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.

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