Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Church as Hope-Bearers

TITLE: THE CHURCH AS HOPE-BEARERS
SCRIPTURE: 2 Cor 13:11
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: December 14th, 2015

"Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you." (2 Corinthians 13:11)

I have just finished a book called "Churchless" with mixed feelings about the state of the Western Church. The authors are owners and members of Barna Group, which is a private, non-partisan, and research organization that serves to identify and interpret cultural trends, especially relevant to the Christian community. They begin with some grim news about the increasing number of people who are no longer attending church services. They define the "unchurched" as people who say they are Christians but have not attended a Christian church service in the past six months. With particular interest on those who are Christians but not involved in any Church, they made this conclusion: "Invite a friend to church on Sunday" is no longer an in-thing. This week, I look at three necessary things. We need to understand the current cultural movements. We need to find ways to connect them both in or out of the Church. We need to find ways to show the unchurched that Church is worth it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Walking with the Dying

TITLE: WALKING WITH THE DYING
SCRIPTURE: Job 7:13-16
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: December 5th, 2014

13When I think my bed will comfort me and my couch will ease my complaint, 14even then you frighten me with dreams and terrify me with visions, 15so that I prefer strangling and death, rather than this body of mine. 16I despise my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone; my days have no meaning. (Job 7:13-16)

Synopsis: We have often heard and read about people wanting the right to die. What about the right to live? Caught between the rock and a hard place, how do we walk with people who are dying? In this article, I will argue that it is not what we say or do, but how much love and care we put into being present. 

A) The Right to Die

Death is that inevitable end to a human being's time on earth. Dying is the lonely journey to that end. Put together the two and we will have a potent mixture for fear. How do we walk with the dying? What if the dying want to be assisted to die? Recently, a couple of stories hit the mainstream media. One of them is Brittany Maynard's widely publicized decision to die at an appointed time of her choice.  At 29, Brittany was already suffering from splitting headaches. Married just over a year, she and her husband had been hoping to start a family. Until the headaches got the better of her. Her doctors gave her the bad news: Brain cancer. Not only that, due to the aggressive nature of the cancer she had, doctors estimated she had only six months more to live. Not wanting to let her family see her suffer through palliative care, and knowing that there was medically no chance of survival, she set off for Oregon, the state that allows patient assisted dying under the "Death with Dignity" provision by the state. She planned her final day to be November 1st, 2014.  She explained her painful decision on video and news of her decision to die triggered many responses from both pro-life as well as advocates for mercy dying.  One notable response was a letter by Kara Tippetts, who was also dying of cancer. In that moving open letter, Tippetts bared out her soul with the words that deeply reflect how she felt:
"Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known. In your choosing your own death, you are robbing those that love you with the such tenderness, the opportunity of meeting you in your last moments and extending your love in your last breaths. As I sat on the bed of my young daughter praying for you, I wondered over the impossibility of understanding that one day the story of my young daughter will be made beautiful in her living because she witnessed my dying. That last kiss, that last warm touch, that last breath, matters — but it was never intended for us to decide when that last breath is breathed."

Monday, December 1, 2014

Mary's Song - The Magnificat

TITLE: MARY'S SONG - The MAGNIFICAT
SCRIPTURE: Luke 1:39-56
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: December 1st, 2014

It's the most wonderful time of the year, so goes the popular year end song. After American Thanksgiving, and the infamous Black Friday sale, many stores and retail shops switch to Christmas sales mode to capture the spirit of giving, of discounting, and of frantic buying. Many Churches follow the traditional format of Advent themes. This year, my Church will look at four songs, that make up four sermons prior to Christmas. Yesterday, I started off with my sermon on Mary's Song.

The Magnificat is Latin for "glorifies" or "magnifies." It is a joy unspeakable from within that needs a channel of expression. Words and explanations do not quite cut it. It has to be sung out loud with pompous gladness and gusto. Two themes are evident from the song of Mary.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Questioning God

TITLE: QUESTIONING GOD
SCRIPTURE: Job 38:1-3
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: November 24th, 2014

1Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: 2"Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? 3Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me."

I have been following with some interest an open letter online about why a former believer left her faith. It contains various reasons and faults with the Christian religion. Most of all, it stems from a tragic loss of her father, which was made worse by certain insensitive comments that tried to explain it all.

At the same time, I have just read through twenty-four earnest and honest reflections of faith from the standpoints of atheists, believers, agnostics, and various perspectives. Many of them had one thing in common: Faith Under Trial. Some of these respondents who had "left the faith" were raised in rather religious circumstances. They go to Church. They followed the educational processes. They essentially kept with their parental expectations. Until one day, the water bag broke. Skepticism gives birth to sarcasm, followed by plain dismissal of formerly held beliefs. All it takes is a shaking down of the nice image of a big and friendly God who is all loving and all providing. Whether it is cancer, loss of a family member or a friend, or some tragic circumstances, at some juncture, we will all intersect with the pain-and-suffering station of life.  When that happens, questions turn into doubt; doubt turns to fear; and for self-professed "former" believers, fear coupled with frustrations soon turn one away from God.
  • "God, where are You?"
  • "God, why is this happening to me?"
  • "God, are you there?"
  • "God, hello? You there? Why don't You pick up my prayer?"
  • "God, God, God? Why are You so quiet? I'll try again tomorrow."
  • "God? You'll probably sleeping."
  • "God? Are you real?"
  • "God? Maybe there is no such thing as God."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Let Our Lives Speak, not Speed

TITLE: LET OUR LIVES SPEAK, NOT SPEED
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 34:8
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: November 14th, 2014

"Taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him." (Ps 34:8)

We have all heard about the fast-paced lifestyle. With so many things to do and so little time, we zip through the highways. We wolf down our meals. We hurry our kids. In a world where every second seems to matter, we easily grow impatient with incompetence. We become frustrated when the driver in front of us cruises at the posted speed limit. We wonder why the bank teller can chat so casually with the customer she was serving even when the line is long.

What if we allow this kind of crazy speed through life to enter our relationship? What if in our rush to get things done, we push others to travel at our expected speed instead of their natural pace? Ever heard about how a twenty-year old young man pushed over an eighty year old lady just to reach the cashier first? Or how this cartoon urges us to "Stay in Queue" even when the line in front of us does not appear to be moving. The story of Martha and Mary demonstrates how the busyness of activities can mess up our sense of priorities. Good works are noble tasks, but when we try to force people to pander to our expectations, the nobility quickly evaporates. Work first, pray later. Get things done first, leave people alone. Move first, love later. Even in the presence of our Lord Jesus.

(Picture Credit: www.allaboutgod.net)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Leftover Believers

TITLE: LEFTOVER BELIEVERS
SCRIPTURE: Luke 9:59-60
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: November 10th, 2014
59He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.60Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-60)
Yesterday, I preached about the Great Commission versus the Great Suggestion. It was a call for believers who had gotten their priorities mixed up. While they testify boldly about believing in God as their first priority, their living testimonies say otherwise. By doing so, they affirm the accusations of such people as "Sunday Christians." Personally, I would call such people as leftover believers.

I remember a story of a little boy living with his busy dad. Dad often brought home his work. He worked long hours. He often returned home late and when it came to bedtime reading, he was too exhausted even to spend time with his son. It had cost him his marriage, and due to his earning powers, he was able to gain full custody of his only son. Even at the breakfast table, the dad would be either reading his newspapers or checking his phone updates. As a psychologist, he makes lots of money straight from the top of the hour. He is an important man for patients desperate for help.

One regular morning, after getting another of those feelings of being ignored, the ten year old kid asked:

"Dad, can I ask you something?"

Sipping his coffee cup, dad continued to read and said, "Just give me five minutes."

Five minutes past, seeing his dad still busy combing for information on the newspapers, he decided to wait a few minutes longer before saying, "Dad, can I ask you a question now?"

Dad: "Just ten more seconds, my son."

Finally, the dad was ready. The boy asked: "How much do you earn?"

Dad said: "I make about $60 per hour, so that's about a dollar per minute."
Boy: "Wow, that's a lot of money."
Dad: "Yes, but that's because I've invested a lot in my education and training too."
Boy: "Dad, can you give me a minute. I'm going to get something."
Dad: "Ok, son."

The boy returned soon and in his hands were coins making up $5. The boy said: "Dad, can I buy 5 minutes of your time?"

You could imagine the tears in the eyes of the father. He had become so caught up with earning and working, that he had forgotten his own priorities. That morning, he realized that by putting all his best energies and time to focus on his work, he had relied on leftover energies and time for his own son. I feel for the boy. Just seeing the father devote his best attention to work makes the boy feel under appreciated and less important than the work. To the boy, making money is primary, time with family is secondary.  I can imagine the boy complaining to his friends:

"My dad is very loving. He spends a lot of time to work and make money for the family. That is really nice of him. But sometimes I wished that I don't always have to depend on his leftovers just to hear him read me a story."

Some people do exactly that when it comes to faith. In Luke 9:59-60, when Jesus called an unnamed man to follow Him, the man's quick reply was: "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."

It sounded like a reasonable request. It can even be a very filial act. The question is, is that the Jewish understanding at that time? Is the father truly dead? If so, should not the man be busy with funeral and burial details rather than simply walking the streets? Should he not be mourning and comforting his family? Is Jesus showing a lack of compassion when telling the man to let the dead bury the dead? Many interpreters say that what Jesus meant was to let the "spiritually dead" bury the "physically dead."

I prefer another interpretation that Jesus is not talking about burial matters. He is talking about priorities. The man had his priorities mixed up, and had chosen to put his earthly priorities first.

According to Jewish customs, immediately after the burial, the family would separate themselves from public appearances and mourn for seven days. If that was the case, it would be very weird for this man to be walking around in public during this time. That is why I believe that the man's father had not yet died. What the man was actually saying is this:

"Lord, first let me wait until my father had died. Only then can I come and follow you."

In our modern era, we can substitute this for the following:

  • "Lord, first let me get a job. Then I will come and follow you."
  • "Lord, first let me make my first $1 million."
  • "Lord, first let me find a wife."
  • "Lord, first let me finish my project."
  • "Lord, first let me close my very important business deal."
  • "Lord, first let me get my degree."
  • "Lord, first let me take a selfie with you."
  • "Lord, first let me update my Facebook status."
  • "..."
When the heart is not willing, the list of other things is endless. If we say to Jesus, "Lord, first let me _____, " we are essentially telling Jesus that there is something more important than following Him. For our priorities are our work, our projects, our businesses, our families, and our lives on earth. Jesus only gets to inherit our leftover time and energy. Our minds have become so caught up with the things of the world that we easily forget the promises of heaven. More importantly, we have missed out what it means to follow Christ. 

The Bible tells us to wait on the Lord, not make the Lord wait for us.

"Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD." (Ps 27:14)

Do we offer up our best to God, or do we leave behind leftovers to Him? Leftover believers will prefer to put their own priorities above God's. They may claim to follow Jesus, but by their actions, they are making God wait while they busy themselves with their own priorities.

Leftover believers have a tendency to say: "Why me?" when approached to help or volunteer for some community work. They claim that they are too busy or simply had no time to serve. They will be punctual at work and at client appointments, but on Sunday mornings, they arrive to Church late, and will only serve when they have sufficient energy reserves or some leftover time.

Leftover believers will claim that following Christ is most important, but by their actions they betray their words. They will dedicate their utmost attention to the highest paying customers instead of their utmost for God's Kingdom. They justify their personal actions by claiming:


  • "God helps those who help themselves."
  • "God had called me to work hard, so what's wrong with working hard?"
  • "Surely God had given me a family to take care of. He will understand that Christian work comes only after all the serious work had been done."
I have a problem with that. Firstly, it dichotomizes work into secular and sacred. All work done for the glory of God is good. All work is sacred when we do it in God's image. All honest work is holy to the Lord. Secondly, the problem with such justifications is that it de-emphasizes the value of work done in Christian communities like churches, para-churches, or religious communities. It is one thing to equate all work as good, regardless of whether it is in the religious or non-religious environment. It is yet another to desecrate the importance of religious work. In the Old Testament, God had a visible way of reminding people the importance of religious work and dedication. That is why He called one tribe out of twelve, the Levites, to be focused on religious work. We may not be called "Levites" per se, but we can participate in the work of the Kingdom of God.

My friends, each of us are called to unique places in this world. We can become so busy trying to make a living that we can easily forget the importance of making a life. I suppose that is another way of understanding Jesus' words to the man wanting to bury his father first. For the man's desire to bury his father first is used as a way to describe man's fascination with the world that the world now is bigger than the world to come. It speaks of a temporal that overshadows the eternal. It turns the affairs of man into something that is bigger than the concerns of God. How can that be?

Those who want to follow Christ must remember that priorities are not just spiritual words but our physical responses as well. Let me close with the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who warns us about hoarding our possessions, our time, and our earthly resources.

Earthly goods are given to be used, not to be collected. In the wilderness God gave Israel the manna every day, and they had no need to worry about food and drink. Indeed, if they kept any of the manna over until the next day, it went bad. In the same way, the disciple must receive his portion from God every day. If he stores it up as a permanent possession, he spoils not only the gift, but himself as well, for he sets his heart on accumulated wealth, and makes it a barrier between himself and God. Where our treasure is, there is our trust, our security, our consolation and our God. Hoarding is idolatry.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship,  New York, Touchstone, p175)

Beware of idolatry which often masquerades in the things we give our priorities to. When we give God only our leftovers, we are guilty of giving our allegiances to other things, not God.

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.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Of Reformation Day, All Souls' Day or Halloween?

TITLE: REFORMATION DAY, ALL SOULS DAY OR HALLOWEEN?
SCRIPTURE: Hebrews 13:24
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 31st, 2014

"Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings." (Heb 13:24, ESV)

MAIN POINT: The best way we can remember October 31st, 2014 is not to buy into the fun of Halloween, which really means nothing much, besides the candies in our mouths and cavities in our teeth. As Christians, we can honour Christ by remembering, and learning from the great Reformation in the 16th Century and to be constantly reforming ourselves. Who knows, we may very well be planting the seeds of reformation for the generations to come.

It's that time of the year again, of Trick-n-Treating. For the past two years, I have been buying boxes of chocolates and candies, of different colours, shapes, and sizes. From as early as 4 in the afternoon till as late as 10pm, October 31st is also the day where family members keep running back and forth to answer the doorbell. Usually there are young school kids at the door in groups. Those who come with parents are the cutest, in their bumblebee costumes, disney characters, or simply some colourful makeup on the faces. Not scary but highly amusing. Once there was this little toddler that was so cute that I struggled to control my squeal of delight inside. God certainly makes children adorable. (There goes another box of candies.)

The older ones tend to be a little more adventurous, donning more sinister costumes. Anyway, in good fun, I distribute the goodies liberally, to be rewarded with a musical "Thank You" as payment. Halloween celebrations are big events in the annual calendar. Students dress up for the occasion in the morning, and had special celebrations in school. At dusk, they venture out to the neighbourhoods to fill up their goody bags.

All in the name of fun! Period.

However, Church history offers a different view of October 31st. There are at least two other significant events: 1) Eve of All Saints Day; 2) Reformation Day.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

God Put You There?

TITLE: GOD PUT YOU THERE?
SCRIPTURE: Roman 1:1-4
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 25th, 2014

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendent of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 1:1-4)

One of the common clich├ęs used in Christian circles is the authoritative phrase: “God put me there.” Whether one is working at the hospital, teaching in a school, serving in the government office, joining a culinary school, or going on a mission, if one is a Christian, the sure way to spiritualize our jobs is to simply say: “God put me there. It is my calling.

  • The medical professional says, “God put me there to be a doctor.
  • The school teacher says, “God put me there to teach.”
  • The chef says, “God put me there in the kitchen to cook.
  • The missionary says, “God put me there in the mission field.

Who am I to judge? How can I, who have never seen that doctor receive a vision on one morning out at a walk? How would I know that God had appeared to the school teacher the other day, when she was praying? How could I doubt the chef who reported some strange feeling in his heart while choosing some ingredients? Can I really question the calling of a missionary?

These famous four words offer some divine authentication to make one feel better about it all, regardless of how one discerns his or her calling. In a sense, it is true that one is put in a particular vocation for a reason. On another angle, what if the job turns ugly for whatever reason, are we going to blame God for “putting us there?” Have we misheard God’s call in the first place? Are we wrong to say “God put us there?”

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ten Tips For Gracious Living

TITLE: TEN TIPS FOR GRACIOUS LIVING
SCRIPTURE: Colossians 4:6
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 19th, 2014

"Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man." (Colossians 4:6, KJV)

#1 - It's not what you say but how you say it that makes all the difference.

#2 - What good will it be win the argument but lose the relationship?

#3 - Listening is the first step to understanding and the visible posture in humility.

#4 - Ask questions not to find loopholes to manipulate but to find opportunities to encourage.

#5 - Learn to see the spirit of the law instead of the letter of the law.



Friday, October 10, 2014

Dealing with Negativity

TITLE: DEALING WITH NEGATIVITY
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap Date:10 October 2014

Christianity has an increasingly negative image problem. This is easily felt in the West, especially in North America. For Europe, the Christian influence has largely been erased from the minds of ordinary people. Even the ancient artifacts and grand structures of Christendom in Europe wow mostly visitors to Europe. In a post George W Bush era, I sense an even greater negativity against anything Christian in many parts of America and Canada.

Just this week, I read of a graduate from Trinity Western University, a private institution that is openly Christian, being rejected from a Norwegian company because she was deemed "unqualified." The rejection email was followed by sneers and jeers about her school, her God, and her faith. It is not only the rejection, but the harsh negativity of the prospective employers who claimed that it was Christianity that destroyed their culture. Feeling hurt and discriminated against, the plucky Bethany Paquette filed a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal. I hope justice will be served as Paquette certainly does not deserve being ridiculed personally or her faith being lampooned foolishly. 

As I think about it, her case is not alone. There is a particularly high animosity against evangelicals or anyone standing up for their Christian beliefs. Why are Christians being labeled "bigots," "homophobes," "intolerant," "judgmental," "anti-abortion," and all kinds of nasty names? In fact, some of the most ferocious voices against Christianity are formerly from Christian backgrounds. People like John Loftus, who was formerly a Christian minister, but is now a forceful opponent against Christianity. He is the founder of the anti-Christian blog named, "Debunking Christianity." A fellow alumni of mine had debated him, even wrote a book together with him to ensure that both views are represented. You can read my review of "God or Godless" here

How should Christians deal with negativity? One way is to do a frontal assault by direct debate and argumentation. You have apologists like Ravi Zacharias International Ministry, William Lane Craig, Josh McDowell, Norman Geisler, CS Lewis, Alister McGrath, and many who can do that. Others like John G Stackhouse will adopt a "Humble Apologetics" format. Another way is to simply ignore the accusations and avoid any forms of confrontation. For me, there is no fixed way to deal with angry attacks. It is one thing to win arguments. It is yet another to win over the person.

I wrote the following yesterday in order to suggest a 3L approach in dealing with negativity. I list them below for your reading.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Olivet Prayer

TITLE: THE OLIVET PRAYER
SCRIPTURE: Luke 22:39-44
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 4th, 2014

39Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.41He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.43An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
One of the things I observed about Christians' behaviour is the use of divine power in the midst of heated arguments and controversies. Different groups would regularly pray that God's will be done, but I wonder how many of them are more inclined toward asking for "their will" to be done instead. This week, I reflect on two current events and look at ways we can pray. With increasing submission and decreasing manipulation of course. Otherwise, we will be guilty of manipulating God to turn people against people.

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Salvation-Skewed Faith

TITLE: A SALVATION-SKEWED FAITH
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 7:13-14
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: September 26th, 2014

13Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
"Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved!"

This refrain is one of the most common evangelistic statements from Christians to non-Christians. While it may seem quite offensive to some people in a secular culture, it is far better than some who screamed out like a doomsday prophet: "Believe in Jesus or else you go to hell!"

The first statement is a lot more palatable. It promises the upside of faith. The second will usually result in an verbal backlash. It condemns and strongarms one into confession. Some see both statements as different ways to say the same thing. I differ. I think the first statement is more true than the second. For instance, look at the second statement and I see an immediate theological problem. We are on the way to hell not because of faith or non-faith in Jesus. We are already condemned because of sin. Paul reminds us in Romans:

9What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:9-12)

Thus, it is incorrect to say that we go to hell because of failing a decision making matrix at the Cross. People are on the way to damnation anyway. Christ just offers them a way out. By rejecting Jesus, they are preferring to walk their default ways. That is why we choose what we want to live. Some choose Christ. Others choose their own ways. No one forced them.

This week, I like to look not about the decision for Christ, but what happens AFTER the decision. It does not mean the initial decision is unimportant. It simply means the first decision is simply triggering a journey of faith that needs to be completed in Christ. In his book, "After You Believe," NT Wright stated that our Christian living must be "understood and shaped in relation to the final goal for which we have been made and redeemed." Having said that, he argues that life after that decision for Christ must be reflected in character formation in Christ. This is what must happen after we believe.

A) Pitfalls of a Salvation-Skewed Faith

In many outreach events, Christians behave like gospel salesmen, feeding promises and salvation to anyone who would make a decision to believe in Jesus. The prosperity gospel group would trumpet material riches that grow proportionally with faith. Give more and you will receive double or triple, they say. Others proclaim a faith whereby if we fail to obey the do's and don'ts of the faith, we will be rewarded or punished accordingly. The hyper-grace party will pooh-pooh away every negativity with a generous dosage of grace and unmerited favours, to the point that it does not matter what we do after we believe, as grace is an umbrella large enough to shield believers from all things.

What concerns me is this. People who believed in Jesus have chosen to enter the narrow gate, which is the Person of Jesus. Unfortunately, after the initial excitement and fanfare, once the novelty wears off, they proceed to walk the highway of worldliness instead of the narrow way. Jesus warns us explicitly:
"13Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it." (Matthew 7:13)
People who choose to simply enter the narrow gate, only to ignore the other aspect to continue walking the narrow path, are people who are "salvation-skewed." They care only to possess the ticket to heaven, and then continue to bask in worldliness. They claim Jesus to be Lord, but they live as if they are the lords of their lives. They confess Jesus but refuse to obey the teachings of Jesus to forgive others. They think that their one decision is enough to guarantee their stairway to heaven.

According to Matthew 7:13, there is a gate followed by a road, a way, or a path. Just like the Parable of the Sower where there are four different kinds of soil where only one is fruitful and desired of them all, we can also see four different scenarios in Matthew 7:13-14 of which the best is preferred and the worst is mentioned. The best is the "narrow gate" / "narrow way." The worst is the "wide gate" / "wide way." What about the "narrow gate" / "wide way" and the "wide gate" / "narrow way" scenarios?  I present the four scenarios below.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

False Choices

TITLE: FALSE CHOICES
TEXT: John 18:38
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: September 20th, 2014

[Life is often not so straightforward. A YES does not necessarily mean we fully agree. A NO does not mean we totally reject. Life is a lot more nuanced than a simple YES or NO. That does not mean there is no such thing as truth, or there is no such thing as right/wrong. Beware of false choices.]

"What is truth?" retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, "I find no basis for a charge against him. (John 18:38)

Many want the best of both worlds,
and not be trapped in a forced YES/NO ultimatum.
(Credit: abcnews.go.com)
This week is a week of referendums. After 307 years, political activists in Scotland forced a nationwide referendum to give the entire population of Scotland a chance to vote on the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” All voters needed to do were to mark either “Yes” or “No.” Voter turnout was a healthy 84.6 percent, representing a total of 4.2 million registered citizens. Advocates from both camps fought hard. The “Yes” camp led by the Scottish Nationalist Party First Minister, Alex Salmond argued passionately for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom and to be an independent country. The “No” camp, led by Alistair Darling countered with an equally vigorous defense of the status quo. As of yesterday, Scotland chose to remain within the United Kingdom with 55% of the population voting for it. This is clearly bigger than the razor thin decision predicted by many commentators.

I am not a fan of anything that nudges toward disunity. Neither am I someone who likes to see split ups and painful divorces. While I am in favour of democracy in general, I think we need to be able to keep both our heads and our hearts together. For Scotland to just vote YES and leave the Union, it needs a very strong support base, and as far as I am concerned, for a country to go her own way, the percentage of support must be as unanimous as possible. This is because nation building is a massive task. If it is a marginal victory for the NO camp, it is still alright, because keeping the status quo is the easiest thing to do. However, if it is for the YES camp, then it is a major problem because the country would already be split down the center right from the start. What kind of nation building will there be if resolve comes only from half the population? Anyway, I am glad that the votes have settled once and for all, the question of independence, and Scotland can focus on the major and practical challenges confronting them.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"Mining for Facts" vs "Aligning for Faith"

TITLE: "MINING FOR FACTS" vs "ALIGNING FOR FAITH"
SCRIPTURE: Ps 119:71
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: September 13th, 2014
“It is good for me to be afflicted so that I may learn your decrees.” (Ps 119:71)
Adam is worried sick about his exams. His mother enters the room and quotes Proverbs 3:5-6 to him to trust God for all things. Adam takes his mother’s advice and stops studying. He goes straight to bed without further worrying. He says: “God will make my paths straight right?” He fails his exams leaving him with a negative aftertaste that the Bible does not really work for him.

Teddy knows his Bible well. Since young, he has aced Bible quizzes and has won many Scripture memory competitions. He is literally a walking Bible. He has a quote for all occasions and people often look up to him for his level of Bible literacy. He participates actively in Bible discussions with his own ready answers. Sometimes, he can become quite disruptive during Bible discussions as he brings in verses from all over the Bible that distracts participants from properly understanding the verses in context. People are increasingly afraid of sharing deeper secrets with Teddy because every time they share something, Teddy would be so quick to quote a Bible verse that he would not listen to anything else at all. After all, how can anyone argue against the Word of God thrown at them? People call Teddy a Bible-rifle who uses Bible verses as bullets for everything in life. People avoid Teddy often by saying: “Thanks but no thanks. What’s right for you may not be right for me.

Monique loves Bible studies. She approaches every study enthusiastically mining the Bible for all kinds of information. She plows through many commentaries and dictionaries, marking every word, every phrase, and every passage, even punctuation marks! Like a gold digger, she digs away diligently looking for Bible gems as if she is the one in control. She is more interested in Bible information than spiritual formation.

Adam, Teddy, and Monique present three different types of Christians. Adam lets his faith be dependent on what people say. Teddy tells people without listening to what people are saying. Monique digs the Bible as if she is telling the Bible what she wants rather than to let the Bible teach her what she needs.

This week, I want to discuss the difference between Bible information and spiritual formation. For the former, one mines the Bible for facts and knowledge. One is in control of the learning. One is in charge of what to learn. For the latter, one lets the Bible be the teacher, the guide, and the cultivator of faith. The chief question this week is this: Are we mining for facts or are we aligning for faith?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ten Thoughts to Encourage the Weary Soul

TITLE: TEN THOUGHTS TO ENCOURAGE THE WEARY SOUL
SCRIPTURE: Colossians 4:7-8
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: September 6th, 2014

"7Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts." (Colossians 4:7-8)

These days, I have been sensing a general sense of despair and fatigue among people I know. While there are those who appear to be well and happy, there are also those faithful ones who serve each week, without complaining, and earnestly wanting to help people. Looking at Paul's encouragement to the Colossian Church, I am intrigued at how he is willing to send a dear brother like Tychicus to encourage others. I like to play the role of Tychicus this week, to focus on ten brief thoughts specifically to encourage fellow servants, ministry workers, and those simply desiring to do more for God.

  1. On People: As I look at the way God had been faithful to Israel, if there is any one person who ought to be most discouraged, it would be God, having to deal with a stubborn Israel and ignorant mankind. Yet, God continues to speak to us. He has used the Patriarchs of old; the Kings; the Prophets; the Priests; the Early Church and Disciples. Still, in spite of man's disobedience and unfaithfulness, God continues to keep His end of the bargain. It is because God has not given up on us, we ought not give up on fellow people.


  2. On Ministry: The demands of ministry is great. Due to varying amounts of expectations, there is no way one can ever meet all the demands of all parties. Something invariably had to give. Remember this. When we minister as servants of God, we are not in charge of the ministry results. God is. Moreover, God did not say that whatever we do, we will get success. God desires us to be faithful and in God's good time, God will be the agent for all forms of fruitfulness. Plant and water away!


  3. Doing More: It is easy to straitjacket ourselves to do more, to be more, and to invest more. In a world that seems to promote size, volume, quantity, and all kinds of quantitative bigness, it is good to be reminded that just like the poor woman with only two coins, or the words from Peter who had not gold nor silver, but the Word of God, so we too need to remember that in God's ministry, just like the confession of John the Baptist, less of us means more of God.


  4. On Evangelism: According to Kent Hunter, a Church leadership consultant, Evangelism is the biggest struggle among Christians. Perhaps, it is a erroneous mindset many people had from the beginning. I have always told people. Conversation is our responsibility; Conversion is God's.


  5. On Spiritual Growth: How do we grow spiritually? Some pay big bucks to attend conferences and retreats. Others work through a rigorous program or a multi-step process to inject some spirituality into our jaded faith. It is good to remember that just like the seed story in Mark 4:27, "Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how." Spiritual growth is the Lord's. We just need to be ready always.


  6. On Church: Week in week out, we hear more negativity about the Church than good news. Moreover, a Church as the Bride of Christ is supposed to be the bearer of Good News. It's true that the Church is grossly imperfect. Yet, the Church is not totally bad as some parties paint it to be. Among the bad perceptions, remember too that there are always genuine people within. There are always those who serve without complaining. There are faithful brothers and sisters who serve not because of pleasing people, but because they desire to please God. Find a few such brothers and sisters and fellowship with them.


  7. On Leadership: Some of us have been called to be leaders in various capacities. Whether in Church, at work, or in some organizations we are involved with, leadership is something we grow into. It does not happen automatically. Remember this one thing. In becoming a leader, the first person we ever lead is our own selves. Be confident in leading ourselves. As the patterns develop, and as we become followers of Jesus, people will watch us. Let our leadership grow as we follow hard after God, and be examples for others to follow hard after God. After all, leadership is both relying on examples for living as well as living by example.


  8. On Prayer: Perhaps, we have become associated with guilt whenever we fail to pray enough. Maybe, our own prayers seem to be before meals or during Sunday morning services. Don't worry. It is a process. In fact, Jesus has encouraged us not to be distracted by people who utter long prayers. The shortest prayer uttered with honest feelings will cover greater spiritual mileage. This is exactly what the Jesus prayer is about. Short, simple, and very spiritual. "Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner!"


  9. On Social Media: Sometimes, it can be rather discouraging for those of us who have few friends. Few people comment on our posts. Even fewer bother to add us as their friends. It can leave us feeling very unappreciated or unwanted, especially when we see others having tremendous following and popularity in their social media profiles. Note that like all things, beauty is fleeting. Popularity can work both ways. Fame can easily turn into infamy in 1 day. Do not be discouraged by the many who ignore us. Be encouraged by the genuine few who care for us.


  10. On Writing: Many of us who write encounter the writers' block from time to time. We try our best. We sit for hours. We load ourselves up with coffee, ambiance, and all kinds of writing resources. Yet, the ink never flows. Like my good old Professor at Regent College says: "All good writing is re-writing." Go ahead and write away. Do not expect Pulitzer Prize quality to appear from the first stroke of the pen or the initial tabs of the computer keyboard. All good writing comes after lots of editing, re-writing, and re-phrasing. In fact, based on my own writing experience, all good writing comes from faithfulness. Once the first words are on paper, the creativity and the ideas come once the editing process kicks in. All good writing is re-writing, and re-writing, and re-writing.





THOUGHT: One of the highest of human duties is the duty of encouragement. There is a regulation of the Royal Navy which says: "No officer shall speak discouragingly to another officer in the discharge of his duties." (William Barclay)

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Christian Influence

TITLE: CHRISTIAN INFLUENCE
SCRIPTURE: Acts 26:25-29
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 29th, 2014

I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.” Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” (Acts 26:25-29)
The power of an influential life is this: When others see us, they wanted to be just like us. The power of a Christian testimony is this: When others see us, they wanted to be just like the Christ they see in us.

Influence moves people. Those who have been touched by Mother Teresa will faithfully learn and work like her. Those who have been impacted by the peace efforts of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. will advocate for the peace Gandhi and King had preached. Those who have been transformed by the ministry of Billy Graham would be on the way to evangelize and to share the gospel, just like the legendary evangelist. We like to become the people we like. The essence of leadership is that people would desire to follow the leader. If there are no followers, what good is a leader?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Vocationally Challenged

TITLE: VOCATIONALLY CHALLENGED
SCRIPTURE: Hebrews 5:5
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 22nd, 2014

"So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, 'YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU.'; " (Heb 5:5, NASB)

Key Point: Being vocationally challenged is another way of asking what we are called to do. Let us not become stuck in this endless cycle. This week, I propose that we do not need to elevate "calling" or "vocation" as a form of activity to be done. Instead, what is most important is cultivating our capacity and ability to listen. Perhaps, when we listen well, we will avoid letting our vocationally challenged posture become an end in itself.

When I was at Regent College, one of the most interesting terms I heard was "vocationally challenged." Next to the other three famous words "I Don't Know," fellow students and staff used "vocationally challenged" whenever they were asked about what they wanted to do with their lives. A friend of mine noticed that there were two groups of students. The first group came with a keen sense of calling that once they graduated, they would enter into ministry so and so. The second group was a little more common: those who are using theological education as a way to find their calling.

I countered with a third group: those who tried but still failed to find what they wanted. From my many encounters, I realized that students often come to Regent College thinking they can find answers to their spiritual search or theological learning. Instead, they leave with more questions. In fact, they will leave with more expertise to ask the very same questions in a more savvy manner. They become more confused. Like Humpty Dumpty who had a great fall, after a few years of de-constructing old theologies and archaic structural frameworks, they are at a loss on how to put them all together again.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Darkness - To Avoid or Embrace?

TITLE: DARKNESS - TO AVOID OR EMBRACE?
SCRIPTURE: Ps 88:1-2
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 15th, 2014
"1Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. 2May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry." (Ps 88:1-2)
Depression is in a way, a journey into darkness. For many, it is a descent not an ascent. What troubles me is the uncritical acceptance among people to avoid darkness at all costs.This week, I want to reflect on depression not simply as a descent into darkness. When we learn to embrace it with Christ, it can very well be an ascent to the light.

The world mourns the suicide-death of Robin Williams. Major news agencies and television channels cover the story feverishly. Social media buzzes with multiple sharing of posts. Pop stars chime in with their tributes and memories of the popular actor-comedian. Even scientists and medical professionals have entered the fray to discuss the causes, the fears, and the need to seek help during times of depression. The common thread among all is that depression is bad; it is something to be avoided like the Ebola virus; it is to be treated like a disease.  What is depression? Is it a walk in the dark?

A) Too Little Too Late?

Suppose it is a disease to be eradicated, sometimes I wonder why we talk about things only when it is too late. Like government agencies that tightened up their security checks when there is a breach. Or banks that install new procedures when a loophole was exploited. Or the revamp of some medical procedures as a result of a fatality. Or pharmaceutical companies that stop making profits off a controversial drug only after a major scandal. We are creatures that only learn when bad news arrives. Such a phenomenon is everywhere. Just take a look at the infamous 9/11 terrorist attacks. Before the attacks, traveling was a breeze with laughable security systems. Post-9/11 travel went to the other extreme: Police state style frisks at various checkpoints.

Depression however is different, perhaps more sinister. It is a hidden demon waiting to terrorize the victim. It stays dormant most of the time, appears some of the time, and if allowed to conquer and to consume, it can lead to fatality. Despite the news about Parkinson’s Disease as part of the reason, depression is reported to be a big factor leading to the death of Robin Williams. As a hidden monster waiting to reveal itself, if left unchecked, it will torment, torture, and torch away one’s sanity and sensibility. Such is the case of a fellow student at Regent College back in 2005. Brilliant and dedicated, he took his own life, leaving behind a young wife. (Read my article on suicide and depression here.) His death stunned my Regent community. Very soon, instructions and emails were sent out to all about the need to come out and talk when depressed or when harbouring suicidal thoughts. For the loved ones of victims, any post-partum activities will come too little too late. We can do all the talk about depression. We can conduct classes on what to do. However, for the loved ones of suicide victims, such things are literally “too little too late.”

Saturday, August 9, 2014

On "Chronological Snobbery"

TITLE: ON "CHRONOLOGICAL SNOBBERY"
SCRIPTURE: Ephesians 4:2
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 8th, 2014

"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." (Ephesians 4:2)

Things new are not necessarily superior. Things of old are not necessarily better.

I remember years ago the excitement at a school. What was life like 50 years ago? What kinds of fashion or things most defined that generation? The unveiling of the time capsule gave present day people a chance to glimpse at the past. After some searching for the actual location, the time capsule was found. When opened, there were old school uniforms, school magazines, books, newspapers namecards, and old photographs. The purpose of the time capsule was to communicate to future generations the life and culture of the times back then. It is usually a very exciting event as people go "woohs" and "wahs" about how life had progressed over the years.

I suppose a typical time capsule to describe our modern fast-paced Western society would comprise of some electronics, DVDs, picture of an electric car, green initiatives, newspapers, electronic tablets, some website pictures, an iPhone and a Samsung, and anything to represent what 2014 looks like. Perhaps we can include web addresses, the way we communicate, social media, and other creative things we can think of. Generally, when we look from a technological angle, things now are way more advanced than things then. This is evident from movies about some futuristic characters zapping through time to land sometime in a historical past. Like the Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, where the Starship Enterprise had to travel back in time to look for primitive whales in order to save themselves from potential destruction. As the crew traveled 300 years back into the year 1986, they mesmerized earthlings with their advanced communication devices, their technological prowess, and more classy ways of getting things done, like the classic Star Trek "Beam Me Up" effect. As a Star Trek fan, I saw everything from the standpoint of the Star Trek heroes, and becoming amused at the way 1986 people were so "primitive." I lived out a little bit of what CS Lewis had called: "Chronological Snobbery."

Saturday, August 2, 2014

A New Form of PTSD

TITLE: A NEW FORM OF PTSD
SCRIPTURE: Galatians 5:13-15
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: August 2nd, 2014
13You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (Galatians 5:13-15)

Yesterday morning, a social media giant was down. For a few hours, Facebook users encountered frustrating times when trying to log into their accounts. "Sorry, something went wrong" has become the bane of many people. For some, they continue to try "facebook.com" in the hope that maybe the problem was their own Internet connection. For others, they fled to the other social media titan "Twitter" to update their statuses. I was one of the latter ,who used Twitter to check on the status of Facebook. Ironically isn't it? Welcome to a new way of using Company A to check on Company B!

I marvel at the many messages due to this outage. Messages like:
(Picture Credit: @_youhadonejob)

  • [Ash@Infamous_PR] "It's official, society has finally lost it! Facebook goes down for 19 mins & FB users act like the world is going to end!#facebookdown
  • [Bizarre Lazar @BizarLazar] "Facebook went down this morning, marking the first time in five years some people actually saw their family."
  • People dialing 911 over Facebook outage (link)
  • and many more that puts sarcasm over those who panicked over the whole situation....
One user tweeted the following picture (on the right) that pokes fun at the whole thing. I shared my own tweets too under my Twitter handle @yapdates.
  • "Facebook down. Life goes back to normal." (link)
  • "Facebook is down. That may be a good thing for our real social life." (link)
  • "There's a new PTSD in town. Post-Traumatic SocialMedia Disorder." (link)

I moved from laughter (lol) toward sighs of incredulity (*facepalm*) as I watch how a Facebook outage appears like an end-of-the-world scenario. What has the world become? Calling an emergency hotline (911) just because one cannot post anything on Facebook?

Welcome to a new version of PTSD: Post-Traumatic SocialMedia Disorder

Friday, July 25, 2014

In Solidarity With . . . . . . . . .

TITLE: IN SOLIDARITY WITH  . . . . . . . . .
SCRIPTURE: Jeremiah 29:7
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: July 25th, 2014

"Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." (Jer 29:7)

A) Aviation Losses

Just last week, we hear of the terrible shooting of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner (MH17) over the land of Ukraine. It was a horrible act of violence inflicted by people engaged in the civil war going on in Ukraine. Standing in solidarity with the families of the victims, the employees of Malaysia Airlines, the people of Malaysia, the Internet is rife with show of support as well as anger against the violence. One such site is the Facebook page called "A Fly Guy's Cabin Crew Lounge" which has become a popular platform for airline workers from all over the world to extend their show of support. There were many moving messages of goodwill and love shared. Words such as "Rest in Peace MH17," "We Pray for MH17," "_____ Airways Love Malaysia Airlines," and so on, provide a small semblance of the positive side of humanity. Then two more disasters further clouded the scene. Calling it a "very bad week" for the aviation industry, news sites reported yet another two more crashes. On Wednesday, a TransAsia Airways plane crashed in Taiwan amid stormy weather killing 48 passengers. On Thursday, Air Algerie flight AH5017 crashed in Mali, killing 116 people. We stand in solidarity with those who have lost loved ones, employees who have been shaken up by the terrible tragedy, and all who feels unsafe to fly. It is human to feel vulnerable. It is also human to try and support one another.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Lament Over Flight MH17

TITLE: A LAMENT OVER FLIGHT MH17
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 28:1-2
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: July 18th, 2014
1To you, Lord, I call; you are my Rock, do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who go down to the pit. 2Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place. (Ps 28:1-2)


How long O Lord, will this go on?  Two disasters, two 777s, and two tragic losses of lives. 

How long O Lord, must we hear bad news after bad news? People grieving over MH370 are already having a tough time. Malaysian Airlines are reeling off an increasingly gloomy economic outlook. People are just beginning to come around feeling more safe about commercial air travel. Then came this terrible news. Flight MH17 was shot down.

Why Lord? Why must such a thing ever be allowed to happen? I suppose this question is an age-old one, but Lord, a lot of us cannot help it but ask again and again.

Why? Why? Why?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

When Our Hearts Need a Retreat

TITLE: WHEN OUR HEARTS NEED A RETREAT
SCRIPTURE: Genesis 4:13-14 / Matthew 11:28
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: July 12th, 2014
13Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (Genesis 4:13-14)
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)

Tom has been working 60 hours weeks. He gets to the office early before sunrise. He returns home after dark. At mealtimes, he will be checking his phone for emails. During conversations and coffee talks, he periodically checks for social media updates. He seems to respond faster to electronic communications than face to face casual chats. Friends have been asking him to take time off, go for a short holiday, or just have some private family time away from the office.

"What you need most is a vacation!" They say. Tom agrees. "Yes, I need a break."

This is a common refrain from people who have been too busy, hopelessly fatigued, and totally maxed out. Despite their exhaustion, they still prod along with their holiday planning, hoping that they can find some breathing space to rest and to recuperate. They carve out a time on the calendar They choose a nice vacation place, a holiday resort, or a quiet retreat location. They arrange their travel plans and then set off with dwindling energy but high expectations. However, there is a problem. Studies have shown that holidays can be one of the biggest stress points. News agencies like Forbes even published an article on how to handle holiday stress. The reason is simple. Vacationing is about lifting ourselves out of familiar grounds into strange territories. For those traveling far, there is that time difference. There is the cultural difference. There are differences in ways things are normally done and most importantly, difference in expectations through local and foreign eyes. Ironically, while the intention of going away is good, the actual going away can be particularly stressful and can create more restlessness.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Christian Discernment (Proverbs 3:5-6)

TITLE: CHRISTIAN DISCERNMENT
SCRIPTURE: Proverbs 3:5-6
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: July 4th, 2014

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

What is God's will? This is one question that has everyone agreeing as important but equally mystifying to many. Should I get married? If yes, who is the right one? If no, why? Which college should I apply for? What if there are no job interviews for me? Is it God's will to have children? One? Two? Or Three? What does the Bible say about discernment?

A) Christian Discernment: Man's Will or God's?

This week, I want to start looking at Christian Discernment, what it is and some thoughts about moving forward with it in our daily lives. I still remember vividly Parker Palmer's vocational discernment exercise that he had with a group of Quaker brothers. It was in his early years teaching sociology at Pendle Hill. One day, Palmer received an invitation to be the President of a small educational institution. He was flattered and enthused by the opportunity. Yet, something in him prompted him to get further affirmation from people he trusts. This group of people mainly helps him to discern what is God's will through listening and questioning. In truth, Palmer had already decided that he would take up the job. He only wanted the "clearness committee" to rubber stamp it to erase any doubt. The questions that came were easy, at least to Palmer. He had everything all thought out and ready answers to give. All of a sudden, one question stumped him: "What would you like most about being a president?" Eventually, Palmer was forced to a corner. Whatever answers he had given were of no consequence except one. Softly and meekly he said:

"Well, I guess what I'd like most is getting my picture in the paper with the word president under it."

The reply to that honesty cracked everyone up: "Parker, can you think of an easier way to get your picture in the paper?"

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Praying Through Ps 23

TITLE: PRAYING THROUGH PS 23
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 23
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 28th, 2014

A sister in Christ went home to the Lord yesterday at 4.55pm. There is much grief. There is much sorrow. Joy, where art thou? Hope, please show yourself. Comfort, please give generous portions. Happiness is a foreign word. Sadness is the preface to a long and winding road, with chapters after chapters of struggling, questioning, and lamenting.



During this time, I did a mental sprint toward Psalm 23, the famous Shepherd Psalm, having memorized it in my earlier years. The words are close to my heart. In times of sorrow, I cling to the Lord, and pray for the people. I am aware of many emotions but wary of saying too many words. Here is my prayer through Ps 23 this week, in remembrance of Sarah, beloved sister in Christ.

The LORD is my Shepherd. Not just mine, but for all God's people. Black, white, yellow, or whatever complexion, God shepherds them all. God walks with all. God loves all. The Shepherd is kind, big, loving, and gentle. He knows what is in our heart, and our hearts long to know what is in His heart.

I shall not be in want. Yes, I do not want to remain needy after my own strength. We are a world in need. That is not the point. The point is, so what if our needs now are met? Will that dilute our need for God? Surely not, for when we long for God, we will gradually realize that with the LORD, everything else will take their appropriate places. The priorities will be set aright. The imperfect needs will be arranged according to the perfect God's will.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures. Yes, we are a busy lot. The more we think we are able, the more we become busy, sometimes busybodies. Truth is, busyness is pride in disguise. If we can run, we run everywhere, sometimes not knowing the reason or the destination for running. God has to "make" us lie down especially when the sheep behave out of line. Even sheep will grow tired. The Shepherd who knows His sheep will force them to rest, despite their stubbornness. That is love in action.

He leads me besides the still waters. What better way than to let us commune with nature, God's creation. God created the world and prepared the environment before creating man. That is love. The love of preparation. He knows the healing prowess of natural beauty and calm.

He restores my soul. Our modern world teaches us how to run fast and how to act efficiently. It is a poor teacher when it comes to resting and pacing ourselves. Even exercise regimens require hard work. What will all work and no rest do to the human body? I remember hearing about a research that proves how people who rest once in seven days fare better than those who rested only once in every ten days. The human body is optimized for seven days: six days work and one day rest. As we rest in God, we are restored.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for His Name's sake. Sheep can run, yes. They can run astray too. They need direction where to run. Here, we pray for God to guide us through paths of righteousness. The best route for godliness. The best way toward living a life for God. The reason we walk, is for the sake of Christ. We walk not in our own name, but in the Name and Glory of God.

Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Who does not have dark moments. We all do. Death is one big black blot in anyone's life. Dark corners do bring out the fear in us. What lurks behind? Will it harm us? When we cannot see what is ahead of us, the whole mood can be scary. The point is, it is not the darkness or the valley that brings out the courage. It is the knowledge of the One walking next to us: The Shepherd.

For You are with me. Whenever we walk with anyone, we are essentially promising our presence. The ministry of presence is much needed for the human soul. In our world of mobile devices and Internet communications, it is easy to say that we are contactable anytime and anywhere. But hey, can the cell phone hug us physically? Can the computer provide us the warmth of the human touch? Can the digital devices sense all of our senses? No.

Your rod and Your staff they comfort me. The presence of the Lord is so remarkable that mere sight of the instruments the Shepherd uses will bring immense comfort. In a pre-GPS world, whenever I drive in a foreign land, I often have to depend on signs to tell me where I am heading. Strange roads and strange driving conditions can be rather intimidating. All it takes is a familiar sign, a clear pointer to confirm our directions and the anxiety will diminish. Show us Your presence, Lord.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. We know of David who himself had been pursued by enemies. He had to flee for his life. Imagine having a table set before us and seated opposite is our enemy! That is scary. Yet, the scene is surreal. Enemies who want to kill us have to receive permission from the One setting the table for a meal.

You anoint my head with oil, my cup runs over. This scene shows that we the children of God are anointed people, precious and protected. Whoever dares to harm us will have to suffer the Lord's wrath. The anointment runs over shows the generosity and the overflowing goodness of God to empower us. As far as the Lord is concerned, the oil is never seen as wasted. It is generous love. Come to think of it, love in itself is generous.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. The word 'follow' is not exactly reflective of the mood of the word. The better word should be "hound." Goodness and mercy will pursue us like a hound, never giving up on ensuring that we receive the goodness and the mercy the Lord wants to shower upon.

And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. This is the best summation. There is no better place than to be in the arms of Jesus. As I think about believers who die, they are entering into the spiritual bliss with God. The dwelling is eternal. The experience is exhilarating. The beauty and the glory will surround all who are with the Lord. Always.


THOUGHT: "God is closest to those with broken hearts." (Jewish saying)



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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, June 20, 2014

Counterfeit Spirituality

TITLE: COUNTERFEIT SPIRITUALITY
SCRIPTURE: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 20th, 2014

"1Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God." (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4)

SYNOPSIS: Our tendency to copycat others is a poor rejection of our ability to create and to be creative in God's world. When we have run out of ideas to create and depend on copying for our survival, that is not because we have not tried hard enough. It is simply because we have failed to recognize that true creativity comes from God. 

Yesterday, I was watching a documentary entitled "Counterfeit Culture" on CBC Doczone. It is an indepth look at how the world's famous brands and products are fast becoming prey to copycats and pirates who sell imitations at a fraction of the price of the original goods. From cheap electronics to pirated movies and songs; automotive accessories to aircraft spare parts; pharmaceuticals to any consumer products; the world's best known names are increasingly and blatantly copied and sold. They look like the original. They feel like the originals. They are made to be as exact as possible to the original. Surface wise that is.

If one can wear a Rolex imitation, a Lacoste look-alike, or a fancy iPhone fake, one can indeed raise social profiles when walking out in the streets. While the documentary identifies different cities that manufacture fakes all around the world, it is China alone that supplies 75% of the world's fake goods. What struck me was the confidence the Chinese peddlars had: Show them what you need and they will create a fake indeed. The Chinese even has a word for that: Shan Zhai, which is essentially a culture of copying and replicating imitations. My friends from mainland China tell me that if I want to buy anything original, buy it outside of China.

Welcome to a world of counterfeits.

Friday, June 13, 2014

People vs Profits?

TITLE: PEOPLE OR PROFITS?
SCRIPTURE: Hebrews 13:5
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date:  June 13th, 2014
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

KEY POINT: Money is not everything but everything needs money. For the Christian, the love of money is a spiritual threat that cannot be taken lightly. This week, I look at the financial industry and offers three tips for those who are inside and for those considering a career in the financial industry.

It has been said that "Money makes the world go round." The statement is very prevalent in the lives of many people. For while money is not everything, everything needs money. We need money to keep up with our mortgages, pay school fees, buy groceries, filling up gas, paying for utilities, buy coffee, or take that much needed vacation.  What defines a society as rich or poor is usually based on a monetary index, based on a currency of reference.

"Show me the money!" is a popular term that also describes this mood. In other words, if you want me to do something, pay me first. No money no talk. In the "Jerry MacGuire" movie, the phrase was used to underline the fact that money talks louder than anything else.

A) Money: The More the Happier?

Making money is the underlying ethos of many societies, especially those called first world nations. Being rich is a sign of success. Being highly paid is a sign of accomplishments. That is why school is being seen more as a tool for making money rather than an education in itself. People may claim that it is both but few see it that way. What if the job we get is not we want, but it pays three times the average starting salary for graduates? What if we hate our jobs but cannot afford to quit because the money was too good? What if the contract was too irresistible that we end up rationalizing a moral issue into an amoral situation? After all, if it is partly true that rationale, it is even more true that man is a "rationalizing animal."

Think about it. When the best and the brightest from the nation's best colleges and Universities graduate and enter top financial firms, rationalizing anything is easy. In the book, "Young Money," Kevin Roose reveals some alarming effects of how such young graduates have their sense of morality gradually being sucked away by the financial industry. (You can read an excellent review here.) Tracing the lives of eight promising top young graduates, Roose notes how the financial industry can impoverish one's sense of moral well-being. With making money as the primary goal, it does not matter if smaller businesses go belly up. Overworked, stressed out, and measured only on the basis of profits, such workers soon become indoctrinated with the making-money-at-all-costs dictum. Soon, big picture thinking is used to justify the "small price" others are paying. Social life becomes non-existent other than entertainment activities for work and client relationship building. As financial traders, workers are measured strictly on the basis of their Profit and Loss performances. Everything else is secondary. The journalist, Michael Lerner:

"This focus on money and power may do wonders in the marketplace, but it creates a tremendous crisis in our society. People who have spent all day learning how to sell themselves and to manipulate others are in no position to form lasting friendships or intimate relationships... Many Americans hunger for a different kind of society -- one based on principles of caring, ethical and spiritual sensitivity, and communal solidarity. Their need for meaning is just as intense as their need for economic security."

Friday, June 6, 2014

Ps 46: Trusting God

TITLE: Ps 46: TRUSTING GOD
SCRIPTURE: Ps 46
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date:  June 6th, 2014

"1God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging." (Ps 46:1-3)

If Christians claim to trust God, why then do many of them worry? You might be just making ends meet, but all of a sudden, you had a major car repair. There is no more money in your bank account. What do you do? Maybe, you have just gone for an interview and you are anxious about the result. You pray, and you praise God for what had been done. Yet, the worries linger on. Will you get the job? Maybe you are a student, and your exam is tomorrow but you have only covered 50% of the material. How confident are you that you can make the grade? These are some examples of how the cares of this world can easily balloon themselves to be so big that our theology of God suddenly becomes so small.

This question has often bugged me, and for this week, I want to spend some time on what it means to trust God, why we find it difficult to trust God, and what does it take to increase our walk of trust.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Praying for Leaders

TITLE: PRAYING FOR LEADERS
SCRIPTURE: 1 Timothy 2:1-4
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: May 31st, 2014

"1I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

"Strike again?"

An Annual Quarrel That Nobody Wins
I remarked to my kids when I heard about the strike action currently occurring in my children's school district. Although it is a partial strike, news of another dispute between the provincial government of British Columbia and the BC Teachers Federation strikes helplessness in the hearts and minds of many parents.

Is there no end to it all? How long must British Columbians tolerate the annual bickering between the Government and the Teachers Union? What must be done to pacify the warring parties? Who speaks up for the parents? Is the fight really for children?

"It's all about the kids, class sizes, and special education programs," some union leaders say. "No, it's simply about unreasonable demands," some government negotiators say. For many people, these are but veiled attempts to ask for / give out more money, both ways.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Good Old Days or Brave New Future?

TITLE: GOOD OLD DAYS or BRAVE NEW FUTURE?
SCRIPTURE: Ecclesiastes 12:1
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: May 14th, 2014
Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.”— (Ecclesiastes 12:1)

I was troubled this week after reading Thom Rainer's "Autopsy of a Deceased Church." In it, Rainer , the President of Lifeway Christian Resources shared some grim statistics about the American Church.
  • Healthy churches: 10%
  • Churches with sickness symptoms: 40%
  • Churches that are very sick: 40%
  • Dying churches: 10%
Rainer commented further that "though these numbers are not precise, I do believe they reflect the actual conditions of churches across America." The numbers are disturbing. We have 90% of churches that are either sick or dying. Is that not troubling?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Gift of Prophecy

TITLE: THE GIFT OF PROPHECY
SCRIPTURE: 1 Corinthians 14
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: May 17th, 2014

"Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy." (1 Cor 14:1)

Are there any more prophets of this age? Is one able to prophesy without requiring a title of "prophet?" Why is it that so few people are keen on the gift of prophecy? Is Paul's exhortation about the gift of prophecy only applicable to the Corinthian Church? These questions are considered in this week's reflection on Sabbath Walk. Before venturing farther, let me pose the question. What is prophecy according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 14?

A) Prophecy as Contrast to Tongues
2For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. 3But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 4Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. (1 Corinthians 14:2-3)
If the use of tongues is a way for humans to communicate with God, prophecy is a way for humans to communicate with one another. The words used by Paul are for "their strengthening, encouraging, and comfort." If tongues are intelligible only to God and those who can interpret them, prophecy will be intelligible to all, if not, the majority of people. For professors and authors Hays, Duvall, and Pate,

"Biblical prophecy is a relevant and important topic for the church today. Not only does biblical prophecy provide hope for the future and strength for today, but its broad-sweeping themes help us to understand the entire Bible. Indeed, prophecy ties the Bible together from Genesis to Revelation." (J, Daniel Hays, J. Scott Duvall, and C. Marvin Pate, An A-to-Z Guide to Biblical Prophecy and the End Times, Zondervan, 2012, p7)

We know that the Word of God is also a Word of Prophecy since it is written to reveal God to man. Knowing the Word of God strengthens the Church and the body of Christ as the prophecy of God is made known in greater measure each time believers are studying and learning the Word. By contrasting it with tongues, Paul is helping to anchor down the need for edifying one another with our spiritual gifts.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Sabbath- Finding Our True Rest

TITLE: SABBATH- FINDING OUR TRUE REST
SCRIPTURE: Hebrews 4:9-11
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: May 9th, 2014
"There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience." (Hebrews 4:9-11)

Do we really know what we want? How sure are we that our current pursuits are honourable to God? What makes us think that we can run the lives the way we want it to be? How often do we grapple with what is important and what is not? Maybe, it takes a death or a diagnosis to wake us up from a senseless busy lifestyle. Maybe, it requires the shock of losing our familiar jobs. Maybe, it is a lack of understanding our need for rest. This week, I look at the importance of readying ourselves for true rest, by learning to regularly pause one day a week.

A) That Rude Awakening
For some of us, death is a rude awakening about the purpose of life. When Eric Clapton lost young Conor, his 4-year-old son, he fell into a deep period of grief, unable to make sense of it all. Amid the confusion, like many situations of suffering and pain, questions overwhelm answers. Answers if any, are few and far between. Why must the bedroom window be open at that time? Why didn't the house keeper keep an eye on Conor? Why must they live on the 53rd floor? Why are there no window guards to protect accidents like that in the first place?  Why must this happen to me?

If I am the father, I would be totally lost for words, let alone lost in the inexplicable wounds of losing a child. After all, sons ought to bury their fathers, and not the other way round. It is all so cruel and so unfair. Clapton pens the following words in the hit song, "Tears in Heaven." In moments of loss and pain, one cannot explain other than express.
Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart
Have you begging please
Begging please

Beyond the door
There's peace, I'm sure
And I know there'll be no more
Tears in heaven


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Why Pray? (Five Reasons)

TITLE: WHY PRAY? (Five Reasons)
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: May 3rd, 2014

I still remember the words of this Church leader many years ago: "Prayer meeting? You go ahead. I'll pray when there is a need." At that time, that statement made me quite confused about the whole idea of prayer. What is the purpose of prayer? What if we do not have any immediate need? Does it mean that we pray only as a last resort? Why pray?

Throughout history, many saints of old have also been masters of prayer. The apostles learned it first-hand as they watch the Master Himself pray so regularly. Subsequently, the meek Simon Peter the fisherman, turned into a fearsome preacher, becoming one of the most prominent leaders of the Church. The zealous Apostle Paul became a powerful preacher of the gospel to the Gentile world. The fourth century saint, Augustine of Hippo's classic Confessions is an open prayer about his own spiritual state and his hunger for God. Augustine was known not only for his powerful intellect. His passion and love for God has been exemplary for both Roman Catholics and Protestants even today. Influenced by his prayerful mother, his classic work "Confessions" has helped shaped the theological world through honest prayer. So influential is his work that his beginning has been used as a core introduction to the Westminster Confession.

"You are great, Lord, and highly to be praised: great is your power and your wisdom is immeasurable. Man, a little piece of your creation, desires to praise you, a human being bearing his mortality with him, carrying with him the witness of his sin and the witness that you resist the proud. Nevertheless, to praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." (Augustine, Confessions, Book I.i.1)
In just one verse above, there are five reasons why we pray.

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