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)

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