one who loves us and gives himself for us, through his great love in Jesus.

If you have trouble singing "I Surrender All," why not try "I Surrender More" for now. At some point of time, God will reward us, with the ability and the faith to sing "I Surrender All." Freely, obediently, and willingly. Are you stuck in the middle between choices like a rock and a hard place? If you are, surrender that choice to God, and pray that whatever choice you make, God's will be your focus. Once you have made the choice, let that choice lead you to greater freedom, greater obedience, and greater capacity to say: "God's will be done in all of my life."

THOUGHT: "The man or woman who is wholly or joyously surrendered to Christ can't make a wrong choice - any choice will be the right one." (A.W. Tozer)


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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. Note that views expressed are personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Fifth Quarter of Life

TITLE: THE FIFTH QUARTER OF LIFE
SCRIPTURE: Ps 27:13-14
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 15th, 2013

"I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." (Ps 27:13-14)
KEY: It is good to begin well. It is even more important to finish strong. How do we climb out of tragedy? How can we live on when our present hopes are dashed?
  
Once in a while, a movie comes along that tugs hearts, moves souls, and unleashes tears. Such a movie will not just be a story, but a realistic portrayal of a real life event. Helmed by two very experienced actors, this film brings to life the tragedy, the pain, and the suffering endured by a couple who lost their youngest son in a horrific car accident. On February 2006, Luke Abbate was a backseat passenger catching a ride from one of his teenager friends. In a moment of teen foolishness to show off his speeding ability, the friend driving the vehicle lost control and the car ended up a mangled wreck, killing all but one. After 24 hours, due to excessive brain damage, doctors declared Luke brain dead and were legally allowed to take Luke off life support. Luke was 15, full of potential, mostly unrealized. Instead, it breaks the hearts of the family into a million pieces. The end of one life, only begins the journey to darkness for the remaining members of the Abbate family. Steven and Maryanne lost their youngest son. Rachel, Jonathan, and Adam lost their little brother. As a viewer, I lost my fight against tears. It has been a long time since I felt that way.

The film is chock full of incredibly moving scenes. At the hospital, personal friends, schoolmates, teachers, teammates, well-wishers from all over lined up with a powerful demonstration of solidarity and support. Family surrounded Luke with prayer vigils, with the Maryanne praying and reading from the Bible, toggling between faith and fear. Just after doctors pronounced Luke brain-dead, a representative from "Donate Life" came to ask the family for permission to find recipients for Luke's body parts. As if one spin was not enough, the family now had to grapple with another. Once calm presided over the mayhem, the family remembered Luke agreeing to donate his organs not too long ago at a government office. Very quickly, once the father agreed to the organ donation, five recipients had already been identified.

I watched the movie and thought about the many beautiful themes spread throughout the movie. The number "five" is prominent as well. Let me offer five themes to take home.

A) No Fault of Our Own

Pain can come at us, whether we are directly responsible or not. Luke Abbate on that fateful day could have simply said 'no' to his friend offering him a ride home. After all, he can always call his mother to pick him up from school that day. Yet, for some reason, he gives in to his friends enticement with fatal consequences. If we put ourselves in the shoes of the Abbates, we will have tried to reason it out, that Luke could be alive today, if he had just said NO! The scenarios can be repeated over and over. The probabilities can be calculated time and again. The regrets can also be felt repeatedly with thousands of "if-only" combinations. But will that help? The reality is, what had happened happened. It is easy to blurt out "Do not cry over spilled milk."  Living the consequences is long, dark, and often unknown, something that Maryanne the mum had expressed very well.

"My family has been deeply touched by the love and support of our dear community
Please continue ---  to pray for us.. because I...(sob)
...I suspect that the journey will be both dark and hard.
Our lives have been shattered (breaking) into a million pieces.
And I have no idea how to put them together again.
  Luke was and always will be deeply loved.  And now, now, he will be deeply missed."

This is followed by another moving scene by the father, Steven pushing and crying as he single-handedly pushed the casket away. As I watch the movie unfold, I notice that there are no scenes of the family cursing and swearing at the family of the foolish driver. There are no moments of hatred for people. There is one single goal: Mourning, crying, and praying. Finishing strong means recognizing that our past is past. The past cannot be allowed to drag us and remain in the mud of life. We need help to get out of the mud of the past.

B) Grieving

Billed as a film in the tradition of the Blind Side, the movie has several scenes of praying and Scripture reading. There are prayers just before the start of each game. There are honest questions of why God will allow bad things to happen. There are prayers uttered with Scripture. I remember hearing twice the reading of Ps 27:13-14.
"I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." (Ps 27:13-14)
Aptly chosen, it is an expression of hope during times of hopelessness, knowing that only God understands exactly what the family is going through. God is good. God is faithful. The pain will remain, but the knowledge that God's presence is near will remain stronger still, through the support and encouragement by friends and loved ones. I see how the coaches and staff at Wake Forest University come alongside Jon, caring and giving Jon space to grieve. Jon, being a rising football player for the college team is poised for stardom. He just needs the time to grieve. Graciously and generously, Jon receives lots of space, and lots of time to just grieve. Yet, grieving is tough. Back home, as if one loss is not enough, amid their grief, the husband and wife relationship begins to break down. Steven buries himself in work. Maryanne suffers alone. Both have become too weak to support each other. If grieving is dark and hard, grieving alone is darker and harder. Grieving is necessary, but grieving together is even more necessary. During such tragic times, families must come together as often as possible. If one loses a family member, the rest of the family must learn to come together quickly, decisively, and be in unity with one another. Health experts have noticed that divorces are particularly high for couples who lose a child. Finishing strong begins with a desire to grieve in a way that is constructive, not destructive.

C) Symbolism of Five

The number "5" is highly symbolic in the movie. Remembering that Luke used to wear the number 5 on his football jersey, older brother Jon got permission to change his own jersey number from 40 to 5. At the same time, during each football game, Steven and Maryanne hold up all their five open fingers in an outstretched fashion, as a symbol of family solidarity. This soon catches on with both supporters, fans, even opponents, who remember the life of Luke Abbate. Amazingly, Jon becomes the inspirational leader as well, rousing his teammates to come from behind in several crucial games to win at the final quarter. Due to the amazing finish by a team that was ranked last in the minds of the public media, Wake Forest's Demon Deacons came to win and finish strong every final quarter, topping their Atlantic division, and eventually winning the 2006 State championship, defeating Georgia Tech at the finals. It is an amazing achievement for the school which has never won a state championship in its 172 year history.

Symbols are important in life. For Christians, the most prominent symbol of faith is the cross. There is no substitute, for in the cross, we see how the person of Christ has died for the sins of the world. With one act of obedience, and the complete fulfilling of the will of God, the cross stands as a powerful symbol of reconciliation. Vertically, at the cross, man gets reconciled with God. Horizontally, man is able to be reconciled with one another. A symbol can be a powerful aid to help us finish strong.

D) Finishing Strong

Starting well is important. Finishing strong is even more important. For it is not the initial performance that will win games. It is the set of final and finishing touches at the last quarter that will lead the team to victory. The film is called the Fifth Quarter simply because in many of the games played, Jon Abbate's team came up on top after overcoming very tough opponents. In the game against Duke's Blue Devils, Jon found his team down by 10-0 at halftime. Eventually, the Deacons caught up, and were leading by 14-13 with just six seconds remaining in the game. The problem is, their opponents from Duke had a significant advantage as they have a free kick that if converted, will win the game for Duke. Thankfully, it was blocked and Wake Forest savoured the close win. Wake Forest may have started badly, but they ended strong. Strong finishers win competitions.

In the Old Testament, we see several examples of people who had started well but fumbled at the end. Think of King Solomon who began with much fanfare and wisdom. His prayer at the commissioning of the Lord's temple remains a model for all of us to learn. The proverbs often attributed to Solomon have also been used for centuries in daily living. Unfortunately, through a series of missteps and utter foolishness, Solomon fumbled after the glorious beginning. In just one reign, Solomon manages to unravel the good work of his father David, causing havoc to his own personal and spiritual life, but also the split of Israel into two separate nations: Israel on the North and Judah to the South. Strong starts may wow audiences, but strong finishers win games. That is true in life too.

E) Faith and Hope

What helps one to grieve well? What enables one to be lifted out of the darkness of despair toward the brightness of hope? What compels one not only to brave the start but to finish strong? It is faith in the Divine God. It is hope for a brighter future. Psalm 27 begins with a declaration:

"The LORD is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?
" (Ps 27:1)

Based on the LORD's covenant of faithfulness with David, this psalm verbalizes the inner belief of David. He knows that in his hours of darkness, only the LORD can give him light. It is in basking in the sunshine of God's assurance that helps him to fight the fear of death and defeat. It is standing on the promises of God that gives him the courage. Throughout the fourteen verses, David think thoughts of God. He gazes at the face of God and not be distracted by the face of trials and tribulations. He directs his whole perspective to see from the standpoint of God and not the world. He knows that the LORD wins battles for his people (Ps 27:2). He knows that the best place is in the very house of God (Ps 27:4). He knows that eventually it is God who finishes strong and perfect (Ps 27:6). He knows that in the valley of darkness, God will teach him what is necessary (Ps 27:11). All of these statements of faith lead him to one final crescendo:

"I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.
" (Ps 27:13-14)


It is the Word of God that will help us to start well, to strive faithfully ahead, and to finish well.In life, we too live lives of four quarters. Suppose the average life-span for us is 80 years.
  • Quarter 1 - Years 1 to 20;
  • Quarter 2 - Years 21 to 40;
  • Quarter 3 - Years 41 to 60;
  • Quarter 4 - Years 61 to 80.
We do a lot of absorbing and taking of stuff in our first 20 years. We learn. We study. We take in all that our parents, our teachers, and what society offers. In our next quarter of life, we venture into young adulthood. We graduate with our first degree. We get our first real job. We marry and start our families. We busy ourselves with work and more work. By the third quarter, some of us will have been promoted to higher levels in our organizations or social levels of importance. For others, retrenchments and unemployment will prove to be tough setbacks to our game of life, struggling to play in the challenges of the second quarter with a body made up of the third, even fourth. Then, we reach the final quarter. We begin to think about the meaning and significance of life. In First Things First, the late Steven Covey has helped many people with his four things in life: to live, to learn, to love, and to leave a legacy. Leaving a legacy will very well appear to be at the final quarter of our lives. That we live, we love, and we learn in a way that leaves legacies for future generations. It is a good start, but does not necessarily mean a strong end.

Let me put forth one more L to help us finish strong: Longing. If there is one word to describe Ps 27:13-14, it is longing to see God's goodness on earth as it is in heaven. It is longing for the LORD that causes one to wait earnestly for a glimpse of God. It is learning to be strong at heart knowing for sure that God will come, and to wait patiently for God who will definitely come.


Longing for God is one of the best signs of a growing Christian. It is this longing for something better that propels people at a funeral to move ahead. This longing gives them hope that one day, all will be well. This longing enables them to gradually move beyond the darkness toward the light. This longing, supported by symbols of hope, will sustain not only the toughest points of life, but the entire journey. As one longs for God, in some very strange way, God teaches us what life is about. God shows us what love is like. God reveals to us what we can learn. Gently and surely, God unfolds the legacy that Christ has left behind that he has finished what he has set out to do. This longing for God will help us finish strong. Let me close with these words from the late Brennan Manning.

"The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian. Our religion never begins with what we do for God. It always starts with what God has done for us, the great and wondrous things that God dreamed of and achieved for us in Christ Jesus." (Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God, 125-6)
I want to add. Not only is our faith started in Christ Jesus, it will end in Christ Jesus. For at the Cross, time stands still, and lifts us up toward an eternal God, where time has no hold. Man in Christ gets reconciled with God, and finds that only God is able to reach out and touch us. We who have "eternity in our hearts" can only be truly filled by God who is eternal and everlasting. It is because of a sustained longing in Christ and for Christ, that makes unceasing prayer always possible.

Toward the end of the movie, there remains one final scene which made me cry. A survivor with the heart of Luke Abbate was shown standing there, allowing Steven the father to hug and listen to the heartbeat. The memory of Luke does not just live on, it beats on in the heart of a survivor. Luke did not just finish strong. He finishes strong in the heart of another person.

THOUGHT: "Why is it so important that you are with God and God alone on the mountain top? It's important because it's the place in which you can listen to the voice of the One who calls you the beloved. To pray is to listen to the One who calls you "my beloved daughter," "my beloved son," "my beloved child." To pray is to let that voice speak to the center of your being, to your guts, and let that voice resound in your whole being." (Henri Nouwen)


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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. Note that views expressed are personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization.

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