Saturday, October 26, 2013

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

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.

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."


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

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

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?